Zueignung, op. 10, no. 1 Traum durch die Dämmerung, op. 29, no. 1 Heimliche Aufforderung, op. 27, no. 1 Allerseelen, op. 10, no. 8 Cäcilie, op. 27, no. 2
May 15, 2016: James Morris, bass-baritone; Ken Noda, piano
Strauss wrote songs all his life, from his first song, “Weinachtslied” (Christmas song), at the age of six, to his Four Last Songs, so-named by his publisher, which he composed at the age of eighty-four. Many of his more than 200 songs were written for soprano Pauline de Ahna who became his wife in 1894; the composer himself usually accompanied her on the piano. Some of his songs remain infrequently performed—often because of their difficulty—while others hold a firm place both in recital and in orchestrated versions by Strauss and others on symphonic programs.
“Zueignung” (Dedication) opens Strauss’s first set of published songs, entitled Acht Gedichte aus Letzte Blätter von Hermann von Gilm (Eight Poems from Last Leaves by Hermann von Gilm), op. 10. “Zueignung,” however, was the only text by the Tyrolean poet that was not taken from Letzte Blätter but from a collection entitled Frühling (Spring). Strauss came across the poems for Opus 10 in an 1864 volume brought back from Innsbruck by his friend and composer Ludwig Thuille. The songs were composed in 1885 and were soon dedicated to Heinrich Vogl, principal tenor at the Munich Court Opera, who had expressed admiration for them to the young composer. The impulsive, glowing “Zueignung,” so titled by Strauss and not the poet, unfolds in three very similar strophes with the same brief refrain. One of his best-loved songs, “Zueignung” also exists in a version with orchestral accompaniment made by the composer himself in 1940.
In 1894 Strauss and his beloved wife Pauline left Weimar soon after they were married to return to the Court Opera in his native Munich. There on June 7, 1895, he set three poems by his friend Otto Julius Bierbaum, which he published as Opus 29, dedicated to Eugen Gura, a leading baritone at the Munich Court Opera. The first of these, the brief, haunting “Traum durch die Dämmerung” (Dreaming through the twilght), poignantly captures the unhurried anticipation of a love tryst through intimate vocal phrases, subtle modulations, and gently rocking accompaniment. Strauss said that his melodies were usually the result of long, painstaking work, but he told a friend that he composed this song in just twenty minutes—the time allotted to him by his notoriously demanding wife before departing on a walk.
Strauss composed the four marvelous songs of Opus 27 in 1894 as his wedding present to his wife Pauline. He had become interested in a group of poets—followers of Max Stirner and his socialist ideals—who had established themselves as a force against sentimental mid-nineteenth-century poets and against folk and mock-ancient poetry. Strauss was little interested in their politics, but latched onto their Romantic outpourings. Third in the set, “Heimliche Aufforderung” (Secret invitation) sets a text by Scottish-born but German-raised Stirner disciple, John Henry Mackay. Far from a political statement, his text is an ardent love song, sung during a tryst amid a crowd of merrymakers. The eager vocal line is accompanied by rippling figurations that change several times to a more static texture to reflect the text. A peaceful postlude follows the ecstatic appeal for night to fall.
“Allerseelen” (All Souls’ Day) appears last in the Opus 10 collection of 1885 (see above). November 2 is the day when Western Christians commemorate those dear to them who have died, and the poet of Strauss’s setting is longing for his departed love to return, tenderly wishing for things to be as they once were. Like “Zueignung,” the song shows the twenty-one-year-old’s lyrical and harmonic mastery, in this case unfolding in a through-composed form that becomes progressively more dramatic.
“Cäcilie,” which Strauss had placed second in the Opus 27 set, makes a perfect concluding selection here as his most impassioned and ecstatic love song. Dashed off on September 9, the day before his wedding, “Cäcilie” sets a poem that, in a nice parallel, had been written to honor the wife of the poet, Heinrich Hart. (The text is often misattributed to Heinrich’s brother Julius.) Strauss is said to have embellished the already full and virtuosic accompaniment when performing the song, so it comes as no surprise that he decided to orchestrate it in 1897. Together and separately the Opus 27 love songs have been successful with audiences and performers alike ever since they were introduced by the composer and his favorite interpreter, Pauline.
© Jane Vial Jaffe