Franz Volker, Heldentenor

Franz Völker (March 31, 1899, Neu-Isenburg, Grand Duchy of Hesse – December 4, 1965, Darmstadt, Hesse) was a dramatic tenor who enjoyed a major European career. He excelled specifically as a performer of the operas of Richard Wagner.

He was discovered by the conductor Clemens Krauss and he studied singing at Frankfurt, where he made his début as Florestan in Beethoven’s only operatic work, Fidelio, in 1926. Engagements followed in Vienna, Munich, Berlin, and London, where he appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1934 and 1937. He also performed often at the Salzburg Festival and the Bayreuth Festival, earning considerable public and critical acclaim.

Although he was considered to be a Heldentenor, his voice was not as large as others, such as Lauritz Melchior. Volker did not take on the heavier Wagnerian roles that Melchior did. I have to say that this Prize Song, which is probably a studio recording, is the best Prize Song that I have ever heard.

Völker had the ability to take a dramatic voice and control it enough to sing Lieder. Some examples are presented below.

What is truly remarkable about Völker’s singing is the ease of the legato. It seems as if he were a poet singing as he enjambs one line of lyric into the next. His vocal production is extraordinary, and the sound seems to beam right out of the top of his head (that is in the resonating cavities of his head). This was a remarkable 20th century musician.

There is one other thing that I should like to mention. Völker was most likely a Nazi. I go into this a bit below. He stayed in Germany during WWII, and he sang in productions that would have entertained the Nazis, especially at Bayreuth. If this bothers you, then please don’t listen to this post. I have come to terms with it, but I still won’t listen to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf!

Völker’s having stayed in Germany during WWII and its aftermath probably prevented him from having an international career.

Winterstürme from Wagner’s Walküre

Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond
in mildem Lichte leuchtet der Lenz;
auf linden Lüften leicht und lieblich,
Wunder webend er sich wiegt;
durch Wald und Auen weht sein Atem,
weit geöffnet lacht sein Aug’: –
aus sel’ger Vöglein Sange süß er tönt,
holde Düfte haucht er aus;
seinem warmen Blut entblühen wonnige Blumen,

Keim und Sproß entspringt seiner Kraft.
Mit zarter Waffen Zier bezwingt er die Welt;
Winter und Sturm wichen der starken Wehr:
wohl mußte den tapfern Streichen
die strenge Türe auch weichen,
die trotzig und starr uns trennte von ihm. –
Zu seiner Schwester schwang er sich her;
die Liebe lockte den Lenz:
in unsrem Busen barg sie sich tief;
nun lacht sie selig dem Licht.
Die bräutliche Schwester befreite der Bruder;
zertrümmert liegt, was je sie getrennt:
jauchzend grüßt sich das junge Paar:
vereint sind Liebe und Lenz!

Winterstürme from Wagner’s Walküre

Winter storms gave way to the blissful moon
with tender radiance sparkles the Spring;
on balmy breezes, light and lovely,
weaving wonders, on it floats;
o’er wood and meadow wafts its breathing,
widely open laughs its eye:
in blithesome song of birds resounds its voice,
sweetest fragrance breathes it forth:
from its ardent blood bloom out all joy-giving blossoms,

bud and shoot spring up by its might.
With gentle weapons’ charm it forces the world;
winter and storm yield to its strong attack:
assailed by its hardy strokes now
the doors are shattered that, fast and
defiant, once held us parted from it.
To clasp his sister hither he flew;
twas love that lured the spring:
within our bosoms deeply she hid;
now gladly she laughs to the light.
The bride and sister is freed by the brother;
in ruin lies what held them apart;
joyfully greet now the loving pair:
made one are love and spring!

Walküre

Allerseelen

Stell auf den Tisch die duftenden Reseden,
Die letzten roten Astern trag herbei,
Und laß uns wieder von der Liebe reden,
Wie einst im Mai.
Gib mir die Hand, daß ich sie heimlich drücke,
Und wenn man’s sieht, mir ist es einerlei,
Gib mir nur einen deiner süßen Blicke,
Wie einst im Mai.
Es blüht und duftet heut auf jedem Grabe,
Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei,
Komm am mein Herz, daß ich dich wieder habe,
Wie einst im Mai.

All Souls’ Day

Set on the table the fragrant mignonettes,
Bring in the last red asters,
And let us talk of love again
As once we did in May.
Give me your hand that I will to squeeze in secret,
And if people see, I do not care,
Give me but one of your sweet glances
As we once did in May.
Flowers and fragrance has each grave today,
One day each year is unfetterd to the dead;
Come to my heart and so be mine again,
As once we did in May.

Du bist die Ruh
Friedrich Rückert

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 desire
and what stills it.

I consecrate you
full of joy and pain
In my dwelling with
my eyes and my heart

Stop in by me
and do close
the gateways
quietly behind you.

Drive all other grief
from my breast.
Full be my heart
from your joy.

My hooded eyes
are lit up
by your radiance alone:
O, fill it completely!

Die Meistersinger, Preislied

Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein,
Von Blüt’ und Duft
Geschwellt die Luft,
Voll aller Wonnen,
Nie ersonnen,
Ein Garten lud mich ein,
Dort unter einem Wunderbaum,
Von Früchten reich behangen,
Zu schau’n in sel’gem Liebestraum,
Was höchstem Lustverlangen.
Erfüllung kühn verhieß,
Das schönste Weib:
Eva im Paradies!

Abendlich dämmernd umschloss mich die Nacht;
Auf steilem Pfad
War ich genaht
Zu einer Quelle
Reiner Welle,
Die lockend mir gelacht:
Dort unter einem Lorbeerbaum,
Von Sternen hell durchschienen,
Ich schaut’ im wachen Dichtertraum,
Von heilig holden Mienen,
Mich netzend mit dem edlen Nass,
Das hehrste Weib,
Die Muse des Parnass!

Huldreichster Tag,
Dem ich aus Dichters Traum erwacht!
Das ich erträumt, das Paradies,
In himmlisch neu verklärter Pracht
Hell vor mir lag,
Dahin lachend nun der Quell den Pfad mir wies;
Die, dort geboren,
Mein Herz erkoren,
Der Erde lieblichstes Bild,
Als Muse mir geweiht,
So heilig hehr als mild,
Ward kühn von mir gefreit,
Am lichten Tag der Sonnen,
Durch Sanges Sieg gewonnen
Parnass und Paradies!

Die Meistersinger, the Prize Song

Shining in the rosy light of morning,
the air heavy with blossom and scent,
swells the air
full of pleasures,
not yet devised,
a garden invited me to be its guest.
There under a miraculous tree
Rich with hanging fruit
To look in a blissful Lovedream
What the highest pleasure desires.
Fulfillment boldy promised,
The most beautiful woman:
Eva in paradise!

As evening rose, the night enveloped me;
On a steep path
I was near
To a spring
Pure waves
Which alluringly laughed at me:
There under a laurel tree
bursting with light from the stars,
I watch myself in a waking Poet’s Dream,
Of holy, lovely expressions,
Wet from the noble spring
The dearest woman
The muse of Parnassus!

Most gracious day
when I woke up from the Poet’s Dream!
The paradise of which I had dreamed,
In heavenly, newly transformed splendor
That lay shining in front of me,
To which the spring laughingly pointed the path;
She born there,
My heart chosen,
The earth’s loveliest image,
As a muse dedicated to me,
Just as trancendently heavenly as mile,
Was boldy wooed by me,
In the sun’s bright daylight,
Through victory in song, I had won
Parnassus and paradise!

After studies in Frankfurt, Völker made his debut in that city with Florestan in a 1926 production of Fidelio. He had been heard by conductor Clemens Krauss who, then and later, took an interest in his career and whose support hastened his rise to the top among Central European dramatic tenors. Although Völker’s instrument had substantial heft from the very beginning, he had the easy production to sing Mozart with surpassing elegance.

Völker remained at Frankfurt until he moved to Vienna in 1931. Berlin heard him from 1933 to 1943. After several pre-WWII appearances in Munich, Völker sang there regularly from 1945 to 1952. In 1931, he began a fruitful association with Salzburg, making many celebrated appearances there. Völker’s Bayreuth debut took place in 1933; his performances there during the 1930s have assumed the mantle of legend.

Roles that he sang during this period, in addition to Fidelio, included Parsifal, Lohengrin, Siegmund in Wagner’s Die Walküre and Max in Weber’s Der Freischütz. Later in his career, he sang the lead role in Verdi’s Otello. He taught singing in Stuttgart, Germany, after retiring from the stage during the 1950s.

Völker was highly probably a Nazi. He sang in Bayreuth, the Nazi music capital, in 1936 and even more frequently than that one performance. I can find no document about his political views. Many artists who could not or would not leave Germany during WWII did collaborate for Nazi entertainment, but this does not mean that they believed in the tenets of the Third Reich. I have had many a discussion with friends about whether or not to post regarding people who were likely Nazi’s, and I have come to the conclusion that the art is one thing and the politics is another. If this bothers you, please don’t listen to this post.