Lush and warm. Words that could be used to describe a tropical island, but in this case I’m talking about the music of Richard Strauss. If his music had a smell, I think it would be jasmine. If it had color, fuchsia, navy blue, and yellow. Anyone with synaesthesia reading, please chime in and let me know how close I am.
I can’t remember the title or even composer of the first German song I worked on as an undergrad, but the first lieder I can recall clearly are Schlagende Herzen, Die Stern, and Ich schwebe – all Strauss. I went on a brief Wolf kick a few years ago, but I’m back on Strauss now.
Picking favorites of any kind (i.e. movies, books, actors, singers) is hard for me, but you could get me to say Strauss is currently my go-to guy for German art song. Yes, there are other really good composers out there, but they can’t get me to cry as often as Strauss does with the sheer beauty of their work. Seriously, I’ve teared up the last nine times I had to sing Morgen! and some of those times were just in a practice room. I have more Strauss in my lieder repertoire than any other composer, and it’s probably going to stay that way for a while (although my boyfriend probably wants to change that because Schumann is, without hesitation, his favorite).
Morgen! is a hit with everyone and anyone who possesses a heart and a soul. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re probably a robot. There’s a gorgeous version with violin, but this performance with Arleen Auger is probably my favorite.
Allerseelen is my latest Strauss, which is coming along very nicely and feels great to sing. (Sidebar: I actually learned the text first before working on the notes, and score-studied a few times before singing anything – and, wow, did things click into place quickly. I’m usually too impatient to work this way even though plenty of teachers have recommended learning in stages instead of all at once, but I was forced to this time because every moment in the practice room was spent on my recital rep. That left me with opportunities like waiting at the doctor’s office and the 30 minutes going to bed to make some kind of progress with Allerseelen. Here’s one of my score-studying resources, a performance by Kathleen Battle)
Strauss is so clever – the song is through-composed and each statement of “wie einst im Mai” [like once in May], the unifying refrain at the end of each verse, is different. The contrast of different music combined with repeated text highlights the emotional complexity of the moment as someone remembers a loved one on All Soul’s’ Day, the day dedicated to the departed. The first “wie einst im Mai” is an ascending chromatic line in the upper register. The second is in the lower register, begins with a chromatic ascent that recalls the first statement, leaps up and then resolves by step. The third descends by step, simply and gently. Feel how the triplets introduced in verse three at “ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei, komm an mein Herze” [one day of the year the dead are indeed free, come to my heart] launch into the climax at “dass ich dich wieder habe” [that I have you again]. As quickly as the outburst built over three measures, it dissipates in the same length of time. There is a brief instrumental interlude, and then “wie einst im Mai” is echoed one last time using a bittersweet ascending two-note gesture.
I’m very excited to be singing Allerseelen and the Act 1 Finale of Don Giovanni as Zerlina with MusicaNova Orchestra in the concert “And Open to All” on Thursday, April 25, 2013. Concert details and tickets are available here, and you can read Maestro Cohen’s post about Strauss’ lieder here.