Tuesday, January 18, 2011
If you would like to read my translations of four German verses, plus the biographical texts they require on the translated poets, they have just been published on-line, where you may find them by clicking on the title above, "Newly Published Translations." It does not show the Synopsis they elicited from me as it is on their webpage introducing the new translations being featured. The Synopsis, below, is the context in which Strauss chose these verses for his last work:
FOUR LAST SONGS: the poems that comprise the final song cycle by Richard Strauss
Written by Hermann Hesse and Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff
Translated from the German by James McColley Eilers
In October 1947, Richard Strauss (1864-1949) went to London where Sir Thomas Beecham had organized a festival of his music. The British, so soon after World War II, were still suspicious of this German who had remained silent about Nazis while surviving in the Third Reich. A young reporter asked the 83-year-old composer his plans for the future. “Oh,” said Strauss, “to die.”
In this end-of-life state of mind, Strauss began work on his last work, the Four Last Songs (Vier letzte Lieder). He set the song cycle, which premiered only after his death, to verses written by two poets at a similar twilight stage of their respective lives, Mermann Hesse and Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff. Strauss’ inspiration began with his discovery of Eichendorff’s poem, Im Abendrot (At Sunset). Perhaps it was because Strauss and his wife had lived through a grim period of history over their fifty-four years of marriage that Strauss was moved by the Eichendorff verse, which describes an old couple who have survived a life’s journey through sorrow and joy. At around the same time, Strauss received a copy of the complete poems of Hermann Hesse, and Four Last Songs cycle includes three of them – Frühling (Spring), September, and Beim Schlafengehen (When I Go to Sleep).
Strauss composed the Four Last Songs with Kirsten Flagstad in mind, and she sang the first performance on May 22, 1950, in the Royal Festival Hall, London, with Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra.