O hehre Sangeskunst


O hehre Sangeskunst - (2009)    

Erich Kurt Mühsam

for soprano and piano

in memory of a teacher, Anna Sylvan

O hehre Sangeskunst, wie traut,
wie seelenvoll ist dein Getön!
Soprangeschrill und Baßgedröhn -
der Vogel lärmt, die Katze miaut, -
dazu des Flügels Wucht. - Wie schön
ist doch solch Lied! Wie es erbaut!
Musik! Gesang! Wie schön! Wie laut!

[ 3 pages, circa 2' 35" ]

Anna Sylvan


Earlier in this year, I set a text of Carl Sandburg, Joy, with a dedication to Anna Sylvan, long time friend of ours, teacher, soprano, pianist and more; on the page about that setting is a short biography of Anna. After a short illness she passed away this last weekend, on the 29th of August in Berlin. At the time, I was setting another text of Erich Mühsam, and had come across this charming excerpt from a longer work, his Bilder und Verse für Zenzl, created in 1924. On the colorful cartoon which accompanies the text all the characters can be seen. The book was an gift to his wife on the occasion of their ninth wedding anniversary in 1924. As Anna was a singer and worked with children, including a number of seasons as director of the children's chorus at the Staatsoper in Berlin, I thought a somewhat lighthearted setting of this text apt to honor her in this week of her passing. Mühsam, one notes, was also a resident of Berlin in the time of writing this verse, such that several circles are closed in setting this to music.



The texture of the setting was suggested initially from Schubert's setting of An die Musik to a text of Franz von Schober, though then considerably reworked to generate this set of opening gestures. Over this accompaniment (marked aufgeblasen for the "over the top" images of the Mühsam drawing) the vocal theme takes up its lyricism, for while "shrill" to one view, the remark which carries the overall picture is "how lovely." I imagined Anna singing it, from a musical moment recollected when I heard her singing in a Christmas eve mass.



The sweet humor of the drawing and its animals suggested the alterations to the accompaniment, as the bird "chirps" in appoggiaturas and the cat "meows" in chromatic slip chords. Anna, who enjoyed singing Rossini's Duetto buffo di due gatti with my wife years ago, would have been amused for she was a cat lover like her mother. But in addition, for her work with children over many years, I thought of the simple exaggerations of which children are so fond in a sort of musical onomatopoeia.



The score for is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.


O hehre Sangeskunst