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Song’s First Cycle
Robin Tritschler (tenor)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 2017, St Silas the Martyr, UK
Sung texts with English translations enclosed

When Beethoven in April 1816 composed An die ferne Geliebte he presented a new concept in the realm of art song. He didn’t name it a ‘cycle’ but a ‘circle’ (‘Kreis’ in German) which could also be interpreted as a ‘ring’, insofar as it is written as a ring where the theme of the first song returns in the last song. Moreover the six songs follow each other without an interval. None of the songs is a stand-alone. But there had been several attempts to develop similar kinds of ‘units’ at about the same time, and here are collected five such units, including An die ferne Geliebte.

The earliest is Mozart’s 3 Songs from Sophiens Reise. Sophiens Reise was a sentimental novel by Johann Timotheus Hermes, and the three poems were chosen to illustrate the struggle against fate. Mozart set them between August 1781 and May 1782. The original Köchel catalogue presented them in a different order, but later research has clarified the true order and also stated that they were probably written somewhat earlier, in 1780, possibly around the time he composed the unfinished opera Zaide. They do not constitute a cycle but may point forward to what was to develop some 35 years later, and in their own right the songs are certainly attractive.

The next step is Franz Schubert’s Lieder aus der “Selam”. Selam was an almanac, edited by one Ignaz Castelli, and the seven poems were all by different poets. Schubert must have been truly inspired, since he set all seven poems on one day: 15 October 1815. Robin Tritschler supposes in his liner notes that if Schubert had titled them Liederkreis as a group, they would probably have appeared regularly on recital programmes. On the other hand they can hardly be called a cycle: There is a unifying thread but musically they are still stand-alones. And, concludes Tritschler: “If Schubert had published these songs as a cycle he may have been disappointed a year later when Beethoven published the first true cycle, An die ferne Geliebte”.

Besides Adelaide and a few other songs, this cycle is by far Beethoven’s most important contribution to the genre. He had 14 years earlier set six religious poems by Gellert, of which the best known is Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur. But Tritschler hesitates to call it a cycle, since there is uncertainty about the order of the songs. But there is no doubt that An die ferne Geliebte is a cycle, even though it is not chronological. The texts were written by one Alois Isidor Jeitteles, a physician who published poems in, among other things, Selam, and the poems Beethoven set were from a collection titled Gedichte in Selam. A connection with the Schubert ‘cycle’ presented above. The Beethoven cycle doesn’t need further presentation. It is since long established in the standard repertoire. Let me only add that Robin Tritschler’s reading with the ever inspirational Malcolm Martineau at the piano joins the top layer of already existing recordings. Few have sung it with such beauty of tone and warmth in delivery.

Carl Maria von Weber’s reputation today rests mainly in his operas, of which only Der Freischütz is regularly performed, and some of his overtures that occasionally appear on orchestral concerts. The once so popular Aufforderung zum Tanz seems to have lost its popularity. The folk music inspired songs in Freischütz give a hint of what his solo songs sound like. In Weber’s time they were immensely popular, especially since many of them were composed for voice with guitar accompaniment. Peter Schreier many years ago recorded some of them with the eminent Konrad Ragossnig, a disc that still is available. Die vier Temperamente bei dem Verlust der Geliebten, was composed half a year after Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, and is as close to a cycle as anything he composed – at least the subject is a uniting factor. 85 years after Weber Carl Nielsen composed his second symphony over the same subject. It is one of his masterpieces. Weber’s attempt may not be on that level, but the music is melodic, fresh, lively and hummable. It is good to have the songs in such attractive readings.

Schubert’s Einsamkeit from 1818 seems to have been his response to An die ferne Geliebte. Structurally it is also divided into six sections, but since he paints on a larger canvas and since the poem – by Mayrhofer – is much more complex, each section is subdivided and his journey through the many emotions is as multi-facetted and flexible as anything Schubert wrote. He doesn’t return to basic key in the finale – as Beethoven did – but who bothers? Einsamkeit is a marvellous piece of music, and the only reason why it isn’t better known and more frequently performed is probably that you can’t extract a single song and perform it separately – which you can with the songs of Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise.

The idea, the concept of this issue is truly interesting and fascinating. It is an utterly pedagogic survey of various attempts to develop and widen the frames of storytelling in musical terms, and the discs would have been worth acquiring for that reason alone, even though the performances hadn’t been half as good as they are. Scrupulous readers have, hopefully, noticed that I have expressed my deep admiration for the interpretations – if only in a subordinate clause. To those who have just skimmed the text so far I’ll be more explicit: Robin Tritschler is the possessor of one of the most beautiful and well-equalized now before the public, but what makes him stand out as a song interpreter is his inquisitive mind and innate understanding of the texts and his ability to convey their messages through his expressive handling of words. No less important is the mental and musical interplay with the ever responsive Malcolm Martineau. Tritschler’s insightful liner notes is a further asset. Every lover of art song should invest in this issue to earn a deeper understanding of the development of art song.

Göran Forsling

CD 1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
3 Songs from Sophiens Reise:
1. Verdankt sei es dem Glanz der Grossen K392/K⁶340a [3:17]
2. An die Einsamkeit K391/K⁶340b [3:33]
3. Ich würd‘ auf meinem Pfad K390/K⁶340c [3:15]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
Lieder aus der ‚Selam‘
4. Labetrank der Liebe D 302 [2:56]
5. An die Geliebte D 303 [1:54]
6. Wiegenlied D 304 [6:54]
7. Mein Gruss an den Mai D 305 [5:39]
8. Skolie D 306 [0:53]
9. Die Sternenwellen D 307 [3:57]
10. Die Macht der Liebe D 308 [1:50]

CD 2
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
An die ferne Geliebte Op. 98
1. Auf dem Hügel sitz‘ ich spähend [3:04]
2. Wo die Berge so blau [1:59]
3. Leichter Segler in den Höhen [1:54]
4. Diese Wolken in den Höhen [0:58]
5. Es kehret der Maien [2:49]
6. Nimm die hin denn, diese Lieder [3:59]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 – 1826)
Die vier Temperamente bei dem Verlust der Geliebten Op. 26
7. Der Leichtmüthige J 200 [3:57]
8. Der Schwermüthige J 201 [3:10]
9. Der Liebewüthige J 202 [3:24]
10. Der Gleichmüthige J 203 [2:58]
11. Einsamkeit D 620 [20:09]

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