Monday, July 2, 2012

A mini-masterpiece

I was thinking this summer I will allow myself the pleasure of exploring the music of Johannes Brahms. Brahms goes with summer, you know? And somehow in summer my schedule seems lighter even though it is not. Perhaps it is because the days are longer.

There is this song "Therese."

Now that I think of it again it might be a good song for people like our friend Solange who was commenting recently that she did not "get it" when it comes to Lieder. "Therese" is such a beautiful and sad song with its own miniature drama. It is about an older woman and a lovesick boy.

Ever since I heard it for the first time it has made me think of Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier," about the Marschallin and Octavian. This is a recent song in my life, by the way. We do not go back to when I was a teenager. I loved it right away and right away it made me think of the Marschallin's music. The Marschallin almost quotes this melody, the woman's last few words.

Sure enough recently I read in some commentary someone saying that same thing. I think it was in the liner notes of this CD I was listening to. My CD features Angelika Kirchschlager and Graham Johnson and it is not on YouTube but here is Dorothea Roeschmann with Graham Johnson. Graham Johnson was the one affirming my Theresa/Marschallin connection. His liner notes are always wonderful so I feel honored that I had the same thought that he did.

Here is that song I love, "Therese."

Another version, this one an old one by the great Lotte Lehmann. She takes a different approach.

The song is brief so we may print the whole poem:

Du milchjunger Knabe, wie schaust du mich an? 
Was haben deine Augen für eine Frage getan! 
Alle Ratsherrn in der Stadt und alle Weisen der Welt 
Bleiben stumm auf die Frage, die deine Augen gestellt! 
Eine Meermuschel liegt auf dem Schrank meiner Bas': 
Da halte dein Ohr d'ran, dann hörst du etwas! 

You milk-young boy, why do you look at me so?
What a question your eyes have asked!

All the councilmen in the town and all the wisemen in the world
Would be struck dumb by the question that your eyes have posed!

A seashell lies upon my cousin's cupboard;
Press your ear to it; then you'll hear something!

I got that translation from The Lied, Art Song and Choral Text Archive. A most useful site!

This song comes from a set of six Brahms songs that I love. Another song from that set, "The Sleepwalker," we will have to explore that too at some point soon. Meanwhile there is a discussion of this set on Classical Archives that says that calls "Therese" uneven and says that Brahms was not altogether happy with it. I cannot believe he was not happy with it. I think it is wonderful.

Perhaps for Brahms it struck a  little too close to home.

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