Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The German Romantics

Yesterday, we had a faculty recital at the Music Department. Kathy Smith, the Director of Choral activities sang Schubert's Die Forelle for the recital. I love listening to lieder and I rarely tire of it so let me give you a quick translation of the text.

Die Forelle (The Trout)

In a bright little brook
there shot in merry haste
a capricious trout:
past it shot like an arrow.

I stood upon the shore
and watched in sweet peace
the cheery fish's bath
in the clear little brook.

A fisher with his rod
stood at the water-side,
and watched with cold blood
as the fish swam about.

So long as the clearness of the water
remained intact, I thought,
he would not be able to capture the trout
with his fishing rod.

But finally the thief grew weary
of waiting. He stirred up
the brook and made it muddy,
and before I realized it,

his fishing rod was twitching:
the fish was squirming there,
and with raging blood I
gazed at the betrayed fish.

-translation from the German courtesy of Emily Ezust,

The piece starts out all happy and in major (can't do a harmonic analysis of the piece right now, don't have score handy) for most of the piece. It's describes a nice pastoral scene and it's calm. The piece stops being major at around the line "But finally the thief grew weary..." goes into the (I believe, since I don't have the score) relative minor. It gets sad when the fisherman sullies to water and catches the fish. This letdown is very common in romantic lieder and is one of the things I absolutely love about it. It sets up a beautiful scene and then at the very end, it ends btittersweetly, if not downright depressing.

Here's another example, also from Schubert. Tränenregen (means "Rain of Tears") from Die schöne Müllerin. Starts out happy and in major where the singer is narrating the most beautiful, romantic, pastoral scene. The sun is setting, you are lying beside a brook with a pretty girl in hand, etc. etc... By the last verst the piece also goes into minor, saying that the stormclouds muddies the scene and it's starting to rain, the turns to him and says (it temporarily goes back to the original major key) " Es kommt ein Regen, Ade, ich geh nach Haus." (or "It's going to rain. Bye, I'm going home.") We have three verses settig up for a romantic kiss and right when it feels like it has to happen, the girl just jets, while doing so acts really ditzy.

I swear that Schubert was exclaiming the universal truth that all women, when they want to let a guy down slowly, but without being mean, just get intentionally dumb. You could be flirting with a lady with a Ph D. in Nuclear Physics and the moment she loses interest in you, she'll go dumb. How many times have I been on the receiving end of this treatment at bars, parties, school, wherever. How right you are Herr Schubert.

The song of the German Romantics are so, expressive and so filled with angst that it is a delight to sing them. People don't know it, but this music is still relevant today, it's just in a foreign language. Turn on your radio and listen to Green Day's American Idiot, it's filled with the frustration of an American living in the bluest area of the bluest state dealing with an increasingly conservative "redneck" America. Or Ben Folds Five (or Ben Folds by himself) in Rockin the Suburbs there's the line, "You don't know what it's like, being male middle-class and white."

All these songs are about some kind of frustration, the frustration of being a young American male living in the suburbs. Dealing with the expectations of the previous generation, or our peers and popular culture, you will get pissed off. As a young American male living in the suburbs, I love singing the songs of Schubert and Schumann, for they know how I feel today, even if they died over 100 years ago.

Well, I gotta go. Ade, ich geh nach Haus.


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