'Gorgeous singing' (The Sunday Telegraph)
'Bring[s] a bright, wide-eyed wonder to songs of both night and of brilliant morning and a beguiling sense of dream-spinning in Strauss's cradle songs' (The Times)
'A musical treat' (BBC Music Magazine)
Das Bächlein Op 88 No 1 [1'58]
Du meines Herzens Krönelein [2'27]
Wer lieben will, muss leiden [2'45]
Gefunden Ich ging im Walde [2'23]
Although Richard Strauss is usually associated with the virtuosic and the large-scale, especially in his operas and tone poems, his output of lieder reveals an intimate lyricism which complements the more extrovert aspects of his style. His interest in the song form continued throughout his compositional career, and included settings of a variety of poets, mostly German. From a practical perspective, Strauss performed most of these songs in recitals with his wife Pauline, travelling throughout Europe and America; between the wars, Strauss continued this tradition with the soprano Elisabeth Schumann, and later Elena Gerhardt. The vast majority of the lieder are therefore settings for soprano voice, but Strauss also dedicated several to the bass Paul Knüpfer and the baritone Heinrich Schlusnus. These singers were primarily known for their operatic roles, which may have coloured the way in which Strauss wrote for the voice. In fact, although the lieder were obviously written with piano accompaniment, there is often a strong sense of orchestral colour, and many were later orchestrated.
Although the Op 10 lieder are usually thought of as heralding the real beginning of Strauss’s song composition, there are a number of earlier settings which contain some imaginative and dramatic responses to poetic texts. It is interesting that settings of certain poets only appear at the beginning of Strauss’s output. The only setting of Christian Schubart (the author of Schubert’s famous Die Forelle), for example, is Weihnachtslied (c1870, track), a very simple, childlike setting in E major, with the accompaniment doubling the vocal line throughout. This simplicity of concept and doubling of the vocal line is also in evidence in Die Drossel (1877), a poem by Ludwig Uhland, whose Einkehr and Winterreise Strauss also set in 1871. The composer seizes the opportunity to represent the bird-song in an opening piano cadenza, revealing his early penchant for the arpeggiated motif. Lass ruh’n die Toten, composed in 1877, is Strauss’s only setting of the poet Adalbert von Chamisso. The Gothic scene which the poem describes is admirably matched by the choice of key (a funereal C minor), the bare piano introduction with its use of rests, and the chromaticism and repetition of certain tones in the vocal line.
The 1870s also saw a number of settings of the poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben. Der müde Wanderer (c1873) is a multi-sectional song suggesting a variety of moods. The opening paragraph in D minor, which has a gently syncopated accompaniment in the left hand and a right hand which often simply doubles the vocal part, gives a sense of nostalgia for the traveller’s lost youth and homeland; this leads to a passage in D major, with a change of texture to evoke the distant bells, then a section of high drama in D minor with a tremolo accompaniment to suggest the traveller’s fatal fall, followed by a modified return to the opening. Ein Röslein zog ich mir im Garten (c1878) contains the familiar metaphor of the blooming rose which is ultimately plucked from the soil. Although the setting is a simple one, with a move to the tonic minor to give the sense of loss, there are occasional suggestions of a richer accompaniment in passages such as the chromatic thirds of the first two bars. The use of the tonic pedal and simple, repeated material in the introduction to Wiegenlied or ‘Lullaby’ (1878) generates the peaceful mood throughout the song, but Abend- und Morgenrot (1878) displays a more imaginative use of key structure; the major/minor duality, already present in the two-bar introduction, prefigures the move from G major to G minor where the slumbering maiden appears, but it is the smooth transition (via a re-harmonized B flat) to the F minor section, with the reference to death and the chromatic slip back to G minor, which is particularly striking.
Nebel (c1878) is Strauss’s only known setting of Lenau, although he later used some of the poet’s verses as the inspiration for his tone poem Don Juan. The dark tonality of E flat minor evokes the misty atmosphere immediately, as do the bare octaves in the left hand of the piano introduction. Strauss’s harmonic fluency is in evidence as early as the eighth bar, with an enharmonic modulation from a chord of C flat major to a cadence in E minor; the song ends with a modified inversion of the introduction – a mournful descent through the lower regions of the keyboard.
The eight Op 10 settings, published in 1885, mark a more lyrical approach to lieder writing. Strauss chose poems by Hermann von Gilm zu Rosenegg, and in the same year set a ninth poem not included in the set, Wer hat’s getan. Zueignung is an example of a song which was later orchestrated by the composer, in this case as late as 1940. Although the three verses all begin in a similar way, changes towards the end of each provide a build-up of emotion, culminating in ‘Heilig, heilig an’s Herz dir sank, Habe Dank!’. The text of Die Nacht is particularly atmospheric, and Strauss responds with an evocative piano part full of subtle chromatic alterations, often producing a tonal ambiguity. The pacing of the vocal part is particularly effective, moving to one syllable per bar towards the end. The eighth and last song of the set, Allerseelen has a rich, heavy atmosphere, evoking reminiscences of love. Strauss’s preoccupation with arpeggiated themes can be seen in the opening motif in the piano introduction and, as in Morgen!, the voice simply floats in with different material. Indeed, voice and piano only present the opening motif together at the third verse, ‘Es blüht und duftet’, which in turn leads to the climactic ‘Herz’, so again the lyricism is enhanced by effective pacing.
Adolf Friedrich von Schack captured the composer’s interest for a set of six songs, the Opus 19 of 1885–8. Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten is an ecstatic outpouring of the joys of being in love, suggested by the repeated chords in the upper regions of the keyboard, the glissandi in the vocal part, and Strauss’s masterly pacing of the climaxes in the piece.
The five songs of Op 21 (1887/8) are all settings of the poet Felix Dahn, best known for his ‘professorial novels’. All mein Gedanken … is a lively, light-hearted personification of love. The piano accompaniment is mainly confined to harmonic support, but the composer responds to a number of poetic images, including the flying birds (a scalic flourish) and the staccato ‘knocking’. Du meines Herzens Krönelein is a simple love song with a modified ternary design. A lyrical vocal line and gently undulating piano accompaniment borders a middle section which has greater urgency, already suggested by the repeated notes in the piano in the fifth bar. The return of the opening mood is enhanced by the poignant reiteration of the arpeggiated vocal pitches and the brief reference to the first bar of the vocal line in the left hand of the piano postlude. Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden portrays the anguish of parting; here Strauss avoids the soaring line and instead explores the falling phrase, which gives the falling major seventh on ‘beiden’ an added significance.
The two of the four Op 27 songs of 1894 represented here are texts by the radical socialists John Henry Mackay and Karl Henckell, but the poems chosen for the settings do not represent this side of their character. The most striking aspect of Morgen! is the extended piano introduction, providing an expressive sound-world upon which the vocal line floats to make the first G major cadence; the whole effect of the song is one of dreamy optimism, and the penultimate line, ‘Wordlessly shall we look into each other’s eyes’, brings a change to a semibreve texture, with a descent in pitch matching the descending ‘perfect silence of joy’. The poem of Ruhe, meine Seele provides a number of opportunities for descriptive writing – the calm of the opening, evoked by the pedal notes in the bass and the slow pacing, the emerging sunlight, seen in the extra note added to the chord of B major in the eleventh bar and a development of the bell-like notes in the right-hand texture, and the stormy references, which produce a rise in dynamic and dramatic grace notes in both hands of the accompaniment. The latter leads straight to the admirably paced climax of the song, ‘Diese Zeiten sind gewaltig’ (‘These times are momentous’), before a return to the restful mood of the opening.
In 1895 Strauss composed his Drei Lieder Op 29 on poems by Otto Julius Bierbaum, a poet and novelist associated with the decadent movement; his erotic novel Prince Kuckuck was seen as particularly scandalous. Schlagende Herzen has an interesting folk-inspired vocal line which is reminiscent of Mahler’s Ging heut’ morgens übers Feld. There are a number of deft harmonic touches, especially the move to the flattened sixth chord after the first verse and the modulation to E major at ‘Im Herzen mir innen weht’.
Leises Lied, Op 39 No 1 (1898) is a setting of the poet Richard Dehmel, who was also the source for some of the Opp 41, 44, and 49 sets. It continues Strauss’s fondness for repeated piano textures, and the fascinating use of the whole-tone scale gives the song an eerie quality. Weihnachtsgefühl, without opus number, is a setting of Greif composed in 1899. Here, the simplicity is deceptive; despite an overall tonality of E flat major, there are some subtle reharmonizations of B flats, in particular in bars 9 to 10 at the word ‘Seligkeit’ (‘bliss’), and some effective chromatic movement underneath the last three bars of the vocal part.
The Op 49 set, Acht Lieder (1900/1), combines the work of a number of poets. In goldener Fülle, the second of the set, is a poem by Paul Remer, whom Strauss does not seem to have set elsewhere. This song is full of typical Straussian features – the exuberance of the dotted rhythm, arpeggiated figures in the vocal part, and a number of striking modulations. Wiegenliedchen, Op 49 No 3 (1901), a simple lullaby, is another setting of Dehmel. Again, Strauss’s feel for harmonic colour is in evidence throughout, such as the juxtaposition of the E minor chord with an F sharp major chord at the beginning, and with a D sharp minor chord at ‘Kindelein’. The piano interludes develop this process, as well as containing chromatic progressions which are typical of Strauss’s writing. The two songs which round off the Op 49 set, Wer lieben will, muss leiden and Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen, are particularly interesting, as they are both taken from Curt Mündel’s Elsässische Volkslieder, or ‘Alsatian’ folk songs. These led to a further exploration of folk material four years later, when Strauss completed his unaccompanied choral work, Sechs Volksliedbearbeitungen, for male voices (1905/6).
Of the poets included here Goethe is the odd one out in the sense that Strauss set his work throughout his compositional career, from Der Fischer (1877) to Zugemessne Rhythmen (1935). Gefunden, the first of the Op 56 set of six songs, was composed in 1903, and the subject matter, like that of Ein Röslein zog ich mir im Garten, concerns Nature, and in particular a plucked flower mirroring man’s emotions. Here, however, the initial bleakness (seen in the repeated Cs at the opening) moves to a greater optimism with a much richer texture; a particularly effective passage is the flower’s poignant pleading – an inspired move from a G minor chord to a seventh chord on F sharp. Das Bächlein has a somewhat infamous history. Composed in 1933 and orchestrated two years later, it was dedicated to Goebbels and marked Strauss’s appointment to the presidency of the Reichsmusikkammer; the repetition of the phrase ‘mein Führer’ towards the end of the song has been seen as significant by certain critics. The pictorial aspect of this through-composed song is obvious, with almost constant triplet semiquavers in the left or right hand of the accompaniment suggesting the movement of the water, and although the song is relatively short, Strauss displays his modulatory skills by passing through D minor, G minor, A major, A flat major and C major, after the initial F major.
Michael Allis © 1995