Interpretare il Lied – “Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer” op. 105 N° 2 di Johannes Brahms

Torniamo a Johannes Brahms per questo nuovo post della rubrica di analisi interpretativa liederistica comparata. In questa puntata ci occuperemo di “Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer”, secondo brano della raccolta Fünf Lieder für eine tiefere Singstimme und Klavier op. 105, composta durante l’ estate del 1886 poco prima della Sonata in la maggiore op. 100, che ne cita la melodia nel movimento finale, e pubblicata due anni dopo dall’ editore Smrock a Berlino. Il testo è opera di Hermann Lingg (1820 – 1905) medico e poeta originario di Lindau ed è tratto dalla raccolta Gedichte pubblicata a Stuttgart nel 1853.

Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer,
Nur wie Schleier liegt mein Kummer
Zitternd über mir.
Oft im Traume hör’ ich dich
Rufen drauß vor meiner Tür:
Niemand wacht und öffnet dir,
Ich erwach’ und weine bitterlich.

Ja, ich werde sterben müssen,
Eine Andre wirst du küssen,
Wenn ich bleich und kalt.
Eh’ die Maienlüfte wehen,
Eh’ die Drossel singt im Wald:
Willst du mich noch einmal sehen,
Komm, o komme bald!

Di seguito, la traduzione italiana.

Il mio sonno diventa sempre più leggero,
e il mio dolore sembra posarsi come un velo,
sopra di me, fluttuando.
Spesso mi sembra in sogno di sentire
Te che fuori dalla porta mi stai chiamando.
Nessuno veglia e viene ad aprire,
Io mi sveglio e amaramente piango.

Sì, io dovrò presto morire,
e un’altra donna ti toccherà baciare,
quando avrò il volto pallido e freddo.
Prima che spirino le brezze di Maggio,
prima che nel bosco torni a cantare il tordo:
se vuoi vedermi ancora una volta,
allora affrettati, e da me ritorna!

©2009 Ferdinando Albeggiani

 
Seguendo il consueto piano espositivo della rubrica, veniamo adesso ai contributi critici. Questa è una scheda introduttiva compilata da Jeremy N. Grimshaw, Associate Professor alla School of Music della Brigham Young University di Provo, nello Utah.

Composed in 1886, Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer is the second of the Songs (5), Op. 105, published by Johannes Brahms in 1888 and the first of several settings by important composers (including Orff, Pfitzner, and Strauss) of Hermann Lingg’s “Lied” (“My slumber ever lighter grows,” from his 1857 collection Gedichte). The poem touches on a number of moods and themes that proliferate within Brahms’ sizeable body of solo songs: a certain semantic conflation of death and lost love; a pervading sense of absence that leaves room for the piano to convey more subtle, unspoken sentiments; and an ambiguous feeling toward the beauty of nature. This mood is encapsulated in the opening melodic motive, with its short, stepwise descent that, instead of resolving downward to the home tone as it initially seems inclined, leaps plaintively upward to an unstable note (a gesture heard with similar effect in the second Intermezzo of Brahms’ Op. 118). This habitual hovering just shy of harmonic repose, a hallmark of Brahms’ mature chamber music, evokes the blurred, dreamlike mood of the first stanza and, in sharpening the contrast between the real and imaginary worlds, highlights the fractured mood of the text. Of course, Brahms’ thematic structures interact in such an integrated manner with each other and with his chosen texts, the same melodic shape can convey startlingly distinct emotions when subjected to transformation and recontextualization. Brahms reuses the same melody figure described above, but poignantly drains it of its warmth, for example, when it later appears chromatically altered and within the more tense and dissonant surroundings in the song’s second stanza; as the singer sinks further into utter hopelessness, the familiar motive ruefully depicts the word “cold” in the lines “Yes, I will surely die/Some other will you kiss/When I grow pale and cold.” The poet’ s final glimmer of hope, suggested by the images of May breezes and songbirds in the forest, offers a brief musical respite as well, with brighter harmonies, a more lyrical melodic arc, and animated accompaniments. The spring’ s promise of renewal, however, is bittersweet; as the vocal line once again grows taut with chromatic angst, the singer cries out to the lost lover with a final plea sung with operatic ardor: “If you would see me ever again/Come, o come soon!”

Questa è invece una dettagliata analisi tratta da un saggio di Yonatan Malin, Associate Professor of Music Theory al College of Music della University of Colorado, intitolato”Metric Displacement Dissonance and Romantic Longing in the German Lied” e pubblicato nel 2006 sulla rivista Music Analysis.

‘Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer’ (Lingg/Brahms)
The protagonist in Brahms’s ‘Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer’, the second of the five Songs, Op. 105, is a dying woman. Sorrow trembles over her ‘like a veil’ through which she reaches for a final glimpse of her beloved. Indeed, Brahms uses syncopations in this setting precisely in order to obscure and disorientate. At the end of the song, syncopations combine with a dramatically rising line to stage a desperate plea – a form of longing that seeks to escape
from futility only to fall backwards back again. Romantic Sehnsucht, according to Sybille Reichert, often features ‘the succession of moments of the subject’s attempted escapes, of rise and expansion, of evocations of infinity, on the one hand, with inevitable moments of recoil and resignation, and the subject’s painfully heightened awareness of his or her finitude, on the other’. Brahms’s song presents exactly such a succession of moments.
Longing for Brahms looks back as much as forward. The melancholic aspect of his personality is beautifully illustrated in a letter sent to his friend, Vincenz Lachner. The composer writes that ‘I would have to confess that I am, by the by, a severely melancholic person, that black wings are constantly flapping above us’. However pertinent this statement may be to ‘Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer’, it certainly suggests that the song’s longing is a feature of Brahms’s world view as well. It is also, as Reinhold Brinkmann has proposed,a feature of the age: Brahms’ s plural (‘that black wings are constantly flapping above us’) confirms the rightness of Ernst Bloch’s historical perspective of melancholy as the ‘secret keyword of the age’ . . . Melancholy as depression, as a pessimistic and deep-seated feeling of inadequacy and failure, is a negative condition and experience of the nineteenth century. Brahms’s confession about the ‘black wings’ that are ‘constantly flapping above us’ belongs to this late period in history.
The poem ‘Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer’ was written was by Hermann Lingg and published in his Gedichte of 1857. The first stanza describes the course of longing experienced in a dream – an outward movement towards the sound of the beloved’s voice, followed by ‘recoil and resignation’ (as Reichert put it) as the woman awakes and weeps. The poem’s second stanza splinters the hazy dream-longings of the first stanza into morbid realism (lines 1– 3), and a phantasmatic wish that the beloved will return once more (lines 6 – 7). In between, lines 4 – 5 indicate that death is imminent; indeed, that it will precede vernal awakenings.
Brahms sets the poem in a modified strophic form. Both strophes divide into three parts: a tonally closed section in C# minor, setting lines 1– 3 of each stanza; a modulation to the relative major, setting lines 4 – 5; and a tonally unstable section, setting lines 6 – 7. Just prior to this passage, the song moves into the relative major, E, as the protagonist remembers her dreams and the beloved’ s call from outside her door. Brahms treats ‘Niemand wacht und öffnet dir’ (‘No one wakes and lets you in’) in halting declamation, with abrupt shifts from E major to G major and D major to F major: two chromatic mediants, or PR transformations, in neo-Riemannian terms. The chromatic shifts seem to perform the malleability and unreality of the dream state. At the same time, crochet syncopations in the piano create a metric haze. Syncopations emerge in the right hand from the last quaver of bar 14, and they continue through to bar 22. They ride over the semibreve pulse (that is, the bar-line pulse) directly, with no events falling on the downbeat of bar 15. In fact, the syncopation can initially be heard as an anticipation at three levels: 2 –1, 4 –1 and 8 –1 (unit = quaver throughout the analysis): this is another example of a hierarchically aligned displacement. There is a partial metric re-orientation as singer and piano left hand articulate the downbeats of bars 16 and 18. Even here, however, the bass note is relatively weak, being the unstable fifth of each harmony; likewise, the rising arpeggios end with chordal fifths on the last quaver of bars 16 and 18. The syncopations continue, with the primary metre articulated only at the downbeats of bars 18 and 20. In this way, the syncopations help stage a hazy dream state. They emerge not with the first mentionof the beloved in lines 4 – 5, but with a longing that is already inflected by impossibility.
How does Brahms respond to the despairing awakening of line 7 (‘ich erwach und weine bitterlich’)? The cadential on ‘ich erwach’marks a return to E (now E minor) and a break in the descending whole-tone sequence (E/G in bars 14 –16, D/F in bars 17 –18 and C in bar 19). The tonal re-orientation, in other words, coincides with a return to bleak reality. Similarly, the syncopations continue in bars 20 – 22, but now supported by more consistent articulations of the primary bar line and minim pulses. The syncopations in fact emerge in bar 20 as delays (2+1; unit = quaver) rather than anticipations, as the singer awakes and ceases to anticipate a meeting with her beloved. The syncopations then shift up a level in the metric hierarchy: minim syncopations (4+2) replace the quaver syncopations (2+1) in bar 23. (This shift, together with the elongated 3/2 bars, constitutes one of the many instances where Brahms embeds tempo shifts in the notation of rhythm and metre). C# minor, the key of the opening, returns with the repetition of ‘weine bitterlich’ in bars 22 – 23, and the C# minor cadence in bar 24 initiates the second strophe. The words of the opening, ‘Immer leiser wird mein schlummer’, seem to hover over the melody in bars 24–26, and the singer responds, ‘Ja ich werde sterben müssen’. In sum, waves of anticipatory dreaming give way to the recoil of bitter awakening in the first strophe. Brahms renders Sehnsucht with deep pessimism; he expresses it against a backdrop of overriding futility. The latter part of strophe 2 (bars 41– 53) recalls the waves of metric suspense and release in the first strophe. Syncopations sound by themselves in the right hand in bars 42, 44 and 46 (once again riding over the bar lines), and the bass returns to ground the metre in bars 43, 45 and 47. Here, however, the alternation of metric suspense with release coincides with a rising minor-thirds sequence: E major (bars 41– 42), G major (bars 43 – 44), B major (bars 45 – 46) and D major (bars 47 – 53).
Singer and piano right hand reach up together through a diminished seventh, g#1- C 1–b1–d2–f2, with the f2of bar 47 marking the song’s registral climax. The right-hand syncopations thus provide the energetic stimulus for the ‘rise and expansion’ of the song’s second gesture of longing. With each successive wave of metric suspense and release, piano and singer climb to new registral heights, and new levels of intensity. A final burst of energy is reserved for the cry, ‘komm, o komme bald!’ in bars 46 – 48. The right hand temporarily resolves its syncopations and strikes an augmented triad on the fourth beat of bar 46, accompanying the singer’s ‘o’, thus adding yet another degree of intensity and pain to the expression of Sehnsucht. The singer’s ‘o’ is a pressing call to the other. But it is also the woman’ s moment of exhaustion. Following the climax of bar 47, the song undergoes a gradual descent and a loss of life energy. Brahms approaches the final cadence by layering displacements at three levels of the metric hierarchy: the right hand continues its crochet syncopations (2+1); the singer has a minim syncopation in bar 49 (4+2); and the left hand plays a semibreve syncopation in bars 48–49 (8+4). (We should recall that in Schumann’ s ‘Intermezzo’, the final vocal cadence is prepared through the superposition of rhythmically complementary displacement dissonances at two levels. In this respect, Brahms takes Schumann’s technique one step further.) The ‘empty’ downbeat of bar 49 marks a salient moment in this superposition of displacements; each of the ‘voices’ – right hand, singer and left hand – enters in turn after this point. Moreover, while sustaining the tension of a dominant ninth harmony, this downbeat also initiates the singer’s weakened repetition of her plea, ‘komm, o komme bald!’ Displacements return in the final bars of Brahms’ s song, but more as echoes than as new disturbances. Hence the protagonist performs her second gesture of longing with a rise, a burst of energy, and an appeal to transcendence, after which she fades away into herself. The effect aptly evokes Reichert’s notion of a ‘painfully heightened awareness of finitude’. The protagonist is aware of her imminent death; it will occur, as she says, ‘ere the May breezes blow, ere the thrush sings in the wood’. She emerges from and returns to this awareness as she gives voice to her final plea.
Veniamo adesso agli ascolti scelti per il confronto. La più antica delle versioni da me selezionate è quella di Alexander Kipnis (1891-1978) il leggendario basso nato in Ucraina e naturalizzato statunitense, che abbiamo incontrato diverse  altre volte in questo ciclo. Si trtta di una registrazione effettuata a New York il 14 febbraio 1929, con il pianista Arthur Bergh.

 

 

Come sempre, Kipnis si dimostra liederista di classe somma. La voce è splendida, di volume addirittura torrenziale e governata con un controllo tecnico di perfezione assoluta. Il legato di altissima scuola, la sapienza nel graduare le dinamiche e il tono ispirato e commosso del fraseggio fanno di questa versione un assoluto modello di riferimento.
Il secondo ascolto ha per protagonista il grande contralto inglese Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) in una esecuzione dal vivo tratta dal favoloso recital da lei tenuto nel 1949 all’ Edinburgh Festival, con Bruno Walter (1876-1962)  come eccezionale colaboratore pianistico.

 

 

La Ferrier e Walter scelgono un tempo leggermente più rallentato rispetto a quello di Kipnis e la cantante inglese mette in mostra tutti i pregi del suo strumento timbricamente prezioso, autenticamente contraltile. Magnificamente sostenuta dal pianismo aristicratico di Bruno Walter, la Ferrier trova accenti ispirati e dolenti nel fraseggio, con una splendida efficacia espressiva e un tono interpretativo di grande raffinatezza.
La terza versione è quella di Lisa della Casa (1919-2012) in un’ incisione del 1957 con il pianista Karl Hudenz.

 

 

La voce del soprano svizzero non è certamente la tiefere Singstimme richiesta da Brahms e infatti la cantante esegue il brano in fa minore e non nella tonalità originale di do diesis minore. Nondimeno, la Della Casa mette in mostra anche qui tutte le sue qualità di fraseggiatrice raffinatissima, con un accento cesellato nei minimi particolari e un tono espressivo di attonita commozione perfettamente appropriato e realizzato con una minuziosa cura dei dettagli.
L’ ultima della quattro versioni da me prese in esame è quella di una cantante dei nostri tempi. Si tratta di Ingeborg Danz (1961), cantante originaria di Witten nella Ruhr che ha raggiunto una notevole reputazione internazionale come interprete del repertorio sacro e che anche come liederista ha raccolto notevoli successi. L’ esecuzione è tratta da un disco inciso insieme al pianista Helmut Deutsch.

 

 

Ho ascoltato più volte dal vivo Ingeborg Danz, soprattutto nei concerti della Bachakademie Stuttgart con cui la cantante collabora da anni, e ne ho sempre riportato impressioni molto favorevoli. In questa registrazione il mezzosoprano del Nordrhein-Westfalen si dimostra interprete accurata e scrupolosa, con un bel controllo tecnico della voce e un legato impeccabile. Una liederista che sicuramente non sfigura di fronte ai mostri sacri delle versioni precedenti.
Chiudiamo qui anche questa puntata della rassegna. Buon ascolto.
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