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Leonard Bernstein and Richard Wilbur: Make Our Garden Grow

I first encountered Candide in a college production that my high school’s Thespian Club attended.  It was exciting and irreverent and the “Make Our Garden Grow” finale had me walking on air.  I talked about the show so much that my mom bought me the double LP (1974 version with the red cover), which I played over and over in my bedroom. Thanks, Mom!

In the context of the story, any utopia is suspect, and the verdant domestic future Candide imagines in the finale is no exception.  As soon as the company has sung it into being, the bubble is burst.  “Ah me, the pox.”

But when the song is unlinked from the story, the audience is allowed to indulge in its lovely sincerity.  As Jamie Bernstein has written, “the soaring chorus seems to be telling us that growing our garden is a metaphor for the flowering of mankind itself.”   I especially love the moment when the orchestra drops out and everyone sings acapella.

I’ve chosen the performance from the PBS Broadcast of “Bernstein at 70,” a birthday concert at Tanglewood on August 25, 1988.  Seiji Ozawa leads Jerry Hadley and Dawn Upshaw. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing who is in the supporting ensemble in front of the orchestra.

“Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide (1956)
Lyric: Richard Wilbur
Music: Leonard Bernstein

If you’re grasping at names, here is the cast list from the BSO’s online archive. Is that Jamie and her siblings at the far left at 3:25?

The New York Times’ report on the event is here.

Schumann: Des Sennen Abschied

This week I am in the Berkshires, preparing for a performance at Tanglewood of my Variations on a Summer Day, songs which in part were previewed on the NYFOS Next series two years ago.  Songs about summer, and about mountains, spring to mind.  I am numbering these days of perfection, sad for them to end but already making plans for the fall. Over and again I am hearing Robert Schumann’s song Des Sennen Abschied, to Friedrich Schiller’s poem, their farewell to the willows and wells of water and flowers of the season.  The narrator is an Alpine hersdman, proclaiming “Der Sommer ist hin,” or “The summer is gone.”

The open, clean drone of a fifth, in the open, clean key of C Major announces the new, sparer season.  The E, which would make the chord full and vibrant, is mostly missing from the opening.  But as the text turns to the defining characteristics of summer, the music shifts not only to include the E but to move toward E major as a key, as if bathing us in summer light.  Just as the music would cadence in E major, giving summer to us as something we could keep, Schumann substitutes the opening drone, and the season and its wonders vanish.  Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg do a remarkable job with it.

In the summer of his life, in the year 1840, Schumann wrote well over one hundred songs, among them the songs that comprise his well-known cycles DichterliebeLiederkreis and Fraunliebe und Leben.  But this song issues from a decade later, in the autumn of his life, and I can’t help but assume that this song is the effort of an auto-biographer.

Robert Schumann, Des Sennen Abschied, Opus 79, no. 22
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano; Bengt Forsberg, piano
Deutsche Grammophon

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