Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fine Lieder Performances

I was saying to someone the other day that the lieder recital, in parts of North America, at least, seems to be on its last legs. I don't recall a single lieder recital in either of the two chamber music series in my area in the last decade and a half.

So, let's look at some outstanding lieder performances to see what we are missing. First of all, I want to extend the definition of "lieder" to mean, not just German songs of the last three hundred years, but all songs, chansons, mélodies and ballads from all eras. Let's start with one of the very first to express the personality of the composer. This is Ensemble Unicorn with "Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys" by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397 - 1474):

Here is one of the great lute songs by John Dowland (1563 - 1626). To show how a modern singer and writer of songs can be connected with one of the great composers of the past, I have chosen a performance by Sting:

At the beginning of the Baroque Giulio Caccini (1551 - 1618) was discovering an entirely new way to write songs. This is "Amarilli mia bella", his most famous song. The artists are Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor and Björn Colell, theorbo.

Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828) is the most prolific song-writer in history. He probably wrote the equivalent of a Beatles' album every week. Sometimes he would write a song before getting out of bed in the morning! He wrote some 600 lieder in his very short life--dying at age 31. Here are two of his songs, the early "Heidenröslein" on a poem by Goethe. The artists are probably the greatest interpreters of Schubert, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone and Gerald Moore, piano.

And, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, the very dark song that ends the Winterreise cycle: "Der Leiermann". Again with Fischer-Dieskau, but this time accompanied by Alfred Brendel:

Another very great writer of lieder was Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856). In 1840 he composed a set of songs on poems by Heinrich Heine that, along with the cycles by Schubert, consitute the core of the lieder repertoire. Here is the first song, "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai". Again, the singer is the inescapable Fischer-Dieskau, this time accompanied by Vladimir Horowitz:

One of the points of this exercise is to show the continuity in the song tradition, so now we will move into the 20th century. Here is a modern lied:

And another:

With Leonard Cohen we come back to a situation where the lyrics are as important as the music, which is where the whole thing started, with Guillaume de Machaut in the 14th century.

And finally, a very modern chansonnier, here is David Byrne of the Talking Heads with that classic lied "Psychokiller" from the film "Stop Making Sense":

This is, of course, a very partisan, subjective and biased survey of songs I like and part of the purpose is to set you up for my own set of twelve songs, Songs from the Poets, that I am about to record at the end of the month. In the meantime, enjoy!


Marc Puckett said...

My last listening of the Winterreise was Jonas Kaufmann's recording and while I don't not appreciate his voice, DFD is in a superior world. On the other hand, I've not listened at all to DFD in any of his operatic roles (well, perhaps long ago) and I do wonder about his 'stage presence'.

Am looking forward to your CD! hope it's on Spoti... just joking.

Bryan Townsend said...

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is apparently the most-recorded singer of all time--and with good reason. I have never heard anyone articulate the words more clearly. I heard him give an entire concert in Montreal many years ago, and it was a great musical experience.