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Hugo Wolf - "Kennst du das Land" - Schwarzkopf

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Published on Mar 16, 2009

Goethe's "Kennst du das Land?" from his "Wilhelm Meister" attracted the interest of many composers before Wolf attempted his setting. Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Liszt each wrote songs to the original German text and, in French translation, the poem formed the fulcrum for Ambroise Thomas' opera "Mignon", heard there as "Connais-tu le pays?" "Mignon ('Kennst du das Land?') is a visionary poem, a story related by the child Mignon as she recalls her Italian homeland after having suffered forced removal to Germany by a group of ruffians. After enduring a life of abuse and being forced to sing, dance, and entertain, she tells her story to Wilhelm Meister, now her protector. Goethe's strophic form is kept intact, although Wolf's complex harmonies and achingly beautiful and evocative melodies are exquisitely elaborate. While some critics have urged consideration of Schubert's setting as a worthy one, the mysterious intensity of Goethe's verse is nowhere to be found there. Though Mignon is a child, she is a child who has experienced much and it is with an adult's imagination and comprehension that she conjures the vision of her longed-for home. The singer must at all costs avoid sounding prosaic. A broad panoply of colors must be summoned and the singer and pianist must voice the music as if in a trance. The piano part, no less than the vocal line, is superbly conceived. The opening measures for piano, then for piano and voice, are portentous and calm through often-wide intervals. "Dahin," Mignon cries longingly. The second verse increases in urgency as the child recalls the pillared dwelling of her earlier life. The third verse begins in dark tones, conjuring mountains where waters plummet from sheer precipices. The music rises to a terrifying climax, tremolando chords thundering in the piano as the singer summons all available volume in the upper middle register. A final cry of "Dahin! Dahin" comes from Mignon's lips before she quietly pleads, "Let us go there." Having addressed Wilhelm Meister as "love" and "protector," she finally calls him "father." The question is begged: was this a recollection — or a dream?

Erik Erikson, AllMusic.com



Kennst du das Land

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.

Kennst du das Haus? Auf Säulen ruht sein Dach.
Es glänzt der Saal, es schimmert das Gemach,
Und Marmorbilder stehn und sehn mich an:
Was hat man dir, du armes Kind, getan?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Beschützer, ziehn.

Kennst du den Berg und seinen Wolkensteg?
Das Maultier sucht im Nebel seinen Weg;
In Höhlen wohnt der Drachen alte Brut;
Es stürzt der Fels und über ihn die Flut!
Kennst du ihn wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Geht unser Weg! O Vater, laß uns ziehn!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), from Wilhelm Meister




Do you know the land where the lemon trees bloom,
Among dark leaves the golden oranges gleam,
A gentle wind blows from blue skies,
The myrtle stands quietly and high the laurel?
Do you know it well?
There, there
May I go with you, O my beloved.

Do you know the house? On pillars rests its roof,
The hall shines, the chamber glistens,
And images of marble stand and look at me:
What have they done to you, my poor child?
Do you know it well?
There, there
May I go with you, O my protector.

Do you know the mountain and its cloudy path?
The muletier seeks his way through the mist;
In caverns dwell the ancient brood of dragons;
The rocks plunge and over it the torrent.
Do you know it well?
There, there
Lies our way! O father, let us go.

Translation by FiDiTanzer528


Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)
Gerald Moore (piano)
Live Recital, Salzburg 1958

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