Friday, November 29, 2013

Strauss – Salome and Orchesterlieder

   At the end of 19th century, many considered the romanticism as an era gone irretrievably into the past. There were many different visions and attitudes towards music of forthcoming century. Some were ahead of their time. Others were conservative. Main style of these years called modernism was trying to reconcile different aspirations but in consequence led to expressionism. Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was one of most famous in the group of composers who transpose late 19th century music and its early modernistic meanings into full range modern style of first half of 20th century. In his works neoromantic idiom was developing into full-blown expressionism. While most famous part of his orchestral works are tone poems, and most adored operas are musical dramas Salome and Electra, there are great list of compositions between these extremes only music lovers and professionals know. Featured place on such register took songs. In Strauss’ oeuvres in total number of 180 songs, 41 were composed with symphonic orchestra.
   In vocal repertoire music by Richard Strauss is present with many features. He is popular for strongly emotional, dramatic stage music. Electra and Salome, likewise his deeply moving symphonic songs occupy the position of rich and complex artistic work. Thus many great singers performed and recorded his most popular songs as well as fragments of his dramatic music. These works in Strauss’ huge creative output are highlights being the source of pride even for the greatest stars. One of such recordings was 1978 album recorded by Leonard Bernstein with Montserrat Caballé and Orchestre National de France for Deutsche Grammophon (2530 963). Program comprises fragments from Salome: Final Song and symphonic Dance of the Seven Veils, and Five Songs for Voice and Orchestra, a choice of best known and highly appreciated songs from different opuses. 

Monserat Caballe in Richard Strauss' Salome and Orchesterlieder

   Symphonic fragment Dance of Seven Veils is the ballet scene where Salome seduces King Herod with sensual dance. King possessed by desire promises to fulfill the wish of Salome. The scene of Salome’s Final Song is one of most dramatic fragments in stage music. It is common idea in opera to give heroine last chance of expressing her attitude. Artistic and intellectual context and maybe model for this scene was final Love Death (Liebestod) scene from Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. In this composed almost 50 years earlier fragment Wagner set romantic love beyond the value of life. Strauss in accordance with play by Oscar Wilde took one step further. Salome receiving the severed head of John the Baptist kisses it and declares her love. Seeing this, King Herod ordered to kill Salome. Whole final scene called in original Schlußgesang is often performed as the concert piece.
   Lust and sensuality combined with brutal desire, authority powers and human weakness, these are the key values in the aesthetics of expressionism. In program of the album conducted by Leonard Bernstein Tanz der sieben Schleier occupies central position as a kind of interlude between dramatic Schlußgesang and songs. Performing Final Song of Salome or Strauss’ songs is quite a challenge for singer. Problem is not quite technical, although it requires a big voice and perfect technique. The real difficulties are decisions regarding interpreting frame of musical and poetic message. As most romantic composers, Strauss was writing his songs as a kind of dramatic music. Short but rich in narrative and emotional contents, these songs require deep emotionalism and full control.
   In 1978 album Montserrat Caballé performed five songs from four opuses of Richard Strauss’ songs with orchestra: Cäcille Op. 27 Nr. 2 to the poem of Heinrich Hart, Wiegendlied Op. 41 Nr. 1 with text by Richard Dehmel, Ich liebe dich Op. 37 Nr. 2 with words by Detlev von Liliencron, Morgen Op. 27 Nr. 4 to the poem by John Henry Mackay and Zueignung Op. 10 Nr. 1 with text of Hermann von Gilm. Creating lyrical, deeply emotional renditions, Montserrat Caballé shows the other side of Strauss’ music. The sound of Orchestre National de France perfectly conducted by Leonard Bernstein makes the whole program powerful and rich. To sum up, this is perfect program of great Strauss compositions in one of best renditions. Four and a half of in five star scale.

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