Auf dem wasser zu singen – Franz Schubert

Schedule?  What schedule?  I do apologise for the lack of posts recently – I’ve been sick and then uninspired.  I think for the time being, I’m going to abandon my sequence of posts on Monday and Friday and just post things as the mood takes me.

And today, the mood takes me to Schubert land.  I’m in a tired sort of mood, and this is just the sort of music I can float along to and relax…

This piece has history for me.  In fact, quite a lot of Schubert’s Lieder carry history for me, because one of the oldest books of sheet music I have is a collection of Schubert Lieder that belonged to my mother’s father  – the grandfather who died when I was too young to really remember him (I was three or four, I think).  The book came into my possession when I was twelve or so, I think – certainly in my piano-playing days – so for most of these Lieder I’m far more aware of the piano part than I am of the voice part.  I used to attempt to play and sing at the same time, of course, but while my piano skills were quite good at the time, my skill at singing Lieder set for high voice while crouched over a piano was not, shall we say, greatly admired.

These days, I can sing the Lieder quite well, but, alas, I’ve gone from being a good pianist and a mediocre singer to being a good singer and a mediocre pianist.  The latter is more fun, but it’s a bit of a pity I never managed both at once!  Too much of a time commitment, really…

Anyway.  This particular piece was always one of my favourites to play and attempt to sing.  I love the rippling notes in the piano, and the way the voice follows it, just a third below.  And speaking of voices, isn’t Ian Bostridge gorgeous here?  He has just the right sort of lightness in his voice to match the delicacy of the piano part.  I could listen to this endlessly.  Though I’m not entirely sure why the person who made this video thinks it’s about ballet.  (It’s really not)

Just for contrast, here’s a version by German soprano Frieda Hempel, recorded in 1935.  It’s a very different style of singing (one of the delights of recording is that one gets to hear the different fashions in both voice production and performance style over the last century and a half), and her voice sounds quite plain, almost speech-like, with very little vibrato.  There is, too, a real plaintiveness in the final verse, when the singer contemplates the passing of time and the vanishing past.  I imagine that for a German expat living in the US in the 1930s, these words would have been very easy to sing with sincere feeling.

I must admit, I’m also a  bit intrigued by Hempel simply because she would have been more or less contemporary with my Austrian great-grandmother, also a professional singer, but one whose voice was, as far as I know, never recorded.  I like to imagine that she might have sounded similar.


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0 comments for “Auf dem wasser zu singen – Franz Schubert

  1. June 18, 2013 at 6:07 am

    They’re both gorgeous, thank you for posting
    them. I love the clarity in the Bostridge, the way it builds. And the wistfulness in the Hempel is, damnit, can’t think of the word right now, but very striking.

    Though seriously, what is it about singers who stray off the beat? I cannot believe how many professionals get away with this. I think I caught the accompanist actually cutting notes to keep up in the second one. That’s what you get for playing orchestral percussion for years, I’m afraid. It renders you not only incapable of not sticking to the beat, but also incapable of not noticing it when someone else wanders offbeat. OK, not everyone has spent years as a percussionist (I would have been SHOT if I’d wobbled around the way so many singers do), but you also have to be pretty precise in choral singing, and surely professional singers have passed through choirs?

    • June 18, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      You know, I just don’t hear the off-beat-ness that you do, but then, I never was a percussionist and I’ve always had suspicions about my own time-keeping (though I’m told it’s actually very good).

      And yes, you do have to be precise in choral singing, especially polyphony, which can sour very fast indeed. But in a choir, it’s your job to look at the conductor, even if you are a bass, whereas as a soloist, it’s the accompanist’s job to follow you, so it’s rather a different mind-set (and one I find very difficult to get into – I’m a very compliant soloist, alas!).

  2. June 19, 2013 at 1:16 am

    Well, it’s their job to follow you up to a point. This point does not include *coming in* offbeat and just assuming that the accompanist will fix the problem for you. I find it incredible how many singers do that. And a lot just bugger up the beat generally in a way that can’t be written off as rubato or expression or what have you.

    Even if you are a bass?

    I remember doing Pictures at an Exhibition at school. I was playing a variety of instruments, but in the big finale I was playing the gong. The gong was big and very loud. So loud, in fact, that I couldn’t hear the orchestra, even though they were all playing full tilt and I was behind the brass. So I had to watch the conductor like a hawk, and hope devoutly that the orchestra was doing the same.

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