'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

21 April 2012

Four Last Songs

Richard Georg Strauss: 11 June 1864 - 8 September 1949
For decades the song cycle of Richard Strauss known as 'Four Last Songs' has been at the summit of my idea of the most sublimely beautiful music ever written. Strauss died before these songs were premiered in London in 1950. It was not his intention to group the set of the three Hesse poems/songs together with that by Eichendorff, but this was the inspiration of his friend Ernst Roth to unite them as 'The Four Last Songs'. Roth was the chief editor of the musical publishers Boosey & Hawkes. Since Kirsten Flagstad first sang these, every soprano worth her salt wants one day to tackle these pieces when she thinks she is mature enough and ready. 
Many glancing here will know this work by heart, but I hope some novices will listen quietly to the four songs by different sopranos I have below and be overwhelmed.
This audio recording is by the divine lyric soprano Gundula Janowitz.
The lyrics are by Hermann Hesse
In dusky caverns I dreamed long of your trees and azure breezes, 
of your scents and birdsong.
Now you lie revealed in glitter and array, bathed in Light like a miracle before me.
You recognize me again, tenderly you beckon to me. 
Through all my limbs quivers your blissful presence.
Jessye Norman, who shines in everything she puts her voice and intellect to, live at the inaugural concert of the Salisbury Festival 1991 held at Salisbury Cathedral West Green.
The lyrics again by Hermann Hesse.
The garden is mourning
the rain sinks coolly into the flowers
Summer shudders
as it meets its end.
Leaf upon leaf drops golden
down from the lofty acacia.
Summer smiles, astonished and weak,
in the dying garden dream.
For a while still by the roses
it remains standing, yearning for peace.
Slowly it closes its large
eyes grown weary.
Beim Schlafengehen
The glorious Leontyne Price - Live in New York 1979
Words once again by Hermann Hesse.
Now that the day has made me so tired,
My dearest longings shall
Be accepted kindly by the starry night
Like a weary child.
Hands cease your activity,
Head forget all of your thoughts:
All my senses now
Will sink into slumber.
And my soul, unobserved,
Will float about on untrammelled wings
In the enchanted circle of the night,
Living a thousand fold more deeply.
Im Abendrot
Elizabeth Schwarzkopf has always been my favourite interpreter of these songs. Perhaps it is because hers was the first version I owned. This stunning live audio recording is with:-
The Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam
Conducted by George Szell at the Consertgebouw 19the June 1964
Lyrics this time by Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff.
We've gone through joy and crisis
Together, hand in hand,
And now we rest from wandering
Above the silent land.
The valleys slope around us,
The air is growing dark,
And dreamily, into the haze,
There still ascends two larks.
Come here, and let them flutter,
The time for sleep is soon.
We would not want to lose our way
In this great solitude.
O vast and silent peace!
So deep in twilight ruddiness,
We are so wander-weary - 
Could this perchance be death?

Exploring The Four Last Songs

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