Friday, January 18, 2013

Sunday Classics chronicles: Revisiting Richard Strauss's "Capriccio"


R. STRAUSS: Capriccio, Op. 85: Introduction (Sextet)

Vienna State Opera Orchestra members, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, May 15, 1960

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra members, Clemens Krauss, cond. Broadcast performance, 1953

Vienna Philharmonic members, Ulf Schirmer, cond. Decca, recorded December 1993

Members of the Southwest German Radio (SWR) Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, 
Georges Prêtre, cond. Forlane, recorded live in Mannheim, May 29-31, 1999

by Ken

As I mentioned last week, I have begun the arduous process of importing the Sunday Classics posts into a stand-alone blog "Sunday Classics with Ken" blog (at After a week or more or frenetic activity (well, it felt frenetic), working my way backwards from December 2012, I've already reached . . . July 2012! New (old) posts continue to be added daily, two or sometimes even four at a time. Okay, not daily exactly. More like some days.

It's indescribably grueling work, so I won't try to describe it. But it's also fun of a sort, or different sorts, walking back through Sunday Classics time. And it occurred to me that, even while Sunday Classics itself is on hiatus, issues are bound to come up which may be suitable for a subseries we might call "Sunday Classics chornicles."

Starting this week with my realization that I told an unintentional untruth. In presenting a couple of tidbits from the mammoth Berkshire Record Outlet order I placed recently, I included excerpts from a 1953 Munich broadcast performance of Richard Strauss's last opera Capriccio, conducted by the opera's librettist, Clemens Krauss. And it's true that I had been listening to some of that performance. But it suddenly occurred to me that that was "spinoff" listening, that the "new" Capriccio performance was a 1960 Vienna State Opera broadcast conducted by Karl Böhm.


Not so much the haunting "Moonlight Interlude," though, since the sound of the 1960 performance is so-so, including a fair amount of noise from the source records. And as it happens, Böhm eventually got to make a fine studio recording of Capriccio, for DG in 1971, with Gundula Janowitz as the Countess. We're not going to hear any of that, though, because while I own it on LP and open-reel tape, I don't have it on CD, and I for this week at least I set myself an inviolable rule: no going back to the ancient formats.

But the 1960 Böhm performance offers an invitation to revisit Capriccio more generally, to try to show you why for the most part I've never been able to "crack" it -- as I explained back in one of my favorite posts, the February 2010 "Glimpses of the musical depths of Richard Strauss" (still DWT-only). And for tonight I thought we would focus on two excerpts:

(1) the one we've already heard, the opera's rather lengthy Introduction (and yes, Strauss called it an "Einleitung," rather than, say, a Vorspiel or prelude), a string sextet that's being rehearsed in the home of Countess Madeleine we're meant to believe was composed by the opera's composer character, Flamand (I've thrown in the performance, the Prêtre one, that we heard in 2010)

(2) Flamand's musical setting of the sonnet by the opera's poet character, Olivier


Before we hear the musical setting of the sonnet, we're going to hear the author, the poet Olivier, himself declaim it. (For the record, Olivier's sonnet is actually a translation into German by the then-young conductor Hans Swarowsky, who was working with Capriccio libretetist Clemens Krauss, of a sonnet in Middle French by Pierre de Ronsard, Je ne saurois aimer autre que vous. Also for the record, it's actually the Countess's brother whom we first hear reciting the sonnet, as part of a stage performance, but I'm trusting the album attribution here to Olivier himself.)
"Kein andres, das mir so im Herzen loht"
("Nothing else flames so in my heart")

[Note: Maria Massey's verse translation -- preserving the rhyme scheme of the original (ABBA CBBC DDE FFE) -- is obviously not literal, but for a sonnet this certainly seems appropriate.]

Your image in my ardent bosom glows,
enthroned there to keep my heart on fire.
Where you reside, there dwells my sole desire.
In vain would Venus beckon if she chose.

What joy, what pain your gentle eye bestows;
indeed, one gaze can wild despair inspire --
the next restore my fondest hope entire;
your glances deal me life -- or mortal blows.

Were yet my days prolonged beyond all measure,
no other being's favor would I treasure,
no other passion can compel my heart.

All through the waking hours my thoughts unfold you;
all night my slumb'ring eyes in dreams behold you --
thus shall it be till from this earth I part.

Hans Braun (b), Olivier. From the 1953 Bavarian Radio broadcast performance conducted by Clemens Krauss

And here is a more literal translation:

Nothing else flames so in my heart,
no, Lady, nothing is there on earth’s whole face,
nothing else that I could sigh for as for you,
in vain would Venus herself come down to grant my will.

What joy, what pain your gentle eye bestows;
and if a glance should heighten all that pain...
the next restore my fondest hope and bliss entire;
two glances signify then life... or death.

And, though I lived five hundred thousand years,
save you, miraculous fair, there could not be
another creature hold sway over me.

Through fresh veins I must needs let flow my blood;
my own with you are filled to overflowing
and new love then could find not room nor pause.

Rudolf Schock (t), Flamand; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Clemens Krauss, cond. Broadcast performance, 1953

Anton Dermota (t), Flamand; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, May 15, 1960

Uwe Heilmann (t), Flamand; Vienna Philharmonic, Ulf Schirmer, cond. Decca, recorded December 1993

There are people, I know, who swoon over these "lyrical" excerpts, the Introduction and the sonnet setting -- maybe the way I do over the "Moonlight Interlude." Me, not so much. I hear notes arranged in what might qualify as "tunes" if they had any qualities of "tunefulness." In this connection I would note Uwe Heilmann's performance of the sonnet, where he does everything he can think of to give it the shape of a tunefest. I'm still not buying it.


One point of interest about the 1960 Vienna performance is that the Countess is Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who in 1957-58 had sung the role in the opera's first-ever commercial recording, with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting for EMI, and had previously recorded the opera's celebrated Final Scene, in 1953, with Otto Ackermann, for an EMI LP that also included her first recording of Strauss's Four Last Songs. (Say, have we "done" any of the Four Last Songs? Not that I recall.)

Could we ask for a better setup to listen to that Final Scene?

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