Eichendorff: Die Stille (The stillness)

20 06 2011
Stillness, by AlicePopkorn

Stillness by AlicePopkorn (CC)

Knows or guesses but no one
How I am so well, so well!
Ah, if but one, just one would know it,
No person should know it otherwise.

Not so calm is it outside in the snow,
Not so quiet and hushed
Are the stars in the heights
As are my thoughts.

I’d wish I were a birdie
and travel over the sea,
far over the sea and beyond,
until I were in heaven.

Like the prior poems Schumann chose for his Liederkreis, this poem has a definite longing for an existence beyond perception through the mortal veil. It is a portrait of the inner life of a soul reaching toward the one and only thing that will fulfill it.  It is unclear whether the speaker yearns for the beloved or the Beloved and what form fulfillment will take.

The mystery of the poem is greatly enhanced by Eichendorff’s masterful manipulation of the German language – it’s worthy of a thesis unto itself! Eichendorff keeps the reader guessing by twisting grammatical constructs, by inserting slight variations of thoughts, and by delaying crucial pieces of information as long as possible. Images come into focus, go out of focus, and come into focus again, slowly and  gradually.

By using the subjunctive voice in the first and last stanzas to evoke the world of the imaginary and the”what if”, Eichendorff mystifies the reader; when he uses the indicative voice — the “real” voice — in the second stanza, the imagery is so ethereal and dreamy that it still seems imaginary. No matter how calm and clear the speaker’s thoughts may be, the reader really doesn’t know precisely what those thoughts are or where they are going.

I’m still puzzling about the placement of Waldesgespräch, because its menacing tone between Intermezzo and Die Stille seems somewhat out of place. We’ll see how this plays out in the next few songs!

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Eichendorff: Intermezzo

18 05 2011

by thetrial

Your image wonderfully holy
I have in the base of my heart,
that peers so fresh and merrily
at me in every hour.

My heart sings peacefully within itself
An old beautiful song
which vibrates itself on the air
And rapidly spreads to you.

With a title like “Intermezzo,” I believe it best not to read too much into this poem, but to take it exactly as it appears to be: a lover who takes solace in the deep love for another person, even though that person is not near. I particularly like the image of that love spreading out as soundwaves through the air, radiating outward until it reaches the beloved.

Love is ancient, divine, inherent to the human condition. Even when two lovers are apart, they feel connected, and this feeling often continues after death. We like to imagine that even if the beloved has died (or the relationship has), there remains an ongoing deep connection. The mysticism of this poem makes it unclear as to whether the speaker is referring to an individual or God or both, and whether the individual is alive or dead, and whether or not the beloved is in fact still in love with the speaker.

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Eichendorff: In der Fremde

12 05 2011

"Red Sky Lightning" By Luis Argerich (CC)

In the foreign place

From the homeland behind the lightning red,
From there, the clouds come here,
But father and mother are long dead,
And no one knows me there anymore.

How soon, ah, how soon will come the quiet time
where I will rest, too, and above me
will rush the beautiful solitude of the woods,
and no one will know me here anymore.

From the title alone — In the foreign place — we immediately sense discomfort and detachment. The first lines make us aware of the turbulence associated with leaving home, with the images of lightning and clouds. The further reflection that family is gone and “no one knows me there” makes it clear that, even if the speaker were to return home, that place would be just as foreign as wherever he is now.

The speaker becomes reflective in the second stanza, and one cannot help but wonder exactly what “the quiet time” means (The German word stille could also mean “still” as in peaceful and without movement). I believe the imagery of the solitude of the woods rushing over the implies mental peace and freedom from anxiety. Ultimately, however, freedom from anxiety is only fully experienced in death, which is unfortunately why many people with mental illness commit suicide. Whether the speaker is suicidal, reflecting on death, or simply seeking freedom from his cares is left to interpretation.

Regardless of his mental state, the speaker realizes that inevitably and in fact very soon he will be completely forgotten.

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Schumann Liederkreis, op. 39 – Introduction

11 05 2011

The academic year has come to a close, and with it, my absence from this blog! In this welcome hiatus from the daily routine of teaching lessons and classes, I am excited to work on my own projects.

On October 14th, 2011 at 7:30 PM, I am scheduled to give a recital with pianist Andrew Fleser at Concordia College in Moorhead. On the program (tentatively) are Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 39 (Literally, “Song Cycle”), John Duke’s 3 “people” songs, and Auric’s Huit poemes de Jean Cocteau. I have performed the Duke and Auric before, but not the Schumann. I know I have heard the Liederkreis in the past, but it has never gripped me the way Schumann’s iconic song cycles Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben have. I think it’s time that changed.

I am going to take a new approach to learning this cycle by translating, considering, meditating upon, and memorizing the texts first, without the aid of music. I want to come up with my own sense of the story and become intimately familiar with the words and the characters before I begin to be influenced by Schumann’s ideas. This may be difficult as I have already spent a bit of time looking over the pieces this spring while trying to decide whether or not to commit to the cycle, but I intend to try.

I invite you to come with me on this journey over the next several weeks. I’m going to write about a song text each day, without sheet music (readily available at IMSLP or in many published editions) and without performance examples. Particularly because the title “Song Cycle” does not imply any story or anything other than the fact that the pieces are part of a whole, it will be an adventure!





Rep assignments

8 09 2010

Journey to Bethlehem, by jwgreen (CC)

I always enjoy the first week of lessons. I get to assign so many pieces. Some pieces are new to me, some are only vaguely familiar, and some are old friends that I’m happy to introduce to my new friends. Here’s a nearly complete list of the repertoire I assigned today

 





Sullivan: The Lost Chord

1 09 2010

Pipe organ in the Cathedral at Beziers, by quinet (CC)

Over the summer, I performed with the Utah Festival Opera. Despite my best intentions, I didn’t have the time to devote to this blog. Now that it’s a new month and a new academic year, I’m back on the bandwagon.

I can’t really comment on the perfect marriage of text to music in this song, except to say it isn’t quite as effective when the accompaniment is played on the piano. There are many ways in which a piano can substitute for a full orchestra, but in a piece requiring powerful, sustained harmonies like an organ, it just doesn’t do justice.

Seated one day at the organ,
I was weary and ill-at-ease;
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.

I know not what I was playing
Or what I was dreaming then,
But I struck one chord of music
Like the sound of a great Amen.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the organ
And entered into mine.





Julius Benedict: I mourn as a dove, from St. Peter

23 05 2010

by hour of the wolf (CC)

When a student came to me with the Spicker Oratorio Anthology for Soprano, I must admit, I had never used it before. The usual suspects like Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn were represented, but so were a number of composers I’d never heard of before. When I recognized this aria from another anthology I own, I assigned it, and was quite surprised and pleased with how attractive it was.

Julius Benedict worked hard to create a cohesive oratorio about the life of St. Peter. The work premiered in 1870 and received critical acclaim. I believe the work was too broad in scope, though, to enter the canon. After all, to boil the life of Peter down to five sections while using quotes from both Old and New Testaments is no small feat! Benedict settled on the following skeleton for his oratorio:

  1. The Divine Call – While Peter fishes, Jesus comes to him.
  2. Faith – Jesus walks on water, and calls Peter to him. Peter’s faith wavers
  3. Denial – When asked if he knows Jesus, Peter answers, “No.”
  4. Repentance – Peter realizes what he has done and repents before Jesus is crucified.
  5. Deliverance – After being thrown into prison by Herod, Peter’s convictions strengthen.

This aria is taken from the “Repentance” section. Jesus is handed over by Pontias Pilate, and the disciples sing of the “day of clouds and thick darkness.” Mary sings this aria before Jesus is marched away. One interesting element is that this aria is not in a minor key, a typical device for expressing sadness in music. The major key allows for greater breadth of emotion, and makes the aria seem somehow more reflective and more fateful, rather than self-pitying.

I mourn as a dove, I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul. (Is 38:14-15)
Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction. (Ps. 88:9)
Labour not to comfort me, for I will weep bitterly. (Is 22:4)








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