29 Mar 2012

Strauss – Vier Lieder

Written by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – RICHARD STRAUSS (1864-1949) – Strauss married the love of his life, soprano Pauline de Ahna, in September of 1894. Their marriage would be a stormy but devoted one, marked in equal parts by operatic turns of mood and a lifelong constancy. From the moment they met, hers would become the voice he often heard in his head while composing lieder. Strauss bundled four of the best of these songs as a wedding gift.

THE MUSIC – Strauss wrote dozens of songs during his life and, in truth, they can be an uneven lot. At their best, however, they are the best. The Four Last Songs of 1948 are so sublime they might well be last words that need be spoken on the subject of German lied. A match in quality, if not fame, the Vier Lieder, op. 27 date from over 50 years before. This quartet of excellent songs made a perfect wedding bouquet for Strauss’ bride – a collection worthy of the dedication to his “beloved Pauline.” “Ruhe, mein Seele!” (Rest, My Soul!) is based on verse by Berlin poet Karl Henckell. It speaks of a deep internal struggle and the need to calm one’s spirit in the face of difficulty. “Cäcilie” comes from a love poem written by Heinrich Hart for his own wife and repeats the luxuriant phrase “Wenn du es wüßtest” (If you only knew). The third and fourth songs are both based on poems by John Henry Mackey, a German of Scottish descent. “Heimliche Aufforderung” (Secret Invitation) details an illicit plan to meet in the garden during a party while “Morgen!” (Tomorrow!) celebrates the tranquility of nature and the abiding comfort of romantic love. The Vier Lieder were all composed with piano accompaniment in 1894 but Strauss did later orchestrate three of them to magnificent effect, nos. 2 and 4 in 1897 and no. 1 in 1948.       

THE WORLD – 1894 was the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair in France, the opening of the Tower Bridge in London and the founding of the International Olympic Committee. Also in 1894, the site of the Chicago World’s Fair was destroyed by fire.

THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony Masterworks premiere of Strauss’ Vier Lieder.