Tuesday, March 15, 2011

September Richard Strauss Maestro Wenarto

"September' by Richard Strauss is my favourite Lied from 'The Four Last Songs'. I didn't always love it, the orchestration was so vast  and dense that in the concert hall and even on records I could never really hear it. My husband Dr Miles Heffernan  loved them and insisted I learned them which I did when I was first married over 30 years ago but I did not like my voice then (I do now) and I thought I could never do them justice.

For thirty years Miles and I made music together every day. He played 'badly' and I sang 'badly' as the keys were never 'right' for me and Miles could not transpose. A singer, any singer, is at the mercy of their accompanist. One wrong note and it is the singer that pays. I spent most of my mature life promoting other singers whose voices I did like and I enjoyed every moment.

And then a strange thing happened. Miles died and I lost my accompanist of thirty years. I do not play an instrument. I thought I should never sing again even for fun and for the next six years I didn't. I made DVDs on book binding and then by accident  I discovered Garageband. I found I could write out by hand bar by bar any music I wanted and now I have got rather good at doing this. My darling Miles would have been amazed at what I can do and how I sound.

I found a miniature score of 'September' that I had not thrown out and thought I should have 'a go'. I didn't realise what I had taken on! 66 bars a full orchestra and every bar different but what a revelation.  I never thought that I, who most musicians have despised as being unmusical as I could not read music conventionally can appreciate a full orchestral score. I know this piece now as well as any conductor.

I have even had to take on transposing instruments. The clarinet has its part written in one key and it sounds in a different key.  Lots of instruments have funny quirks. Not easy.

For the first time I heard the cascade of violins that shower down like late summer rain in the opening bars. You never hear this on records or in concert performances as you need extra desks of violins and anyway the conductor can never get them together so they get left out.

I heard the bees buzzing  throughout  the first 27 bars, yes I know each bar, 21 & 46 are the problems as R Strauss has written a couple of clashes that make the orchestration sound as if someone had played a wrong note, yes I can hear any wrong note even in this huge orchestra, a wrong note jars and ruins the whole thing and yet R Strauss has done this deliberately. This is the clash of approaching winter/death.

You can hear the cuckoos and the shivering touch of frost. The first half  orchestration is lush and full but as winter comes so the orchestration is pared down, no more birds or bees, to a single french horn and the soft blast of snow.

I have always longed to sing this work with a full orchestra but never thought I could. Now thanks to Garageband I can. The full orchestration is too much for YouTube sound but my friend Maestro Wenarto did a version a couple of years ago with a less than perfect accompaniment so I let him try again with my modern simple version with real birdies which is above. The orchestration doesn't sound half bad! This is done purely for academic purposes as an experiment to see if one can do it and one can!

This tempo is fast at 65 bpm as it suits the modern mode but Renee Flemming takes it so much slower, Flemming is a whole minute slower than Te Kanawa who sings it at 65 bpm. With the orchestration it sounds better slower.

Maestro Wenarto sings for the love of singing regardless and is an artist of today.  He shows how anyone can share their love of music with the world. No longer does anyone have to wait for someone else to 'do it' for them or criticize them. Your art is  in your hands. The wonderful painting in the background is his too as he is multi talented and unselfish. He shares his talent. Unique as it is.

My own version of 'September' will have to wait for the visuals but I am already quite proud of my audio as you can actually hear the cascading violins. I don't sound that bad either not Gundula Janowitz, whose is the version I like best as the orchestration is kept to a minimum and you can hear her but this work is a partnership between orchestra and singer, yes I know all the versions on YouTube but I'm listenable. It will never make me a fortune, in fact few will see it but I have done it, shall share it  eventually and that is what matters.


  1. Sadly the visuals and my rendition of which I am extremely proud will not see the public light of day. I cannot afford the copyright fees. I would never get my money back. In a way this serves me right as I am aware of how difficult copyrights can be and Boosey and Hawke are tough!

    I shall have to become famous and the only way to become famous these days is to become infamous and I am too old for that! I would play it at my funeral but I am not having a funeral! Overrated social occasions in my opinion. I am getting old.