Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mozart - Concert Aria For Soprano "Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!" K.418

The world of 18th century opera was a markedly different environment in many ways than the modern day opera house. With no copyright protection for composers, many of them supervised the first productions of their operas to earn some money off of their music before it was pirated by other opera companies and publishers. But the best singers back then, like the best singers now, were the stars of the show. Most opera composers wrote music with specific singers in mind, and the singers themselves would take many liberties with the music for the sake of displaying particular vocal strong points, so much that the original music could get lost in a sea of added ornamentation, runs and long held notes.

Composers could be part of this cavalier attitude towards opera as well. A custom of the time was for composers to write arias for specific singers that were called insertion arias because they would be inserted in place of an original aria written by the opera's composer. In Mozart's time the use of insertion arias had been going on for so long that they had become a tradition, and many of Mozart's concert arias were originally written as insertion arias.  Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio! (Let me explain, oh God!) K.418 is just such an insertion aria. Mozart wrote it for his sister-in-law Aloysia Weber, a soprano that had a successful career on the Vienna opera stage. At one time Mozart had wanted to marry Aloysia, but he ended up marrying her sister Constanze instead.  Mozart wrote other insertion arias for Aloysia and she performed roles in some of his operas as well. She must have been a fine singer because the arias Mozart wrote for her are quite demanding.

Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio! was written to be inserted in an opera titled  Il curioso indiscreto (The Curious, Indiscreet Man) by the composer Pasquale Anfossi. The libretto was based on the book Don Quixote. The aria begins in a slow tempo with muted strings and a beautiful part for oboe that continues in duet with the soprano who sings the part of Clorinda, who is in love with a Count, who is promised in marriage to another woman named Emilia. Clorinda sings that she wishes she could explain to him why she appears not to return his love. The tempo quickens in the second part of the aria as she urges him to leave her, telling him to go to Emilia.  Mozart puts the soprano through her paces as he uses notes that span over two octaves in this effective and impressive aria.

Let me explain, oh God,
What my grief is!
But fate has condemned me
To weep and stay silent.

My heart may not pine
For the one I would like to love
Making me seem hard-hearted
And cruel.

 Ah, Count, part from me,
Run, flee
Far away from me;
Your beloved Emilia awaits you
 Don't let her languish,
She is worthy of love.

Ah, pitiless stars!
You are hostile to me.
I am lost when he stays.
Part from me, run,
Speak not of love,
Her heart is yours.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rubinstein - Persian Love Songs, Opus 35, No. 9 'Swirling Waves'

As a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment, artists of the late 18th century began to create works that were reflections of their ideals of free expression. This was the beginning of the Romantic movement, a movement that was guided by numerous influences, with the emphasis on emotion.  The emotion most often represented was love, which sometimes took the form of unrequited love that ended in the violent end of one or both the parties involved.

Mizra Shafi Vazeh
Another influence on the Romantics was the exoticism of different lands and peoples. These were often expressed as crude stereotypes such as the Janissary music imitated by Mozart in the third movement of his Piano Sonata In A Major K.331.  But exoticism also exerted an influence through artists that were natives of those far away places. One of those artists was a poet from Azerbaijan, Mirza Shafi Vazeh, who continued the tradition of Azerbaijani classic poetry. He was also fluent in the Persian language and some of those poems were collected by one of his devoted German disciples Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt.  Mirza Shafi Vazeh was literate but seldom wrote down his poems. Bodenstedt wrote some of them down in the original Persian, translated them to German and in 1851 published them in a book titled Die Lieder des Mirza Schaffy.  Anton Rubinstein chose twelve poems from this book to set to music for his opus 34 12 Lieder des Mirza-Schaffy, also known as Persian Love Songs. 


Friedrich von Bodenstedt
Rubinstein was second only to Liszt in his ability to play the piano. His repertoire was vast, his stamina legendary, he also became a conductor and founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory. But he also had ambitions as a composer and wrote a huge amount of music in all the forms of the day.  His 4th Piano concerto was once a staple of the repertoire, but despite a modern resurgence of interest, his music is rarely heard. Persian Love Songs has been recorded a few times and although the text Rubinstein set was in German, they are usually sung in Russian translation.  The 9th song in the set, 'Swirling Waves', was a favorite of the Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin, whose interpretation of the song has become somewhat of a tradition.  The video below has a recording sung by Boris Shtokolov, one of the most famous Russian bass singers of the modern era. His interpretation adds some of the falsetto singing introduced in the song by Chaliapin that deviates from Rubinstein's original music:

At my feet the swirling waves of the Kura River,
In the dancing bustle of the waves,
The sun smiles brightly, as do my heart and the meadow,
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!

The red Kakhetian wine sparkles in the glass,
That is filled by my beloved,
And with the wine I draw in her glances as well,
Oh,that it would ever remain thus!

The sun is sinking, already night is darkening,
But my heart, like the star of love,
Flames in the deepest darkness, in brightest splendor.
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!

Into the black sea of your eyes rushes
The raging river of my love;
Come, maiden, it is getting dark and no one can hear us!
Oh, that it would ever remain thus!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Debussy - Nuit d'étoiles (Starry Night)

Claude Debussy is most well known for his works written for piano solo. But he wrote around 55 songs for voice and piano throughout his career as well.  His first published work was in fact a song, Nuit d'étoiles (Starry Night), written to the text of a poem by Théodore de Banville, a French poet and writer of the 19th century.

Debussy wrote the song in 1880 when he was 18 years old. The song is a very good representation of Debussy's early works as well as how nature and literature inspired the young composer.  The original poem has 4 stanzas, but Debussy chose to omit the third one.  The piano accompaniment imitates the lyre mentioned in the first stanza while the voice tells the story of lost love.



Théodore de Banville

Starry Night 
Théodore de Banville
Starry night, under your veils,
under your night air and scents,
With a sad sighing lyre,
I dream of dead loves.

The serene melancholy bursts from
deep in my heart,
And I hear the soul of my love
Tremble in the deep woods.

I remember the fountain,
your blue eyes like the sky,
your breath like roses,
and your eyes like the stars.

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