Neue Lied, Part 4: An Die Nacht

In addition to the countless unique elements to this upcoming neue lieder concert, there is one underlying theme that will perhaps go unnoticed if I do not mention it here:  serendipity. I am blessed to know several composers on this program personally, and each has their own story on how they came to be involved. Those stories will be the subject of future blogs, but this one is focused on the evolution of An die Nacht.

Composer Jacques DesJardins has proudly been in my life through the incredible Opera Parallele: he is a founding member of the creative team which includes the incomparable Nicole Paiement and Brian Staufenbiel. In addition to the high level of incredible artistry and endless creativity, working with Opera Parallele feels like you are part of a family.They are all so supportive and lovely, and Jacques has always greeted me with a smile when I pass him in the halls of SFCM or at rehearsals.

Back in April, when this neue lieder concert was percolating, I was at the Hayes Street Grill with Maxine Bernstein (fearless matriarch of LIEDER ALIVE!/lover of lieder and the Hayes Street Grill (;) celebrating her birthday. We were also plotting the evolution of this concert, and in particular including some neue lieder at the upcoming benefit where I would be singing with John Parr on piano (did I say, pinch me? (:). One table over, there was Jacques: grabbing a quick bite in between his teaching duties at the Conservatory, AND coincidentally…celebrating HIS birthday which fell on the SAME day as our leader, Maxine. Serendipity number one.

Knowing that Jacques was a composer in addition to his other roles, I knew this project would interest him. The three of us started chatting and he generously offered to throw is hat in the ring. Not only that, he agreed to have a lied ready for the benefit concert which was only two months away! When discussing poetry options, he was drawn to my love of Richard Strauss and took the bold dare of pairing his lied with poetry set by Strauss himself.

Jacques was certainly up to the task: I was fortunate to have received two incredible lieds over the next few weeks: Traum durch die Dämmerung  and An die Nacht.  I love them both, and it was a challenge to pick which one to perform (the other will be saved for a future concert (;). There was something so interesting, and clearly contrasting in his An die Nacht that I made the decision to program it.

Night conjures so many things, good and bad, and metaphors abound. In this poem by Clemens Brentano, he speaks of the holiness of what night can bring. In particular, the sacred night following the union of bride and groom. There is no holding back from the obvious sexual and passionate imagery, which makes it unusually yummy:

Heilige Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Sterngeschloßner Himmelsfrieden!
Alles, was das Licht geschieden,
Ist verbunden,
Alle Wunden
Bluten süß im Abendrot.

Bjelbogs Speer, Bjelbogs Speer
Sinkt ins Herz der trunknen Erde,
Die mit seliger Gebärde
Eine Rose
In dem Schoße
Dunkler [Lüste]1 niedertaucht.

[Heilige Nacht!]2 züchtige Braut, züchtige Braut!
Deine süße Schmach verhülle,
Wenn des Hochzeitsbechers Fülle
Sich ergießet;
Also fließet
In die brünstige Nacht der Tag!

Holy night! Holy night!
Star-enclosed sky-peace!
Everything that light divided
is connected;
all wounds
bleed sweetly in evening's red glow.

Bjelbog's spear, Bjelbog's spear
sinks into the heart of the drunken Earth,
which, with a blissful gesture,
dips a rose
in the womb
of dark desires1.

Holy night! Demure bride, demure bride!
Hide your sweet shame
when the wedding goblet's fullness
is poured out;
thus flows,
into the lustful night, day!

Strauss’ version is filled with rich textures and overt expression. My image was if Octavian and Sophie were to consummate their union onstage in Der Rosenkavalier this would be the theme song: it is regal and high-level passion, filled with bodices and indulgence. Even the piano interlude, following the final complete iteration of the poem   (a rising ‘der Tag!’…) is an orgasmic explosion that should leave anyone listening catching their breath. He ends it with a post-coital calm-down, repeating the Heilige Nacht with assurance and presence.

Jacques piece has an entirely different color to it, and one that equally honors the poem. I placed these An die Nacht pairings first in the program, and in my mind it perfectly illustrates an alte/neue lieder pair and how one poem can yield wonderful, different interpretations. Daniel Lockert truly helped in finding the core of this piece through rehearsals, and for that I am grateful. The tenor of Jacques’ piece is more relaxed and earthy, sexy in a ‘real’ way, the holiness is in the wandering of lovers/their intertwining. His use of chromatics add a bittersweet element, which differs from Strauss’ completely unfettered version of love’s consummation. This bride and groom I picture everywhere: real people, real feelings, real passion, and a wandering journey through life, almost like a lullaby. The patterns meditate forward and the holiness of the night is filled with their colors, and yet one isn’t sure how this marriage will end. With Strauss’ it is that picture-perfect white picket fence (or castle?) that one imagines…with DesJardins, it was a lovely night, but with real people, anything can happen…

I bookend-ed the two An die Nacht’s with another night-lied by Strauss: Die Nacht:

Aus dem Walde tritt die Nacht,
Aus den Bäumen schleicht sie leise,
[Schaut]1 sich um [im weitem]2 Kreise,
Nun gib acht.

Alle Lichter dieser Welt,
Alle Blumen, alle Farben
Löscht sie aus und stiehlt die Garben
Weg vom Feld.

Alles nimmt sie, was nur hold,
Nimmt das Silber weg des [Stromes,]3
Nimmt vom Kupferdach des [Domes]4
Weg das Gold.

Ausgeplündert steht der Strauch,
Rücke näher, Seel an Seele;
O die Nacht, mir bangt, sie stehle
Dich mir auch.

Night steps out of the woods,
And sneaks softly out of the trees,
Looks about in a wide circle,
Now beware.

All the lights of this earth,
All flowers, all colors
It extinguishes, and steals the sheaves
From the field.

It takes everything that is dear,
Takes the silver from the stream,
Takes away, from the cathedral's copper roof,
The gold.

The shrubs stand plundered,
Draw nearer, soul to soul;
Oh, I fear the night will also steal
You from me.

This poem by Hermann von Film zu Rosenegg, could very possibly be an unfortunate sequel to Jacques’ An die Nacht:  this is clearly night as a metaphor of darkness/sadness/loss. It is one of my favorite vivid images, of the night stealing the colors from the trees, the gold from the domes…whoa. My heart stops every time I hear the words, and Strauss’ simple yet elegant setting with an unrelenting pulse in the piano is just magical. Of course, the protagonist fears the loss of his love, literally or figuratively (the slow fading, unaware, could be lovers growing distant…). All we do know, is that after a heilige nacht, we never truly know what the future holds…

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