Although I discussed this set in one of my first essays in this series, I am returning to it four months later in light of new research and some further isolationist thoughts occasioned by our peculiar present constraints.
In 1816, with Napoleon defeated and the leaders of unfree world gathering in Vienna to consolidate their unholy rule, Beethoven invented the song-cycle. He asked a friend, Alois Isidor Jeitteles, for some love poems he could set to music and found both the content and the form conducive to a linked narrative about a man, sitting on a hill, contemplating the girl he would never get. Since this was a valid reflection of his own unfulfilled love life, the cycle can be read in some way as autobiography, but it also needs to be seen in light of the relationship between Beethoven and the poet, a man 24 years younger than himself and from a different culture.
Alois Isidor Jeitteles came from the Czech town of Brünn (Brno), where as a student he founded and edited a Jewish weekly newspaper, Siona. His family were middleclass and erudite, with rabbinic scholars (pictured), doctors and writers among his Prague ancestors. Jeitteles translated plays from Spanish and Italian and wrote some successful ones of his own. After studying at universities in Brünn and Prague, he came to Vienna to complete his medical qualification, all the while maintaining membership of an artistic circle that included the influential playwright Franz Grillparzer as well as the no less manipulative composer Antonio Salieri. It was through this group that he obtained access to Beethoven and asked if he could submit his poems.
They arrived at a timely moment, just as Beethoven told one of his friends that he had ‘found only one, whom I shall doubtless never possess.’ What Beethovene expresses in his music is not the distant love of the text but the unattainability of love. He clearly had a liking for Jeitteles, both as a poet and as a medical man whom he could approach with his many incurable complaints, starting with deafness. We have very little further detail about their connection. Jeitteles graduated in medicine in 1821 and returned to Brünn, where he set up as a general practitioner, achieving near-heroic status during two cholera epidemics in 1831 and 1836. He offered his services for free to two local chairites, one of which was the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb. Might this have been a reflection of his Beethoven connection?
In the revolutionary year 1848 he became editor of the Brünner Zeitung. He died 10 years later, aged 63, and was buried in the Jewish cemetery. Aside from the six poems he wrote for Beethoven, nothing else that he did endures in posterity. Like many of his time and place, Beethoven was sometimes disparaging of Jews, although he had contact with very few. With Jeitteles there is no hint of prejudice, only praise. The fruit of their collaboration is a miniature artform , the song cycle, that Schubert would develop to perfection. There is one other by-product: the idea, that Beethoven held dear, that true art could enable even an outcast like himself to find love.
The six songs in the cycle are almost invariably sung by men; a gender-bending set by Lotte Lehmann, glorious though she sounds, requires a massive suspension of disbelief. They are composed in such a way that one leads seamlessly into the next.
The first question in selecting an interpretation is how the listener feels about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. A Lieder singer who covered a large range from low baritone to mid-tenor, he has exquisite diction and limitless gradations of emotion, along with an insatiable ambition to be the very best at anything he attempted. ‘I did too much,’ he said to me sadly in a BBC Lebrecht Interview. This was not full disclosure.
At the peak of his success, F-D used his influence at Deutsche Grammophon to ensure that no-one recorded certain repertoire before he did. The result is that some of his recordings feel a tad formulaic, as if the music was just another box to be ticked in his personal catalogue. Much as I liked and admired him, my conclusion is that Beethoven was not his forte – not in this cycle , at least. Feel free to disagree. Of his three recordings of this set, the first, with Gerald Moore at the piano, is the least mannered.
The purest of German tenors Fritz Wunderlich, with Heinrich Schmidt at the piano, is higher up the scale than Fischer-Dieskau and sunnier in outlook. His singing goes straight to the heart, even if he gives the impression that if he can’t get this beloved there is always be another not far behind. Wunderlich is not the perfect Beethoven man, but by heavens he is beautiful.
Olaf Bär was an East German baritone of brief 1990s ascendancy. He achieves a dark introspection in these songs, coloured even darker by Geoffrey Parsons’ directive pianism. It’s unusual for a pianist to dominate a song cycle quite so explicitly, but the singer seems content to follow. If only for its exploration of the singer-pianist relationship, you should give this set a spin.
Among current interpreters, Christian Gerhaher most resembles Fischer-Dieskau in pitch and precision. He recorded the set in 2012 and I suspect he would have a broader perspective if he did it again. Matthias Goerne in his 2019 DG recording with Jan Lisiecki at the piano is richer in voice, subtler in colour and altogether lovelier to listen to. This is a baritone at the peak of his power lamenting the love that got away. It’s an eternal trope and there is not a dull syllable in it.
Our artist of the week Dudley Moore sends up another genre (watch around the 2:00 mark for the belly laughs)
He could do it straight, too. Nice cuffs.
Everyone’s doing it.
In an online conversation in the past hour between Alan Gilbert (Elbphilharmonie), Karina Cannelakis (Dutch Radio), Daniel Harding (Swedish Radio) and Rattle (LSO), all four conductors seemed reconciled to various shades of fatalism.
Concerns were expressed about programming smaller orchestras for smaller audiences. Rattle was concerned that his players are unwaged and gave a clear indication that they hoped to return ‘in November, December’. But the matters being discussed range from details of repertoire to how you managed distanced bathroom breaks.
Interesting conversation, but not much hope on the near horizon.
The modernist Greek composer Skalkottas left Berlin in 1933 and returned to Athens, where he lived in poverty and poor health. When the Germans occupied his country, he was placed in an internment camp. Though he found love and finally married in 1946, he died three years later of what is said to have been an untreated ruptured hernia.
He was by a long chalk the foremost Greek composer of…
Royal College of Music Head of Strings, Mark Messenger, is running a marathon to raise money for the RCM Covid-19 Hardship Fund. The fund has been set up by the RCM to provide a critical safety net for students facing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes on Giving Tuesday, a day of global action for giving in response to Covid-19.
Mark will be running for one hour every day (in accordance with government lockdown rules), aiming to complete the marathon in four days. The challenge will begin on Thursday 7 May, Mark’s birthday, which he shares with composers Tchaikovsky and Brahms. He will be listening to music by the two composers as he prepares for the challenge, which will be his first marathon in two years.
Mark will be raising funds for the RCM’s Covid-19 Hardship Fund Appeal. Many RCM musicians rely on gigs, teaching, performances and other work to cover their living costs and student fees. As a result of Covid-19, most of this work has been cancelled and some students are now facing significant financial hardship. If you would like to donate and support young musicians, please visit Mark’s donation page here.
Press release: Santa Fe Pro Musica today announced the appointment of Anne-Marie McDermott as the organization’s first new Artistic Director since the organization was co-founded by the eminent woodwind musicians Tom O’Connor and Carol Redman in 1980. Over the coming two seasons, Ms. McDermott will transition into her new role overseeing the Pro Musica Orchestra and String Works Series while O’Connor prepares to step down from his post as Music Director (as announced last year). The Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble will continue to be led by co-founder Carol Redman. The appointment is the result of a national search to fill the leadership role and part of a strategic planning process that began in the 2017-18 season.
We’re hearing from political sources in Warsaw that the Chopin Competition, scheduled for October, may be deferred to 2021.
An announcement is expected on Monday, subject to the usual weekend political machinations.
The Chopin is the world’s premier piano competition, held every five years.
The BBC Philharmonic have appointed Zoe Beyers as co-leader alongside Yuri Torchinsky.
South African bor, Zoe has guest-led both of the BBC’s main orchestras as well as the CBSO, the Philharmonia and others.
She teaches at the Birmingham Conservatoire.
Larry Perelman raises an elbow to his mouth as orchestras and opera house make plans for a resumption:
At the peak of cold and flu season—which overlaps with the opera and symphony season—it’s typical to hear coughs, sniffles, and sneezes during performances. In 2018, conductor Riccardo Muti stopped his Chicago Symphony Orchestra mid-performance when someone coughed loudly. Back then, his reaction was viewed as extreme, but post-Covid-19, will ushers escort culprits from the hall for endangering the maestro, orchestra, and audience?
The past could be a prelude here. In 1918, the Spanish flu caused many performing-arts institutions to shutter nationwide—but not in New York City, where health commissioner Royal S. Copeland chose not to close most theaters. Instead, Copeland insisted that they remain open and undergo thorough cleaning and sanitation. In addition…
This new festival includes an extensive line-up of digital programming: more than twenty-five streams will be shown via social media and our website, as well as broadcast in part on AVROTROS and NPO2 extra. Mahler symphonies have been selected from the Concertgebouworkest collection of recent recordings, including performances led by past chief conductors Mariss Jansons and Bernard Haitink.
Notable is the omission of Mahler performances by two other chief conductors, Riccardo Chailly and Daniele Gatti.
What else do they have?
Mahler’s Universe – a documentary series shot the world over featuring interviews with renowned individuals such as Jessye Norman, Jaap van Zweden and granddaughter Marina Mahler – will be made available for viewing. In the meantime, the Concertgebouw is working hard on plans for a future Mahler Festival.
Wacky remote video made with the participation of zillions…. Some really cool kids trying to crash the internet.
Credits: Directed and choreographed by Larry Keigwin with associate Nicole Wolcott, featuring a reimagining of Ravel’s score, conducted by David Robertson, and produced by Kurt Crowley. Featuring Juilliard dancers, musicians, and actors, with alumni Emanuel Ax (music), Christine Baranski (drama), Jon Batiste (jazz studies), Renée Fleming (voice), Isabel Leonard (voice), Laura Linney (drama), Patti LuPone (drama), Yo-Yo Ma (music), Andrea Miller (dance), Bebe Neuwirth (dance), Itzhak Perlman (music), Susanna Phillips (voice), Bobbi Jene Smith (dance), Davóne Tines (voice), and Bradley Whitford (drama).