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Thursday, January 31, 2008

080131 "Nachtwanderwhat?"

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s “Nachtwanderer” is a simple song about a woman wandering in the night. Duh. This is nothing more than another crappy, unoriginal piece of vocal music. Its cliché beginning sounds like the fade-in to a corny movie where the woman is drifting aimlessly boo-hooing about her lost boyfriend, career, and pet hamster (about every film found on the Life channel).

Hensel starts by doing a mediocre job of painting with text using the words “often out from a dark cover of clouds” while the pianists’ left hand supports the line, effectively setting a mood. Later, however, Hensel digs herself into a hole from measures 14-16; this time, she chooses the words “all is gray and still.” (Side note: I was confused by the anthology’s translation for a while because it seemed like it had completely missed part of that line. Well, it did… kind of. The anthology chose to compress the line “dann wieder alles grau, alles grau und stille” to “dann wider alles grau und stille.” For my sake, I wish they would have cleared that up. Moving on…) Hensel chooses to accentuate “grau” the first time with a d minor chord, or vi in the key of F major (bar 14). Later, in bar 16 she has the same text but chooses a viio7/V chord comprised of b, d, f, and a flat. I ask the following: what was the intent of that chord? Just to sound “gloomy”? In all honesty, I think the entire idea of “text painting” is outdated. Words tend to cover up what the music is attempting to express (and how many times have I heard that music can say what words cannot?), so I would be the first to say that I don’t agree with Hensel’s choice in this situation (did “grau” even need to be repeated?). The entirety of the line sounds overdone, washed up and thrown out like yesterday’s paper.

What ever happened to music that I actually enjoy listening? Give me Respighi, Chopin, Bach, Holst, Debussy, Prokofiev, Mahler, Wagner… anything but more vocalists who think the world revolves around them.



Scott said...

What is mediocre about the text, if it effectively sets the mood? (And Hensel didn't write the poem, Eichendorff did.) The anthology includes the original poem and translation, Hensel expanded that line by repeating "alles grau." That is something to comment on, why she chose to repeat those words. The first "grau" is colored by the Db in the bass, which could be regarded as a passing tone but still creates an augmented triad sonority that is striking.

You should read Edward Hanslick's On the Musically Beautiful, he agrees with your views on combining words and music.

Finally, even when you don't like the music, try to find performance ideas to discuss. As a professional musician you will often be required to play music you don't like.

Anonymous said...

You're young, so don't realize yet that playing at smart & witty can't really cover being dumb and lazy. Your talky dance around the piece shows almost no real analysis at all; that's the lazy. Deciding something written 160 years ago is "cliché", using nothing that touches upon its time, is just dumb. And if you think I don't know what I'm talking about... I was just like you 35 years ago.

Patrice said...

Your disdain for women is dripping from your analysis. Not to mention your disdain for the voice as a legitimate vehicle for music. I would venture to say that songs are even more ancient than instrumental music; though one could argue that chimpanzees bang, so maybe musical noises and rhythm came before the lullaby or love song.

Try looking at the world through someone else's eyes for a bit. Try thinking about what those composers you list as worth listening to have in common. Could it be that they are part of the dominant culture we have all been raised to revere? Could it be that, like you, Rooster, they are men? Might ANYONE ELSE have something to say about walking through the world listening to nightingales, without being reduced to a Lifetime Channel cliche?

Carry on, Grasshopper. You have much to learn.

Patrice said...

FYI - I thought this was interesting:

"Madame Hensel was a musician beyond comparison, a remarkable pianist, and a woman of superior mind; small and thin in person but with an energy that showed itself in her deep eyes and in her fiery glance. She was gifted with rare ability as a composer. M. and Madame Hensel came to the Academy on Sunday evenings. She used to place herself at the piano with the good grace and simplicity of those who make music because they love it, and thanks to her fine talent and prodigious memory I was brought to the knowledge of a mass of the chefs-d'oeuvres of German music of which I was completely ignorant at that time, among others a number of pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach - sonatas, concertos, fugues, and preludes, and several Mendelssohn compositions which were a revelation to me from an unknown world."

from Charles Gounod's memoirs

Jeannie said...

Obviously, you know very little about music, literary and world history of the Romantic Era. Dial the arrogance down and instead of superimposing your 21st century shallow constraints on these artists, you may actually learn and understand something about the mentality and musical development of the people who lived during that time. Then, perhaps, you can converse and write intelligently.