Elisabeth Grümmer was a wonderful soprano who sang at around the same time as Elisabeth Scwarzkopf, Lisa della Casa, Hilde Güden, Irmgard Seefriend, and Sena Jurinac.  There seemed to be a surfeit of very good sopranos in the 50s.  She is not well know today among the general public, and that is a shame.  This post attempts to give you an inkling of what a marvelous soprano and artist she was.  Again, the use of the breath and the tone would be called “bright” today. I just call it good singing.

Vor meiner Weige

Das also, das ist der enge Schrein,
Da lag ich in Windeln als Kind darein?
Da lag ich gebrechlich, hülflos und stumm,
Und zog nur zum Weinen die Lippen krumm.

Ich konnte nichts fassen mit Händchen zart,
Und war doch gebunden nach Schelmenart;
Ich hatte Füßchen, und lag doch wie lahm,
Bis Mutter an ihre Brust mich nahm.

Dann lachte ich saugend zu ihr empor,
Sie sang mir von Rosen und Engeln vor.
Sie sang und sie wiegte mich singend in Ruh’,
Und küßte mir liebend die Augen zu.

Sie spannte aus Seide gar dämmerig-grün,
Ein kühliges Zelt hoch über mich hin;
Wann find ich nun wieder solch friedlich Gemach?
Vielleicht, wenn das grüne Gras mein Dach.

Sie spannte aus Seide gar dämmerig-grün,
Ein kühliges Zelt hoch über mich hin;
Wann find ich nun wieder solch friedlich Gemach?
Vielleicht, wenn das grüne Gras mein Dach.

O Mutter! lieb Mutter, bleib’ lange noch hier;
Wer sänge dann tröstlich von Engeln mir?
Wer küßte mir liebend die Augen zu
Zur langen, zur letzten und tiefesten Ruh’?

Before my Cradle

So that is the narrow chest
where I once lay as a baby;
where I lay, frail, helpless and mute,
crooking my lips only to cry.

I could grip nothing with my tiny, tender hands,
yet I was bound like a rascal;
I possessed little feet, and yet lay as if lame,
until mother took me to her breast.

Then I laughed up at her as I suckled,
and she sang to me about roses and angels;
she sang and with her singing lulled me to sleep,
and with a kiss lovingly closed my eyes.

She spread dusky green silk
a cool tent above me
Where shall I find such a peaceful chamber again?
Perhaps when the green grass covers me!

She spread dusky green silk
a cool tent above me
Where shall I find such a peaceful chamber again?
Perhaps when the green grass covers me!

O mother, dear mother, stay here a long time yet!
Who else would sing to me comforting songs of angels?
Who else would close my eyes lovingly with a kiss
for the long, last and deepest rest?

This poem must have touched Schubert sorely; he lost his own mother at the age of fifteen. Pains of the past and fears for the future (for with his preoccupation with poems about death in his last years, who can deny certain intimations of mortality in the composer’s mind?) here seem to come together. The song has many of the thumbprints of the great songs of the period, (the affinity with, also in B minor,is apparent) but Janus-like it looks both backwards and forwards to other works. One could wonder if Schubert saw the sub-text of the poem as one of reconciliation between a son and his mother at the end of her life. The first two verses use a retreat into the relative major to summon up the first fleeting pictures from the past. The mimetic nature of babyhood, the child without speech but able to take his every cue from the mother, and love as he is loved, is mirrored in two beautiful two-bar piano interludes, echoes of the vocal line. It is not until the modulation to B major (verses 3 and 4) that we truly pass through the portals of long-buried memory into a magical world of the limitless outpourings of maternal love—such is the prodigality of this infinitely generous melody which occurs at that most intimate moment when the mother suckles her child. Their inseparable bond is reflected in an intertwining of voice and piano (the child’s little fingers clutching the breast, the little finger of the pianist’s right hand pressing out the melody). The piano work echoed here is the celebrated G flat major Impromptu (D899, Op 90 No 3) which dates from the same period. The final verse is a recapitulation into the dark realms of B minor, lit by the softer beams of a D major heaven-haven. The repetition of the poem’s final line is simple yet panic-stricken with the eerie elongation of the final ‘tiefesten’. It is here that the child within the composer cries out in its fear of desertion, its awareness of its own imminent demise.

Mein gläubiges Herz

Mein gläubiges Herze,
Frohlocke, sing, scherze,
Dein Jesus ist da!
Weg Jammer, weg Klagen,
Ich will euch nur sagen:
Mein Jesus ist nah.

My faithful heart

My faithful heart,
delight, sing, play,
your Jesus is here!
Away with sorrow, away with lamenting,
I will only say to you:
my Jesus is near.

Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit

Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit;
aber ich will euch wieder sehen
und euer Herz soll sich freuen
und eure Freude soll niemand von euch nehmen.
Ich will euch trösten,
wie Einen seine Mutter tröstet.

Sehet mich an:
Ich habe eine kleine Zeit Mühe und Arbeit gehabt
und habe großen Trost funden.
Ich will euch trösten,
wie Einen seine Mutter tröstet.

Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit;
aber ich will euch wieder sehen
und euer Herz soll sich freuen
und eure Freude soll niemand von euch nehmen.
Ich will euch trösten,
wie Einen seine Mutter tröstet.
Ich will euch wieder sehen,
Ich will euch trösten.

You now have sorrow

You now have sorrow
but I shall see you again
and your heart shall rejoice
and your joy no one shall take from you.
I shall console you
As a mother consoles her child

Behold me:
I have had for a little time toil and torment,
and now have found great consolation.
I will console you,
As a mother consoles her child

You now have sorrow
but I shall see you again
and your heart shall rejoice
and your joy no one shall take from you
I will console you
As a mother consoles her child
I shall see you again
I shall console you

With English subtitles.

Elisabeth Schilz Grümmer (March 13, 1911 – November 6,1986) was a German soprano. She has been described as “a singer blessed with elegant musicality, warm-hearted sincerity, and a voice of exceptional beauty”.

Life

Grümmer was born in Niederjeutz [now Yutz, near Diedenhofen (Thionville), Alsace-Lorraine, France] to German parents. In 1918, her family was expelled from Lorraine, and they settled in Meiningen, where she studied theater and made her stage debut as Klärchen in Goethe’s Egmont.

Grümmer married the concertmaster of the theater orchestra, Detlev Grümmer, and had a family. The family moved to Aachen, where they met Herbert von Karajan. She decided to take singing lessons, among others with the renowned vocal coach Franziska Martienssen-Lohmann and with Schlender. Herbert von Karajan was interested in working with Elisabeth Grümmer right from the beginning. He gave her the chance to appear in a Parsifal performance in 1940 as the First Flower maiden. Then she sang her first major role there in 1941 as Octavian. In 1942 to 1944 she was engaged at that Duisberg Opera as the primary soprano for lyrical roles. Eventually she went to Prague. During the war, her husband was tragically killed in an air raid, in the basement of their home, holding his violin. She said he was her only love, and never remarried.She went on from Aachen to perform in Duisburg and Prague.

After the war, Grümmer became in 1946 a regular member of the Städtische Oper Berlin (now the Deutsche Oper), which was her primary professional association throughout her career, remaining with that major company through 1972. Berlin always remained the center of her activities. She sang with greatest success in all the world’s leading opera-houses, at Covent Garden, the Grand Opéra, La Scala, the Met, the Teatro Colón, and the State Operas of Munich, Vienna and Hamburg. In June 1951 she made her first appearance at London’s Covent Garden as Eva in Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg. She then made debut at the Vienna State Opera.

Grümmer’s exquisite voice and dramatic gifts made her an exemplary interpreter of the music of Mozart and Richard Strauss. She restricted herself to a rather small repertoire she made very much her own: Pamina, Donna Anna, Ilia, the Countess Almaviva, Agathe, Hänsel, Oktavian, the Marschallin, Countess Madeleine, Eva, Elsa, Elisabeth, Gutrune, Freia and Desdemona. She made it her practice to sing everything in her own language. She sang Ellen Orford in the first German production of Britten’s Peter Grimes.

In 1965 (Cantabile-Subito) or 1959 (Baker) Elisabeth Grümmer became professor at the Berlin Musikhochschule. She actively taught in Lucerne and Paris after her stage retirement at the Deutsche Opera in 1972 (as the Marshallin).  In 1986 she was nominated an honorary member of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin. She died the same year in Warendorf (Westphalia).