Neue Lied, Part 8: “Finding an ending that isn’t trivial”

I am calling this concert ‘a great experiment’. Indeed it has been a journey for all of us: the composers who invested their talents in writing, for myself and Daniel Lockert who worked very hard at creating worthy interpretations, to my alte lieder pairing project which took me on a historical journey of lieder, and last but not least to the audience members who will be listening with critical ears. It is our hope that this experiment is a success: that neue lieder will, in fact, become a new genre that composers will be eager to explore.

The final piece I have chosen for this concert is from Strauss’ iconic opera “Capriccio”. Although it isn’t a lied per se (although we like to say many German operas are rife with lieds of sorts), it is a fitting ending to a concert that juxtaposes poetry with composers. In ‘Capriccio’, the heroine Madeline is torn between two lovers: a poet and a composer. In this final scene she debates this choice in a passionate inner monologue. Strauss left the opera with an unanswered question and humor: we never know whom she chooses (her final words are “is there an ending which isn’t trivial?” immediately followed by her butler’s words “madame, your soup is served”. I admit, it is absolutely ironic and hilarious, but embedded in such beauty…Oh, that Strauss…

So we leave you with this: poetry inspires composers. Music brings life to poetry. We need both, and that is not trivial….

Lieder is alive.

Neue Lied, Part 7: Mondnacht

Often the hardest things to write about are the most personal. I saved this blog for last only because it is hard to find words that describe the indescribable.

Kurt Erickson was the brainchild behind this neue lieder concert, and without his efforts, it would not have been possible. He has been the composer in residence for LIEDER ALIVE! these past 3 years, writing incredible music for Kindra Scharich, Kirk Eichelberger, Paul Yarbrough, and myself. Writing in an unfamiliar language can be a deterrent for many, but Kurt took it upon himself to invest completely in text and music to create incredible, lasting pieces. Each song and performance was magical, and their melodies live in my head along with the great lieds of Schubert and Strauss (and I am not just saying this because I love the guy…(;). It was this dare combined with generosity of spirit, than inspired him to bring other composers into the fold. He wanted to share the wealth, knowing from his own experience how writing in this genre can be a rewarding experience–one we hope inspires other composers as well. Thus, this concert was born…

It was a lovely, romantic weekend in Mendocino. Kurt and I have a fondness for reading poetry together (and writing, but don’t tell anyone (:).  Knowing that neue lied was in his future, I bought several German/English poetry books for his birthday which we began reading together.

We starred several that we loved and it was from those that his neue lieder set was born. Interestingly, when we were first reading Mondnacht, neither of us were thinking of the iconic Schumann piece–we were simply drawn to the wonders of Eichendorff’s poetry:


Es war, als hätt’ der Himmel
Die Erde still geküßt,
Daß sie im Blüten-Schimmer
Von ihm nun träumen müßt’.

Die Luft ging durch die Felder,
Die Aehren wogten sacht,
Es rauschten leis die Wälder,
So sternklar war die Nacht.

Und meine Seele spannte
Weit ihre Flügel aus,
Flog durch die stillen Lande,
Als flöge sie nach Haus.

Moonlit Night

It was as though the heavens
Had silently kissed the earth,
Such that in the blossoms’ lustre
She was caught in dreams of them

The wind crossed through the fields,
And swayed the heads of grain
The forest softly rustled
How starry was the night

And my soul spread
Far its wings
And sailed o’er the hushed lands
As if gliding home

This piece was first clustered in a trio along with ‘Dein blaues Auge’ and ‘Ich und Du’. But it stands alone as a wonderful pairing with the Schumann. It fascinates me that Kurt purposefully didn’t listen to the Schumann prior to his composition. He wanted a completely de novo approach to his writing, drawing on his own instincts for the text. It was incredibly to listen to his process of improvisation as he explored textures and gestures to match the beauty of the words, lovely and different from Schumann, and all his own. I adore both pieces and it truly is an example of how neue lieder fits into the catalogue of the greats.

From the opening ascent to ‘himmel’ to the calming resolution to ‘home’, I feel the words as I sing.

I confess, Kurt has been both an inspiration and a great love beyond all great loves. I look forward to a long, musical journey.

Love and gratitude.

(See? You finally got a blog honey!! (:)

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.


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!


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:
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:
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.

Neue Lied, Part 5: Dawn

We often use dawn as a metaphor for beginning. In Howard Miller’s “Morgenlicht” the symbolism represents not only the birth of his love for LIEDER ALIVE! founder Maxine Bernstein, but in a way, the birth of neue lieder itself.

The song, entitled “Dawn”, was originally written in English in 1975 when the composer, in the middle of a whirlwind courtship with Maxine, wrote the music (the tune came to him first) and the poem especially for her. They premiered it together at the Circle Repertory Theater in NYC. Last year, when the idea of neue lied came to the fore, I was working with pianist Peter Grunberg and he offered his translation skills to Maxine, which resulted in this version. The love between Maxine and Howard is incredibly deep and complicated, but the simplicity and beauty of the song reflect the newness of early romance and intimate moments:

“Sleep, my love,sleep as the dawn appears; too soon my dream may be fading; so slumber on, my love. When you wake to see the sun rise, then in the sunlight you’ll see your dreams, as I see mine waking gently, me beside you. Look in my eyes, and in my eyes, know I love you.
Dream my love, and if you dream of love,
let our dream love the sunlight, wake with the dawn,
and join with mine.
Warm and glowing, your eyes,
your eyes will let me know.

Wake my love.
Soon my love.
Our new world is waiting, joyously waiting,
if you love me as I love you.

It must be said that the romance and decades-long friendship that followed between Maxine and Howard inspired the birth of LIEDER ALIVE!: he supported and encouraged her passion for the art form, and was one of the first to mention it as an idea for an arts organization. In a way, we all wouldn’t be here without Howard…

Sadly, with every dawn comes a sunset: a little over a year ago,  Howard lost his battle with a long illness. But his music and spirit live on in this song. We all believe he would be so excited to know about this program: it fuses his love for lieder, Maxine, and composers (he would be especially happy to be included among this great company (:). For that reason, it is of the two lieds in the program that go unpaired (the other is Erling Wold’s  mentioned in blog #2). It stands alone as a testament to the birth of all neue lied and I am honored to share his legacy.

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…

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!!

Neue Lied, Part 2: And we felt, this was our measure.

Sadly, I cannot think of a time when the world was without war. It is as old as humankind. The sociobiology of our species.  While many lieds talk of other distinctly human qualities: love, longing, nature, beauty, and even death, there are few that detail  the stark bleakness of war. And in the 19th century, when lieder was truly born, there were plenty to choose from:–99.  Perhaps some German Romantics chose to avoid it.

However, even war has elements that can be painted with a romantic brush:  young people dreaming of going off and fighting for a noble cause, returning home in a hail of glory. Those who haven’t fought tend to look at it with a lens of ‘other’: in movies, in books, on TV–we are not there, so we only see the edited view.  I don’t mean to demean those who protect our freedoms. To the contrary: we truly cannot appreciate the depths of darkness that embody war without actually fighting in one.

In 2015 we are in the midst of the centennial anniversary of WWI. This fact did not escape composer Erling Wold, who is working another project in Europe honoring this event. When invited to participate in the neue lieder project, his mind was immediately drawn to the idea of this seemingly pointless, stark, harsh war as a source of text. Which consequently drew him to the wonders of the Google search.

He came upon this poem by Rudolf Binding called “Schlacht-Das Maß” (“Battle- The Measure”). Binding was a true intellectual: studying medicine and law before his tour of duty in WWI. It can be said, that his experience changed his life.  Binding’s diary and letters, A Fatalist at War, was published in 1927 and he amassed quite a number of writings on the subject throughout later years. His collected war poems, stories and recollections were not published until after his death in 1938, but their potency reveal the depths to which this war impacted his being.

This poem, set with incredible scope by Erling, paints the bleak landscape of war with a relentless meter and determination of purpose:

Die Erde drängt sich zitternd an uns heran.
Das Feld steht auf wie ein Mensch vom Lager.
Saaten bewaffneter Männer sprießen
aus unsichtbaren Samen
in den Furchen zutag.
Schauerlich groß blühn grünschwarze Kelche
Erdstaub und giftige Gase
allenthalben empor.
Aufgeschreckt rasend
springen Fontänen aus trockenem Grund.
Auf Feuer gekreuzigt
fahren Menschenleiber zum Himmel,
zerstieben mit einer Grimasse,
schwarze verkohlte Sterne:
Erde und Gebein.

Rauchterrassen wälzen sich über uns hin.
In schweren Wettern rauscht Eisen nieder.
Blitze tasten heran.
Donner erwürgt uns.
Heulender Abgrund bäumt sich herauf
allüberall, und die Sonne schleift
Dunkel verpestete Mähnen in unseren Atem.
Unentrinnbar hält uns der Himmel
unter sich hingebannt:
unheimliches Basiliskenauge
Über kleinem Getier.

Einsam liegen wir da in der Not der Schlacht;
wir wußten, daß jeder einsam war.
Aber wir wußten auch dies:
Einmal vor Unerbittlichem stehn,
wo Gebete entrechtet, Gewinsel zu Gott
lächerlich ist,
wo keines Mutter sich nach uns umsieht,
kein Weib unsern Weg kreuzt,
wo alles o h n e Liebe ist,
wo nur die Wirklichkeit herrscht,
grausig und groß,
solches macht sicher und stolz.
Unvergeßlich und tiefer
rührt es ans Herz des Menschen
als alle Liebe der Welt.

Und wir fühlen: dies war das Maß.


The soil trembling presses to us.
The field stands up like a man from the bed.
Crops of armed men grow
From invisible seeds
In the furrows.
Eerily big green-black goblets let
Soil dust and poisonous gases
Bloom everywhere.
Alarmdly raving
Fountains arise from dry grounds.
Crucified on fire
Human bodies go to heaven,
Burst with an antic,
Black charred stars:
Soil and bones.

Terraces of smoke roll over us.
In thunderstorms, iron rains down.
Levins feel their ways.
Thunder strangles us.
Wailing abyss rears up
Everywhere, and the Sun grinds
Dark mephitic manes in our breath.
Inescapably heaven holds us
Bound below:
Sinister basilisk's eye
Over small animals.

Desolate we lie there in the misery of battle;
We knew that everyone was desolate.
But we also knew this:
Standing before the remorseless once,
Where prayer is futile, where canting to God
Is ridiculous,
Wher no mother looks for us,
Where no woman crosses our path,
Where everything is  w i t h o u t  love,
Where only reality reigns,
Gruesome and grand,
That makes firm and proud.
Unforgettable and much deeper
It touches the heart of man
Than all the love in the world.

And we felt: This was the measure.

Interestingly, Erling discovered afterwards that the ending of Binding’s poem was also used in the iconic movie Das Boot, which although set in WWII plays homage to its predecessor. The final sentence: “And we felt: This was the measure” holds the key to the entire sentiment: one can experience sheer terror, brutality, and horror. Yet, to do so is honorable. It was their purpose, and one is ‘measured’ by partaking.

I have to say, I fell in love with Erling’s piece immediately. There was something unique about it that went beyond lied. It is operatic in its own way, painting pictures in your mind as you go through it.  (And I confess, I became carried away with these pictures, contemplating creating videography, staging, or performance art for the piece. The jury is still out on whether that will happen–after all, it is a lieder concert–but my hope is the audience can ‘see’ what I see. (:). The beginning starts with this steady quarter beat, which conjures marching into the abyss. The beat never wanes, until it reaches an almost hymn-like pause. The re-entering of the singer, in a lyrical moment “einsam lagen wir da” returns to the march, before diving into a relentless arpeggiated piano, full of supportive energy which builds to the conclusion “and we felt: this was our measure”.  This sentence is repeated, almost questioning, back to the quartered piano and ends without a true ending. After all, does it ever end?

Neue lied, part 1: Eingang (Entrance)

Of course I choose the song with the title “Entrance” to jumpstart the blog about neue lieder. So here we ‘enter’….(;

One of my favorite things about performing new vocal music by living composers is learning what drew them to the text. The words are the seed from which the music blooms, and as a singer, we often have to pay equal (if not more) attention to verbal nuances–their meaning, their rhythms, their resonances, their subtext– as we channel the composer’s intentions. The saying ‘prima la musica, poi le parole’ in vocal music is usually the anomaly, not the norm.

Of course, when I had the opportunity to meet with the incredible David Conte to work on his ‘Eingang’ (‘Entrance’) from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, one of the questions I posed was ‘what drew you to this text?’. It must be said, unlike the other neue lieder in the program, this song was originally set in English translation: the original German was   incorporated specifically for this concert, with only subtle musical adaptations. For Conte, the choice was simple: it was a poem translated by his friend, poet and former NEA Chairman, Dana Gioia. Gioia is known of course for volumes of his own poetry in addition to his affinity for classical music (in addition to his collaborations with composers, he had an interest in composing himself). So the marriage of a poetic translation of Rilke by Gioia with the music of Conte under the umbrella of friendship is a lovely one. Sometimes it is the people that guide us to a text, and that becomes the impetus for a composer to write.

Conte’s setting (in both German and English) is truly guided by the rhythm and meaning of the words.  The subtle shape and tempi changes are critical to its success and flow perfectly with the poem’s intentions:

“Wer du auch seist: am Abend tritt hinaus
aus deiner Stube, drin du alles weißt;
als letztes vor der Ferne liegt dein Haus:
wer du auch seist.
Mit deinen Augen, welche müde kaum
von der verbrauchten Schwelle sich befrein,
hebst du ganz langsam einen schwarzen Baum
und stellst ihn vor den Himmel: schlank, allein.
Und hast die Welt gemacht. Und sie ist groß
und wie ein Wort, das noch im Schweigen reift.
Und wie dein Wille ihren Sinn begreift,
lassen sie deine Augen zärtllich los…”

“Whoever you are: step out of the doors tonight,
Out of the room that lets you feel secure,
Infinity is open to your sight.
Whoever you are.
With eyes that have forgotten how to see
From viewing things already to unknown,
Lift up into the dark a huge black tree
And put in the heavn’s.
Tall, alone.
And you have made the world and all you see.
It ripeness like the words stolen your mouth, your mouth.
And when at last you comprehend its truth,
Then close your eyes and gently set it free…”

The text drives the music, not the other way around. Elements of Conte’s pedigree abound (he was one of Nadia Boulanger’s students) with impressionistic textures and harmonies that feel organic yet interesting. It has a simple elegance that draws the listener to both the words and the music in way that all art song should (and is a reason why many singers love to perform Conte’s pieces. He is singer friendly and audience friendly). I feel honored he allowed me to include his piece in this program and I look forward to bringing it to a new (German) life!

In pairing Conte’s piece with an alte lied, I had many choices ahead of me, since the theme of release and freedom, entrance into a new world in love or death is ubiquitous in lieder…I took the pairing very seriously since I wanted to truly honor both text and music, and offer the audience a window into the evolution of the genre and how it remains accessible. Alas, that is in fact the entire purpose of the concert! To this end, this particular pairing is perhaps the most rebellious. (;

In choosing Webern’s ‘Eingang’ I was not simply going for parallels in title (Webern’s setting is a poem by Stefan George, not Rilke). The essence of message is similar (albeit darker), as is the direction of text in the piece, like Conte’s. However, the harmonic language of Webern, tonally and rhythmically complex, offers a stark contrast to the melodic beauty of many composers in this program. It is beauty in its own way, one to which I am drawn, but I wanted to show the audience (not all of whom may have an affinity to 12-tone music) that ‘alte lied’ in this context can be, in fact, more ‘neue’ to their ears. It’s a stark example of the freedom today’s composers have to RETURN to melody if they so choose…their palette is wider than ever, and the harmonic landscape equally diverse.  That is what makes this an exciting time for composers. The possibilities are endless. I am honored that they have allowed me to showcase their talents in this genre. We need their voices. Enter…