Strauss – Four Last Songs & Morgen!
Music from Wyastone – Studio Concert Series
Strauss Four Last Songs
Strauss Morgen! (Exclusive to ESO Digital Supporters)
English Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Kenneth Woods
Soloist: April Fredrick (Soprano)
In 1948, composer Richard Strauss was 84 and suffering from failing health and depression. It was his son who suggested it might lift Strauss’s spirits to try writing a few songs. Strauss returned to a poem by Joseph von Eichendorff called Im Abendrot (At Sunset) which he felt a particular affinity with and had wanted to set to music for nearly a decade. He then quickly composed three more songs on texts by Hermann Hesse, “Frühling” (Spring), “September”, “Beim Schlafengehen” (When Falling Asleep), each of which, like Im Abentrot, explores themes of farewell, fulfilment, lifelong love, and death. The set was to be Strauss’s final masterwork, Four Last Songs.
This iconic song cycle has been a speciality of the ESO’s Affiliate Artist April Fredrick for several years, and it was the last piece she performed before lockdown. She was to have performed the work with the ESO at Malvern Priory in June.
The work’s exploration of the fragility of life took on new urgency and poignancy when Fredrick contracted Covid-19 in late March, and so it was only right that this should be the work with which she returned to the performing arena with the ESO on the 26th of July for this filmed concert and recording.
“The fatigue, which is one of the virus’ symptoms was like nothing I’d experienced, giving a new dimension to the multiple uses in the cycle of the wonderful German adjective ‘müde’ (‘tired, weary, worn out’),” says Fredrick of her illness. “But I will also never forget the incredible, almost euphoric joy I felt the first time I walked out of my front door after my quarantine—what an unthinkable privilege to be well and free to move about again. A stark encounter with mortality, weariness, euphoria, and ‘weiter, stille Friede’ (wide, still peace): the virus provided me with most curious sort of gift of experience which has forever stamped and deepened my understanding of this work.”
The ESO performed a version of the Four Last songs for chamber ensemble made by leading Australian composer, James Ledger. It was commissioned for the great British soprano, Dame Felicity Lott, and premiered at the Wigmore Hall by her and the Nash Ensemble under the baton of Bernard Haitink. The ESO’s performance marks the first recording of this arrangement. You can read more about Ledger’s acclaimed arrangement on his website, here.
As an encore, April Fredrick sang Morgen, possibly Strauss’s most beloved song, in a new reduction for chamber ensemble by Tony Burke – available exclusively to ESO Digital members (click here to find out more).