The lover writes

There was a man, a German soldier. It was the First World War, and he had been captured by the army of Tsarist Russia. Then there was a revolution, and the Tsar was overthrown. Then there was a civil war. All the while the man remained a prisoner, in Siberia. But a Russian woman fell in love with this enemy alien, and the two married and, in 1920, they had a child. The father was able to take his new family back to Germany, and there the child, Rita Streich, was trained in music. She became a promising soprano.

rita

Image: Pinterest

The tide of history meant that Streich, born in the Soviet Union, made her professional debut in the Germany of the Third Reich, in 1943. The Nazi regime ceased to exist two years later, but Streich was still able to sing, and did so on both sides of what became the Iron Curtain.

She was most famous for her operatic roles, but Streich was also a master of the romantic lieder of the 19th century.

This is a recording of a song written by Franz Schubert, “Die Liebende Schreibt”, which roughly translates as “the lover writes”. I have mused elsewhere about the troubled, mixed up, messy life of Schubert. He, too, was a survivor of war and turmoil. This song was written in 1819, when Europe had been bled white by the wars of Napoleon.

Perhaps it is only fitting that Rita Streich, herself the product and survivor of war and turmoil … what is the right word? Lives. Inhabits. Just is. I don’t know, but there is a communion here. Two artistic souls who have known trouble come together in a short song which carries in it the beauty and the sadness of the world.

  • Artist: Rita Streich (soprano), Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
  • Album title: On Wings of Song
  • Track: A3 “Die Liebende Schreibt”
  • Composed By – Franz Schubert
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: OASD 7557
  • Year: Unknown (late 1960s?)

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The beauty and the sadness

On record covers, the great composers of classical music always look like solid members of the establishment. The cover design tends to emphasise this: lots of pillars, porcelain, baroque filigree, guys in powdered wigs. Unthreatening, respectable, venerated – and dull. Rubbish, all of it, and it so betrays both the musicians and the music.

suk trio label aThese were passionate, often erratic, artists. Many knew little or no recognition in their lifetimes, and many died young, poor or both. Only when safely dead could they be carved in marble, put on a pedestal, and become tame and safe.

But, performed well, the music cuts through all this. For no one is this truer than Franz Schubert: a prolific writer of some of the most impassioned and beautiful music ever written. His genius was not recognised in his lifetime, partly because his brilliance as a composer was not matched by his ability as a performer. He was part of the music scene in Vienna in the 1820s, but never made much money. He died, aged only 31, having suffered from syphilis and finally knocked off by typhoid. And somehow, in that short and at times dissolute life he wrote literally hundreds of songs and instrumental pieces: original, inventive, and full of passion.

This piece is the second movement from his “Piano Trio in B Flat, Op. 99”. Exciting titles are not the strong point of classical music, but get past that and just listen. Beautifully and subtly performed by the Suk Trio in a 1967 recording, this is music which is like the last leaf falling from a tree in the last light of day. It captures and transmits the beauty and the sadness of the world.

  • Artist: Suk Trio
  • Composer: Franz Schubert
  • LP Title: Piano Trio In B Flat, Op. 99, D.898 / Nocturne In E Flat, Op.148, D.897
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Piano Trio In B Flat, Op. 99, D.898, Second Movement, Andante Un Poco Mosso”
  • Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Quintessence ‎PMC-7111
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1979 (recorded 1967)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Dissolve into it

I mused a little while ago about how the Soviet Union, as oppressive and bureaucratic a society as ever shot a dissident, managed to produce great art. Pianist Sviatoslav Richter (no relation to the earthquake guy) personifies the paradox.

6009 coverBorn just before the Bolshevik Revolution, Richter’s father was German by origin. During the Second World War, this made Richter senior an automatic target of Soviet paranoia, and he was arrested as a spy and shot in 1941.

Young Richter, a largely self-taught musical genius, survived the war and in 1949 won the Stalin Prize for his music. He began to tour extensively, first in Communist countries but later – despite the political tensions of the time – in the West as well. He is widely regarded as one of the finest pianists of the 20th century. I am not qualified to judge, but his playing is certainly lovely beyond words.

Richter’s approach to music was that the player was a channel, a medium, from the composer to the listener.

The interpreter is really an executant, carrying out the composer’s intentions to the letter. He doesn’t add anything that isn’t already in the work. If he is talented, he allows us to glimpse the truth of the work that is in itself a thing of genius and that is reflected in him. He shouldn’t dominate the music, but should dissolve into it.

This track comes from a 1965 EP released on Concert Hall, a budget reissue label. It has a lot of wear, but even so the beauty of Richter’s playing of Schubert’ “Allegretto in C Minor” shines through.

People used to weep, hearing Richter play. Even through the crackle and hiss I understand why.

  • Artist: Sviatoslav Richter
  • Composer: Franz Schubert
  • EP Title: Richter Plays Schubert
  • Side 2, Track 1: “Allegretto in C Minor”
  • Format: 7” EP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Concert Hall SMS965
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1965

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs