Pace non trovo [7'31]
Benedetto sia 'l giorno [5'51]
Là-bas, vers l'église [1'47]
Tout gai! [0'55]
Since his debut there in 1991, German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade has become a favourite of the Vienna State Opera where he's appeared in Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Wagner and Strauss. He is now one of the leading Mozart tenors of today, seen regularly on many of the great opera stages of the world—Vienna, Salzburg, Dresden, the Met, La Scala, the Paris Opera, San Francisco, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Los Angeles Opera.
Although he has already appeared on a number of recordings (including the final volume of Hyperion's Schubert Edition), this is his first solo CD. The programme is one which has beguiled his recital audiences in many cities of the world including New York and London. Michael's ladies include Adelaide, Laura, Cecilia, Nell, Eliza, and two Silvias (Schubert's and Fauré's).
Juliet’s question ‘What’s in a name?’ might be a motto for this recorded programme, in which a unifying concept transcends barriers of three languages. Along with a pair of Lauras (one from Austria, one from Italy) and a pair of Sylvias (one from France and one from Austria via England), we have Adelaide, Nell and Cecilia. These objects of adoration and the music they inspired prompt two observations: first, that the abstraction of the nameless beloved literally has no meaning except as a reflection of some specific reality and name; second, that the universality of art comprises a multitude of individual experiences.
We seldom think of vocal music as one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s special provinces, particularly in the light of his supernal achievements in the symphony, sonata and string quartet. Yet for many years Beethoven undoubtedly composed the finest, most substantial and most durable voice-and-piano songs of his era: unsurpassed until Franz Schubert came into his own in 1814. Indeed Beethoven’s first great public success was with a vocal work: the scena Adelaide, which quickly found its way to almost every piano in Vienna. Beethoven sketched Adelaide in 1795 and completed it the following year; it reached print without opus number in 1797, along with such scores as his Op 5 cello sonatas and his Op 7 piano sonata, and in 1803 a publisher reissued it as the composer’s Op 46. Despite its youthful origins and occasional operatic graces, Adelaide already bears a true Beethovenian stamp: in the rich keyboard part which imparts rhythmic tension to the courtly melody, in the bronzed twilight modulation toward the central portion where discreet pictorialization of nightingale-song plays a structural role, and in the cumulative momentum that sustains the eloquent lengths of Beethoven’s closing allegro molto.
By any standards, Wonne der Wehmut, Op 83 No 1, composed in 1810, is a magnificent mini-masterpiece, suffused with Beethoven’s deepest serenity, mystery and spirituality, and climaxing in one of the most poignant diminished chords ever penned.
In December 1822, Beethoven briefly put aside such monumental projects as his Missa solemnis and ‘Diabelli’ Variations to pen his comic gem Der Kuss, Op 128, termed by Beethoven an ‘ariette’. Providing music in the highest spirits, the composer underscored the punchline with a subtle recurring keyboard titter.
Antonio Salieri, headmaster of the Vienna Konvikt School where imperial choirboys studied music and academic subjects, said the following of one of his student composers: ‘He can do it all. He produces operas, songs, quartets, symphonies, anything you please.’ The boy was Franz Schubert. At sixteen-and-a-half, Schubert left the school having recently metamorphosed from a boy soprano to a baby baritone, but he was still taking private lessons with Salieri in April 1814 when he composed the song Trost: An Elisa, D97 – his nineteenth Lied in a lifetime output of over six hundred. Here young Schubert tackles a problem of the sort Salieri was undoubtedly posing him: how to give color and substance to recitative and to blend it with arioso. Schubert’s solution is to provide high-note points of arrival, to modulate widely, and to allow a rocking piano motif steadily more prominence. (Only six months later, while composing his thirty-first song, Gretchen am Spinnrade, the boy suddenly found himself the greatest Lieder composer of all time.)
If Salieri liked Elisa, he was reportedly most displeased when, twenty-three months later, in March 1816, Schubert brought his most recent song, Laura am Klavier, D388, and a student–teacher altercation left their relations chilled. The Lied is, in fact, one of Schubert’s rare forays into parody. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau observes: ‘Laura is not presented as ‘mastering the keyboard’ or with ‘voluptuous impetuosity’ as is described in the text, but rather as the coy dilettante heard playing next door.’ To evoke the enthrallment of Laura’s naively uncritical admirer, Schubert summons radiant modulations and a galaxy of imitative effects.
The next Schubert song on our programme dates from a decade later, and stems from a Shakespeare boom that swept German-speaking nations after the appearance of August Wilhelm Schlegel’s translations. An Austrian publisher, hoping that rival versions would also find a market, commissioned Shakespeare translations by several Austrian poets. One of these was Schubert’s friend Eduard Bauernfeld: indeed, Bauernfeld had promised Schubert a libretto in 1826, but failed to deliver because he was too busy translating Two Gentlemen of Verona. Instead, Bauernfeld began showing the composer passages from Shakespeare, as he and Schlegel had translated them. An excited Schubert rapidly dashed off two Shakespeare Lieder that July which have been prized ever since as gems of the song literature. The encomium An Sylvia, D891, from Two Gentlemen combines chuckling good humour with a hint of wistfulness. Fischer-Dieskau observes that this ‘magical, quite unpretentious, seemingly improvised song’ features a ‘charming contrast between the emotional legato of the [vocal line] and the pizzicato of the accompaniment’.
Having received only rudimentary and haphazard compositional instruction during his childhood years as a touring virtuoso, Franz Liszt in his twenties felt impelled nonetheless to attempt ambitious scores and worked hard to repair his deficiencies. His efforts were particularly intense during periods of travel with the Countess d’Agoult, for he cherished the Romantic hope of creating music that re-evoked the exotic atmospheres that excited him. Switzerland yielded an album of pieces in 1835/6, and during an equally productive Italian excursion in 1838/9 he studied Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura as part of his immersion in Latin culture. The musical result was a trilogy of songs for a high tenor voice (rising to high D flats) on Sonnets 104, 47 and 123 – apparently the first art-songs Liszt had ever written.
Liszt later made superlative piano transcriptions of the Sonetti, which he incorporated into the Italian volume of his Années de pèlerinage, but the quality of these does not gainsay the value of the originals. While an Italianate operatic quality suffuses Liszt’s vocal lines, his harmonies are light-years more adventurous than bel canto composers were producing at this time. Moreover, Liszt’s elaboration of the piano part makes it an equal, Lieder-like partner of the voice.
Pace non trovo begins in recitative of seething unrest, and an eloquent, long-breathed cantilena ensues. After a preliminary recitative for keyboard, Benedetto sia ’l giorno initially unfolds as an attractive, tidy, simply accompanied melody. But after the darts and wounds of love bring wrenching harmonies of blending pain and bliss, the voice soars as never before, and at a climax the name of Laura enharmonically brings back the original key. In I’ vidi in terra the piano – without overshadowing the voice – plays a particularly crucial role, providing lengthy lyric effusions as prelude and postlude, as well as a few luminescent high-register soliloquies along the way. The voice part again proceeds from operatic regularity to more freely expressive treatment of the words.
For a musicological lecture on Greek and Armenian folk songs in Paris in early 1904, the singer hired to provide musical illustrations felt uncomfortable about delivering these a cappella, and so, at the last minute, asked the young composer Maurice Ravel to write keyboard accompaniments for five Greek melodies. Ravel polished off this task in thirty-six hours, and the lecture went off as scheduled on 20 February. Ravel was particularly pleased with his treatments of two of the songs, and these became the nucleus of his own set of Cinq mélodies populaires grecques, completed in 1906. The simple, exotic melodies, sometimes peculiarly ornamented and modal in harmonic implications, suggested felicitous impressionistic keyboard details to the composer who was then already at work on his early piano masterpiece Miroirs. The added numbers (1, 2 and 5) are somewhat heavier in texture than the two efforts from 1904. Yet if later effects such as the crystalline glow that suffuses the opening Le réveil and the rhythmic liveliness of the closing Tout gai! add a musical dimension to the group, one can see why Ravel was also proud of his economic gestures in the simpler settings – notably the dance motif that punctuates Quel galant.
As a rule, the greatest song composers are inspired melodists, masterly miniaturists – and something more. They are inveterate chamber-music thinkers, always concerned with close interaction between melodic voice and accompaniment. These qualities inform Gabriel Fauré’s superb chamber works and make him a song composer of first importance. In all, Fauré composed around 115 mélodies, produced in a steady stream throughout his career. Even the earliest show a flair for the genre, some winning permanent places in the repertory. The peak of his achievement in song is generally considered the superb Verlaine cycle La bonne chanson, Op 61, completed between 1892 and 1894. Fauré’s songs from subsequent decades – more refined but less Romantic in expression – long remained quite obscure, but have recently begun to attract more attention from performers and audiences.
The first four mélodies in our group, despite widely separated opus numbers, all date from the same year: 1878. Nell, Op 18 No 1, is one of the most serenely open-hearted of love lyrics, with a flowing melody whose air of unruffled simplicity belies its ventures into sophisticated chromatic byways. Adieu, Op 21 No 3, from the triptych Poème d’un jour, evokes the drained regret following the bitterness of love’s betrayal and rupture. Fauré promises a simple A–B–A form, with only the accompaniment varied in the opening melody’s restatement, but then provides a magical modulation both warm and luminescent before a final return home. Similar divagation enlivens the almost conversational love song Sylvie, Op 6 No 3, when, after two identical stanzas dealing with mating in nature, the lover turns to his own devotion with a rush of sultry sensuality.
Still more intense is the shattered lover’s frenzied wrath in Fleur jetée, Op 39 No 2 (1884) – visiting unexpected violence on the rose motif we encountered in Nell. The vocal line vaults aloft in Wagner-climax assaults buoyed by searing chromaticism against the obsessive desperation of repeated-note accompaniment triplets à la Schubert’s Erlkönig.
Richard Strauss rejected the common notion that the Lied was an austere form, demanding restrained vocalism devoid of operatic panache. In his large and varied song output he exploited the most voluptuous and dramatic qualities of the human voice, yet also paid due heed to the Lied’s traditional methods of intimate psychological portraiture.
Cäcilie, Op 27 No 2, composed on 9 September 1894, appears amid a quartet of powerful, ebullient Lieder that Strauss conceived as a wedding present for his bride-to-be, the soprano Pauline de Ahna. Strauss’s epoch-making tone-poems Don Juan and Tod und Verklärung were already five years behind him, and he was now in the midst of launching his first opera Guntram, with Pauline as his prima donna. Observing that the music of his hyper-exuberant song ‘pours out in a passionate and ceaseless flow of pure inspiration’, biographer Norman del Mar declares it ‘the most patently Straussian of all the composer’s many Lieder’.
Promise of the soaring operatic vocalism to come had already been evident in Strauss’s very first volume of songs (Op 10), assembled in 1885 but based on material written two or three years earlier. Nichts, Op 10 No 2, finally revised on 11 August 1885, may abound in rhythmic whimsy, but the melody wafts rapturously aloft at the question, ‘Is not the sun the source of all life and light?’. Zueignung, Op 10 No 1, another fervent masterpiece from the composer’s first song collection and a favourite with audiences from the moment it hit print, is imbued with melodic nobility and enlivened by Strauss’s flair for impassioned climax.
The familiarity of Morgen, Op 27 No 4 (21 May 1894), makes it easy to overlook the song’s originality in presenting layers of meaning. The voice first appears an intrusion, then gradually integrates with the music’s expressive texture, later transcends it in a chorale, and eventually diverges from it again.
Benjamin Folkman © 2002