Romantic Recital for Voice & Orchestra
- CD 2309
Berlioz / Mahler / Wagner
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
Few composers have had to face so much official discouragement, misunderstanding and lack of support as Hector Berlioz. He earned his living through composition but as a musical journalist and arranger of operas. He wrote many songs with piano accompaniment, and the better ones were later orchestrated. His music is never abstract or purely formal but is based on a sung text or a “literary” programme, which in turn determines its style, instrumentation and form.
Probably composed in Vienna in 1845, Zaïde features prominent Spanish inflections (including castanets in the refrain). Alternating passages of melancholy and sensuality accompanied by a persistent bolero rhythm are brought to a close with a final flourish. As a songwriter Berlioz owed much to the tradition of the French romance, and the first version of La captive written in 1832 was originally a strophic song with an exquisitely shaped melody. Berlioz later (ca. 1848) revised it into a through-composed song with orchestral accompaniment, a work that is characterized by an enchanting stillness and beauty.
La belle voyageuse is the fourth song from the collection entitled Irlande, nine settings of French translations of poems by Thomas Moore from 1830. Berlioz often created a sort of continuum between the genres of song and choral music by also making versions of his songs two, three of four voices. La belle voyageuse, for example, exists not only in a version for voices and piano but also in a version for chorus of women’s voices with orchestral accompaniment. Unexpected harmonic turns enliven the gently flowing melody.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Gustav Mahler once described himself as a “holiday composer” since he was so active as a conductor, holding posts in Kassel, Prague, Leipzig, Budapest and Hamburg before assuming directorship of the Vienna Philharmonic. His achievement as a composer lay almost exclusively in two areas, the song and the symphony.
The Adagietto, the fourth movement of his fifth symphony, is said to have been his declaration to love to Alma Schindler. Written in the style of a “Song without Words”, it shows a number of ties to the settings of poems by Rückert which Mahler made at about the same time. This movement in particular represents a reversion to a simpler romantic style in which expressiveness is equated with stressed dissonance in the melody, shifting harmonic resources that elide and retrogress to avoid points of obvious repose, etc. Mahler also cited and paraphrased the “Blickmotiv” (glance motive) from Wagner’s Tristan. Alma Schindler, a composer herself, understood Mahler’s unspoken message; they were engaged in December 1901 and married in the following summer.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Richard Wagner’s early career was fraught with difficulties attending the productions of his operas, and often found himself in severe financial distress, from which he was only rescued by the encouragement given by other musicians, such Franz Liszt, and the generosity of staunch patrons, such as Otto Wesendonck. Wesendonck’s wife Mathilde, who became Wagner’s mistress in the 1850’s, was a sensitive amateur poet who was granted an opportunity such a few adoring dilettantes have ever enjoyed: while engaged on the first act of Tristan Wagner set five of Mathlide Wesendonck’s poems to music.
They represent a cycle of which Wagner proudly noted, in the diary he kept of Mathilde in Venice, “I have never produced anything better than these songs, and very few of my works will be able to stand comparison with them.”