My purpose here is to introduce Irmgard Seefried, who was an absolutely wonderful soprano.  Here she is singing three Strauss songs to poetic texts.  The first song, “Morgen” was written as part of a series of songs, and Strauss was 30 when it was published.  The second song, “Zueignung” , was written was Strauss was 21, and the final song, “Ständchen”, was written when Strauss was 22.  The orchestrations were all done by Strauss.

There are a few things to notice in these filmed performances.  She places the breath very high, which allows her a musicality that is completely different from anything we have today.  And her diction is just marvelous.  One more thing to notice for those technically minded.  Observe how active her cheeks are.  She is not really using her tongue to articulate.  She is using her lips and her cheeks.

Morgen!

Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen
und auf dem Wege, den ich gehen werde,
wird uns, die Glücklichen sie wieder einen
inmitten dieser sonnenatmenden Erde…
und zu dem Strand, dem weiten, wogenblauen,
werden wir still und langsam niedersteigen,
stumm werden wir uns in die Augen schauen,
und auf uns sinkt des Glückes stummes Schweigen…

Tomorrow

And tomorrow the sun will shine again
And on the way which I shall follow
She will again unite us lucky ones
As all around us the earth breathes in the sun
Slowly, silently, we will climb down
To the wide beach and the blue waves
In silence, we will look in each other’s eyes
And the mute stillness of happiness will sink upon us

Zueignung

Ja, du weißt es, teure Seele,
Daß ich fern von dir mich quäle,
Liebe macht die Herzen krank,
Habe Dank.Thanks to you!

Einst hielt ich, der Freiheit Zecher,
Hoch den Amethysten-Becher,
Und du segnetest den Trank,
Habe Dank.

Und beschworst darin die Bösen,
Bis ich, was ich nie gewesen,
heilig, heilig an’s Herz dir sank,
Habe Dank.

Devotion

Ah, thou know it, dearest soul,
In thine absence, how I languish
Love brings sorrow to the heart!
I give thanks to thee!

Once, when merry songs were ringing
I to liberty was drinking,
Thou a blessing did impart.
I give thanks to thee!

Thou didst lay the wanton spirits
Comfort peace my soul inherits,
Joy and bliss shall thy love impart.
I give thanks to thee!

Ständchen

Mach auf, mach auf, doch leise mein Kind,
Um keinen vom Schlummer zu wecken.
Kaum murmelt der Bach, kaum zittert im Wind
Ein Blatt an den Büschen und Hecken.
Drum leise, mein Mädchen, daß nichts sich regt,
Nur leise die Hand auf die Klinke gelegt.

Mit Tritten, wie Tritte der Elfen so sacht,
Um über die Blumen zu hüpfen,
Flieg leicht hinaus in die Mondscheinnacht,
Zu mir in den Garten zu schlüpfen.
Rings schlummern die Blüten am rieselnden Bach
Und duften im Schlaf, nur die Liebe ist wach.

Sitz nieder, hier dämmert’s geheimnisvoll
Unter den Lindenbäumen,
Die Nachtigall uns zu Häupten soll
Von unseren Küssen träumen,
Und die Rose, wenn sie am Morgen erwacht,
Hoch glühn von den Wonnenschauern der Nach

Serenade

Come out, come out, step lightly my love,
Lest envious sleepers awaken,
So still is the air, no leaf on the boughs above
From its slumber is shaken.
Then lightly, dear maiden, that none may catch,
The tap of thy shoe, or the clink of the latch.

On tip toe, on tip toe as moon spirits might
Wondering over the flowers
Come softly down, through the radiant night
To me in the rose hidden bowers
The lilies are dreaming around the dim lake
In odorous sleep, only love is awake.

Come nearer, Ah, see how the moonbeams fall,
Through the willow’s drooping tresses
The nightingales in the branches
all shall dream of our caresses.
And the roses waking with morning light,
Flush red, flush red, with the rapture born of the night.

Goethe wrote a novel of formation (Bildungsroman in German) called Wilhem Meister, and for over a century composers have been drawn to it and the enigmatic songs of the waif-like Mignon.

In the 19th century a great many composers were drawn to this philosophical coming-of-age tale, and especially to the subsidiary character of the mysterious Mignon. Although the story contains a total of eight songs, one in particular has attracted almost twice as many settings as all the others put together.

Kennst du das land (Do you know the land?), in which the enigmatic child reveals tantalising and fleeting fragments of her traumatic past and expresses her desire to find a father figure in the novel’s young protagonist – commanded the attention of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt, of Tchaikovsky, Wolf and even Alban Berg

Mignon is either 13 or 14 and has a mysterious past.  She is different from a normal Romantic heroine because she is androgynous. People keep asking whether she is a boy or a girl.  She is otherworldly as well. In the book, after she’s acted in a Nativity play she wants to remain as an angel because she feels more at home in that realm than she does on earth.

In Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm Meister, a young merchant with a passion for the theatre, rescues Mignon from a troupe of acrobats who, it turns out, have kidnapped her from her native Italy and carried her off to Germany. The child forms a close bond with Wilhelm who finds her quixotic nature – and possibly her latent sexuality – deeply intriguing. Along with an equally mysterious and emotionally damaged harper, she accompanies Wilhelm on his adventures. Later on we learn that Mignon, who will die of a broken heart, was born out of an incestuous relationship between the harper and his own sister – a fact of which the child is entirely unaware – but not before, in a memorable scene, Mignon sings Kennst du das land in which she recalls memories from her past and seems to ask Wilhelm if perhaps he might be her father.

Wolf’s Mignon is, however, not androgynous.  She is a girl with psychological complexity. This song comes at the end of the Mignon Lieder below.

Heiss’ mich nicht reden 0:00

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt 2:58

So lasst mich scheinen 5:39

Kennst du das Land 8:5

Heiss mich nicht reden „Lied der Mignon“

Heiss mich nicht reden, heiss mich schweigen,
Denn mein Geheimnis ist mir Pflicht;
Ich möchte dir mein ganzes Innre zeigen,
Allein das Schicksal will es nicht.

Zu rechter Zeit vertreibt der Sonne Lauf
Die finstre Nacht, und sie muss sich erhellen;
Der harte Fels schliesst seinen Busen auf,
Missgönnt der Erde nicht die tiefverborgnen Quellen.

Ein jeder sucht im Arm des Freundes Ruh,
Dort kann die Brust in Klagen sich ergiessen;
Allein ein Schwur drückt mir die Lippen zu
Und nur ein Gott vermag sie aufzuschliessen.

Do not bid me speak (‘Mignon’s Song’)

Do not bid me speak; bid me be silent,
for my duty is to keep my secret;
I long to reveal my whole soul to you,
but fate does not permit it.

At the appointed time the sun in its course
drives away the dark night, and day must break;
the hard rock opens its bosom
and ungrudgingly bestows on the earth its deep-hidden springs.

Every man seeks peace in the arms of a friend;
there the heart can pour out its sorrows.
But an oath seals my lips,
and only a god can open them.

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt „Lied der Mignon“

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiss, was ich leide!
Allein und abgetrennt
Von aller Freude,
Seh’ ich an’s Firmament
Nach jener Seite.
Ach! der mich liebt und kennt
Ist in der Weite.
Es schwindelt mir, es brennt
Mein Eingeweide.
Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Weiss, was ich leide!

Only he who knows longing (‘Mignon’s Song’)

Only he who knows longing
knows what I suffer.
Alone, cut off
from all joy,
I gaze at the firmament
in that direction.
Ah, he who loves and knows me
is far away.
I feel giddy,
my vitals are aflame.
Only he who knows longing
knows what I suffer.

So lasst mich scheinen

So lasst mich scheinen, bis ich werde,
Zieht mir das weisse Kleid nicht aus!
Ich eile von der schönen Erde
Hinab in jenes feste Haus.

Dort ruh’ ich eine kleine Stille,
Dann öffnet sich der frische Blick;
Ich lasse dann die reine Hülle,
Den Gürtel und den Kranz zurück.

Und jene himmlischen Gestalten,
Sie fragen nicht nach Mann und Weib,
Und keine Kleider, keine Falten
Umgeben den verklärten Leib.

Zwar lebt’ ich ohne Sorg’ und Mühe,
Doch fühlt’ ich tiefen Schmerz genung.
Vor Kummer altert’ ich zu frühe;
Macht mich auf ewig wieder jung!

Thus let me seem

Let me appear an angel till I become one;
Do not take my white dress from me!
I hasten from the beautiful earth
Down to that impregnable house.

There in brief repose I’ll rest,
Then my eyes will open, renewed;
My pure raiment then I’ll leave,
With girdle and rosary, behind.

And those heavenly beings,
They do not ask who is man or woman,
And no garments, no folds
Cover the transfigured body.

Though I lived without trouble and toil,
I have felt deep pain enough.
I grew old with grief before my time;
O make me forever young again!

Mignons Gesang „Kennst du das Land?

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunklen Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht,
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Möcht’ ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.

Kennst du das Haus? Auf Säulen ruht sein Dach,
Es glänzt der Saal, es schimmert das Gemach,
Und Mamorbilder stehn und sehn mich an:
Was hat man dir, du armes Kind, getan?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Möcht’ ich mit dir, o mein Beschützer, ziehn.

Kennst du den Berg und seinen Wolkensteg?
Das Maultier sucht im Nebel seinen Weg;
In Höhlen wohnt der Drachen alte Brut;
Es stürzt der Fels und über ihn die Flut,
Kennst du ihn wohl?
Dahin! Dahin
Geht unser Weg! o Vater, lass uns ziehn!

Mignon’s Song (‘Do you know the land?’)

Do you know the land where lemon trees blossom;
where golden oranges glow amid dark leaves?
A gentle wind blows from the blue sky,
the myrtle stands silent, the laurel tall:
do you know it?
There, O there
I desire to go with you, my beloved!

Do you know the house? Its roof rests on pillars,
the hall gleams, the chamber shimmers,
and marble statues stand and gaze at me:
what have they done to you, poor child?
Do you know it?
There, O there
I desire to go with you, my protector!

Do you know the mountain and its clouded path?
The mule seeks its way through the mist,
in caves the ancient brood of dragons dwells;
the rock falls steeply, and over it the torrent.
Do you know it?
There, O there
lies our way. O father, let us go!

For this last song, I am going to give Elisabeth Schumann singing this Wolf Lied.  Schumann had been a very famous opera singer in the early part of the 20th century, and she emigrated to New York in 1938.  Her voice is older in this recording, but she is able to interpret the poem beautifully.  The poem contrasts life with death, reward with punishment, and final rest for the Greek lyric poet Anacreon.

Anakreons Grab

Wo die Rose hier blüht, wo Reben um Lorbeer sich schlingen,
Wo das Turtelchen lockt, wo sich das Grillchen ergötzt,
Welch ein Grab ist hier, das alle Götter mit Leben
Schön bepflanzt und geziert? Es ist Anakreons Ruh.
Frühling, Sommer und Herbst genoß der glückliche Dichter;
Vor dem Winter hat ihn endlich der Hügel geschützt.

Anacreon’s Grave

Where the rose is in flower, where vine interlaces with laurel,
Where the turtle-dove calls, where the cricket rejoices,
Whose grave is this that all the gods have decked with life
And beautiful plants? It is Anacreon’s resting place.
The happy poet savoured spring, summer and autumn;
This mound has at the last protected him from winter.

Irmgard Seefried

Irmgard Seefried (October 9, 1919 – November 24,1988) was a distinguished German soprano who sang opera, sacred music, and lieder.

Maria Theresia Irmgard Seefried was born in Köngetried, near Mindelheim, Bavaria, Germany, the daughter of educated Austrian-born parents. She studied at Augsburg University before making her debut in Aachen as the priestess in Verdi’s Aida in 1940. She began to sing leading parts in 1942 by singing the part of Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz in 1942, and the next year she made her debut at Vienna State Opera by singing Eva in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg conducted by Karl Böhm. From then on, she remained with the ensemble of the Vienna State Opera until her retirement in 1976.

She sang at the Salzburg Festival every year from 1946 to 1964 (except 1955, 1961 and 1962) in operas, concerts and recitals.

One of the outstanding singers to emerge immediately after the Second World War, she was noted for her Mozart and Richard Strauss roles. She left many recordings of oratorio and sacred music by Bach, Mozart, Haydn (including at least four different renditions of the Archangel Gabriel in Die Schöpfung), Brahms, Fauré, Beethoven, Dvořák, Verdi, and Stravinsky.

After retirement, she taught students at Vienna Music Academy and Salzburg Mozarteum. She died at age 69 in Vienna in 1988.

Hugo Wolf

Hugo Philipp Jacob Wolf (March 13, 1860 – February 22, 1903) was an Austrian composer of Slovene origin, particularly noted for his art songs, or Lieder. He brought to this form a concentrated expressive intensity which was unique in late Romantic music.

Though he had several bursts of extraordinary productivity, particularly in 1888 and 1889, depression frequently interrupted his creative periods, and his last composition was written in 1898, before he suffered a mental collapse caused by syphilis.

Early life (1860–1887)

Hugo Wolf was born in Windischgrätz in the Duchy of Styria (now Slovenj Gradec, Slovenia), then a part of the Austrian Empire. He spent most of his life in Vienna, becoming a representative of “New German” trend in Lieder, a trend which followed from the expressive, chromatic and dramatic musical innovations of Richard Wagner.

Wolf taught music in Vienna, where he earned attention and patronage. Support of benefactors allowed him to make a living as a composer. Wolf was prone to depression and wide mood swings that would affect him throughout his life.

Wagner’s death in February 1883 was a deeply moving event in the life of the young composer. There was a schism in the musical world of the late 19th century. Musical structure, the limits of chromatic harmony, and program music versus absolute music were the principal areas of contention. The opposing parties crystallized during the 1850s. The conservative circle was centered on Johannes Brahms, Joseph Joachim, Clara Schumann, and the Leipzig Conservatoire which had been founded by Felix Mendelssohn. Their opponents, the radical progressives in Weimar, were represented by Franz Liszt and the members of the so-called New German School (“Neudeutsche Schule”), and by Richard Wagner. The controversy was German and Central European in origin; musicians from France, Italy, and Russia were only marginally involved. Composers from both sides looked back on Beethoven as their spiritual and artistic hero; the conservatives saw him as an unsurpassable peak, while the progressives as a new beginning in music. Wolf was a devoted follower of Wagner and the new school

Maturity (1888–1896)

1888 and 1889 proved to be very productive years for Wolf and a turning point in his career. After the publication of a dozen of his songs late the preceding year, Wolf once again desired to return to composing. He composed the Mörike-Lieder at a frenzied pace. Later, he composed the Eichendorff-Lieder followed, then the 51 Goethe-Lieder, spilling into 1889. After a summer holiday, Spanisches Liederbuch was begun in October 1889; though Spanish-flavoured compositions were in fashion in the day, Wolf sought out poems that had been neglected by other composers.

A renewal of creative activity resulted in Wolf’s completion of the Italienisches Liederbuch with two dozen songs written in March and April 1896, the composition of three Michelangelo Lieder in March, 1897 (a group of six had been projected) and preliminary work during that year on an opera, Manuel Venegas.

Wolf’s last concert appearance was in February 1897. Shortly thereafter Wolf slipped into syphilitic insanity, with only occasional spells of wellbeing. Wolf died on February 22, 1903.

Music

Wolf’s greatest musical influence was Richard Wagner, who, in an encounter after Wolf first came to the Vienna Conservatory, encouraged the young composer to persist in composing and to attempt larger-scale works, cementing Wolf’s desire to emulate his musical idol. His antipathy to Johannes Brahms was fueled equally by his devotion to Wagner’s musical radicalism and his loathing of Brahms’ musical “conservatism”.

He is best known for his lieder, his temperament and inclination leading him to more intimate, subjective and terse musical utterances.

Wolf wrote hundreds of lieder, three operas, incidental music, choral music, as well as some rarely heard orchestral, chamber and piano music. His most famous instrumental piece is the Italian Serenade (1887), originally for string quartet and later transcribed for orchestra, which marked the beginning of his mature style.