Some of my composers
Rebecca Broberg

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Some of my composers – hear them sung by Rebecca Broberg

Although most people have heard of Richard Wagner and his prolific output, few are aware that his son Siegfried Helferich Wagner (1869-1930) composed even more operas than his father. Siegfried may suffer anonymity because of the sins of his father, but this should not be.
Loved by Toscanini for his kind spirit, and considered by Schönberg to be a composer superior to many of their more successful contemporaries, Siegfried was scorned and ridiculed by society for his love of men, and for his goodheartedness.
Outraged at threats that funding for the Bayreuth festival would be cut unless he banned “non-Aryans” from participating, he responded that he would never turn his back on anyone for being Jewish. “We want to do positive work, nothing negative. It doesn’t matter to us if a person is Chinese, Black, American, Indian or Jewish…We cast our roles solely based on the voice, talent and physical appearance, and that is the principle we will continue to follow in the future.” The gossip mill has certainly contributed to the neglect of his music, whether regarding his unfortunate parentage, political or social orientation, or his talent.
I have sung lead roles in three of Siegfried Wagner’s operas and recorded his songs. In his music Siegfried Wagner dissects intimate matters of the heart, including diversive social issues such as adultery, abortion, rape and suicide. Rich orchestral harmonies conjure up the smell of old sin and peat, but also the ethereal transcendence thereof, betraying not only the significance of his father Richard and his grandfather Franz Liszt, and of his teacher Engelbert Humperdinck, but of Schumann and Tchaikowsky. Siegfried Wagner’s melodies soar as in Italian opera, and surge inwards into the pierced heart.
Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907) is remembered primarily today for his written correspondence with Richard Strauss and a theory book , still widely admired by composers. Most of his songs sadly remain unsung, as do his operas. (His Lobetanz was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in 1911).
Thuille interpreted the great poets of his day in his own musical language, while not denying tribute to the traditions of Schumann and Wagner. Thuille’s librettist, Otto J. Bierbaum, was of Jewish descent, and this led to his operas being neglected after his death.
The passion of drama burns in Thuille’s songs - burns of a soul’s unstilled desire with glittering memories of youth’s innocence. Adult melancholy wearily bears the burden of survival as more aggressive voices garner the rewards both pecuniary and of praise. Technically challenging for pianist and singer, Thuille was not a bombastic exhibitionist, weird for weird’s sake. I’ve recorded almost fifty of his songs.
Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) was a brilliant young star in Vienna. Playing piano from an early age, he also played organ in synagogue on holidays before entering the Vienna Conservatory at age 13. After acclaim and great success in Vienna, Prague and Berlin he was forced by the unsavory regime raping Europe to abandon a successful career and retreat first to Vienna and then to America.
He could not achieve comparable success on Broadway or in California, like his brother-in-law Arnold Schönberg, and died of pneumonia, virtually unknown in Larchmont, New York.
Thanks to musicologist Antony Beaumont’s kind generosity I was allowed to record Beaumont’s transcriptions of some of Zemlinsky’s American songs.
Zemilinsky’s earlier songs, however, are where his genius is incendiary. His genius also set aflame his young composition student Alma Maria Schindler (later, Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel), which she reveals in her diary edited by Beaumont.
Erich J. Wolff (1874-1913) was considered during his lifetime to be Brahms’ successor in song. He was friends with Alexander Zemlinsky and Arnold Schönberg, and also frequented the upper echelons of society, as evidenced by his songs’ dedications. He died unexpectedly in New York City after an ear operation while on tour with Elena Gerhardt (the great singer of lieder who eventually fled Germany permanently for England in 1934 upon her husband’s release from Nazi prison).
Wolff’s music has certainly been forgotten due to the massively destructive WWI and the Third Reich. Wolff was Jewish, as were many of the poets whose texts he set. (Alma Mahler writes of him in her diary; her anti-Semitic comments, so reflective of the Zeitgeist, are nauseating.) Traces of these once influential composers and poets have faded.
Erich Wolff’s songs bear dedications to the nobility of society, and of the concert and opera stages, and were sung after his death in the US by popular stars of Broadway, opera and Hollywood, Nelson Eddy and
John Charles Thomas.
Highly emotional, at times pianistically perilous, the songs, particularly the Hafis settings, concern taboo themes such as physical love and evoke the sultry essence of Jugendstil. I consider his setting of “Das irdische Leben” superior to Mahler’s because the narrative represents the mother and child more personally and as individuals. Erich Wolff’s melodramas also demonstrate this dramatic skill. I’ve recorded about eighty of his songs, or about half of those published during his lifetime.
Relatively recently I was introduced to Anton Urspruch (1850-1907) by Peter P. Pachl. I’ve recorded thirteen of Urspruch’s songs and two of his opera arias. This past fall I performed the role of the queen in his opera Das Unmöglichste von Allem, a comedy which rival’s the wit and sexiness of Mozart’s Le nozze die Figaro. The libretto, based on a play by Lope da Vega, was written by the composer as well. Urspruch’s music is classy and sophisticated like a sparkling champagne - rhythmically, melodically and harmonically. He was Liszt’s favorite student, but his grandfather was a cantor in a synagogue in Frankfurt. Despite a respectable and respected body of work, Urspruch was dismissed as a “degenerate” by Aryan supremacists.


The recordings

Siegfried Wagner:
Der Schmied von Marienburg, Marco Polo 8.225346-48
Der Kobold, Marco Polo 8.225329-31
Der Heidenkönig, Marco Polo 8.225301-03
Wahnfried-Idyll – The Complete Songs, Marco Polo 8.225349

Ludwig Thuille:
Zauberdunkel und Lichtazur – Unerhörtes der Zeitgenossen Anton Urspruch, Ludwig Thuille, Erich J. Wolff, Thorofon CTH 2585
Urschlamm-Idyll und Heiligenschein – auserlesene Gesänge, Thorofon CTH 2578
Ludwig Thuille - Ausgewählte Lieder, Oehms Classics OC 805

Erich J. Wolff:
Ein solcher ist mein Freund! Hafis-Gesänge, Tänze, Lieder und Melodrame, Thorofon CTH 2586
Märchenträume – furchtbar schlimm! Erich J. Wolff, Alexander Zemlinsky – Ausgewählte Lieder, Thorofon CTH 2562/2

Contact:
Cindy Shorey Artists Management: cindyshorey@yahoo.com
Tel. (417) 230 8619
 
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