Songs for Pauline

Elizabeth Watts returns to the city where she cut her singing teeth on the 17th of March to sing Richard Strauss and Mahler with the Hallé in the Sheffield International Concert Season at the City Hall.

Having established herself as an internationally celebrated soprano since triumphing at the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World, she will be performing five songs by Strauss with the orchestra before taking on the vocal guise of a child in the last movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

Strauss wrote songs, or Lieder throughout his life, a fraction over 200 of them. The earliest were single, one-off compositions that evolved fairly quickly into collections, or sets of songs. Probably the best-known set, Vier Lieder Op 27 consists, as the translation tells us, of ‘Four Songs’, for instance.

The vast majority in their original form were written for voice and piano – the celebrated Four Last Songs being a notable exception – but the odd one or two were penned with orchestra. He did, however, orchestrate nearly 50 of ‘original piano songs’ making many already attractive gems all the more irresistible.

Actually, there is a super, infrequently heard of pair of songs, Op 51, originally written with orchestra for ‘low bass voice’, the only instance where Strauss specifies an actual voice range beyond the occasional ‘high voice’ and prevailing ‘for voice and piano’.

But we digress, so back to the five Strauss songs at the City Hall, under the direction of the Hallé’s principal guest conductor, Sheffield-born-and-raised Ryan Wigglesworth.

The first is the gently ecstatic Das RosenbandThe Rose Ribbon, Op 36 No 1 (text Friedrich Klopstock), in which a lover gazes lovingly on his sleeping sweetheart who he has draped with roses and when she wakes “all around us became Elysium” – to quote the text.

Following it is the sustained beauty of WiegenliedLullaby, Op 41 No 1 (Richard Dehmel), where a mother sings to her sleeping child and how it has made the world heaven on earth for her.

In MuttertändeleiMother-chatter, Op 43 No 2 (Gottfried Bürger), we have another mother rattling on extolling the virtues of her child before declaring she would not sell it for all the gold in the world.

Two regularly heard Strauss songs end the five: the blissful Morgen!Tomorrow, Op 27 No 4 (John Henry Mackay) – “And tomorrow the sun will shine again. She will again unite us, and upon us will sink the mute silence of happiness,” followed by how a loved one is missed when they are not near in the soaring ecstasy of CäcilieCecilia, Op 27 No 2 (Heinrich Hart).

The generally well known four opus 27 songs, the earlier cited Vier Lieder, were written by Strauss as a wedding gift to his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna in 1894, and the not very Teutonic-sounding John Henry Mackay was born in Scotland but grew up and lived in Germany from the age of two.

Mackay, incidentally, also penned the poem that became Heimliche Aufforderung – Secret Invitation, which became the third song of Vier Lieder Op 27 and, coincidentally, will be heard when Liz Watts makes a further visit back to Sheffield in June.

She will be in the company of two other singers and a pianist and the song figures, as does another Strauss gem, Die Nacht – The Night Op 10 No 3, in a highly attractive Songsmiths’ concert at this year’s Bradfield Festival on the 29th of June.

Watch this space shortly!

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