Big Voices, Big Orchestra

CD 14 of 24

Affairs of the heart are the driving force behind this music, be they of love, lust or impending loss.

In 1861, Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) was in love with the daughter of Robert and Clara Schumann, this causing Brahms not insignificant anguish. The Schumanns’ daughter, Julia, was 16 years old, Brahms  28, but he kept these feelings bottled up until, in 1869, Clara informed Brahms that Julia was to be wed.  Brahms’ anguish finally burst out in his Alto Rhapsody. Adapting the poetry of Goethe, Brahms presented his new composition as a gift to the newly-weds. The brooding opening mirrors the painful life journey of the poet, with the mood lightening as the male chorus enters, singing of easier days ahead.

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) is one of the most (in)famous composers the world has known. With an ego that Europe could barely contain, Wagner set to change the course of not just music, but art. He viewed his genius as unimpeachable and expected everyone to treat him accordingly. Constantly short of money, he would find a patron to assist him, Otto Wesendonck amongst them. Wesendonck  provided funds and insisted the Wagners, Richard and wife Minna, rent lodging from him at a reduced rate. Wagner, who had been married to Minna for 20 years, became smitten with Mathilde Wesendonck, yes, you got it, Otto`s wife.  Mathilde’s five poems were set by Wagner, the orchestration being supplied by Felix Mottl, a pre-eminent conductor of the day, and have since been known as the Wesendonck Lieder.  

There is an interesting side-story to the above. The conductor Hans von Bülow, visiting the Wesendoncks while honeymooning with his bride, spent an evening listening to Wagner play the piano. In the room with the men were Wagner`s wife Minna, Wagner’s mistress Mathilde and Cosima von Bülow, Hans` new wife. Cosima would begin an affair with the rogue Richard, eventually marrying him. Cosima, née Liszt, just happened to be Franz’s daughter. What a 19th century Peyton Platz this household must have been!

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) composed his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in 1884 after being shunned by Johanna Richter, a singer at the Kassel Opera where he was conducting. The poetry was written by Mahler and given the circumstances of the Richter rebuff, can be considered autobiographical. The savage opening of the third song has our hero commenting on a red-hot knife piercing his joy.

Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949) wrote some of the twentieth-century’s most shocking music, his opera Salome (see CD 22) being a prime example, but in the twilight of his life he would compose Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs), a cycle he wrote upon his son’s urging him to “stop writing letters and brooding, it does no good. Write a few nice songs instead”.  “Nice” doesn’t begin to describe his creations. Based on the poetry of Eichendorff and Hermann Hesse (he of Steppenwolf fame), Strauss composed some of the most beautiful works to come out of the twentieth century, culminating with Abendrot (Sunset), an allegory to life.


Recommended Tracks

Recommended Tracks

Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883):
Wesendonck Lieder | 1. Der Engel "In der Kindheit frühen Tagen"
Various Artists
Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911):
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen | Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht
Various Artists
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949):
Vier letzte Lieder, TrV 296 | 4. Im Abendrot
Various Artists


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
        Rhapsody for Alto, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op.53
        1. 1.
          "Aber abseits wer ist's?" Adagio-Poco Andante-Adagio
          Anne Sofie von Otter, Wiener Philharmoniker, James Levine, Arnold Schoenberg Chor, Erwin Ortner
      2. Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)
        Wesendonck Lieder
        1. 2.
          1. Der Engel "In der Kindheit frühen Tagen"
        2. 3.
          2. Stehe still "Sausendes,brausendes Rad der Zeit"
        3. 4.
          3. Im Treibhaus "Hochgewölbte Blätterkronen"
        4. 5.
          4.Schmerzen "Sonne,weinest jeden Abend Dir die schönen Augen rot"
        5. 6.
          5. Träume "Sag', welch wunderbare Träume"
          Cheryl Studer, Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli
      3. Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)
        Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
        1. 7.
          Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht
        2. 8.
          Ging heut' morgen übers Feld
        3. 9.
          Ich hab' ein glühend Messer
        4. 10.
          Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz
          Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Rafael Kubelik
      4. Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)
        Vier letzte Lieder, TrV 296
        1. 11.
          1. Frühling
        2. 12.
          2. September
        3. 13.
          3. Beim Schlafengehen
        4. 14.
          4. Im Abendrot
          Cheryl Studer, Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli
    Playing Time 01:11:17