Notes and Editorial Reviews
Maya Boog (sop); Michael Lakner (pn)
CPO 777 817-2 (65:12)
I have always been convinced that Hindemith’s late-life revisions of some of his (successful) early works were misguided; in attempting to make some avant-garde works more palatable—more musical, if you will—he often sacrificed much of their original spontaneity. This was clearly the case with the opera
, and to a
lesser extent with the clarinet quintet. There were many versions of
to confuse the issue, three of which were published; I have been particularly taken with the (shortened) orchestral version, which may have distracted my attention from this 1948 revision of the 1922–23 original song cycle.
Wilhelm Sinkovics’s booklet notes make a strong case for this revision, although he goes too far in damning the original: “its aggressive harmonic tonal idiom full of shrill dissonances” pretty much defines Sinkovics’s musical tastes. “A female vocalist who is not blessed with perfect pitch and fully developed self-assertive capabilities [OK, this is another person’s translation] can hardly hold her own in a part maintaining a fiercely dissonant stance toward the polyphonic lines of the piano accompaniment.” Well, many have done so. “The blasphemy of a work like
was thus a marginal phenomenon in Hindemith’s career and owed to the spirit of the times.” In truth, it contributed to the spirit of the times. “The Mother of God could not be served with bold expressionistic gestures committed to paper without an organizing system.” Of course Hindemith’s 1922–23 music had an organizing system; it was just one that doesn’t suit Sinkovics. He does have the grace to note that the premiere of the “more spontaneous first version” was a great success.
But Sinkovics is convincing in his analysis of the changes that Hindemith made. One song was left as is, another was rewritten from scratch, and the other 13 represent a wide spectrum of revisions. Hindemith’s late mastery of structural tonal elements has made the cycle of songs more consistent: “Structural plans of this sort do indeed convey themselves to completely impartial listeners [have there ever been any?], who perhaps are not at all aware of a blueprint of this nature.” In other words, even we unenlightened peasants should appreciate this music.
The proof is in the performance, and this is a compelling one, from a vocal standpoint as well as a musical one. Maya Boog’s voice is not particularly beautiful, but she uses it expressively, conserving resources as needed. No. 9 “The Wedding at Cana,” may be the unchanged song (no scores were available to me). Sparkling dissonances energize the music, and huge leaps dot the vocal line, providing color and excitement not heard elsewhere. Boog more than holds her own, seeming to revel in the difficulties (she has a bit of trouble sustaining extended pitches in the slower songs). Hindemith was wise to leave everything be, perhaps wiser still to make it a singular occurrence. Michel Lakner is with Boog at all times, in an accompaniment which supports and shadows the vocal line, whereas in the original it emphasized contrast, contributing more of its own. The recorded sound is quite reverberant, even suggesting an echo at one point, yet it is also intimate—a paradox that suits the music well.
Hindemith was not a religious person, much less a Catholic (he wrote a Mass late in life just to try out yet another musical form). He claimed to be “a Protestant, perhaps not a good one but a loyal one.”
The Life of Mary
may have appealed to him primarily for Rainer Maria Rilke’s sensitive, lyrical poetry—which retains its power in translation—rather than for its theological values. Yet his work moved (and moves) audiences on many levels, as do religious works by true believers such as Haydn or Bruckner. While I can’t speak to its religious effect, I have always found the songs mesmerizing, in all three versions. This 1948 revision is more beautiful but less colorful than the original. It certainly pays to know both, and this CD is recommended toward that end.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Das Marienleben, Op. 27 by Paul Hindemith
Maya Boog (Soprano),
Michael Lakner (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1923/1948; Germany
Notes: Revised version of 1948.
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