Schubert/Brahms/Heine Through Jewish Eyes
AUFBAU 63:2 Jan. 17, 1997 p13
[original title: Schubert/Brahms Year Through Jewish Eyes or
A Jewish View of Schubert, Brahms (and Heine) or
The Schubert/Brahms/Heine (Bi)centennial]
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
Jan. 11, 1997 775 words
1997 marks both the bicentennial of Franz Schubert's birth and the centennial of Johannes Brahms' death. Commemorations began at C.W. Post and Cathedral of St. John the Divine already last month: Pamela Frank and Peter Serkin performed the complete Brahms ViolinPiano Sonatas with verve and aplomb at Tilles Center; and Caroline Stoessinger organized two concerts featuring works by Schubert.
Ms. Stoessinger sought a Jewish element in the Schubertfest at Hillwood Recital Hall, which took place immediately following the end of an early Chanukah this year, by programming Schubert's only Hebrew setting - Psalm 92 (composed for Cantor Solomon Sulzer and the Wien synagogue) - and his "Miriams Siegesgesang." Both were performed by The Long Island University Chamber Singers, Alexander Dashnaw conducting, with Ruth Golden as Miriam. This is indisputably the finest collegiate choral group on Long Island, making up with tone, enthusiasm, and rhythmic precision for an occasional lapse into Americanized consonants (z's, v's, j's, and y's).
The program closed with the great C-major Cello Quintet, each half having opened with chamber works accompanied by Ms. Stoessinger: the Sonatina op. 137 no. 2 with violinist Calvin Wiersma, "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen" with clarinetist Todd Palmer and soprano Marvis Martin (who also indulged in an a cappella Spiritual as an encore), and the rarely-performed barely four-minute melodrama "Abschied von der Erde" with Tammy Grimes narrating in English.
Tammy Grimes was also a featured reader in the 14th annual free Concert for Peace organized each New Year's Eve by Ms. Stoessinger at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. This year's was a farewell tribute to James Morton, retiring as Dean of the Cathedral after 25 years. (One hopes that his successor will continue the tradition.)
Again the program centered on Schubert, with Lukas Foss (who celebrates his 75th birthday this coming August) conducting three sections of the Mass in G and the first movement of the Unfinished Symphony, along with short works of Ives, Bach, Handel, Faur, and Mozart, the last two featuring flute soloist Paula Robison. Also featured were Leonard Bernstein disciples Michael Barrett, leading the finale from Candide, and Steven Lutvak accompanying himself at the piano in his own "I'll Imagine You Are a Song."
Another Mozart work, featuring Ms. Stoessinger as soloist, was cut from the program, presumably in the interests of time, as the riveting Philippe Petit high-wire act entitled "Crescendo," complete with African percussion, soprano saxophone, organ, and bamboo bridge, demanded the attention of craned necks for well over half an hour. Other highlights of the program included readings by Ossie Davis, Louis Zorich, Olympia Dukakis, and Caroline Stoessinger. Odetta, celebrating her own (66th) birthday, led the lighting of candles for peace with "This Little Light of Mine," "Freedom," and "Auld Lang Syne."
If one is seeking a Jewish link to both Brahms and Schubert, one need hardly look farther than the poetry of Heinrich Heine, "with Goethe, unquestionably the strongest poetic influence on the German lied," according to the classic Ring of Words by the late Philip L. Miller (not to be confused with Philip E. Miller, librarian of Hebrew Union College!).
Miller noted that the "forsaking of his Jewish heritage is said to have... accounted for his political radicalism," but failed to mention that the poet returned to Judaism later in life. 1997 is the bicentennial year of Heine's birth too.
And the statue mentioned by Gerson Goodman in the January 3 Aufbau stands only a mile or so from Vladeck Auditorium in the Bronx, which will host "A Brahms Centennial Recital" by Helene Williams February 9, including settings of Heine's somber "Der Tod, das ist die kuehle Nacht" and luscious "Sommerabend." The program will be repeated at the Bryant Library in Roslyn April 27 and elsewhere in the fall.
Brahms set half a dozen Heine lyrics; Schubert's most famous were his "Doppelgaenger" and "Das Meer erglaenzte." Robert Franz and of course Robert Schumann set the poet most frequently, especially numerous of the 65 poems in the Dichterliebe. Other composers of Heine texts included Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Wagner, Liszt, Rubinstein, Borodin, Grieg, Henry Hadley, and Charles Ives. "Du bist wie eine Blume" has been set by over 200 composers, while Friedrich Silcher's melodic setting of "Die Lorelei" is so well-known that even the Nazis could not eradicate it from the public mind, dubbing it a "folksong"!
A decade ago, theatrical evenings based on Heine's Deutschland: Ein Wintermaerchen were being performed simultaneously on both sides of the Berlin Wall. A contemporary setting will be featured next June 17 at a concert presented by the Adelphi University Summer Session on the theme: "the reunification of Germany and its implications for Europe." #
Schubert['s Unfinished Symphony]
Through Managed-Care Eyes
[Anonymous Submission Culled from the Internet - by Leonard Lehrman, with thanks to Rebecca Littman]
A managed care company president was given a ticket for a performance of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. Since she was unable to go, she passed the invitation to one of her managed care reviewers. The next morning, the president asked him how he enjoyed it, and, instead of a few plausible observations, she was handed a memorandum which read as follows:
"1. For a considerable period, the oboe players had nothing to do. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
2. All twelve violins were playing identical notes. This seems unnecessary duplication, and the staff of this section should be drastically cut. If a large volume of sound is really required, this could be obtained through the use of an amplifier.
3. Much effort was involved in playing the sixteenth notes. This seems an excessive refinement, and it is recommended that all notes should be rounded up to the nearest eighth note. If this were done, it would be possible to use paraprofessionals instead of experienced musicians.
4. No useful purpose is served by repeating with horns the passage that has already been handled by the strings. If all such redundant passages were eliminated, the concert could be reduced from two hours to twenty minutes.
5. This symphony had two movements. If Schubert didn't achieve his musical goals by the end of the first movement, then he should have stopped there. The second movement is unnecessary and should be cut. In light of the above, one can only conclude that had Schubert given attention to these matters, he probably would have had the time to finish his symphony."
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