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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Die Nacht by Richard Strauss

For starters, here's a performance by Leontyne Price:

Aus dem Walde tritt die Nacht,
Aus den Bäumen schleicht sie leise,
Schaut sich um in weitem Kreise,
Nun gib acht.
Alle Lichter dieser Welt,
Alle Blumen, alle Farben löscht sie aus
Und stiehlt die Garben weg vom Feld.
Alles nimmt sie, was nur hold,
Nimmt das Silber weg des Stroms,
Nimmt vom Kupferdach des Domes
Weg das Gold.
Ausgeplündert steht der Strauch,
Rücke näher, Seel an Seele;
O die Nacht, mir bangt, sie stehle
Dich mir auch.

I'm going to focus on the last four lines, which begin "Ausgeplündert steht der Strauch..."

The translation for this part is:
The spray of flowers stands plundered,
Draw closer, soul to soul;
Oh, I am afraid the night will steal
You, too, from me. [taken from the top of my copy of this piece from the library]

The chords here are (D major):
i - bIII43 - bVI - V43/IV - iv - viio7/V ? - vi64 - IV42 - bVII6 - ii - V7542 --> 8753 - bVI6 - I (bVI6 -I - bVI6 - I ...)

So, this piece is mostly in D major, and until these lines the text describes the things that Night steals from the earth - light, colors, etc. Now, in this last section, the poet moves to express his anxiety over losing his girl to the night, as well. Hence, Strauss colors the tone of this part with tons of mixture chords - we start in minor i, not very convincing tonic given all the other D major stuff before this - and we don't come anywhere near tonic again until the end, basically.

By using these borrowed chords to cloud the quality of tonic, Strauss gives the performer a backdrop of uncertainty and unresolvedness over which to express the text. Not surprisingly, this is the climax of the piece - and it seems strange that even at the end, although we get a series of major I chords, they are "resolved" from bVI6 - the pleading 'le-sol' in the bass gives both listener and performer a sense that the issue is not yet resolved, that a question hangs unanswered in the air - and indeed, "Will the Night steal you away from me too?" is what we are wondering.

Appropiate, I think, for Valentine's day. =)


Scott said...

Give more details like your bVI6-I observation. Explain more explicitly how tonic is clouded, especially your emotional reaction to this cloudiness.

Very good example, and good analysis.

Cassie said...

Thank you for your analysis of this piece! I'm actually singing this for my senior recital, so I am studying it to use in a paper that I'm writing for it. I wondered about your analysis of the last four lines, though; isn't there simply a modulation to F major, and then ending in G major? food for thought, I suppose...