Day 274: Songs IV

BeethovenCD79The incomparable Peter Schreier is back on Songs IV.

And he sounds wonderful, easily one of the best tenors I’ve ever heard in my life.

Even when he’s singing a slow, emotional song (“Auf dem Hugel sitz ich, spahend” – the first movement of An Die Ferne Geliebte Op. 98) – in German (which to me sounds absolutely hilarious), he’s still amazing.

But, boy, what a voice he has.

He could probably sing the white pages of a phone book (do they still make those?) and it would sound compelling.

And, by the way, “An die ferne Geliebte” means “To the distant beloved.” So, I was right. It is an emotional song. The song has its own Wiki entry:

An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved), Op. 98, is a composition by Ludwig van Beethoven written in April 1816. It is considered to be the first example of a song cycle by a major composer.

Beethoven’s only song cycle was the precursor of a series of followers, including those of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Carl Loewe. The setting is for a man’s voice (usually tenor) with piano. The title page of the original edition (S. A. Steiner, Vienna) bore a dedication with permission to Fürst Joseph von Lobkowitz, Duke of Raudnitz, a leading Austrian musical patron, in whose palace the Eroica Symphony was first performed in 1804; Beethoven also dedicated the six string quartets, Op. 18, the Eroica Symphony, Op. 55, the Triple Concerto, Op. 56, the C minor Symphony, Op. 67, the Pastoral Symphony, Op. 68, and the String Quartet, Op. 74 to him.

The text was written by a physician named Alois Isidor Jeitteles, probably at Beethoven’s request. Then aged 22, Jeitteles published several short poems, economic in style, in Viennese magazines or almanacks, particularly ‘Selam’ and ‘Aglaja’, and was making his name by it. He was an active, selfless young man who later distinguished himself by working tirelessly for his patients during a dreadful cholera epidemic and mortality in Brno. Beethoven had already explored inward feelings of longing in his setting of Matthisson’s Adelaïde, but in these poems the distance from the beloved is greater, the longing is more intense and stormier, and is no longer satisfied with merely the sound of her name, but is preoccupied with the clawing pain of separation which colours the whole surrounding landscape.

Somewhere along the way, I must have Googled Peter Schreier. But I think it’s time Continue reading

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 200: Beethoven Symphony 9

BeethovenCD5Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is an unparalleled piece of work.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (sometimes known simply as “the Choral”), is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best-known works of the repertoire of classical music. Among critics, it is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven’s greatest works, and is considered by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written.

The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony (thus making it a choral symphony). The words are sung during the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the “Ode to Joy”, a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by the composer. Today, it stands as one of the most played symphonies in the world.

Although his major works had primarily been premiered in Vienna, Beethoven was eager to have his latest composition performed in Berlin as soon as possible after finishing it, since he thought that musical taste in Vienna had become dominated by Italian composers such as Rossini.[8] When his friends and financiers heard this, they urged him to premiere the symphony in Vienna in the form of a petition signed by a number of prominent Viennese music patrons and performers.

Beethoven was flattered by the adoration of Vienna, so the Ninth Symphony was premiered on 7 May 1824 in the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna, along with the overture The Consecration of the House (Die Weihe des Hauses) and three parts of the Missa solemnis (the Kyrie, Credo, and the Agnus Dei).

This was the composer’s first on-stage appearance in 12 years; the hall was packed with an eager audience and a number of musicians.

The symphony is scored for the following orchestra. [Wiki lists the instruments in the article.] These are by far the largest forces needed for any Beethoven symphony; at the premiere, Beethoven augmented them further by assigning two players to each wind part.

The symphony is scored for the following orchestra. These are by far the largest forces needed for any Beethoven symphony; at the premiere, Beethoven augmented them further by assigning two players to each wind part.

Very, very Continue reading