Thursday, February 12, 2015

Beethoven - Six Gesänge, Op.75

The music of Beethoven changed the art of music forever. His music was revolutionary in his use and development of sonata form, the symphony, chamber music and piano sonata, but his music was also evolutionary in the sense that it grew out of the musical traditions of the past. He knew very well the traditions according to the music written by Haydn and Mozart, and he expanded upon them and infused them with his own craftsmanship and art. There is hardly a genre of music that doesn't show his influence.

One area of his art in which he struggled was music for voice. That is not to say his did not write vocal music of beauty and depth, such as his early and very popular song Adelaide, opus 46 but he admitted that composing for voice was not one of his greater interests. As he said himself in a letter:
Whenever I hear music in my inner ear it is always the full orchestra that I hear. When writing vocal music I invariably have to ask myself: Can it be sung?
But even in a genre that was not his strongest, Beethoven was innovative, for he is given credit with composing the first song cycle written by a major composer, the set of six songs of Opus 98, An die ferne Geliebte (To The Distant Beloved) written in 1816. The six songs of opus 75 are a set of independent songs written in 1809. The first three are to texts by Johann Goethe, one of Beethoven's favorite writers. The two giants met each other in  1811, and Goethe had this to say about Beethoven:

His talent astounded me; nevertheless, he unfortunately has an utterly untamed personality, not completely wrong in thinking the world detestable, but hardly making it more pleasant for himself or others by his attitude. Yet he must be shown forgiveness and compassion, for he is losing his hearing, something that affects the musical part of his nature less than the social. He is naturally laconic, and even more so due to his disability.
1) Mignon - Kennst Du Das Land (Do You Know The Land?)
Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship) was written in 1796. In short, Mignon is a young woman that Wilhelm Meister becomes infatuated with. In the novel, Mignon sings this song to Wilhelm after he has taken responsibility for her welfare. Mignon falls in love with Wilhelm and sings this song.
Do you know the land where the lemon blossoms grow,
In the dark leaves the golden oranges glow,
A gentle wind blows from the blue sky,
The myrtle silent and the laurel tall?
Do you know it?
It is there! it is there!
Go there then I go with you, O my beloved!

Do you know the house, its roof on tall pillars?
The hall shines, the chamber shimmers,
And marble statues stand and look at me:
What has been done to you, poor child?
Do you know it?
It is there! It is there!
Go there then I would be with you, O my protector.

Do you know the mountain with the misty shrouds?
The mule is seeking passage through the clouds;
In caves dwells the dragon's ancient brood;
The rock falls steeply and over it the flood!
Do you know it?
It is there! It is there!
Go there lies our way! O Father, let us go!

2) Neue Liebe, neues Leben (New Love, New Life)
Written during the time Goethe was involved with Elizabeth Sheneman, a.k.a. Lily. They were deeply in love and were engaged, but the marriage was called off.

Heart, my heart, what does that mean?
What is changing you so much?
What a strange new life!
I do not recognize you.
Everything you loved is gone,
Gone is what troubled you,
Gone your hard work and your rest;
Johann Goethe
How did this happen?

Does this bloom of youth shackle you,
This lovely form,
full of good quality
with infinite power?
I want to quickly escape,
to take courage and flee,
but in only a moment
I am led back to her.

With this magic thread,
that cannot be torn
the dear maiden
holds me tight against my will.
In her magic circle
I must now live.
The change, oh, how great!
Love, love, let me go!

3) Aus Goethes Faust - Mephistos Flohgesang (Mephisto's Song Of The Flea)
Taken from Goethe's Faust, Part One. Mephisto sings his sarcastic song in a cellar where a group of men are drinking and singing songs. Russian compoer Modest Mussorgsky also set this text (in Russian translation).

There was once a king,
who had a large flea,
whom he loved as much
as his own son..
He called his tailor,
The tailor came up;
"Here- make clothes for this knight
And measure him for pants! "

In velvet and silk
was the flea dressed in,
with ribbons on the clothing,
and a cross on the front.
He was immediately made a Minister,
And had a big star.
And all his kin
became members of court as well.

Lords and ladies of the court,
They were greatly afflicted,
The Queen and her maidens
were chomped and bitten,
and they did not dare swat
or scratch them away.
But we smash and crush them
as soon as they bite!

4) Gretels Warnun (Gretel's Warning)
A poem written by Gerhard Anton von Halem

With his eyes, music and song
handsome young Christel wooed.
So fresh and slim no other boy
was as nice.
No, no one was
so much fun
or held me in his heart.
And he was aware of it,
put pressure to bear
until he had his way.

There were other boys in the village,
as young and beautiful as he;
Gerhard Anton von Halem
But the girls wanted him
to makes eyes and flirt with.
They didn't stop
Flattering him
until they won his heart.
To me he turned cold,
Then he fled,
and left me here,
and left me here in pain.

With his eyes, music and song
seem like a dream.
His kiss that penetrated deep in my soul,
has cost me my happiness.
Look at my fate,
my sisters all .
If a rat has set his eye on you,
don't trust him.
Oh look at me, look at me,
Oh look at me, and flee!

5) An den fernen Geliebten (To My Man Who is Far Away)
The final two songs were set to texts by Christian Ludwig Reissig, who was an army captain that had been wounded in the Napoleonic Wars. He asked contemporary composers to set some of his texts to music and Beethoven agreed to show respect and sympathy for the wounded man.
Once sweet calm and peace
Dwelt in my heart,
Now yearning colors every joy
Since we have parted.
The hour of your leaving
was so dull and hollow.
The evening song of nightingales Your dear soul, love’s words address
with this plea:
Oh friend, whom I chose on this earth,
Do not forget me. If by moonlight some random breeze
makes your hair flow free,
That is my spirit begging you:
Do not forget me. when the moon was full,
Have yearned for me as zephyrs blew,
Their music has conveyed
my fond Adieu.

6) Der Zufriedene (The Contented One)
Luck has made me
neither rich nor great;
yet I am content,
as if I had the fairest lot.

A friend after my own heart
has been granted me;
for kissing, drinking and joking
is also his element.

With him, merrily and wisely,
are many bottles emptied!
For on life's journey,
wine is the best horse.

If this luck of mine
now sours and becomes forlorn,
then I will think: no rose
blooms thorn-less in the world.

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