My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

… a special African flavor’ of wildness and mystery.~ Tania Lukic-Marx: Accordions Worldwide

I found them colorful and interesting~ Tania Lukic-Marx: Accordions Worldwide

A sensual and dance-tastic album in an Afri-Tango mood ~ Editor: SA Rock Digest, Issue # 205, 16 June 2003

If you love to tango like Al Pacino, then this is for you. ~ Editor: SA Rock Digest, Issue # 205, 16 June 2003

A full bodied and potent performance ~ Tania Lukic-Marx: Accordions Worldwide

Offers a great variety, which makes it really interesting~ Tania Lukic-Marx: Accordions Worldwide

~ Stanislav does a professional job on the accordion as does the Ensemble as a whole ~ Tania Lukic-Marx: Accordions Worldwide

The pianist in particular, made quite an impression on me ~ Tania Lukic-Marx: Accordions Worldwide

Tania Lukic-Marx, international Accordionist and CD reviewer for music magazines and the leading website in the flied, Accordions Worldwide, awarded the CD 4 stars out of 5 on an international rating.

Album of the Week ~ SA Rock Digest, Issue # 211, 28 July 2003

Das Cape Town Tango Ensemble ist wirklich sehr gut was seine Musik anbelangt ~ Editor: Accordion.com

… die eerste regte, egte Suid-Afrikaanse tango-album ~ Mariana Malan: Die Burger, 8 September 2003, p.6

Die album is uniek in die opsig dat Afrika-klanke deeglik met die tradisionele tango-ritme inskakel.
(Transl: The album is unique in the African sounds blend in thoroughly with the traditional tango rhythm.)~ Mariana Malan: Die Burger, 8 September 2003, p.6

Daar word ‘n ongekende warmte en diepte uit sy [Ricardo Fiorio] note gehaal
(Tranls: A hitherto unkown warmth and depth is brought forth out of the notes of Ricarodo Fiorio.) ~ Mariana Malan: Die Burger, 8 September 2003, p.6

Hierdie album is vir luisteraars en dansers.
(Transl: This album is for listeners and dancers) ~ ~ Mariana Malan: Die Burger, 8 September 2003, p.6

El Tango en Africa features the following artists

Albert Combrink – Piano

Stanislav Angelov – Accordeon

Jacek Domagala – Violin

Basil Heald – Double Bass

and guest artists:

Violina Anguelov – Mezzo Soprano

Dizu Plaatjies – African Percussion (including Djemba and Kayomba)

El Tango en Africa can be bought as an album, or as MP3 tracks, at www.rhythmmusicstore.com

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My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

“Sweeter than Roses” – English and Italian songs of the joys of love by Purcell, Britten, Mozart, Sondheim incl. “My Fair Lady”

DATE: Sunday, 25 April 2010

TIME: 15:00 – 16:30

VENUE: Masque Theatre – 37 Main Road, Muizenberg

BOOKING DETAILS: 021 – 788 1898 (Mon. to Fri. 09:00 to 16:00)

TICKETS: R60 (R50 Theatre Club members – regrettably no Credit Card Bookings available)

“Sweeter than Roses” – English and Italian songs of the joys of love by Purcell, Britten, Mozart, Sondheim incl. “My Fair Lady”
This delightful programme of mostly English songs explores the joys and dreams of young lovers through the songs of Purcell (“If music be the food of love”), Britten’s famous Folksong settings (“The Foggy, foggy dew”) and operatic extracts by Mozart, that master of comic characterisation. The three singers and pianist are all noted for their variety and perform in different styles, taking the audience through a tale of love lost, found and lost again. Shirley Sutherland will lead the second half of the programme with extracts from “My Fair Lady”, the show in which she had a major triumph at the Artscape Theatre in 2008. Louise Howlett, a veteran stage performer, will include extracts from her soon-to-be released second CD from the musicals “Cats” and “A Little Night Music”. Baritone John Hardie – winner of various awards such as the Leonard Hall Memorial Prize – is the perfect foil for the two ladies. He will be the Figaro to their Suzanna and Cherubino and the Don Giovanni to their Zerlinas. The programme will reflect the more playful aspect of young love, from the charm and beauty of setting of Shakespeare to more contemporary and popular music. The fact that most of the songs are in English makes this a programme with instant appeal for audiences of all ages. The keyword is variety, and versatility is what this set of performers are known for.

Meet the perfromers

Pianist and presenter Albert Combrink

Pianist Albert Combrink devised and compiled the programme as well making musical arrangements and accompanying the singers. He has worked as accompanist and musical director from the opera house to the musicals stage. Magic Flute (Isango Portabello) won a London Critics’ Olivier Award and  Assassins (New Space Theatre) won two Fleur du Caps. International arrtists with whom he has worked include American soprano Judith Kellock and British superstar Lesley Garrett. Recordings as orchestral member and soloist with orchestras include works by Hendrik Hofmeyr and Alfred Schnittke with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. His broad interest in music has enabled him to put on a number of off-beat and unusual programmes. These include Ladies & Ladders (Kalfiefees), Dangerous Liaisons (Beau Soleil), and Moonlight Serenade (Kirstenbosch Chamber Music Series) – the latter in collaboration with Louise Howlett). He has been musical director of the Rotary Opera in a Convent Garden since 2007. He is member of the CT Tango Ensemble which recently launched its second CD Tango Club to a sell-out audience at the Baxter Theatre.

Soprano Louise Howlett: equally at home from Bach to Blues

Soprano Louise Howlett studied singing at the Royal College of Music in London, with Margaret Cable. She performed at the Bergen Festival and Edinburgh Main and Fringe Festivals, as well as performing in the award winning production of The Ragged Child at the Sadlers Wells Theatre. Originally classically trained, her love of jazz and the musicals led her to create her own unique combination of classical, broadway and jazz “Across the Styles” projects out of which her “Serenade” series was born.  These productions can vary from classical versions, to jazz standard evenings to the full range of genres blended into one programme. She has performed with great success at various venues and festivals including the Kirstenbosch Winter Chamber Music Series, the Greyton Rose Festival, and most recently at the Baxter Theatre. In one season she performed both in the classical line-up of Barry Smith’s Concert Series at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and at the Big Blues Festival in Kleinmond.

Baritone John  Hardie studied singing at UCT and Stellenbosch University and his teachers include Sarita Stern, Nellie du Toit and Marita Napier. He sang with Capab Opera for 3 years taking part in productions of “Albert Herring” and “Cosi fan Tutte”. He won the College of Music Opera prize in 1988 and 1989, the Friends of the Nico Malan Opera Prize in 1990, the Leonard Hall memorial Prize in 1991. He has performed professionally with accompanists such as Albie van Schalkwyk, Tommy Rajna and Neil Solomon.

Shirley Sutherland entertains in musicals and opera

Soprano Shirley Sutherland has proven her versatility in the fields of Opera, Muiscals and Oratorio. With Cape Town Opera she toured Sweden and Germany in productions of Rusalka, and Showboat. Her many awards include the Cape Times Best Actress Award for her role of Roxy in Chicago. She has been seen in concert around the country, including Richard Cock’s Last Night of the Proms and various oratorios.

Read more about some of the works on the programme on the following posts:

~ Benjamin Britten Folksong (re)settings: when artsong meets folksong

~ Schoenberg to Sondheim: Louise Howlett & Albert Combrink perform at Kirstenbosch

~ Breaking Rules: Discussing performers who cross over different styles and genres

 

Beverley Chiat (l) & Violina Angeulov (r)

Danza, danza fanciulla is a song by Italian Baroque composer Francesco Durante (1684-1755). Loved and performed by singers across the world, this “Aria Antiche” will make part of a delightful programme Viva Italia, featuring Cape Town’s well-known singing partnership, soprano Beverley Chiat and mezzo-soprano Violina Anguelov, accompanied on the piano by Albert Combrink. The all-Italian programme includes familiar gems from the operatic repertoire – including Madama Butterfly, La Boheme and La Traviata – as well as Neapolitan songs.

Danza, danza fanciulla is a delightful invitation to the dance. The sound of the waves and the playful breeze are the accompaniment to this intoxicating frolic. Beautiful sounds such as the singing of the poet, mix with the glorious sounds of nature, inviting a young girl to let her spirit run free – and by implication also her body.

Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile (Text by an anonymous poet,  in Italian)

Danza, danza, fanciulla, al mio cantar;

danza, danza fanciulla gentile, al mio cantar.

Gira leggera, sottile al suono, al suono dell’onde del mar.

Senti il vago rumore dell’aura scherzosa

che parla al core con languido suon,

e che invita a danzar senza posa, senza posa,

che invita a danzar.

Danza, danza, fanciulla

"Girl dancing on Liquid GOld"

Dance, dance, gentle young girl

(Text by an anonymous poet, in free translation by Albert Combrink)

Dance, dance, young girl to my singing (song)

Dance, dance, gentle young girl to my (singing) song;

Twirling lightly and softly to the sound, to the sound of the waves of the sea.

Sense the vague rustling of the playful breeze

that speaks to the heart with its languid sound,

that invites you to dance without stopping, without stopping

that invites you to dance.

Dance, dance, gentle young girl to my song.

Durante: The composer whose sacred music overshadows the rest of his output. 

Francesco Durante

Durante was born in Regno delle Due Sicilie (the Kingdom of Two Sicilies) at a time when it was the richest and most important of the Italian states before the unification of Italy. From a large family, his first musical influence was his father, a dedicated singer in the parish church. He entered the Conservatorio dei poveri di Gesu Cristo (The Concservatory of the poor of Jesus Christ) in Naples and later became a pupil of Alessandro Scarlatti. He later became a famous teacher of pupils such as Giovanni Paisiello, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Niccolo Piccinni, to name only a few. By all accounts, Durante was dedicated to his students’ welfare and education. Durante was, in turn, always spoken very highly of by his pupils. Unusually among Neapolitan composers, Durante had little interest in writing operas, although he did compose sacred dramas and secular as well as sacred cantatas. He made a name for himself chiefly in the devotional and liturgical genres of his day. Despite the dominance in his list of compositions of religious works, he also wrote a large number of successful harpsichord sonatas and toccatas, and eight Concerti per quartetto.

The uncertain history of Danza, danza fanciulla

Schirmer Edtion

Two popular arias attributed to Durante are published in anthologies of Italian songs – “Arie Antiche” collected by 19th century editors. Vergin, tutto amor and Danza, danza fanciulla are perhaps the only works for which Durante is still recognized. This is ironic since in his catalogue they would not hold a very esteemed place incomparison to the larger works and educational volumes he produced. In all probability they were only “solfeggios” or “singing exercises” to which elaborate accompaniment and text were added in the nineteenth century. He wrote many didactic works and even in non-didactic compositions there are signs in the actual printed scores that reveal the master-teacher at work. For example, in some of the masses elements of the plainchant or canon were marked as such for the edification of the student/performer. (Rachael Unite, All Music Guide )

Performance practice in Durante’s “Arie Antiche”

Ricordi Edition sold by Hal Leonard publ.

Given that the originals are now lost, performers have to rely on performing versions created and commissioned by 19th century publishers. Some of the editorial suggestions are appropriate, and without these wonderful “recreations” these melodies might have been lost for ever. However, one can not ignore the fact that when you hear these works performed, you are listening to a twenty-first century “imagining” of what the a 19th century editor (and therefore “minor” composer/arranger”) imagined what an 18th century composition might have sounded like. There is no saying that even the choice of text would carry the blessing of Signore Durante. There is no guarantee that the tempo indication given in the 19th century would be appropriate to a sound-world already a century old. In fact, apart form the melody, most of what we find in the published editions of this song, were added by other hands.

The metronome marking and the tempo indication of “Allegro con Spirito” are not Durante’s at all. The metronome had not even been invented yet, for a start. Singers have to interpret the song with the text as a starting point. Let’s forget for a moment that the text was not chosen – or set – by the composer, and accept its validity as a document. Given the lightness of the text – the references to delicate and playful breezes and rustling sounds of nature – the metronome marking given by the editors seems too fast and virtuosic. At 138 to a beat a whirling dervish is conjured rather than a simple “twirling lightly and softly to the sound”. Yet singers revel in the virtuosic display that the fast tempo affords. Thrilling as this might be, it makes the piece little more than a coat-hanger on which to hang an elaborate costume.

A delicate Baroque spinet

The piano used for accompaniment had not been invented yet when Durante wrote the melody. Even the dynamic indications are not “authentic” as it was a convention of the Baroque not to mark changes of volume – partly because instruments such as the spinet could only play at one dynamic level. Others, such as a harpsichord or organ, could not gradually change volume, but could only jump from one level to the next (“terrace dynamics”), given some technological device such as adding a few more strings or pipes.

 

What are performers in 2010 to do? 

– Play it on the harpsichord or spinet? 

"Self portrait at the spinet" - Lavinia Fontana 1577

This would recreate the keyboard sounds that Durante had available in his time. (But we do not have a harpsichord in our concert.) We are not even sure that it was actually written for a harpsichord. A spinet is unpractical in modern concerts as it is simply not loud enough to be heard properly more than a few feet away, let alone in a concert hall.

– Play it on a piano and imitate the harpsichord?

This is acceptable practice for keyboard works such as those by Bach and Scarlatti. Crisp articulation and not using the sustaining pedal, are used as techniques that outline the architecture of these works.

Here is a YouTube Clip of the piano accompaniment as it is published, recorded without a singer. This “Music Minus One” version illustrates the issues with the piano accompaniment as it stands. Pedals, legato double octaves and long sustained chords are used in abundance. None of these are technical devices employed in the Baroque – especially not on keyboard instruments.

Click here to listen to Danza, danza fanciulla (Piano Accompaniment Only)

In the case of Durante’s song and its “Arie Antiche” colleagues,  the accompaniments were composed in the 19th century with the piano and its technical abilities in mind – such as volume change and sustaining pedals – declaring any claims at authenticity totally bogus. One would have to recompose the accompaniment to make that possible, at the very least cutting out some of the very low notes or doubling which would have been impractical in the Baroque era.

Appropriate singing style in Durante’s Danza, Danza Fanciulla

As for the singer, do they attempt vibrato-less baroque-style singing of limited volume and dramatic expression? Many modern recordings use Baroque-style re-orchestrations. These charming pastiche versions have their own validity, but they are stylistic anachronisms. Dmitri Hvorostovsky – winner of the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World competition – is one of the leading operatic baritones of his generation. His Aria Antiche  album was one of his biggest hits. The accompaniments on this CD are all modern orchestrations, and are certainly effective. But they are nonetheless a 20th century “imagining” of 19th century Baroque style. As for “barihunk” Dmitri: his vocal swagger – impressive as it may be – is probably very far removed from what singers in the Baroque era would have sounded like. The full-throated chest voice is an invention of the romantic era just as surely as the media invention of the barihunk is a 21st century phenomenon. In all likelyhood Danza, danza fanciulla  would have been sung by a decidedly unvirile castrato. Given the church’s prohibition on women singing in church, Durante would no doubt have had a stable of castrated boys at his diposal to sing his sacred works. This song was very probably composed for one of these children unfortunately cursed with musical talent.

Click here to listen to Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing Durante’s Danza, danza fanciulla.

Click here to listen to Christiaan d’Hooghe –  a countenor the closest thing we have today to a Castrato sound – singing Durante’s other famous Aria Antiche Vergin Tutto amor.

Restoration versus recreation

Michelangelo's "Daniel" Before & After restoration (Sistine Chapel)

Questions facing performers of this type of work is similar to those facing art historians when dealing with the prospect of restoring works from the past. The recent restoration of the Sistine Chapel is very controversial. The results of the cleaning were quite extreme. The colours that emerged after the restoration were quite startlingly different from what we had become accustomed to. Colours were surprisingly bright. Some might even say garish and gaudy. Our picture of the enchanting rotund angels floating in clouds of light pink, has changed dramatically and many books on the art of Michelangelo have had to be revised, some even rewritten.

As always, the experts are divided on the results.

A journey into history

The interesting part is that this modern restoration attempt was not the first. Already in 1625, a restoration was carried out by Simone Lagi, the Vatican’s “resident gilder”, who wiped the ceiling with linen cloths and cleaned it by rubbing it with bread. He occasionally resorted to wetting the bread to remove the more stubborn accretions. His report states that the frescoes “were returned to their previous beauty without receiving any harm”. Lagi also applied layers of glue-varnish to revive the colours. Between 1710 and 1713 a further restoration was carried out by the painter Annibale Mazzuoli and his son. They used sponges dipped in Greek wine (with a very high acidity similar to vinegar) which was necessitated by the accretion of grime caused by soot and dirt trapped in the oily deposits of the previous restoration. Mazzuoli then worked over the ceiling, according to an “eye-witness report” (by now almost 300 years old) to deliberately strengthen the contrasts by over-painting details. They also repainted some areas the colours of which were lost because of the efflorescence of salts caused by the salpetre leaks from the roof above the ceiling. So, to be fair, we have absolutely no way of telling if the recent renovations restores the Sistine Chapel to its original state as Michelangelo conceived it, or if it has been restored to the sate in which it was left are being cleaned with wet bread, or after parts had been repainted by Annibale Mazzuoli.

Bril's Landscape at San Silvestro before it was restored

Another equally startling restoration of Baroque fresco-painting is the restored paintings of Flemish Master Paul Bril in the San Silvestro Chapel at Rome’s Sancta Sanctorium. Bril’s work has only seriously entered the conscious realm of art-historian endeavour since this project revealed the extent of his achievement. Funded by the John Paul Getty Foundation, over 1.700 square meters of wall space was restored by forty art restorers and experts. Project leader Maurizio De Luca, who also oversaw the recent restoration of the Pauline Chapel by Michelangelo inside the Vatican, sates confidently: “Like any good restoration, it is invisible.”

Some might beg to differ.

Technically it was a stunningly complex restoration process: deep fissures risked bringing down whole patches of painted ceiling plaster, and inside the chapel with its high, vaulted ceiling the painted walls and ceiling were literally obliterated by four centuries of accumulated candle grease and grime. Only the faintest traces of the paintings remained, and all colors and themes were literally lost to time, and hence forgotten. The restorers painstakingly removed one layer of dirt, then waited to see the result before tackling the next.

Brils' landscape in the San Silvestro: After restoration

 The results are rather startling. The colours are extremely bright and direct. If this is what Baroque frescoes really looked like, who is to say we don’t also have the wrong idea of how Baroque music is supposed to have sounded?

My task as coach and accompanist for this “Aria Antiche” is therefore not so simple. There are no hard-and-fast rules. Recreating a supposed baroque-style is not possible: the instrument I play is a 9 foot concert grand piano made of steel and wood, not a delicate little spinet. To attempt to play the piece in a technically “clean” manner, sheared of rubato and other agogic responses accumulated in subsequent centuries – to the text as well as the harmonies – would seem perverse: like washing the original in vinegar. By the same token, I feel that simply following the romantic indications – not to mention the thick octaves and large chords in the accompaniment – is the equivalent of centuries’ worth of accumulated oil, soot and grime. I am not sure I am in the market for recomposing the accompaniment, to attemtp a compromise. Not yet, anyway.

In preparing a performance I shall attempt neither to wash the original with wet bread nor vinegar. The key – of course – is the singer. This work will be sung by Violina Angeulov, a superb mezzo-soprano trained at the UCT Opera School by Sarita Stern. As we work on the programme in the next couple of weeks, I am sure we shall do our own restoration and recreation of “Danza, danza fanciulla”. We have no idea what we might yet discover. Perhaps we will dance to Durante’s tune. Or perhaps we won’t. We might just dance our own dance, to the sounds carried on the wind down through the centuries. And how we dance, depends entirely on what we choose to hear. And who knows which voices will be whispering in our ears?

Violina Anguelov (mezzo-soprano) CV

Violina was born in Bulgaria. She obtained her Performer’s Diploma in Opera with distinction as well as Honours Degree in Singing (First Class) from the University of Cape Town under voice teacher Sarita Stern. She has been awarded the Adcock Ingram Music Prize, the Leonard Hall Memorial Prize and Erik Chisholm Prize.

She made her European operatic début as Dorabella in Cosi fan Tutte in Hanover, Germany, in 2000. Her South African operatic début was as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro with Cape Town Opera in 1999. Since then she has sung, just to mention a few,  roles such as Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Fenena in Nabucco, Marguerite in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, Ruggiero in Alcina, Nerone in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Hänsel in Hänsel and Gretel, Idamante in Idomeneo, Orlofski in Die Fledermaus, Mrs. Roland in the One Act One Woman opera Dark sonnet by Erik Chisholm in celebration of 100 years of the composers birth, Elisetta in Il Matrimonio Segreto at the Pretoria State Theatre. She has been invited twice to perform for Opera Africa in the roles of, Romeo in I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Bellini performed in Pretoria State Theatre and Amneris in Aida by Verdi performed both in the Pretoria State Theatre and Johanneburg Civic Theatre. She also sang the as Third Lady in Mozart’s Magic Flute a production directed by William Kentridge. This production was performed in Cape Town Opera House and Civic Theatre Johannesburg. Her latest appearances include the roles of Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Mrs Patrick De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking both productions of Cape Town Opera.

She has a vast repertoire of sacred works: Coronation Mass by Mozart, Stabat Mater by Pergolesi, Gloria by Vivaldi, St. Theresa Mass by Haydn, Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, The Dream of Gerontius by Elgar, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and 9th Symphony, Bach’s Easter Oratorio as well as St. Johan’s and St. Matthews Passions, L’Enfance du Christ by Berlioz, Elijah by Mendelssohn and Verdi Requiem. She has worked with conductors such as: Doctor Barry Smith, Arnold Bosman, Chris Dowdeswell, Doctor Donald Hunt, Richard Cock and Kamal Khan.

King Kong, the first All African Jazz Opera 1958

 King Kong is of course one of the most famous American films ever made (and remade). The story of the giant ape transported from a faraway island to New York, captured the imagination of millions since its first release in 1933. South Africa however, has its own King Kong. In 1958 King Kong became the first all African Jazz Opera, with a star studded local cast including Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers, Kippie Moeketsi, Abigail Kubheka and Hugh Masekela.

Opera in a Convent Garden, an annual concert held at Springfield Convent School (St. John’s Road, Wynberg), this year features a delightful choral extract from this work.  Albert Horne, chorus master of Cape Town Opera, made an arrangement of the famous number Back of the Moon, which will be performed by the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Ensemble – South Africa’s premier opera chorus.

Miranda Tini

Soloists will be Cape Town favourites Shirley Sutherland (My Fair Lady) and  Miranda Tini, whose extraordinary voice has thrilled audiences locally and internationally in roles as diverse as Jezibaba from Dvorak’s Rusalka and Mariah in Porgy and Bess praised at the Cardiff Millennium Centre in Wales, for her “powerful stage presence and equally powerful voice.” (Bill Kenny: Music Web International) 

Cape Town Opera chorus’ experience with Jazz influenced works such as Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess make them ideal interpreters of this neglected work from the South African cultural heritage.

In 1956, the Syndicate of African Artists commissioned Todd Matshikiza to write a large work for choir and orchestra. The composer had written successful choral works before, but since no orchestra was available, Uxolo was created on a massive scale for choirs and brass band. The success of this work – with its jazzy undertones, led in part to the creation of the musical/Jazz Opera King Kong. Lyrics were by Pat Williams. Matshikiza wrote the music as well of some of the lyrics (some in African languages).

Miriam Makeba: Our beloved "Mama Africa"

Lead roles were taken by Nathan Mdledle and Miriam Makeba, who created the role of Shebeen Queen Joyce, the matriarch running the Back of the Moon watering hole. This role brought Mama Africa Makeba international attention and launched a singing career that sustained her throughout her life as an Apartheid exile. The 63 member cast was backed by the cream of South Africa’s jazz musicians, including the now legendary reed player Kippie Moketsi

 

Opening early in 1959 at the Wits University Great Hall, the show was an immediate success. By the time the show travelled to London in 1961, 200 000 South Africans, had seen the show. The life of boxer Ezekial Dhlamini was good material for a stage work. His meteoric rise to the top of South Africa’s boxing world as the famous ‘King Kong’ was in sad contrast to his descent into drunkenness, violence and murder. He killed himself by drowning at age 32. Matshikiza had covered Dhlamini’s 1950’s trial for treason as a journalist and was aboviously well-acquainted with his subject matter. According to The Daily Mail & Guardian, “Matshikiza understood his central character, and, more importantly, understood the whole world that surrounded ‘King Kong’. He understood the whole black world of the townships that fed Johannesburg and the histories of the people who filled those townships.” ~ Craig Harris, All Music Guide

 

Composer and author Todd Matshikiza

Todd Matshikiza (1921-1968)  is considered by many, as belonging to the royalty of South African music. One of a family of 10 – all of whom instrumentalists and singers –  Todd started piano lessons at the age of 6. As an adult he ran the Todd Matshikiza School of Music, where he also taught the piano. From 1949 to 1954, Matshikiza was a committee member of the Syndicate of African Artists. This group aimed to promote music in the townships by getting visiting artists to perform there. Finding it difficult to make a living as a jazz musician, he joined the editorial staff of Drum Magazine.  He wrote a jazz column covering the township scene, particularly in Sophiatown, where he commented on the likes of Kippie Moeketsi and Hugh Masekela who both played for the The Jazz Epistles. He also covered township life in his regular column With the lid off.

South African arts bosses should take note:  the time is surely right for a revival of King Kong. With musicians such as Albert Horne taking such an active interest in the history of black jazz in this country, it would be a pleasant surprise if the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology would also take such an active interest in the preservation of this piece of cultural heritage.

  Read more about Todd Matshikiza at africancomposers.co.za and sacomposers.co.za

Other works on the programme Opera in a Convent Garden  include operatic extracts such as Juliet’s Waltz Song from Gounod’s opera Romeo e Juliette, the Doll Song from Offenbach’s Les Contes D’Hoffmann. Musicals The Student Prince and Show Boat round out a programme designed to please all ages. The accompanists are pianists Albert Horne and Albert Combrink.

When: Sunday 7 February 2010

Time: 17h30

Where: Springfield Convent School (St. John’s Road, Wynberg, Cape Town)

Price: Adults R100 / Scholars R20

Bookings: 076 696 4630

Chorus Master Albert Horne with the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Ensemble

Morgann Rose, Jared Nelson and Laura Urgellés in Piazzolla Caldera -© Carol Pratt

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

The word Tango conjures up many images. The word Tango tells many stories. The word Tango merely hints at the mystery of a music that has run in the bloodstream of generations. A dance of sex and violence born in the bordellos of Buenos Aires. Seduction. Murder. Handsome men in patent leather shoes and white fedoras. Hot blooded women with beautiful thighs and high heels. Two hands clasping together. Tango speaks of the body, and it speaks to the body.

The story that Tango tells is far richer than the one restricting it to the simplistic legend of brothel entertainment – although that certainly is one of it’s tales in a country where, at the start of the 20th century, male immigrants outnumbered females 8 to 1. European immigrants, mainly from Italy and Spain, flooded into Argentina hoping to cash in on the boom in the farming industry. Argentina was enormous by comparison and held promise of land, gold and prosperity – unlike Europe which was sliding into war. The sad reality was, of course, that many were unable to afford to buy the lands that would make them rich, in the first place. Homesick, poor and often unemployed, immigrants settled in working-class neighbourhoods. The colourfulness of the neighbourhoods reflected a poverty of material goods, but not of spirits. Houses were often painted in a variety of colours – left-overs from other projects. Inspired by the colour of local arts and crafts, a vibrant society developed. Along with the port-city’s natives, these people gave expression to their daily struggles. European Polkas intermingled with traditional dances to create a new hybrid. Originally danced on rough and uneven cobblestone, Tango took a long journey before it reached the smooth polished dancefloor.

Astor Piazzolla

Unlike the chequered history of the Tango, the story of one of it’s greatest exponents – Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) – gives up its secrets more willingly. Beginning and ending his life in Argentina, frames periods of study in Paris and New York, and a lifetime of travel as a concert musician. As a child his Italian father insisted that he learn the Bandoneon, the quintessential “Voice of Tango “. His virtuosity was such that already as a teenager he was given a job in Anibal Troilo’s famous Tango orchestra. Troilo is today regarded as one of the fathers of the traditional dance tango and his music is still performed regularly.

Piazzolla was obviously a highly creative teen, and was soon bored by what he considered a genre that had stagnated into formulaic gestures and was in danger of becoming extinct. He went to Paris to study “serious” classical music composition with Nadia Boulanger, probably the world’s most famous composition pedagogue. This encounter was to change the history of the Tango for ever. Boulanger was complimentary about Piazzolla’s well-crafted music, noting as his influences Bartok , Stravinsky and Ravel. At this point in his life he was still ashamed of his passion  for his “native tongue” – the Tango, and had kept his arrangements and compositions a secret. Boulanger convinced him to finally play some to her class. Reportedly she took his hands and said: “Astor, this is beautiful. Here is the true Piazzolla – do not ever leave him.” Calling this epiphany the “great revelation of my life” he returned to Argentina brimming with confidence, enthusiasm and energy.

I love Nadia Boulanger and all her stories, but for me this is one of the most touching, as the music that Piazzolla created after their encounter is, to my mind, one of the great bodies of work of the 20th Century. He took the formulas of Tango – the dance rhythms of the various styles from Milonga to the Habanera – and infused them with the pungent harmonies and cross-rhythms of the twentieth century classical masters. His new style of tango – Tango Nuevo – took the tango from the Dance Hall to the Concert Hall.

The 2003 CD Release "El Tango en Africa"

The Cape Town Tango Ensemble has been performing Piazzolla’s music for a decade, in the Dance Hall as well as the Concert Hall. Performances at Aardklop, Klein Karoo and the Grahamstown Festivals achieved much critical acclaim and excellent CD sales. Along with Mark Hoeben and Ina Wichterich through a strong collaboration with TangoCapeTown they helped create many original stage productions in South Africa. These include Tango del Fuego by Marthinus Basson for Oude Libertas Teater, and All you ever wanted to know about Tango but were too afraid to ask and Tango Experience (scripted and directed by Mark Hoeben) for the Windhoek BankFees as well as the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees. They regularly perform at dance and concert venues from Cape Town to Potchefstroom. Their first CD El Tango En Africa was released in 2003. Guest artists were Mezzo-soprano Violina Angeulov and African Percussion by Dizu Plaatjies.

The Piazzolla tracks recorded on that disc are:

Addios Nonino

Oblivion

Milonga del Anunciacion from the “Tango Operita” Maria de Buenos Aires

Chiquilin de Bachin

Libertango

The tracks can be bought in MP3 format at Rhythm Records, who also have samples for you to listen to.

The CD itself can be bought from One World Cyber Music Store or from any of the musicians in the group.

The American site CDBaby also has Mp3’s to hear.

You can also view video extracts from the show El Beso (The Kiss) produced in collaboration with El Cacha Tango Company, directed by Heinrich Riesenhofer. An electrifying “Libertango” is danced here by Nur ‘Latino’ Dreyer and Cherona Reisenhofer-Dreyer.

The Cape Town Tango Ensemble is currently working on their second album Tango Club due for release in March 2010. This CD will again feature a substantial chunk of Piazzolla’s music, as his music is central to this ensemble’s work.

Piazzolla tracks on Tango Club include:

Soledad – Solitude

Cafe 1930

Anos de Soledad – Years of Solitude

Verano Porteno – Summer in Buenos Aires

Milonga del AngelDance of the Angel

La Muerte del Angel – The Death of the Angel

Cierra tus ojos y escucha – Close your eyes and listen

Musicians on the CD include:

Stanislav Angelov – Accordion and Bandoneon

Jacek Domagala – Violin

Albert Combrink – Piano

Charles Lazar – Double Bass

James Grace – Guitar

Willie van Zyl – Saxophone

Kevin Gibson – Drums

Mark Hoeben and Ina Wichterich performing at "The Valve"

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Sunday, February 7th, 2010, will find Opera in a Convent Garden once more in the beautiful gardens of Springfield Convent in Wynberg, Cape Town. Our formidable cast this year features soprano Shirley Sutherland and the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Ensemble. Chorus Master of Cape Town Opera Albert Horne and pianist Albert Combrink will create the very essential ‘orchestra’ to match the voices.

Gems from the soprano coloratura repertoire will be woven between extracts from Porgy and Bess, Die Fledermaus, My Fair Lady, The Student Prince, King Kong and Traditional Gospel Spirituals.

The Gate in the Junior School campus, opens at 15hoo, parking will be on the grounds accessed via Convent Road.   The show begins at 17.30 and pre-concert attractions will include the Cape Town Caledonian Pipe Band and a Marimba orchestra).

Bring your picnics, blankets and low chairs.  Pizza and pancakes will be available at the Opera Cafe as well as other refreshments.

Book during school hours on 021 797 9637 (ext 200) or on 021 689 8345 and 076 696 4630. Contact us on OperaConventGarden@mweb.co.za

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The rustling and shimmering of the piano part which opens Strauss’ song Ständchen – which I should perhaps be practising for tomorrow’s concert, rather than writing about it – is one of those startling inventions by this composer that simply hooks the listener from the first note. The song tells the charming story of a secret lover’s tryst in the dark of night, the beloved ardently seduced into sneaking into the forest for a night of passion. Strauss responds to the vividly descriptive words with a song filled with passion and seduction.

Strauss composed his Sechs Lieder Op.17 to poems by Adolf Friedrich von Schack between 1885 and 1887. At that time Strauss was the court music director in Meiningen and moved to Munich to become the Court Opera’s third conductor. Strauss’ early experience in the opera house not only stood him in good stead as an opera composer, but his songs often have an operatic sweep about them, and a clear sense of climax and dramatic pacing.

Strauss’ music brings to life the expectation and excitement of the clandestine tryst  of Schack’s poem.

Ständchen by Adolf Friedrich, Graf von Schack (1855-1894)

Mach auf, mach auf, doch leise mein Kind,
Um keinen vom Schlummer zu wecken.
Kaum murmelt der Bach, kaum zittert im Wind
Ein Blatt an den Büschen und Hecken.
Drum leise, mein Mädchen, daß [nichts sich]1 regt,
Nur leise die Hand auf die Klinke gelegt.

Mit Tritten, wie Tritte der Elfen so sacht,
[Die über die Blumen]2 hüpfen,
Flieg leicht hinaus in die Mondscheinnacht,
[Zu]3 mir in den Garten zu schlüpfen.
Rings schlummern die Blüten am rieselnden Bach
Und duften im Schlaf, nur die Liebe ist wach.

Sitz nieder, hier dämmert’s geheimnisvoll
Unter den Lindenbäumen,
Die Nachtigall uns zu Häupten soll
Von unseren Küssen träumen,
Und die Rose, wenn sie am Morgen erwacht,
Hoch glühn von den Wonnenschauern der Nacht..

Ständchen in free translation by Albert Combrink

“Love Song”

Open up, open up, but softly my child,
So as not to wake anyone from their sleep,
The stream is barely murmuring, the wind hardly causes quivers
In a leaf on bush or hedge.
So, softly, my young girl, so that nothing stirs,
Just lay your hand softly on the door-latch.

With steps as soft as the footsteps of elves,
that hop over the flowers,
Fly lightly out into the moonlit night,
Sneak to me in the garden.
Around us sleeps the blossoms along the trickling stream,
Fragrant in sleep, only love is awake.

Sit down, here it darkens mysteriously
Beneath the linden trees,
The nightingale over our heads
Shall dream of our kisses,
And the rose, when it wakes in the morning,
Shall glow from the joyous showers of the night.

"Lovers in the garden" Paul Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

"Lovers in the garden" Paul Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

Early in his career Strauss was obviously taken with the poems of Von Schack – the son of a wealthy landowner – setting 16 of his poems in the songs which comprise his Opus 15, 17 and 19 sets, completed by the age of 24. As with most of Strauss’ choice of poets, Schack might not be regarded as a towering figure in the poetic landscape, so to speak. Yet his poems provide much suggestive imagery to stimulate the imagination – especially one as creative as Strauss. Schack’s moonlit forest shakes, trembles, quakes and quivers and in the morning the roses will be glowing form the night’s “Wonnenschauern” – a virtually untranslatable portmanteau suggesting the “joyous showers” of the night’s activities (perhaps one would be wise not to interpret it only literally). The grammar of the poem makes it hard to distinguish whether the poet is taking the beloved into the night, or merely singing a song of seduction and describing the delights that await them – as the title suggests.  The music however, tells a fuller story.

Tonality is vitally important in the music of Strauss and he adhered loosely to a set of tonal symbols. C major is often regarded as his “Key of Creation”, of elemental power, the source of the Big Bang: note for example the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra or the song Zueignung (Op. 10 No.1) – both powerful existential statements. A flat major is used for pious religious expressions such as those of John the Baptist in the opera Salome. Ständchen is in F Sharp major, a key it only shares with a single other song from his 205: Traum durch die Dämmerung. This is also the key of love at first sight in the “Presentation of the Rose” duet from Der Rosenkavalier. Often associated with love, dreaminess and intoxication, this key suggests two lovers “high” on love, the romance of the moment and the beauty of the surroundings.

The house near the forest - anon.

The house near the forest - anon.

Musically the first two verses are repeated verbatim. Verse one lures the beloved out the door. Verse two lures the beloved into the darkness of the Linden trees. Octave leaps, like an ardent but secret call and long passages in the same key suggest so beautifully the furtive seduction. The piano quakes and quivers in excitement and but also surrounds the voice in the night-sounds of the forest: the trembling, rustling and positively quaking leaves and the murmuring trickle of the ever-flowing but never dangerous stream. The excited frisson in the hearts of the lovers is expressed in the darting of the piano part. The figuration is more pianistic than it appears at first sight: The 4th finger falls naturally on the black notes and the short 5th finger feels comfortably in place on the adjacent white finger, making the rippling pianissimo a joy to play. Yet some sharp-shooters’ aim is required when the modulations move in between the black notes.

Verse three gets down to the serious business of love-making. As the beloved is invited to “sink down” on the soft grass, the piano part sinks gently down to the key of D Major, the key of nature: Daphne in the garden; the garden of the “Vier Letzte Lieder. The flattened VI key is such a quintessentially Romantic musical symbol for the mysterious and the magical. Another magical use of the flattened sixth key occurs in Schubert’s rapturous Nacht und Träume (Night and Dreams, D. 827) of 1822, where the joy of the dreamers is expressed with breathtaking tenderness.

The piano part of the third verse reveals some fussiness on the part of the composer. The little figurations, while remaining true to the original idea, change shape and inversions a few too many times, making it unnecessarily awkward for the pianist. I wonder if some have not cheated the odd beat or two. It is mainly pianissimo and the pedal hides a multitude of sins. As the piano part modulates downwards to B Major, the voice starts its ecstatic ascent to the climax, Strauss finding it necessary to repeat the words “Hoch glühn” (glowing on high) to sustain the excitement and extend the exquisite consummation.

Linden Tress abound in German Lieder

Linden Tress abound in German Lieder

At this point there is a discrepancy between the piano-accompanied version of the song, and the orchestral arrangement of the song. In the orchestral version the high A sharp of the climax is held double the length. It is a glorious effect. I have heard various sopranos take the “long cut” in the piano version, with the pianist either left high and dry at the barline, or, in the case of some conductor-pianists such as Wolfgang Swallisch and Sir Georg Solti, they reversed the process of orchestration and rewrote the piano part, adding extra bars as per the orchestral version. The orchestral version also ends more abruptly, leaving out the piano’s brief but charming postlude.

Strauss only wrote 15 of his 205 songs expressly for Voice and Orchestra. He himself orchestrated 25 of the piano accompaniments and sanctioned some by others. These orchestrations were done at various times in his career, often to provide concert material for his wife Pauline de Ahna and some of the various sopranos with whom he travelled after Pauline’s career started winding down, such as the creator of the title role in Arabella, Viorica Ursuleac whom Strauss called “die treueste aller Treuen” (“the most faithful of all the faithful”).

Some recordings:

Walter Gieseking made a beautiful transcription of the song for solo piano. His own performance is unhurried and tender, a beautiful version giving a distilled ‘gestalt’, when the visceral excitement generated by a voice, is absent. FREE SHEET MUSIC of Gieseking’s transcription of Ständchen is available.

An opera singer more famous for his Puccini than his Strauss, Jussi Björling’s Bel Canto brings a wonderful line to this song, in an orchestral version.

Lotte Lehman (recorded here in 1941) remains an authority in this repertoire, having performed many times with Strauss himself.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the Über-Guru of Lieder, performs here with his main collaborator in the autumn-years of his career – Hartmut Höll, piano. This is about as deffinitive as modern interpretations get.

Fritz Wunderlich, who performed so many of Strauss’ taxing tenor roles before his untimely death, here gives one of the performances of a lifetime, in an orchestral set of Strauss comprising: 1 Heimliche Auffforderung, 2 Ständchen and 3 Zueignung.

Nicolai Gedda perhaps does not strike one immediately as primarily a lieder singer, but much of career was built around recital repertoire. Hs version is beautifully youthful and tender.

Sir Georg Solti postively basks in the virtuosity of the piano part. Here he acompanies Kiri te Kanawa with whom he performed and recorded not only the piano and orchestral version of this song, but also recorded a glorious Vier Letzte Lieder.

While the sheer sweep and drama of many of Strauss’ songs have attracted many larger voices, two very different versions by two very different sopranos reveal how the material can translate well to either voice-type in the hands of an intelligent singer. The Wagnerian size of Birtgit Nilsson (accompanied by Janos Solyom – 1975) contrasts sharply with the lyric colloratura of Kathleen Battle (accompanied by Warren Jones – 1991) but both reveal different aspects of the beauty of this song.

Related material: Nacht und Träume by Franz Schubert

Renée Fleming and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado perform an unidentified orchstration in 2005.

A young Kiri te Kanawa and Richard Amner perform a radiant version at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1978.

Unlike the Linden Tree, the “Tree of Lovers” in German literature, Ständchen is evergreen and beloved the world over.

LINDEN TREE

Allerseelen (Richard Strauss)

September 8, 2009

strauss_richard 0

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Sixty years after his death, the music of Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) remains loved and sung often, regarded as a gift to the voice. From his first Christmas song, written at the age of 6, to the final page of “Malven”, completed just after the “Vier Lezte Lieder”, over 200 songs reflect an ongoing love-affair with the voice. His operas reveal great lyrical gifts. The songs are performed often and have been sung by some of the greatest singers in history. “Allerseelen” forms part of a selection of Strauss songs Cape Town soprano Filipa van Eck and myself will be performing in various upcoming recitals .

“Allerseelen” op.10 no. 8 (Text by Hermann von Gilm zu Rosenegg (1812-1864)

Published in 1885 when Strauss was 21, but possibly written when he was as young as 18, this song forms part of an extra-ordinary set of songs mostly written by a man still in his teens.

“Allerseelen” aus “Letzte Blätter”  –  with free translation by Albert Combrink

Stell auf den Tisch die duftenden Reseden. Die letzten roten Astern trag herbei. Und laß uns wieder von der Liebe reden. Wie einst im Mai. – Place on the table, the fragrant heather. The last red Asters, draw them near. And let us again talk of love. As once in May.

Gib mir die Hand, daß ich sie heimlich drücke, Und wenn man’s sieht, mir ist es einerlei, Gib mir nur einen deiner süßen Blicke, Wie einst im Mai. – Give me your hand that I can give it a secret squeeze. And if anyone saw it, to me it would be neither here nor there. Just give me one of your sweet gazes. As once in May.

Es blüht und [funkelt] dufted heut auf jedem Grabe. Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei. Komm an mein Herz, daß ich dich wieder habe. Wie einst im Mai. – Today each grave blossoms and gives off fragrance. One day in the year the dead are free. Come to my heart, that I may have you again. As once in May.

“Allerseelen” – Some textual considerations:

When writing his operas, Strauss demanded the highest quality from librettists. His working relationship with Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) is well-documented. Hofmannsthal and Strauss had debates, arguments, philosophical discussions and volumes of correspondence, revealing much about the way in which Strauss crafted the music to suit the drama. And in many cases, vice versa. Hofmannsthal wrote libretti for several of his operas, including Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Ariadne auf Naxos (1912, rev. 1916), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1933). Yet in each case, the composer had a handin the making of the text. “Strauss the song-maker” had a very different approach. Strauss found pre-made texts, often of variable quality. Austrian civil servant Hermann von Gilm zu Rosenegg (1812-1864) is today mainly remembered for his poetry set by Strauss – “Zueignung” Op.10 No.1 and “Die Nacht” Op.10 No.3 being the other famous examples.

1. Religious context

The poet uses the context of a religious ceremony to express a deep love and passion, tapping into sub-conscious depths of feeling that transcends mere romantic love. This is an ancient ceremony, both mythical and mystical. The dead are remembered by their loved ones with flowers and candles on their graves. Sometimes the dead are even invited to participate in meals, with dishes set out for them on the family table. “Allerseelen” or “All Soul’s Day” (sometimes called the “Day of the Dead”) always falls on November 2 (November 3rd if the 2nd falls on a Sunday). It is a Roman Catholic day of remembrance for friends and loved ones who have passed away. This comes from the ancient Pagan Festival of the Dead, which celebrated the Pagan belief that the souls of the dead would return for a meal with the family. Candles in the window would guide the souls back home, and another place was set at the table. Children would come through the village, asking for food to be offered symbolically to the dead, which would then be donated to feed the hungry. The Feast of All Souls owes its beginning to seventh century monks who decided to offer the mass on the day after Pentecost for their deceased community members. In the late tenth century, the Benedictine monastery in Cluny chose to move their mass for their dead to November 2, the day after the Feast of all Saints. This custom spread: in the thirteenth century, Rome put the feast on the calendar of the entire Church. The date remained November 2 so that all in the Communion of the Saints might be celebrated together.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - "The Day of the Dead" (1859)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - "The Day of the Dead" (1859)

Initially many Protestant reformers rejected “Allerseelen” Day because of the Theology behind the fest – in particular the concept of Purgatory, and the idea that human intercession on a particular day could affect the welfare of a soul. Intercession from the living is believed to free souls from their sins and hasten entry into heaven. All Soul’s Day lives on today, particularly in Mexico, where All Hallows’ Eve, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day are collectively observed as “Los Dias de los Muertos” (The Days of the Dead). First and foremost, the “Days of the Dead” is a time when families fondly remember the deceased. But it is also a time marked by festivities, including spectacular parades of skeletons and ghouls. In one notable tradition, revellers lead a mock funeral procession with a live person inside a coffin. Many customs are associated with “The Day of the Dead” celebrations. In the home an altar is made with an offering of food upon it. It is believed that the dead partake of the food in spirit and the living eat it later. The ofrendas (offerings) are beautifully arranged with flowers such as marigolds (zempasuchitl), which are the traditional flower of the dead. There is a candle placed for each dead soul, and they are adorned in some manner. Incense is also often used, and mementos, photos, and other remembrances of the dead also adorn the ofrenda. Other traditions and customs include visiting the graveyard for a picnic, decorating the relatives’ graves, lighting candles while reciting a prayer for each departed soul, and leaving doors and windows open on “All Soul’s Night”. The modern commercialism of Halowe’en reflects the concept of the souls being “free from restraint” on this particular night.

The speaker of the song addresses the loved one, using the framework of spiritual freedom as an allegory for the freedom of their love, either to relive itself “as it once did in May”, or perhaps free from social restraint – “If anyone saw me squeeze your hand, it would make no difference to me”.

Aster Pomplona Aster Pomplona

2. Flowers

Flower imagery abounds: The first stanza calls for the strongly scented blossom spikes of resedas (Reseda odorata, sweet mignonette) and red asters are to be brought into the house and placed “on the table”. Red, both the colour of passion and autumn (November in the Northern Hemisphere) and asters are typical cemetery flowers of Central Europe.

3. The table and the inside of the house

The table or house is also a symbol of the grave in many poems, for example Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death”:

We passed before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground-

The Roof was scarcely visible – The Cornice – in the Ground.

Reseda lutea Reseda lutea

4. Death

Death is ever-present in the song, but there is no morbidity. If anything, it is as if the sadness of death is made bearable by the connection with the dead made possible by the ceremony. It calls to mind Franz Schubert’s “Der Tod und das Mädchen” D531 to a text by Matthias Claudius. Death is the comforter. Here is an extraordinary performance by Christa Ludwig and Gerald Moore from 1961.

Musical treatment

The harmonic language is marked by quintessentially Straussian chromatic shifts. The modulations at the end of each strophe are quite dramatic, as if Strauss is trying to subvert the repeated strophic nature of the song by pushing it into a through-composed shape. Larger-scale tonal planning is obvious. On the words “deiner süßen Blicke” in the second strophe, a rather alarming shift to B Major, distantly related to the tonic of E Flat major, underlines the distance of the memory of the sweet glance of the beloved. Other Straussian trade-marks include the voice “creeping in” to the melodic material set out by the piano. At the entry of the voice at both the first and third strophe the voice seems to “complete” a thought started by the piano. In the great songs – “Morgen”, “Vier Letzte Lieder” – and great operatic scenes such as the closing scene of “Capriccio”, this technique creates tremendous unity of expression between the voice and its surroundings. The waves of graceful arpeggiated sweeps in the piano accompaniment throughout the song reinforce Gilm’s interpretation of All Souls’ Day, suggesting the yearning for the ideal springtime place where love is innocent and lovers are united in otherworldly bliss.

Useful links and recorded materials

Lotte Lehmann in a 1941 radio recital of the songs (1) Allerseelen, Op.10/8, (2) Zueignung, Op.10/1 and(3) Ständchen, Op.17/2 The uncredited pianist is possibly Paul Ulanowsky (1908-1968), her collaborator during this period.

Strauss first heard Lehmann (1886-1976) when she was the understudy for the heroine of his “Ariadne auf Naxos”. So impressed was he with her that she was entrusted with the world premiere. While never as comfortable in Liederas in the operatic repertory it is nonetheless valuable to hear a singer  who performed these songs with the composer at the piano. Strauss’s wife Pauline de Ahna inspired many of his later songs and performed them often. Lehmann is said to have had a similar voice.

Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch gives the lie to the fear that the golden age of Lieder-singing might be over. From a superb recital comes a superb rendition with much of the operatic vocal gesture for which Strauss’ songs are so famous, but allied with a true Lieder singer’s responsiveness to the text. Strauss’ operatic tenor roles might occasionally be unrewarding, but here is a most valuable contribution to the history of Lieder performance.

Briggitte Fassbaender performs here with an uncredited pianist – probably Irwin Gage – who underlines the cross-rhythms and couterpoint in a style which reminds one of the accompaniments of Johannes Brahms. Fassbaender’s tendency to overshoot climaxes is present here as well, but her way with the language, in particular touches of magic such as the conversational tone in the seconds strophe, marks her out as one of the great interpreters. View her in two Masterclass Excerpts on “Allerseelen”: Masterclass 1. Masterclass 2.

Jesye Norman and long time accompanist Geoffrey Parsons show why her enormous voice and powers of interpretation made her an ideal Strauss heroine. From the “Vier Letzte Lieder” to “Salome”, Strauss has formed a cornerstone of her repertoire from her early days of study in Vienna. While it is a big, powerful voice, one is struck by the intimate nature of this performance and the great control of pianissimi.

Kathleen Battle and mentor James Levine produce a delightfully intimate performance. A young artist in total control of her vocal equipment. Levine is delightfully fluid and “un-ponderous” in this live recording from 1983.

“Allerseelen” in a free translation by Walter Aue

“Allerseelen” sheet music

Upcoming performance of "Allerseelen"

Upcoming performance of "Allerseelen"

Prof. Judith Kellock - Cornell University

Prof. Judith Kellock - Cornell University

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As part of her recital-tour of South Africa, Prof Judith Kellock, presented Masterclasses at S.A. College of Music at the University of Cape Town. It was a tremendous bonus that Peter Louis van Dijk and myself managed to get this to happen at UCT. At the invitation Prof. Virigina Davids – Head of the Voice Department at the SACM, Miss Kellock worked with students with a large range of skills, of both Under- and Post-Gradute level. Miss Kellock’s class drew substantial interest from faculty and students alike and was attended by all voice students and the full teaching faculty as well as UCT Alumni such as Belvedere Competition winner Pretty Yende. Miss Kellock’s informative class was characterised by her ability to go to the heart of what would provide the most beneficial information to each of the students in the limited time.

Miss Kellock focused on technical and expressive detail with each student. The meaning of the text and characterisation was emphasised in Lieder as well as Opera. Students were encouraged to think “outside the box” and experiment with material with which they were very well familiar. Technical themes that recurred throughout the class, were an excess of tension, muscular activity and “effortfulness” and Miss Kellock’s teaching assisted students to find a more direct approach to their performance. Very useful work included exercises to create fluid coloratura, creating meaning out of the text and French and German diction.

The students who performed were:

Sunnyboy Dladla (Tenor) – taught by Prof. Hartman – presented the taxing tenor aria “Vedro” from “La Scala di Seta” by Rossini. Sunnyboy performed the entire role of Dorvil in the Alex Fokkens/Lara Bye production earlier this year, where his comic flair and acting ability was matched by an outstanding vocal performance that won both audience and critical acclaim. Miss Kellock foccused on the coloratura runs in this aria. Her work with Sunnyboy on Rossini’s Bel Canto style contributed to his preparation for his upcoming role as Nemorino in the Cape Town Opera/UCT Production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’amore”.

Friedl Mitas (Soprano) – taught by Prof. Davids – sang the “Jewel Song” from “Faust” by Gounod. Miss Kellock worked on making the interpretation more relevant to the dramatic context, and found innovative ways of making the aria fresh for the singer who had  performed it many times. Friedl will be making her Debut with the Cape Town Philharmonic on Saturday 22 August in the CPO Youth Concerto Festival conducted by Theodor Kuchar.

Antoinette Blyth (Soprano) – taught by Dr. Liebl – performed “O! Quand je d’or” by Franz Liszt. As director of Cape Town’s Philharmonia Choir, Antoinette has extensive music experience as a choral conductor and voice teacher. Miss Kellock focused on aspects of breathing and tension held in the face. Most revealing was when she made Antoinette lie on her back and perform the song, as an illustration of breathing technique.

Phindiwe Nomyanda sang “Seit ich ihn Gesehen” from Schumann’s “Frauenlieben und -leben”. Work focused primarily on German diction and placing the song in context within the cycle.

Thembinkosi Mgetyengana (Tenor) – taught by Mr. Tikolo – sang Bellini’s “Ma rendi pur”. His clear voice and easily produced high notes impressed, and Miss Kellock worked on Bel Canto line and voice production. In particular, avoiding an over-active physical approach to the sound production was encouraged.

Accompanists for the Masterclass were UCT Vocal Coaches Kurt Haupt and myself Albert Combrink.

After the tremendous interest that our recital of American Song “Paper Wings” generated both in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, students and faculty members were even more keen to benefit from Miss Kellock’s knowledge and experience, and we hope to have the privilege of having her back at the SACM in future.

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Following our successful trip to Mozambique presenting Portuguese language music, Filipa and I have extended the Villa-Lobos portion of the programme to include a broad spectrum of Latin American gems. Amongst music from Cuba, Brazil and Argentina, the strains of Spain and Portugal are weaved in, reflecting not only their erstwhile colonial power and influence, but also the roots of the music from Latin America.

Our programme includes the famous and very popular “La Partida” (The Farewell) by Marcello Alvarez (1833?-1898). This beautiful song shows off the dramatic and vocal range of a singer and pianist, and makes an excellent recital-piece that has been recorded and performed by many great singers of the past and present. Alvarez is known for the composition of almost 100 songs and an unpublished opera “Margarita”. He also composed an orchestral work “Obertura Capricho” (Keith Johnson – All Music Guide)

The text by Spanish poet, playwright and journalist Eusebio Blasco Soler (1844 – 1903) tells of a person leaving their homeland with a heart full of sadness and even bitterness.

La Partida (The Farewell) – Eusebio Blasco Soler

Spanish Text:

Sierras de Granada, montes de Aragón,
campos de mi patria,
para siempre adios

De la patria los últimos ecos,
resonando en mi pecho estarán
y mis ojos llorando pesares
sus dolores, ¡ay! sus dolores
al mundo dirán.

Mensajeros, ¡ay! mensajeros
de un pecho traidor. ¡Ah!

Cuando a tus playas vuelva suelo adorado
las aguas del olvido me habrán curado
y si así no sucede ¡triste de mí! ¡triste de mí!

A la patria que dejo vendré a morir.

Sierras de Granada, montes de Aragón,
campos de mi patria, para siempre adiós,
adiós, para siempre adios!

La Partida (The Farewell)

Eusebio Blasco Soler – Free English translation by Albert Combrink:

Mountain ranges of Granada, mounts of Aragon, fields of my mother country, goodbye for ever.

The final echoes resonating in my chest, will be of mother country and my eyes will be crying with grief, ay! And will speak its pains to the world.

Messengers, ay! Messengers, ay, of a traitorous heart. Ah!

When to the beaches of your adored ground, I return, the waters of forgetfulness will have cured me of my grief. And if it has not, woe is me! Woe is me!

To the mother country that I leave, I will return to die.

Mountain ranges of Granada, mounts of Aragon, fields of my mother country, for always, goodbye!

Musical Style

The free lyricism and easy melodiousness of the song resembles the style of Italian Neapolitan Songs. The passion of the poet is reflected in the flamenco style ornaments of the vocal line. The work also reflects the omnipresence of the guitar in the music of Spain and Latin America. Arpeggiated figures remind of a strummed guitar. When built into an extended song such as this one feels that it would not be out of place as an aria in a Zarzuela. Zarzuela is a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that includes spoken dialogue and sung scenes (similar to musicals or German Operetta). Music in a Zarzuela can include dance, popular or operatic songs. There are two main forms of Zarzuela: the Baroque Zarzuela (c.1600-1750) and the Romantic Zarzuela (c.1850-1950). Zarzuela spread to the Spanish colonies and many Hispanic countries such as Cuba, developed their own traditions, extending the range and scope of this artform. While I found no affirmative documentation it is not far fetched to assume that Alvarez would have encountered Zarzuelas in Brazil or on travels to Spain, which many musicians from Brazil did in the 19th century.

Useful links and recorded material

An orchestrated version sung in 1959 by Spanish tenor Alfredo Kraus (1927-1999). The last two years of Kraus’s life were darkened by the death of his wife in 1997, which affected him so deeply that he stopped performing for eight months. A proud and strong-willed man, he eventually returned to the stage and to teaching, making the comment: “I don’t have the will for singing but I must do it, because, in a sense, it is a sign that I have overcome the tragedy. Singing is a form of admitting that I’m alive.” Something of that will to live can be heard in his performance of this song.

An orchestrated version sung by Peruvian tenor Luigi Alva(1927- ). Alva was the foremost tenore leggiero of the post World War II years. He was known for his purity of tone, elegant phrasing and spotless diction. The clarity and precision he brought to Mozart and Rossini serves him well here in the lyrical sections of this song, sung with touching expression.

Another famous tenor to have recorded “La Partida” is Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) He brings a real dramatic flair and his powerful voice to this song creating a superb rendition. A very exciting discovery while researching this song was finding FREE DOWNLOADS of Caruso recordings of copyright-free material in the public domain. But for those who wish to own the artefact, there are recorded CD versions available by Rosa Ponselle and Caruso.

The operatic possibilities of “La Partida” are explored in this version by Amelita Galli-Curci on what appears to be her first ever recording (30 October 1916). She not only adds a high D at the end, but also what sounds like a pair of Castanets. One wonders if the great lady herself played them, or if the task was left to the percussion department… It was not uncommon for singers such as Maria Malibran to play Castanets on stage (in Carmen for example or in song recitals) or even accompany themselves on the guitar (Victoria de los Angeles). Filipa van Eck however will not be playing any of these at our performance of “Amores, Amores, a Latin Night of Song” on 16 August at Villa Pascal, being satisfied with myself on the piano, accompanying the songs as well as performing solo instrumental repertoire.

Other items on the programme include Falla’s “Seite Canciones Populares Espanolas”, Claudio Santoro’s “Acalanto al Rose”, “La muerte del Angel” by Astor Piazzolla as well as Villa-Lobos songs and piano works.

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