Schubert & Britten
Songs of Love and Peace
Benjamin Britten composed his Canticle I as a love song to Peter Pears at the beginning of their relationship of nearly forty years, and Canticle III as a pacifist’s response to war. We frame these modern masterpieces with gorgeous songs on themes of love and peace by Franz Schubert, plus instrumental works by Felix Mendelssohn and Imogen Holst.
“Jeff Fair’s clarion horn solos added drama…”
— Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Times
Four songs for voice and piano
“An die Laute”
“Du bist die Ruh”
Canticle I, op. 40, “My beloved is mine and I am his” for tenor and piano
Variations concertantes, op. 17, for cello and piano
“The fall of the leaf” for solo cello
Canticle III, op. 55, “Still falls the rain” for tenor, horn, and piano
“Auf dem Strom” for tenor, horn, and piano
“Zach Finkelstein brought a refined elegance to his interpretation.”
— Vancouver Observer
Franz Schubert and Benjamin Britten were both exceptionally gifted at setting poetry to music, and they each set texts by some of the best poets of their times. They were also both influenced by folk song, composing works which were on the one hand more immediately accessible, and on the other hand more profound, than that of most of their contemporaries. With their music they transcended the inner and outer struggles of their lives.
Schubert spent all of his short life in Vienna during an especially repressive period in the history of that city. There he surrounded himself with poets, actors, and political dissidents. The distinguished musicologist Maynard Solomon has made a convincing if controversial case for a homosexual Schubert with an attraction to male youths. While suffering severe illness, likely from syphilis and the resultant mercury poisoning, he composed some of the most ecstatically beautiful music of all time.
Britten’s Canticle I is a setting of a 17th-century religious poem and was composed for a memorial service for the Anglican priest Dick Shepherd, who like Britten was a Christian pacifist. It also seems to be a love song to the great tenor Peter Pears, who would be his partner for nearly forty years until his death. Canticle III was composed for a memorial to the Australian pianist Noel Mewton-Wood who had committed suicide at the age of 31 following the death of his partner William Fedrick. A stark setting of Edith Sitwell’s response to the raids on London in 1940, it alternates atonal variations for horn and piano with expressive recitative for the tenor. The tenor and horn join together only at the very end to represent the oneness of a forgiving God.
Cello works by Felix Mendelssohn and Imogen Holst on our program represent instrumental music based on vocal models contemporary with our songs by Schubert and Britten. Felix Mendelssohn is well known for his “Songs without words” for piano. The variations he composed in 1829 for his brother Paul, an accomplished amateur cellist, feature a theme in exactly that vein. Imogen Holst was a close friend of Britten’s and the assistant director of his Aldeburgh Music Festival. She was also a champion of British folk and early music and her “The Fall of the Leaf” is subtitled “Three short studies on a 16th-century tune.”