Listening Guide: Deutsche Erde (German Earth)

Sechs Gesänge (Six Songs), Op. 154 Louis Spohr (1784-1859)

I: Abend-Feier (Evening Rest)

The peaceful character of this song evokes imagery of nature, ‘praising God’ for the earth. Listen for:

•The gentle, mid-range texture created between the voice and piano

•Violin ‘bird call’ figures using harmonics (high-pitched, pure, resonant effects)

•Syncopated, high violin interjections at the mention of the philomel (“Horch den lieder philomele…”), an instrument similar to the violin with a crystal-like tone

II: Jagdlied (Hunting Song)

In a lilting, dancelike (or drunken…) 9/8 time, this hunting song is simple fun. Listen for:

•Rapidly changing tone and volume, representing contrast between the chase itself, and the more subdued, introspective glory thereof

•The opening violin motive (in harmony with itself) that returns many times – and will return again in the final movement

III: Töne (Music)

What seems a simple love song at first turns sorrowful as the sentiment is revealed to be unrequited. This represents a general shift in character to darker themes to come in the following movements. Listen for:

•”The faint plea of the strings,” characterized by hopeful, virtuosic violin figures, often eliding directly into the vocal melody

•Textures representing ‘breezes’ and a ‘stream’

•A mournful coda in minor key, starkly contrasting the rest of the song

IV: Erlkönig (Erlking)

Based on the text of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – and most famously set to music by Franz Schubert – this movement is a terrifying tale of a boy, haunted by the demon Erlking (Elf King), imperceptible to the boy’s father, with whom he furiously rides on horseback. Listen for:

•Kaitlyn’s representation of four different characters: the narrator, frightened boy, consoling father, and sickeningly sweet Erlking

•The violin’s enticing, schmaltzy lines whenever the Erlking speaks – and the moment he grows impatient

•At the end, the fate of the boy as represented by the music

V: Der Spielmann und seine Geige (The Minstrel and His Fiddle)

Practically the answer to movement three (Töne), and the climax of the Six Songs, this penultimate movement elaborates on the ferocious, ‘eternal grief’ of unrequited love. Saved by music – his violin – the speaker returns the character to joy. Listen for:

•Virtuosic, relentless, passionate violin passagework

•Rapidly changing characters, perhaps representing the speaker’s madness

•A sudden return to peace as the movement comes to a close

VI: Abendstille (Evening Stillness)

Following in the character of peace in nature from the first song, the Six Songs conclude with stunning, uncomplicated serenity. Listen for:

•Strophic form: the music is played three times, each with new text

•A very slow version of the Hunting Song violin figure, responding to the voice

Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

The fifth and final movement of the Second Partita, the Chaconne is at once the most famous, difficult, and longest single movement of any of Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. A little known theory suggests that the Sonatas and Partitas together represent the birth, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ; and by this program, the Chaconne would conclude the crucifixion. Listen for:

•A multitude of virtuoso techniques including: repetitive chords (melody, harmony, and bass all at once), rapid passagework, arpeggiations across all four strings, and severe changes in register

•Tone quality, vibrato, and bowing – the difference in the sound of the violin when playing unaccompanied Bach (versus Spohr, for example)

•Form: The repeating bass line over which varying sections are played – parameters of a ‘chaconne’

•Departure from the severity: about two and a half minutes in, a dancelike section emerges, beginning slew of very fast moving ‘variations’

•Departure from the modality: halfway through the piece, minor mode becomes major in a beautiful, understated surprise; minutes later, minor mode returns much in the same way

•The finale, heralded by a ‘desperate’ sounding oscillation between the melody and an open string (unstopped by fingers), passionately elaborated upon by an additional voice, then wild arpeggiations, before the conclusive version of the opening theme

 

Vier Lieder, Op. 2 – Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

I: Erwartung (Anticipation)

Simply a song of love and longing, the piece describes a young man waiting by a pond for his lover to appear. The opening and closing vocal lines provide a vivid description of the setting and the literal anticipation of the two lovers. Listen for:

•Trembling of the piano and vocal parts during the mid-section of the piece

•Arabesque piano parts that punctuate each line of text at the beginning and ending

•Extensive piano postlude

II: Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm (Give to me your golden comb)

The second movement is extremely intimate. In a way, it continues the love story of the first movement as the singer asks his/her lover to “give to me everything you have…your heaviest burden.” A somewhat subdued beginning leads to an explosion of passion midway through the piece and ends in contented peace. Listen for:

•Slow, descending chromatic vocal lines

•Lofty, harmonically rich chords in the piano line

•The sudden outburst of passion midway through the song

III: Erhebung (Elevation)

Although not musically connected to the other songs in this set, it is clear that the elation of the smitten singer takes the listener “above the clouds, into the sun!” in this movement – continuing the romantic theme all the same. Listen for:

•Progressive harmonic writing (foreshadowing the later works of the composer)

•High vocal register, evoking the joy and elation of  love

IV: Waldsonne (Forest Sun)

The final movement takes on a more nostalgic tone, as the singer reflects upon a love of days past (likely the love that we’ve come to know through the preceding songs). Listen for:

•The pan flute (syrinx) theme that appears in the piano part – first when the singer hesitantly mentions memories (“Erinnerungen”), and again at the end

•A shimmering piano line representing ‘illusion’

 

Sonata No. 9 “Kreutzer” in A minor, Op. 47 – Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

I: Adagio sostenuto – presto

This iconic opening movement is thoroughly representative 0f Beethoven’s compositional idiom: furious, spontaneous, passionate, and meticulously interconnected. Listen for:

•The opening call-and-response, at first sounding like a continuation of unaccompanied Bach

•Unrelenting repetition of wild figures

•Spontaneous transitions and starkly contrasting characters – especially the coda

II: Andante con variazione

In place of a typical ‘slow movement,’ the Andante begins deceptively as such, before taking off into an exciting theme and variations movement. Listen for:

•The form, split into six distinct sections: THEME – VIRTUOSO PIANO – VIRTUOSO VIOLIN – MINOR, DARK – MOZARTIAN – CODA

•Presence of the theme in all variations

Excessive ornamentation in the ‘Mozart’ variation – is it parodic?

III: Finale (presto)

A fast, rhythmic conclusion to the sonata, the tarantella-like Finale is the joyous payoff to the furious first movement. Listen for:

•The same, loud opening chord from the first movement, now in the piano

•An even wilder, more repetitive figure that transitions first to the development, and later to the coda

•Tempo spontaneity in the coda, teasing the listener with the deception of consistency

Zwei Gesänge (Two Songs), Op. 91 – Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

I: Gestillte Sehnsucht (Longing)

Movement one details the conflicting and often frustrating emotions elicited by desire. Vocal lines represent these sentiments, often taking a slow, chromatic route to their musical destinations. Listen for:

•The winding viola part that represents the “whispering of the wind”

•An outburst of passion in the middle of the piece when the singer desperately implores his/her longing: “When will you rest? When will you slumber?”

II: Geistliches Wiegenlied (Lullaby for the Christ Child)

The second movement, and finale of the program, is a lullaby for the Christ Child sung by Mary. Portrayed is the setting of Christ’s birth as Mary entreats the angels overhead to quiet the roaring winds and swaying branches so that her child can sleep. Listen for:

•The lilting 6/8 time signature as an effective lullaby setting

•A sudden change in meter and character in the middle of the song as Mary foreshadows the suffering that Christ would ultimately endure on the cross: “how weary [the heavenly child] becomes from the suffering of the Earth.”