This song is full of desperation, and is most expressive in the piano part and harmonic changes. Yet, it is so beautiful. I recommend this recording by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau & Hermann Reutter.
This piece is a favorite of MESS co-founders Ben Bliss and Lachlan Glen. It was also performed (by Mr. Glen) at MESS’s very first Premier Event. Its expansive, romantic string setting and virtuosic, rhapsodic piano was a highlight of the night.
To celebrate NYFOS’s 30th Anniversary Season, Song of the Day is featuring some recordings from our archives, along with excerpts from program notes that accompanied them. (If the recording does not appear below in your email, please click on the title above to play the song on our website.)
Music by Pauline Viardot and Johannes Brahms
Performed by Dina Kuznetsova, soprano; and Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano
in A Bel Canto Dynasty (2004)
From the Program Notes by Steven Blier:
There were many great nineteenth-century singers who sent audiences into a frenzy. Grown men wept when Rubini sang; women fainted at the sound of Giulia Grisi’s voice. But their art lives on only through anecdotes about their performances and descriptions of their timbre. None of them could inspire a program as far-ranging as tonight’s. For Pauline Viardot’s claim to fame was not merely the ephemeral success of a great artist. She made her mark on history by the music she inspired, the composers she nurtured, the works she premiered, and the music she wrote.
And she created a substantial repertoire of art songs. Turgenev and George Sand both encouraged Viardot to write music as her singing career was winding down. Pauline never had a great deal of self-confidence as a composer, but she continued to nurture her creative voice in her later years. French art song was just beginning its ascent from its modest origins, the parlor ballad style known as the “romance.” In Viardot’s songs one can hear the increasing complexity of the piano writing, lovely turns of harmony, and a surprising range of colors from faux-antique (“Au jardin de mon père”), to Spanish bolero (“Madrid”), to Russian-German Kunstlied (“Das Blümlein”), to full-blown operatic anthem (“Grands oiseaux blancs”). She may not have been an innovator—Pauline was a classicist to the end—but her writing for voice and piano is expert. “A singer wrote this,” smiled Stephanie Blythe as she worked on one of the songs. “Every syllable is set perfectly, every phrase falls right into the voice. What a pleasure it is to sing!”
Straight to the skinny on this song:
It comforts me and allows me to open old wounds so they can heal. It reminds me why I love and it shows me again and again how much I am loved. Groth’s words teach me to love better and they tell me what a privilege it is to be the reflection of another’s goodness—to see him whole and well so that he can see it more clearly himself. I get to do that. Wow. There’s love and genuine hospitality in action. And if it weren’t for Johannes Brahms, well, I probably would have never even heard these words, and definitely never in a way so transcendent.
When Jessye Norman sings it, well, be prepared to be healed. It’s an aural laying on of hands—a two scant minutes of bliss.
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