Sunday, February 7, 2016

"The secret of life is revealed to them in it," says the Composer of his "Ariadne auf Naxos"

"Das Geheimnis des Lebens tritt an sie heran, nimmt sie bei der Hand" ("The secret of life is revealed to them in it, takes them by the hand")


Sena Jurinac (s), Composer; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Tatiana Troyanos (ms), Composer; San Francisco Opera Orchestra, János Ferencsik, cond. Live performance, Oct. 28, 1977

Irmgard Seefried (s), Composer; Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 7, 1954

Julia Varady (s), Composer; Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig), Kurt Masur, cond. Philips, recorded January 1988

by Ken

This is, in case you hadn't guessed, once again the possibly over-earnest Composer, in the Prologue to Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Ariadne auf Naxos, having just heard that a little comedy dance entertainment is to be given following the premiere of his new opera seria, Ariadne on Naxos, here in the home of the richest man in Vienna.

This 10-11 seconds of music is one of those infinitely deep-reaching musical nuggets we've been encountering all through the Prologue to Ariadne -- for that matter, all through the opera as a whole -- which lodge in the most intimate recesses of the mind and don't let go. Lately we've been focusing more on the comic view of life represented in the opera by the grand comedienne Zerbinetta and her quartet of commedia dell'arte players, as against the view embodied in the plight of the abandoned Ariadne as argued by her deeply feeling Composer. Now I think we need to return to the Composer's point of view.


NOW LET'S HEAR OUR NUGGET IN CONTEXT

We're still relatively early in the Prologue, before the Composer becomes aware that there is entertainment planned for the evening other than the premiere of his opera Ariadne auf Naxos. However, in the mad whirl of preparations for the performance, he has just become aware of Zerbinetta. (We heard the moment to which he harks back here, when the "really lovely" tune came to him, in the first post in this series, "Sunday Classics snapshots: Meet the composer, Richard Strauss-style.")
COMPOSER: Who is that enchanting young woman?
MUSIC MASTER: So much the better if you like her. It's Zerbinetta. She sings and dances with four partners in the comedy entertainment that's being given after your opera.
COMPOSER [recoiling]: After my opera? A comedy entertainment? Dancing and trilling, lewd gestures and suggestive talk after Ariadne! You tell me that!
MUSIC MASTER [timidly]: I beg you for all our sakes!
COMPOSER: The secret of life is revealed to them in it, takes them by the hand -- and they order some buffoonery to follow, to wash Eternity clean out of their unspeakably frivolous empty skulls. Oh, what an ass I am!
MUSIC MASTER: Calm yourself!
COMPOSER [furious]: I won't calm myself! A jolly little comedy to follow! To restore them to their vulgarity! These unbelievably common people want to build a bridge to take them back from my ideal world to their ordinary one. O Maecenas! To have gone through this has poisoned my soul forever. It's unthinkable that any melody will ever come to me again! In such a world as this no melody can ever take wing!
[Changing his tone, in good humor]
And just now I had hit on a really lovely one! I had flown into a rage with an impudent lackey -- it came to me there in a flash -- then the tenor gave the wig-maker a clip on the ear -- at that moment I had it! A feeling of love, sweet and modest, a faith such as this world is not worth -- this --
[Improvising the text]
Thou, Venus's son -- give sweet reward
for all our pining and yearning!
La-la-la-la, my youthful heart
and all my aspirations:
O thou boy, thou child, thou almighty god!
O thou almighty god!
[Quickly, cheerfully]
Have you a scrap of music paper?
[The MUSIC MASTER gives him some. The COMPOSER starts to write.]
-- English translation by Peggie Cochrane

Sena Jurinac (s), Composer; Walter Berry (bs-b), Music Master; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Irmgard Seefried (s), Composer; Paul Schoeffler (bs-b), Music Master; Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 7, 1954

Tatiana Troyanos (ms), Composer; Chester Ludgin (bs-b), Music Master; San Francisco Opera Orchestra, János Ferencsik, cond. Live performance, Oct. 28, 1977

Julia Varady (s), Composer; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Music Master; Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig), Kurt Masur, cond. Philips, recorded January 1988

THE ARIADNE POSTS

Sunday Classics snapshots: Meet the composer, Richard Strauss-style (10/11/2015)
Why won't everyone just let poor abandoned Ariadne die in peace? (11/1/2015)
Richard Strauss: "Music is a holy art," sings Strauss's Composer -- plus Two (out of Four) Last Songs, part 1 (11/8/2015)
Richard Strauss: "Music is a holy art," sings Strauss's Composer -- plus Two (out of Four) Last Songs, part 2 (11/15/2015)
Richard Strauss in the twilight (12/6/2015)
Ariadne is "the symbol of human solitude" -- which is "just why she needs company" (says the Dance Master) (12/13/2015)
Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings (12/20/2015)
We continue our detour through "Così fan tutte" on the road back to poor Ariadne, abandoned -- only now with company! -- on the isle of Naxos (12/27/2015)
Is Ariadne waiting for death, or for another lover? (1/24/2016)"
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