Friday, 20 July 2018

Balladen im Wandel der Zeit - traditional song and Lieder

From specialist Austrian label Gramola, founded in 1924, Balladen im Wandel der Zeit (Ballads in changing times) (Please click here to access) linking Lieder and traditional ballads.    Some Lieder are ballads, but not all ballads are Lieder.  The differences aren't clear-cut, but it's fascinating to ponder the connections. Lieder as through-composed art song developed not directly from folk song but from literary sources, generally the preserve of the educated upper and middle classes. These composers, poets and listeners were well aware of pre-urban tradition ; witness the success of Gottfried Herder, the Brothers Grimm and Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the compilation of oral sources.   Like the taste for classical antiquity, this interest in folk tradition was idealized into new forms, such as Singspiele and operas like Der Freischütz.  The Lieder of Beethoven and Schubert represented progress, romanticizing the past, but looking forward.  Poets as great as Schiller and Goethe wrote ballads, as did many others. Not all were initially intended for musical setting.  Goethe's Der König von Thule, for example, was incorporated in Faust to demonstrate Gretchen's purity and faithful nature.  On this disc, Robert Holzer and Thomas Kerbl perform the setting by Schubert and also a version by Heinrich Marchner, whose operas like Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling, still popular today, draw on folk sources.  Schubert's Der König von Thule is so well known it doesn't need describing, but Holzer is worth hearing. His bass is firm, yet flexible, with a nicely noble ring.    Prometheus and Kreuzug are well served.  In Grenzen der Menschheit , Kerbl's pace is deliberate, allowing the line "Wenn der uralte, Heilige Vater, mit gelassener Hand aus rollenden Wolken....." to flow with magnificent sweep.  Marschner's version is more prosaic, the strophes repeated with relatively little development, but it's useful to know.  Holzer and Krebl also perform settings by Carl Loewe, Prinz Eugen, Odins Meerstritt and Die Uhr, and Robert Schumann's Die Beiden Grenadiere,  Brahms Verrat and Hugo Wolf's Der Feuerreiter, all of which tell stories as ballads so often do. 
More unusually, Die Ballade vom Bettelvogt by Wilhelm Weismann (1900-1980).  The text was collected by Brentano and von Arnim . It refers to gangs of wandering beggars roaming the countryside in the wake of wars.  The language is archaic. "Ihr Brüder seyd nun lustig, der Bettlevogt ist todt, erhängt schön im Geigen  ganz schwer und voller Noth" Weismann's setting captures the folksy feel yet also marks the changes in the tale with distinctively sophisticated changes. 
This disc begins, however, with with the drone of a hurdy-gurdy, played by Erberhard  Ktummer. Throughout Middle Europe, hurdy-gurdys and bagpipes were associated with folk tradition. References to them in "classical" music, from Winterreise to Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer have extra musical associations for various reasons.  Das Schloss in Österreich is a traditional air, each strophe repeating with occasional variation, the hurdy-gurdy providing plaintive commentary with bursts of rhythmic energy.  In an Austrian castle, filled with silver gold and marble, a "junger Knab" lies imprisoned, but his father can't raise the ransom to free him, so he dies.  But the father sings his ballad, reaching the world beyond.   The last ballad is Todenamt, also with hurdy-gurdy. It's an Austrian Burengesang from the 14th century. The tale is told through alternating verses. "Wachter trut geselle, trit her, ein wort zu mir. Ich hon min lieb verlornen das lied das klag ich dir!"  To no avail. "Mit ir schneewiessen hande macht sie im ein tiefes grab, mit iren heissen trächen si ihm den segen gab"  Fascinating music, unveiling a genre and a sensibility that would be rewarding to explore in greater depth

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