Crumb, Schubert and Brahms

Friends of Music Concerts presented a performance by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center featuring Gilbert Kalish from January 15 through 22, 2021. The program consisted of works by George Crumb, Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. This limited engagement has ended its run but we now share videos of the three works by different performers, which were made available to the public on YouTube.

The first is a performance by soprano Diana Newman and pianist Renate Rohlfing of Crumb's Three Early Songs. It was recorded at Ravinia's Steans Music Institute.

Following is Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, "The Shepherd on the Rock", D. 965 performed by The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with Barbara Bonney, soprano; David Shifrin, clarinet; and André Watts, piano.

The following performance of Brahms Quartet No. 3 (Opus 60) features Veronika Eberle, violin; Veronika Hagen, viola; Monika Leskovar, cello; Nelson Goerner, piano. It was recorded at the Solsberg Festival in 2017.

PROGRAM

GEORGE CRUMB (b. 1929)
Three Early Songs for Voice and Piano (1947)

Night
Let It Be Forgotten
Wind Elegy
Tony Arnold, soprano • Gilbert Kalish, piano

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
“Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” for Soprano, Clarinet, and Piano, D. 965, Op. 129 (1828)

Lisette Oropesa, soprano • David Shifrin, clarinet • Gilbert Kalish, piano

JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Quartet No. 3 in C minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 60 (1855-56, 1874)

Allegro non troppo
Scherzo: Allegro
Andante
Finale: Allegro comodo
Gilbert Kalish, piano • Nicolas Dautricourt, violin • Paul Neubauer, viola • Torleif Thedéen, cello

NOTES ON THE PROGRAM

Three Early Songs for Voice and Piano (1947)
George Crumb (b. Charleston, WV, 1929)

Crumb wrote these songs in 1947, the year he graduated high school and entered Mason College in his native Charleston, West Virginia. His now-wife of 70 years, Elizabeth May Brown, was the first to sing them and they are dedicated to her. They are wholly unlike the works that Crumb eventually became famous for—their sound is more early 20th century art song than the unique and otherworldly sound palette he would later develop. Crumb explained that in West Virginia at that time, Debussy was “almost an ultra-modern.” These songs, with delightful melodies and floating harmonies, show that young Crumb, even before finding his mature style, still had a gift for music that is understated yet emotionally powerful.
Crumb suppressed the vast majority of his student compositions but he’s allowed performance of these songs. “Most of the music I wrote before the early sixties (when I finally found my own voice) now causes me intense discomfort,” he writes, “although I make an exception for a few songs which I composed when I was 17 or 18.… these little pieces stayed in my memory and when, some years ago, Jan DeGaetani expressed an interest in seeing them (with a view to possible performance if she liked them), I made a few slight revisions and even decided to have them published. Jan and Gil Kalish eventually did perform them on several occasions.”
Night
How beautiful is night!
A dewy freshness fills the silent air;
No mist obscures, nor cloud, nor speck, nor stain
Breaks the serene of heaven:
In full-orb’d glory, yonder Moon divine
Rolls through the dark-blue depths.
Beneath her steady ray
The desert-circle spreads,
Like the round ocean, girdled with the sky.
How beautiful is night!
Let it be Forgotten
Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was burning gold,
Let it be forgotten forever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.
If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Long and long ago.
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
In a long forgotten snow.
Wind Elegy
Only the wind knows he is gone,
Only the wind grieves,
The sun shines, the fields are sown,
Sparrows mate in the eaves;
But I heard the wind in the pines he planted
And the hemlocks overhead,
“His acres wake, for the year turns,
But he is asleep,” it said.

“Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” for Soprano, Clarinet, and Piano, D. 965, Op. 129 (1828)

Franz Schubert (Vienna, 1797 – Vienna, 1828)
The Shepherd on the Rock was one of Schubert’s last works. He was an enigma to the end, writing some of his most cheerful music at the darkest times in his life. He was suffering from a chronic illness (probably syphilis) and he moved to his brother’s house in a Viennese suburb, where the fresh air was supposed to help ease his symptoms. This song was composed at the request of Schubert’s friend and renowned soprano Anna Milder-Hauptmann, who asked for a piece that allowed her to show a wide range of emotions. Schubert created a 12-minute cantata-like composition for her with an innocent, playful first section, dark middle section, and exuberantly happy ending. To do it he excerpted and combined the poetry of two different writers: Wilhelm Müller and Karl August Varnhagen von Ense. And he also added a wind part, something that may have been in fashion at the time because his only other song with a wind part, “Auf dem Strom,” was composed in the same year. Schubert passed away without delivering the score to Milder-Hauptmann and it took many months for his brother to organize his papers, so the work wasn’t premiered until February 10, 1830.

“Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” lyrics:

Wenn auf dem höchsten Fels ich steh,
Ins tiefe Tal hernieder seh
Und singe.
Fern aus dem tiefen dunkeln Tal
Schwingt sich empor der Widerhall
Der Widerhall der Klüfte.
Je weiter meine Stimme dringt,
Je heller sie mir wiederklingt
Von unten.
Mein Liebchen wohnt so weit von mir,
Drum sehn ich mich so heiss nach ihr
Hinüber.
Je weiter meine Stimme dringt,
Je heller sie mir wiederklingt
Von unten.
Wenn auf dem höchsten Fels ich steh,
Ins tiefe Tal hernieder seh
Und singe.
Fern aus dem tiefen dunkeln Tal
Schwingt sich empor der Widerhall
Der Widerhall der Klüfte.
In tiefem Gram verzehr ich mich,
Mir ist die Freude hin,
Auf Erden mir die Hoffnung wich,
Ich hier so einsam bin.
So sehnend klang im Wald das Lied,
So sehnend klang es durch die Nacht,
Die Herzen es zum Himmel zieht
Mit wunderbarer Macht.
Der Frühling will kommen,
Der Frühling, meine Freud’,
Nun mach ich mich fertig
Zum Wandern bereit.
Je weiter meine Stimme dringt,
Je heller sie mir wiederklingt.
Der Frühling will kommen,
Der Frühling, meine Freud’,
Nun mach ich mich fertig
Zum Wandern bereit.

Je weiter meine Stimme dringt,
Je heller sie mir wiederklingt.

English translation:

When I stand on the highest rock,
I look down to the valley
And sing.
Far away, from the deep, dark valley,
The echo rises up
The echo from the ravines.
The farther my voice resounds,
The brighter it echoes back to me
From below.
My sweetheart lives so far from me,
I long for her so ardently,
Far away.
The farther my voice resounds,
The brighter it echoes back to me
From below.
When I stand on the highest rock,
I look down to the valley
And sing.
Far away, from the deep, dark valley,
The echo rises up
The echo from the ravines.
I am consumed by grief,
My joy is gone
I have no more hope on earth,
I am so lonely here.
My song rang longingly in the woods,
Rang longingly through the night.
It draws hearts toward heaven
With wondrous power.
Springtime will come,
Springtime, my joy.
I will now prepare
For a long journey.
The farther my voice resounds,
The brighter it resonates back to me.

Springtime will come,
Springtime, my joy.
I will now prepare
For a long journey.

The farther my voice resounds,
The brighter it resonates back to me.

Quartet No. 3 in C minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 60 (1855-56, 1874)

Johannes Brahms (Hamburg, 1833 – Vienna, 1897)
Brahms wrote the original version of this piano quartet while helping Clara Schumann through the most difficult period of her life—the two-and-a-half years between her husband’s suicide attempt and his death. Brahms acted as Schumann’s assistant and confidant while her husband was institutionalized. Though Brahms was only 21 years old and 14 years younger than Schumann, he fell madly in love with her. She had strong feelings for him too, though she was less infatuated and more realistic about marrying again. After Robert’s death, when they could have chosen to be together, they made the decision to part ways but remained close friends for the next 40 years.
Brahms wrote this piano quartet and then put it aside, revising it in the late 1860s and again in 1874. He was meticulous about destroying his sketches and unpublished pieces so it’s difficult to know exactly what the original version sounded like. But it was certainly very different: in a different key and with three movements rather than four. Brahms must have also seen a lot of his younger self in the piece. He jokingly wrote to the publisher that it should be accompanied by a picture of himself dressed as Goethe’s character Werther, a passionate young man who kills himself because of his love for a married woman.

Despite the revisions, the final version is replete with the tension and ardor of the younger Brahms. Musicologist Eric Sams has speculated that the opening theme in the strings is a ‘Clara’ theme because it’s similar to a cipher that Schumann used for his wife. Whether or not that’s true, the themes run an emotional gamut from slowly searching to loudly decisive to lyrically melodic. A quiet, exhausted ending leads to the lively scherzo. In an interesting parallel, the last two movements each begin with string solos. The slow movement is introspective and the finale brings back the wider range of emotions found in the first movement. The piece ends quietly with two definitive yet unexpected chords punctuating this look back at Brahms’s stormy youth.
Program Notes by Laura Keller, CMS Editorial Manager