Liederabend

The Liederabend is a bourgeois form of socializing developed in the 19th century. As the name implies people gather in the evening to listen to songs / Lieder, performed by a solo vocalist accompanied by a pianist, mostly. It was considered a private event, “songs” were not deemed worthy for a public concert, I think that changed only through the first half of the 20th century.
Generally Kunstlieder (Ger., Eng.) were performed, as opposed to Volkslieder (Ger., Eng.). The idea behind it is that the “art song” as a creation of one composer following the rules of  the art, is meant to be interpreted by a trained, more or less professional singer, while the Volkslied was understood to be an anonymous creation that in its Schlichtheit / unsophisticatedness can be sung basically by anybody. It is amazing to learn that for example Brahms left behind more than 300 Lieder – as a form it was taken serious by the heavies of the trade. But Schubert in his lifetime did not hear his Lieder in a public concert.
Wednesday evening we went to a Liederabend, songs by Strauss (150th birthday this year) were combined with works of Russian composers, a bit unusual perhaps. I skipped the tie, we had over thirty degrees C the whole day, and I assumed the worst for the hall. It is a representative location in the Residenz, windows to the Southern gardens, high ceiling  but still intimate, of course no air condition. We sat in the first row (stretch your legs) and sweated. It was astoundingly well attended, full house, more than hundred heated bodies. The program doubled as fan, a lady had brought an impressive large black one.
What can I say about the performance ? Far be it from me to be a captious critic – I could never do such a thing and sing in front of hundred people. In fact it is my serious opinion that everybody who has the guts to climb on a stage and perform earns respect.
But I found two things a bit disturbing. For one I did not understand the singer. I am sure that there are rules of pronunciation for a vocalist, simply how to form the vocals etc. (JON – ?), and when I listen to videos of Thomas Quasthoff f.e., or Schreier, or Prey, I can understand the text – here I understood nothing. Interestingly when the singer performed a very short English piece I could distinguish the words, but a basically simple poem by Brentano was, sorry, crucified.
The other thing that startled me a bit came out later, after the show. We followed the whole group to the next saloon to down a (very expensive) beer, when the singer was asked by a student about a particular figure of speech in a song. In a short poem a tumbler for wine made from amethyst is mentioned. The vocalist admitted freely to have not the shadow of an idea. My first thought was that it could be a reference to the grail, but as I learned now the grail(s)* kept in collections are made from Achat / agate stone.
But a simple look into Wikipedia gave an explanation for the amethyst (Ger., Eng.) mug: The ancient Greek and Romans used to carve drinking vessels from the stone and nursed the superstition that wine drunk out of these would not lead to drunkenness, possibly because the colour of the usually watered down red was similar to the amethyst’s – it is even in the name: “a-” is a negative prefix, “methystos” means as much as “intoxicated”, “a-methystos” equals sober, not drunk.
So the reveller holds up the “Amethistenbecher”, far from his love, to ease the pain in his heart, but he does not blank himself out lost in a drunken stupor, he keeps his senses sharp and is fully aware and conscious about his own feelings – he expresses thankfulness towards the distant love, the “teure Seele”, for the exquisite pain.
This gives a nice twist to a finely chased poem of only twelve lines.
I have no clue whether knowing this would have made a difference in the performance, but find it a bit, well, unprofessional not to check such things out. It’s not only my personal curiosity I hope ; imho if I want to perform a piece of art I should have understood it, be it a character, a song, a feeling.
These words are not beliebig, randomly chosen – if they were, one could replace it with la la la.
Apart from this trail of thoughts it was a nice evening. And the pianist was great.

* One in Valencia, one in Leon, one on Genoa – I read somewhere that roughly two hundred vessels in Europe are claimed to be the holy grail. Phantastic thing, even the Nazis searched for it in Southern France and the Pyrenees.

10 thoughts on “Liederabend

  1. When singing in German, does the singer retain their regional accent? In English, regional accents tend to disappear when singing.

    Even though hot, what a nice venue for the performance!

  2. That was something very odd : Franconians are linguistically challenged, we learn to pronounce “P”, “T” and “K” as soft “B”, “D” and “G”. This is usually very hard to correct and can be heard even after years in diaspora (!), a sure sign of one’s origin, like the very sharp “S” of the Hamburgian or the strange noises of Saxonia.
    This singer was clearly not of Franconian origin, but from the North, and spoke nearly accent free. But in the performance the “Ts” became “Ds” and vice versa – it was clearly the spirit of the location speaking, LX.
    The art songs are aimed towards Hochdeutsch and avoid regionalisms and dialect, while “real” Volkslieder partly celebrate dialects or argots.
    Yes, a noble setting. With surprisingly good acoustics. The pianist had the chance to prepare in the hall alone some days earlier and initially was a bit concerned, but with the hall filled with audience it works really well.

  3. Ach! You cannot believe how many professional musicians, even the most famous, never really do their homework. As long as they can sing all the notes properly at about the right time… And why bother since the majority of the audiance can’t tell the difference.

    I started to answer your question but ended up writing a comment that was longer than your post, so, I’ll polish it off a little and make it one of the next post on my blog, probably Monday. I’ll come back over here to let you know.

    Bis bald.
    Hugs
    Jon

  4. Sounds like a fun evening!
    And what a smart and alert student.
    Pfälzer are also linguistically challenged.
    Actually, probably many places throughout the world are. Where I live, I hear many grammatical errors, but they are due to local regionalisms in patterns of speech. It does not bother me, unless I hear them from fellow teachers as they are instructing.

  5. As usual, 63mago, a beautifully written blog entry. When visiting different countries, I love to try and go to these types of events, as it’s always so nice to see how locals live and enjoy themselves. x

  6. I’m eagerly waiting for your post, Jon !

    Yes, Foam, the “Palz”, a sad case, indeed. But there’s hope. :)

    Fanny Love, welcome, and thank you for your first comment here. Your expedition into the land of Wales left a deep impression on me, Port Talbot will be etched in my memory for the time coming.

Comments are closed.