“Lerchengesang”: Brahms’ Most Ethereal Song?

Lerchengesang (“The Lark’s Song”) from 4 Songs, Op. 70 must rate as one of Johannes Brahms’ most ethereal and atmospheric songs. The text, by Karl August Candidus, pulls us into a floating, twilight dreamscape of passing memories amid “ethereal distant voices” and the “heavenly greetings of the larks.” Unfolding in gently-lapping arpeggios, the piano line drifts into the delicate upper registers with a sense of eternal longing and lament. This recording, featuring Renée Fleming and pianist …

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New Release: Renée Fleming’s “Lieder”

Renée Fleming’s newest album features songs by Brahms, Schumann, and Mahler. Released on June 14, this is the four-time Grammy winning soprano’s first full-length Lieder album for almost two decades. The recording opens with a beautiful and hypnotic performance of Brahms’ famous Lullaby, Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 4. Here are three additional excerpts: Brahms: 4 Lieder, Op. 43 – 2. Die Mainacht “The May Night” describes a shadowy scene of lonely wandering, endless …

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Three Pieces from Schubert’s “Miracle Year”

1815 stands out as one of Franz Schubert’s most productive years. In fact, it has been called Schubert’s “miracle year.” The eighteen-year-old composer wrote more than 20,000 bars of music, completing two symphonies (Nos. 2 and 3), two Masses, a string quartet, two piano sonatas, and 145 songs (including the ghostly Erlkönig) , among other works. On one October day, alone, Schubert completed eight songs. That’s way too much music for one blog post! But …

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The Transformation Scene from Strauss’ “Daphne”: Renée Fleming, Live

Richard Strauss’ 1937 one act opera, Daphne, (subtitled “a bucolic tragedy”) is based on the mythological figure from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. According to the legend, the chaste Daphne sings praises to warm sunlight and the trees and flowers of the natural world. She is so rooted in nature that she has no interest in human love, rejecting her childhood friend, the shepherd Leukippos, as well as a mysterious herdsman. At the festival of Dionysus, Daphne dances with Leukippos, who …

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Strauss’ “Four Last Songs”: Saying Goodbye to Romanticism

Richard Strauss lived long enough to witness the death of one world and the emergence of another. Consider that when Strauss wrote his first song, Weihnachtslied, in 1870 at the age of 6, Wagner was just hitting his stride with the premiere of Die Walküre, and Tchaikovsky had recently completed his gushingly romantic Overture-Fantasy, Romeo and Juliet. By 1949, the year of Strauss’ death, the atomic bomb had been dropped. The corinthian-column-studded Munich National Theater, where Strauss’ father Franz …

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“Total Eclipse” from Handel’s “Samson”

Total eclipse! No sun, no moon! All dark amidst the blaze of noon! Total Eclipse, the aria from Handel’s 1743 oratorio, Samson, isn’t directly referencing the kind of awe-inspiring celestial dance many of us will experience today. The words, taken from John Milton’s tragic closet drama, are Samson’s anguished lament at losing his eye sight. (Milton and Handel both went blind. According to some accounts, this aria moved Handel to tears in the final years of …

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“Der Rosenkavalier,” Renée Fleming, and the Passing of Time

Time is a strange thing. While one is living one’s life away, it is absolutely nothing. Then, suddenly, one is aware of nothing else. It is all around us – inside us, even! It shifts in our faces, swirls in the mirror, flows in my temples. It courses between you and me – silent, as in an hourglass. Oh, often I hear it flowing, irrevocably. Often I get up in the middle of …

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