All of the composers featured this Sunday, March 19 on mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča’s program—Johannes Brahms, Henri Duparc, and Sergei Rachmaninoff—can be classified as Romantic songwriters, and yet their sensibilities were as different as the three languages they were setting: German, French, and Russian.
Brahms’s Romanticism was tempered by his innate love for Classical forms and restrictions. As a young man (and one who firmly embraced bachelorhood), he had adopted the personal motto “Frei aber froh” (“Free but happy”) as a riposte to his close friend violinist Joseph Joachim’s “Frei aber einsam” (“Free but lonely”). Nevertheless, as we listen to Brahms’s songs and their recurring themes of the sad, regretful outsider, it seems that Joachim’s motto might really have fitted his aching soul better.
Duparc’s Romanticism was the refined version of a cultivated Frenchman, reveling in the colors of language and music and how they could be subtly blended into a unity. He wrote only 17 songs, yet they are among the greatest achievements in this challenging art form.
Born decades after the other two, Rachmaninoff was, nevertheless, the most uninhibited Romantic of the three. His Russian soulfulness drove the passionate outpourings of his songs, as did his love for the female voice.