I spent yesterday immersed in songs – not Barber arias, not Beethoven 9’s, not Bach recitatives – only songs.
In the late morning, I rushed down to Jersey City to rehearse for a huge and exciting recital project that my pianist partner-in-crime, Myra, and I have started to dig into this past month. At the end of our rehearsal, we started to talk about former teachers that we had studied with over the course of our lives, reminiscing about the teachers who opened up the world of songs to us. After bidding her farewell for the day, I headed home to my own piano and began to sift through the pile of music sitting on my desk that comprises my various and copious assignments in song for the summer. I spent the rest of the afternoon deciphering Hugo Wolf’s incredibly rich and dense musical language, as well as reading some Zemlinksy and early Berg. Exhausted by dinnertime, I went out for a drink and meal with friends and then came home a bit more refreshed and a tad bit nostalgic. My thoughts were still drifting through the land of lieder, and I started to troll YouTube. My ventures led me to the video below, and I sat staring at YouTube screen with tears rolling down my cheeks:
The last time I heard this song in a live performance was two summers ago at Marlboro. It was part of a very long evening of various songs, and having been the first performer of the evening, I had the luxury of sitting on stage while the rest of my colleagues performed. I was really happy to see that the song was programmed – I think it is perhaps one of the most beautiful of all German Lieder. Having not heard the song in many years, my memory played a trick on me. Thinking it knew what was coming, being so well-versed in the land of lieder, my mind mistakenly remembered the final line of the song being: "Ich leb' allein in meinem Himmel, in meinem Leben, in meinem Lieb!" (I live alone in my own heaven, in my own life, in my love!). While that would be a lovely sentiment of sorts, I felt the wind knocked out of me when I heard the singer sing “…in meinem Himmel, in meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied!” (in my own heaven, my love, and in my song!”), instead. Hearing that final “t” of Lied, I was breathless, my eyes suddenly wet with tears, and the song was instantaneously and entirely changed - so much more powerful than I obviously remembered. I thought back to the last time I heard the song live, and it was back when I was a junior at the University of Michigan, in a studio class with my former teacher, Rosemary Russell. I worked with Rosie from when I was a nerdy 16-year-old teenager until I was a musical young man of 22. During those formative years, she opened my eyes and ears to the world of lieder and art song, feeding me as much repertoire as I could devour. She showed me the power of these little pieces, teaching me how each one was like a genie lantern that, once rubbed, yielded multitudes of magic.
Rosie passed away unexpectedly back in 2005. The last time I saw her was at a concert of songs and chamber music I performed in at Ravinia that she came to see that summer. After the concert, she joined my family and me for dinner at a nearby restaurant, and we talked in depth about the concert. We chatted at length about how much she liked the new songs that we premiered at the concert that night, where my diction could have been a little cleaner, how happy she was with the progress I had made since my college days of studying with her. At the end of dinner, we dropped her off at her hotel, and I gave her a hug, telling her that I would see her when I came home in the winter. She passed away before I made it back home that winter, and I still miss her dearly. Nevertheless, I still hear her voice inside my head, especially on days like yesterday and that moment in Marlboro, reminding me of the lessons she taught me that unlocked this universe of music and song.