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Heldentenor

Set Svanholm, Swedish Helden Tenor

By December 17, 2023No Comments

Set Svanholm was a very well known heroic tenor (heldentenor) during the post WWII period. What is interesting about Svanholm is that he also sang Lieder (Art Song). It is generally difficult for a singer with a big voice to bring the voice down to be able to sing art songs. How well do you think Svanholm does as an interpreter of Lieder?

Wagner, Lohengrin, “In fernem Land”, Act III

In fernem Land, unnahbar euren Schritten,
liegt eine Burg, die Montsalvat genannt;
ein lichter Tempel stehet dort inmitten,
so kostbar, als auf Erden nichts bekannt;
drin ein Gefäß von wundertät’gem Segen
wird dort als höchstes Heiligtum bewacht:
Es ward, daß sein der Menschen reinste pflegen,
herab von einer Engelschar gebracht;
alljährlich naht vom Himmel eine Taube,
um neu zu stärken seine Wunderkraft:
Es heißt der Gral, und selig reinster Glaube
erteilt durch ihn sich seiner Ritterschaft.
Wer nun dem Gral zu dienen ist erkoren,
den rüstet er mit überird’scher Macht;
an dem ist jedes Bösen Trug verloren,
wenn ihn er sieht, weicht dem des Todes Nacht.
Selbst wer von ihm in ferne Land’ entsendet,
zum Streiter für der Tugend Recht ernannt,
dem wird nicht seine heil’ge Kraft entwendet,
bleibt als sein Ritter dort er unerkannt.
So hehrer Art doch ist des Grales Segen,
enthüllt – muß er des Laien Auge fliehn;
des Ritters drum sollt Zweifel ihr nicht hegen,
erkennt ihr ihn – dann muß er von euch ziehn.
Nun hört, wie ich verbotner Frage lohne!
Vom Gral ward ich zu euch daher gesandt:
Mein Vater Parzival trägt seine Krone,
sein Ritter ich – bin Lohengrin genannt.

Wagner, Lohengrin, “In a Distant Land”, Act III

In a distant land, unapproachable to your steps,
lies a castle called Montsalvat;
within it stands a gleaming temple
whose like for splendor is unknown on earth;
therein is kept as the holiest of treasures
a vessel blessed with miraculous powers:
it was brought down by an angelic host
to be tended in purity by men.
Each year a dove descends from heaven
to renew its wondrous strength.
It is called the Grail, and blessed pure faith
is bestowed by it on its votaries.
He who is chosen to serve the Grail
it arms with supernatural might;
against him all evil deceit is vain,
before him even the darkness of death yields.
Even one sent by it into distant lands,
called upon as champion for the cause of virtue,
does not lose its holy power
if he remains there unknown as its knight.
Of so rare a nature is the Grail’s benediction
that it must be veiled from profane eyes:
you must not then harbor doubts of its knight,
and if he is recognised he must leave you.
Now hear how I answer the forbidden question!
I was sent here among you by the Grail:
my father Parzival wears its crown;
his knight am I, and Lohengrin my name.

Wagner, 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!

Wagner, 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!

Brahms, “Mein Lieb ist grun”, op.63, no.5

Meine Liebe ist grün wie der Fliederbusch,
Und meine Lieb ist schön wie die Sonne;
Die glänzt wohl herab auf den Fliederbusch
Und füllt ihn mit Duft und mit Wonne.

Meine Seele hat Schwingen der Nachtigall,
Und wiegt sich in blühendem Flieder,
Und jauchzet und singet vom Duft berauscht
Viel liebestrunkene Lieder.

Brahms, “My Love is Green”, op. 63, No.5

My love’s as green as the lilac bush,
And my sweetheart’s as fair as the sun;
Which shines down on the lilac bush,
Fills it with fragrance and joy.

My soul has a nightingale’s wings
And sways in the blossoming lilac,
And, exults and sings intoxicated by fragrance,
Many a love-drunk song.

Schubert, Die Forelle, D550

In einem Bächlein helle,
Da schoß in froher Eil’
Die launische Forelle
Vorüber wie ein Pfeil.
Ich stand an dem Gestade
Und sah in süßer Ruh
Des muntern Fischleins Bade
Im klaren Bächlein zu.

Ein Fischer mit der Rute
Wohl an dem Ufer stand,
Und sah’s mit kaltem Blute,
Wie sich das Fischlein wand.
So lang dem Wasser Helle,
So dacht ich, nicht gebricht,
So fängt er die Forelle
Mit seiner Angel nicht.

Doch endlich ward dem Diebe
Die Zeit zu lang. Er macht
Das Bächlein tückisch trübe,
Und eh ich es gedacht,
So zuckte seine Rute,
Das Fischlein zappelt dran,
Und ich mit regem Blute
Sah die Betrogene an.

Schubert. “The Trout”, D550

In a bright little stream
Shooting past in carefree haste
Was a capricious trout,
Going off like an arrow:
I stood by the edge of the water
And in sweet peace I watched
The lively little fish as it bathed
In the clear little stream.

A fisherman with his rod
Was standing on the bank, though,
And cold bloodedly he watched
As the little fish twisted.
So long as the bright water
Is not disturbed, I thought,
He won’t be able to catch the trout
With his fishing rod.

But in the end the thief felt
That it was taking too long; he made
The little stream treacherously cloudy:
Before I realised it,
His rod started twitching;
The little fish wriggled about on it;
And I, with my blood boiling,
Watched on as she was tricked.

In case you are puzzled by the poem, here is a commentary by Malcolm Wren. The translation of Die Forelle is also by Wren. (https://www.schubertsong.uk/text/die-forelle/)

In 1785, when this poem was first published in Gedichte aus dem Kerker (Poems from inside the prison cell), the author was one of the most famous political prisoners in Europe. Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739 – 1791) had angered Duke Karl Eugen of Würtemburg by criticising his policy of hiring out mercenaries to fight for the British crown in the American War of Independence. His polemics and satires against the Jesuits and the Duke’s mistress were the final straw. Schubart had been writing within the safety of the Imperial Free Cities of Augsburg and Ulm, where the Duke’s authority held no sway, but on 23rd January 1777 the poet fell into the Duke’s trap. He was lured to the monastery of Blaubeuren (technically part of Würtemburg), where he was arrested and then imprisoned without trial. For the first few years he was allowed no books or writing materials, but he was eventually allowed to write after his case was taken up by famous supporters, such as Herder and Schiller.

So, who is the trout and who is the angler? Clearly the poet knew what it was to be tricked and caught, so it is tempting to see him as the victim and the Duke as the thieving and deceitful fisherman. Yet the fact that Schubart was now able to write and publish the poem suggests that it is the Duke who is being outsmarted and who is squirming on the end of the line.

One way in which Schubart is playing with the Duke is through the easy deniability that the poem has anything whatsoever to do with the biographical and political background which has just been outlined. Although the text appeared in a collection of ‘poems written in a dungeon’, on the surface it is simply a moralising warning to young women about the dangers represented by men and their rods. This is reinforced in the original context by its following on from a poem about the risk to women of falling for soldiers, ‘Warnung an die Mädels‘ (Warning to Girls).

The trout is presented as female (‘eine Forelle’ is a feminine noun in German) and is given the traditional attributes of a slippery, fishy woman. She is ‘capricious’ and ‘jolly’ or ‘carefree’, yet she is easily tricked. She might wriggle when she is caught but she has to submit to her more powerful captor. The angler is presented as a strong, active figure who can outwit her. He is cold-blooded and patient when necessary, but decisive and imposing when it is time to go in for the kill. Alongside these two protagonists is the narrator, who clearly takes the side of the fish, despite describing her as capricious and slippery. By the end of the story his detached observation has given way to anger; his blood is said to be raging or boiling, in contrast to the cold-blooded angler. It is this anger which provokes his warning to women in the final strophe.

Or is he angry with himself for allowing himself to be tricked? Like the trout, he used to inhabit a ‘clear’ environment. In the culture of the Enlightenment Schubart had been able to write straightforwardly. His polemics were sharp and direct (‘like an arrow’). For as long as the water was not disturbed he felt safe in that world, but then the waters were muddied. He lost the clarity that he had known and was tricked. He is therefore writing now as an older, wiser man, reflecting on the loss of youth and the self-confidence that goes with it.

Although on the surface the poem is therefore a straightforward morality tale about the dangers lying in wait for the innocent, the fact that this is a poem with different points of view and shifting emphases means that there are complexities hidden within it. Can we trust this narrator? Are we ourselves being tricked in some sense? If we are intended to learn from this older man’s experience of trickery why should we venerate simple ‘innocence’? The polarities on which the text is based cannot be reduced to a simple good vs. evil scenario:

The poem is one of several of Goethe’s early works expressing the poet’s conviction that the powers of nature are filled with unconscious elements capable of overwhelming humans.

Schubert, “Der Erlkönig”, op.1 D328

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind:
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er fasst ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

„Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?“
„Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron’ und Schweif?“
„Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif.“

„Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel’ ich mit dir;
Manch’ bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.“

„Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?“
„Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind:
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.“

„Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Rein
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.“

„Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?“
„Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau.“

„Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.“
„Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt fasst er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!“

Dem Vater grausets, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Mühe und Not:
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

Schubert, “The Erl King, op.1 D328

Who rides so late through the night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy fast in his arms;
he holds him safely, he keeps him warm.

‘My son, why do you hide your face in fear?’
‘Don’t you see, Father, the Erlking?
The Erlking with his crown and tail?’
‘My son, it is a streak of mist.’

‘Sweet child, come, go with me.
I’ll play wonderful games with you.
Many a pretty flower grows on the shore;
my mother has many golden robes.’

‘My Father, my father, do you not hear
what the Erlking softly promises me?’
‘Calm, be calm, my child:
the wind is rustling in the withered leaves.’

‘Won’t you come with me, my fine lad?
My daughters shall wait upon you;
My daughters lead the nightly dance,
and will rock you, and dance, and sing you to sleep.’

‘My Father, my father, can you not see there
The Erlking’s daughters in the darkness?’
‘My son, my son, I can see clearly:
It is the old grey willows gleaming.’

‘I love you, your fair form allures me,
and if you don’t come willingly, I’ll use force.’
‘My Father, my father, now he’s seizing me!
The Erlking has hurt me!’

The father shudders, he rides swiftly,
he holds the moaning child in his arms;
with one last effort he reaches home;
the child lay dead in his arms.

Set Svanholm
September 2, 1904 – October 4, 1964

Set Karl Viktor Svanholm was born Sept. 2, 1904, in Vesteros, Sweden. His father was a minister, his mother a teacher and both parents were musical. He learned to play organ from his father.

After graduation from junior college in 1922, he taught school and acted as organist‐choirmaster in a village near his home. He also raised funds to attend the Royal Conservatory in Stockholm by giving concerts in churches.

At the Royal Conservatory where he arrived in 1927, he was one of four vocal pupils of John Forsell, then director of the Royal Opera. The others were Joel Berglund and the late Jussl Bjoeriing, and Nina Hogstedt, who abandoned singing in 1934 to become Mrs. Svanholm.

Mr. Svanholm studied to be a musical director as well as a singer. When he was graduated from the conservatory, he was a baritone. He made his debut in 1930 as Silvio in “Pagliacci” with the Royal Opera.

From the end of World War II until his retirement from the Metropolitan in 1956, Mr. Svanholm was known throughout the opera world as a leading singer of Wagnerian tenor roles. During his decade at the Metropolitan he sang all the main Wagner roles many times, almost always to high critical praise.

Mr. Svanholm continued to sing the main Wagnerian roles abroad after he left the Metropolitan to become head of the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, but the pressures of producing 40 or so operas a season and administering a large company curtailed his activities.

He was also well received as a recitalist. Noei Straus, writing in The Times of Mr. Svanholm’s recital debut in Town Hall in March, 1948, described him as “an uncommonly gifted purveyor of songs … a rare phenomenon.” Mr. Straus praised him for “highly perfected vocalism and pronounced interpretative skill.”

Second Debut as Tenor

He decided that he was really a. tenor, and after further study made his tenor debut as Radames in “Aida” in 1936, also with the Royal Opera. Bruno Walter heard him sing and invited him to the Vienna Staatsoper, which marked, the start of Mr. Svanholm’s international career.

In April, 1949, Arturo Toscanini chose him for an appearance with the National Broadcasting Company Symphony.