Elena Gerhardt was one of the greatest lieder singers of the 20th century.  She was unique in that she appeared in both opera and lieder recitals.  This is not usually the case.  I have been very particular about the lieder that I have chosen.  There are many postings on youtube, where the material dates from about 1925-1930.  These recordings have been remastered to remove the surface noise.  Unfortunately, unless you know what you’re doing, removing the surface noise also removes half the voice.  I have selected Japanese reissues of vinyl records that have not been cleaned up.  You will hear surface noise but you will also hear Elena Gerhardt’s voice.

There are several things that I would like to point out.  There is no pressure on this voice.  In her later recordings, there might be problems with pitch, but the voice production is spectacular.  Also, the last recording, Mariä Wiegenlied was made on a wax cylinder around 1907 and was later transferred to vinyl.  This recording is 20 years earlier that all the other recordings selected, and you can hear Gerhardt’s voice when she was young.

Geistliches Wiegenlied

Die ihr schwebet
Um diese Palmen
In Nacht und Wind,
Ihr heilgen Engel,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Ihr Palmen von Bethlehem
Im Windesbrausen,
Wie mögt ihr heute
So zornig sausen!
O rauscht nicht also!
Schweiget, neiget
Euch leis’ und lind;
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Der Himmelsknabe
Duldet Beschwerde,
Ach,wie so müd er ward
Vom Leid der Erde.
Ach nun im Schlaf ihm
Leise gesänftigt
Die Qual zerrinnt,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Grimmige Kälte
Sauset hernieder,
Womit nur deck ich
Des Kindleins Glieder!
O all ihr Engel,
Die ihr geflügelt Wandelt im Wind,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein kind.

Sacred Lullaby

You who hover
Around these palms
In night and wind,
You holy angels,
Silence the tree-tops!
My child is sleeping.

You palms of Bethlehem
In the raging wind,
Why do you bluster
So angrily today!
O roar not so!
Be still, lean
Calmly and gently over us;
Silence the tree-tops!
My child is sleeping.

The heavenly babe
Suffers distress,
Oh, how weary He has grown
With the sorrows of this world.
Ah, now that in sleep
His pains
Are gently eased,
Silence the treetops!
My child is sleeping.

Fierce cold
Blows down on us,
With what shall I cover
My little child’s limbs?
O all you angels,
Who wing your way
On the winds,
Silence the tree-tops!
My child is sleeping.

Im Frühling

Still sitz ich an des Hügels Hang,
Der Himmel ist so klar,
Das Lüftchen spielt im grünen Tal,
Wo ich beim ersten Frühlingsstrahl

Einst, ach, so glücklich war.
Wo ich an ihrer Seite ging
So traulich und so nah,
Und tief im dunkeln Felsenquell
Den schönen Himmel blau und hell,
Und sie im Himmel sah.

Sieh, wie der bunte Frühling schon
Aus Knosp’ und Blüte blickt!
Nicht alle Blüten sind mir gleich,
Am liebsten pflückt’ ich von dem Zweig,
Von welchem sie gepflückt.

Denn alles ist wie damals noch,
Die Blumen, das Gefild;
Die Sonne scheint nicht minder hell,
Nicht minder freundlich schwimmt im Quell
Das blaue Himmelsbild.

Es wandeln nur sich Will und Wahn,
Es wechseln Lust und Streit,
Vorüber flieht der Liebe Glück,
Und nur die Liebe bleibt zurück,
Die Lieb’ und ach, das Leid!

O wär ich doch ein Vöglein nur
Dort an dem Wiesenhang!
Dann blieb’ ich auf den Zweigen hier,
Und säng ein süsses Lied von ihr,
Den ganzen Sommer lang.

In Spring

I sit silently on the hillside.
The sky is so clear,
the breezes play in the green valley
where once, in the first rays of spring,

I was, oh, so happy.
Where I walked by her side,
so tender, so close,
and saw deep in the dark rocky stream
the fair sky, blue and bright,
and her reflected in that sky.

See how the colorful spring
already peeps from bud and blossom.
Not all the blossoms are the same to me:
I like most of all to pluck them from the branch
from which she has plucked.

For all is still as it was then,
the flowers, the fields;
the sun shines no less brightly,
and no less cheerfully,
the sky’s blue image bathes in the stream.

Only will and delusion change,
and joy alternates with strife;
the happiness of love flies past,
and only love remains;
love and, alas, sorrow.

Oh, if only I were a bird,
there on the sloping meadow!
Then I would stay on these branches here,
and sing a sweet song about her
all summer long.

Verborgenheit

Laß, o Welt, o laß mich sein!
Locket nicht mit Liebesgaben,
Laßt dies Herz alleine haben
Seine Wonne, seine Pein!

Was ich traure, weiß ich nicht,
Es ist unbekanntes Wehe;
Immerdar durch Tränen sehe
Ich der Sonne liebes Licht.

Oft bin ich mir kaum bewußt,
Und die helle Freude zücket
Durch die Schwere, so mich drücket,
Wonniglich in meiner Brust.

Laß, o Welt, o laß mich sein!
Locket nicht mit Liebesgaben,
Laßt dies Herz alleine haben
Seine Wonne, seine Pein!

Secrecy

Let me go, O world, O let me be!
Do not tempt with gifts of love,
Let this heart keep to itself
Its rapture, its pain!

I do not know why I grieve,
It is unknown sorrow;
Always through a veil of tears
I see the sun’s beloved light.

Often, I am lost in thought,
And bright joy flashes
Through the oppressive gloom,
Bringing rapture to my breast.

Let me go, O world, O let me be!
Do not tempt with gifts of love,
Let this heart keep to itself
Its rapture, its pain!

Heimweh

Wer in die Fremde will wandern,
Der muss mit der Liebsten gehn,
Es jubeln und lassen die andern
Den Fremden alleine stehn.

Was wisset ihr, dunkle Wipfel,
Von der alten, schönen Zeit?
Ach, die Heimat hinter den Gipfeln,
Wie liegt sie von hier so weit?

Am liebsten betracht’ ich die Sterne,
Die schienen, wie ich ging zu ihr,
Die Nachtigall hör’ ich so gerne,
Sie sang vor der Liebsten Tür.

Der Morgen, das ist meine Freude!
Da steig’ ich in stiller Stund’ Auf den höchsten Berg in die Weite, Grüss dich, Deutschland,
aus Herzensgrund!

Homesickness

He who would journey abroad
Must go with his beloved,
Others, in their joy, leave
The stranger all alone.

What do you know, dark summits,
Of these happy days now past?
Ah, my homeland beyond the mountains,
How far it lies from here.

I love best to watch the stars
That shone as I went to her,
I love to hear the nightingale
That sang at my loved one’s door.

The morning is my delight!
At that peaceful hour I climb
The highest mountain far and wide,
And greet you, Germany,
from the depth of my heart!

Mariä Wiegenlied

Maria sitzt im Rosenhag
Und wiegt ihr Jesuskind,
Durch die Blätter leise
Weht der warme Sommerwind.

Zu ihren Füßen singt
Ein buntes Vögelein:
Schlaf, Kindlein, süße,
Schlaf nun ein!

Hold ist dein Lächeln,
Holder deines Schlummers Lust,
Leg dein müdes Köpfchen
Fest an deiner Mutter Brust!
Schlaf, Kindlein, süße,
Schlaf nun ein!

The Virgin’s Lullaby

Amid the roses Mary sits
And rocks her child Jesus,
While amid the leaves
blows the warm summer wind.

To the child’s feet sings
A bird upon a bough:
Sleep sweetly, my darling,
Slumber now!

Happy is Thy laughter,
Holy is Thy sleeping happiness,
Lay Thy head in slumber
Fondly on Thy Mother’s breast.
Ah, sweet baby,
Slumber now!

Elena Gerhardt

Elena Gerhardt was born on November 11, 1988, and she died on January 11, 1961.   Gerhardt was one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century.  She was a German dramatic mezzo-soprano and was best known for her interpretations of the masterworks of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wolf. Her earliest recordings from 1908 display the full beauty of her voice. Later recording sessions displayed more unique aspects of her art. Her most important recordings are those found in the first volume of discs issued by the Hugo Wolf Society. Most likely, without her participation in this project, it would not have gained publication. She championed the music of Wolf from her earliest recitals and she almost single-handedly brought his songs to the general public.

Gerhardt began her musical studies at the Leipzig Conservatory at the age of 16, studying with Marie Hedmont. She displayed such promise that the great conductor Artur Nikisch accompanied her in her first public recital which was given on her 20th birthday. In 1903 she made her debut at the Leipzig Opera as Mignon in Thomas’ opera and later sang Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther. However, she quickly abandoned the opera stage and concentrated her performances on recitals and concerts. A “Liederabend” with Gerhardt and Nikisch, who was often her partner in recital, became an important event. In June 1906 she sang her first London recital and became one of the first singers to make a successful career in England without the benefit of important operatic productions. Gerhardt made Leipzig her home while continuing to sing around the world. Her New York debut came on January 9, 1912, as part of her North American tour which again featured Artur Nikisch as her partner. Her other tours included visits to Spain, Russia, Holland, and Belgium. In 1932, she married Fritz Kohl, the director of the Leipzig Radio. When the Nazis came to power, Kohl, along with most radio directors, was arrested. When he was finally released, he and Gerhardt made the decision to make London their permanent residence. From 1934 on, London became the center of her musical activities. Her principal partners at the piano were Artur Nikisch, Coenraad Bos, and Gerald Moore, a formidable group of pianists. All true partners in bringing song to life. She continued to give recitals until 1953, but also became very well-known as a teacher. Her most famous pupil was Flora Nielsen. In 1953 she wrote her autobiography entitled Recital which has a preface written by the great pianist Dame Myra Hess.  She also sang with Hess at several of Hess’s National Gallery concerts in London during World War II.  She emigrated to London in 1934.