|Bernstein No. 1|
Overture to Candide
During the McCarthy era of the early 1950s, Leonard Bernstein and playwright Lillian Hellman decided to use Voltaire’s satirical novel Candideas a vehicle to make a political statement. According to Hellman, the novel attacks “all rigid thinking...all isms.” Bernstein thought that the charges made by Voltaire against his own society’s puritanical snobbery, phony morality and inquisitorial attacks on the individual were the same as those that beset American society – especially creative artists in all media.
After two years of intermittent cooperative work, the play opened in the fall of 1956. It failed – all but the overture. This became a staple of orchestral repertoire and one of Bernstein’s most endearing, most frequently performed works. It reflects the breakneck pacing of Voltaire’s satire with its worldwide adventures and buffoonery, interspersed in places by mock-tender moments.
In 1974, equipped with a new libretto which concentrated on its madcap humor rather than its political and social message, Candide, now billed as a musical, was successfully revived. It achieved 741 packed performances in the Broadway Theater, but the composer was still not satisfied. Two operatic versions followed in 1982 and 1989, and CD of the latter’s, one of Bernstein’s last recordings, became a bestseller.
Bernstein did not change the whirldwind overture that that almost trips over itself with its cross rhythms and themes crowding in on each other. But there's method in the madness; the overture is in perfect sonata form. Its first theme, the crashing opener, the second contrasting lyric theme taken from the duet between Candide and Cunegonde. And with a nod to the master overture writer of Western music, Bernstein ties it all up with a big Rossini-type stretta.
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer)
Gustav Mahler, one of the last great figures of the late Romantic movement, was at the same time one of the harbingers of twentieth century music. His volatile and complex personality, full of emotional and physical suffering, was anathema to turn-of-the-century Europe where hiding behind a facade of stability and changelessness was the norm. Most of Mahler’s music expresses his life-long battle with fate and with the uncertainty of existence, which may explain how he could have written two of the Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) immediately following the birth of his first child. Perhaps it is our uncertainty in the future that made Mahler’s music so popular in the second half of the twentieth century.
In the 1880s Mahler was building his reputation as a symphonic and operatic conductor. As he moved from one conducting post to another, usually as the assistant conductor in opera houses, he had only limited time for composing. Most of his early surviving compositions are Lieder, and many of them settings of poems from the German folk poetry collection known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). But in 1883, on the heels of unrequited love for the actress Johanna Richter, he started to set to music a cycle of four poems on the theme from his own pen in which he tried to emulate the spirit of the Wunderhorn collection, calling the set Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. At the same time he started composing his Symphony No.1, into which themes from two of the songs found their way. Originally Mahler composed the songs for voice and piano, but in the early 1890s orchestrated them, the version most commonly performed today.
Songs of a Wayfarer is the usual English translation of the title, but Fritz Spiegl, a musician and distant relative of Mahler, pointed out that Geselle translates actually as journeyman – traditionally the stage between apprentice and master craftsman; the journeyman traveled from town to town to gain experience with other masters. Thus the title may reflect Mahler’s situation at the time as he was honing his skills as conductor and composer. On the other hand, the forebears of Mahler’s Geselle, are the unnamed singers of Franz Schubert’s two great song cycles, Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise – all three victims of unrequited love who pour out their misery in song. Although the protagonists of all three cycles are obviously male, female singers have been unable to resist taking on these masterpieces and are among their great interpreters.
In limiting his cycle to four poems, versus Schubert’s 12 and 24 respectively, Mahler could not afford to indulge every nuance of despair; instead he distills the emotions of mourning, suicidal depression and resignation, setting them against recurring themes, in both poems and musical accompaniment, of an ironic disconnect between the beauty of nature and the singer’s mood. Sensitivity to the vital role of the accompaniment in conveying emotion and meaning is Schubert’s legacy to all later composers of song. In Winterreise Schubert’s musical imagery of the winter landscape reinforces the singer’s depression while in the Wayfarer songs, the beauty of spring produces musical irony. Schubert’s and Mahler’s handling of text and accompaniment in opposite ways informs their conclusions: Winterreise’s descent into madness and death, Wayfarer’s into resignation.
Mahler’s imitation of natural sounds in the accompaniment provides the foil for the singer’s gloom, for example, the chirping birds against the singer’s dirge in “Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht.”
The second song, "Ging heut morgen übers Feld,” presents a necessary upbeat musical contrast and balance to the rest of the cycle, but the final lines say “not” to all that has preceded. He expanded the theme in the Symphony No. 1. While the theme of the song remains constant, Mahler interjects a funereal timpani roll, slows the tempo and slightly alters to melody, concluding the song with a dismal coda.
The most violent of the group is “Ich hab'ein glühend Messer.” The refrain, “O weh!” set against the spectral transformation of the flowers and fields into the beloved’s eyes and hair, complete overcomes the alubrious vision of the previous song.
The vision of the blue eyes softens into dirge-like resignation in the final “Die zwei blauen Augen” with its plodding timpani accompaniment. The middle section of the song is transformed into a funeral march, which Mahler incorporated into the middle section of the third movement of the First Symphony. Although the Wayfarer attempts to fall into a sleep of escape under a linden tree as the mode turns major, the orchestra has the final word, a return to the minor mode of the dirge.
Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht
Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht,
Fröhliche Hochzeit macht,
Hab'ich meinen traurigen Tag!
Geh'ich in mein Kämmerlein,
Weine, wein'um meinen Schatz,
Um meinen lieben Schatz!
Blümlein blau! Verdorre nicht!
Du singst auf grüner Heide.
Ach, wie ist die Welt so schön!
Singet nicht! Blühet nicht!
Lenz ist ja vorbei!
Alles Singen ist nun aus!
Des Abends, wenn ich schlafen geh',
Denk'ich an mein Leide!
An mein Leide!
|When my darling has her wedding|
When my darling has her wedding,
her joyous wedding,
I will have my day of mourning!
I will go to my little room,
dark little room,
and weep, weep for my darling,
for my dear darling!
Blue flower! Do not wither!
Sweet little bird
you sing on the green heath.
Alas, how fair is the world!
Do not sing; do not bloom!
Spring is over.
All singing must now cease.
At night when I go to sleep,
I think of my sorrow,
of my sorrow!
Ging heut morgen übers Feld
Ging heut morgen übers Feld,
Tau noch auf den Gräsern hing;
Sprach zu mir der lust'ge Fink:
"Ei du! Gelt? Guten Morgen! Ei gelt?
Du! Wird's nicht eine schöne Welt?
Zink! Zink! Schön und flink!
Wie mir doch die Welt gefällt!"
Auch die Glockenblum' am Feld
Hat mir lustig, guter Ding',
Mit den Glöckchen, klinge, kling,
Ihren Morgengruß geschellt:
"Wird's nicht eine schöne Welt?
Kling, kling! Schönes Ding!
Wie mir doch die Welt gefällt! Heia!"
Und da fing im Sonnenschein
Gleich die Welt zu funkeln an;
Alles Ton und Farbe gewann
Blum' und Vogel, groß und Klein!
ist's nicht eine schöne Welt?
Ei du, gelt? Schöne Welt!"
Nun fängt auch mein Glück wohl an?
Nein, nein, das ich mein',
Mir nimmer blühen kann!
|I walked across the fields this morning|
I walked this morning across the fields;
dew still hung on the blades of grass.
The merry finch spoke to me:
"Hey you! Isn't it? Good morning! Isn't it?
You! Isn't it becoming a fine world?
Chirp! Chirp! Fair and brisk!
How the world delights me!"
Also, the bluebells in the field
merrily with good spirits
tolled out to me with bells ding, ding
their morning greeting:
"Isn't it becoming a fine world?
Ding, ding! Fair thing!
How the world delights me! Hey-ho!"
And then, in the sunshine,
the world suddenly began to glitter;
everything gained sound and color
in the sunshine!
Flower and bird, great and small!
Is it not a lovely world?
Hey, isn't it? A lovely world?"
Now will my happiness also begin?
No, no, the happiness I mean
can never bloom for me!
Ich hab'ein glühend Messer
Ich hab'ein glühend Messer,
Ein Messer in meiner Brust,
O weh! Das schneid't so tief
in jede Freud' und jede Lust.
Ach, was ist das für ein böser Gast!
Nimmer hält er Ruh',
nimmer hält er Rast,
Nicht bei Tag, noch bei Nacht,
wenn ich schlief!
Wenn ich den Himmel seh',
Seh'ich zwei blaue Augen stehn!
O weh! Wenn ich im gelben Felde geh',
Seh'ich von fern das blonde Haar
Im Winde weh'n!
Wenn ich aus dem Traum auffahr'
Und höre klingen ihr silbern Lachen, O weh!
Ich wollt', ich läg auf der schwarzen Bahr',
Könnt' nimmer die Augen aufmachen!
|I have a red-hot knife|
I have a red-hot knife,
a knife in my breast.
O woe! It cuts so deep
into every joy and every delight.
Alas, what an evil guest it is!
Never does it rest,
never does it relax,
not by day, nor by night,
when I would sleep.
When I gaze up into the sky,
I see two blue eyes there.
O woe! When I walk in the yellow field,
I see from afar her blond hair
waving in the wind.
When I start from a dream
and hear the tinkle of her silvery laugh, O woe!
I wish I could lay down on the black bier,
Would that my eyes never open again!
Die zwei blauen Augen
Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz,
Die haben mich in die weite Welt geschickt.
Da mußt ich Abschied nehmen
vom allerliebsten Platz!
O Augen blau,
warum habt ihr mich angeblickt?
Nun hab' ich ewig Leid und Grämen!
Ich bin ausgegangen in stiller Nacht
wohl über die dunkle Heide.
Hat mir niemand Ade gesagt
Mein Gesell' war Lieb und Leide!
Auf der Straße stand ein Lindenbaum,
Da hab' ich zum ersten Mal im Schlaf geruht!
Unter dem Lindenbaum,
Der hat seine Blüten über mich geschneit,
Da wußt' ich nicht, wie das Leben tut,
War alles, alles wieder gut!
Alles! Alles, Lieb und Leid
Und Welt und Traum!
|The two blue eyes|
The two blue eyes of my darling
they sent me into the wide world.
I had to take my leave
of this most-beloved place!
O blue eyes,
why did you gaze on me?
Now I have eternal sorrow and grief.
I went out into the quiet night
well across the dark heath.
No one bade me farewell.
My companions are love and sorrow!
By the road stood a linden tree,
Where, for the first time, I found rest in sleep!
Under the linden tree
that snowed its blossoms over me,
I did not know how life went on,
and all was well again!
All! All, love and sorrow
Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah
In the early 1940s Leonard Bernstein had been on a meteoric rise as a conductor, pianist and composer of ballets and lighter fare. But he wanted also to make his mark as composer of music for the concert hall and had been thinking for a while about writing a symphony. He made some sketches in 1938, but did not start serious work on his first symphony until the spring of 1942. Then, in late summer, he heard that the new England Conservatory of Music was sponsoring a competition for a large orchestral work, and that his mentor, the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, was the chief judge. Bernstein went to work, finishing the piano score in ten days. In order to finish the orchestration – always a time-consuming job – to meet the deadline of December 31, 1942, he recruited his sister Shirley and a number of friends to help in producing the finished copy. Because it was too late to mail the manuscript, he had to take the train to Boston to deliver it in person. It did not win the prize. Nevertheless, it was premiered in January 1944 in Pittsburgh with the composer conducting and mezzo-soprano Jenny Tourel as the soloist in the third movement.
Jeremiah deals with a crisis of faith. Some of the themes are taken from traditional Hebrew prayer cantillations and chants, as well as from the style of Ernest Bloch’s “Jewish cycle,” especially Schelomo, Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra. The opening movement, Prophecy, sets up a brooding mood of doom in a theme that dominates the movement. Being a symphony, the work adheres to a modified sonata form, including a quieter, almost pleading second theme. The prophet predicts that Jerusalem and its Temple will be destroyed by the rising power of Babylon unless the people mend their ways and return to God. According to Bernstein, “…the intention is…not one of literalness, but of emotional quality. [It] aims only to parallel in feeling the intensity of the prophet’s pleas with his people.” A further theme, rising in sequence, herald’s destruction.
Profanation, the second movement, is a scherzo in variable meters depicting the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. According to Bernstein, it was intended to give a general sense of the destruction and chaos brought on by the pagan corruption within the priesthood and the people. The opening, a duet between clarinet and piccolo three octaves apart, sets a carefree tone that degenerates as the whole orchestra is brought in. Here, the syncopation and jazzy rhythms take on an ominous tone.
In the third movement, Lamentations, the mezzo-soprano sings in Hebrew from the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), the cry of the prophet mourning his beloved Jerusalem ruined and pillaged in spite of his effort to save it. The music is taken from traditional liturgical cantillation. The movement operates something like a call-and-response where the orchestra answers the soloist with allusions to the traditional music of the Middle European shtetl. As the movement progresses, the orchestra becomes more somber and majestic, perhaps invoking the figure of the prophet himself. While the soloist’s final passionate prayer provides the climax, with the plea from chapter 5, verses 20-21: “Wherefore dost thou forget us forever? Forsake us for so long a time? Return thou us to Thee, O Lord…” the Symphony ends quietly – and ambiguously. Remember, this is 1942.
Bernstein dedicated Jeremiah to his father, Samuel Bernstein. As a mark of respect, he set the Hebrew text in the Ashkenazi pronunciation used in Eastern Europe and at the time by most Jews in America. By the time Bernstein and Jenny Tourel brought it to Israel in the late 1940s, he had switched the text to the Sephardic pronunciation used in modern Hebrew.
While the timing of the composition of the Symphony was contemporaneous with the most horrendous crisis in all of Jewish history, Bernstein could only have been aware of the tip of the iceberg that was the Holocaust. Since its composition, however, the Symphony has taken on that greater significance.
Translation of text from Lamentations
How doth the city sit solitary,
That was full of people!
How is she become as a widow?
She that was great among the nations.
And princess among the provinces.
How is she become tributary!
She weepeth sore in the night,
And her tears are on her cheeks;
She hath none to comfort her
Among all her lovers;
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
They are become her enemies.
Judah is gone into exile because of affliction.
And because of great servitude;
she dwelleth among the nations,
she findeth no rest.
all her pursuers overtook her
Within the narrow passes.
Jerusalem hath grievously sinned...
How doth the city sit solitary
They wander as blind men in the streets,
they are polluted with blood,
so that men cannot
touch their garments.
Depart, ye unclean! they cried unto them,
Depart, depart! touch us not...
Wherefore dost thou forget us forever,
and forsake us so long time?...
Turn thou us unto thee, o lord...
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
West Side Story was Leonard Bernstein’s attempt to demonstrate that it was possible to write a Broadway musical with the characteristics of high art. He succeeded beyond all expectations. With lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and with Jerome Robbins as director and choreographer, the show opened on Broadway on September 26, 1957 and ran for over 1,000 performances. The movie was just as spectacular a success, as was the recording.
But its birth was not easy. The show was originally conceived eight years earlier as a conflict between Jews and Catholics during the Easter-Passover celebrations and at one point was to be called East Side Story. The protagonists were finally switched to ethnic gangs on the Upper West Side, but no backers could be found. West Side Story became notorious for having been turned down by nearly every producer because no one thought that such a tragic story was suitable material for Broadway. Finally, Harold Prince and Robert Griffith, two successful Broadway producers, emerged as the show’s financial the “angels.”
Casting was another problem. The perfectionist Robbins wanted a cast of 38 who could both dance and sing – a nearly impossible demand in those days, but now the rule rather than the exception. A choreographer first and foremost, Robbins finally settled on dancers who could sing – as opposed to singers who could dance. When Bernstein, unencumbered by staging constraints, re-recorded West Side Story in 1988, he used opera singers for the main roles: Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras, Tatiana Troyanos and Marilyn Horne. It became another bestseller.
While describing the tragic life of ordinary people in a New York Puerto Rican ghetto, West Side Story tackles an archetypal theme: love clashing with prejudice and clan hatred, an inner city Romeo and Juliet.
The Symphonic Dances, which Bernstein extracted from the musical, are not in the order of the original show. Consisting of nine segments played without pause, the suite was first performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1961:
1. Prologue: A fantasy on the Jets’ number, the Prologue portrays the rising violence between the two street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets in harsh, jazzy dissonances and rhythms.
2. Somewhere: Tony and Maria’s idyllic dream sequence in which the gangs are joined in a peaceful friendship and the lovers united, originally from Act 2 after Tony has stabbed Maria’s brother.
3. Scherzo: The dream continues as the two gangs leave the city for the idyllic countryside.
4. Mambo: The rival gangs compete at a school dance, originally from Act 1 when the two lovers first meet.
5. Cha-Cha, a continuation of the preceding scene in which the lovers, Tony and Maria, from opposing gangs, meet for the first time and dance together. The theme is a variation on “Maria.”
6. Meeting Scene: The lovers hesitantly exchanging their first words. Also based on “Maria,” this is a short transitional passage into the following number.
7. “Cool”Fugue: The hostility of the Jets gradually builds in anticipation of street warfare. A recap of the Jets’ theme precedes the fugue – actually a double fugue – one subject in long notes, the other in a faster jazzy rhythm.
8. Rumble. A violent, dissonant climax, in which both rival gang leaders are killed. The realization of the enormity of the event imposes shocked near silence, a pianissimo flute solo of the fugue theme.
9. Finale: Tony dies in Maria’s arms, a victim of gang violence. Two themes, the first comprises the funeral procession: Maria’s passionate outpouring to Anita and the dream melody of “Somewhere.”
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2017|