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Marian Anderson, Contralto

By September 7, 2019March 17th, 2023No Comments

Marian Anderson was a wonderful contralto and one of the great voices of the 20th century.  In spite of her great success, she was still subject to the racial bias of her time.  I personally feel that New York Metropolitan Opera showed its true colors by not having her sing earlier.  When she did make her Met debut, it was when she was already 65, and the voice had diminished somewhat by then.  She was, however, the toast of Europe,  entertaining in command performances before King Gustav in Stockholm and King Christian in Copenhagen. As a young black woman from South Philadelphia who could superbly deliver Russian folk songs, classic German and French arias as well as African American Spirituals, she was a wonder and people flocked to hear her.  Sibelius, the Finnish composer, was so inspired that he dedicated the song, “Solitude,” to her. The success she encountered in Europe brought her back to America in 1935 for a public debut at Carnegie Hall in New York. The day before the performance, while still on the Ile de France, Miss Anderson fell and broke her ankle. Determined to make her appearance, she performed the entire program standing on one foot, balancing against the piano, with her floor-length gown covering the cast on her ankle. Again, she met with success. It won her so much exposure and popularity that in 1936 she became the first African American to be invited to perform at the White House and then sang there again when Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were entertaining the King and Queen of Great Britain in 1939.

Aber abseits wer ist’s?

Aber abseits wer ist’s?
Im Gebüsch verliert sich der Pfad.
Hinter ihm schlagen
Die Sträuche zusammen,
Das Gras steht wieder auf,
Die Öde verschlingt ihn.

Ach, wer heilet die Schmerzen
Des, dem Balsam zu Gift ward?
Der sich Menschenhaß
Aus der Fülle der Liebe trank?
Erst verachtet, nun ein Verächter,
Zehrt er heimlich auf
Seinen eignen Wert
In ung’nugender Selbstsucht.

Ist auf deinem Psalter,
Vater der Liebe, ein Ton
Seinem Ohre vernehmlich,
So erquicke sein Herz!
Öffne den umwölkten Blick
Über die tausend Quellen
Neben dem Durstenden
In der Wüste!

Alto Rhapsody

But who is that apart?
In the underbrush his loses his way.
Behind him
The shrubs beat together,
The grass stands up again,
The wasteland engulfs him.

Ah, who heals the pain
Of him, for whom balsam became poison?
Who drank hatred
Out of the abundance of love?
First despised, now a despiser,
He secretly depletes
His own worth
In inadequate selfishness.

If there is in Thine Psalter,
Father of love, one note
To his ear audible,
Then refresh his heart!
Open his clouded gaze
To the thousand springs
Next to the thirsting one
In the desert!

Please note that Miss Anderson sings this aria in English. I have given both the original German and an English translation. I cannot be absolutely certain that Miss Anderson is singing the translation that I have.

Es ist vollbracht!
O Trost vor die gekränkten Seelen!
Die Trauernacht
Läßt nun die letzte Stunde zählen.
Der Held aus Juda siegt mit Macht
Und schließt den Kampf.
Es ist vollbracht!

It is finished!
O comfort for the ailing soul!
The night of sorrow
now measures out its last hour.
The hero out of Judah conquers with might
and concludes the battle.
It is finished!

My Lord, what a mornin’,
My Lord, what a mornin’,
Oh, my Lord, what a mornin’,
When the stars begin to fall,
When the stars begin to fall.

My Lord, what a mornin’,
My Lord, what a mornin’,
Oh, my Lord, what a mornin’,
When the stars begin to fall,
When the stars begin to fall.

Done with all my worldly ways,
Join the heav’nly band
Done with all my worldly ways,
Join the heav’nly band.

Oh, my Lord, what a morning’,
My Lord, what a mornin’,
Oh, my Lord, what a mornin’,
When the stars begin to fall.

Marian Anderson

Born February 27, 1897, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.—died April 8, 1993, Portland, Oregon.

Marian Anderson displayed vocal talent as a child, but her family could not afford to pay for formal training. From the age of six, she was tutored in the choir of the Union Baptist Church, where she sang parts written for bass, alto, tenor, and soprano voices. Members of the congregation raised funds for her to attend a music school for a year. At 19 she became a pupil of Giuseppe Boghetti, who was so impressed by her talent that he gave her free lessons for a year. In 1925 she entered a contest with 300 competitors and won first prize, a recital at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Her appearance in August 1925 was a great success.

Although many concert opportunities were denied to her because of segregation, Miss Anderson appeared with the Philadelphia Symphony and toured African American southern college campuses. She made her European debut in Berlin in 1930 and made highly successful European tours in 1930–32, 1933–34, and 1934–35. Still relatively unknown in the United States, she received scholarships to study abroad and appeared before the monarchs of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England. Her pure vocal quality, richness of tone, and tremendous range made her, in the opinion of many, the world’s greatest contralto. Anderson’s New York concert debut at Town Hall in December 1935 was a personal triumph. She subsequently toured South America and in 1938–39 once again toured Europe.

In 1939, however, she attempted to rent concert facilities in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and was refused because she was African American. This sparked widespread protest from many people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who, along with many other prominent women, resigned from the DAR. Arrangements were made for Miss Anderson to appear instead at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, and she drew an audience of 75,000. On January 7, 1955, she became the first African American singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Before she began to sing her role of Ulrica in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, she was given a standing ovation by the audience.

In 1957, Miss Anderson’s autobiography, “My Lord, What a Morning”, was published. The same year, she made a 12-nation, 35,000-mile tour, sponsored by the Department of State, the American National Theatre and Academy, and Edward R. Murrow’s television series “See It Now”. Her role as a goodwill ambassador for the United States was formalized in September 1958 when she was made a delegate to the United Nations. Miss Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and she was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees. She made farewell tours of the world and the United States in 1964–65. In 1977 her 75th birthday was marked by a gala concert at Carnegie Hall. Among her myriad honors and awards were the National Medal of Arts in 1986 and a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991.