Neue Lied, Part 6: An die Musik

It may seem strange that I am putting two powerhouse composers into one blog. However, rather than repeat myself in stating the commonality shared by superstars Henry Mollicone and Daron Hagen, I thought they would in fact, make a nice pairing themselves.

When I was a college student at Oberlin, mulling about in biology and vocal performance, I found my ear drawn to the new music crowd. At that point in time, I was much more of an observer than a participant, but it was definitely a prediction of a musical future to come. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to both Henry and Daron’s music during those formative years. It was those introductions lead me to foster contact with them later in my musical life (and yet again here in this concert). As a longtime fan of both composers, I am beyond honored to have them both included in this neue lieder experiment.

MOLLICONE:

My senior year in college, our incredibly creative opera director, Steven Daigle, included a scene from Mollicone’s “Face on the Barroom Floor” in our class’ scene performance. I was not cast in that scene (I was actually Nedda in Pagliacci…don’t ask), but I watched the rehearsals in awe of the piece. The seed was planted I HAD to sing in that opera one day…Flash ahead many years later, and I was able to live my dream performing the opera in its entirety for Festival Opera in “About Face” (an amalgam of performances to create awareness for disabilities, particularly my own battle with facial paralysis). It was such a coincidence to know that Henry lived in the Bay area, and when I first met him I felt like I was meeting a rock-star.

When I sing Henry’s “Nähe des Geliebten”, I am in true vocal bliss. He has an elegance to his vocal line that makes it divine to sing. He channels his inner Richard Strauss here, with ascending lines that expand and breathe in the longing of Goethe’s text:

Ich denke dein,
wenn mir der Sonne schimmer
I think of you,
when I see the sun’s shimmer
Vom Meere strahlt; Gleaming from the sea.
Ich denke dein,
wenn sich des Mondes Flimmer
I think of you,
when the moon’s glimmer
In Quellen malt. Is reflected in the springs.
Ich sehe dich,
wenn auf dem fernen Wege
I see you,
when on the distant road
Der Staub sich hebt, The dust rises,
In tiefer Nacht,
wenn auf dem schmalen Stege
In deep night,
when on the narrow bridge
Der Wandrer bebt. The traveler trembles.
Ich höre dich,
wenn dort mit dumpfem Rauschen
I hear you,
when with a dull roar
Die Welle steigt. The wave surges.
Im stillen Haine geh’ ich oft zu lauschen, In the quiet grove I often go to listen
Wenn alles schweigt. When all is silent.
Ich bin bei dir,
du seist auch noch so ferne,
I am with you,
however far away you may be,
Du bist mir nah! You are next to me!
Die Sonne sinkt,
bald leuchten mir die Sterne.
The sun is setting,
soon the stars will shine upon me.
O wärst du da! If only you were here!

The sexiness and intimacy are paramount, and it is a testament to Mollicone’s gift that he uniquely set the entire text . Schubert’s strophic rendition (following Henry’s in the program) pales in a way. Schubert’s is more exuberant and relies on the text to differentiate between the subtitles of tone rather than the music.

To start the set, I included Schubert’s “Standchen” in the trio: the idea of a distant love, wanting them close, is again a common theme in lied. Here, I find the protagonist a bit more playful and sensual, ending with a lovely proposition:

Leise flehen meine Lieder
Durch die Nacht zu dir;
In den stillen Hain hernieder,
Liebchen, komm zu mir!

Flüsternd schlanke Wipfel rauschen
In des Mondes Licht;
Des Verräters feindlich Lauschen
Fürchte, Holde, nicht.

Hörst die Nachtigallen schlagen?
Ach! sie flehen dich,
Mit der Töne süßen Klagen
Flehen sie für mich.

Sie verstehn des Busens Sehnen,
Kennen Liebesschmerz,
Rühren mit den Silbertönen
Jedes weiche Herz.

Laß auch dir die Brust bewegen,
Liebchen, höre mich!
Bebend harr' ich dir entgegen!
Komm, beglücke mich!

My songs beckon softly
through the night to you;
below in the quiet grove,
Come to me, beloved!

The rustle of slender leaf tips whispers
in the moonlight;
Do not fear the evil spying 
of the betrayer, my dear.

Do you hear the nightingales call?
Ah, they beckon to you,
With the sweet sound of their singing
they beckon to you for me.

They understand the heart's longing,
know the pain of love,
They calm each tender heart
 with their silver tones.

Let them also stir within your breast,
beloved, hear me!
Trembling I wait for you,
Come, please me!

HAGEN:

I also first heard Daron’s cycle “Dear Youth” for soprano and flute in my senior year of college. I later programmed it at a Trinity Church concert by ground zero in 2002 (the first concert following 9/11) entitled “Songs of Love in Times of War”. My fangirl status continued and was thrilled that West Edge Opera agreed to mount his Vera of Las Vegas: I was cast as Doll (and Brian Asawa was my partner in crime, Vera).

His neue lied uses text from Rilke and is an unusual ode to music:

Musik: Atem der Statuen. Vielleicht:
Stille der Bilder. Du Sprache wo Sprachen
enden. Du Zeit
die senkrecht steht auf der Richtung
vergehender Herzen.

Gefühle zu wem? O du der Gefühle
Wandlung in was?— in hörbare Landschaft.
Du Fremde: Musik. Du uns entwachsener
Herzraum. Innigstes unser,
das, uns übersteigend, hinausdrängt,—
heiliger Abschied:
da uns das Innre umsteht
als geübteste Ferne, als andre
Seite der Luft:
rein,
riesig
nicht mehr bewohnbar.

Music. The breathing of statues. Perhaps:
The quiet of images. You, language where
languages end. You, time
standing straight from the direction
of transpiring hearts.

Feelings, for whom? O, you of the feelings
changing into what?— into an audible landscape.

You stranger: music. You chamber of our heart
which has outgrown us. Our inner most self,
transcending, squeezed out,—
holy farewell:
now that the interior surrounds us
the most practiced of distances, as the other
side of the air:
pure,
enormous
no longer habitable.

Rilke’s sense is grand here, owing to an almost metaphysical element to music’s scope. Hagen uses both stillness and expansion to create a contemplative mood. It can be almost conversational: as if the ‘philosopher’ (Rilke in first person?) is talking to himself about ‘what it all means’. It flows with beauty but also abstraction, paralleling the poem elegantly.

Of course, this piece had to be paired with Schubert’s “An die Musik”, which holds the same reverie and gratitude for this art we all love:

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden,
Hast mich |: in eine beßre Welt entrückt! 😐

Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf’ entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
|: Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür! 😐

O gracious Art, in how many grey hours
When life’s fierce orbit encompassed me,
Hast thou kindled my heart to warm love,
Hast charmed me into a better world!

Oft has a sigh, issuing from thy harp,
A sweet, blest chord of thine,
Thrown open the heaven of better times;
O gracious Art, for that I thank thee!

Although I have heard it sung countless times, this is the first time I have performed it. I do prefer it sung by a mezzo (it has a lower tessitura)  it is an appropriate end to this set, and finale (1 of 2) to this concert that honors this most gracious Art.

Ich danke dir.

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