Giuseppe Verdi


A weekly Quixotic pursuit for appreciators of opera who don't expect too much, would-be appreciators of opera who don't know what to expect, and those somewhere in-between,
such as your host.

Thrown together in haste every
Saturdee morning by
Rip Rense

Giacomo Puccini

Saturdee Opry Links # 92: Lieder Edition



                             Beethoven                                     Ernesto de Curtis                Robert Schumann

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
“Zaide,” by Mozart.

All Beethoven ever wanted in life was a good wife to care for him. As we know, this never happened. Beethoven was condemned to solitude by his unrefined nature, coarse manner, short stature, swarthy and pock-marked face, and of course, his deafness. He was married to, if anything, suffering---cursed with ill health for much of his life, and a nearly insane obsession with his brothers' lives (ultimately a years-long, failed effort to raise a deceased brother’s son---which likely cost the world more symphonies, quartets, sonatas.) In his mid-20's, before serious deafness, when he still had a semblance of optimism, Beethoven set a poem by Friedrich von Matthisson, "Adelaide," to music. The text concerns a feminine ideal of the type Beethoven yearned for, and the music he wrote clearly, poignantly expresses that yearning. Tenor Jussi Bjorling sings it here, in a live performance at Carnegie Hall.

Most composers wrote songs, in addition to their other output (including operatic.) Many German composers wrote lieder or "song cycles," sometimes around a particular theme, sometimes just as a collection. Franz Schubert, in his short life, wrote 600 songs! Here is one of the most loved, from his "Rückert-Lieder" (songs using the poetry of Frederich Ruckert), "Du Bist die Ruh," or "You are Peace." Here it is played and sung by soprano Sumi Jo. (Please feel free to give Ms. Jo my phone number. Don't tell her I prefer Fischer-Dieskau.)
And as it is usually sung by a baritone, here it is with the great lieder specialist, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

Friedrich Rückert was crazy-brilliant, a poet, scholar, linguist with working understanding of dozens of languages. He introduced the western world to much Arabic, Persian, Indian, and Chinese mythology and verse, and inspired song-cycles by Schubert and (70 years later) Mahler. Here is a more whimsical specimen of his poetry, "Lachen und Weinen," turned into a song by Schubert. Excerpt: "In the evening I weep for sorrows / And why you can awake / In the morning with laughter / I must ask you, o heart." Sing it with me, now, "Muss Ich dich fragen o Herz!"
First, a baritone---again, the great Fischer-Dieskau, followed by soprano Kathleen Battle.
Kathleen Battle: (transposed to a higher key.)
About Rückert:

Mahler wrote a five-song cycle of poems by Friedrich Rückert, the "Rückert-Lieder" during 1901-02. Here is the first of the profoundly atmospheric, affecting five, the sublime love song, "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft!" ("I breathed a gentle fragrance"), performed by the superb late mezzo, Jessye Norman. Zubin Mehta conducts the NY Phil.

About Ms. Norman:

I know that Saturdee Opry Links excites you all greatly, so I hope you have sedatives at hand in the event the thrill proves too overwhelming. . .Puccini wrote free-standing songs well before he wrote operas---and also while he wrote operas---and bits of some of those songs found their way into his operas, none more noticeably than "Sole e amore" ("The sun and love." ) It's a trifle, lyrically, with an unknown author, but Puccini's setting of it well exemplifies his great gift as a melodist. He wrote it in 1888, but put it to much more effective use twelve years later as a duet in act three of "La Boheme." Here it is, sung in concert by Jose Carreras, followed by the point where it is used in "Boheme!"
Here is the "Boheme" appearance (go to 13:50) in which the melody is used for Rodolfo and Mimi to vow to stay together until spriing.

I'm so stupid. Here I thought that by showcasing songs---instead of arias, and opera excerpts---this might be less intimidating to my esteemed friends, and draw them in. Sooooo stoooopid. Why, you're even less interested! I know, I know, you have more important things to do, like reading about Trump and trimming your cat's anal fur. (My neighbor actually does this.) I understand! I really do! But I will labor on in noble futility, hoping that one among you takes a deep breath, steels yourself, and dares to actually experience something new and different in life. So here is an easy one: the chestnut Neapolitan song, "Mattinata," by Leoncavallo, sung rather nicely by much-in-demand tenor Lawrence Brownlee. "The dawn, dressed in white, has opened its door to the sun. . ."

Or, if you'd like the hear a version to make your hair stand on end. . .

                                                    Mario Lanza, pre-pasta

Okay, kids, now here is a song and a half. This is "Till Havs" ("At Sea"), which if it is not the Swedish national anthem, should be. This is a stupendous performance by Jussi Bjorling, luckily caught on film in 1953. If you have trouble relating because it is Swedish, just imagine he is singing "Tutti Frutti." (If this doesn't stir your blood a little, or just plain make you feel good, I'm deeply sorry for you.)
Swedish, for those who wish to sing along:
Now the sea's fresh wind is blowing from the southwest
And lovingly caresses the sailor's cheek from all the winds
At sea, at storms, you bold hunting,
To storms, to sea, one was on guard,
At sea!

In an endless way, life is free, coercion does not thrive,
When the sea sings, green and white, its high
freedom song
At sea, at storms, you bold hunting,
To storm, to sea, one was on guard,
At sea!

Swell wonderfully, beautiful sails, swell in the wind dust,
Fly forward with joy towards the scales of the wave in the moment
highest desire!
At sea, at storms, you bold hunting,
To storms, to sea, one was on guard,

At sea!

Robert Schumann was sufficiently unbothered by incipient insanity that he was able to knock out the marvelous little song cycle, "Dichterliebe" ("Poet's Love"), which is a sort of compendium of whimsicality, ardor, reflection, even touches of joy. Oh, and also. . ."fuck you!" Or, as Monty Python put it, "I fart in your general direction." Yes! Sentiments near and dear to our hearts, whether we admit it or not. For those of you who prefer less crass imagery, let's call it "nose-thumbing in song." This is the sharp, almost perfunctory ditty, "Ich Grolle Nicht," or "I Grieve Not." It must be sung emphatically, unambiguously. Let's say it's about a broken-hearted lover whose feelings are mended once he has a little more perspective on his one-time beloved. Sample lyric: "The dismal shadows in your gloomy spirit / I saw the serpent that devours your core / And oh, my darling how forlorn you are ... I hold no grudge!" In other words, to quote poor George Sanders's suicide note, "I leave you to your cesspool." Here is this great song, a setting of a poem by Heinrich Heine, which deserves better than the due I have tried to give it.
Here is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, live on stage in 1956. And he's pissed!
About "Dichterliebe:"

Annnnnnd, just for fun!


You might say this standard is the flip-side, at least emotionally, of "Ich Grolle Nicht" (previous post.) This is the "hit song," "Non Ti Scordar di Me," or "Do Not Forget Me!"---one of the beloved Neapolitan songs by Ernesto de Curtis. Here it is sung quite beautifully, without hamming it up, by one of the world's current leading tenors, Juan Diego Florez.
Do not forget me:
my life tied up and you.
I love you more and more,
in my dream you stay.
Do not forget me. . .

Full translation: (scroll down)

OR, if you prefer to be electrified by someone pulling out all the stops. . .

Our song survey today has covered Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Neapolitan classics, a Swedish anthem, rare Puccini, even Gustav Mahler. It should give a hint as to the massive number of free-standing songs written by composers over the centuries. We'll close with one from the baroque era that transcends that categorization, standing as one of the most affecting ever composed---and all too poignant in our sad time. Yes, it is from an opera, "Xerxes," by Handel, but has been part of concert song repertory for a couple hundred years, so I guess it's okay to include. In tribute to the thousands of trees dying in California fires, and all of nature in this paradise now compromised and threatened with extinction by human beings, here is Joyce Di Donato and members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.
Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

“Oak Tree,” by RR, age fifteen, homesick for Thousand Oaks.

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