March 13, 2019

Singing Strauss

One of the composers featured by singer Miwako Isano and Tomoko at her November concert was Richard Strauss. The chosen songs showcased the composer’s early and mature styles.

German composer Richard Strauss, born in 1864 and died in 1949, bridged the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is most known for his operas such as Der Rosencavalier, Till Eulenspiegal’s Merry Pranks, and Also sprach Zarathustra. However, he also wrote over 200 lieder (songs), many of which became very popular. Most of the time, Strauss took existing poems, and set them to music. Richard’s father, who was a professional horn player and music professor, taught Richard music, and Richard began composing at age 6. 

“Ständchen” (Serenade) and “Seitdem dein Aug’ in meines Schaute” (Since your eyes gazed into mine) are two of Strauss’s six art songs set, which are one of his early works for voice and piano. This opus was created for soprano Pauline de Ahna, who later become his wife. Poet Adolf Friedrich van Schack, a wealthy aristocrat, wrote the 1866 love songs for which Strauss composed the music. The first song of opus 17, "Seindem den Aug’," speaks of the impact of a lover’s gaze. "Ständchen," considered one of Strauss’s most popular songs, tells of a moonlit call to a secret lover. The music starts softly, undulates under the voice, and lyrically climaxes with the rose’s rapture. 

“Ach, Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden” (Alas, my love, I must now part from you) is included in Opus 21’s five lieder, composed in 1889. The poem, written by Austrian Felix Dahn, uses the metaphor of weeping willows and alders to reflect lovers’ parting. The music echoes the lyric’s learning through its intimate melodic dynamics.

“Cäcilie” (Opus 27, number 2) was written in 1894, the day before his wedding to Pauline de Ahna. The set of four songs, including “Cäcilie,” was his wedding gift to her. The lyrics, written by Heinrich Hart, were also composed as part of Strauss’s present. The words assert that if Cäcilie (Cecilia) knew of Strauss’s feelings for her, she would love and live with him. The music echoes the sentiment with its live and urgent tempo. 

“Mit deinen blauen Augen” (With your blue eyes) is the fourth in the set of six lieder (Opus 56), composed in 1906. German author Heinrich Heine wrote the poems; this lyric expresses love’s longing.  The complementary music expressive lyrical expansiveness and warmth. This piece anticipates the final Octavian-Sophie duet in Der Rosenkavalier.

“Einerlei” (Al the same) is the third piece of Opus 69 Fünf kleine Lieder, written in 1918. This brief poem, written by Achim van Arnim, describes the lover’s facial features’ variety. Strauss’s use of a triple meter results in a playful melody, first introduced by the piano and then expressed in voice. Syncopated chords frequently interplay with the voice. The poem’s ending climax then fades to a delicate close.

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