Sunday, 11 March 2012

Becalmed again

My warm regard for Mendelssohn's concert overture Meerestille und glückliche Fahrt ('Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage'), mentioned a few posts ago, is almost matched by my fondness for Beethoven's short choral setting of Goethe's twinned poems.

Beethoven's take on Meerestille und glückliche Fahrt follows much the same course as Mendelssohn's. The opening 'Calm Sea' section depicts the awe and horror of being becalmed at sea, with long-held notes from the orchestra and the choir evoking the "immense distances". The singers sing anxious phrases, quietly, until at "Weite" there is a sudden loud cry high in the sopranos' part, held for an age before subsiding back again into the initial mood again. The melody of this section is a noble one. Next, scales from the orchestra begin to criss-cross each other, portraying the coming winds which are the ship's salvation. The second 'Prosperous Voyage' section is aptly celebratory in mood and is an uncomplicated piece of music, full of cheerful dotted rhythms and joyful brass writing.

Here is Goethe's verse:

Meeres Stille
Tiefe Stille herrscht im Wasser,
Ohne Regung ruht das Meer,
Und bekümmert sieht der Schiffer
Glatte Fläche ringsumher.
Keine Luft von keiner Seite!
Todesstille fürchterlich!
In der ungeheuern Weite
Reget keine Welle sich.

Calm Sea
Deep stillness rules the water
Without motion lies the sea,
And sadly the sailor observes
Smooth surfaces all around.
No air from any side!
Deathly, terrible stillness!
In the immense distances
not a single wave stirs.

Glückliche Fahrt
Die Nebel zerreißen,
Der Himmel ist helle,
Und Äolus löset
Das ängstliche Band.
Es säuseln die Winde,
Es rührt sich der Schiffer.
Geschwinde! Geschwinde!
Es teilt sich die Welle,
Es naht sich die Ferne;
Schon seh ich das Land!

Prosperous Journey
The fog is torn,
The sky is bright,
And Aeolus releases
The fearful bindings.
The winds whisper,
The sailor begins to move
. Swiftly! Swiftly!
The waves divide,
The distance nears;
Already, I see land!

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