Vol. 8 really takes up the story from Vol.
6, charting the development of Danish song in the romantic era,
with Peter Heise the principal stopping point, and arriving at Nielsen’s
colleague and contemporary Thomas Laub. It concludes with a further
selection from the post-Nielsen era, some of them remakes of songs included
7. Unlike the other volumes, this one contains two CDs. The second,
unrelated to the other, contains a performance of Dichterliebe which
was known to have been made but believed lost, plus some additional
broadcast material. All of these finds were made after the original
Schiøtz project had been planned. I shall deal with the discs
Victor Bendix was the father of the pianist Victor
Schiøler, some of whose recordings can be heard on DANACORD DACOCD
491-2, including (see my review for further details) one of the finest
versions of the Grieg concerto ever made. His song is warmly romantic,
as is that by the Norwegian Kjerulf. Also attractive is the Rung arrangement,
which includes a chorus.
It is with Peter Heise, however, that this series touches
one of its high points. Already in the first song, though it retains
the melodic simplicity and strophic form of Weyse and Hartmann, the
vocal line is bold and free, and clearly intended for a solo singer.
The Shakespeare songs have elaborate and exuberant piano parts and strong,
memorable melodies. These could easily become favourite settings of
these texts – except that they are in Danish! (But the Danish versions
seem to be pretty close to Shakespeare’s original metres, so they could
be sung in English with only the smallest adjustments). It becomes evident
that Heise, like any other lieder composer of stature, does not hesitate
to use a strophic form when the nature of the poem calls for it, but
unlike Weyse and even Hartmann, his imagination does not seem constrained
by his chosen form. How infinitely touching is the opening phrase of
each stanza in Husker du when we have an Aksel Schiøtz
to ring the changes of the seasons for us, and how thrilling is the
leaping vocal line of Over de høje fjelde. And yet he
is ready to blossom out into something more through-composed when necessary
– hear the modulation which ushers in the third stanza of Aften paa
Loggiaen or the way Til en Veninde builds up. Heise was a
great admirer of Schumann and his music has a similar poetic glow to
Schumann’s without really resembling it. Indeed, Til en Veninde seems
to inhabit a half-way point between Schumann and Richard Strauss and
anyone who feels that the German lied took, with Hugo Wolf, an unnecessarily
complicated turn after Schumann should rejoice in Heise’s music. While
it would be rash to judge the composer of some 300 songs on the strength
of just 8 of them, the quality of these eight is so high as to make
me wonder if Carl Nielsen was, in fact, Denmark’s first great composer.
Certainly these songs deserve – no, demand – the attention of
any singer specialising in lieder and willing to learn how to sing in
Danish. This music should not be confined to Denmark!
An Internet search reveals that two records devoted
to songs by Heise and Lange-Müller have been issued by DACAPO (CD
8 224033 and CD 8 224065), while Danacord themselves have a disc dedicated
to "Songs and Romances" by Heise (DACOCD 446) and his only
opera King and Marshall has been twice recorded, under Frandsen
(Unicorn-Kanchana nla) and Schønwandt (Chandos CHAN 9143/5).
To judge from the enthusiastic comments some of these discs have received,
in Gramophone for example, my own reactions to this composer have been
widely shared. Schiøtz’s performances are incomparable.
Thomas Laub’s two songs made no great impression, but
I enjoyed hearing Thomson’s Til Glæden again. The 1939
recording included in Vol. 7 is sung a tone lower and I wonder why he
chose the higher key in 1942. Not that it is a strain for him, but the
earlier recording has an easy intimacy, Schiøtz apparently communing
with himself, and this I ultimately prefer. The higher key leads him
to project the voice more brightly and he may have found this more effective
in the concert hall. Jens Bjerre’s Til en ung mor is a very attractive
song in lullaby vein. Mortensen’s charming Min Skat is followed
by a remakes of his Sommervise and of Ring’s Trækfuglene.
Both of these are sung a tone higher than the previous versions (1938
and 1939 respectively) but, far from creating strain, Schiøtz
was in particularly good voice in the 1943 sessions and presents the
songs with considerably more flexibility than before. Another remake
is Agerby’s Havren. In this case the key has remained the same.
However, the 1939 recording has the historical advantage of the composer’s
presence at the piano. He takes a more leisurely tempo (03:23 against
02:33) which perhaps gives Schiøtz the time to find more in it,
though there is something to be said for the more lilting later version
The final three songs are moving for reasons which
go beyond the records in themselves. The texts to Syng om Fred and
Herre, vort Herskab are by Kaj Munk (1896-1944), a vicar and
playwright who was outspoken in his condemnation of the occupying Nazis
and their collaborators; inevitably his stance led to his being murdered
by a death patrol and dumped in a ditch. Readings of Munk’s words were
forbidden, but this did not stop Schiøtz from singing at his
funeral and recording these two pieces, one of which he later sang also
for Norwegian Radio (see CD 2). The music is not especially distinguished
but Schiøtz’s emotion can be felt.
The CD closes with Schiøtz’s last recording
before the operation which was virtually to end his career. He is in
fine voice, his vocal chords apparently untouched by the tumour which
was threatening them.
In 1943 the Danish people had no wish to buy German
lieder so the Dichterliebe was set on one side, its unlabelled
copper matrices ending up in an obscure corner of the Nationaldiskoteket,
Aarhus without anyone knowing what they were, or apparently caring to
investigate, until Mr Claus Byrith, one of the supporters of the Schiøtz
project, had a hunch that they might be the long-lost Dichterliebe.
The possibility to transfer directly from copper masters in virgin state
has meant that this recording has actually much quieter surfaces than
the 1946 one, just a slight background swish at times. The sound is
a little more backward but the voice is well caught and the piano mellow.
It was a very good recording indeed for its date.
Folmer Jensen is by no means always outshone by his
more famous colleague. At the beginning he establishes himself as a
poet, evoking a rapt, star struck atmosphere where Gerald Moore is a
little more matter-of-fact. Even the more distant sound lends its own
enchantment and initially I preferred this version. However, Moore’s
richer sound better evokes the cathedral in Im Rhein and here
Jensen smoothes out the rhythm to a slack 6/8. Moore plays the rhythm
correctly but even he does not give us the sense of Schumann’s two-note
groupings. The problem is that the modern pianist and listener, all
too aware that Schumann is alluding to a particular type of baroque
organ music, would be tempted to double-dot, and of course Schumann
did not write this either. Very strangely, Moore interprets Schumann’s
diminuendo after the singer’s last note as a crescendo,
which is not exactly the same thing. Jensen makes neither one nor the
other but at least he gives us the sense that the cathedral vision suddenly
returns, as marked. Moore’s more full-toned support in Ich grolle
nicht is wonderful, but against this Schiøtz in 1943 thrillingly
essayed the higher alternative notes towards the end, which he did not
It now becomes apparent that, good as Jensen is, Moore
is rightly remembered as a great pianist because he had a wider
range of tone and colours available. His unpedalled texture in Und
wüssten’s die Blumen, compared with Jensen’s more conventionally
pedalled one, does not seem dry, it fills the air with a myriad of fantastic
sounds. The poet in him rises in Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen
where he brings out the hidden melodies more beautifully and, in
spite of his more closely recorded piano, he is more dreamily distant
in Allnächtlisch im Traume. But Jensen has his moments of
perception too, as in the postlude to Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen
where he makes us hear the bass line better, and therefore lets
us perceive that the melodic line is syncopated.
As for Schiøtz, he is very consistent, but there
are moments when we realise that he has gained experience and maturity
in the intervening years. Experience in that, where Schumann expects
the singer to place a mouthful of words in a short phrase, he is even
more natural in 1946. By careful timing, he is also more effective in
Schumann’s baritonal descents to a low B flat. And maturity in the added
expressiveness he gives to certain phrases, such as the last part of
Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet, or the last phrase in the cycle,
which he draws out without recourse to sentimentality. I think the 1946
performance is marginally superior, but leaving aside song-by-song comparisons
the more pastel-coloured 1943 version has its own character and I shall
return gratefully to both. The 1946 recording has always enjoyed the
reputation of being among the finest ever made; if, instead of remaking
the cycle, HMV had simply issued the 1943 one, I suggest that its reputation
would have been just as great.
The five Grieg songs with Jensen are repeated here
from Vol. 2 so that we can hear the sequence of eight complete. The
three that follow, sung in Danish, were recorded again with Gerald Moore
in 1946 (see Vol. 3). Considering their provenance the sound is not
at all bad, but it would be idle to pretend that the voice is not better
caught in the London recording, and better balanced with the piano.
Since Schiøtz is also in more effortful voice in the broadcast
recording and the anonymous pianist is less adept than Moore in Grieg’s
often elaborate writing this has to be for completists. The beauty of
the op. 49 songs still comes across, though.
The pair from October 1945 gives us a Weyse song not
found elsewhere and a version of one of the Munk settings in which the
voice is in less fluid shape than it was for the 1944 recording. The
final three items were recorded off the air on someone’s private acetates.
In the case of Hartmann’s "To the fallen", which is cut off
during the second stanza, and Riisager’s "Denmark’s Freedom Song",
which begins halfway through the first stanza, it is hardly worth while
persevering with the very heavy surfaces and dim sound (the piano is
very backward). Complete versions of these songs are to be found in
Vols. 5 and 9 respectively. However, the sound is not so bad that we
need not be grateful for a charming Gade song (complete) not otherwise
recorded by Schiøtz; together with those in Vol. 6 it reinforces
our impression that the songs of this composer deserve investigation.
This double volume is indispensable for the Heise songs,
which should be known by all who care about lieder and lieder-related
compositions. And, while I would not recommend this Dichterliebe
in preference to the 1946 one, I do feel that nobody could regret
having both of them.