English

Discovering Jerzy Fitelberg

Fitelberg-Arc-Esnsemble1

Is the music world finally waking up?

Not if it’s up to the big record companies. With them we are still condemned to Bachs, Beethovens and Wagners. Fortunately, smaller labels like Chandos still exist. A while ago they surprised us with a CD with chamber works by Paul Ben-Haim, now they know how to make me overjoyed with Jerzy Fitelberg.

While Ben-Haim’s name was still a little known here and there, Fitelberg’s name was not. At least not Jerzy’s,  because there are still enough old recordings of his father Grzegorz, who was a famous conductor.

FitelbergJerzy1expanded

Jerzy Fitelberg (1903 – 1951) was born in Warsaw and first studied with his father who had him play as a percussionist in the orchestra of the National Theatre in order to gain experience. From 1922 he studied composition with Franz Schreker in Berlin, among others. In 1927 he made a name for himself by re-orchestrating Sullivan’s Mikado for Erik Charell’s operetta-revue in the Grosses Schauspielhaus in Berlin. In 1933 he fled first to Paris and from there to New York.

Fitelberg was one of the favourite composers of Copland and Artur Rubinstein, among others. He himself described his compositional style as “full of the energy and high tension of Stravinski combined with the harmonic complexity of Hindemith and the colours of Milhaud’s French music. Plus the much-needed satire”.

Below an arrangement, made by Stefan Frenkel, of a Tango from Fitelberg’s opera ‘Der schlechgefesselte Prometheus’,played by Marleen Asberg (violophone) and Gerard Bouwhuis (piano) at a concert given by the Ebony Band, April 25, 2013 in Amsterdam,

 

His works were often performed until his death, after which they disappeared from the stage. Until more than sixty years later the ARC Ensemble (yes, the same ensemble that recorded the Ben-Haim CD) picked up the thread.

The first string quartet from 1926 starts with a resolute Presto, which reminds me a lot of Mendelssohn, but not for long. Soon Slavic themes pass by to make way for the melancholic Meno mosso. Beautiful.

The second string quartet , overloaded with prizes in 1928, sounds a bit like Janaček, but with Polish instead of Moravian dances in the background. The sonatine for two violins mixes all the contradictions of the late 1930s: entertainment, jazz and a (cautious) atonality.

Fisches Nachtgesang, a night music for clarinet, cello and celesta is so beautiful that it hurts. It reminds me of a night candle, which goes out carefully. Covered with the soothing words “go to sleep, but don’t worry about it”, but you’re not really reassured.

The members of the Canadian ARC Ensemble, who play contagiously well, all work at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music. What a CD! Ten out of ten!

Jerzy Fitelberg
Chamber Works
String Quartets Nos 1 and 2
Serenade; Sonatine; Night musik “Fisches Nachtgesang”.
ARC Ensemble
Chandos CHAN 10877

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

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THE STEPSISTERS OF MARIA CALLAS

Traviata Callas

Would we still love Callas so much if she had been an ‘ordinary’ happy person, like most of her colleagues? If she had been happily married and had had children, what she so longed for? If she didn’t suffer from bulimia and was not constantly fighting with her weight and body? If she had not fallen in love with Aristoteles Onassis, the super-rich Greek shipowner who left her to marry an even more famous lady? And if she had not lost her voice prematurely? Speculations, of course, but since even the most honest opera lover has something of a tabloid reader it keeps buzzing. People simply love gossip.

callas-onassis-pinterest

Rumour, success, being in the spotlight, are the most important ingredients in the lives of people who find their lives boring and everyday and lose themselves in the stories of the ‘rich and beautiful’. It should be noted that they feast most on the dark sides of the stories, because there is no greater happiness than sorrow.

Maria Callas was a diva with a true cult status. She owed this not only to her singing, but also to her unmistakable acting talent, her attractive appearance and her, unfortunately, more than tragic personal life.

However great, famous, loved and adored, Maria Callas was, she did not invent opera, nor was she the greatest actress amongst singers. Not all singers were equally gifted actors, but the image of a fat lady standing motionless on stage fluttering only her hands is not at all accurate.

Just think of Conchita Supervia, Geraldine Farrar, Marjorie Lawrence or Grace Moore, but there were more.

supervia

Conchita Supervia as Carmen

Geraldine Farrar as Carmen in a film from 1915:

What Callas truly was, was a pioneer in (dramatic) belcanto, and that happened more or less by accident (consult the DVD The Callas Conversations vol. II). It was a genre that at the time was a little neglected. It was she who gave us back the forgotten operas of Bellini, Donizetti and Spontini, but was she really the first?

There are many more sopranos from the time of Callas who sang at the highest level and deserve to be discussed. The sopranos I am going to talk about were all more or less Callas’ contemporaries and all sang almost the same repertoire (not counting spinto sopranos that sang mainly verist roles, such as Magda Olivero, Carla Gavazzi or Clara Petrella).

These divas missed the chance to be in the right place at the right time. Or: to meet someone who was important enough not only to boost your career, but also to give you a record deal.

callas-gioconda-nanopress

Maria Callas as La Gioconda in 1952

Cynical?

It has always been like this and nowadays it is no different, although we are dealing with another aspect: the ideal of beauty. If you don’t meet it, you can say goodbye to your career in advance – fat people are not even allowed to audit in many theatres anymore and a starting Callas would have absolutely no chance at all now.

 

                                         ANITA CERQUETTI

cerquetti

Her career, like that of Callas, didn’t last long. She was born in 1931 and made her opera debut as Aida in Spoleto as early as 1951 (!). She became – typically enough – the most famous by stepping in for a sick Callas in 1958. While she was still in a production of Norma in Naples, she sang some performances of the same opera by Bellini at the opera house of Rome, instead of La Divina.

Anita Cerquetti sings ‘O re dei cieli’ from Agnese di Hohenstauffen by Spontini:

On the label Bongiovanni (GB 1206-2, unfortunately not on You Tube) you can hear her in the famous ‘Casta diva’ from Norma. For me this is one of the most beautiful performances of this aria ever. Goosebumps.

Cerquetti sings Norma. Recording from 1956:

 

                                     LEYLA GENCER

gencer

Born in 1928 in a small town close to Istanbul, Gencer, just like Callas, has a cult status, even today, but on a smaller scale. She had a Turkish father and a Polish mother, which made her proficient in that language. There is even a pirate recording of her with songs by Chopin in Polish:

Gencer’s real speciality was belcanto. She sang her first Anna Bolena only a year after Callas:

And unlike Callas, she also included the other Tudor Queen operas by Donizetti in her repertoire: Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda.

gencer-alle-drie-tudor

Gencer as all three Tudor Queens

Besides all her Bellini’s, Donizetti’s and Verdi’s, and between Saffo by Paccini and Francesca da Rimini by Zandonai, she also sang some of Mozart’s songs. Fortunately, her Contessa (Le nozze di Figaro) in Glyndebourne was recorded and released on  CD some time ago. For the rest, you have to settle for the pirates.

Her round and clear voice – with the famous pianissimi, which only Montserrat Caballé could match – is so beautiful that it hurts. If you have never heard of her before, listen below to ‘La vergine degli angeli’ from La forza del Destino, recorded in 1957. Bet you’re going to gasp for breath?

                                          VIRGINIA ZEANI

zeani

Have you noticed how many great singers come from Romania? Virginia Zeani is one of them, born in Solovăstru in 1925.

Zeani made her debut when she was 23 as Violetta in Bologna (indented for Margherita Carossio). That role would become her trademark. There is a costly anecdote about her debut in Covent Garden: it was in 1960 and she was a last minute replacement for Joan Sutherland, who became ill. She arrived late in the afternoon and there was hardly time to try on the costume. Before she went on stage, she asked very quickly: ‘Which of the gentlemen is my Alfredo?

zeani-traviata

The soprano sang no less than 69 roles, including many world premieres. In 1957 she created the role of Blanche in Dialogues des carmélites by Poulenc. Her repertoire ranged from Handel (Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare), via Bellini, Donizetti, Massenet and Gounod to Wagner (Elsa and Senta). With of course the necessary Verdis and Puccinis and as one of her greatest star roles Magda in The Consul by Menotti:

I myself am completely obsessed with her Tosca, but also her Violetta should not be missed by anyone. Her coloratures in the first act are more than perfect. And then her ‘morbidezza’… Do it for her!

Below her ‘Vissi d’arte’ (Tosca), recorded in 1975, when she was over fifty:

                                           CATERINA MANCINI

mancini

Never heard of her? Then it’s time to make up for the damage, because I promise you a voice out of thousands, with a beautiful height, pure coloratures (all ‘al punto’) and a drama that could make even La Divina jealous.

Mancini sings “Santo di patria… Da te questo m’è concesso” from Attila by Verdi:

Mancini’s career also lasted only a short time. People talked about health problems, but what really happened? The fact is that the soprano, born in 1924, stopped working as early as 1960. Although her name can still be found in 1963, as contralto (!) at the concert in memory of Kennedy.

Mancini made her debut in 1948, as Giselda in I Lombardi. At the Scala she already sang Lucrezia Borgia in 1951. Donizetti, Rossini and Bellini are not lacking in her repertoire.

The Italian label Cetra has recorded a lot with her; difficult to obtain, but so very worthwhile to look for!

At her best I find her as Lida in La Battaglia di Legnano by Verdi. Below a fragment of it:

                                     MARCELLA POBBE

pobbe

Marcella Pobbe may be a bit of an outsider in this list, as she had fewer belcanto roles in her repertoire (Gluck and Rossini, but no Bellini). But the Verdi and Puccini heroines she more or less had in common with La Divina.

Pobbe sings ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ from Il Trovatore:

She also sang a lot of Mozart and Wagner. But what made her really famous is Adriana Lecouvreur from Cilea

Pobbe was exceptionally beautiful. Elegant, elegant, almost royal. And her voice was exactly the same: her singing flowed like a kind of lava, in which you could lose yourself completely. Nobody then thought it necessary to record her. We already had La Divina, didn’t we?

Pobbe sings ‘Ave Maria’ from Otello by Verdi:

Listen below for example to ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ from Adriana Lecouvreur and think of that golden age, which is irrevocably over.

In Dutch: DE STIEFZUSSEN VAN MARIA CALLAS

see also: OPERA FANATIC: road movie met opera sterren

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

‘A Streetcar named desire’ twenty years after its premiere

Streetcar affiche

I had been playing with the idea of writing about modern American operas, because nowhere in the world is opera as alive as it is there. Romantic, minimalistic, dodecaphonic: something for everyone.

But ask the average opera lover (the diehards know Heggie, Barber and Menotti) to name an American opera composer: bet that they will not get beyond Philip Glass and John Adams. Why is that? Because we, Europeans, have a nose for American culture and feel superior in everything. That’s why.

September 1998 it was exactly twenty years ago that an important American opera had its premiere in San Francisco: A Streetcar named desire by André Previn, after the play by Tennesee Williams. I was there.

Streetcar scene

Elisabeth Futral (Stella), Rodney Gilfrey (Stanley) and Renée Fleming (Blanche) © Larry Merkle

THE PREMIERE

Expectations were high. Tennesee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the best known and most important American plays. Its adaptation by Elia Kazan in 1951 not only earned the play worldwide recognition but also a real cult status; and the main characters – curiously enough except for Marlon Brando – were all rewarded with an Oscar.

Streetcar film

The play was made into a film twice more, without success.  Not surprisingly, there are few films – or dramas – so intensely linked to the actors’ names. Still, it was the ultimate dream of Lotfi Mansouri, the then boss of the San Francisco Opera, to turn ‘Streetcar’ into an opera. Leonard Bernstein was approached but showed no interest.

The choice eventually fell on André Previn, a choice that seemed a bit strange to some, after all he had never composed an opera before.

Philip Littel, an old hand in the trade, wrote the libretto. He was best known for The Dangerous Liaisons, an opera that premiered two years earlier with great success. Colin Graham was the director and for the leading roles, great singer-actors were cast.

The libretto closely follows the play  and does not shy away from even the most difficult details. Small cuts have been made and Littel allowed himself a small addition: the Mexican flower saleswoman with her sinister ‘Flores, flores para los muertos’ returns at the end of the third act, with a clear message for Blanche. To me this felt slightly superfluous.

The stage images resembled those from the film. The first scene already: mist, a little house with the stairs to the upstairs neighbours and Blanche, carrying her little suitcase, singing ‘They told me to take a streetcar named Desire…” A feast of recognition for the film lover.

You recognise fragments of Berg, Britten, Strauss and Puccini in the music, which is easy on the ears. The atmosphere is partly determined by strong jazz influences and you hear many trumpet and saxophone solos. Logical, after all, it takes place in New Orleans.

The opera is through-composed, but contains numerous arias: Stella and Mitch get one, there is a duet for Stella and Blanche, and Blanche herself is very richly endowed with solo’s.

All attendees speculated what notes Stanley would get to sing with his famous “Stelllllaaa!!!

None, as it turned out. Rodney Gilfrey (Stanley), just like Marlon Brando in the movie stood at the bottom of the stairs and shouted. And just like in the movie Stella came back. The next morning she woke up humming. And she responded to Blanche with a beautiful big aria “I can hardly stand it”.

Streetcar Stanley

Elisabeth Futral (Stella) and Rodney Gilfrey (Stanley) © Larry Merkle

Elisabeth Futral provided a true sensation in her role of Stella. Blessed with a brilliant, light, agile soprano, she sang the stars from the sky and was ovationally applauded by the press and the public.

Streetcar rode hemd

Stanley Kowalski’s role was Rodney Gilfrey’s own. He even did me, even if it had been forgotten Brando for a while. I don’t know how he did it, but he could sing and chew gum at the same time! He looked particularly attractive in both the torn white T-shirt and the “red silk pajamas”. Unfortunately Previn didn’t give him an aria to sing, which made him even more unsympathetic as a person.

Mitch was sung very sensitively by the then unknown tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, and Blanche…..  André Previn wrote the role especially for Renée Fleming and you could hear that. Sensational.

Meanwhile Fleming has added her large aria ‘I Want Magic’ to her repertoire and recorded it in the studio for the CD with the same name.

CD

Streetcar-Named-Desire-768x761cd

The opera was recorded live by DG and brought on the market in the series 20/21 (music of our time).


DVD

Streetar dvd

The opera has now become a classic and is performed in many opera houses in many countries, but the chance that you will ever see the opera in the Netherlands is virtually nil. Fortunately it was also recorded on DVD (Arthaus 100138). Not so long ago I have watched it again.

“Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” sings Blanche Du Bois (Fleming), disappearing into the distance. She is led away by a psychiatrist, whom she sees as a worshipper.

Her words echo on, a trumpet plays in the distance, and strings take over the blues. The heat is palpable, the curtain falls and I look for a handkerchief. Before that I spent two and a half hours on the edge of my chair and even forgot the glass of whiskey I filled at the beginning of the opera.

People: buy the DVD and get carried away. It is without a doubt one of the best operas of the last twenty years.

Renée Fleming in conversation with André Previn about the opera:

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

DVD WRAP.QXD (Page 1)

The kindness of Strangers’ is also the title of a film about André Previn:

 

Translated with https://www.deepl.com/Translator

In Dutch: André Previns ‘A Streetcar named desire’ twintig jaar na de première

SIR THOMAS ALLEN

                                LET BEAUTY AWAKE

Allen portret gubelkian

In my opinion Thomas Allen is one of the greatest singers of the past half century. His balmy voice with its warmth, colours and nuances makes me happy every time I hear it. It even feels comforting, like a warm bath. The English have the perfect description for this: “meltingly beautiful singing.” Yes, I am a fan!

 

This all-around baritone, equally at home in opera, art song, oratorio, musical theatre and even movies is held in high esteem all over the world. Except in the Netherlands, where he is barely known. Small wonder: apart from a few rare visits to the Concertgebouw he never sang here. The reason is simple: he was never asked.

DON PASQUALE

Allen recording

Recording Don Pasquale in Munich. Sir Thomas Allen, Renato Bruson, Eva Mei, Frank Lopardo © Wernard Neumeister

 

I first met Thomas Allen in December 1993 in London, after his recital in St James’s Church where he sang Die Schöne Müllerin.  We never really talked until a few weeks later in the BMG Studios in Munich, where he was recording Malatesta in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

 

I was allowed to attend the recording sessions. In a small corner I looked and listened, deeply admiring this beautiful singer. He sang the hardest coloratura passages in one long breath, and repeated them endlessly. His hands made elegant gestures. Everything about him, in fact, was acting. What a contrast with the recital in London a few weeks earlier, which had moved me to tears. There he stood motionless on stage, focused, acting only with his eyes.

How can he do that?

ACTING

“How I can do that …  “

“When you are recording the visual element is, of course, absent. The only thing you have is your imagination. When I think about Malatesta, I imagine an elegant man in a beautiful suit. My hands then start to move automatically, which helps me find the colours I need to sound convincing.”

 

“It works somewhat differently with art songs, I think. I cannot stand singers who move around too much on stage. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Art songs need to be done with a certain discipline, with restraint. I do not permit myself more than eye expressions. Now you have to understand, this is how I feel, it fits my personality, but it will not work for everybody.

You know what my secret is when I sing art songs? It starts in your heart and then it rises to the head …. it is a combination of heart and brain.  Somewhere in between – through the throat – it comes out….”

FISCHER-DIESKAU

“I learned to sing by looking at my older colleagues. I am like a parrot, I imitate everything. My great example was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In fact, he was more of an idol than an example. In art song, at least. My God, how have I admired that man!”

“Over the times I have come to think a little more nuanced about him. I have more experience now, which has also influenced my thinking. I still admire his Wolf and his Pfitzner. Much more so than his romantic repertoire like Schubert and Schumann.”

“A couple of years ago I first met him, and believe me, I shook in my boots like a complete novice! That man has been an idol and an example to me for years.  And not just to me! For the entire generation of singers of thirty, forty and even fifty years ago he was the ideal. So when critics compared me to him I took that as a huge compliment.”

“In opera I never had a similar role model. I learned the profession, as I said, like a parrot. You start with copying a singer, afterwards you learn to interpret a piece of music. My technique kept improving over the years. There has been a time in my life I was seriously hooked on opera. I hardly sang art songs, never gave recitals. I honestly must say that was the saddest period of my life. It was not healthy for me. Fortunately everything ended well.”

“Singing art songs has in fact helped me with operatic acting. It made me more relaxed and my acting quieter. I used to run from one end of the stage to the other, always moving. Singing art songs gave me greater focus on the opera stage.

DIRECTORS

“Yes, the director is important. How far do I go? Until it becomes ridiculous or clashes with the text. Then I stop. I am not a difficult person, more cooperative, in fact, but I cannot stand people who ignore the libretto simply because of their own ideas. Or because of what they want to see themselves. “

Alen Almaviva

Thomas Allen as Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro

“I will give you an example. A few years ago, in Le Nozze di Figaro, I had to disappear through a trapdoor at the moment I sang ‘Son tutti contenti’. That was ridiculous, so I asked the director why. Almaviva is no Don Giovanni, after all. But he did not know himself. „C’est une idée“, he said. So I refused to do it. A director who cannot explain something is reason enough for me to say no.”

“What really upsets me is they believe singers have nothing to say! And that we are manipulated all the time, either by directors or by conductors. But singers are no idiots. They have learned a lot over the years. They have a lot of experience and are very good at their profession. They can contribute a lot to a production. Directors should listen to singers more often.”

REPERTOIRE

Allen als mooie Giovanni

Thomas Allen as Don Giovanni

Over the years Thomas Allen has built up a comprehensive repertoire. He sings Monteverdi, Purcell and Gluck, and contemporary music as well, including world premieres of pieces by Thea Musgrave and John Casken.

He has sung all the great opera roles by Mozart, Strauss, Wagner, Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini. His Billy Budd is legendary.

 

He still is one of the most beautiful Hamlets (Thomas) and

 

Evgenij Onegins: both in English and Russian.

 

Thomas Allen has also appeared in Mrs Henderson Presents and other movies.

In 1993 he published his autobiography ‘Foreign Parts – A Singer’s Journal.’

Allen made his professional debut in 1969 at the Welsh National Opera and in October that year he sang his first big role: Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. In 2009 he celebrated his forty years on stage. For the occasion a fan made a compilation of his greatest roles until then.

English translation: Remko Jas

In Dutch: Let Beauty Awake: SIR THOMAS ALLEN

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Entartete Musik swing

WALTER BRAUNFELS

Braunfels

In 1933 Walter Braunfels was dismissed from his post as director of the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. Until then he had been, with Richard Strauss and Franz Schreker, one of the most frequently performed contemporary composers.  He retired to the Bodensee region (in his biography this is beautifully described as an “inner emigration’). After the war, on special request of Chancellor Adenauer, Braunfels returned to Cologne. The attention he received was limited to a few performances of his works. Disillusioned, he moved back to the Bodensee

BERTHOLD GOLDSCHMIDT

Entartet Beatrice Cenci

In 1935 Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996) left Germany and travelled to London. Against his better judgement he kept composing, but his works remained unperformed. In 1951 Goldschmidt won an opera composition contest with Beatrice Cenci, which had to wait until 1988 for its first concert performance.

In the 1980s, stimulated by the renewed interest in his work, Goldschmidt started to compose again. His Rondeau from 1995, written for and performed by Chantal Juilliet,  was recorded by Decca, together with his beautiful Ciaccona Sinfonica from 1936. This CD has been out of print for years now, and the composer’s works have all but disappeared from the concert platform.

 

 

Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Ullmann, Schreker, Schoenberg, Toch, Weill, Krenek, Spoliansky, Holländer, Grosz, Waxman, Haas, Krasa, Schulhoff, Klein… a litany of names. Labelled “entartet” and banned by the Nazis, vilified, driven away, murdered. The composers who survived the war were forgotten, just like those who were murdered. Has this all really been the fault of the Nazis?

Entartet Goldschmidt en haas

Michael Haas and Berthold Goldschmidt

Michael Haas, the producer of Decca’s recording series Entartete Musik had a logical explanation. “After the war the new generation of composers felt a sense of guilt. Something similar should never happen again, and they found a remedy for that. They thought it was necessary to create objective music, without sentiment and subjected to strict rules. Music had to be universal. Serialism was born. In Darmstadt, the past was dealt with, including the composers from the 1930s. They were too romantic and sentimental, or borrowed too much from jazz and popular music. The Darmstadt school of composers became dominant, which meant an important link between the music of Mahler and Berio was lost. The bridge between the 1920s and the 1950s, the post-Schoenberg generation of composers.”

“My research started with a Weill project that unfortunately failed to take off. In the archives I discovered operas that were composed and performed in the 1920s and 1930s with immense success. I started to search for the scores, and my gut feeling was right. All of them were great compositions that deserved to be performed and recorded. Music history got back its logical order. “

WILHELM GROSZ

Enetartet Grosz

In the 1920s old values were shaken. The Great War had just ended. Countries had become independent, or had just lost their independency. Powerful new influences like jazz, blues, and exotic folklore appeared. Boundaries between classical and popular music were fading.

Of all the composers from that period, Wilhelm Grosz was perhaps the most versatile. He was born in Vienna in 1894 into a wealthy Jewish family. In 1919 he graduated from the Viennese Music Academy, where he was taught by, amongst others, Franz Schreker. In 1920 he finished his musicological studies at the Vienna University.

Grosz composed songs, operas, operettas, ballet music and  chamber music, and was a famous pianist as well. In 1928 he was appointed the artistic director of the Ultraphon record company in Berlin.

In 1929, commissioned by the prestigious Radio Breslau, he composed the song cycle Afrika Songs on lyrics by African-American poets.

Afrika Songs was premiered on 4 February 1930 and enthusiastically received. The cycle also became known as the  Jugendstil Spirituals, which probably is the most fitting description for it. There are jazz and blues influences, but the songs were also quite heavily influenced by the music of Zemlinsky, Mahler and … Puccini (compare Tante Sues Geschichten with Ho una casa nell’ Honan from the second act of Turandot!).

When he Nazis came to power, Grosz returned to Vienna. In 1934 he was forced to flee again, this time to London. There his popular works grew more distinct from his serious ones. His name became forever attached to a series of world wide hits. The Isle of Capri, for example, was the big hit of 1934.

ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL

Entartet Gosz Santa Fe

In 1938 Grosz left for Hollywood. He composed the music for Along the Santa Fe Trail, a movie with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ronald Reagan in the leads. He had a heart attack in 1939 and died, aged only 45.

 

AFRIKA SONGS AND MORE

Entartete Gosz Africa

After almost sixty years Grosz was rediscovered, although only briefly. It is hard to believe, but the Afrika Songs were not recorded until 1996! The Matrix Ensemble performed them for the firs time at the Proms in 1993. The CD also includes the song cycle Rondels, Bänkel und Balladen and the hits Isle of Capri, When Budapest Was Young and Red Sails in the Sunset, songs we all know but never knew who composed them.

Vera Lynn sings Red Sails in the Sunset in 1935

Mezzo Cynthia Clarey and baritone Jake Gardner are splendid in the Afrika Songs and Andrew Shore makes a party of Bänkel und Balladen. Nothing but praise for the  Matrix Ensemble.

 

UTE LEMPER

Entartet Lemper

We meet the Matrix Ensemble again, this time accompanying Ute Lemper on a recording of Berlin cabaret songs. Cabaret in Berlin in the 1920s and the 1930s.  Countless books and articles have been written about it, and it has inspired many movies. Cabaret really was a world of its own, with the venerable Rudolf Nelson as its undisputed king. Pretty soon the younger generation made its mark on the cabaret scene:  Mischa Spoliansky and Friedrich Holländer. The lyrics (mainly by Marcellus Schiffer, but also by Tucholsky) scrutinised the spirit of the times. Everything was mocked, but serious topics were not eschewed either.

Ute Lemper sings Der Verflossene by Berthold Goldschmidt

Lemper’s choice of material is outstanding. Apart from a few widely known schlagers (Peter, Wenn die beste Freundin, Raus mit den Männern) she sings lesser known repertoire, amongst others a composition by Berthold Goldschmidt, Der Verf‌lossene. Goldschmidt was present during the recording sessions, just like the daughters of Spoliansky and Holländer.

Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Ullmann, Schreker, Schoenberg, Toch, Weill, Krenek, Spoliansky, Holländer, Grosz, Waxman, Haas, Krasa, Schulhoff, Klein… a litany of names.  With the naming of these names the documentary from the 1990s on Entartete Musik started.  I doubt the DVD is still for sale somewhere…

 

It is probably remaindered, like the entire prestigious Decca recording series. No money could be made from it. As Michael Haas remarked: “The series is very successful, it wins awards and it is praised. But it does not sell.”

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Entartete Betwee two worlds

In 1944 Korngold wrote music for the movie Between two worlds. It was to be one of his last movie compositions. In London, during World War II, a concert pianist tries to leave by boat to the United States but is refused an exit permit. He then decides to commit suicide. His wife joins him.

Those who commit suicide are refused at the gates of heaven. The pianist and his wife are therefore doomed to remain on a mysterious ship where the dead come to be judged.

 

Almost thirty years after the rediscovery of the once banned and rarely performed composers we still find ourselves between two worlds. The world of great fame and that of oblivion.

I really wonder one day listeners will again appreciate this music purely for the quality of it? I was optimistic then, but much less so nowadays.

English translation: Remko Jas

In Dutch: TUSSEN TWEE WERELDEN

More Entartete Music in English:
Forbidden Music in World Word II: PAUL HERMANN
SZYMON LAKS. MUSIC OF ANOTHER WORLD
JOSEPH BEER: POLNISCHE HOCHZEIT.

In German:
Entartete Musik, Theresienstadt und Channel Classics. Deutsche Übersetzung

“THEY COULD HAVE BEEN BIRDS” *

Burkhardt Söll:  Kinderdinge. A requiem for an old doctor and his orphans

Korczak met de kinderen

Korczak with the children

Korczak’s real name was Henryk Goldszmit. He first used his pen name Janusz Korczak in 1898 when he participated in a literary contest organised by Ignacy Paderewski, the famous pianist and future Prime Minister of Poland.

Korczak

Janusz Korczak

Korczak was born in Warsaw into an assimilated Jewish family.  After studying medicine he briefly practiced pediatrics until 1912 when he became director of Dom Sierot, an orphanage for Jewish children.  He carried out his utopian vision of a children’s republic there:  a community of children, with its own parliament, court and newspaper, all run by the children themselves. After World War I Korczak founded a second orphanage: Nasz Dom (Our House).

Korczak Krochmalna_Street_orphanage

Korczak Krochmalna_Street_orphanage

As well as being a doctor and director of an orphanage,  Korczak was also a pedagogue, teacher, writer and Bible scholar. He worked for the Polish radio and gave lectures. His fame was immense, and not confined to Poland. He was published abroad too, to great critical acclaim, and his pedagogical methods were used all over Europe.

Korczak en kinderen

Korczak and children.

In November 1940 the orphanage was forced to relocate to the Warsaw Ghetto. At the beginning of August 1942 the children, together with Korczak and his deputy Stefania Wilczynska, were put on a transport to Treblinka. Even the Nazis respected the famous pedagogue and offered Korczak the opportunity to save his own life. He refused and chose to die with his children instead of compromising his principles. They were all murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka shortly after arriving there on August 7, 1942.

Korczak den de kindern Yad_Vashem_BW_2

Monument “Janusz Korczak and the children” in Yad Vashem

 

About Korczak:

In 1972 Korczak was posthumously awarded the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Books have been written about him, and his life story has been the subject of several biographical movies. In the 1990s the German-Dutch composer Burkhardt Söll composed a piece in memory of Korczak and his children: Kinderdinge. Manuela du Bois-Reymond, a sociologist and pedagogue who is also married to the composer, wrote the lyrics to the songs.

Korczak Kinderdinge

 

KOrczak KInderdinge

This stunningly beautiful composition consists of short pieces (children’s scenes) flowing into each other. The first scene Canto d’amore  is followed by the sound of clappers (The Only Instruments). There are quotes from Klezmer music and Yiddish songs. We hear train sounds, a grim March of Suitcase, shoes and coats and several songs.

Song I is about fear. Song II about children’s furniture that no longer inspires trust, and Song III about being locked in a dark closet. A closet so small there is only room for one leg. All three songs are filled with immense fear and darkness and death (“bei den Toten ist mein Haus und in der Finsternis is mein Bett gemacht”).

The fourth and final song (The End. What really happened) is based on the eyewitness report by Marek Rudnicki, which was published in the Polish Tygodnik Powszechny in 1988.

Kinderdinge is a concert version of Söll’s earlier piece of musical theatre Ach und Requiem from 1994/1995, which in turn was preceded by Little Requiem composed in 1991.

Korczak Söll

Burkhardt Söll

What interested me was why Söll wrote a piece of musical theatre on Korczak? Where did his interest in the fate of the old doctor and his children come from? Is it at all possible to tell his story in music? These questions were enough reason to visit the composer in Leiden where he has lived since 1977.

Burkhardt Söll was born in Marienberg in 1944. His mother was Jewish. During his first violin lessons, which he took from his aunts, he was allowed to play klezmer music by the one, but not by the other!

Söll studied viola with the famous Rudolf Kolisch. Already in school he composed for the school orchestra. He continued his training at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin where he studied composition with Boris Blacher and Paul Dessau and painting with Horst Antes. Afterwards, he was the assistant of Bruno Maderna and later of Otmar Suitner at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

 

Korczak Söll zelfportret

Burhardt Söll self portrait

In the seventies Söll took part in a research project on children’s aesthetics. He developed a teaching strategy combining music composition with painting. In 1985 he was appointed as a teacher at the Utrecht School of the Arts. His paintings were exhibited in Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, The Hague, and other places.

korczak king Matt

Söll has known Janusz Korczak and his books since his early childhood. Krol Macius I (King Matt the First) is still his favourite book. The life of the old doctor has always fascinated him: someone who put his life at the service of (orphan) children and remained faithful to his own ideals until death.

Reinhart Büttner’s designs for black and misshapen children furniture inspired Söll to write his piece of musical theatre. Ach und Requiem was performed only once in 1995, but luckily a recording exists. It is a shame the textbook, with a Jewish child playing the violin on its cover, is almost illegible. The letters are too small, and the colour combination (dark brown and light blue) makes it even harder to read.

Fragments can be listened to here:

https://www.muziekweb.nl/Link/AEX1367/Kinderdinge-music-for-Korczak-and-his-children

*Taken from the Dutch novella by Karlijn Stoffels We hadden vogels kunnen zijn,  inspired by a song by Itzhak Katzenelson Dos Kelbl written in the Warsaw Ghetto after the death of his wife and children.  The song became a global hit in the sixties under the tile Donna, donna.

English translation: Remko Jas

Original Dutch: “ZIJ HADDEN VOGELS KUNNEN ZIJN” *

Burkhardt Söll
Kinderdinge
Music for Korczak and his children
Djoke Winkler Prins (soprano),
Mary Oliver (viola), Alison McRae (cello), Huub van de Velde (double-bass), Jörgen van Rijen (trombone),Wilbert Grootenboer (percussion), Dil Engelhard (flute), Jan Jansen (clarinet), Henri Bok (saxophone)
Conductor: Peter Stamm
BVHAAST CD 9703

Fascinated by the unknown: a visit to Opera Rara

Opera Rara

Times have changed. Not that long ago anything in the recording industry seemed possible.  The major record companies released one opera after the next. Money was not an issue. Great new stars were introduced, and just as easily dropped. Yet another Aida and Traviata, the hundredth Rigoletto, the two hundredth Tosca or Don Giovanni…..

Smaller labels targeted the niche market of classical music enthusiasts. These collectors were interested in lesser-known works by Donizetti or Bellini, in long forgotten scores and in composers like Meyerbeer, Pacini and Mayr, who enjoyed considerable renown in the past.

One of those labels – fortunately still active today – was Opera Rara. It started out as a small business run by just two men. In their pioneering years their records were issued directly to subscribers. When Opera Rara planned to record an opera, those subscribers had to pay first. After a wait that could take as long as a year, the records were distributed. Highly exclusive! Over the years, Opera Rara became what is probably the largest (and certainly the most important) opera label.

opera rara poster

Twenty years ago I visited Opera Rara in London, where I met Patric Schmid* and conductor David Parry. Schmid was one of the founders of Opera Rara and its recording executive. Since the death of his partner Don White he also was the label’s artistic director.

It is raining quite heavily as I step out of Liverpool Street station. I have a few hours to spend and intend to visit a few bookstores. Because I get lost everywhere, it seemed a safer idea to first carefully map out my route. It turns out I am much closer by than I had thought.

Still, when I make my way there fifteen minutes before my appointment I get lost once again. The weather has turned completely, the sun shines and it is hot. Covered in sweat I enter the building on Curtain Road where Opera Rara resides.

I am received by Stephen Revell, the very friendly assistant of Patrick Schmid, who leads me into an enormous room. In the middle a grand piano, covered under a yellow sheet. On the shelves, thousands of scores, books and records.

We sit at a large wooden table. Patric Schmid enters: a handsome man in his fifties, with grey hair. He apologises David Parry has been delayed and will join us later. Coffee and tea are served, and the story behind the most adventurous opera label begins.

Opera Rara Nelly en Patrick

Patric Schmid with Nelly Miricioiu  © Voix des Arts

The love for belcanto started with Chopin. Schmid, as a young pianist, came under the spell of his enthralling  music and went on a search for more. A search that eventually led to belcanto. His fascination with belcanto became so big that he wanted to change the fact that this music was hardly ever performed. To achieve this, he founded an opera company in 1970 with his friend, the musicologist Don White, called Opera Rara.

 

The search for unknown opera’s was not easy. Schmid himself uses the expression “to dig up.” And since there were no photocopiers at the time, everything had to be produced by hand.

opera rara crociato

Pirate edition of Il Crociato in Egitto © Hans van Verseveld

In 1972 their first opera was performed: Myerbeer’s Il Crociato in Egitto. Several problems occurred. Shortly before opening night the tenor cancelled. Where on earth do you find a replacement for a highly obscure work on such short notice? Fortunately William McKinney saved the production by taking over the role two days before the premiere.

opera rara hugo

All the operas performed by Opera Rara were broadcast by the BBC. Afterwards, these performances were issued by various pirate labels.  In 1977 Schmid and White decided to record the operas themselves and founded the record label Opera Rara. The money to make the recordings was collected directly from their supporters on a subscription basis. The first recording was Donizetti’s Ugo Conte di Parigi, made in July 1977.  The conductor was Allun Francis, who has been one of their two regular conductors since.

Janet Price sings Bianca’s aria “No, che infelice appieno….” from the Donizetti rarity Ugo Conte di Parigi:

 

The other host, conductor David Parry, meanwhile has arrived and joins our conversation with much animation. This former pupil of, amongst others, Celibidache, started his career as a rehearsal pianist, something he believes to be absolutely indispensable for a conductor. His conducting career began in 1973 in Wexford. In 1975 he worked as a conductor’s assistant there in the first performance in 93 years of Orazi e Curiazi by Mercadente, an opera he would record twenty years later for Opera Rara.

Nelly Miricioiu sings ‘Di quai soavi palpiti’ from Orazi e Curiazi:

Not only conductors remain faithful to Opera Rara, singers as well. No wonder: they get the opportunity to make recordings, learn new repertory and work in a relaxed atmosphere. The greatest and most famous stars have worked (and still work) on their projects: Nelly Miriciou, Annick Massis, Jennifer Larmore, Joyce El-Khoury, Bruce Ford, Alaister Miles, Michael Spyres, Carmen Giannattassio  – just to name a few.

Opera Rara David Parry Courtain Road 98

Patric Schmid & David Parry © Basia Jaworski for Basia con fuoco

As a farewell I receive a special gift: the yellow sheet is removed from the grand piano, David Parry picks out a score and plays (and sings, helped by Patric Schmid) an aria from Margherita d’Anjou by Meyerbeer** for me.

*Patric Schmid died suddenly on November 6th, 2005. He was only 61 years old

**Margherita d’Anjou was issued in October 2003. It was one of Meyerbeer’s first operas, still from his Italian period. No complete score of the opera was preserved, so a lot was reconstructed, or “dug up” in the words of Patric Schmid. The excellent cast is headed by Annick Massis, Bruce Ford, Daniela Barcellona and Alastair Miles, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the inspired direction of David Parry (ORC25).

English traslation: Remko Jas

See also interviews (in English):

JENNIFER LARMORE interview (English translation)

Interview with JOYCE EL-KHOURY (English translation)

CARMEN GIANNATTASSIO interview in English

and in German:

Nelly Miricioiu – Keizerin van de ZaterdagMatinee