Neue Lied, Part 3: The Dance

Music forever engenders movement; and dance embodies the ultimate artistic and emotional expression of that movement. Two parallel elements expressing feelings coexist in the dance, and they are not always in sync. Happiness and sadness can mutually live through dance and song, and it is this duality that appealed to composer (and superstar singer/performer (:) Omari Tau. The singer, as observer, adds the third element to the dance, commenting on the conflicting feelings within the music and dancer.
In his program notes, Omari articulates this duality as well as his choice of Eichendorff for his poetry:
“I found Robert Schumann’s setting of Joseph Eichendorff’s texts for his Liederkreiss Op. 39 (1840) to be so overwhelmingly beautiful and full of what I call a sort of hazy, yellowish melancholy, that years ago, as a university student, I found myself lost in the romantic tales they told.  They played upon a certain duality of each character’s predicament in ways that created such painful longing and sweeping drama.  For this project I knew I wanted to explore the Eichendorff texts further, but I also wanted to find something with a rhythm I could play with.  In …Tänzerin, I found that double-natured dance of power mingled with pain.  Here, the pianist is the dancer.  With the sound of castanets and feet stomping, the pianist moves beyond the keyboard to entice and incite by creating patterns on the piano’s music shelf.  The singer observes, yet soon understands and communicates what hides behind the dancer’s teary eyes — eyes that simultaneously speak of woe and an undeniable power to move.”
The text beautifully weaves in and out of the two worlds of the dancer, bearing witness to the physical while also understanding the deeper inner subtext. The hope of the narrator is that the inner world doesn’t seep into his outer dance and become “unrecognizable”. Alas, does our identity belong to the outer dance or inner pain?
Castagnetten lustig schwingen
Seh' ich Dich, Du zierlich Kind!
Mit der Locken schwarzen Ringen
Spielt der sommerlaue Wind.
Künstlich regst Du schöne Glieder,
Tauchest in Musik Du nieder,
Und die Woge hebt Dich wieder.

Warum sind so blaß die Wangen,
Dunkelfeucht der Augen Glanz,
Und ein heimliches Verlangen
Schimmert glühend durch den Tanz?
Schalkhaft lockend schaust Du nieder,
Süß erwacht,
Wollüstig erklingen Lieder --
Schlag nicht so die Augen nieder!

Wecke nicht die Zauberlieder
In der dunklen Tiefe Schoos,
Selbst verzaubert sinkst Du nieder,
Und sie lassen Dich nicht los.
Tödtlich schlingt sich um die Glieder
Sündlich Glüh'n,
Und verblühn
Müssen Schönheit, Tanz und Lieder,
Ach, ich kenne Dich nicht wieder!

Merrily swinging the castanets
I see you, you dainty child!
With the dark rings of your curls
The warm summer wind plays.
Artfully you move your beautiful limbs,
Wildly glowing,
Gently mild
You dive down into the music
And the wave lifts you up again.

Wherefore are your cheeks so pale,
Your shining eyes so darkly wet with tears,
And a secret yearning
Shimmers glowingly through the dance?
Roguishly enticing you look down [upon us],
Night of love,
Sweetly awakened,
Sensuously the songs sound --
Do not cast your eyes down so!

Do not awaken the magical songs
In the womb of the dark depths,
You yourself would sink down enchanted,
And they would not let you go.
Deadly twines about your limbs
The sinful glowing,
And fade
Must beauty, dance and songs,
And I would not recognize you again!


I must confess, this was one of the trickier pieces to put together for the neue lieder concert. All new music has its unique challenges, and this one isn’t overtly difficult melodically (for those curious ears, it is very melodic and tonal). I like to term it more like ‘patting your head and rubbing your belly’:  with the multiple elements going on: the pianist (the wondrous Daniel Lockert) has a tapping/percussive component along with beautiful musical gestures in the piano (which paint dance, whimsy, and melancholy through various points in the piece). The singer, as observer, must not get caught up in the dance elements, and speak with both a sense of distance as well as passion/compassion. There are rhythmic shifts which are tricky to give a sense of suspension and even minor conflict, and the shaping/arc are not always obvious but necessary for the balance of these inner and outer worlds. It is my hope to convey the complexity through the unified whole.

Of course, in the pairing of this piece, there were an abundance of possibilities. Dance abounds in this musical genre, whether direct or indirect. I chose Schubert’s Der Tanz  D.826 since the poetry (an unknown named Schnitzer) represented a similar duality to the Eichendorff. The text is a moral dilemma of sorts, warning of the consequences of youth overindulging in the dance (death and pain? actually, a sore throat and head!) while at the same time, enjoying those very fruits. In Schubert’s case, however, both the piano and the singer enjoy the same plane of interpretation: playful and whimsical. There is no musical dichotomy, and the presentation is simple, strophic. In that sense, it is a very nice (and stark) contrast to Omari’s piece.

I also am committing a huge musical sin: Der Tanz was originally written for SATB. However, I am of course only singing the soprano line. To be honest, it functions remarkably well as a solo piece–the soprano carries the melody (no comments from the ‘Alto’s Lament’ peanut gallery (:) and the accompaniment offers more than adequate harmony.

For brevity, I am singing only the first verse, which is a common performance practice for this piece (the score I downloaded actually included only one verse) but here is the poem in its entirety (I used a – to delineate where the performance text will end)

Es redet und träumet die Jugend so viel, Von Tanzen, Galoppe,Gelagen,
Auf einmal erreicht sie ein trügliches Ziel, Da hört man sie seufzen und klagen.
Bald schmerzet der Hals, und bald schmerzet die Brust, Verschwunden ist alle die himmlische Lust,
„Nur diesmal noch kehr’ mir Gesundheit zurück!“
So flehet vom Himmel der hoffende Blick!
Jüngst wähnt’ auch ein Fräulein mit trübem Gefühl, Schon hätte ihr Stündlein geschlagen.
Doch stand noch das Rädchen der Parze nicht still, Nun schöner die Freuden ihr tagen.
Drum Freunde, erhebet den frohen Gesang, Es lebe die teure Irene noch lang!
Sie denke zwar oft an das falsche Geschick, Doch trübe sich nimmer ihr heiterer Blick.
Youth talks and dreams so much
Of dancing, revelling, and carousing;
All of a sudden it reaches its illusory goal, And then we 
hear it sighing and moaning.
Now it’s a sore throat, now a sore head, Vanished is all the heavenly pleasure. ‘Just once more, give me back my health!’:Thus its hope-filled gaze implores heaven!
Just recently, a young miss gloomily imagined That her last hour had struck.
But the Wheel of Fortune did not stop,
And still greater joys await her.
Then, friends, raise up the merry song: Long live dear Irene!
Let her often be mindful of false Fate, But let her bright 
gaze never be troubled.

I hope you enjoy the dance!!

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