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 In all honesty, I think the entire idea of “text painting” is outdated.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.