Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs" sung by Jessye Norman
March 24, 2012 1:32 PM Subscribe
In the sixty-odd years since their composition, the Four Last Songs have acquired in many people’s minds an unassailable status as simply the most beautiful music known to them, to be listened to in a dimly lit room and a state of rapt meditation, surrendering to the extraordinary spell of profound, other-worldly calm that they cast. This is not surprising. They were, indeed, the last things of any significance that Strauss wrote, between May and September 1948, at the age of eighty-four. (previously) The vocal line, floating, curving, soaring in an ecstasy of cantilena, is given a backcloth of Strauss' most glowing, richly harmonized, detailed and evocative orchestration. Indeed, the voice becomes almost a solo instrument... [There is] no suggestion of religious consolation, even in extremis. The beauty of the world and the beauty of the female voice were uppermost in his thoughts to the end. Has there ever been so conscious a farewell in music, or one so touchingly effective and artistically so good?
posted by Trurl (11 comments total)
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- Michael Kennedy
have sung them. But they have not been Jessye Norman
- here accompanied by the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig conducted by Kurt Masur.
In shadowy crypts
I dreamt long
of your trees and blue skies,
of your fragrance and birdsong.
Now you appear
in all your finery,
drenched in light
like a miracle before me.
You recognize me,
you entice me tenderly.
All my limbs tremble at
your blessed presence!
The garden is in mourning.
Cool rain seeps into the flowers.
quietly awaiting his end.
Golden leaf after leaf falls
from the tall acacia tree.
Summer smiles, astonished and feeble,
at his dying dream of a garden.
For just a while he tarries
beside the roses, yearning for repose.
Slowly he closes
his weary eyes.
Now that I am wearied of the day,
my ardent desire shall happily receive
the starry night
like a sleepy child.
Hands, stop all your work.
Brow, forget all your thinking.
All my senses now
yearn to sink into slumber.
And my unfettered soul
wishes to soar up freely
into night's magic sphere
to live there deeply and thousandfold.
We have gone through sorrow and joy
hand in hand;
Now we can rest from our wandering
above the quiet land.
Around us, the valleys bow;
the air is growing darker.
Just two skylarks soar upwards
dreamily into the fragrant air.
Come close to me, and let them flutter.
Soon it will be time for sleep.
Let us not lose our way
in this solitude.
O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep at sunset!
How weary we are of wandering---
Is this perhaps death?
She has impeccable control over the phrasing, singing extremely long-breathed lines at the softest dynamic, yet with full tone. Very few singers can shape lines that go over many seconds with such an enormous scale of sound. It's an extraordinary voice, employed with extraordinary artistry. What Norman does in the song "Beim Schlafengehen" is one of my favorite moments in recorded music.
- Ted Libbey