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Kirsten Flagstad, Barbara Hendricks

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?” and “Komm Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern” from Fidelio (1814)
Richard Wagner (1813–1883). “Einsam in trüben Tagen” (Elsa’s Dream) from Lohengrin (1848)
Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). Shéhérazade (1903)

Hi, it’s Kile Smith, and welcome to the Fleisher Discoveries podcast, from the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia. We’ve just rounded out a year of podcasts, I’m happy to say, and you can find them all on SoundCloud and Spotify; just type in Fleisher Discoveries at either place and you can find us there!

It’s been a great year since we debuted the podcast in December 2018 with a show on Florence Price. And then, once a month, we brought you works—all orchestral works, since it’s the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music—works by William Henry Fry, Julius Bittner, Lili Boulanger, Elinor Remick Warren, Joelle Wallach, Gloria Coates, Fanny Mendelssohn, Elinor Remick Warren again, and then Ricardo Castro twice, Paul Hindemith twice, Maurice Ravel, Franz Schubert, Peter Mennin, Frederick Converse, and Ulysses Kay. You’ll notice some well-known composers, but mostly we fly under the radar, as befits a show with “Discoveries” in the title. Women, African American, Mexican composers, all well represented in the Fleisher Collection, and so getting deserved space on Discoveries.

But even with famous names we try to find an unusual or interesting angle, such as Schubert’s Great C major Symphony on period instruments. And on today’s show, with Beethoven, Wagner, and again Ravel making another appearance, we’ll tilt the framing a little bit by choosing only vocal music.

Of course, voice and orchestra isn’t all that unusual, but I wanted to make a point of vocal music today since sometimes people get the impression that the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music is all symphonies. In fact, though, any piece of music using an orchestra is fair game for inclusion in the Fleisher Collection. Concertos and vocal pieces were part of the Collection from early on. Choral works were added much later, mainly because the Free Library already had (and still does have) the Henry Drinker Choral Library, which included choral music with orchestra. But Fleisher received so many requests for Handel’s Messiah, Brahms’s Requiem, and so forth, let alone Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, that we eventually started acquiring those, too. So, think of the Fleisher Collection if you’re thinking of programming orchestra with voices. or orchestra with anything else!

But for today, songs with orchestra, and speaking of Beethoven, we’ll begin there, with one of the great operatic solos from his one opera Fidelio, the recitative “Abscheulicher! Wo eilest du hin?” or “You monster! Where will you go?” followed by the aria “Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern,” “Come, hope, let not the last bright star in my anguish be obscured!”

Leonore, wife of Florestan, is disguised as Fidelio, a guard in the prison where Florestan has been secretly kept by the wicked Pizzaro. He had spread the rumor that Florestan was dead, but with an official coming to the prison, Pizzaro decides to kill Florestan himself. Fidelio overhears the plan, and sings that even though all seems lost, hope and faith will keep her strong and help her to victory.

So on Fleisher Discoveries, we go to one of the great Fidelio voices, Kirsten Flagstad, in a recording from 1937, Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, in “Abscheulicher!” and “Komm, Hoffnung” from Beethoven’s Fidelio.

[Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?” and “Komm Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern” from Fidelio (1814)]

From Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven, the recitative and aria “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?” and “Komm Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern.” In this historic recording the soprano was Kirsten Flagstad, and the Philadelphia Orchestra was conducted by Eugene Ormandy.

We’ll stay with Kirsten Flagstad for Elsa’s Dream, “Einsam in trüben Tagen,” from Lohengrin, the opera or music drama by Richard Wagner. I say “music drama” because in Lohengrin, Wagner was attempting something very un-opera-like for the first time, the composition of a long, sung, staged dramatic work that didn’t rely on set-pieces or numbers—like recitatives and arias—but in one continuous work.

And it was a success from the beginning, the premiere in 1850 conducted by Franz Liszt, who admired Wagner from early on. The composer couldn’t attend the premiere; he had been exiled because of his political involvements and wouldn’t see a production of Lohengrin until 12 years later.

Now, of course Lohengrin and Wagner’s other through-composed works are operas, and they of course have standalone solos, Elsa’s Dream being one of the most popular. She relates how she dreamed of a knight—in shining armor, no less—coming to save her. From Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, Elsa’s Dream, “Einsam in trüben Tagen,” or “Lonely, in troubled days I prayed to the Lord.” Kirsten Flagstad is Elsa, and the orchestra is conducted by Hans Lange.

[Richard Wagner (1813–1883). “Einsam in trüben Tagen” (Elsa’s Dream) from Lohengrin (1848)]

A 1935 recording of Kirsten Flagstad, Hans Lange conducting, from Lohengrin, “Einsam in trüben Tagen,” by Richard Wagner. This is Fleisher Discoveries, from the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia. I’m Kile Smith.

You wouldn’t think there’d be much in common between Wagner and Maurice Ravel, and in fact Ravel is quoted as saying that Wagner’s influence was “pernicious.” But we may not have the next work, Ravel’s Shéhérazade, without that influence of Wagner. Voice with orchestra was of course not new by the year 1903, when Ravel composed this, but voice with orchestra outside of oratorio or opera was not all that common. By the end of the 19th century it was blossoming, due, mainly, to the increased harmonic and emotional palette brought to the fabric of voice and orchestra by Richard Wagner. Everybody felt it, German, English, French, whoever.

Ravel wrote Shéhérazade first for voice with piano but set it for orchestra at once, and it seems to find its raison d’etre in this larger landscape. This isn’t the same story Rimsky-Korsakov follows in his work for violin with orchestra, but there is a connection. Tristan Klingsor (now there’s a Wagnerian name) read the Arabian Nights, which Rimsky-Korsakov’s piece is based on, and wrote a collection of poems inspired by the book. Klingsor is the pseudonym for Léon Leclère, who was a good friend of Ravel’s, and Ravel set three of those poems as Shéhérazade.

The first, “Asia,” catalogs all the places and all the sights in the East he’d like to experience. In the second, “The enchanted flute,” he is wakened from sleep by the sound of the flute his lover plays, and in the third, “The indifferent one,” he is toyed with by her. She motions to him playfully, but she leaves.

Even though the protagonist is a man, the singer is usually a soprano, although Ravel later allowed tenors to sing this. Barbara Hendricks, who had such a big part of her career in France, here sings Ravel’s Shéhérazade with the Lyon Opera Orchestra conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.

[Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). Shéhérazade (1903)]

Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel on Fleisher Discoveries. Barbara Hendricks was the soprano, and John Eliot Gardiner conducted the Opera Orchestra of Lyon. If you remember us talking a few podcasts ago about editing orchestral music and the great work of Clinton Nieweg, well, that was another example. Clint edited the Ravel Shéhérazade in 1990, removed a ton of errors and inconsistencies from the score and parts, and made it a much better and playable edition. Orchestral players and conductors around the world thank Clint Nieweg for his work on this and many titles, and we’re proud for his work on Fleisher Collection editions, also!

Marguerite in Florida wrote in to tell me how much she enjoyed when we were on the radio and is so happy we’re podcasting now, so thank you very much, and yes, we’re at the one-year mark of Fleisher Discoveries podcasts! You can write in and tell us what you think of Fleisher Discoveries. Send me an email, or catch me or the Fleisher Collection on Facebook and give us a Like when you’re there!

So, thanks for joining me today on Fleisher Discoveries, a podcast produced by the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia. We’re on Spotify and SoundCloud and we’re having a great time coming to you every month with a new Fleisher Discoveries podcast. Gary Galván is curator of the Fleisher Collection, and I’m Kile Smith. Hope to see you next time on Fleisher Discoveries.