Monday, April 7, 2014

Nothing, my Florestan

Another observation in the perennial argument over words and the music in opera:

To those who say that music is more powerful I often say that no composer can match Abraham Lincoln's prose. Copland's Lincoln Portrait is okay, but he doesn't allow a single speech to dominate. And is there a composer in the world whose phrases could match the length of thought in Lincoln's letter to the bereaved mother, Mrs Bixby:  "I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save."

I would also note that the most powerful moment in many performances of Beethoven's Fidelio is not musical. After Leonore has risked her life at the end of a gun to save her husband, he turns to her and says, "My Leonore, what have you done for me?" In the German original there is an exchange of dialogue, but in Klemperer's 1962 recording her answer is reduced to "Nichts, nichts, mein Florestan." (It was nothing, nothing, my Florestan.) It needs no music right at that moment, it is throat-swallowingly moving, although then the duet ('O namenlose Freude') swells up.

The odd thing is that in Bernstein's recording he omits this exchange and goes straight from the thwarted murderer Pizarro's exit to the duet. I have always thought Bernstein understood words (he composed some gems for Candide), but this is a real dramatic moment missed.


No comments:

Post a Comment