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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Enoch Arden - A melodrama
Words: Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
Peter Hewitt: piano
Nicholas Garrett: speaker
Recorded in Keynes Hall, Kingís College, Cambridge on 24 March 1996
LITMUS 101-2 [74.48]


Tennysonís poem Enoch Arden is one of his least known today, though in his day this was far from the case. Its story is that of a fisherman who undertook a long voyage, was shipwrecked and believed lost only to return and find his wife had remarried. He resolved to keep silent about what he had discovered for the rest of his life.

Tennyson was fastidious in attaining factual accuracy, even going so far as to discover all details of a sailorís life and career from nautical Suffolk. The poem was published in 1864, coincidentally the year of Richard Straussís birth, and its initial print run was an enviable 60,000. Strauss lit upon the idea of writing this melodrama in 1896. Hermann Levi had resigned the conductorship at the Munich Court Opera, and the eminent actor Emile von Possart (then Intendant) was instrumental in securing the post for Strauss. As Possart was a renowned exponent of the art of recitation, Strauss decided to write this melodrama for him as a gesture of gratitude. Poet and composer never met, the former having died some four years earlier, but there was a satisfactory translation available written in 1889 by Adolf Strodtmann, though this CD reverts to the original English. It was given its first performance in March 1897 at Munich followed by successful tours around German theatres (at one of which the composer received news of the birth of his only son Franz).

The models from which Strauss may have taken his inspiration are the melodramas of Schubert and Schumann, followed by the concert melodramas of Berlioz and Grieg. His successors in this form were Schoenberg, Prokofiev and Walton. Melodramas within a play become so-called incidental music such as Mendelssohnís Midsummer Nightís Dream or Straussí own Le bourgeois gentilhomme. But what is immediately striking in Enoch Arden is the relative paucity of contribution from the piano. There are extensive passages of unaccompanied narration, as many as fifty to a hundred lines. Whether Strauss wanted to leave the field clear for Possart or whether he found the tragedy sufficiently affecting on its own is unclear.

Certain focal points bring the two elements together and create a Wagnerian leitmotif principle in its wake. There is the childhood triangle of Enoch Arden, Annie Lee and Philip, Enochís courtship of Annie and Philipís witnessing their first kiss, Enochís farewell as he sets off on his sea journey, Philipís courtship of Annie, her dream and marriage to him, Enochís shipwrecked years on the island, his return (now aged), his unseen spying upon Philip and Annie, his despair and self-sacrificial resolve to keep away, and finally his death. This rambling tale is effectively glued together by Straussís musical building blocks. Two years later he wrote another shorter melodrama, this time a setting of Uhlandís Das Schloss am Meer, again for himself and Possart.

This is a curiosity worth the revival, especially with these two performers, Hewittís idiomatic pianism ably matched by Garrettís rich voice (he was once an excellent narrator in a performance of mine of Blissís Morning Heroes). It would be hard to put Enoch Arden into a recital programme, the poem itself dangerously turgid in places, but, if youíre in the mood, it makes good armchair listening.

Christopher Fifield

 



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