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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Franz Schubert: Das Fischermädchen (The fisher maiden)

11 05 2010

by Svadilfari (CC)

Ah, iTunes. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I have 70+GB of music files, but it’s a MESS. Sure, my popular music is easy enough to sort, but as many before me have noted, classical music is a very different story. Over the summer, I’m going to be resorting my library (which contains over 20GB of classical selections), and I’m going to try tunequest’s method (unless anyone out there has a better suggestion!)

As I’ve been going through my library, I rediscovered Bryn Terfel’s recording of Schubert Lieder. It’s a gem of a recording, and I much prefer Terfel’s Schubert performances to almost any other baritone. I could easily feature every song on the album, but I’ll simply refer you to the album, which is available in its entirety on last.fm

As Schubert wrote over 600 songs, it’s hard to be completely well-versed. I’d never taught “Das Fischermädchen” before (The tenth song of Schwanengesang), but heard it several times at juries this semester. It’s attractive and simple, with a rocking accompaniment mirroring the rocking of the sea.





Robert Schumann: Du ring an meinem Finger (Thou ring on my finger)

22 02 2010

by darklyseen (CC)

Robert Schumann’s song cycles Frauenliebe und –leben (The loves and lives of women) and Dichterliebe (The poet’s love) hold almost universal appeal among listeners and singers young and old, new and seasoned, amateur and professional. Not only are the real-life scenarios of love and love lost easy to grasp, but Schumann also sets them with heart-rending effectiveness.

In Du Ring an meinem Finger, we witness a private moment where a newly-engaged woman marvels in the beauty of a ring that somehow makes tangible the intangibility of love. Something about the rising and falling motion of the vocal line and the tenderness of the accompaniment is strikingly intimate. The middle section of the piece borrows heavily from the second song in the cycle, (Er, der Herrlichste von Allen, a song all about the wonders of the man whom she loves) with the text “I will serve him, live for him, belong to him entirely.” The piece finally returns to the revelry of the initial rocking melody.





Richard Strauss: Die Nacht (The Night)

5 01 2010

Cologne Dome at Night

Cologne Dome at Night, by h0m3rcl3s (used under Creative Commons)

Richard Strauss is known for his expansive and expressive writing, and vocal lines that require legato for days. Die Nacht is no exception, despite being one of Strauss’s first songs, written in 1885. The poem expresses the fear that just as night steals the color from everything that is lovely, “taking from the Cathedral Dome its gold,” it will steal the beloved from the lover. Strauss’s song picks up the sensual notes of the poem with a tenderness and sweetness tinged with sadness.





Hugo Wolf: Auf ein Christblume II (To a Christmas Rose)

22 12 2009

Christ rose

Hellebores (Christmas roses), by alphageek, used under Creative Commons

Hugo Wolf’s primary vehicle of musical expression was the art song, primarily because it allowed him great expressive freedom in a miniature form. He was never successful in the larger forms, such as symphonic works or opera, perhaps because he lacked the stamina to stay dedicated to them. He wrote in furious spurts of inspiration that lasted about a year, then wrote nothing for months or years. Today, I think Wolf would be classified as manic-depressive.

In my opinion, some of Wolf’s most evocative songs are the among the 53 settings of poems by Eduard Mörike. It’s easy to see why — the deep, reflective, quasi-spiritual nature of Mörike’s poetry must have appealed to Wolf’s troubled mind. Several of the songs (Auf ein altes Bild, Auf ein Christblume II, Schlafendes Jesuskind) are Christmas-themed; they are tender, but still have the chromaticism and pangs of raw emotion that are so typical of Wolf. Auf ein Christblume II takes up the theme of the flower sleeping beneath the snow, a familiar image at this time of year.

A shoutout to the folks at YourAccompanist.com — I am grateful to be featured on their site this month, largely in part due to this blog. They have several of Wolf’s song accompaniments available for purchase.