Richard Strauss - Vier Letzte Lieder | Four Last Songs | Quatre Derniers Lieder | Quattro Ultimi Lieder | Cuatro Últimas Canciones | Quatro Últimas Canções, o.Op. 150, 1948.
Orchestre de La Suisse Romande conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch. Jessye Norman.
Geneve, Victoria Hall, 19.IX.1979.
Vier Letzte Lieder | Four Last Songs:
00:00 I. Frühling | Spring | Printemps
03:58 II. September | September | Septembre
09:25 III. Beim Schlafengehen | When Falling Asleep | L'heure Du Sommeil
15:00 IV. Im Abendrot | At Sunset | Au Soleil Couchant
Jessye Norman talks about Richard Strauss Vier Letzte Lieder | Four Last Songs | http://youtu.be/o9tx41cP4P8?t=8m05s
Studio Recording | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDoqnjB7Um4
"Do you still sing 'Four Last Songs'?
Jessye Norman - I only do them with conducters who really understand what's happening with them. I don't want to say this condescendingly, but so many regional orchestras feel that if I show up, we're sound like Sergiu Celibidache in Munich. But that's not quite the way it works. There was one bright, lovely man who was conducting 'Four Last Songs' for the first time, and he had a vision the night before that it would be slower. And I said, "I really appreciate that you're having an artistic moment, but it's marked Allegretto"
How long will you continue to sing?
J.N. - As long as it make sense.
Jessye Norman Interview to "Gramophone" IX.2010, p.39
"Strauss' Four Last Songs. For the profundity that is achieved not by complexity but by clarity and simplicity. For the purity of the sentiment about death and parting and loss. For the long melodic line spinning out and the female voice soaring and soaring. For the repose and composure and gracefulness and the intense beauty of the soaring. For the ways one is drawn into the tremendous arc of heartbreak. The composer drops all masks and, at the age of eighty-two, stands before you naked. And you dissolve.
Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder is a set of four songs for soprano and orchestra, composed between 1946 and 1948. The texts for the songs are "Im Abendrot" by Joseph von Eichendorff, followed by three texts by Hermann Hesse, "Frühling," "Beim Schlafengehen," and "September." For many, these songs are regarded as the pinnacle of Strauss' output as a composer of lieder. For the most part, Strauss had composed his earlier lieder with piano accompaniment and refrained from writing orchestral songs, like those Gustav Mahler composed earlier in the century. In terms of style, the music itself continues in the idiom that Strauss used for his later operas, especially Capriccio. The melodies are long and sinuous, with subtle, chromatic harmonies which support nuances in the text. For one, "Im Abendrot," Strauss even quotes from Tod und Verklärung when the narrator of the poem expresses intimations of death. In all the settings of the Vier letzte Lieder, Strauss composed subtle music.
Richard Strauss' extraordinarily beautiful Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) (1948) for voice and orchestra are among the last music the composer ever wrote. Actually, Strauss did not intend to place the songs into this grouping in which they are best known. The title "Four Last Songs" was provided posthumously by Strauss's friend Ernst Roth, who published the four songs as a single unit after Strauss's death. Three of the settings are on texts by Hermann Hesse; the last in the group, Im Abendrot (At Dusk), is a "separate" setting of a poem by Joseph Eichendorff. (Strauss also left behind another unfinished Hesse setting, Nacht.) Still, given the themes of the Hesse songs - "Frühling" (Spring)," "September," and "Beim Schlafengehen" (Time to Sleep) - the inclusion of the Eichendorff song seems a natural extension of and appropriate end to the cycle.
The Four Last Songs are virtually indistinguishable in technique and musical language from the fine songs Strauss wrote 50 years earlier. They are, in short, rich and fully Romantic, expressive in feeling and symphonic in sound. As such, they might well be thought of as the final masterpieces of the line of German Romantic Lieder that began with Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebter. The final words of Im Abendrot are "Is this really Death?" Here, Strauss inserts the famous yearning theme from his own Death and Transfiguration, providing what can only be regarded as a most fitting epitaph to his own life and work.
Towards the end of "Im Abendrot", exactly as the soprano's final intonation of "der Tod" (death) ceases, Strauss musically quotes his own tone poem Death and Transfiguration, written 60 years earlier. As in that piece, the quoted six-note phrase (known as the "transfiguration theme") symbolizes the fulfillment of the soul into death.
Strauss died in September 1949. The premiere was given posthumously at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 22 May 1950 by soprano Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.
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