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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Der Tod und das Madchen

Since my recent change of voice range and fach, I've decided to look at more appropriate repertoire for my newly found contralto sound. "Der Tod und das Madchen" by Schubert, calls for a very dark sound to correctly portray the contrasting characters in the song. The first character is the maiden who says: " Pass by! Oh, pass by! Go away, fierce man of bone! I am still young, go my dear! And do not touch me." Schubert captures this character by marking the vocal line to come in quite a bit faster than the 8 bar, dirge-like introduction. Set in d minor, Schubert uses syncopation and chromaticism to get a feeling of anxiousness an fear for the maiden character. The harmonies used here for the maiden's part are: i__IV6__viid__i6__+III__iv__viihd65__III___viihd43__III__viihd__viid43__i6__viid65_i_V
Then the piano plays to a half cadence followed by a fermata. Drama!
After this dramatic pause, it's time for Schubert to introduce the second character, Death. Yes, "Death" is a character in this song. Schubert directs the performers to go to Tempo I for this, the dirge tempo from the intro. He also puts in a pianissimo marking in the accompaniment. Death's words are a little more shocking, so I'll give them to you one line at a time. In fact, they are so important that Schubert gives the vocalist only one note- tonic- for five whole measures! In general, "Death's" vocal line is very stagnant, low, calm, to help emphasize the text and the character of death. Death's first line: " Give me your hand, you beautiful and delicate form!" is sung over the harmonies i_iv_iv6_VI7. Death has more to say: " I am a friend, and have not come to punish." In this line, Schubert places a iihd65_iihd43_IV, and then he modulates to F Major on "strafen" or "punish." hmmmm, why would Schubert go to major on a word like "punish?" hmmmm. The next line, "Be of good cheer! I am not savage," is goes from IV_I_I64_IV. The repeated IV-I motion gives it almost a prayer-like feeling, convincing the listener for a moment to believe death and see that he could offer some peace and relief from whatever pain the maiden is experiencing. Death ends his lines by saying: "You will sleep softly in my arms!" For this line, Schubert sends Death back to d minor starting on a VI, and then moving to a French Augmented 6 chord on "meinen armen" or "my arms." This is the perfect chord for this particular spot in the song because Schubert's painting the picture of death as a complex character and incorporating both the Major and minor parts of the song, while foreshadowing the Major ending. The french 6 chord indicates that death's arms are safe while adding that little uncertainty in the le and fi. At this point, the audience has heard both characters and needs to be convinced of deaths safety, even within the key of d minor. As soon as Schubert accomplishes this with the French 6 and a perfect authentic cadence on "schlafen" or "sleep," he moves write into D Major. The ending, I guess we can call it a codetta, is much like the intro, only in D Major- ending the song with a pretty positive guess that Death has had his way with the maiden. I would definitely not rush the last 6 measures, especially since Schubert places a fermata at the end. This is all good thinking time for the audience. I would prefer if the singer remain in death's character, looking like he's just gotten his way. Overall, the job of the performers in this song is to bring out the anxious fearful character of the maiden and the opposite, creepy, in-control character of Death. I really like hearing a singer who can hit that low d at the end because I think that Death's character lends itself to a darker, very evenly toned voice that can capture the mood and color of the song while singing virtually one note the entire second half. I think both Jessye Norman and Marian Anderson sing it and I think they both do a wonderful job of giving the listener a sense of two different characters. The other part of performing this song would be emoting based on the text and harmonies. For instance, on the French 6 chord, the singer needs to look happier than the previous measure because I think that at this point, Death already knows that he's won over the maiden and he needs to portray that to the audience by emphasizing the French 6. The pianist can help this setting up the moment properly by emphasizing the chromatic bass that Schubert gives leading up to French 6, creating tension that can be intense. The piano also needs to bring out the half note- quarter- quarter pattern given. It just sounds to me, like I said earlier, very much like a funeral dirge and it contrasts with the dotted rhythm in the voice. I think that's important to bring out, because I think Schubert is trying to paint the character in both parts, so both parts have to be committed to bringing out those qualities that he's put in the music.

1 comment:

Alfredo said...

Hi, Great comments.

Just a little thing, relative to the french augmented chord. I have the Peters edition and here is not a Bb in the Bass, i have a natural B note that produces a simple secondary dominant chord instead of the augmented chord. So, Could you tell me what edition do you have? Thanks

Alfredo López (from Spain)