Wednesday, 15 September 2010

German Lieder

Robert Schumann - Romantic or what !

I was teaching a Schubert song today. It was the evergreen and ever beautiful 'An Die Musik'. The short two page song with the glorious melody and text thanking a higher power for the joy of music, which the poet calls the 'holy art'.

Schubert was such a master at melody, and that fantastic art of making the piano accompaniment just as important. So the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I only wish I was pianist enough to play his miraculous accompaniments so my more advanced pupils could experience the wonder of the sense of duet.

I do love German Lieder, and sang so much as a young singer, but it is a tricky and sometimes acquired art. In one or two pages of intimate music a truly great lieder writer can say as much as a symphony, in terms of emotion. They are so descriptive and so full of word painting. Just think about the fantastic wheel turning accompaniment underneath Schubert's 'Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel' or the harp like patterns in the piano of his 'Ave Maria'. This is, obviously, just the tip of the lieder iceberg !

I suppose, if I had to choose a complete favourite, and I somehow cannot believe I have set myself up to choose one - you now know I really do write as I think - I would have to decide upon 2 of the songs from Schumann's 'Frauenliebe und Leben', or Women's Life and Love. This song cycle is just divine, and the way Schumann takes us through the teenage life via marriage and on to the sudden death of her husband in 7 songs, all in a volume as thin as an old fashioned school register, is nothing short of a miracle.

Here in Paradise, I teach lieder all the time for all sorts of reasons. I am pleased to say that they figure on all exam lists from Grade 3 onwards, and because for other pupils it is an unknown and unexplored genre, and I like opening hypothetical doors !

The Gaelic language is spoken by many of my young pupils, they are more or less bi lingual, and it has been quite a revelation to me that I can get them to sing the smaller lieder like a native speaker. Many of the tricky German sounds are similar to sounds and vowels in Gaelic, and so they seem to have no problems with it at all! I have largely struggled with teaching German song in my career as it has not the flow of Italian, or the familiarity of school French, and many of those sounds give problems..............not here however, they sing it like little Bavarian natives, and I can even teach them the difference in pronunciation between 'German' German and Viennese German - WOW !

A strange, but useful bi product of them learning the Highland language, and much welcomed by yours truly!

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