STRAUSS, R.: Four Last Songs / Arabella
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Great Singers Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
FourLast Songs / Arabella (Highlights) "Schwarzkopf sings Strauss". The description isapt as invariably her singing and interpretation did complete justice to thecomposer's many demands. She had all the requisite vocal qualities for afirst-rate singer of the music of Richard Strauss: radiance, tenderness, vocal colour,always alive to the nuances of the text, and very observant of what thecomposer demanded. It also helped that she had a lively and engaging stagemanner. She always possessed an enquiring mind, working long and hard to masterall these requirements. In addition, she was a very hard taskmaster of herself,never resting on her laurels. Little wonder that she was recognised rightly asone of the finest singers of her time.Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
was born in Jarocin, near Poznan on 9 December 1915.
She studied initially in Berlin with the contralto Lula Mysz-Gmeiner, who was ofthe view that her student had a similar vocal range. Schwarzkopf made her stagedebut as one of the Flower Maidens in Parsifal
with the Berlin Stadtische Oper in 1938. It was, however, in September 1940 that she was given herfirst major Strauss assignment: Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos
. She was24 years of age at the time. Unhappy with her voice, afterwards Schwarzkopfwent to study at the Hochschule f?â??r Musik in Berlin with the soprano MariaIvog?â??n, herself a famous previous exponent of the part. She portrayed and sangthe r?â??le of Carmen in sequences from the 1939 German film Drei Unteroffiziere
,followed in 1943 by Nacht ohne Abschied
, in which she appeared in astage production of Verdi's La traviata
opposite tenor Peter Anders. (Bothfilms were subsequently banned by the Allies after 1945 as being too propagandist.)The following year Schwarzkopf appeared in a small r?â??le in Der Verteigiger hat das Wort
, singing the song 'Mona' inelegant surroundings.
During the years 1940 and 1943 Schwarzkopf sang a number of Lieder
by Strauss, recordings she made with the accompanist Michael Raucheisen forGerman radio being preserved. These illustrated the lightish quality of hervoice at this time. In November 1942 she was invited by the conductor Karl Bohmto join the Vienna State Opera. Illness delayed her debut, however, until thespring of 1944. At this stage of her career she was a coloratura, later lyricsoprano, singing suchr?â??les as Blondchen in Die Entf?â??hrung aus dem Serail
, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro
,Musetta in La Boh?â?¿me
, and Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia
. It wasfollowing a performance in the latter r?â??le in the Theater an der Wien inSeptember 1946 that her life would change for ever when she was auditioned byEMI's recording impresario Walter Legge. Not only did she survive a verydemanding experience but was able to accompany other singers who were laterauditioned.
Schwarzkopf's repertoire continued to grow when she took onthe r?â??le of Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier
, the only surviving examplebeing the recording of the Presentation of the Silver Rose with IrmgardSeefried, made in December 1947. Her first overseas appearance was with theVienna State Opera on their visit to London in 1947, when she sang Donna Elvirain Don Giovanni
and Marzelline in Fidelio
. She then joined the fledglingpermanent Covent Garden Company, where for five seasons she sang a variety ofr?â??les in English. These included Sophie, Violetta, Pamina, Mim?â?¼, Eva, Gilda,Butterfly and Manon. She also appeared at the Salzburg Festival (1946-1964), LaScala, Milan (1948-1963), San Francisco (1955-1964), Chicago (1959), Paris (1962) as the Marschallin, and, finally, the Metropolitan in New York in 1964, againin the same r?â??le. Her interpretation of the Marschallin is preserved on film inthe 1960 Salzburg Festival production. Her other parts for which she isremembered were Fiordiligi, Donna Elvira, the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro
,the Countess in Capriccio
and Anne Ford in Falstaff
. She createdthe r?â??le of Anne Trulove in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress
in Venice in 1951. Sir William Walton originally wrote the part of Cressida in his Troilusand Cressida
with her voice in mind, although he later rewrote it formezzo-soprano. Schwarzkopf, however, made a distinguished disc of highlightsfrom the opera under the composer's direction. She made her final stageappearance as the Marschallin in Brussels in 1972. She was awarded the LilliLehmann medal by the Mozart Society of Vienna. Her final concert was in March1979, just days before the death of her husband the impresario and recording producerWalter Legge, whom she had married in 1953. She also had a distinguishedparallel career as a Lieder
singer in the concert hall, especiallySchubert, Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf. Since then she has conducted master-classesin both Europe and America. The one criticism that has been levelled at her isa lack of spontaneity and a certain over-studied approach to her singing andinterpretation, but her intelligence and rare insight into both music and textultimately outweigh such criticism. She celebrated her ninetieth birthday in December2005.
The composition of Vier letzte Lieder
took place betweenMay and September 1948, a year before the death of the composer. The setting ofJoseph von Eichendorff's 'Im Abendrot' was composed in May, while the remainderwere written between July and September, settings of Hermann Hesse who had receivedthe Nobel Prize for literature in 1946. 'September' was for many years thoughtto be Strauss's last music but the manuscript of 'Malven' came to light afterthe death of the soprano Maria Jeritza-Seery in July 1982. The posthumouspremi?â?¿re of these songs, to which the publisher gave the overall title, tookplace in London's Royal Albert Hall on 22 May 1950 with the Norwegian sopranoKirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler.
It is to be regretted that no attempt was made to preserve this interpretationin the studio at the time, although an attempt was undertaken privately duringthe final rehearsal.
The pervading mood throughout the four songs is one of deathand transience: a withering garden ('September'), the departure of summer ('ImAbendrot'), a soaring of a liberated spirit ('Beim Schlafengehn'), contrastedwith concerns of blissful love in the present ('Fr?â??hling'). Strauss lavishesall his knowledge and skill in this final outpouring for the female voice,giving the singer a long autumnal cantilena throughout. 'Fr?â??hling'
is anemotive desire for the return of spring but opens gloomily, although laterthere are light warming patches of C and A major in the third stanza. September
is concerned with the splendour of the autumn garden to the words of 'DerSommer schauert still seinem End entgegen' contrasted with the images ofwithering and decay'Golden tropft Blatt um Blatt nieder vom hohen Akazienbaum'. Note the magical horn passage after the vocal part hasfinished (here hauntingly played by Dennis Brain: Strauss's father had been acelebrated horn-player in his day). 'Beim Schlafengehn'
is the image ofa man tired and weary, preparing himself for death. Strauss introduced afourteen-bar intermezzo for solo violin (played here by Manoug Parikian),before leading intothe final stanza 'Und die Seele, unbewacht, will in freien Fl?â??gen schweben'.
Although marked Andante
, the tempo in 'Im Abendrot'
becomes continuallyslower, first by the numerous tempo changes between 4/4 and 3/2, then byStrauss's own explicit markings of 'still calmer', 'even slower' to the finalcessation of all movement by the end.