Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Robert Schumann
This is the continuing saga of my preparation for a performance of Dichterliebe (Schumann) on November 1. My friend Ben Wiant is the pianist.

Second rehearsal with Ben today. I learned a great deal in that hour.
Now I know why singers are always told never to learn music from a recording.
I've been listening to Dichterliebe for twenty years, but never thought of singing it myself; I'm not a singer. I'm a good musician who loves music and singing but you either got the chops or you ain't...But ego, age and friendship win out, and I am enjoying this collaboration with Ben. But listening to cds, who notices the little notes and the subtle colors that make this music? Read the score!

Performing Dichterliebe  is all about listening to one another. Ben asked me to sing with more vibrato. Who wants to hear a fat and fifty choirboy? Well, that's one of the several technical problems around to handle. Marrying the German diction to real understanding is another. For example

Die Rose, die Lilie
die Taube , die Sonne
die lieb ich einst alle in Liebeswonne**
Ich lieb' sie nicht mehr, ich liebe alleine
die Kleine, die Feine, die Reine die Eine....

The rose, the lily
the dove, the sun
I loved them all with the wonder of love
I love them no more
I love alone
the little one, the fine, the pure, the only one

**Has a more intense meaning than 'wonder of love'..more like the miracle or even the blessing of love, and it suggests eroticism.

How to put this across? The entire song is on one page. There's an old tradition of singing it schnell, in one breath. It can be done if you don't mind passing out and leaving your audience as bewildered as before. Filling out each word with the voice it deserves, even if they are 16th notes, is a great challenge. Interpretation often has to do with unnecessary externals. It is really internal, and quite a personal process. I need to believe in the one I love above all, be she small, and fine, and pure (at my age?) and the only one. Nice Irish boy from Boston that I am, I feel like running to confession! And this is only one (eine!) of the sixteen songs. Just wait til the end, when the poet calls for a large coffin, large enough to be borne by giants who are stronger than the statue of St. Christopher in the Cathedral at Cologne, and in that coffin he buries his love. It's gonna take some sales job, never mind memorizing the German words

Und holt mir auch zwolf Riesen
Die muessen noch staerker sein
Als wie der starke Christoph
Im Dom zu Coeln am Rhein.

And also get twelve giants
They must be stronger than
The powerful Christopher
In the cathedral at Cologne.

Who needs reality TV? Stay tuned.

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