Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Lieder? They are Songs.

In Cappriccio by Richard Strass the heroine wonders  In opera which is the most important the words or the music?  The whole affair goes on for about three tidious hours and the question is left the air...... The simple answer is you can't have opera without words and music.

With the songs of Schubert the question is even easier. They are a blend of poetry and music but simple though this is to understand the mystique that surrounds German Lieder is in danger of killing one of the loveliest musical art forms namely that of the superbly crafted song.

Beethoven wrote the best symphonies, Wagner wrote the best operas, Tchaikovsky the best ballet music and Schubert wrote the best songs! (Mozart wrote the best everything) so said my history of music book from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and it should know!

Schubert was a penniless composer. Like Jane Austin  and me he was constrained in what he could accomplish due to lack of money and patronage but he did have access to the newly invented piano forte and he used it to the best of its ability. Song after beautiful song. Even on his death bed he churned out of the the most beautiful songs ever. The Shepherd on the Rock is a pean to life and love. Admittedly he had no idea he was dying.

These songs which are a sublime  blend of music and poetry have been hijacked by the Germans and elderly male tenors and baritones who refuse to let go. Performing Lieder is like a religious tradition that has to be slavishly followed and it must be sung in German which means that those singers who are not blessed with German as a first language can immediately be dismissed as inadequate. A woman hardly gets a look in.

This tradition of formal clad tenor with formally clad pianist in a concert situation with it all sung in German has been going on all my life and the problem is Schubert and his glorious songs are dying on his and their feet. It looks so old fashioned and silly.

The other exponent is Fisher-Dieskau who is generally considered the greatest Lieder singer. In his youth he probably was and he did know when to stop but below is his farewell concert was not a good choice of Swan Song but this is where Lieder has stopped. It looks and sounds awful and unless the art form is given a breath of life it will die and it  doesn't deserve to.

You only have to glance at Peter Pears and Britten, two of the pasts greatest exponents of Lieder to know that that was 1964 and times have changed. They look like parodies of themselves. Britten hated these BBC performances and looking at them now I can see why. They were performed under pressure and both look and indeed were uncomfortable in a TV studio situation.

What the heck do I know about Lieder? Well I was taught by Elenor Gerhart's brother and Britten and I discussed Schubert on many occasions. He even played the cycle Die Schone Mullerin  once for me alone! Britten and Pears were not stuffy when it came to Schubert.

Like Peter Pears I think Schubert Songs are Songs and they need to be sung by everyone in lots of different ways in their own language. One should stop being so prissy and sing the things. They are not limited to just one sex either. Why should men have all the good songs?

Fortunately Schubert is well out of copyright and right for a revival unlike Richard Strauss who wrote some nice second rate songs but nothing compared to the songs of Schubert.  You have to pay to perform  Strauss even on YouTube. Schubert's are free to air and readily available.

Other composer's songs are due for a renewal too. Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Hugo Wolf and Mahler wrote some crackers and there is the whole folk idiom as well. Don't bother with anything written after 1923 as the songs are in copyright unless you want to pay through the nose and keep on paying. These songs will die too unless kept in the public view but that will have to be undertaken by someone else or perhaps after 25 years of the death of a composer the publishers could pay us singers as publicity! Now there's a thought!

If you don't have a pianist and want to sing along Classical Karoke has free midis of all the best. I use this site all the time since I lost my accompanist husband to the Grim Reaper and I don't feel like writing the midi out myself although I do when I record as the midis are not too accurate and to sound good accuracy is everything I have found.

So some on Lieder/Song Lovers everywhere. Keep Schubert alive! He is worth the effort.

So here to start the ball rolling is On the Waters in Mt Mangonui. Now its your turn!

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