Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mendelssohn and Jenny Lind: the truth

In the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association (no.138 issue 1, May 2013), a study by Dr George Biddlecombe has been published, entitled: Secret Letters and a Missing Memorandum: New Light on the Personal Relationship between Felix Mendelssohn and Jenny Lind.

Here is the Abstract:
"The Committee of the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation possesses material indicating that Mendelssohn wrote passionate love letters to Jenny Lind entreating her to join him in an adulterous relationship and threatening suicide as a means of exerting pressure upon her, and that these letters were destroyed on being discovered after her death. The notion that Mendelssohn would have written such letters conflicts strikingly with the received view of his character. Nevertheless, the veracity of the material is beyond doubt, and, while it does not include specific evidence that Mendelssohn and Lind began an affair, it points more clearly than has hitherto been possible towards an answer to this question. Thus it necessitates a radical revision of perceptions of these two major musicians. For Otto Goldschmidt, Lind's husband, destroying the letters was crucial in protecting the reputations not only of his wife and Mendelssohn but also of himself and his family."
So the truth - as far as it can ever be established - is out.

If you cast your minds back to 2009, the Mendelssohn bicentenary year, you may remember my frustrated efforts to get at some of this material, which led me to write an article that, I'm glad to say, seems to have had some impact in persuading the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation to commission a thorough study. This is precisely what was needed. I believed that the last part of Mendelssohn's life, and therefore his late works, could never be understood to the full until it came about.

Dr Biddlecombe has gone into minute detail over such matters as the integrity of the solicitors involved in the disappearance of the vital memorandum, as well as putting the traditional saintly views so widely held of both composer and soprano into context with Victorian society. His assessment is, broadly speaking, that while we will never know how far the relationship went, the passionate emotional bond between the pair was real, and the risks of revealing it potentially dangerous to the man whom Lind later married, Otto Goldschmidt, and their family.

Many congratulations and deepest thanks to the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation, its chairman Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, principal of the Royal Academy of Music, and Dr George Biddlecombe for all their efforts.

You can download the complete article, for a fee, here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kaufmann is going to Sony

The other week an editor friend mentioned, en passant, that he'd phoned Decca asking for some pics of Jonas - only to be told to call Sony Classical instead. Ooh la la, we thought. It's all official now, and the great tenor has indeed jumped ship. We can expect a Verdi album imminently.

Meanwhile he is at the Bayerische Staatsoper rehearsing Il Trovatore with Anja Harteros for the Munich Opera Festival. I'm reliably informed that they are both sounding absolutely fantastic. We can all watch their live webcast from the theatre on 5 July.

They're also doing Don Carlo - and I may even get to see this at the end of the festival. Here's last year's backstage glimpse (in German).

So for Decca today, it's one in and one out, and probably time for the weekend.

Pumeza Matshikiza signs with Decca

A couple of years ago I went to talk to a young South African soprano from the townships of the Western Cape. She was singing with the Classical Opera Company at the time, had been on the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at Covent Garden and was about to start a contract with the Stuttgart Opera. Her voice was full of character, warmth and gorgeous, heart-string-twisting magic. Now she has a recording contract with Decca. Hooray for Pumeza Matshikiza!

Here's my interview with her from The Independent in May 2011.

There would be Wilbye

One of my favourite moments in the Cambridge calendar used to be Singing on the River.

In mid-June, after all the exams were over and everyone was letting off steam in "May Week", the audience assembled on the river bank on the Backs behind Trinity College and the University Chamber Choir would take to the waters on a raft lit by Chinese lanterns.

They'd sing a glorious selection of a cappella works. The programme varied, but there were two constants. One was Stanford's The Bluebird; the other, John Wilbye's madrigal Draw On, Sweet Night. This last ended the concert. By then it was around 10pm, or shortly after; overhead the midsummer stars were starting to glow (somehow, it was always clear); and at the conclusion the raft lifted anchor and drifted away downstream, the music fading with the lanterns into the darkness. Wilbye lived from 1574 to 1638 and published his two sets of madrigals in 1598 and 1608 - a total of 64 pieces - yet sometimes, with this one, I find myself thinking of Brahms, wondering if he had heard it too...

The former director of music at Trinity College, the brilliant, kind and exacting Richard Marlow, died last week aged 74. (He was chief examiner for my MusB, as it happens.) As a tribute, here is a film of Singing on the River's Wilbye conclusion from 2005.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Rhythm is everything": how Stravinsky himself choreographed the Rite

Before you ditch the Rite of Spring centenary for overkill, please read this utterly fascinating essay by Robert Craft from the Times Literary Supplement.

"Rhythm is everything," Stravinsky wrote on his score. "Where there is rhythm, there is music..." His descriptions of exactly how he wants the dancers to count would probably cause some crossed pointe shoes, though.

Craft, the composer's amanuensis, records the inception of the ballet and its Lithuanian influences, especially the work of Ciurlionis; the vital input of the artist Nicholas Roerich; and Stravinsky's own plans for its choreography, in minute detail. (It also sheds some intriguing light on the great Russian's sexuality, which in turn casts unexpected illumination on his relationship with Diaghilev, and may possibly disillusion fans of Igor and Coco...)
'Moving to his piano, Stravinsky opened a copy of The Rite and played a few passages. Suddenly, in the “Augurs of Spring”, he stopped playing to criticize the music, remarking that “the really innovative element is the accents”, and “the upper parts are good enough and the bass is acceptable, but I could have found something more interesting in the middle”. His final remark, as he flicked through the rest of the score, is unforgettable: “There are good things in this, but also many pages that do not interest me at all”. This is the man who on the first day I met him said, “Music is the greatest means we have of digesting time”.'
Read the whole thing here.  Craft's new book, Stravinksy: Discoveries and Memories, was published last month.