June 22, 2022

Brahms Rarity Fully Directed – The Boston Musical Intelligencer

A brilliant princess and her glorious knight … took the stage for a performance of Brahms’ masterpiece, his only song cycle that he simply titled Romanzen (after Tiek’s Magelone). The concert for the Harvard Music Association December 10e will broadcast HERE in 4K high definition for some time. the Association‘s Youtube channel also offers many other pleasures.

More commonly titled Die schöne Magelone, the German word “schön” translates to “beautiful” in English, but in German also carries a plethora of other associations, and in poetry suggests an alliterative connection with so many other similar words which reflect radiance and light brilliant. Brahms was an avid reader, and many of his early works were inspired by German translations he read by well-known literary figures. Ludwig Tiek’s 1797 translation of this courtly Provencal novel dating back to the time of the troubadours of Oc and reissued in 1812 inspired Brahms to put 15 of the 18 original poems that were interspersed in the middle of the prose text.

At this stage of Brahms’ exit (the Magelone cycle is opus 33 and was written between 1861-2 and published in 1865) he had already composed a large number of folk songs, mainly German, but some Hungarian, and had composed several works in the “heroic” style of his first period, such as the Ballads, the first Piano Concerto and the three piano sonatas. Both elements are present in this work, as well as a kinship and a certain affinity for Schubert’s Lieder (of which he played and arranged several simultaneously with additional instruments or a full orchestra), as well as Schumann, a friend of whom he arranged chamber music for two pianos, and Beethoven, especially the cycle An die ferne Geliebte, which appears to be closest to the pattern Brahms sought to emulate in this cycle. Brahms is sensitive to the innermost details of these works, reshaping and reshaping their most important motifs, successions of intervals, harmonic progressions and internal rhythmic movements and merging them into his own.

This in no way suggests a lack of originality in its composition. On the contrary, the unique way he handles rhythmic syncope to move the music forward, the thick orchestral writing style for the piano that creates an unmistakable ‘Brahmsian’ sound, a preference for certain ‘attainable’ intervals of longing, longing. and passion, the dark and narrow harmonies of the lower registers opening and flowing outward and upward, accompanied by the rapid melodic lines that will eventually mark the most mature works of this great introspective composer, while the music itself still remains rooted in the German “Volkslied” from which it came. Perhaps Brahms’ most unique gift is his treatment of the German language itself, taking what is considered a language of harsh and harsh, often guttural sounds, and placing them in such a way as to create a flow of beautiful and poetic words and inflection, so that the rise and fall of each syllable float as on a gentle breath and become part of the singer and his natural world.

So far I haven’t said anything about the performance itself, but these details could only become evident due to the most sensitive and excellent rendering offered by the husband and wife team of sopranos. Lucy fitz gibbon and Ryan macevoy mccullough playing on an 1857 Viennese Johann Baptist Streicher piano, courtesy of the Cornell Center for Historic Keyboards. Streicher’s pianos were held in high esteem by Brahms, who used them almost exclusively in his Viennese recitals at the time of writing. Magelone cycle. The powerful yet never overwhelming authentic piano sound, performed with great artistry in a beautifully reverberating space, created a perfect holistic texture with the vocals, with Fitz Gibbon delivering a dramatic and sensitive performance that not only radiated his glorious voice, but through her gesture and facial expression to “become” the story itself, literally “shining” as the title of the work suggests, the just and priceless princess, a “beloved immortal” in the ideal of the romantic era, loved, lost and recovered once again by his Prince, the Pierre de Provence knight.

Shelton and McCullough skillfully condensed the long prose story between the poems in Tiek’s original into a highly effective narration, creating a continuous one-night (90-minute) drama. Brahms had not demanded this, probably because popular history was so well known among his circle of interpreter friends; for today’s audience, however, the readings created a wonderfully melodramatic guide to understanding the work as a whole and added a significant layer of appreciation to it, especially through the efforts of artists who were able to summon and animate several distinct personalities in their speaking roles. . After all, who doesn’t appreciate a chivalrous story of love and brawl? The cycle ends by both mirroring and reversing its beginning, bringing us full circle to a sense of completion, and to quote a line near the end: “And heavenly joy enchants and haunts the fiery heart.

Stephen Martorella is Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in America, Providence, Rhode Island, and teaches at Rhode Island College.