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Hans Hotter, German bass-baritone

By July 22, 2023No Comments

One of the most interesting aspects of Hotter’s singing is its emphasis on legato. This is the connecting of one note to the next to make a musical phase. In these two selections, you can hear Hotter create this effect. It is especially evident in the Schubert Lied. Standard German pronunciation is to make a break between a word and and the next word beginning with a vowel. Hotter does not do this.
He sings right though the next vowel, creating the feeling of legato. It is interesting to hear this today when so very few people know what legato is.

Hans Hotter performed standard baritone roles in Breslau (1931), Prague (1932-34), and Hamburg (1934-1945). His sang his first Wotan–a role with which the rest of his singing career would be associated–in 1937 in Munich, where he remained a member of the company until 1972. In Munich and elsewhere, Hotter gained renown as an interpreter of Richard Strauss, creating the roles of the Commandant in Friedenstag (1938), Olivier in Capriccio (1942), and Jupiter in Liebe der Danae at its unofficial Salzburg première (1944).

Hans Hotter was unable to pursue an international career because of the war, but after his début at Covent Garden as Mozart’s Almaviva and Don Giovanni with the visiting Vienna State Opera in 1947, he was soon in demand at all of the great opera houses and festivals. He sang his first Hans Sachs, in English, in 1948, and made his Metropolitan Opera début in 1950 as the Dutchman. In four seasons at the Met, Hotter sang 35 performances of 13 roles, only three of which were non-Wagnerian. In 1952, Hotter began his 12-year association with Bayreuth, and for the the rest of the 1950’s and 1960’s, he was generally regarded as the world’s leading Wagnerian bass-baritone. His interpretations of the roles of Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger and Wotan in Der Ring des Nibelungen were especially esteemed for their nobility and grandeur. Hotter’s finely-wrought Wotan was captured during his prime at the 1953 Bayreuth Festival under the baton of Clemens Krauss.

Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind!
Du meines Herzens heiligster Stolz!
Leb wohl! Leb wohl! Leb wohl!

Muss ich dich meiden,
und darf nicht minnig
mein Gruß dich mehr grüßen;
sollst du nun nicht mehr neben mir reiten,
noch Met beim Mahl mir reichen;
muss ich verlieren dich, die ich liebe,
du lachende Lust meines Auges:
ein bräutliches Feuer soll dir nun brennen,
wie nie einer Braut es gebrannt!
Flammende Glut umglühe den Fels;
mit zehrenden Schrecken
scheuch’ es den Zagen;
der Feige fliehe Brünnhildes Fels! –
Denn einer nur freie die Braut,
der freier als ich, der Gott!

Der Augen leuchtendes Paar,
das oft ich lächelnd gekost,
wenn Kampfeslust ein Kuss dir lohnte,
wenn kindisch lallend der Helden Lob
von holden Lippen dir floss:
dieser Augen strahlendes Paar,
das oft im Sturm mir geglänzt,
wenn Hoffnungssehnen das Herz mir sengte,
nach Weltenwonne mein Wunsch verlangte
aus wild webendem Bangen:
zum letztenmal
letz’ es mich heut’
mit des Lebewohles letztem Kuss!
Dem glücklichen Manne
glänze sein Stern:
dem unseligen Ew’gen
muss es scheidend sich schließen.

Denn so kehrt der Gott sich dir ab,
so küsst er die Gottheit von dir!

Farewell, thou valiant, glorious child!
Thou once the holiest pride of my heart!
Farewell! farewell! farewell!
(very passionately)
Must I forsake thee,
and may my welcome
of love no more greet thee;
may’st thou now ne’er more ride as my comrade,
nor bear me mead at banquet;
must I abandon thee, whom I loved so,
thou laughing delight of my eyes?
Such a bridal fire for thee shall be kindled
as ne’er yet has burned for a bride!
Threatening flames shall flare round the fell:
let withering terrors daunt the craven!
let cowards fly from Brünnhilde’s rock!
For one alone winneth the bride;
one freer than I, the god!

(Brünnhilde, deeply moved, sinks in ecstasy on
Wotan’s breast: he holds her in a long embrace.)
(She throws her head back again and, still
embracing Wotan, gazes with deep enthusiasm in his eyes.)

Thy brightly glittering eyes,
that, smiling, oft I caressed,
when valor won a kiss as guerdon,
when childish lispings of heroes’ praise
from sweetest lips has flowed forth:
those gleaming radiant eyes
that oft in storms on me shone,
when hopeless yearning my heart had wasted,
when world’s delights all my wishes wakened,
thro’ wild wildering sadness:

Once more today, lured by their light,
my lips shall give them love’s farewell!
On mortal more blessed once may they beam:
on me, hapless immortal,
must they close now forever.
(He clasps her head in his hands.)
For so turns the god now from thee,
so kisses thy godhood away!
(He kisses her long on the eyes. She sinks back with
closed eyes, unconscious, in his arms. He gently bears
her to a low mossy mound, which is overshadowed
by a wide-spreading fir tree, and lays her upon it.)

Franz Schubert, Im Abendrot

O wie schön ist deine Welt,
Vater, wenn sie golden strahlet!
Wenn dein Glanz herniederfällt,
Und den Staub mit Schimmer malet;
Wenn das Rot, das in der Wolke blinkt,
In mein stilles Fenster sinkt!

Könnt’ ich klagen, könnt’ ich zagen?
Irre sein an dir und mir?
Nein, ich will im Busen tragen
Deinen Himmel schon allhier.
Und dies Herz, eh’ es zusammenbricht,
Trinkt noch Glut und schlürft noch Licht.

Franz Schubert, At Sunset

How beautiful is your world,
Father, when it sends forth golden rays,
when your radiance falls here,
and paints the dust with glimmer;
when the red light that shines from the clouds
falls silently upon my window.

Could I complain? Could I be apprehensive?
Could I lose faith in you and in myself?
No, I already bear your heaven
here within my heart.
And this heart, before it breaks,
still drinks in passion and partakes of the light.

Hans Hotter
January 19, 1909 – December 8, 2003

Taken from the obituary appearing in the Guardian on December 11, 2003

Although he was a very doubtful starter, the German-born bass baritone Hans Hotter, who has died aged 94, enjoyed a thriving operatic career spanning more than 50 years. For more than two generations of opera goers, he was the definitive, unforgettable exponent of the great Wagnerian bass-baritone roles: Wotan, Gurnemanz and the Flying Dutchman, and no less the vocal chronicler of the distraught lover in Schubert’s Winterreise.

Yet, early on, he had no intention of becoming a singer. Having decided while at school that his aim was to be a conductor, he had enrolled, at the age of 19, at Munich University to study philosophy, which included musical science. At the same time, he joined the Hochschule für Musik to study organ and piano and, realising that he needed to know more about singing, took singing lessons too.

His teacher, Matthaus Römer, who was to become the great musical influence in his life, very soon realised the exceptional beauty and potential of the young Hotter’s voice. He forced him to a decision, and Hotter chose singing – partly because of Römer’s belief in him, and partly because it would enable him to earn a living, thus easing the financial burdens of his widowed mother.

Before that, Hotter had enjoyed a normal, healthy youth in Bavaria, with a passion for football and outdoor pursuits. He had been born in Offenbach-am-Main, and spent his early childhood there, and in a little country house in the Spessart hills. But his architect father died when Hans was only seven, and his mother went back to Munich with her two sons, the elder of whom was later to become a Catholic priest.

Music had always been an integral part of Hotter’s life, but in childhood it was the simple folk music of Germany. His father played the lute, and encouraged his sons to sing with him. At the Max Gymnasium, Hans was influenced by the musical professor Dr Josef Saam and, when Saam moved away, Hans succeeded him as organist and choirmaster at a local church.

Once his great decision to sing had been made, he got his first engagement, at the age of 21, with an opera company at Troppau. After one season there, and another at Breslau, he spent a happy and rewarding time at the Prague Opera, before going direct to Hamburg in 1934.

With a wide repertory of operatic roles, he rapidly became one of the most admired of the young baritone leads. Handsome and tall – he stood 6ft 4ins – and with considerable charm and humor, he could not fail to attract ardent fans, but, more crucially, the quality of his voice and musicianship won him critical admiration, and attention among musical directors.

One of these was Clemens Krauss, musical director of the Munich Opera, who had followed Hotter’s career since hearing him in Prague, and, in 1937, invited him to become a leading singer in his former home town. In the mid-1930s, Hotter’s range of roles was wide, including Pizarro (“Fidelio”), the title role in Handel’s Julius Caesar, Boris in Boris Godunov, Falstaff, Iago (“Otello), Escamillo (“Carmen”), Tonio, the Count in Figaro (“Nozze di Figaro”), the Rheingold Wotan and the Wanderer. He did not, however, sing Wotan in Die Walküre until 1941.

Munich brought Hotter into the exciting operatic cooperation between Krauss and Richard Strauss. He came to know both very well, with an affectionate reverence. He created the role of Olivier in the world premiere of Capriccio in 1942, as, a few years earlier, he had sung the lead at the opening of Friedenstag. The role of Jupiter, in Strauss’s Die Liebe der Danae, had been written for Hotter, although its progress was disrupted before the first night, when, in August 1944, the Nazis closed all theatres following the assassination attempt on Hitler. (The dress rehearsal, given before a sizeable audience, was later regarded as the premiere).

A few months before the outbreak of the second world war, Hotter made his Vienna debut as Jochanaan in Salome, followed, a few days later, by Julius Caesar, and the lead in the Austrian premiere of Friedenstag. It was the beginning of a long and generally happy association. He was a member of the Vienna Opera from 1939 until 1970 (Hamburg 1934-45 and Munich 1937-72).

The war then closed in although, as a well-known artist, Hotter was exempted from military service. The opera houses were kept open, and he spent the years travelling to and fro in darkened trains between Munich, Vienna and Hamburg.

In 1936, he had married a young actor, Helga Fischer, whom he met in Hamburg. Their son was born the following year, and a daughter Gabrielle, who later married the grandson of Richard Strauss, completed the family in 1939. For the rest of their lives, Helga gave up her career and devoted herself to Hans and his artistic life. She died in July 1998.

In later years, Hotter often said that after a war, it is artists and sportsmen, apart from politicians and administrators, who become the first ambassadors to former enemy countries. And indeed, he went forth in that role to be received with warmth and acclaim – in London, with the Vienna company in 1947; in Buenos Aires in 1948; and at the Metropolitan in New York in 1950.

It was perhaps the strain of these overseas debuts in a possibly hostile world that brought on a vocal crisis, as Hotter’s voice developed a formidable “wobble” and pessimists predicted the end of his career. But he had always been a strict self-disciplinarian and, by hard work and musicianship, he overcame the problem totally. By 1950, it was virtually past.

There followed his great Wagnerian years. His Wotan, magnificently sung, and acted with a blend of human pride, anger, tenderness and godlike anguish, became the yardstick by which all other exponents of the role would be measured. He sang Wotan in all the Ring cycles at Bayreuth from 1952 to 1958. There, too, he established himself as the greatest Gurnemanz of his generation, and was a memorable Flying Dutchman, Amfortas and Hans Sachs.

Nobody who heard Hotter in his prime – as the Dutchman, Sachs, Wotan or Gurnemanz – is ever likely to forget the experience, nor indeed his interpretations of lieder. In all, his innate gift of making words tell brought the given music to life. In spite of his vast voice, he could fine his tone down to a velvet-like timbre in the most delicate, hushed mezza-voce, most memorably as Wotan bade a final farewell in Die Walküre to his beloved Brünnhilde, voice, emotion and style in ideal harmony.