Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Die Junge Nonne"

Dame Janet Baker sings one of Schubert's later songs, composed in 1825, in recital at Covent Garden. I'm guessing this performance took place in the late 1970s.

If you don't know the song "Die junge Nonne" (The Young Nun), you're in for an experience. The poem (text below, in German and English) is narrated by a nun who has taken refuge in religious life from the anguish of the world. Notice how the key changes from minor to the relative major in the third stanza as she describes her newfound peace, and the ringing of the bell in the high register of the piano (a bit of word-painting). Don't miss, however, the rumbling chords in the left hand of the piano near the end of the song, as the disordered theme associated with the young nun's past reappears, signalling that more turmoil awaits her.

The first time I performed in England, in 2001, I was asked at a dinner party afterward who my favorite singer was. I thought the other guests were going to make me a Dame of the British Empire myself when I answered that it was Dame Janet Baker, but it was -- and is -- true. Words cannot describe her superlative artistry. Oh, and Murray Perahia plays the hell out of the piano part, too.

Die junge Nonne (Jakob Nikolaus, Reichsfreiherr von Craigher de Jachelutta, 1797-1855)

Wie braust durch die Wipfel der heulende Sturm!
Es klirren die Balken, es zittert das Haus!
Es rollet der Donner, es leuchtet der Blitz,
Und finster die Nacht, wie das Grab!

Immerhin, immerhin,
so tobt' es auch jüngst noch in mir!
Es brauste das Leben, wie jetzo der Sturm,
Es bebten die Glieder, wie jetzo das Haus,
Es flammte die Liebe, wie jetzo der Blitz,
Und finster die Brust, wie das Grab.

Nun tobe, du wilder gewalt'ger Sturm,
Im Herzen ist Friede, im Herzen ist Ruh,
Des Bräutigams harret die liebende Braut,
Gereinigt in prüfender Glut,
Der ewigen Liebe getraut.

Ich harre, mein Heiland! mit sehnendem Blick!
Komm, himmlischer Bräutigam, hole die Braut,
Erlöse die Seele von irdischer Haft.
Horch, friedlich ertönet das Glöcklein vom Turm!
Es lockt mich das süße Getön
Allmächtig zu ewigen Höhn.

Here is my translation:

How loudly the howling wind roars through the treetops!
The rafters rattle, the house shudders!
The thunder rolls, the lighting flashes,
And the night is as dark as the grave!

Just like this, not long ago,
It raged within me too.
My life roared, just like this storm,
My limbs trembled, just like this house,
Love burst into flame, just like this lightning;
And my heart was as dark as the grave.

So rage then, you wild, turbulent storm;
In my heart there is peace; in my heart there is tranquility!
The loving bride awaits her bridegroom,
All cleansed by the purifying flames,
To eternal Love betrothed.

I await you, my Saviour, with longing gaze!
Come, heavenly Bridegroom, take your bride;
Rescue her soul from earthly bondage.

Listen: the bell rings peacefully from the tower!
That sweet tone invites me overpoweringly to the heights of heaven.



Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pentimento. Lovely, and new to me. If I could respond, it would be with Dame Janet Baker's rendition of Elgar's Sea Songs.

When I turned on the radio in the morning on New Year's Day, I heard her singing, "He shall assist me to look high..." I couldn't imagine a better start to the year.



Pentimento said...

It was always my dream to study with her. It might have been possible through my late friend John Allitt, who knew her, but the timing was all wrong . . . she was truly one of the rare elect.

Mac said...

I don't have time to listen to this at the moment--tomorrow, maybe--but I just thought I'd mention that I've been listening to Perahia's Goldberg Variations and it seems to eclipse the others I've heard, including Gould's (although that's been a while).

Pentimento said...

Yes, I agree about Perahia's Goldberg. It has a kind of luminosity to it that makes Gould's seem stagey to me. I also like Andras Schiff's Goldberg. Angela Hewitt's is supposed to be awesome, but I've never heard it.

Maclin said...

I finally listened to that last night. Very beautiful indeed. I really need to get to know Schubert's lieder. Sigh. So much music...

Pentimento said...

I remember in college I tried to make a special project of studying and presenting some minor French art songs, which was roundly shot down by my professors. "Schubert wrote six hundred songs," one of them said. "What do you want to sing Massenet for?" She had a point.

Another time, I was driving to a gig in Baltimore with my accompanist, and I put on the radio. He promptly switched it off. "Life is too short for bad music," he said. How right he was.