Ian Bostridge

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Singing in the Age of Anx­i­ety: Lieder Per­for­mances in New York and Lon­don Be­tween the World Wars by Laura Tun­bridge

Singing in the Age of Anx­i­ety: Lieder Per­for­mances in New York and Lon­don Be­tween the World Wars by Laura Tun­bridge.

Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Press,

239 pp., $55.00

The late-eigh­teenth-cen­tury cult of sen­si­bil­ity unleashed a tor­rent of weep­ing all over Europe. Chat­ter­ton hand­ker­chiefs, printed in red or blue, flooded the mar­ket, de­pict­ing the dis­tressed teenage poet in his gar­ret; the sui­cide in 1770 of this lit­er­ary prodigy and forger was later en­coded into Ro­man­tic myth by Wordsworth, Keats, and Shel­ley. Goethe’s Sor­rows of Young Werther, pub­lished four years af­ter Thomas Chat­ter­ton’s death and a smash hit, pushed cry­ing to its erotic limit. Read­ing Klop­stock to­gether, Werther and his beloved but off-lim­its Charlotte touch (barely) and weep. “By re­leas­ing his tears with­out con­straint,” Roland Barthes wrote, Werther “fol­lows the or­der of the amorous body, which is in liq­uid ex­pan­sion, a bathed body: to weep to­gether, to flow to­gether: de­li­cious tears fin­ish off the read­ing.” Werther’s English trans­la­tor in 1786 made the con­nec­tion be­tween the real and the fic­tional sui­cide: “Na­ture had in­fused too strong a pro­por­tion of pas­sion in [Werther’s] com­po­si­tion; his feel­ings, like those of our Chat­ter­ton, were too fine to sup­port the load of ac­cu­mu­lated dis­tress; and like him his di­a­pa­son closed in death.” Sen­si­bil­ity flowed into Ro­man­ti­cism, and Ro­man­tic po­etry in­her­ited a com­plex ob­ses­sion with tears. Ger­man pi­ano-ac­com­pa­nied song, the lied, grounded in lyric po­etry, is awash with them. But the sim­ple tears of sen­si­bil­ity, like those of “Wonne der Wehmut” (De­light in Me­lan­choly), Goethe’s poem pub­lished the year af­ter Werther and set by Schu­bert in 1815—Trock­net nicht, trä­nen der ewigen Liebe (“do not dry, tears of ev­er­last­ing love”)—give way to the twisted tears of the Ro­man­tics: self-con­scious, ironic, deadly. In Schu­bert’s faux-naïf bu­colic song cy­cle to poems of Wil­helm Müller, Die schöne Mül­lerin (The Beau­ti­ful Maid of the Mill, 1823), we learn that cry­ing can­not bring with­ered love back to life; the miller boy, dis­ap­pointed in love, flings him­self into the mill brook that had ear­lier ab­sorbed his tears. His di­a­pa­son ends in death. The cry­ing in Schu­bert’s mon­u­men­tal twenty-four­song Win­ter­reise (1827–1828), to words by the same poet, is more com­pli­cated. Tears won’t come; the heart is frozen. Death is not avail­able as a re­lease. By the time of Schu­bert’s last song cy­cle, Sch­wa­nenge­sang, which in­cludes six la­conic poems by Hein­rich Heine, tears are cursed. The poet drinks them from his lover’s hands. Since then his body has with­ered; she has poi­soned him with her tears.

One of the most strik­ing scenes con­jured up in Laura Tun­bridge’s new book, Singing in the Age of Anx­i­ety,a study of lieder singing in New York and Lon­don be­tween the wars, is a coda, Lotte Lehmann’s tear­ful farewell recital in New York, nearly six years af­ter the end of World War II, in Fe­bru­ary 1951. Born in 1888, Lehmann had been one of the great singers of the age. In the field of opera she was par­tic­u­larly as­so­ci­ated with the works of Richard Strauss, who de­clared, in words that could have come straight out of a Schu­bert song, that “she sang, and the stars were moved.” Strauss was the last of the great lieder com­posers, and it was as a lieder singer that Lehmann ended her ca­reer. The speech she gave be­fore her per­for­mance is a rhetor­i­cal bridge to an ear­lier age, echo­ing one of the most fa­mous of lieder, Men­delssohn’s “Auf Flügeln des Ge­sanges” (On Wings of Song—an­other Heine text). “You were the wings on which I soared,” she told her pi­anist and her au­di­ence, “a flight into beauty and an­other world.” As was widely re­ported at the time, Lehmann broke down dur­ing her fi­nal en­core. Here is Life mag­a­zine’s ac­count:

She had sung these words of Schu­bert’s im­mor­tal song “To Mu­sic” (“An die Musik”) hundreds of times be­fore, but this time was dif­fer­ent. As the stat­uesque so­prano came to the fi­nal lines her eyes be­gan to fill with tears. She broke down with a sob and cov­ered her face with her hands. The pi­ano fin­ished alone.

Tun­bridge is aware of the “el­e­ment of show­man­ship” in­volved in the so­prano’s farewell: the in­volve­ment of her PR agent Con­stance Hope; the Life photo-story, com­plete with its pic­ture of Lehmann “head bowed, face be­hind her fin­gers, as the pi­anist car­ried on.” But she also finds lis­ten­ing to Lehmann’s break­down (a record­ing was made and can be found on YouTube) “deeply mov­ing . . . mak[ing] one con­tem­plate how to write about ex­pres­sive sur­plus in per­for­mance, as well as ag­ing and fail­ing voices.”

Lis­ten­ing my­self to Lehmann I hear this—though some of the sup­posed vo­cal fail­ings of age can equally be heard as stylis­tic choices (por­ta­mento, short breaths, the per­sis­tent wob­ble)— but I am also struck by a Ro­man­tic con­ti­nu­ity that Strauss’s trib­ute to Lehmann and Lehmann’s own trib­ute to her pi­anist and au­di­ence have al­ready sug­gested. There is no sense from the record­ing that Lehmann is over­whelmed and can­not con­tinue, no sense of some­thing be­ing sti­fled or of a ris­ing emo­tion fi­nally tak­ing the singer by sur­prise (and it is re­mark­able that so much of the lied is about tears but that tears make singing ut­terly im­pos­si­ble). In­stead she stops al­most de­lib­er­ately. Du holde Kunst (“you holy art”), she sings, enun­ci­at­ing that fi­nal t of Kunst, leav­ing the words ich danke dir (“I thank you”) that com­plete the poem to echo only in the mind as the pi­anist con­tin­ues play­ing. And he does not in fact fin­ish the song; the pi­ano postlude is left un­played, which re­in­forces a sense that this is a per­for­mance as much about the singer as the song. There is some­thing deeply Ro­man­tic about Lehmann’s lachry­mos­ity, but also about her art­ful caesura. It re­minds me of noth­ing so much as a song by Schu­mann, “Des Sen­nen Ab­schied” (“The Herds­man’s Farewell” from his Lieder Al­bum for the Young), in which, mid­way through re­peat­ing the words im lieblichen Mai (“in lovely May”) Schu­mann has the singer break off. The word Mai is left un­said, un­sung, and the ef­fect is as if the herds­man’s ris­ing rap­ture has over­whelmed him. Lehmann’s per­for­mance of “An die Musik” crys­tal­lizes one of the cen­tral para­doxes of lieder singing: a lyri­cal form with an em­pha­sis on in­di­vid­ual sub­jec­tiv­ity is at the same time nec­es­sar­ily per­for­ma­tive and, in the best sense, man­nered. The ef­fect is very of­ten of in­ti­macy and of nat­u­ral ex­pres­sion, of au­then­tic ac­cess to the heart. But the means are cal­cu­lated by com­poser and per­former, not a mere spon­ta­neous over­flow of emo­tion. The art­ful con­spires with the art­less.

The lied is a niche within a niche within a niche. At the same time it is one of the glo­ries of Euro­pean clas­si­cal mu­sic, one of the deep­est ex­pres­sions of its meth­ods and pre­oc­cu­pa­tions, and was of enor­mous cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance in its hey­day, which ran, roughly speak­ing, from 1814 to 1914. It had its place in the sun, and we are still liv­ing, as mu­si­cians, as lieder singers, and lieder lis­ten­ers, in the af­ter­glow of that glory. Franz Schu­bert recre­ated song as a cru­cial and se­ri­ous genre, set­ting lyric po­etry with an in­ten­sity and har­monic dar­ing that daz­zled his lis­ten­ers; Robert Schu­mann and his pro­tégé Jo­hannes Brahms poured end­less imag­i­na­tive re­sources into the small con­fines of the lied; Hugo Wolf put it at the cen­ter of his short, pro­duc­tive life; Gus­tav Mahler moved seam­lessly be­tween song, sym­phony, and songsym­phony; Arnold Schoen­berg used the song form for his most rad­i­cal ex­per­i­ments in har­monic dis­rup­tion; and Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs (1948) were the fi­nal ele­giac ex­pres­sion of an ex­hausted tra­di­tion. To be a se­ri­ous com­poser in the Aus­tro-Ger­man tra­di­tion you had to grap­ple with the lied; and in the case of Wolf, achieve­ment in the field of lieder alone raised him to the pan­theon. All the while, song has self­con­sciously cel­e­brated the small­ness of its can­vas and of its fo­cus, of­ten with a teas­ing di­rect­ness. Auch kleine Dinge kön­nen uns entzücken (“small things can also de­light us”) is how Wolf’s Ital­ienis­ches Lieder­buch opens; and Heine’s Aus meinen großen Sch­merzen mach ich die kleinen Lieder (“from my great sor­rows I make small songs,” set as one of Wolf’s un­pub­lished ju­ve­nilia) could stand as a motto for the whole genre. Big, dra­matic things can hap­pen in lieder, great sto­ries can be told; but a pre­mium is placed on sub­jec­tiv­ity, on both minute­ness of at­ten­tion and ratch­et­ing up of in­ten­sity, which the mag­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of voice and pi­ano can ide­ally sup­ply. The means are at one and the same time in­tim­i­dat­ingly aus­tere and thrillingly in­fi­nite. The sub­ti­tle of Tun­bridge’s study— “Lieder Per­for­mances in New York and Lon­don Be­tween the World Wars”—is teas­ingly nar­row. If the study of lieder is a spe­cial­ism—though one of enor­mous cul­tural in­ter­est—then a study of per­for­mances of lieder in the pe­riod be­tween 1918 and 1945 in just two cities, even if those two cities are cos­mopoli­tanism in­car­nate, is a su­per-spe­cial­ism, and one that might seem to be of lit­tle in­ter­est to the gen­eral reader, even the gen­eral reader with an in­ter­est in cul­tural his­tory.

Tun­bridge her­self de­scribes her work as de­cen­tered. It doesn’t con­cen­trate on what are usu­ally thought of as the main mu­si­cal is­sues of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury: the de­vel­op­ments of big in­sti­tu­tions, mod­ernism, and pop­u­lar mu­sic. Its in­ter­est and achieve­ment are to show how a quintessen­tially Aus­troGer­man art form, grounded in the Ger­man lan­guage and deeply im­pli­cated in both Ger­man na­tion­al­ism and Ger­man Ro­man­ti­cism, was trans­mit­ted into the late twen­ti­eth cen­tury and be­yond, to be­come in the LP age the hall­mark of cos­mopoli­tan and civ­i­lized mu­sic-mak­ing.

The ex­clu­sive at­ten­tion given to New York and Lon­don is cru­cial to Tun­bridge’s story. Singers who wanted to

make an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer made a bee­line for these fa­bled cen­ters of money and power. Lieder so­ci­eties and record­ing projects (like Wal­ter Legge’s Hugo Wolf So­ci­ety in Lon­don) were hives of ac­tiv­ity. “In­ter­na­tional hubs for the per­for­mance of clas­si­cal mu­sic” then and now, New York and Lon­don also had “com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ships with Ger­man cul­ture,” she writes. In the case of New York, this was due to a large and in­flu­en­tial Ger­man im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion; and in Lon­don, a broad cul­tural con­nec­tion—across a spec­trum that stretched from in­tel­lec­tual affin­ity (think Ge­orge Eliot) and dy­nas­tic en­tan­gle­ment (all those Hanove­ri­ans and Saxe-Coburgs)—veered be­tween af­fec­tion­ate em­brace and fear of in­va­sion, lit­eral and metaphor­i­cal. In both places, the Ger­man lan­guage was an is­sue, and Tun­bridge’s trac­ing of the ups and downs of lieder singing in trans­la­tion is sub­tle and ex­ten­sive. The na­tion­al­ism and chau­vin­ism of World War I made singing in Ger­man a taboo in the Al­lied na­tions; by the time of World War II the sense of a broader cru­sade for cul­tural val­ues made lieder recitals part of the de­fense of a “civ­i­liza­tion in dan­ger of be­ing de­stroyed by fas­cism.”

Lieder singing to­day feels it­self con­stantly un­der threat, much as clas­si­cal mu­sic more gen­er­ally does. Nev­er­the­less the tra­di­tion con­tin­ues and re­news it­self. Lieder recitals are to be found on pro­grams from San Fran­cisco to Seoul; stu­dents at con­ser­va­to­ries are deeply in­volved in learn­ing and per­form­ing Ger­man song; new lieder singers are pre­sented in recorded form; and there has never been so much so­phis­ti­cated and de­tailed study of both the com­po­si­tion and per­for­mance of lieder in the academy. Tun­bridge shows us that these, like so many late-twen­ti­eth­cen­tury tra­di­tions, are in­vented ones: not a di­rect in­her­i­tance from the nine­teenth-cen­tury cru­cible of the lied, but one me­di­ated through the po­lit­i­cal strug­gles and tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments of the in­ter­war years.

Au­dio tech­nol­ogy in the 1920s and 1930s ad­vanced on a broad front: the spread of the gramo­phone as a do­mes­tic ap­pli­ance to ri­val and re­place the pi­ano; elec­tronic record­ing, which lent a new re­al­ism to recorded sound; the ubiq­uity of ra­dio, which could trans­mit a wealth of mu­sic into ev­ery home; and the ad­vent of talk­ing pic­tures, which, with movies like Blos­som Time or Un­fin­ished Sym­phony (both re­leased in 1934), brought lieder to the masses in what was for some a dis­turbingly sen­ti­men­tal vein. Fears abounded. The doyen of English mu­sic crit­ics, Ernest New­man, dreamed a dream—a night­mare—in which singing ma­chines re­placed hu­man be­ings. Per­fec­tion was not im­me­di­ately achieved, but “af­ter a hun­dred years or so, the se­cret of pro­duc­ing per­fect con­so­nants was dis­cov­ered, and it be­came pos­si­ble to pro­duce fault­less Lieder singing.” New­man’s news­pa­per ri­val Neville Car­dus wrote the fol­low­ing of the bari­tone Ger­hard Hüsch’s record­ing of Schu­bert’s great Win­ter­reise, only the sec­ond com­plete ver­sion at the time of its re­lease in 1933:

A re­pro­duc­tion as happy as this makes one won­der whether the day will not soon come when it will be a su­per­flu­ous labour for us to at­tend a con­cert hall. Why leave the com­fort of one’s house and risk the dis­trac­tions of a con­cert-room if the gramo­phone is able to catch the essence of an interpretation, es­pe­cially an interpretation of any­thing so in­ti­mate as Lieder.

In the end, the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween new modes of pro­duc­tion and the per­for­mance of lieder was com­plex and sub­tle. As Wal­ter Ben­jamin put it in his cel­e­brated es­say “The Work of Art in the Age of Me­chan­i­cal Re­pro­duc­tion” (1936), “even the most per­fect re­pro­duc­tion of a work of art is lack­ing in one el­e­ment: its pres­ence in time and space, its unique ex­is­tence at the place where it hap­pens to be.” Live per­for­mance is nec­es­sar­ily at the heart of clas­si­cal mu­sic-mak­ing of all sorts; but tech­nol­ogy has had a pro­found im­pact

on re­sponses to it and the ex­pec­ta­tions we have of it. As far as lieder were con­cerned, the gramo­phone in the draw­ing room of­fered a return to the In­nigkeit, the al­most meta­phys­i­cal in­ti­macy that had at­tended the birth of the genre and had been sub­merged some­times in the ex­cesses of late Ro­man­ti­cism. In an in­tro­duc­tion to a ra­dio broad­cast by Elis­a­beth Schu­mann in Au­gust 1938, the an­nouncer spoke of “an art of glow, not glit­ter; a per­sonal out­burst from a po­etic wan­derer to a fire­side lis­tener, unthe­atri­cal and only in­di­rectly dra­matic.”

This cer­tainly cap­tures cru­cial as­pects of the lieder aes­thetic, en­coded in a cy­cle like Win­ter­reise (the great­est out­burst from a po­etic wan­derer in mu­si­cal lit­er­a­ture) or in a song like Schu­bert’s “Der Ein­same” (The Soli­tary One), with its chirp­ing crick­ets and cozy hearth, its re­treat from the world; but it misses out on a whole range of dra­matic and the­atri­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties in the singing of the lied, and ig­nores a tra­di­tion that goes right back to the first singer of Schu­bert’s songs, the dis­tin­guished but su­per­an­nu­ated opera singer Jo­hann Michael Vogl. Dis­agree­ments among Schu­bert’s friends af­ter his death over how to sing his songs point to a dis­tinc­tion be­tween Vogl’s dra­matic in­ten­sity and the no­ble melodic am­a­teurism of some­one like the Frei­herr von Schön­stein, the ded­i­ca­tee of Die schöne Mül­lerin. Schu­bert clearly val­ued both: “The style and the man­ner in which Vogl sings and I ac­com­pany,” he wrote, “so that at such a mo­ment we seem to be one, is . . . ut­terly new and un­heard of.” In my ex­pe­ri­ence as a singer, dif­fer­ent songs re­quire dif­fer­ent ap­proaches; in­deed, the same song can de­mand some­thing dif­fer­ent de­pend­ing on cir­cum­stances (where it comes in the pro­gram, how the au­di­ence seems, how the hall is con­structed). Ul­ti­mately there is the free­dom of the per­former in the mo­ment, who can­not be en­tirely con­strained by the writ­ten in­struc­tions of the com­posed text, how­ever de­tailed.

The no­tion of au­then­tic­ity that haunts Ben­jamin’s es­say ex­tends to the art of per­for­mance, and is all about pres­ence and aura. But the word “au­then­tic­ity” also has a par­tic­u­lar and slightly dif­fer­ent res­o­nance in lieder singing, de­mand­ing an af­fect that is usu­ally de­fined in op­po­si­tion to that of opera: glow and not glit­ter, real feel­ing, sim­plic­ity, sin­cer­ity. Add to this

the ab­sence of the body to which the gramo­phone ac­cus­toms lis­ten­ers (and which Car­dus cel­e­brated in his re­view) and the in­creas­ing de­mands of per­fec­tion­ism that the in­tro­duc­tion of tape edit­ing from the 1950s on­ward elicited, and you have a very par­tic­u­lar sort of lieder singing that does not al­ways fully en­gage with the blood, sweat, and tears that so of­ten an­i­mated the songs of Schu­bert and his suc­ces­sors.

While the gramo­phone re­claimed lieder for the draw­ing room and re­asserted the genre’s in­ti­macy, it deep­ened the di­vide be­tween am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional, in­ten­si­fy­ing a process that had started with the genre’s move into the con­cert hall in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tury and con­tin­ued with the in­creas­ing com­plex­ity of song­writ­ing for pi­ano and voice in the works of Mahler, Wolf, and Strauss. If song as trans­mit­ted by the gramo­phone or wire­less was peer­lessly in­ti­mate and sin­cere, it was also in­creas­ingly a con­sum­able com­mod­ity, as it was in 1929 for Rebecca West, who de­scribed lis­ten­ing, alone in the dark, to a broad­cast of Elis­a­beth Schu­mann singing lieder as “the ul­ti­mate luxury.” It was Thomas Mann, in The Magic Moun­tain (1924), who most elo­quently ex­pressed the gramo­phone’s sta­tus as a con­veyor of com­mod­i­fied spir­i­tu­al­ity, “an over­flow­ing cor­nu­copia of artis­tic plea­sure” that could trans­mit that won­drous chimera, “the Ger­man soul, upto-date.” Mann also put his fin­ger on the dis­em­bod­ied qual­ity that record­ing lent to mu­si­cal per­for­mance:

The singers . . . [Hans Cas­torp] lis­tened to, but could not see, had bod­ies that resided in Amer­ica, in Mi­lan, in Vi­enna, in Saint Peters­burg—and they could re­side where they liked, be­cause what he had was the best part of them, the voice, and he val­ued this pu­ri­fied form, this ab­strac­tion that still re­mained phys­i­cal enough to al­low him real hu­man con­trol, and yet ex­cluded all the dis­ad­van­tages of too close per­sonal con­tact.

What Mann fur­ther high­lighted in his novel were the cul­tural roots of lieder in the birth of a Ger­man na­tional idea and its con­se­quent con­tam­i­na­tion with the curse of Ger­man na­tion­al­ism. At the height of Ger­man na­tion­al­ist fer­vor at the out­set of World War I, Mann had no­to­ri­ously, in his Gedanken im Kriege (Thoughts in Wartime), lauded Ger­man Kul­tur (deep) over An­gloFrench Zivil­i­sa­tion (su­per­fi­cial), ask­ing how “the artist, the sol­dier in the artist [could] fail to praise God for the col­lapse of a peace­ful world with which he was fed up, so com­pletely fed up.” “The en­tirety of Ger­many’s virtue and beauty,” Mann had de­clared, “un­folds only in war.” Bismarck him­self, the Iron Chan­cel­lor, had not long be­fore in­voked the “power of Ger­man song as an ally in wartime.”

When, ten years later, Mann came to crit­i­cize the na­tion­al­ism he had es­poused and dig­ni­fied, one par­tic­u­larly fa­mous lied formed the cen­tere­piece of his re­nun­ci­a­tion. This was the fifth song of Win­ter­reise, “Der Lin­den­baum” (The Lin­den Tree). A record­ing of “Der Lin­den­baum” is Hans Cas­torp’s fa­vorite in the sana­to­rium to which he has semivol­un­tar­ily re­treated, and what draws him to it is, ul­ti­mately, the same force that draws him to the sana­to­rium, and that drew Mann and his com­pa­tri­ots to­ward their dis­as­trous in­fat­u­a­tion with war. “What was this world that stood be­hind” the song, “which his in­tu­itive scru­ples told him was a world of for­bid­den love? It was death.” When Cas­torp marches for­ward to join the “world­wide fes­ti­val of death” in the last pages of Mann’s novel, “he uses what tat­ters of breath he has left to sing to him­self.” He sings “Der Lin­den­baum.”

By the time of Lehmann’s farewell recital in 1951, the lied was, in many ways, deeply un­fash­ion­able. Born in the early nine­teenth cen­tury as clas­si­cism was mu­tat­ing into Ro­man­ti­cism in mu­sic, the genre had grown to ma­tu­rity un­der the max­i­mal­ist regime of late Ro­man­ti­cism. Fur­ther in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of emo­tional ag­i­ta­tion and har­monic col­or­ing had cul­mi­nated in an ex­pres­sion­ism that was es­sen­tially a glo­ri­ous dead end.

The sen­ti­men­tal­ism and Ro­man­tic ide­al­ism that had been at the heart of the Ger­man song tra­di­tion had no place in the new aes­thetic world that came into be­ing just be­fore World War I; the hor­rors of that war only height­ened de­mands for emo­tional de­tach­ment and the spirit of Neue Sach­lichkeit (new ob­jec­tiv­ity). In mu­sic it meant the twin poles of twelve-tone mu­sic un­der the aegis of Schoen­berg and neo­clas­si­cism un­der that of Stravin­sky. Stravin­sky’s friend the ec­cen­tric am­a­teur Lord Bern­ers wrote in this pe­riod (dated 1913–1918) a telling set­ting of one of the most pop­u­lar of Heine’s poems, “Du bist wie eine Blume” (“You Are Like a Flower”). The pi­ano part is marked “secco (schnauzend)”—dry

(snuf­fling)—and Bern­ers pro­vided a note for the song:

Ac­cord­ing to one of Heine’s bi­og­ra­phers, this poem was in­spired by a white pig that the poet had met with in the course of a walk in the coun­try. He was, it ap­pears, haunted by the thought of the me­lan­choly fate in store for it .... The present ver­sion is an at­tempt to re­store to the words their right­ful sig­nif­i­cance, while at the same time pre­serv­ing the sen­ti­men­tal char­ac­ter of the Ger­man Lied.

Lied com­po­si­tion had come to seem ret­ro­grade, re­ac­tionary, even ridicu­lous; and it is strik­ing that Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs were so vale­dic­tory in tone, in ti­tle, and in tim­ing, three years af­ter the de­struc­tion of the Ger­man na­tion and a year be­fore Strauss’s death. Their pri­mary ex­is­tence as or­ches­tral songs also dis­tanced them, through a warm glow of strings, from the main­stream of the pi­ano-ac­com­pa­nied lied. But if cre­ative en­ergy had been sapped, the per­for­mance of lieder, a Ger­man art form par ex­cel­lence, sur­vived and even thrived. The anti-Ger­man prej­u­dices of the Great War and its im­me­di­ate af­ter­math were re­placed by the in­ter­war in­ter­na­tion­al­ism that ul­ti­mately tri­umphed in 1945, and the per­for­mance of lieder came, ac­cord­ing to Tun­bridge, “to rep­re­sent plu­ral­ism and open­mind­ed­ness in the face of fas­cism.” Nowa­days it is not Ber­lin or Vi­enna that is the cap­i­tal of the song recital, but Lon­don and its Wig­more Hall, which last sea­son mounted some­thing ap­proach­ing a hun­dred of them, dom­i­nated by Ger­man song. An art form “akin to a mu­si­cal refugee” in the anx­ious 1930s, as Tun­bridge puts it, has, through the vi­cis­si­tudes of tech­no­log­i­cal change and ide­o­log­i­cal tur­moil, found its place.

Lotte Lehmann cry­ing on­stage dur­ing her farewell recital at Town Hall, New York City, 1951

Gus­tav Klimt: Schu­bert at the Pi­ano, 1899

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