|Friday 11th November 2016 at 7pm|
Glebe Music Festival
In conjunction with The Glebe Society Inc
27th Annual Glebe Music Festival
21 October to 20 November 2016
Artistic Director E. David G. McIntosh AM AMusA
Supported by The Council of the City of Sydney
Friday 11th November 2016 at 7pm
Glebe Town Hall
Deborah Humble – mezzo-soprano
Chris Tonkin – baritone
Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich – viola
John Martin – piano
8 Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy Songs) – Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
In 1887 Johannes Brahms requested that 11 Hungarian folk songs be translated by a friend into German. He set these songs to music for four part choir and piano accompaniment and called them the Zigeunerlieder or Gypsy Songs.
Two years later in 1889 he chose 8 of these songs and rearranged them for mezzo-soprano solo and piano.
More than half of Brahms’ compositional output was for the voice and in letters to his friends at the time he described these songs as “some of my most successful, full of joyousness and playfulness, displaying strong rhythmic and harmonic patterns and fully evocative of gypsy life.”
There are songs of love and, of course, songs of lover’s woes. One recalls a maiden’s cherished memories of her first kiss and another recounts how a young man feels when he takes his girlfriend to the local dance for the first time. There is a sad and moving account telling of the consequences of infidelity.
Unlike many operatic plots everything ends on a happy note with much dancing, singing and playing of musical instruments around the campfire at sunset.
Four Duets for Alto and Baritone, Opus 28 – Brahms
Die Nonne und die Ritte (The nun and the knight)
Vor der Tür (At the door)
Es rauschet das Wasser (The rushing water)
Der Jäger und sein Liebchen (The hunter and his lover)
This is Brahms’ second set of duets and the four songs represent a significant advance on the first set he wrote, Opus 20, in that they take the form of male/female conversational dialogues between two clearly differentiated characters.
In the first song set to a text by von Eichendorff a nun remembers her knight who has not returned from the crusade. The baritone in this setting is but a distant voice and memory.
The second duet is a piece of wooing and resistance with a text taken from an old German folk song. Although the two voices end the piece together it is clear than the character sung by the alto has given in and always intended to let the baritone through the door.
The third duet uses a text by Goethe and quite masterfully combines the two singers’ individual strophes together into a third one, with the baritone’s protestations of constancy seeming to win out.
The final song is a quintessential dialogue lasting a mere 80 seconds. Exciting and delightful in character, Brahms manages to compress a great deal of material into this piece which uses a text by Hoffmann. Despite the baritone’s final protests it appears the female finally wakes up to him with threats to lock him out all night.
Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano, Opus 91 – Brahms
Gestillte Sehnsucht (Stilled Longing)
Geistliches Wiegenlied (Sacred Lullaby)
In 1863 the well-known violinist Joseph Joachim married distinguished mezzo-soprano Amalie Schneeweiss. Both were important musical partners for Brahms as well as being close personal friends.
When their marriage produced a son they named him Johannes after their composer friend, and, to thank them for this great honour, Brahms wrote the Geistliches Wiegenlied or Sacred Lullaby using an old German cradle song for inspiration. The idea was that Amalie could sing and her husband would play the viola which also happened to be Brahms’ favourite stringed instrument.
Some 20 years later when the marriage fell on troubled times Brahms wrote a second song, Gestillte Sehnsucht or Stilled Longing, to a poem by Rückert in an attempt to get the couple playing music together again. Despite the domestically blissful nature of both songs the rift could not be mended.
Thus in 1884 Brahms decided to publish both songs as his Opus 91, renaming it Images of Wind in the Trees and changing the order of the songs. So the first song you will hear was actually the second song composed nearly 20 years after the first.
Despite the large compositional gap the songs exhibit very similar writing; the dark, brooding tones of the viola and voice complementing each other as a duet pair and the piano proving beautifully supportive accompaniment with a written score in which none of the parts really rise above the middle of the register.
Allegro Moderato in D minor (viola and Piano) – Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)
Wesendonck Lieder – Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Der Engel (The Angel)
Stehe Still! (Be still!)
Im Treibhaus (In the Greenhouse)
The circumstances surrounding the composition of the Wesendonck Lieder are legendary. In 1849 the fall of the provisional government which led the Dresden uprising caused Wagner to flee, first to Weimar and later to Zurich in Switzerland. There he contributed to the musical life of the local community and continued to compose. What did not change for Wagner during his period in exile was the precariousness of his financial situation.
Enter Otto Wesendonck, a wealthy silk merchant, who, in 1852 decided to make Wagner a generous financial loan. Whether he also intended to loan Wagner his pretty, young and artistic wife Mathilde is a matter of debate. The girl fell under Wagner’s spell and he in turn seemed equally enchanted. It is said she became his lover and his muse.
The relationship inspired Mathilde to write 5 poems which Wagner set to music in 1887 using several as preliminary studies for his opera Tristan and Isolde.
The importance of the connection between the two lovers is perhaps suggested by the fact that this was the only time in Wagner’s compositional career when he set words that were not his own to music.
Originally the songs were composed for voice and piano but in 1859 Wagner scored the final song for small chamber orchestra so it could be played under Mathilde’s bedroom window on the occasion of her birthday. Since then all the songs have been variously orchestrated.