Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Quick Takes: Kennst du das Land?

1. I've been absent here because I had a semi-important gig yesterday in New York.  I performed with wonderful colleagues, in a hall that has some of the best acoustics in a hundred-mile radius, in a program of music about childhood and disability.  In the audience were many friends, family members, mentors, former professors and former students.  One of my former students, a Phishhead, had crocheted warm, hippie-style winter hats for my whole family, and brought them to the gig.  I had dinner with Mrs. C and her new daughter; I hung out in Riverside Park with Really Rosie, and I walked for miles and miles, filling my lungs with the slightly smoky air of my native land.  I wonder if there's any more beautiful time of year in New York City than the month of October.

2. My accompanist drove like a fiend last night and we arrived back home in the small hours, having narrowly averted a disastrous encounter with a deer, which she grazed with her driver-side mirror while swerving to miss it.  I scraped myself out of bed this morning to take my son to school, and, since I hadn't unpacked, I pulled on some clothes spilling out of a Bergdorf Goodman bag filled with cast-offs from my gorgeously-dressed, same-size sister-in-law in New York.  My usual attire in the provinces is scuffed corduroys, droopy sweaters, and clogs, but today I showed up at school in skin-tight pants, boots, a fitted coat from Paris, flat-ironed hair from a New York salon, and traces of last night's stage makeup. I felt as if I were in a strange uniform made for life on a strange planet. It wasn't so much that I felt as if I were walking on the moon, but more as if I was breathing on the moon; the air had become so thin that I felt as though I was inhaling it through a leaky oxygen tank, the only thing that would enable me survive in a foreign land.

3. Luckily, I remembered to pull a package of chicken thighs out of the freezer when I came into the darkened house last night, so we'd have something to eat today.

4. "Kennst du das Land" (Do you know the country), one of the songs sung by the enigmatic character of Mignon in Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, was one of the most frequently-set song texts in the nineteenth century. Schubert's four settings are well-known, but it was also set by Schumann, Liszt, Wolf, and Tchaikovsky, among many others.  Mignon is a young, androgynous circus performer who is in exile from a half-remembered land, which she describes (in Walter Meyers's translation):

 Knowest thou where the lemon blossom grows,
 In foliage dark the orange golden glows,
 A gentle breeze blows from the azure sky,
 Still stands the myrtle, and the laurel, high?
 Dost know it well?
 'Tis there! 'Tis there
 Would I with thee, oh my beloved, fare.

 Knowest the house, its roof on columns fine?
 Its hall glows brightly and its chambers shine,
 And marble figures stand and gaze at me:
 What have they done, oh wretched child, to thee?
 Dost know it well?
 'Tis there! 'Tis there
 Would I with thee, oh my protector, fare.

 Knowest the mountain with the misty shrouds?
 The mule is seeking passage through the clouds;
 In caverns dwells the dragons' ancient brood;
 The cliff rocks plunge under the rushing flood!
 Dost know it well?
 'Tis there! 'Tis there
 Leads our path! Oh father, let us fare. 
Here, Schubert's D. 321 setting is sung by the great Christa Ludwig.
Irwin Gage is the pianist. 

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