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!

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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.





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.





John Alden Carpenter: The Sleep that Flits on Baby’s Eyes

16 03 2009

the sleep

"does anybody know from where it comes?"

I was listening to an interview on MPR Mid-morning in which psychology researcher Dacher Keltner, discussing communal structures, mentioned that “babies ensure their own care” by being cute and helpless. And if you’ve ever seen a sleeping baby, you can’t help but smile and say, “AWWWwwww.”  Carpenter captures that sense in music paired with Tagore’s magical/mystical text.

Carpenter is a minor figure in American art song, but his handful of songs are well-crafted, and a pleasure both to hear and to sing. This particular song comes from his cycle of six songs, Gitanjali.





Franz Schubert: Der Leiermann, #24 from Winterreise, D. 911 / Op. 89

2 03 2009
The Hurdy Gurdy Man

The Hurdy Gurdy Man

The haunting final song of Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise tells of a lonely street musician. The final line asks, “Curious old man, should I go with you? Will you play my songs on your box?”

This song was also featured on Paul Schwartz’s album Aria 2 in 1999.