Adolf Jensen: Song Cycle — Dolorosa (Sadness)

17 11 2009

By zu78, used under Creative Commons

“The day I have enjoyed is now gone”

I fell off the horse, but I’m back on again. For awhile, I’ll post every 2-3 days. Better than nothing!

Adolf Jensen was a late romantic German composer and pianist known primarily for his piano and vocal works. According to Grove Music Dictionary, he “possessed one of the most delicate sensibilities of all late Romantic composers.” He knew several of the great composers and musicians of the day, dedicating his works to Berlioz, Brahms, Franz, and Gade, among others. “He succeeded in his mature piano music and songs in assimilating the stylistic influences of Chopin and Liszt into a thoroughly personal style. His professed aspiration in his later works was ‘to translate Wagner’s ideas of beauty and truth into music in the smaller forms.’”

Without question, Jensen is a name like so many others that has all but faded from musical memory. If these songs are any indication, it is perhaps due to the choice of maudlin texts and too strong a reliance on traditional harmonies and forms; at first glance, there appears to be  a lack of dimension or surprise in the piano and vocal writing. On the other hand, the simplicity and straight-forwardness of the music fits the text quite well. Unfortunately, I can’t find any recordings digitally available and not all of the songs are available yet on IMSLP, but the cycle definitely deserves a read and may prove useful as teaching pieces or on a musical program.

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Franz Schubert and Carl Loewe: Erlkönig (The Erl King)

5 05 2009
Who rides so late through night and wind...

"Who rides so late through night and wind..."

One of the most iconic of German Lieder is Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s Erlkönig. It is a story of a sick child whose father carries him home by horseback. The child is terrified by the “Erl King,” who threatens to take him by will or by force. The father doesn’t believe the child, thinking the child is hallucinating.

Unfortunately, this song is far too demanding for many pianists with its rapidly repeated triplets in the right hand, and it requires a singer with some serious dramatic chops to do it justice. Carl Loewe’s setting of the same text is also extremely effective and a masterpiece in its own right. Additionally, it is a great alternative to the Schubert.





Johannes Brahms: Blinde Kuh (Blind man’s bluff)

7 04 2009

a

Ach, sie versteckt sich immer, daß ich verschmachten soll!

Love is a game, making children out of the best of us.  Brahms manages to capture the image of children chasing each other in a game of blind man’s bluff (or literally, “blind cow”) with the perpetual motion of the running sixteenth notes in the piano. The singer sneaks around as well, particularly in the beginning, before simply crying out for the game to stop at the end.





Edvard Grieg: Jeg elsker dig (I love you / Ich liebe dich)

4 04 2009
Thought of my thoughts alone have you become

"Thought of my thoughts alone have you become"

The thought of being so in love with someone that you want to be near them into eternity is quite romantic, so romantic, in fact, that once Grieg set Hans Christian Andersen’s poem Jeg elsker dig to music, it soon had multiple singing translations in German, English, and other languages (I have located numerous editions, all widely published and performed, with no less than two in German and five in English!) The song was included in the 1944 operetta Song of Norway by Robert Wright and George Forrest.





Robert Schumann: Waldesgespräch (Conversation in the wood)

31 03 2009
Lorelei

"Great are the deceit and cunning of men"

On a late, cold evening a man rides through the woods. He meets a beautiful woman who tells him to leave. When he recognizes her as the Lorelei, she condemns him to remain lost in the woods forever. The last strains of the song return to the horn-call motive of the man, but he does not sing; his voice has been silenced.





Johannes Brahms: Liebesklage des Maedchens (The maiden’s love lament)

24 03 2009
So hat mich Liebe verwundt

"So hat mich Liebe verwund't"

Brahms’s songs sound simple. The mark of a master, though, is to make the difficult seem effortless, and Brahms, Norman, and Barenboim accomplish that in this lover’s lament.

I initially was seeking Brahms’s Ophelia-Lieder, but could not locate a score online. The five songs last less than four minutes, and have also been recorded by Jessye Norman. They are lovely, but almost too simple — after all, they were intended to be sung unaccompanied and have a folk character.





Hugo Wolf: Auf ein altes Bild (In an old painting)

22 03 2009

und dort, im Walde, wonnesam...

"und dort, im Walde, wonnesam..."

This simple song remains one of my favorites. So simple, so lovely. It moves slowly, at a strolling pace, as if one is walking through an art gallery observing a piece of art. When the viewer realizes that this lovely scene will soon lead to Christ’s crucifixion on the cross, the pain of the realization stings the soul.

The work may have been inspired by Durer’s Madonna and Child, but then again, many artists painted this same scene. In my mind’s eye, I see a conglomerate of works that I came to love growing up at Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum, namely di Credi’s work and the Gossaert’s “Mother and Child with Saint Agnes.”