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Monday, August 04, 2008

HANS HOTTER ON LIEDER


I've been reading the memoirs of the German bass Hans Hotter (1908-2003)
called, conveniently, Hans Hotter by Hans Hotter (translated by Donald Arthur, published in 2006 by Northeaster University Press. The original title is 'Die Mai ward wir gegonen'-May was kind to me, a line from Schubert's Winterreise)

Hotter, in addition to telling us about his personal life and professional travels, thankfully offers some insight into the performance of lieder. On paper he's a secondary source. Seek out his recordings if you want to listen and hear the words and music from the oracles' mouth.

Here's an excerpt from pp. 236

"...a friend of Schubert's, the lawyer Dr. Leopold Sonnleithner, has passed down to us some hints from the great genius himself who created these "gruesome songs" (as he himself described Winterreise). In these hints, Schubert gives us what can certainly be regarded as authoritative answers...Schubert's friend reports, "I heard Schubert coach and accompany his songs more than a hundred times. He never tolerated violent expression in the performance of lieder. He always kept strictly in tempo except for those few passages where he himself specifically marked a tempo change in writing. The lieder singer should as a rule only relate the experiences and sensations of another person; he does not assume the role of the person whose feelings he is describing. Poet, composer, and singer must approach the song lyrically and not dramatically. Particularly in the case of Schubert's true expression, the most profound sensitivity has already been placed in the melody a such and is splendidly enhanced by the composer."

CP: Sing what's on the page. Nothing more and noting less.

So there.

I recommend this book and any of Hotter's recordings to anyone interested in learning to make music drama. Absent that, they are completely enjoyable for their own sake.

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