THE Song Cycle
By popular demand (cough, SchubertGuy, cough), I thought I'd devote a thread to the lone Brahms song cycle.
Granted, like Schumann before him, JB had an interest in arranging published songs into some sort of coherent group - I believe "song bouquet" is one phrase he used for a publisher once. And what does that mean anyway? Discuss.
But he only wrote one song cycle "proper." It's opus 33, so from the 1860s, a collection of 15 songs entitled Die Schöne Magelone. Actually, Brahms's real title is Romanzen aus L. Tiecks Magelone, but we all call it "Die Schöne Magelone" today. I put "proper" in quotation marks because even Brahms was a little ambivalent about whether it was a real cycle - whether it should be performed all together, etc. Someone who understands the reception history of the CONCEPT of the song cycle can maybe put this in more context...
Perhaps a better way to think about it is in terms of poetic modes: how can Brahms write some extended group of songs and import drama? DSM is certainly not epic, and certainly tends to the lyrical, reflective state rather than a strongly narrative one. Some Brahms scholars even think it's an attempt to incorporate the operatic aria into the Lied genre.
Anyway, the beautiful Magelone is an old story from the 15th century about a pair of young lovers, princess Magelone and the count Peter.
Their love is forbidden, of course, because she's supposed to marry someone else. But they run away! All should be well, except Peter gets waylaid somehow and winds up as a slave in some unbearably hot part of the world. There the exotic Sulima tries to seduce him -- natürlich, because it wouldn't be a Brahms plot if it didn't have some sexy woman to be avoided -- but he eventually escapes and is reunited with Magelone. Happy ending!
Poet Ludwig Tieck wrote up the story in 1797 and added his own poems, which are what Brahms is setting. The poems don't really tell the story, so the practice was adopted to read narrative portions between the songs -- if one is going to perform them all as a cycle.
Perhaps the cool thing is that, Erlkönig-like, the singer has to take on the different characters in different songs. Sometimes the song in question is from Peter's point of view, but sometimes it's Magelone or Sulima. I think the last song is a "duet," as it were..
It's usually seen as a baritone vehicle, though there are recordings by others as well. I've found a tenor recording on youtube, just as I say that. Brahms had in mind his friend baritone Julius Stockhausen to perform it.
Here's Brahms and Stock from 1869 - best friends forever ?
Hm...Brahms would seem to be making a terrorist fist bump in that picture.
Ahem, here's the first song. It has a certain Schumannian lyricism; it seems quite outward-looking to me, as if it ought to be the opening song in a cycle...
Keinen hat es noch gereut,
Der das Roß bestiegen,
Um in frischer Jugendzeit
Durch die Welt zu fliegen.
Berge und Auen,
Mädchen und Frauen
Prächtig im Kleide,
Alles erfreut ihn mit schöner Gestalt.
Wünsche in jugendlich trunkenem Sinn.
Ruhm streut ihm Rosen
Schnell in die Bahn,
Lieben und Kosen,
Lorbeer und Rosen
Führen ihn höher und höher hinan.
Rund um ihn Freuden,
Erliegend, den Held. -
Dann wählt er bescheiden
Das Fräulein, das ihm nur vor allen gefällt.
Und Berge und Felder
Und einsame Wälder
Mißt er zurück.
Die Eltern in Tränen,
Ach, alle ihr Sehnen -
Sie alle verreinigt das lieblichste Glück.
Sind Jahre verschwunden,
Erzählt er dem Sohn
In traulichen Stunden,
Und zeigt seine Wunden,
Der Tapferkeit Lohn.
So bleibt das Alter selbst noch jung,
Ein Lichtstrahl in der Dämmerung.
No one has yet regretted
getting on his horse
In his fresh youth,
To speed through the world.
Mountains and meadows,
Maidens and women,
Splendrous in their attire,
Everthing delights him with its fair form.
Forms past him,
the desires in his youth-drunk senses.
Fame strews roses
Swiftly in his path,
Love and caresses,
and laurels and roses
Lead him higher and higher onward.
Around him: joys,
His enemies envy him,
And succumb to the hero.
Then he chooses contentedly
The maiden who, of all, most pleases him.
And Mountains and fields
And lonely forests
He soon leaves behind him.
His parents in tears,
Ah, after all of their longing -
They are all reunited in loving happiness.
Years have slipped past;
He tells his son
In a comfortable moment,
And points to his scars,
The rewards of bravery.
Thus old age remains yet young,
A beam of light in the dusk.
Last edited by Despina41; 02-03-09 at 08:31 AM.
Fantastic, Despina!!! I guess a bouquet is something that has beautiful "parts" that at the same time make up a beautiful whole.
I read the lyrics before I read your description. It seemed to describe most men (and some women, today) in an abstract way. It's reflective, no action. And it doesn't "stand alone" too well because there really isn't a point to it by itself. It sounds like it's leading up to something.
Nice video too!
Glad someone got that joke. One of these days I'm going to draw a Brahms cartoon (in lieu of writing anything about the music). I just need proper inspiration...
Got Magelone in my guides too:
It's one of the earlier ones, so may be revised at some point. Also based on DFD/Barenboim. (Yes, I know the opening of No. 1 is DFD at his most over-the-top).
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