Tuesday, September 28, 2010

That Song that Reminds you of a Lost Lover; 19th-century Sampling

Technology has made it easy to sample music from the past; music filled with associations that can be made into a powerful background for lyrics of reflection and commentary. But long before electricity, Robert Schumann invented the concept of sampling.

In the tenth song of Dichterliebe we share the pain of a singer who is sick with memory. He hears a song that his lover used to sing--Schumann scores its tune as an introduction for piano alone.

The singer slowly raps over the progression, so that the melody of the vocal part lies on top of the song, meditating on it.

This lovely performance by Hélène Grimaud and Thomas Quasthoff is transposed from the bright G minor of the original into a darker E minor; making it sound even more like pop music:

The sampled song creates motion and emotion. In response [0:34] the music begins to climb and with a piercing Neapolitan chord [0:45] it modulates into A minor.
Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen, (I hear the little song sounding)
das einst die Liebste sang, (my love once sang,)

[0:57] Dark longing and deep forests are given voice through broken patterns; patterns on the edge of clarity that that recoil quickly into darkness. The texture does not change--it still whispers of his lover's rhythms.

so will mir die Brust zerspringen (and my heart wants to shatter)
von wildem Schmerzendrang. (from the wild rush of pain.)

[1:28] Unexpectedly, before the resolution back to E minor, the lover's song is heard in the highest register of the piano part--over the last two words of the text. This song will require purely musical responses.

Es treibt mich ein dunkles Sehnen (I am driven by dark longing)
hinauf zur Waldeshöh', (up to the forest heights)
dort lös't sich auf in Tränen (there is dissolved in tears)
mein übergroßes Weh'. (my supremely great pain)

[1:40] The lover's tune is now focused in a lower voice of the piano writing.
Grimaud accents it, understanding its significance. [1:48] The lover's tune now appears again in a lower register; it is being internalized.

The "supremely great pain" is finally unleashed in the cadenza.

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