Day 272: Songs II

BeethovenCD77I love the German language. It makes me laugh.

Not out of disrespect; rather, I love the sounds of it, its penchant to take what – in English – would be a simple, one-syllable word, remove most of its vowels, and quadruple the number of syllables.

Today’s CD (Songs II) is entertaining.

The music (piano provided by Walter Olbertz on all tracks except Track 11; Gisela Franke plays piano on that one)) is bouncy and interesting. The voice belongs to renowned tenor Peter Schreier.

And that’s it. Just voice and piano.

And lots of German words.

Here’s an example:

That’s Track One (“Aus Goethes Faust Op 75 No. 3″), written in 1809. Beethoven was 39. The main title of the four tracks that follow that one is “Scherzlieder.”

With few exceptions, that’s how the entire CD sounds. Just a fantastic tenor and delightful piano accompaniment.

The second thematic composition (“Vier Arietten Und Ein Duett Mit Italienischem Text Oop. 82″) is more introspective and melancholy. At least in the first track (“Hoffnung”). The second track (“Liebesklage”) is bouncier, more like the first track of the CD.

These five tracks were also written in 1809.

The third major thematic composition is titled Ernste Lieder.

All I can say about these songs is that Peter Schreier is a vocalist I could listen to for hours. He’s gifted. I especially liked the Track 17 (“Der Wachtelschlag”). Schreier’s voice is smooth as glass. Just a really fine, pure tone.

The songs themselves are worth hearing. Yet, I’m not sure I could hear them again because there’s not enough different about them to set them apart in my mind.

Day 271: Songs I

BeethovenCD76I don’t like songs. From a Classical composer, I like music.

I realize songs are music.

But listening to operatic voices – usually in a foreign language – go on and on about something about which I know nothing is not my idea of a good time.

It’s not that these vocalists aren’t talented. No way. They’re are world-class performers.

On today’s CD, in fact, we have:

Peter Schreier tenor

Walter Olbertz piano

Adele Stolte soprano

I’ve encountered the name Peter Schreier many times before. He’s a gifted singer.

But if I’m going to listen to a vocalist accompanied by a piano, I’d rather it be Frank Sinatra. Or Sammy Davis, Jr. Or Dean Martin.

Most of the songs on today’s CD are of the Wo0# type, which means they’re Without Opus (WoO) number. In other words, songs Beethoven wrote but didn’t deem worthy to be given an opus number. That tells me something.

The first track is “Das Glück der Freundschaft.” It is Op. 88, composed in 1803. Beethoven was 33 when he wrote this song. Several other songs have an opus number. But not many.

Most of these songs sound the same to me. In fact, I had to repeatedly check to see if I iTunes was on another track because it sounded like I was on Repeat.

Day 270: Missa Solemnis in D

BeethovenCD75Today’s CD is Missa Solemnis in D Op. 123.

If “Solemnis” means solemn then this is aptly named.

It has a weightiness about it.

And a bigness.

This choir sounds massive.

Believe it or not, even though this is a vocal composition – a mass, no less – I like it.

Choirs this big, with those soaring soprano voices, often give me the chills.

This one definitely did. (And, yes, Missa Solemnis means Solemn Mass.)

According to its entry on Wikipedia, this one of Beethoven’s biggies.

The Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123, was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven from 1819 to 1823. It was first performed on 7 April 1824 in St. Petersburg, Russia, under the auspices of Beethoven’s patron Prince Nikolai Galitzin; an incomplete performance was given in Vienna on 7 May 1824, when the Kyrie, Credo, and Agnus Dei were conducted by the composer. It is generally considered one of the composer’s supreme achievements and, along with Bach’s Mass in B minor, one of the most significant Mass settings of the common practice period.

This certainly sounds significant. It’s beautiful.

There are five parts to this composition:

1. Kyrie
2. Gloria
3. Credo
4. Sanctus
5. Agnus Dei

Gloria is stunning – powerful and beautiful.

Of Credo, the Wiki entry tells us it is,

One of the most remarkable movements to come from Beethoven’s pen opens with a chord sequence that will be used again in the movement to effect modulations. The Credo, like the Gloria, is an often disorienting, mad rush through the text. The poignant modal harmonies for the “et incarnatus” yield to ever more expressive heights through the “crucifixus”, and into a remarkable, a cappella setting of the “et resurrexit” that is over almost before it has begun. Most notable about the movement, though, is the closing fugue on “et vitam venturi” that includes one of the most difficult passages in the choral repertoire, when the subject returns at doubled tempo for a thrilling conclusion.

I gotta tell you, this movement is so massive, so overwhelming, that it nearly made me cry. I was that moved.

Performers are:

Anna Tomowa-Sintow soprano
Anelies Burmeister alto
Peter Schreier tenor
Hermann Christian Polster bass

Gerhard Bosse solo violin
Hannes Kastner organ

Rundfunkchor Leipzig

Horst Neumann chorus master

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Kurt Masur conductor

According to Wiki, this took Beethoven four years to compose. He started when he was 49 and finished when he was Continue reading

Day 269: Mass in C

BeethovenCD74Today’s CD is a Mass.

In the key of C.

Frankly, I don’t think it would matter to me f it was in D or B Flat or F Sharp.

It’s a mass.

With a huge choir.

And lots of soloists.

And a theme that may have been novel back then, but wears thin now.

I mean, really. How many of these religion-themed compositions can one hear before they all sound the same?

Apparently, this particular mass did not go over well when it was first performed. According to its entry on Wikipedia,

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his Mass in C major, Op. 86, to a commission from Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II in 1807. In fulfilling this commission, Beethoven was extending a tradition established by Joseph Haydn, who following his return from England in 1795 had composed one mass per year for the Esterházy family, to celebrate the name day of the Prince’s wife. Haydn had ceased this tradition with the failure of his health in 1802.

Prince Nikolaus did not appreciate the mass, causing Beethoven to leave his house in a rage. Charles Rosen, in The Classical Style, has called the episode Beethoven’s “most humiliating public failure”. The mass is appreciated by critics (such as Rosen), but is probably one of the least often performed of Beethoven’s larger works.

Of the work, Michael Moore writes “While [it] is often overshadowed by the immense Missa Solemnis, written some fifteen years later, it has a directness and an emotional content that the latter work sometimes lacks.” The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs (2004 edition) forthrightly calls the work a “long-underrated masterpiece.”

To my ears, this like every other mass to which I’ve listened. No better. No worse. So I don’t know why Prince Esterhazy did not appreciate it. It sounds fine to me.

Beethoven was 37 when he composed this mass.

Here are the performers on today’s CD:

Elly Emeling soprano
Janet Baker mezzo-soprano
Theo Altmeyer tenor
Marius Rintzler bass
New Philharmonic Chorus
New Philharmonic Orchestra
Carlo Maria Giulini conductor

Day 268: Christus Am Olberge

BeethovenCD73I’m going to bet today’s CD has something to do with Christianity.

Ah, yes.

The music begins ponderously, with great seriousness. And slowly. A bit of drama here and there. But mostly it sounds Very. Serious.

While I’m listening to this, I turn to the back of the CD sleeve to read the song titles. The first word of the first track is “Jehova.” So, I guess I was right.

There’s an interesting little blip in Track #2 around the 5:05 mark. It’s an edit that’s obvious enough to notice. Like the piece was created in two takes and the edit from splicing one take with another take. That’s what it sounds like, anyway. I could be wrong.

Incidentally, this compositions, according to its entry on Wikipedia,

Christus am Ölberge (in English, Christ on the Mount of Olives), Op. 85, is an oratorio by Ludwig van Beethoven portraying the emotional turmoil of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion. It was begun in the fall of 1802, soon after his completion of the Heiligenstadt Testament, as indicated by evidence in the Wielhorsky sketchbook. The libretto in German is by the poet Franz Xaver Huber, editor of the Wiener Zeitung, with whom Beethoven worked closely. It was written in a very short period; in a letter to Breitkopf & Härtel written shortly after the oratorio’s completion, Beethoven spoke of having written it in “a few weeks”, although he later claimed that the piece required no more than 14 days to complete. It was first performed on April 5, 1803 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna; in 1811, it was revised by Beethoven for publication by Breitkopf & Härtel. The 10 years that passed between the composition of the work and its publication resulted in its being assigned a relatively high opus number.

The rest of the story behind this oratorio is fascinating. So if you have a few moments, hop over to Wiki and read it.

I’m not a fan of such compositions. So I can’t really comment with any balance.

I can say this: The performances are superb.

Here’s the cast and orchestra:

Seraph: Lieselotte Rebmann soprano
Jesus: Reinhold Bartel tenor
Petrus: August Messthal bass
South German Choral Society
Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra
Josef Bloser conductor

Liselotte’s voice is amazing. She hits a few high notes that I’m quite certain only dogs can hear.

All of the vocal performers are wonderful.

The orchestra seems adequate. Not mind blowing. Not terrible. Adequate to the task of accurately representing Beethoven’s oratorio.

This isn’t a CD I’ll be able to listen to again. Nor, did I hear anything on it that feel compelled to share with someone else.

Take that for what it’s worth.

Day 267: Miscellaneous Vocal Works

BeethovenCD72There are 14 tracks on today’s CD. And about that many credits – maybe more – for performers.

In addition, all of the compositions appear to be a dozen words long, in German.

So I shan’t be listing either side of the equation; otherwise, I’d be spending all of my time writing down the specifics rather than listening to the music and/or getting on with my life, which I am wont to do.

That written, I will point out that the first track (“Meersstille und gluckliche Fahrt Cantata Op. 112″). Now, if this blog was an episode of, say, South Park, the kids in that series would snigger themselves silly over the word “Fahrt.” The German pronunciation is quite similar to the English word “fart,” only with a slightly different enunciation of the “ar.” The German “Fahrt” is pronounced more like “f-ah-rt.” The English pronunciation of the word “fart” is more like “f-are-t.”

Still, those South Park kids would have a field day with that one, just on sight alone.

For the record, the German word “Fahrt” is a verb that means to Continue reading

Day 266: Der Glorreiche Augenblick, Polyphonic Italian Songs

BeethovenCD71The heck is a “Der Glorreiche Augenblick”?

Google time!

I see. Der Glorreiche Augenblick means The Glorious Moment. According to the translation of the German Wikipedia page:

Beethoven composed the cantata for the opening of the Congress of Vienna on November 1, 1814 under the direction of the Klemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich , the reorganization of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars was to govern.

The text is by Aloys Weissenbach , already the text for a similar composition of Friedrich August Kanne had written. How Weissbach reported that the contact came by, he received an invitation to coffee after attending a performance of Fidelio on September 26, 1814 by Beethoven.

The cantata was performed as part of an academy on November 29, 1814; during this sounded Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A major, Op 92 , and the battle scenes Wellington’s Victory or the Battle of Vittoria op 91 With 68 string parts Beethoven had hitherto strongest orchestra of his career are available. Perhaps Beethoven was at the opening of Congress originally his choir have your founder happier States list (WoO 95).

In 1825, Beethoven was considering, the cantata to be supplemented by an overture.

According to an article written by Tim Ashley for The Guardian Music page,

Beethoven’s cantata Der Glorreiche Augenblick was first performed in 1814, and the “glorious moment” it celebrates was the opening of the Congress of Vienna, the aim of which was to redraw the map of Europe after the Napoleonic wars. The text is messy, and its underlying vision of Hapsburg Austria donning its “imperial mantle” to safeguard European freedom nowadays seems suspect. The score, however, is by no means negligible: there are strong links with Fidelio, as well as flashes forward to the Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis.

Glorious Day, eh?

I’m not hearing “glorious” in these cantatas. I’m hearing operatic singing that is a tough slog for me. I can appreciate the talent. I can hear the giftedness. But I still don’t like it.

To me, it’s fingernails on a chalkboard.

Much easier to listen to is the second of the two compositions on today’s CD: Polyphonic Italian Songs, Wo099.

The soprano (Heike Hellmann) still grates on me. But the tenor (Daniel Johannsen) is Continue reading

Day 265: Cantatas On the Death of Joseph II, On the Accession of Leopold II

BeethovenCD70jpg“Ugh” again.

More operatic singing.

Today’s marks an interesting point in the first year of my three-year journey through the creative works of the world’s masters of their respective art forms. I’m just 100 days shy of completing one full year. I’m also just 16 CDs away from completing the Beethoven leg of my journey.

The performers on today’s CD are:

Fiona Cameron soprano

Teele Joks mezzo-soprano

Mati Korts tenor

Leonid Savitski bass

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Estonian National Symphony Orchestra

Tonu Kaljuste conductor

There are two cantatas on today’s CD:

On the Death of Emperor Joseph II

On the Accession of Emperor Leopold II

What’s the story behind these cantatas?

Google to the rescue.

First, On the Death of Joseph II.

Here’s what the San Francisco Symphony web site has to say about On the Death of Joseph II:

Beethoven composed the Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II in 1790, but the work was not performed until 1884, when it had its premiere that November in Vienna.

What happened next is not so clear. The minutes of the Literary Society for a meeting on March 17 [1790] state that “for various reasons the proposed cantata cannot be performed,” and a projected performance the following year in the nearby town of Mergentheim did not materialize either. The Joseph cantata is almost certainly one of the works that Beethoven showed to Haydn, an act whose ultimate consequence was Beethoven’s move to Vienna; for the rest, he made no effort to have it performed or published, though he did not forget it. The manuscript was bought by the composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel at an auction in 1813, disappeared from view for many years, and came to light again at another auction in 1884. It was performed in Vienna that November and in June 1885 the music was at last heard in Bonn.

Brahms examined the manuscript in 1884 and was moved to write to the critic Eduard Hanslick: “Even if there were no name on the title page, none other could be conjectured—it is Beethoven through and through: the beautiful and noble pathos, sublime in its feeling and imagination; the intensity, perhaps violent in its expression; moreover, the voice-leading and declamation, and in the two outer sections all the characteristics which we may observe in and associate with his later works!”

So this was never performed in Beethoven’s lifetime. Sad.

Second, On the Accession of Leopold.

Information is harder to come by for the second of these cantatas. All I can come up with so far is that Accession was also composed in 1790. One web site – The Unheard Beethoven – offers some interesting background on both.

I’m not a fan of this type of singing. Too screetchy.

These performers have talent. No question about it. To my ears, they sound gifted. I just don’t appreciate this type of music.

To each his own.

Day 264: Arias

BeethovenCD69jpgThe first time I listened to this CD of arias I said – and I quote – “Ugh.”

The second time, I said, “Ugh.”

The third time, I said, “Ugh.”

By the fourth or fifth time I said, “Ugh” and “Hmmm.”

I doubt I’ll ever like arias. The voices are like fingernails on a chalk board.

German fingernails on a chalkboard.

But after a half dozen or so listens, I got used to it.

I won’t say I appreciated it. But I got used to it.

Well, maybe I appreciated it.

Maybe.

The performers on today’s CD:

Hanne-Lore Kuhse soprano

Eberhard Buchner tenor

Siegfried Vogel bass

Staatskapelle Berlin

Arthur Apelt conductor

Day 263: The Ruins of Athens, King Stephen, Germania, et al

BeethovenCD68There’s something so satisfying about Beethoven’s music.

There are four compositions on today’s CD:

1. The Ruins of Athens

2. King Stephen

3. Germania

4. Chor Auf Die Verbundeten

It gave me a chuckle to see that three of the four titles are in English on the cover of the CD sleeve. But the fourth one isn’t. It’s like whomever was translating either just gave up, or there’s not a concise translation.

For some reason, none of the titles are in English on the back of the CD sleeve. Go figure.

According to its entry on Wikipedia,

The Ruins of Athens (Die Ruinen von Athen), Opus 113, is a set of incidental music pieces written in 1811 by Ludwig van Beethoven. The music was written to accompany the play of the same name by August von Kotzebue, for the dedication of a new theatre at Pest.

A second overture was written in 1822 for the same play. It was composed especially for the reopening of Vienna’s Theater in der Josefstadt in 1822. The second overture is now known as The Consecration of the House.

Perhaps the best-known music from The Ruins of Athens is the Turkish March, a theme that even many who are not avid classical music listeners are familiar with. The overture and the Turkish March are often performed separately, and the other pieces of this set are not often heard[citation needed]. Another of Beethoven’s compositions, Six variations on an original theme, Op. 76, uses the Turkish March as its theme.

And this entry about the Turkish March:

The Turkish March (Marcia alla turca) is a well-known classical march theme by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was written in the Turkish style popular in music of the time.

The theme was first used in Beethoven’s “6 Variations on an Original Theme”, Op. 76, of 1809. In 1811 Beethoven wrote an overture and incidental music to a play by August von Kotzebue called The Ruins of Athens (Op. 113), which premiered in Pest in 1812. The Turkish March appears as item No. 4 of the incidental music. Many music lovers associate the theme with The Ruins of Athens, although that was not its original appearance.

The march is in B flat major, tempo vivace and 2/4 time. Its dynamic scheme is highly suggestive of a procession passing by, starting out pianissimo, poco a poco rising to a fortissimo climax and then receding back to pianissimo by the coda.

The Overture to The Ruins of Athens is amazing. But Continue reading