At a Glance
this program, an Italian-born singer shows his mastery of songs exclusively in
the German language in a rich sampling of four of the early masters of lieder:
Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. As the late 18th century moved
into the early Romantic period, these composers essentially created from
scratch a whole new lyrical genre, and then within less than 50 years, brought
it to a peak of expressive drama and refinement.
The inspiration behind this new genre was the explosion of a magnificent German
poetic tradition during this same era. The king of the German poets was Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), a diplomat, scientist, and prolific master of
both poetry and prose. He became Schubert’s favorite poet, and, indeed without
Goethe, Schubert might never have achieved the heights he did as a songwriter.
Sadly—on two different occasions—Schubert and his supporters sent collections
of his Goethe lieder to the poet without any acknowledgment from him, for
Goethe was extremely conservative in his musical tastes. Such indifference must
have wounded Schubert deeply.
Another great poet of the early 19th century was Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), a
writer whose biting irony and jaundiced view of human nature wrung all the
sentimentality out of Romantic verse. We hear a dozen Heine songs by both
Mendelssohn and Schubert, although the latter seemed more in tune with Heine’s
satirical edge than did the gentler Mendelssohn.