The extraordinary Susan Graham gives a rare recital performance centered on Schumann's seminal song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben, weaving in other songs as she traces the course of a woman's love and life.
"Ecstatically applauded by her fans and superbly partnered at the piano by Malcolm Martineau…one had to admire [Graham's] sophistication, her impeccable diction, her subtle dynamic scale, her exquisite top notes." —Financial Times
THE MITY CLARKE GANN MEMORIAL CONCERT
Florence Clarke Gann (1909-1995) was known as “Mity” because she was as small as a “mite.” The moniker never fit. She had irrepressible energy and an extraordinary love for life. She had a quest for knowledge and enjoyed lively intellectual debate. She loved music, art, good books, and, at age 85, she was still working on her tennis game. Mity's love for music and her piano were important parts of her life. She played chamber music and was still playing a few weeks before her death. She used to say, “Music is one of the things that always makes me feel good.” Mity’s legacy is surely one of love for life and for all the beautiful and interesting things in it. She is remembered by this gift of a concert in her memory made in 1996 by her family and friends.
Susan Graham—hailed as “an artist to treasure” by The New York Times—has been in the highest echelon of international performers for most of her career. Her operatic roles span four centuries, from Monteverdi’s Poppea to Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, which was written especially for her. She has received a Grammy Award and her recital repertoire is so broad that 14 composers from Purcell to Sondheim are represented on her most recent album, Virgins, Vixens & Viragos. A Texas native, this distinctly American artist has also been recognized throughout her career as one of the foremost exponents of French vocal music, receiving the French government’s prestigious “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.”
To launch the 2016-17 season, Graham headlined San Francisco Symphony’s opening-night gala. Having created the role of Sister Helen Prejean in the world premiere production of Dead Man Walking, she starred in Washington National Opera’s revival this spring, making her role debut as the convict’s mother. She also appears with the Santa Fe Opera; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; The MET and Philadelphia orchestras; and Boston, San Antonio, and New Zealand symphonies. Highlights of last season include role debuts in Berg’s Lulu at The Metropolitan Opera and Strauss’s Capriccio at Santa Fe Opera, New Year’s Eve with the New York Philharmonic, and recitals in Boston and London.
Within a few years of her professional debut, Graham rose to prominence on all the world’s major opera stages, including the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden, Paris Opera, La Scala, Bavarian State Opera, Vienna State Opera, and the Salzburg Festival, among many others. She sang the leading ladies in world premieres of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby, Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy. She has worked with such conductors as Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, James Levine, and Seiji Ozawa, and new productions have been mounted for her in New York, London, Paris, Chicago, San Francisco, and beyond. Graham’s affinity for French repertoire has served as the foundation for her extensive recital career and collaborations with the world’s leading orchestras.
Graham’s distinguished discography features operatic, orchestral, and recital albums on the Onyx, Erato, and Sony Classical labels. Among the mezzo’s honors are Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year and an Opera News Award. Graham’s website is susangraham.com.
Recognized as one of the leading accompanists of his generation, Malcolm Martineau was born in Edinburgh, read music at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and studied at the Royal College of Music. He has worked with many of the world’s greatest singers including Sir Thomas Allen, Dame Janet Baker, Olaf Bär, Barbara Bonney, Ian Bostridge, Angela Gheorghiu, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Simon Keenlyside, Angelika Kirschlager, Magdalena Kožená, Solveig Kringelborn, Dame Felicity Lott, Karita Mattila, Anna Netrebko, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Frederica von Stade.
Martineau has presented his own series at Wigmore Hall and the Edinburgh Festival, and has appeared in venues including London’s Barbican, Queen Elizabeth Hall, and Royal Opera House; Milan’s La Scala; Paris's Théâtre du Châtelet; Berlin’s Philharmonie and Konzerthaus; Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw; Vienna’s Konzerthaus and Musikverein; New York’s Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Hall; and the Sydney Opera House.
Recording projects have included Schubert, Schumann, and English song recitals with Bryn Terfel; Schubert and Strauss recitals with Simon Keenlyside and Songs of War, which won a Grammy Award; recital recordings with Angela Gheorghiu and Barbara Bonney, Della Jones, Susan Bullock, and Amanda Roocroft; the complete Fauré songs with Sarah Walker and Tom Krause; and Schubert’s Winterreise and Schwanengesang with Florian Boesch, Heimliche Aufförderrung and Scene! with Christiane Karg, and Portraits with Dorothea Röschmann.
This season’s engagements include appearances with Sarah Connolly, Dorothea Röschmann, Angelika Kirschlager, Simon Keenlyside; a tour with Magdalena Kožená; an appearance at Oxford Lieder with Ann Murray and Thomas Allen; and a U.S. tour with Florian Boesch and Miah Persson. Martineau was a given an honorary doctorate at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2004, and was appointed International Fellow of Accompaniment in 2009. He was the Artistic Director of the 2011 Leeds Lieder+ Festival and was made an OBE in the 2016 New Year Honours. His website is martineau.info.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
"Seit ich ihn gesehen," from Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42, No. 1View Notes
Songs are bite-sized commentaries on and reflections of human existence. Whatever their purely musical attributes (and their greatness, or not, is dependent upon the composer’s compositional profundity), they participate in the “big things” of life: birth, death, love, hate, isolation, friendship, time, and more. Schumann knew this: in the year of his battle for Clara Wieck’s hand-in-marriage, he clearly thought long and hard about the vicissitudes of love and translated those thoughts into songs written for her, among them Frauenliebe und -leben: a tale of married love at its loveliest, from its beginnings in humble abnegation through fulfillment to the inevitable ending in one partner’s death. Other composers in other countries have also sung of love, courtship, marriage, birth, and grief; what tonight’s artists have done is to compile small anthologies of diverse songs on the rites of passage given us at each stage of Schumann’s cycle.
“Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart, / ‘Tis woman’s whole existence,” said Byron in Don Juan, and the poetic cycle Frauenliebe und -leben by the French aristocrat Louis Charles Adeläide de Chamisso de Boncourt, or Adelbert von Chamisso—when he was nine, his family fled the French Revolution for Prussia— might seem at first glance in accord with that peculiarly masculine view of women. According to some, the “female” poetic voice in this cycle is actually male, and the work is meant to teach women how the paterfamilias of the day wished to be worshipped by his wife. According to others (present company included), the poems are actually in sympathy with the emerging women’s movement because it is the woman, not the husband, who is the narrator; Chamisso was hailed in his time as a champion of women. While listeners will make up their own minds, it is undeniable that Schumann saw in these words the occasion for great musical beauty. We hear a portrait in tones of a loving, tender, generous-hearted creature anyone would be proud to love and to be loved by.
I. Seit ich ihn gesehen: “Love comes in at the eye”
“And love comes in at the eye,” wrote William Butler Yeats: in this first group of three songs, lovers look at the beloved and are helpless to resist such beauty. In the “Amen” chords at the start of Schumann’s “Seit ich ihn gesehen,’’ we hear the nameless woman’s reverence for the man she loves but believes is beyond her reach, hence the slight tinge of darkness and sadness in this music. Schumann had a passion for Bach, and he channels Baroque tradition in this sarabande-song (the sarabande was a Baroque dance in triple meter with the second and third beats often tied, usually grave in nature).
Love not yet admitted, much less acknowledged, in Schumann’s first song is taken several steps farther in “Møte” from Edvard Grieg’s famous Haugtussa cycle. In the first half of Arne Garborg’s poetic cycle, the clairvoyant heroine Veslemøy—called “Haugtussa,” or “hill sprite” for her ability to commune with nature—falls in love with the “wild boy” Jon. As she dreams of him on a hilltop, he appears, and she gazes at him entranced before they fall into one another’s arms. Her desire for him at the start, the music saturated with chromatic motion in the inner voices (a traditional trope for desire), is consummated at the end in their first tryst; we hear climax and the “dying-away” aftermath of lovemaking at the end.
“Since your eyes gazed in mine… what more could I ask of life?,” the lover in Richard Strauss’s “Seitdem dein Aug’ in meines schaute” asks. Strauss begins without a piano introduction, the directness very moving, and singles out the word at the heart of it all—“Liebe,” “love”—by a vault upwards for the singer, underscored by the first tonic chord of the song. The throbbing syncopated patterns, the crescendo of rising passion that builds throughout, and the rhythmic elongation of “ganzes Leben” (my whole life) are all transformations of passion into song.
II. Er, der Herrlichste von Allen: In praise of the beloved
In the second song of Frauenliebe, the woman in love catalogues her beloved’s wonderful attributes—his lips, eyes, mind, and courage—and then resolves to rejoice in her beloved’s fantasied marriage to someone else as long as he is happy. Trying to do the right thing, she nonetheless finds it incredibly painful and weeps in private. Schumann was prone to invent wordless extensions of poetic meaning in his piano postludes, and this one is exquisite: in the contrapuntal strands that drift downwards from the high treble register, we hear the wistful dissolution of her dream of love.
The persona of Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?,” declares that as long as this poem shall exist, his beloved will “live,” defying time and death. Shakespeare and jazz: one might not expect the combination, but the great British jazzman John Dankworth composed a wonderfully evocative setting of this sonnet for his wife, the jazz and pop singer Cleo Laine.
“Chanson d’amour” is in madrigal style, with its accompaniment that suggests the strumming of a lute or guitar and its time-traveling aura of an older era. “I love, I love, I love each individual thing about you,” this ardent lover proclaims, and Fauré aids and abets all this repetition for emphasis by repeating the first stanza twice more in the course of his setting. Ture Rangström is one of the foremost early 20th-century Swedish composers of romans (art songs)—some 250 of them. “Melodi” is a setting of a love poem by Bo Bergman; here, love brings nature to more intense life and banishes suffering. Nature’s sparkling voices ripple in the piano throughout the song, accompanying a beautiful melody; the words tell us that love itself is song and that it is all-powerful.
III. Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben: Avowals of lasting love
Somewhere between the second and third songs in Schumann’s Frauenliebe, the beloved man has declared his love for her, and she is overwhelmed. We hear her come to the realization that this wonder is true in the course of this song, with its shifting moods and changing tempi; the astonishment at the start is succeeded by the somewhat slower, thoughtful repetition of his words. “I can hardly grasp it, hardly believe it,” she repeats over and over; the final statement is preceded by a remarkable little piano interlude, rocking back and forth between different levels as if to say “He loves me, he loves me not” before at last accepting that love is hers.
In Grieg’s “Jeg elsker dig,” to words by Hans Christian Andersen, a lover swears to love only the beloved through all eternity; the song was composed for the composer’s cousin Nina Hagerup in the year of their engagement. Each of the two stanzas culminates in a threefold proclamation of love that rises ecstatically by stages. Somehow it seems appropriate that the song is in C major (representing the ultimate clarity and purity of love) but is shot through with chromatic color and feeling, as in the lovely introduction.
In “Au bord de l’eau,” another poet also declares that his love will endure for eternity, but Fauré’s music, like time itself, flows ever onward, in calm contemplation of all those things that will pass—including this love. “My dear old au bord de l’eau,” Henri Duparc wrote to Fauré in 1883, so consummately expressive of Fauré’s art is this song.
IV. Du Ring an meinem Finger: Lovers’ rings and wedding nights
“To love him, serve him, belong wholly to him,” Frauenliebe’s nameless woman sings passionately in mid-song she contemplates her wedding ring. This was the accepted model for matrimonial love at the time, and the strong-minded Clara Wieck—no pushover, she—says such things in her letters to Robert. This fourth song is the mirror of the second, the two sharing the same key, some of the same harmonies, and the “heartbeat” chords in the right hand (in the interior of this song).
Another ring figures prominently in Gustav Mahler’s “Rheinlegendchen,” one of his songs on folk poems from the famous early 19th-century anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn): a lover separated from his beloved fantasizes throwing his ring into the Rhine, where a fish will swallow it, and the King, when served that very same fish, will ask whose ring it is. The sweetheart at court, recognizing it, will immediately return to her faithful lover: the eternity symbol of the ring brings together true lovers who have been parted. In this song, we hear the typically Mahlerian ironic disjunction between the naiveté of the folk text and the extreme sophistication of the musical setting; Mahler himself pointed out the originality of its harmonization.
Spain’s leading Romantic poet Ramón de Campoamor explored the oxymorons of love in his Poem in the form of songs, set to music by the Seville-born Joaquín Turina, who merged sevillanismo with French influences (he studied with Vincent d’Indy at the Paris Conservatoire). The third song, “Los dos miedos,” expresses fear of the beloved before the night of love and fear of being without him after lovemaking.
V. Helft mir, ihr Schwestern: Weddings, families, and communal rejoicing
Returning to Frauenliebe, the woman now sings a song of rejoicing as her sisters help her with her bridal dress; in their company and on this occasion, she can safely confess her desire for her beloved and his for her. Near the close, there is a momentary touch of melancholy as she bids her siblings farewell, but happiness resumes its sway as she goes to her husband. The wedding march we hear at the end owes a debt of gratitude to Felix Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Schumann fashioned his song cycle Myrthennot after the model of its Beethovenian or Schubertian predecessors but according to his own unique design, with 26 songs that constitute an alphabet of love. In the Lied der Braut I (“Mutter, Mutter! Glaube nicht”), a bride reassures her mother, “I shan’t love you any less for marrying the man I love,” and thanks the woman who bore her for an existence that has now become something splendid. Schumann made a habit of extending the poem wordlessly in his postludes, and this one ends with a beautiful Adagio variation on “such splendor.” The daughter-bride continues to reassure her mother in Lied der Braut II (“Lass mich ihm am Busen hangen,”) set to chordal strains as if the wedding march were already beginning to sound in the background.
At the start of the 20th century, a French Hellenist named Hubert Octave Pernot (1870-1946), in company with a Greek colleague named Pericles Matsa, collected Greek popular songs. The musicologist Pierre Aubry, who was giving a lecture on the songs of the oppressed Greeks and Armenians, asked another musicologist, Michel Calvocoressi, to select some of Pernot’s Greek songs as illustrations. Calvocoressi taught the singer Louise Thomasset to produce the texts phonetically; when she wanted piano accompaniments, he turned to Ravel, who wrote five accompaniments in 36 hours—his first of several forays into folklore. “Tout gai!” is an irresistible invitation to the dance, the text not quite coherent because sung while in full fling, the singer distracted by the sight of lovely legs in joyous activity. Whatever the inimitably French veil thrown over the proceedings by Ravel, we feel as if transported to some sun-washed Greek village.
VI. Lovemaking and the creation of a child: Süsser Freund, du blickest mich
From the Parnassian poet Leconte de Lisle’s Études latines (Latin Studies), Henri Duparc plucked “Phydilé” for one of his last and loveliest songs. (Duparc composed only 17 melodies before falling victim to a mysterious neurasthenic disease that prevented him from composing at all in the final 48 years of his life. As if in compensation for such a hideous fate, his songs are among the greatest in the French language, their subtlety and gravitas beyond the reach of most of his contemporaries.) At the start, refined sensuality is evoked by limited motion to neighboring harmonies; from there, ravishment proceeds apace. By the time the musical persona bids his beloved “Repose” (Rest) three times in succession, we are all of us seduced.
In 1894, the French poet Pierre Louÿs published Les Chansons de Bilitis, a collection of prose-poems supposedly the work of Bilitis, a courtesan in ancient Greece at the time of Sappho; the poems were, he wrote, discovered in her tomb by a German archeologist named G. Heim (“geheim,” or “secret”). Louÿs, of course, was the actual author. The text of “La Chevelure” comes from the first section entitled “Bucolics,” about Bilitis’s childhood and her first sexual encounter with the youth Lykas: his narrative of seduction, quoted within the song, makes Bilitis a figment of his imagination, but she ultimately contains his dream within her own recounting. In this intensely erotic scenario, it is no wonder that we encounter Wagner’s famous “Tristan” chord at the moment of imagined—soon to be actual—climax.
In Schumann’s “Süsser Freund, du blickest mich,” the woman tells her bewildered husband, who has found her both weeping and smiling, that she is pregnant. This is the only song where he is present, and Schumann disposes the piano part at times as a dialogue between treble and bass registers, between man and wife. It is in the piano that she whispers her glad tidings into his ear, the music rising in mini-waves of dawning realization, followed by a tender dialogue between her melody and his cello-like wordless phrases in the left hand.
VII. Songs to the child: An meinem Herzen an meiner Brust
La courte paille (The Short Straw) was Francis Poulenc’s last song cycle, composed three years before his death for the soprano Denise Duval and her young son. Like Schumann’s Kinderszenen, these are songs about children rather than being children’s music. In the sixth song, “Le Carafon,” everything in the world wants a darling baby, so the wizard Merlin obligingly provides a water carafe—it has, we are told, a lovely soprano voice—with a pretty little infant carafe. Lively whimsy and sweetness join hands in this song.
The Russian poet Apollon Maikov paraphrased a Greek folk song, with echoes of Homeric animism, in a lullaby set to music by Tchaikovsky; here, a mother invokes mighty forces of nature as guardians to keep her child safe while it sleeps. The composer dedicated his song to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s wife (she was expecting her first child), and it is deservedly a “chestnut,” in which the pianist rocks a cradle with both hands in alternation, while the singer’s melody gently swings and sways in cradling motion as well.
A gentle whimsy is on display in Strauss’s “Wiegenliedchen” (one would never guess from this song that his opera Salome would follow only four years later), in which a little bee and a spider are bidden to hum and spin “my little prince” to sleep. Again, we hear the cradle rocking in the piano as Strauss, in his inimitable fashion, touches lightly upon many different tonalities, as if on all the different shades of maternal love.
Returning again to Frauenliebe, there is now even more love in the picture, that of a mother for the infant daughter she nurses in “An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust.” The two chords at the start, one loud, one soft, open the doors of the bedchamber and allow us access to this intimate scene, unique in German song. In another of Schumann’s expressive postludes, we hear both waves of tender maternal feeling and the physical motion as the child is swung gently up and down.
VIII. Songs of grief and mourning: Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan
In the same year of 1840 as Frauenliebe, Hector Berlioz composed his song cycle Les nuits d’été, for what reason, we do not know: to make some money? as a vehicle for one of Paris’s famous mezzos (Pauline Viardot, perhaps)? as a parting gift for its poet, en route to Spain? Whatever the reasons, the fourth song, “L’Absence,” is a plangent lament by someone parted from his beloved by great distance; in this context, we can imagine it as the distance of final illness, separating the living from the dead. Over and over, the singer implores, “Return, return, my dear beloved,” and over and over, a brief silence follows—no one answers—, before the singer resumes the grief-stricken plaint.
Enrique Granados was inspired by the Spanish tradition of theatre songs called tonadillas to create his own Tonadillas en estilo antiguo, in which majas and majos (near-untranslatable terms for the arrogant, boisterous, charming, proud working-class young women and men of Madrid, who engaged in complex games of courtship along a gamut from white-hot passion to white-hot contempt) sing of love. The weightiest are the three songs in the mini-cycle La maja dolorosa, in which a maja grieves for her dead majo. The first song, “¡O muerte cruel!,” begins by striking iron-hard, heavy tones in the piano—we will hear a similar harsh blow at the start of Schumann’s last song—followed by a cry of protest that begins in the heights and descends into the depths of depression: she does not wish to live any longer. The same progression, from tragic outcry to deadened quietude, is then repeated, and the piano postlude recapitulates in brief the same terrible, truthful contrast.
The ferocious minor chord at the start of “Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan” could hardly be more of a shock. Schumann knew that accusatory anger and a sense of betrayal are among the whirlwind of emotions we feel when someone beloved dies, and that is what we hear first in this searing song. The initial bitterness gives way to more inward grief and finally, to one of Schumann’s most heart-stopping compositional decisions: the wordless return of the first song in the postlude. Only the accompaniment, not the vocal line, returns—half a song for a life deprived of half of its meaning. We are meant to hear the slight musical “bump,” the transition from the present to the past as she remembers the start of it all, eight songs and a lifetime ago.
NOTES BY SUSAN YOUENS, © 2016