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Sechs Lieder, Op 68
The years 1906 to 1918 marked a long hiatus in the song composition of Richard Strauss. Following the sensational appearance of Salome in 1905 he was busy consolidating his position as the most important opera composer of the new century, with the premieres of Elektra in 1908, Der Rosenkavalier in 1910 and the two versions of Ariadne auf Naxos in 1912 and 1916 respectively. It was only after he had completed the score of Die Frau ohne Schatten in 1917 that he began to find time to return to the Lied. The Op 68 Brentano-Lieder collection was to be his most significant cycle of songs until the creation of the Vier letzte Lieder thirty years later.

Clemens Brentano (1778–1842) was a notable figure in the German Romantic movement, an associate among others of Wieland, Herder, Goethe and Schlegel. Restless and unconventional by nature, he spent some years wandering the countryside with his guitar on his back like a medieval minstrel. His close and lifelong friendship with Achim von Arnim, who married his sister Bettina, provided some stability, and created the work for which they are both best known, the collection of German folk poetry known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Strauss himself set three poems from that collection, including Hat gesagt—bleibt’s nicht dabei, but no doubt recognizing that Gustav Mahler had already achieved all that was possible in this field, he turned in 1918 to six of Brentano’s original poems. Inspired by their highly charged imagery, he produced not only some of his most virtuoso vocal writing, but a series of intricately woven piano accompaniments that clearly owe their richness and fluency to his many years of writing for the opera orchestra.

Although Strauss is known to have had Elisabeth Schumann in mind for the Brentano-Lieder, she only performed the entire cycle on one occasion, in 1922. This is not surprising, since whereas the four central songs seem tailor-made for her clear, light soprano, in the first and last songs Strauss appears to have been thinking of a completely different cast of voice. In particular Lied der Frauen with its stormy texture and epic scale—at sixteen pages it is twice as long as any of the other songs—suggests a voice of far greater heft and stamina than is usually found among coloratura sopranos, and can easily lead to balance problems in the orchestral version. On the other hand, as Strauss’s biographer Norman del Mar points out, it is worth remembering that Strauss’s first Marschallin was also his first Zerbinetta.

A final background detail—the years to 1918 were also those in which Strauss became increasingly embattled with his publishers Bote & Bock, having unwisely signed an agreement in 1906 to give them his next set of songs. Given the high quality of the Brentano-Lieder it is not surprising that he chose to keep them in his bottom drawer, offering instead the satirical cycle Krämerspiegel and—when this was rejected—the Ophelia-Lieder.

from notes by Roger Vignoles ę 2011

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Details for CDA67746 track 19
Als mir dein Lied erklang!
Recording date
27 November 2010
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Strauss: The Complete Songs, Vol. 5 ľ Kiera Duffy (CDA67746)
    Disc 1 Track 19
    Release date: October 2011
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