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Couples in Love and Music
Sabina Bisholt (soprano)
Bengt-Åke Lundin (piano)
rec. 2019, Kulturhuset, Ytterjärna, Sweden
Sung texts in German and Swedish enclosed. English translations are available on request.
First recordings except Maier DB PRODUCTIONS DBCD192 [60:57]
The Swedish violinist and composer Amanda Maier lived during the last half of the 19th century and died in 1894 when she was only 41. Quite early she had a career as violinist in Sweden as well as abroad. She continued her studies in Germany, where she met the Dutch-German pianist and composer Julius Röntgen. They married in 1880 and that was also the end of her public appearances, but the couple arranged musical salons in their home with leading cultural personalities as their guests, including for instance Anton Rubinstein, Edvard Grieg and Johannes Brahms. After her demise she has been largely forgotten, but quite recently Swedish record company dB Productions has issued a series of recordings with her works, which made quite a stir. Several discs have been reviewed here at Musicweb, and I refer interested readers to them (review – review - review – review). Her only contribution to the present disc is the four hitherto unpublished songs from 1878, which strangely enough Sabina Bisholt recorded a couple of years ago and are available on one of the discs mentioned above – but then with a different pianist, Bengt Forsberg. Julius Röntgen completes the family contribution with three unpublished songs and nine Mirza Schaffy Songs to texts by Friedrich Bodenstedt. I’ll come back to all these songs later but first I’ll concentrate on the other family couple on this disc, Ingeborg and Hans Bronsart.
Ingeborg, Swedish like Amanda Maier, was born in St. Petersburg, where she also grew up. Both her parents were amateur musicians and Ingeborg was inspired to start playing the piano, which she did at age 7, and she also started composing. Anton Rubinstein was impressed by her playing but even more by her talent for composing. Ingeborg’s father sent her to Germany to study further. There she met the ten-year older piano virtuoso Hans Bronsart von Schellendorf, who was a pupil of Franz Liszt and as a dedicatee had premiered Liszt’s second piano concerto with the composer as conductor. Ingeborg became fascinated at the thought that the famous Liszt might give her some lessons and she went to Weimar and called on him. After an audition she was accepted as a pupil. She was then 18. Liszt appreciated his young student and saw a brilliant future. He even named her ‘the George Sand of music’. Hans came to Weimar a year later and they met again, fell in love and got married. For several years they made music together, she as pianist, he as conductor. But, alas, in 1867 Hans was appointed intendant of the court theatre in Hanover and according to Prussian law wives of officials were not allowed to earn money. Thus her career came to an end. But she still had her talent as composer, and she was so successful with her first operas that her husband became jealous and threatened divorce! She continued however, though more discreetly, her compositional work, including in toto four operas and she has gone down in the history books as the first great female music-dramatic composer in Germany. She also wrote piano works, songs, orchestral music and chamber music. Her husband was also a productive composer but many of his works are lost. His Piano concerto in F sharp minor Op. 10 is however available in at least three recordings.
But now to the songs. Ingeborg von Bronsart – her maiden name was Starck – has the honour to open the programme with a setting of Heine’s famous Die Loreley. She certainly had predecessors: Her teacher Liszt set it as did Clara Schumann. Ingeborg von Bronsart’s is highly dramatic, published in 1865 it certainly heralds her operatic writing. Sabina Bisholt’s full-blooded singing certainly made the song ignite. Hearing her last summer as Pamina in Die Zauberflöte at Opera på Skäret I could predict a budding lirico-spinto and this disc, recorded a few months earlier, confirms the impression. It is also worth noting that the piano part is anything but easy and confirms that Ingeborg’s technical was far from negligible. Bengt-Åke Lundin negotiates the intricacies with customary ease. Hans von Bronsart’s Drei Gedichte, settings of Peter Cornelius, with whom he had lived together in Weimar for a couple of years, are also works of his youth. Composed in 1855 when he was 25, they were not published until 1909. Cornelius was, according to Hans von Bronsart, an occasional poet. Both Eh’ ich dich sah and Dürft ich zeigen were inspired by his passion for Friedrich Rückert’s daughter Maria, while Zur Drossel und der Fink had its origin in an episode, vividly described in, probably, a letter from Hans, quoted in the liner notes. The two young men secretly watched a group of young women playing and dancing in a field. The following morning Cornelius gave his new poem to Hans and a day later Hans presented his setting of the poem to Cornelius. Why he withheld the publication so long is hard to know. The liner notes intimate that the backstory was not so politically correct and perhaps he wanted to protect Cornelius from criticism, but Cornelius died as early as 1874 in diabetes, so the question remains. That the songs are well worth a listen is beyond doubt, though perhaps not distinguished enough to stand comparison with his contemporaries: Schumann, Robert Franz or Brahms.
There is more personality in Ingeborg’s Five songs of Mirza Schaffy, dedicated to her husband. The original language was German and the songs were issued in 1879. Here they are sung in Swedish, translated by Göran Björkman and Ingeborg von Bronsart, and published in Sweden in 1885. There is a disarming simplicity in the vocal line, possibly, as the liner notes say, echoing Swedish folklore from her childhood. But the piano accompaniments raise the songs to a level that should render them longevity and a place by the side of established contemporaries. I have replayed them several times and they certainly stand on their own. Arguably O du vårens fröjd is the masterpiece.
When we return to the other couple, Röntgen-Maier, they have just separated. It is 1876 and Amanda has finished her studies in Leipzig and returned to Sweden and the day before, Julius proposed to her. But it will be almost a year before Amanda can return, and in the meantime they have intense letter correspondence and exchange of compositions. Among those were three songs by Julius. The first two had the collective heading Sonntagsgruß meiner libsten Amanda (Sunday Greetings for my beloved Amanda) and there Julius has set two poems by Emanuel Geibel: Kornblumen flecht’ ich dir zum Kranz and Du bist so still. Both were dated September 1876. The third song, Die ihr mit dem Odem Linde, had the heading Meiner liebsten Amanda zum Geburtstag (To my beloved Amanda on her birthday), dated 17 February 1877, with lyrics by Friedrich Rückert. All three breathe deep love. Whether Julius had ever heard Deck the Hall, published in 1862, is not known but the first two bars are identical!
Julius also sent the Nine Mirza Schaffy Songs, Op. 15 (to texts by Bodenstedt) as a Christmas present in 1876, and this is an important group of songs, melodically attractive and expressive. As the liner notes point out, two of these songs were also set by Ingeborg von Bronsart a couple of years later: Nicht mit Engeln in blauen Himmelszeit (in her version with Swedish text titled Zuléika) and Die helle Sonne leuchtet (in Swedish Den klara solen lyser). Röntgen’s piano parts are also technically advanced and in that respect he and Ingeborg von Bronsart are equals.
Amanda’s response to Julius’s love songs were the four songs composed in the autumn of 1878. They were in Swedish and the poet was Carl David af Wirsén (1842 – 1912). He was a central figure in Swedish cultural life for several decades. His poetry was popular and often set to music, as literature critic he was respected but also criticised for his conservatism, something that also characterized his work as permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, from 1884 to his death. He was opposed to the then new literature and outmanoeuvred writers like Strindberg, Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlöf and Ibsen from the Nobel Prize. Lagerlöf and Heidenstam eventually got their prizes, thank God! Ironically Wirsén’s successor in the Academy was Heidenstam!
His poetry was however well suited to be set to music, and the four poems that Amanda Maier set – then recently (1876) published in his first volume of poems – obviously inspired the young composer. Even though I believe Amanda Maier first and foremost was an instrumental composer it is good to have also these songs, sung with feeling by Sabina Bisholt.
My only regret is that listeners who are not fluent in German and/or Swedish miss out on English translations, but anyone interested in the byways of art songs from the second part of the 19th century should find a lot of interest here.
Contents Ingeborg von BRONSART (1840 – 1913)
1. Die Loreley [4:26] Hans von BRONSART (1830 – 1913)
2. I. Zur Drossel sprach der Fink [3:07]
3. II. Eh‘ ich dich sah [2:32]
4. III: Dürft‘ ich zeigen, dürft ich sagen [1:40] Ingeborg von BRONSART
Five Mirza Schaffy Songs, Op. 8:
5. I. I Zuléikha [3:10]
6. II. I lunden klagar näktergalen [3:53]
7. III. O du vårens fröjd [5:03]
8. IV. Den klara solen lyser [1:25]
9. V. Din bild inför mig står [1:58] Julius RÖNTGEN (1855 – 1932)
Three Unpublished Songs:
10. Kornblumen flecht’ ich dir zum Kranz [1:27]
11. Du bist so still, so sanft, so sinnig [2:02]
12. Die ihr mit dem Odem Linde [2:42] Amanda MAIER (1853 – 1894)
13. Aftonklockan [2:31]
14. Ungt mod [2:14]
15. Den sjuka flickans sång [4:11]
16. Sången [2:26] Julius RÖNTGEN
Nine Mirza Schaffy Songs Op. 15:
17. I. Ich fühle deinem Odem [1:36]
18. II. Nicht mit Engeln im blauen Himmelszelt [1:39]
19. III. Mein Herz schmückt sich mit dir [1:40]
20. IV. Ein Blick des Aug’s hat mich erfreut [2:15]
21. V. Wenn ich dich seh‘ so lieb und hold [2:00]
22. VI. Du lockst den Klang [2:17]
23. VII. Die helle Sonne leuchtet [1:48]
24. VIII. Ich suche durch Mühen [1:39]
25. IX. Wie die Nachtigallen an den Rosen nippen [1:16]