|Plastic Yamaha may have a more important role to play|
Last night my runny nose morphed into tight coughing; today I was due at Little Dewchurch for my estimated 171st. lesson. My bedroom warm-up (Ah-ah-AH-ah-ah) sounded precise and plangent, though singers are poor judges of their own voice. In the car, sucking a mentholated pastille, I warmed up again; still OK. I decided that if my throat turned out to be crap I’d opt for purely verbal instruction. As it happened, V gave my voice thumbs up.
Which was just as well. This morning turned out to be a big musical step forward, only exceeded by January 5, 2015, when V first said my voice had a future. It will take more than 300 words to do it justice, it may not be comprehensible or even interesting to many, but forgetfulness compels me to provide some sort of permanent record. Pardon my indulgence.
The song. Nun wandre Maria (Journey on, now, Mary). Hugo Wolf, one of Europe’s greatest German-speaking song-writers along with Schubert, Schumann and Mahler. Previously (ie, as a listener) I could never get on with Wolf, finding him austere, remote and – musically – slightly odd. The German lyrics are genuinely poetical and were written by Paul Heyse, a writer and translator awarded the 1910 Nobel Prize for Literature.
What’s it about? Joseph urges a tiring Mary on towards Bethlehem (“... your strength is weakening, I can hardly – alas – bear your agony...”) . The song’s musical heart is the refrain, Nah is der Ort (The place is near), repeated five times, each progressively more heart-rending.
The difficulties. It has a comparatively small dynamic range and many of the prominent intervals are quite small. The impression is one of musical subtlety. Also Wolf frequently favours sequences in which one note is repeated – in one case nine times. Wolf introduces time variations, again quite subtle, to these one-note wonders and the singer must concentrate to make the best of them.
It’s a masterpiece and this morning – with V’s help – I uncovered a tiny example of how masterpieces happen. The revelation lay in that refrain. Unfortunately for monoglot Brits, the translation above has been anglicised. A literal translation of Nah ist der Ort would be: “Near is the place”; this maintains the order of the German words and is vital. “Place”, a humdrum almost anonymous word, has been deliberately chosen by Heyse the poet to label the exact spot where Christianity originated. A word without the frills at the end of a line! A gift to the composer which Wolf receives with eager hands and reacts appropriately.
Recognising these small acts of genius – on behalf of the composer and the lyricist – helps put those one-note lines into perspective but it’s harder for me to focus usefully on that causal relationship. This is all new stuff to me.
I can do no more now than provide the means whereby you too can share this masterpiece. Here’s Olaf Bär gently acceding to Hugo Wolf’s bidding.
Readers with better memories than me will recognise I posted about Nun Wandre Maria (and Olaf Bär) as recently as May 6 this year. But that was pre-revelation. Today I’m more grown up.