The second request, Jordi’s, was the song we're listening to this week; and he added: "if you don't mind I’d like to listen to a soprano". Of course, I don't mind; I'm delighted of having Anna Netrebko today. Thanks to Jordi's request, we introduce a new composer at Liederabend: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. His songs are hardly heard, but he wrote about eighty, half of them between 1897 and 1898; today we're listening to an early song, written in 1866. It's the second song of his opus 2, composed and published when Rimsky-Korsakov was twenty-two.
The poem set to music is also an early work, written by Aleksei Koltsov in 1831 when he also was 22. In those verses, included in his first publication, Koltsov pays tribute to the great Russian poet of that time, Alexander Pushkin, at the title: "Nightingale: imitation of Pushkin." A few years later, when they first met, the master admired the work of the young poet and published some of his poems into his literary magazine. Unfortunately, Koltsov died very young, at thirty-three, from tuberculosis.
Koltsov verses became the song that Jordi chose, Пленившись розой, соловей (Plenivsis' rozoy, solovey). Whenever I speak of a Russian song I feel insecure because I don't know a word in Russian and my only solution is to check intermediate translations; in this case, the most frequent translation of this title is "The nightingale enslaved by the rose." Why do we find nightingales so often in songs? Might it be because they also sing at night? In our song, the nightingale, in love, sings to a rose that listens quietly, while a young man, in love too, sings to a girl who doesn't understand what the boy is singing...
In some recordings, the song title includes the words "Eastern song", and we can listen to that Orientalism so usual at Rimsky-Korsakov's work (should I mention that his most famous work is Scheherazade?) at the prelude of the song. After that the piano keeps quiet and the voice sings with a simple vocal line; we don't listen to the piano again until six measures later, when it reprises the eastern motifs. Once the poem ends, the voice sings those motifs in a long vocalise that the piano reinforces with its harmonies. Surprisingly enough, as the composer explains, he first composed the harmony of the song and the tune stems from it later; that way, the poem remains in the background. He did so in his early songs, while later he adopted the more usual method of writing first the tune (or, at list, both voice and piano parts at the same time). This song, dedicated by the composer to Malvina Cui, his friend César Cui's wife, reminds us to the songs written in France at that time, rather than its contemporary German song: it's sensual and ornate; nostalgic but not painful.
As I said before, we're listening to Anna Netrebko. The soprano has two recordings; we're listening to her accompanied by Daniel Barenboim, in a live recording from 2009. In the second recording, Netrebko sings an orchestral version of this song, arranged by Andreas N. Tarkmann (there's at least one more orchestration, that of Sergei Prokofiev).
I hope you enjoy this beautiful song!
I den' i noč' poët nad nej;
No roza molča pesnjam vnemlet...
Nevinnyj son eë ob"emlet...
Na lire tak pevec inoj
Poët dlja devy molodoj;
On strast'ju plamennoj sgoraet,
A deva milaja ne znaet --
Komu poët on? otčego
Pečal'ny pesni tak ego?...
Doth woo the rose the whole night long,
But to his lay no ear she lendeth,
Her head in innocence she bendeth.
Thus oft the lover sings a strain,
To his guitar, of grief and pain,
With glowing love he hopeth, feareth,
But even if the maiden heareth,
She doth not know of whom he sings,
Or why his song so sadly rings.
(Translation by Constance Bache / William Stigand)
И день и ночь поёт над ней;
Но роза молча песням внемлет...
Невинный сон её объемлет...
На лире так певец иной
Поёт для девы молодой;
Он страстью пламенной сгорает,
А дева милая не знает --
Кому поёт он? отчего
Печальны песни так его?...