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Sena Jurinac – Strauss “Four Last Songs”

By February 14, 2018March 20th, 2023No Comments

Please note that the German poems are below the link.

Sena Jurinac was one of the greatest sopranos of the 20th century.  She was born in what is now Bosnia, and her name was eventually altered to make it easier for German-speakers to pronounce.  She was what was called “zwischen”, that is, between a soprano and a mezzosoprano, but I think of her as a soprano.

I keep coming back to this, but her placement of tone and air were perfect.  This, to me, means that the air moved unimpeded through the vocal cords straight into the resonating cavities of the head.  The Italians sometimes call this the “maschera”, but I think that when they say this, they are referring to resonating cavities in the front of the face and the front of the head.  Germanic voices tend to push the air right to the top of the head, and this is what you can hear, and feel, in Jurinac.  Her German was impeccable, and she sang with such wonderful legato (connecting the notes in a phrase by not stopping the breath), that she is always a joy to listen to.

Here she is singing Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs”, or “Vier Letze Lieder” in German.  These songs were debuted in London in 1950 by Kirsten Flagstad, a Norwegian dramatic soprano known for her Wagnerian roles.  We will come to Flagstad in the future.  These works are posthumous and were premiered after Strauss’s death.  These songs are Strauss’s final works.

I remember hearing them for first time on the radio, and I remember thinking that “Beim Schlafengehen” was the most beautiful music that I had ever heard.  I have listened to many renditions of the Four Last Songs, and I think that what Jurinac, Fritz Busch (c), and the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra have done is unsurpassed.

(The first three poems are by Hermann Hesse)

Beim Schlafengehen (On Falling Asleep)

Nun der Tag mich müd gemacht,
Soll mein sehnliches Verlangen
Freundlich die gestirnte Nacht
Wie ein müdes Kind empfangen.

Hände, laßt von allem Tun,
Stirn vergiß du alles Denken,
Alle meine Sinne nun
Wollen sich in Schlummer senken.

Und die Seele unbewacht
Will in freien Flügen schweben,
Um im Zauberkreis der Nacht
Tief und tausendfach zu leben.

Upon going to sleep

Now that the day has made me so tired,
my dearest longings should
be accepted kindly by the starry night
like a weary child.

Hands, cease your activity,
forehead, forget all of your thoughts;
all my senses now
want to sink into slumber.

And my soul, unobserved,
will soar in free flight
in the enchanted circle of the night,
living a thousandfold more deeply.


Der Garten trauert,
Kühl sinkt in die Blumen der Regen.
Der Sommer schauert
Still seinem Ende entgegen.

Golden tropft Blatt um Blatt
Nieder vom hohen Akazienbaum.
Sommer lächelt erstaunt und matt
In den sterbenden Gartentraum.

Lange noch bei den Rosen
Bleibt er stehen, sehnt sich nach Ruh.
Langsam tut er die großen
Müdgewordnen Augen zu.


The garden is mourns,
the rain sinks coolly into the flowers.
Summer shudders
as it quietly meets its end.

Leaf upon leaf drops golden
down from the lofty acacia tree.
Summer smiles, amazed and dull,
in the dying gardendream.

For a while still by the roses
it remains standing, longing for rest.
Slowly it closes its large
eyes that have grown weary.


In dämmrigen Grüften
träumte ich lang
von deinen Bäumen und blauen Lüften,
von deinem Duft und Vogelsang.

Nun liegst du erschlossen
in Gleiß und Zier,
von Licht übergossen
wie ein Wunder vor mir.

Du kennest mich wieder,
du lockest mich zart,
es zittert durch all meine Glieder
deine selige Gegenwart!


In twilight crypts
I long dreamt
of your trees and blue skies,
of your scents and the songs of birds.

Now you lie visible
in glistening splendor,
flushed with light,
like a wonder before me.

You know me again,
you gently lure me;
all of my limbs quiver
from your blissful presence!

Im Abendrot (At Sunset)

Wir sind durch Not und Freude
Gegangen Hand in Hand,
Vom Wandern ruhen wir beide
Nun überm stillen Land.

Rings sich die Täler neigen,
Es dunkelt schon die Luft,
Zwei Lerchen nur noch steigen
Nachträumend in den Duft.

Tritt her, und laß sie schwirren
Bald ist es Schlafenszeit,
Daß wir uns nicht verirren
In dieser Einsamkeit.

O weiter, stiller Friede!
So tief im Abendrot,
Wie sind wir wandermüde —
Ist das etwa der Tod? —

(This poem is by Joseph von Eichendorff)

At Sunset

Through adversity and joy
We’ve gone hand in hand;
From wandering to peace we both
Now over the quiet land.

Around us incline the valleys,
The skies already grow dark;
Two larks alone are just climbing,
Nightdreaming into the scented air.

Come here and let them whir past,
Soon will it be time to rest;
So that we don’t get lost
In this loneliness.

O wide, quiet peace,
So deep in the sunset…
We are travel weary —
Is this perhaps – Death? —