Even though the equinox announces autumn's arrival, in Barcelona this season is lazy and it takes some more weeks to show up. In the meantime we people keep wearing short sleeve clothing and sandals; at the most we take a jacket if we go out early in the morning. Eventually, one day... thermometers go down and get stuck at 18º or 20º and people from Barcelona can finally wrap up as mannequins in shop windows at mid of August (amazingly enough... now mannequins are already wearing coats...).
Not that "Turisme de Barcelona" (the city's official tourist promotion organization) is sponsoring this blog, it's just that some days ago I was thinking that Art Song is suitable for autumn, that's to say, the real one with fireplaces, golden trees, rainy days... not like ours, virtually a "sun & sand" one. That's why I'm not yet in the mood for autumn and a bit delayed but considering next week is All Saint's Day, if I put it off for more time I'll end up celebrating autumn and Christmas at the very same time. So here we go.
There are many autumnal songs appropiate for this post, but the proximity of Halloween made me think about Allerseelen (All Souls' Day). About one year ago, when I listed my ten saddest songs, a reader mentioned she would add this Strauss' song; in my opinion, it's not such a sad song, I'm explaining later why, but I think is a beautiful song so I'm delighted to take up this suggestion. Allerseelen is the last song of the Acht Gedichte aus "Letzte Blätter" von Hermann von Gilm, op. 10, a cycle that we "premiered" when this blog just began; on that occasion we listened to the third song, Die Nacht.
I have a feeling that Hermann von Gilm (1812-1864) is one of those poets that today would be completely unknown if it wasn't for the songs written from their poems, at least outside the German cultural sphere. I won't discuss here if the verses are as good as to deserve greater recognition, but I like the variety of interpretations that Allerseelen has. Gilm's poem takes up the tradition of remembering dead people in All Souls' Day; the beloved ones are back with us again for a day. But, in these verses, who is dead? The storyteller? His (or her) beloved? Their love story? One way of another, love is again alive; that's probably why in my opinion the poem is more nostalgic than sad because I don't feel the distress I experience in other songs about separation.
The stanzas of the poem are regular enough to request an strophic song, but Strauss chose to write a through-composed one that begins with a melancholic prelude that allows us to sense the most passionated moment in the song. But this will be towards the end, and the two first verses remain in this quiet, longing atmosphere; it is not until we advance into the third stanza that we hear the vehemence, but the last verse repetition and the postlude take us again into melancholy. Don't you think that this song is more suited to an adult man than to a 20-year-old young one?
If you remember, some weeks ago we talked about clichés concerning Art Song. One among them was that a large voice can't sing Art Song properly. Many singers could refute this statement, among them the one we are listening to today, Jessye Norman (if we agree that she has a large voice); she gives us, accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons, an intimate, moving version of Allerseelen.
By the way, Turisme de Barcelona and music promoters: Art Song is suitable for autumn, but it's even more suitable for spring. As in Barcelona, almond trees bloom in January and first tree buds open in February, we can enjoy early the first green of the spring. Just an idea...
Stell auf den Tisch die duftenden Reseden,
Die letzten roten Astern trag herbei,
Und laß uns wieder von der Liebe reden,
Wie einst im Mai.
Gib mir die Hand, daß ich sie heimlich drücke,
Und wenn man’s sieht, mir ist es einerlei,
Gib mir nur einen deiner süßen Blicke,
Wie einst im Mai.
Es blüht und duftet heut auf jedem Grabe,
Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei,
Komm am mein Herz, daß ich dich wieder habe,
Wie einst im Mai.
Place on the table the fragrant mignonettes,
Bring inside the last red asters,
and let us speak again of love,
as once we did in May.
Give me your hand, so that I can press it secretly;
and if someone sees us, it's all the same to me.
Just give me your sweet gaze,
as once you did in May.
Flowers adorn today each grave, sending off their fragrances;
one day in the year are the dead free.
Come close to my heart, so that I can have you again,
as once I did in May.