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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

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Allerseelen (Richard Strauss)

September 8, 2009

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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"

amores IMG_5549

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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.

villalobos_lg

amores IMG_5549

Soprano Filipa Van Eck

Soprano Filipa Van Eck

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On Friday 17 July 2009 Filipa Van Eck and myself will be performing a concert in tribute to the 50th anniversary of the death of Heitor Villa-Lobos, and also in celebration of the 13th anniversary of the CPLP, or Comunidade dos Paises de Lingua Portuguesa (Community of Portuguese speaking Countries),  a type of Portuguese commonwealth that includes all Portuguese speaking countries such as Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Brazil etc. The concert will be held at the University in Maputo. The concert will also feature solo piano works by Villa-Lobos.

” O vosso canto vem do fundo do Sertao, como uma brisa amolecendo o coracao” – “Your songs come from the depths of the forest, like a breeze softening  my heart.” These words by Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira – speaking of a beloved  to a bird in the forest – could apply to Villa-Lobos. His vocal music has not been adequately explored in recital or on recordings,. Sheet Music is not readily available. Therefore putting together a selection of songs is not an easy task. But there is much of value and beauty to explore.

We will, of course, be performing the composer’s signature-work for voice, the Bachianas Brasileiras #5. Filipa will be singing the complete work, the Canitlena as well as the 2nd movement – added in 1945 – Dansa (Martelo) to the text by Manuel Bandeira.

“Melodia Sentimental” was an obvious choice, but we could not find the Sheet Music in time. I include recorded materials of it here simply because I think it is a wonderful piece that I will perform as soon as get a copy of the music. This work has become so popular that some find it difficult to decide if it is a Folk Song that became classical or if it’s a classical song that has become so popular as to have entered the folk tradition. As is typical with the music of this composer, the music can sustain a variety of different performance styles. It has been arranged for classical ensembles, and performed by popular and classical singers alike. I personally adore this clip of Maria Bethania listening to and singing along to her own recording of  “Melodia Sentimental” .

Narrowing the gap between classical and popular

In a recent issue of the Rio de Janeiro Musician’s Union (SindMusi) newsletter, Musical, the pianist, arranger and composer Cláudio Dauelsberg was interviewed about the release of two new CD’s in two very different styles, Ventos do Norte (North Winds – MPB) and Bach, recorded with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.

He says, “More and more we are seeing the barrier breaking down between popular and classical… Each (of these) areas has a lot to offer to the other and it’s really cool for us to allow that encounter. But it’s a challenge to dive in with intensity and profundity in the two areas.”

Brazilian music is founded upon the syncretism of European, African and Indigenous Amerindian musical traditions which all contribute to its uniqueness. In The Brazilian Sound, Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha provide some additional insights (1998):

“Most Brazilian music shares three outstanding qualities. It has an intense lyricism tied to its Portuguese heritage that often makes for beautiful, highly expressive melodies, enhanced by the fact that Portuguese is one of the most musical tongues on earth and no small gift to the ballad singer. Second, a high level of poetry is present in the lyrics of much Brazilian popular music. And last, vibrant Afro-Brazilian rhythms energize most Brazilian songs, from samba to baião.”

These elements are to be fund in abundance in the songs Filipa Van Eck will be performing in Mozambique:

Cancao do Poeta do Seculo XVIII (Song of a poet of the 18th Century)

Cancao do Poeta do Seculo XVIII (sung here in a clip by Teresa Berganza with Juan Antonio Alvarez Parejo on piano in 1984) is a beautiful song that walks the trapeze between art-song and popular ballad – like so many of this composer’s works. A gentle candombe rhythm introduces a yearning melody that seems to reflect the text by Alfredo Ferreira perfectly. The poet dreams of walking in the moonlight with his beloved. The moon is a symbol of love and hope, but alas, it is also out of reach.

Evocação (Evocation)

“Evocação” – the 7th song in the series “Modinhas e Canções” – is filled with deep feeling and longing. It is a powerful song in which the poet is delirious with love. “I live to cry my love for you”, the poet says, and is enfolded in a starlit dream of ecstasy. Here is a version sung by tenor Daniel Inamorato. This is a very serious and “classical” interpretation, which I enjoy, but I do think some more expressive freedom would add to the passion of the song. The lilting 6/8 opening is almost Neapolitan in it’s simplicity, but the modulation to the minor in the slow section is most affecting, with the climax of the song reaching almost suicidal passion.

Nesta Rua (This Street)

This appears to be a Villa-Lobos arrangement of a traditional melody arranged by Villa-Lobos, in fact, more than once. It appears as the 11th piece in the piano cycle Cirandinhas (1925) and again in the Cirandas of 1926. The piano arrangements are powerful virtuoso works, but their dramatic style appears not to fit the lyrics of the poem. The quasi-Indian percussive piano effects open the piano arrangements are totally absent in the vocal arrangement. Kiki Hamman traces the roots of this song to a Brazilian “cantiga” or lullaby. If Villa-Lobos can not stake claim to the haunting melody, he certainly gets the credit for a magnificent arrangement. Subtle polyrhythms and swaying triplets make performing this work an absolute pleasure. Again, it is a work that has popular undertones, and unfortunately gets less than satisfactory performances such as this version with Sandy Leah in which more than just the intonation is suspect.

Lundú Da Marqueza De Santos

The 2nd song form the group “Modinhas e Canções” (to a text by Triato Correa), reveals Villa-Lobos’ popular folk-inflected side. However it is a bit perplexing as a musical response to the text. The song is written in an up-beat Allegretto Tango rhythm, but the text by Triato Correa is a sad an desperate cry for a departed lover. “Everything in me is black and sad, Oh! this tremendous, tremendous punishment.” But the song is not black nor sad! This version with tenor Polane Brandão reveals the technical difficulty of the song, as well as one of a fundamental weakness in much of Villa-Lobos’ vocal writing: the piano doubles the voice melody throughout. This creates a problem with the balance as well as highlighting any intonation difficulties that there might be. In addition it limits the singer’s rhythmic freedom, which I consider vital to creating a folk-inspired quasi-Neapolitan song. Orchestrated versions do exist, but I am not sure if these are by Villa-Lobos. Bidu Sayao recorded two versions, and her lyricim is immediately apparent. Her clear voice and easy high notes still make her an ideal interpreter from a stylistic point of view:

“Lundú Da Marqueza De Santos” sung by Bidu Sayao (1)

“Lundú Da Marqueza De Santos” sung by Bidu Sayao (2)

Some recordings of Villa-Lobos’ vocal music and other useful links:

“Canção do Amor” and “Melodia Sentimental” from Villa-Lobos’ symphonic poem “Floresta do Amazonas” sung by Bidu Sayo in 1959. Villa-Lobos convinced Sayao to come out of retirement to record this work, composed with her voice in mind. The lyrics are given as well.

Cathy Berberian sings Xango The text has no particular meaning and is an anomatopaeic description of Amerindian drumming – “Xangô! Ôlê gondilê ôlálá… Gon gon gon gondilá! Xangô! Ôlé gondilé ôlêlê Gon gon gon gondilê!”

Traditional recreation of Xango: Xango, god of fire and thunder from the Afro Brazilian tradition of Candomble´. From the CD, “Sacred Songs and Chants of Candomble”

“Floresta” sung by Bidu Sayao

The “Birdsong” from “Amazon” sung by Bidu Sayao

Brazilian Popular Music: A Bird of a Thousand Voices

Texts and translations of a selection of Villa-Lobos’ vocal works

A CD of Latin American Songs with Marina Tafur (Soprano) and Nigel Foster (Piano)

“Canción del marinero” sung by Alfredo Kraus

Balduína de Oliveira (Bidu) Sayão’s obituary and career summary

An appreciation of Bidu Sayao’s career

Filipa Van Eck’s Biography

Filipa van Eck (23) has completed her Bmus Western Classical Performance at UCT and has been training her voice with Sarita Stern since 2004. Filipa has won various prizes for singing at school, and completed her UNISA exams with distinctions. At UCT she has managed to be placed on the Dean’s Merit list for every year of study, and was the Class Medalist for 2004.

Filipa has sung in various chamber music concerts, her repertoire includes The Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, L’amero by Mozart and Der Hirt auf dem Felsen by Schubert; and was invited to perform as a soloist in Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Sotonga String Quartet in Napier; and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater for Barry Smith and the Rupert Foundation for Music in March 2008.

Filipa has also performed around Cape Town for The Nine Club, Friends of Cape Town Opera, The Fishoek Music Society; and in Pretoria at the Portuguese Embassy in commemoration of the end of the Portuguese presidency of the European Union. She was chosen to perform a solo recital for Portuguese national day held at the Centre of the Book in 2007, and performed in Johannesburg with the Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Richard Cock in a concert organized by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust.

Filipa was nominated as a finalist in the 2007 and 2008 SCHOCK Foundation for Singing Competition, and the 2008 SCHOCK Chamber Music Competition held at the Baxter concert hall.

She will be performing in a concert version of Dido and Aeneas for Barry Smith in May, appearing as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier in June, and in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen with the UCT Opera School and Cape Town Opera.

She is currently completing her Masters in Music Performance at UCT.