Grammy Award-Winning, Kelley O’Connor and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Music Director, Louis Langrée perform a program inspired by the CSO’s Brahms Fest and Pelléas Trilogy. Don’t miss this truly unique concert of art songs performed in Linton’s beautiful, intimate setting.
*Linton Chamber Music is grateful to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for helping to make possible the performances of Ms. O’Connor and Maestro Langrée.
Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)
Chanson de Bilitis
La flûte de Pan: Pour le jour
Le tombeau des naiades
The Songs of Bilitis is a collection of poetry published by Pierre Louÿs in 1894. Three years later, Louÿs’s friend Claude Debussy arranged three of the poems for female voice and piano in a setting noted for its sensuality and beguiling eroticism.
In the first song, “La flûte de Pan” (“The Flute of Pan”), Bilitis sings of her lover and his gift of a set of reed pipes; as he teaches her to play them, bit by bit, their mouths unite on the flute. Debussy evokes antiquity through his use of signature elements: pentatonic scales, whole-tone fragments, and rule-breaking parallel fifths in the bass. He simultaneously incorporates his new harmonic and tonal treatment, and his penchant for repeating motifs slows down the forward motion of the song in a beautifully sensuous way.
The text of “La chevelure” (“The Tresses of Hair”) retells Bilitis’s childhood and her first sexual encounter with the youth Lykas. The narrative of seduction makes Bilitis seem like a figment of the author’s imagination, but she ultimately contains his dream within her own story. In this setting, it seems unsurprising that Debussy included Wagner’s famous “Tristan” chord – a harmony emblematic of desire – at the moment of imagined climax.
“Le tombeau des naïades” (“The Tomb of the Water-Nymphs”) mourns the wintry death of nature. When Bilitis seeks the satyr’s tracks in the snow, her lover tells her that in this unprecedented, dreadful winter, all the satyrs and nymphs are dead. Debussy conveys this sense of icy disillusionment through a melancholy configuration of the prior two songs.
Henri Duparc (1848 – 1933)
La vie antérieure
French composer Henri Duparc had one of the most tragic lives in musical history: while Mozart and Schubert died young, Duparc progressively lost control over his body, living to the age of 85 after decades of blindness and paralysis. His musical career lasted only 17 years, until his undiagnosed nervous condition began to cripple his creative abilities.
This brief career only produced 17 songs, all of which stand alone rather than forming a cycle. Yet it is a testament to Duparc’s skill that this limited output remains an enduring contribution to the medium of art song. Through these wonderfully atmospheric creations Duparc managed to forge a unique connection between the mélodie he inherited from Berlioz and the influences of the “New German School” he absorbed from his mentor, César Franck.
Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)
Frauenliebe und Leben
“Seit ich ihn gesehen” (“Since I Saw Him”)
“Er, der Herrlichste von allen” (“He, the Noblest of All”)
“Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben” (“I Cannot Grasp or Believe It”)
“Du Ring an meinem Finger” (“You Ring Upon My Finger”)
“Helft mir, ihr Schwestern” (“Help Me, Sisters”)
“Süßer Freund, du blickest mich verwundert an” (“Sweet Friend, You Gaze”)
“An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust” (“At My Heart, At My Breast”)
“Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan” (“Now You Have Caused Me Pain for the First Time”)
Written during his ‘year of song’ in 1840, the cycle demonstrates Schumann’s skill at melding text and musical gesture, harmony and emotion, as well as vocal expression with pianistic eloquence (in short, it represents a gifted composer at the height of his artistic output). Breaking away from the Schubertian ideal, Schumann has the piano contain the mood of the song in its totality and gives it a remarkable independence from the voice. Another notable characteristic is the cycle’s circular structure, in which the last movement repeats the theme of the first.
Based on a cycle of poems written by Adelbert von Chamisso, Frauenliebe und Leben tells the story of a young maid from the time of her first meeting with her true love through marriage, motherhood, and becoming widowed at a young age.
While the music of the cycle is undeniably beautiful, Frauenliebe und Leben is often criticized for Schumann’s choice of text and subject matter. The narrative focuses on the life of its female protagonist from an 18th century male perspective that is undeniably problematic to modern listeners. Yet despite this jarring tone, it is nevertheless remarkable that Chamisso and Schumann attempted an empathetic representation of a woman’s complex interior life at a time when female protagonists were notably absent from German literature and poetry. The cycle can perhaps best be regarded as a noble attempt at portraying a central heroine that was held short by the sentiments of its time, ultimately becoming timeless through the transcendence of Schumann’s music.
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
He, Zigeuner, greife in die Saiten ein!
Hochgetürmte Rimaflut, wie bist du trüb
Wißt ihr, wann mein Kindchen am allerschönsten ist?
Lieber Gott, du weißt, wie oft bereut ich hab’
Brauner Bursche führt zum Tanze
Röslein dreie in der Reihe blühn so rot
Kommt dir manchmal in den Sinn
Horch, der Wind klagt in den Zweigen traurig sacht
Weit und breit schaut niemand mich an
Mond verhüllt sein Angesicht
Rote Abendwolken ziehn am Firmament
Brahms originally composed The Zigeunerlieder (“Gypsy songs”) as a song cycle for 4 singers and piano and later created the reduced version for solo voice and piano. The texts are Hungarian folk songs in German adaptation by Hugo Conrat, a member of the Brahms circle in Vienna. The first translation of the texts was, in fact, from the Hungarian nurse of the Conrat family. These works were part of a larger movement by composers at the time to incorporate folk melodies and styles into their works. Composers as diverse as Schubert, Liszt, and Johann Strauss succumbed to the exotic allure of “gypsy” or “Hungarian” music.
The first song, “He, Zigeuner, greife in die Saiten ein!” is fantasy gypsy life in a nutshell: a gypsy is bidden to “strike the strings” and sing of unhappy passion for an unfaithful woman. This type of music provided an outlet for Brahms’ characteristic rhythmic complexities, here manifested as triplet-duplet cross-rhythms in the right hand and broken octaves leaping upward in the bass.
“Hochgetürmte Rimaflut” features a gypsy lover standing on the banks of the Rima River and loudly lamenting his love; huge leaps in the vocal line proclaim despair. “Wisst ihr, wann mein Kindchen” at first coyly asks when the sweetheart is most beautiful, and then ecstatically proclaims, “you are mine … Heaven made you just for me!” Here, Brahms incorporates a characteristic piece of counterpoint by setting an echo between the singer and the bass.
“Lieber Gott, du weisst” is a charming, vivacious memory of a first kiss, while “Braune Brusche führt zum Tanze” is a rousing gypsy czardas (traditional Hungarian dance). Shortly after the start, there is a brief flea-like “jump” from the main key of D major to F-sharp major harmonies, and the effect is rousing indeed.
The lively “Röslein dreie in der Reihe” celebrates desire, without which the world would come to an end. The seventh song, “Kommt dir manchmal in den Sinn,” is a wistful air; the setting of the words “Täusch mich nicht” (“Do not deceive me”) is particularly exquisite, filled with imploring-falling gestures and appoggiaturas drenched in desire. The same emphatic dotted rhythms we heard in the first song return in the last, “Rote Abendwolken zieh’n,” through syncopated rhythms in the piano and exuberant proclamation of love at the close.