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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, Elisabeth: Schubert Lieder (1927-1945)
Elisabeth Schumann (1888-1952): Schubert Lieder
Schumanns voice was fresh as spring,
the personality warm as a summers day
The Grand Tradition: Seventy Years of Singing on Record,
Of the six hundred or so songs that Schubert composed during his short life, the selection included on this recital spans in time from Gretchen am Spinnrade of October 1814 to Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, completed just a month before his death, aged 31, in November 1828.
Schubert was among the most prodigious of musicians. His biographer, Otto Deutsch, catalogued almost a thousand separate works, all composed within a period of fifteen years, including masterpieces in orchestral, chamber and piano music, theatre and religious compositions; and, of course, many miniature masterpieces among the wealth of songs, which were considered by some of Schuberts contemporaries to be his greatest achievement. Later nineteenth century research led to the re-discovery of some of Schuberts symphonic, choral and instrumental works, many of which had remained unperformed for decades after his death, but the Lieder nevertheless remained prominent among his compositions. These songs have provided the basis for recitals by generations of classical singers, one of the most engaging of whom was Elisabeth Schumann.
Schumann, who claimed descent from the equally celebrated German soprano Henriette Sontag (1806-1854), is best remembered for her operatic career but she was always an enthusiastic Lieder singer, certainly encouraged by her collaboration with Richard Strauss on a concert tour of the United States in 1921. As the number of her operatic appearances diminished during the 1930s, so her reputation as a recital artist increased and she continued to sing much of this repertory until almost the end of her life.
Elisabeth Schumanns singing is frequently described as charming and therein lies, perhaps, a hint that it was technically imperfect, whilst still giving immense pleasure for its sheer exuberance and gift. The tone was light, bright, sometimes brittle, and yet Schumann was incomparable in her carefully chosen programmes of Mozart, Strauss, Robert Schumann and, particularly, Schubert. Elisabeth Schumann recorded many of his Lieder and this recital comprises 78rpm recordings made between November 1927 and September 1945 (Die Forelle was recorded a few days after her first post-war Proms appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in London).
From the earliest recording session represented here, Die Post opens the programme. The song, taken from the cycle Winterreise for which Schubert set 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller, tells of the arrival of the post coach. The opening accompaniment depicts the horn and the galloping horses as they pass by, a typically nineteenth century scene. Incidentally, the common practice of recording two songs on one side of a 78rpm record was employed here (and for a further twelve items here included); Die Post shares a side with Wohin?, a setting of another poem by Müller. Composed in the same year, 1827, Das Lied im Grünen is a masterly example of the light and shade that Schumann brings to these songs. Hear how she varies the weight of the repeated phrase im Grünen (in the verdant countryside) as the words tumble out in the cheeriest of moods at an extremely brisk tempo. Schumann revels in this joyfulness and the spontaneity of her performances makes each repetition seem freshly conceived.
Of the more contemplative songs, An die Musik, composed in 1817, does not fail to cast its spell, but betrays a certain frailty one feels that the vocal strength is stretched almost to its limits; elsewhere, a tendency to scoop is evident, a habit more familiar (perhaps more agreeable) to audiences of the 1930s than those of seventy years later. A wonderfully inward Du bist die Ruh (of 1823) illustrates the singers versatility, for there could be no greater contrast in execution than with, say, the dancing Der Musensohn, composed the previous year; and so on, through Lieder both well known and less familiar, of many moods and expressions of feeling. Elisabeth Schumann was loved for her warmth, humanity and, of course, charm, qualities found abundantly in this endearing collection of some of Schuberts finest songs.
Elisabeth Schumann was born in Merseburg, Saxony, in 1888 and made her début in Hamburg in 1909 as the Shepherd in Tannhaüser. She joined the Vienna Staatsoper in 1919 having already sung during the 1914 season at the Met (to which she was never invited back). Her first rôle in New York, and at Covent Garden in 1924, was Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. Schumanns voice suited Mozartian rôles such as Zerlina and Susanna, and operetta parts of which she left delightful recordings, sometimes incorporating her surprising ability to whistle in imitation of birdsong, and her Eva in Wagners Meistersinger was greatly admired at Covent Garden. She also sang on the first complete recording of Bachs Mass in B minor. Schumann made a speciality of singing a wide range of Lieder, notably those of Schubert. She left Austria in 1938, moving to the United States with her third husband Hans Krueger, and taught singing at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. A delightful and much-loved singer, her life is well documented in Gerd Puritzs biography. She died in New York in 1952.
Of the musicians who here accompany Elisabeth Schumann, three are worthy of special mention. Karl Alwin, Elisabeth Schumanns second husband, was born in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) in 1891. He studied composition under Humperdinck and Kaun in Berlin and subsequently took up conducting appointments in Halle and Düsseldorf, and in Hamburg, where he worked from 1917. In 1920, the year of his marriage to Schumann (they were later divorced), he became conductor at the Vienna Staatsoper, a post he retained until 1938. That year he left Austria for Mexico, where he worked until his death in 1945. His wifes frequent accompanist in song recitals, Alwin joins her here for the seven earliest Schubert Lieder recordings.
Gerald Moore was born in 1899 and spent his teenage years in Canada. On returning to England in 1921 he studied the piano with Mark Hambourg and was soon active on the concert circuit and in the recording studio as an accompanist. For over forty years Moore partnered virtually all the worlds greatest singers and instrumentalists in live and recorded recitals, forming notable musical associations with Schumann, Ferrier, Fischer-Dieskau, Schwarzkopf and Baker among others. In later years he spent much time lecturing and writing on the art of the accompanist. Created a CBE in 1954, Gerald Moore died in 1987.
The clarinettist Reginald Kell, who accompanies Elisabeth Schumann in Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, was born in York in 1906 and trained at the Royal Academy of Music. He was principal clarinettist of, successively, the London Philharmonic, London Symphony, Liverpool Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras and played regularly at Covent Garden, as well as being much in demand for solo work. In 1948 he became Professor at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, returning to London briefly to be Professor of Clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music, a post he had previously held before the war. Reginald Kell died in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1981.
In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMGs Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marstons name is synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs. Opera News calls his work revelatory, and Fanfare deems him miraculous. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophones complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mints Arturo Toscanini issue and BMGs Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.
Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.
In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by lifting the voices off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.
The recordings presented on this disc comprise about 75 percent of the Schubert Lieder recordings made by Elisabeth Schumann. Because of her worldwide celebrity, many of Schumanns HMV recordings were released not only in England but throughout the world by HMV affiliates as well as by RCA Victor in the United States and Canada. For this compilation, I have primarily used 1930s Victor pressings for their quiet surfaces. For most of the recordings not issued in the United States, I have relied upon either 1930s French or Australian pressings which generally yield excellent results. Only as a last resort have I used English pressings which are notorious for their crackle.
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SCHUMANN, Elisabeth: Schubert Lieder (1927-1945)