Teresa Stich-Randall was an American soprano who spent most of her career in Europe, especially in Vienna. She became a Kammersängerin, which is an Austrian title of honor for singers. She was a very elegant Viennese singer with perfect legato, an incredible sense of line, amazing breath control, and sheer beauty of voice. She was truly a marvel, yet she remains relatively unknown in America. I hope that this posting will go some small way to making her more well known.

I will put all the comments on the various pieces below the lyrics so that the flow of the page is not disturbed by commentary.

This is the soprano aria from Telemann’s Machet die Tore weit cantata

Jesu, komm in meine Seele,
lass sie deine Wohnung sein.
Treib aus ihr der Sünden Wust,
Ehre, Geiz und Fleischeslust,
gönn ihr deiner Gnaden Schein.

Jesus, come into my soul,
Let it be your dwelling place.
Drive out all kinds of sin,
Of honor, covetousness and carnality,
Grant it all your merciful gleam.

Machtet die Tore weit

The Advent cantata Machet die Tore weit has long been one of the most frequently performed of Telemann’s sacred works. Among the copies of this cantata which have been handed down is a copy by J. S. Bach which bears testimony to the high respect he paid to his then more celebrated colleague from Hamburg: It is a copy of the score in the hand of the Thomaskantor which was made for a performance in Leipzig on Advent Sunday in 1734 (during the same period as the first performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio). Of the four solo singers the soprano and bass, each of whom has an aria, are critical. The soprano aria, “Jesu, komm in meine Seele” is extraordinarily beautiful, and is magnificent when sung by Stich-Randall.

E Susanna non vien! . . .Dove sono

Recitative:

E Susanna non vien!
Sono ansiosa di saper
come il Conte accolse la proposta.
Alquanto ardito il progetto mi par,
E ad uno sposo si vivace e geloso!
Ma che mal c’è?
Cangiando i miei vestiti con quelli di Susanna,
E suoi co’miei
Al favor della notte.
Oh, cielo! a qual umil stato fatale
Io son ridotta da un consorte crudel!
Che dopo avermi con un misto inaudito
D’infedeltà, di gelosia, di sdegno!
Prima amata, indi offesa, e alfin tradita,
Fammi or cercar da una mia serva aita!

Aria:

Dove sono i bei momenti
Di dolcezza e di piacer?
Dove andaron i giuramenti
Di quel labbro menzogner?
Perchè mai, se in pianti e in pene
Per me tutto si cangiò,
La memoria di quel bene
Dal mio sen non trapassò?
Ah! se almen la mia costanza,
Nel languire amando ognor,
Mi portasse una speranza
Di cangiar l’ingrato cor!

Susanna’s not coming . .  Where are the beautiful moments?

Recitative:

Susanna is not coming!
I’m anxious to know
How the Count received the proposal.
The scheme appears to be rather daring,
And behind the back of a husband who is forceful and jealous!
But what’s the harm?
To change my clothes into those of Susanna,
And she changes into mine.
Under the cover of darkness.
Oh, dear! What a humble and dangerous state
I am reduced to by a cruel husband
Who imparted me with an unheard mixture of
Infidelity, jealousy, and disdain!
First, he loved me, then he abused me, and finally betrayed me,
Let me seek help from a servant!

Aria:

Where are the beautiful moments
Of sweetness and of pleasure?
Where have they gone, the oaths
Of that lying tongue?
Why would, despite my tears and pain
And the complete change in my life,
The good memories
Remain within my breast?
Ah! If only my constancy,
Which still loves even while languishing,
Will bring hope
To change his ungrateful heart!

This recitative and aria are from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, specifically from Act II of this opera. It has been said, and I agree, that this opera is one of the highlights of western civilization. The opera’s libretto is based on one of the Figaro plays by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, usually referred to as Beaumarchais. The name “Beaumarchais” was an invention of the author’s. The three Figaro plays were extremely popular with the public in Paris, but they plays were not welcomed by Louis XVI’s cenors. The Marriage of Figaro was also banned in Vienna by Joseph II’s censors, but the operatic version of the play contained enough changes that it managed to pass censorship. What is so astonishing about the opera is the way in which music is used to characterize the feelings of the characters. This was a great leap forward in what the blending of words and music and do in a piece. A brief synopsis up until the point at which this recitativo and the aria are sung follows.

Stich-Randall and the Marriage of Figaro.

Stich-Randall, who was one of the great Mozartians of the last century, mainly performed this role during the summer season at Aix en Provence in France. The film clip of her signing this is very rare, and although the film cuts off before the end of the aria, I have gi en all the words to the aria for the sake of completeness.

What is special about Stich-Randall? Excellent breath control, a legato that is no longer heard these days, excellent diction, a beautiful use of dynamics, and a vocal freedom that is astonishing, especially when we think of today’s performers of the role. She imbues the words with meaning and feeling, and that is what music is about – to transmite feelings.

What is revolutionary about this opera is that the relationship between the nobility and the proletariat is inverted. The Countess gets out of her mess by relying on her maid, and Figaro eventually trumps the Count. This is the aspect that hard a hard time passing the censors.

The Marriage of Figaro Synopsis

Act I

Figaro, servant to Count Almaviva, is about to marry Susanna, the Countess’s maid. He measures a room for a bed, but Susanna is concerned that the room is too close to the Count’s chamber. She explains to Figaro that Almaviva is pursuing her. Figaro vows to thwart the Count’s plans. Cherubino, a young page, enters, seeking advice from Susanna. Count Almaviva caught him alone with the gardener’s daughter, Barbarina, and he is now to be sent away. Before Susanna can offer advice, they are interrupted by the arrival of Almaviva himself. Cherubino hides while Almaviva attempts to set up a tryst with Susanna. The Count himself is forced to hide when yet another voice is heard at the door. It’s Don Basilio, the music teacher, who references Cherubino’s supposed crush on the Countess. In a rage, the Count reveals himself to an amused Basilio. He states that he is sending Cherubino away, and relates the scene in the gardener’s daughter’s chambers. As he does, Almaviva discovers a hiding Cherubino. Almaviva is fuming, as Cherubino has overheard him propositioning Susanna. He vows to get rid of the lad by giving him a military commission. Figaro returns, accompanied by festive townspeople. He asks the Count to join him and Susanna in marriage. Almaviva stalls him.

Act II

In Countess Rosina’s chambers, the Countess grieves for the loss of her husband’s love and attention, and she and Susanna discuss Count Almaviva’s roving eye. The Countess believes her husband no longer loves her, while Susanna wants him to leave her alone.

Nacht und Träume

Heil’ge Nacht, du sinkest nieder;
Nieder wallen auch die Träume,
Wie dein Mondlicht durch die Räume,
Durch der Menschen stille Brust.
Die belauschen sie mit Lust;
Rufen, wenn der Tag erwacht:
Kehre wieder, heil’ge Nacht!
Holde Träume, kehret wieder!

Night and Dreams

Holy night, you sink down;
dreams, too, float down,
like your moonlight through space,
through the silent hearts of men.
They listen with delight,
crying out when day awakes:
come back, holy night!
Fair dreams, return!

Nacht und Träume
Schubert composer, Mattäus von Collin, poet

This song is about the “little sleep”, whereby men die and are reborn as they dream on their pillows each day of their lives. It is a type of escapism. When a soprano enters on a D#, so distant is the voice from the tessitura of the gently rumbling accompaniment that it seems completely unsupported, as if walking on a tightrope. That this phrase also requires complete breath control, not to mention faultless intonation, is typical of the challenges that Schubert throws at his performers. Within less than 30 seconds on the recital platform a master singer has announced herself or not. Stich-Randall was such a master singer.

Widmung

Du meine Seele, du mein Herz,
Du meine Wonn’, O du mein Schmerz,
Du meine Welt, in der ich lebe,
Mein Himmel du, darein ich schwebe,
O du mein Grab, in das hinab
Ich ewig meinen Kummer gab.

Du bist die Ruh, du bist der Frieden,
Du bist vom Himmel mir beschieden.
Daß du mich liebst, macht mich mir wert,
Dein Blick hat mich vor mir verklärt,
Du hebst mich liebend über mich,
Mein guter Geist, mein beßres Ich!

Dedication

You my soul, you my heart,
You my bliss, o you my pain,
You the world in which I live;
My heaven, you, in which I am floating,
You my grave, into which
I eternally cast my woe.

You are repose, you are peace,
You have been granted to me from heaven.
That you love me makes me worthy of you;
Your gaze transfigures me;
You raise me lovingly above myself,
My good wraith, my better self!

Widmung
Schumann composer
Marked by its technical bravura, Widmung (or Dedication in English) has remained one of the most popular encore pieces in piano recital, allowing pianists to display their virtuosity. However, Widmung is much more than a mere showpiece – containing probably the most passionate music writing and most heartfelt feelings. Written by Robert Schumann in 1840 (this piece was from a set of Lieder called Myrthen, Op.25), this piece was later arranged for piano solo by Franz Liszt. Myrthen was dedicated to Clara Wieck as a wedding gift, as he finally married Clara in September, despite the opposition from Clara’s father (who was also Robert’s piano teacher).

The work starts with a flowing sense of pulse, while the first phrase (“Du meine Seele, du mein Herz”) already captures Schumann’s love for Clara and devotion to the relationship. Here, Schumann sincerely confesses to Clara, declaring how important she is to him. For him, Clara is his angel, his spiritual support, and his entire world. Nevertheless, there is still a sense of fear and insecurity in the music, due to separation and uncertainty about their future. This complex mixture of feelings, as a true and full-bodied representation of love, certainly strengthens the emotional power of the music.

Traditionally presented in human imagery, to make it more understandable. Here, at the start of the humanist era, is the predictable converse; human love is shown in pseudo-Christian imagery, to make it more impressive. It rings true in Schumann’s song because of his genius. Here are both aspects of his creative personality at their most engaging; the tender grace of Eusebius alternates with the vigorous ardo of Florestan (this dualistic aspect of Schumann’s art would require a study in and of itself).

The piano begins with elated arpeggios. For a moment, it is content to provide an accompaniment. But soon it is joining in and the leading the singing, paying its respects to the words in sadly flattened harmonies at Schmerz and Grab. Under the surface of this music, another more soulful strain has been continuing as a hidden undersong in the bass. And in the slow, middle section, it is this sweet voice tha speaks until the elated arpeggios resume, and a postlude uniting both voices rounds off the song. This song, like all of Schumann’s music, is dedicated to his wife, Clara.

Here is Liszt’s transcription of the song, played by Jorge Bolet.

Du bist die Ruh

Du bist die Ruh,
Der Friede mild,
Die Sehnsucht du,
Und was sie stillt.

Ich weihe dir
Voll Lust und Schmerz
Zur Wohnung hier
Mein Aug’ und Herz.

Kehr’ ein bei mir,
Und schliesse du
Still hinter dir
Die Pforten zu.

Treib andern Schmerz
Aus dieser Brust.
Voll sei dies Herz
Von deiner Lust.

Dies Augenzelt
Von deinem Glanz
Allein erhellt,
O füll’ es ganz.

You are rest

You are rest
And gentle peace,
You are longing
And what stills it.

Full of joy and grief
I consecrate to you
My eyes and my heart
As a dwelling place.

Come into me,
And softly close
The gate
Behind you.

Drive all other grief
From my breast.
Let my heart
Be full your joy.

The temple of my eyes
Is lit
By your radiance alone:
O, fill it wholly.

Du bist die Ruh
Schubert composer, Rückert poet

This is one of the most famous songs in the world, and also one of the most difficult to sing. The playing of it, while not requiring a virtuoso technique, calls for great control of color and touch, as well as evenness of rhythm. Du bist die Ruh has such inner poise that it suggests a transcendental religious experience unfolding in the solem, meditative timescale that one associates with rituals of the east. This is a hymn to long-lasting love and an enduring relationship. This was something that Schubert was not to know in life, but he certainly tells its story in music.

Teresa Stich-Randall

Born: December 24, 1927 in New Hartford, Connecticut, and died July 17, 2007 in Vienna

The exacting American soprano Teresa Stich-Randall, died in Vienna aged 79, made most of her career in central Europe and was specifically well known for her Mozart and Bach. Her pure, sweet voice won wide praise.

Born in New Hartford, Connecticut, she studied at the Hartford School of Music and Columbia University, New York, where in 1947 she created the role of Gertrude Stein in The Mother of Us All by Virgil Thomson.

Her big break came when Toscanini called her “the find of the century” and engaged her for a series of performances with his NBC Symphony Orchestra. The first role she sang was the high priestess in Toscanini’s broadcast and recording of Aida, and she added to that a delightful Nannetta in his Falstaff (1950). She also sang regularly for him in his last years, as a soprano soloist in many choral works.

In 1951 she won the Lausanne Competition and began her European career. She made her European debut at Florence that same year as the Mermaid in Weber’s Oberon.

After a season at Basel, she was engaged by the Vienna State Opera, where her first role was Violetta, in La Traviata. She performed there regularly for the next two decades, and in 1963 the Austrian government conferred on her the honorary title of Kammersängerin, a relic of the “chamber singer” rank bestowed at the court of the former Austrian emperors; she was the first American to be so honored.

Perhaps the peak of her career came when she began to appear at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1953. During her distinguished period at the festival, Stich-Randall was renowned for all her interpretations of the major Mozart roles. Another notable achievement was her performance in the premiere of Frank Martin’s The Mystery of the Nativity at the Salzburg Festival in 1960.

Her American career was slighter: she sang Gilda in Rigoletto at Chicago in 1955, and made her Metropolitan debut as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte in 1961. During the 1960s, Stich-Randall regularly appeared throughout Italy in her Mozart roles and as Strauss’s Ariadne.

She began to wind down her career during the 1970s, although she appeared as Norma at Trier in Germany in 1971. From then on she was renowned as a strict teacher.

Stich-Randall has left many noted recordings, of which the most important are her appearances in Hanz Rosbaud’s Mozart cycle from Aix. Karajan chose her for his Sophie in his famous recording of Der Rosenkavalier in the late 1950s. She also was noted as Euridice in Gluck’s Orfeo under Charles Mackerras.

Bach was her other success in the studios, particularly a recording of the Cantata No 51, Jauchzet Gott, with the trumpeter Maurice André. Such works required the clean line and vibrato-less singing in which she specialised; she could thus be seen as a forerunner of the period-performance movement of more recent times. Her 1966 Vanguard recording of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with alto Elisabeth Höngen has a great reputation.It might even be suggested that Stich-Randall was born about 20 years too early. Nonetheless, in a 1983 interview she spoke positively of her career: “I was lucky – fate smiled on me in so many ways.” Later on she lived in Vienna, driving an Alpha Romeo sports car that she called “the red devil”.