You might well know Zeisl's name even if you have not
heard any of his music. Back in the mid-1990s his Requiem ebraico was
included on a Decca Entartetemusik disc on which the main work
was Franz Waxman’s Song of Terezin.
Viennese-born composer Zeisl had his centenary
last year (2005) when the present recording was made. His name
is recondite but the web is rich with biographical references.
The Schoenberg site is eminent amongst these. Do have a look
His basics are as follows: Birth: 18 May 1905, Vienna, Austria.
Death: 18 February 1959, Los Angeles, California, USA
Zeisl’s first songs were published in 1921 after which
many more followed and were performed in Vienna. Anti-semitic
pogroms left him with no choice in 1938 but to leave the city,
first for Paris and then for the USA. He ended his days in the
Los Angeles area amid the large expatriate artistic community
In her notes for the present CPO release Barbara Schönberg
stresses the core importance of song in Zeisl’s life and
catalogue. Of those included here eleven were published during
the composer's lifetime. They are in direct line to Schubert
with only the most gentle colouristic touches of expressionism
betraying their twentieth century origin. The range is wide:
from the gently imploring Vergissmeinnicht to the dew pristine
Lehár-like ecstasy of Vor meinem fenster; the latest song
here, dating from 1936. Goethe's The Shepherd weaves off-key
impressionism into a cheery melody. Armseelchen is mournful and
fantastic. The pianola style, picked-out and playful Der
is memorable and so is the possessed mania of Nietzsche's Ecce
Homo barked and hammered like an aria from an opera manqué.
Typically cloud-hung and fearfully charged with foreboding is
Nachts. Then again there are simple clever ringing tunes like
Im frühling. The last song of his cycle Mondbilder, setting
words by Christian Morgenstern, is memorable for its convulsive
piano figuration illustrating the cherub whose flight is like
that of a golden boomerang.
These songs were written between 1925 and 1936 so none date
from his American years.
The Ezust site (Texts: http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/z/zeisl.html)
provides lyrics and translations but, as is usual with the ever
sedulous CPO, the texts and translations into English are in
Zeisl’s is a lyric voice touched lightly with expressionism
and owing far more to Lehár than to Schoenberg. Both Holzmair
and Garben superbly complement the romantic-expressionist moods
of these extremely attractive songs.
This music recalls that of another fluchtling: Hanns Eisler
in his Hollywood Song Book; Mathias Goerne recorded these for
Decca in 1997. While Eisler's style in lieder is nostalgically
Schubertian Zeisl adds a light dusting of modernism and angst.