pallas_athena: (Default)
It's probably a good thing that I'm busy tomorrow night, because otherwise I'd need to be at the Wigmore Hall listening to John Mark Ainsley, and I think his Dichterliebe would leave me crying my eyes out. Or turned to stone inside. Or something.

Ainsley was the generation before mine at Oxford, so I know something of his backstory. The first I saw of him, though, was his Idamante for Welsh National Opera back in the day. Since then he's been quietly demonstrating to the English tenors of this world what it sounds like to have testicles. If Britain holds an heir to the mantle of Langridge, it's probably him.

Meanwhile: Is there such a thing as a song cycle that ends happily?

The closest I can think of is the first of them all, Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte. Even there, the poet is not reunited with the distant beloved; he only derives some satisfaction from imagining her singing the songs he sends her.

The miller of Schubert's Schöne Mullerin drowns himself in the millstream; it's unclear what will happen to the singer of Winterreise, but I think we can all agree that it's nothing good.

To be fair, the singer of Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben is very happy throughout most of the cycle, which spans at least a few years of her life. But at the end, the husband dies; and of course she can never love again because she's only a woman and he was her whole world. So much for her.

The poet of Dichterliebe faces a similar fate. His beloved is not dead, but has rejected him after a brief but (to him) meaningful relationship. In the final song, Die alten, bösen Lieder, he bitterly abjures both the love he once felt and all the artistic inspiration that sprang from it. The cycle ends there because he is no longer a lover; but is he still a poet? And if not, who is he?

At least he gets over it (which the singer of Winterreise never does) and lives on; but to do so, he has to cut himself off from the source of what made him a poet. That is the most severe interpretation; the least severe is that he's just being a drama queen, and the restatement of the opening theme at the end of the song means that he will soon fall in love again in exactly the same way. He has, of course, learnt nothing; and so the cycle repeats endlessly.

All of which is to say: don't be the protagonist of a German song cycle if you can possibly help it.
pallas_athena: (Default)
Tonight I saw British mezzo Alice Coote sing Schubert's Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall. Since I'm preparing my own Winterreise at the moment, I think this might be the moment to start writing about it.

Das Liederbloggen )


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August 2014

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