Paul von Klenau
Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Kornetts Christoph Rilke
Bo Skovhus, baritone
Han Skarkoba, soprano
Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
Petr Fiala, choirmaster
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Paul Mann, conductor
Executive Summary: Richly expressive, and at times haunting, setting of
Rilke's writing. Beautifully performed. Highly recommended.
A pupil of Bruch, Thuille and von Schillings, the Danish composer, Paul
von Klenau (1883-1946) was one of so many composers of his time who
assimilated a remarkable diversity of compositional tendencies, from
impressionism, to the precepts of Schoenberg's 12 tone technique, and
yet managed to produce works of great individuality. Klenau was also
active as a conductor introducing the music of Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin,
Schoenberg and Delius to Danish audiences. He was also a close friend
of Berg. While his debt to the music of von Schillings is clear, one
can hear faint suggestions of the music of all of these composers in
Rainer Maria Rilke's text, Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Kornetts
Christoph Rilke (The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher
Rilke) dates from 1899 and was first published in 1904. It tells the
story of the Cornet (standard bearer) Christoph Rilke during the war
against the Turks in 1663. On his journey to join his company he talks
with other soldiers about memories of mothers. Later on his way he is
awakened by the screams of a bloodied woman (effectively marked by the
soprano singing gestures similar to those found in the Seventh Symphony
of Vaughan Williams). Before going to war he is seduced by a countess.
In the course of battle, he ends up riding ahead of his fellow soldiers
and is killed. The work closes with the news of his death being announced
in his hometown. While in the years following the First World War, the
story was seen as being that of an heroic soldier who dies a glorious
death in battle, the story can also be seen as being about a romantic
soul who dies a rather meaningless death. It is this latter vision that
one hears in the music of Klenau.
Klenau's setting captures the spirit in a most magnificent way. While
the music is essentially tonal, it is marked by an occasional reference
to quartal harmony, and a resultant ambiguity of tonality. The melodic
line is rich and expressive. Phrases are extended to the point where
one is reminded of the lack of cadence found in Wagner. The orchestration
is rich and sumptuous without being overpowering.
There is a seductive quality to Klenau's setting. It is essentially
an extended aria for baritone with occasional comments by the chorus.
I found myself lingering with every melodic turn, with every phrase.
The mood is broken but a few times to support significant points in the
text; as a bugle call summons the soldiers to gather or as the cries of
a bloodied woman interrupt the night. There is incredible tenderness
as the words express thoughts of the soldier's mother. A haunting motive
of remarkable gentleness and beauty accompanies the loss of his innocence.
The mood is broken towards the end as he fulfills his destiny as a
casualty in war. Then, as death approaches, there are moments of unearthly
beauty mixed with the agony of his death. We are left to view the horror
of war as almost an abstract notion of violence. In the concluding
section, as the messenger approaches Christoph's mother, with the news
of his passing, we have an all too brief glimpse of a life lost. It is
work that carries you along, not through great contrast, but through the
subtle shading of a highly expressive melodic line.
The performances are superb and the recorded sound excellent.
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