imagesI’ve written an imaginary letter. There is a storage room somewhere full of these!

Please note the gentleman to our right (or stage left, if you will)  is our composer.

I’m feeling a bit put out that I have to accommodate a harpist and string quartet when a sweet little composition I am offering was written specifically for piano and voice  It’s just a social event, but there will be a million musicians there due to the couple’s affiliation.  The couple being feted put the entertainment in the hands of a capable person of good repute.  The person plays harp.

I cannot say for certain if this song was turned into an arrangement by consent of  the host, or if the music director took it up as a cause.  It is a Lied by Richard Strauss, sung in German, to a sexy text by a wonderful poet.  I learned today that it has grown into an orchestra piece, key changed for harp’s benefit, and the soprano, the Musical Milliner, was not consulted.

I am more than put out.  My thong’s in a twist.

I worship Richard Strauss. I know his music.  I know that he favored the soprano voice over all others.  He fell in love with and married a soprano, who was his muse.   And I know his intentions because he left clear instructions. My integrity is challenged by the idea that a person thinks the music cannot stand on its own as the composer, who was also a greatly esteemed conductor, thoughtfully formed it. It offends me that  “an occasion”  would, in someone’s eyes,  require a simple charming love song to need tarting up to better suit the event.

I am faced with the occupational hazard of choosing sportsmanship over integrity. Good will for more jobs.  We’ve all been there.  I’ll give a good performance, and the people there who know will understand that I’m just the help, singing the gig.  A situation with which they’re familiar.

Back to the imaginary letter.

Good Afternoon,
Thank you for the
pdf file with your orchestration of the Strauss.

I think you’ve done a nice job capturing the feeling of the piece. I appreciate the effort you’ve put into this orchestration.  I do, however, have some concerns.

I am uneasy about the key change. You said it’s impossible to play in Gb.  Strauss wrote this for voice and piano. I can comfortably sing up a half step, but you are changing both the color of tone and the intent of the composer. You play harp, non?  I know nothing about the challenges of your instrument other than I am stunned that anyone can play it. If the key change is to accommodate the harp, I sympathize. I am advocating for my beloved composer and his intentions. Can we return this Lied to its original key, please?

May I add a couple of  housekeeping items offered to you in good faith, from a singer who’s taken a few laps.

Please cite in your copy, especially if you intend to use it again, that the lyrics are by A.F. von Schack. He wrote such beautiful words for these songs.  Without him, where would we be?

Also, this song is part of a group of six Lied for voice and piano. Please cite Op. 19, No.2 My understanding is that Opus 19 is not in the public domain, in case you find yourself using this arrangement again.

In measure 4 ( I’m counting from the start per Strauss, and not the two introductory measures you wrote and kindly agreed to remove for me)  you have the 8th notes in the second beat tied. Strauss made space there in the diction and vocal line. If you must make an adjustment, tie the 8th notes in “da stroemt” -I have misplaced my umlauts-sorry.  I realize it doesn’t matter to the players, but I offer this for notational accuracy.

Please do not tie  “…Klar mir deiner…”  as there is a phrasing there.  And space. You’ve made the same notation after “… Kranz, ich will nur…”  and below it tied vln1 with an extra note.  Strauss put space under the voice because the singer, per the lyricist, is phrasing there in order to build on that crescendo which weeps into a diminuendo of sublime delicacy. That extra note from the fiddle player, although pretty- I think I get your intentions to perhaps extend the legato- will cause the player a bit of grief.  This is a fluid moment for the singer in terms of tempo. My read and my experience is that Strauss wants the voice exposed there.

In this piece, the lover’s ardor is expressed so gently, and at the same time, so quietly passionate  as to not require more that some chords with a few leading tones to convince the listener of the committment of the lover.

As to the 5/4 bar in lieu of 4/4, I understand that will help the players. However, there is no triplet “…und deiner…”  but a rubato, and the singer’s part marked with accents over those five notes. I think the intent in the translation here is  “…and how beautiful I feel when you look at me.”  Strauss places emphases on the romance.

You’ve added quite a lot in the last three measures.  It is pretty, but perhaps a bit busy? The singer ends with an intense piano decrescendo. Shall we trust our composer’s intelligence and let the music reflect the sweetness and simplicity of the piece? Less is more in this case.

Please advise (you complete idiot).

Your Soprano


3 thoughts on “Respecting the Composer: Coda

  1. When did you become such a curmudgeon? I love it! You go,girl! These are issues suffered by all “serious” musicians from time immemorial. I feel your pain. Op. 19, No.2, I am guessing is, “Breit uber mein haupt”. It is a strange choice to arrange for harp, much less for orchestra. Hope the bride isn’t a blond…

    What is your real reason your thong is in a twist? Because of desecrating the music and disrespecting the composer? Sullying your artistic standards and losing your integrity? Embarrassment of performing such a mess before an august and erudite audience? Letting down the honored couple? (BTW: Are they friends, acquaintances, or are you just a hired musical whore for the event?) Establishing a standard to which you will be expected to sink in future engagements? Or that, as an eminent Strauss scholar, you weren’t consulted?

    I’m not clear about who made the arrangement and who hired the talent. The B & G? The harpist? Is there a music director for this event? Have the B & G specified this arrangement? It seems there ought to be someone who is responsible to whom you should voice you concerns and who should arbitrate and make the final decision. That allows you to retain your standards and integrity, live up to what you feel are your responsibilities to Strauss, and relieves you of responsibility having to desecrate the piece.

    Of course, it varies from wedding to wedding, but in my experience, musicians who are getting married usually are deeply involved and have much invested in programming the music which will accompany their wedding. Have you expressed your concerns to them? Again, if you were to do that, it would relieve your responsibility and perhaps ease your conscience and embarrassment.

    If you are being paid for this gig, I wouldn’t bring up the copyright/public domain issue, if I were you, because that could open a whole new can of worms requiring you to pay royalties for all the times you have performed this piece for money in the past and every time you are paid to perform it in the future. The Strauss Family Foundation can be pretty sticky when they want to be.

    Finally, I’m sure that this piece has been tinkered with and has suffered insufferably outlandish arrangements in the past, so Strauss’ body has probably had plenty of time to stop spinning. Is this worth the angst?

    Good luck!

  2. What an enjoyable estensione of the post! Have you noticed singers, most by nature irritatingly talkative (my hand is up), are turning out some wonderful writing? Where is your blog, buster? The soprano demands it!

    Dear Reader,
    Operaswain questions whether the bride is a blond. Those unfamiliar with the piece will not know that is has no blond, but makes reference to dark hair and eyes as metaphors for intense love. Groom had v. dark hair in youth,and bride has the beautiful shiny hair of a young woman. Here is a translation (Deutch first, English follows):

    Breit’ über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar,
    neig’ zu mir dein Angesicht,
    da strömt in die Seele so hell und klar
    mir deiner Augen Licht.

    Ich will nicht droben der Sonne Pracht,
    noch der Sterne leuchtenden Kranz,
    ich will nur deiner Locken Nacht
    und deiner Blicke Glanz.

    Spread over my head your black hair,
    and incline to me your face,
    so that into my soul, so brightly and clearly,
    will stream your eye’s light.

    I do not want the splendor of the sun above,
    nor the glittering crown of stars;
    I want only the night of your locks
    and the radiance of your gaze.

    Does that not kill you? So simple. So sweet.

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