Martin Katz & Friends
Celebrating Eduard Mörike and Hugo Wolf
by arwulf arwulf
From the January, 2020 issue
Martin Katz is a beloved pedagogue, vocal coach, and internationally respected organizer of song recitals. A self-described "people person," he is the living embodiment of the term "collaborative pianist." In concert, Katz emanates a special warmth, like a favorite uncle chatting with friends in front of a hearth. Four skilled lieder singers take turns entering the world of a song and bringing it to life for all to hear. Supertitled translations flow across a panel mounted high above on the proscenium arch, but the lyrical alchemy of words and music is manifest even if one listens with eyes shut.
The Katz company's two concerts at Lydia Mendelssohn Theater on January 10 and 12 will focus on fifty-three poems by Swabian pastor, painter, poet, and novelist Eduard Moerike, set to music in 1888 by Austrian-Slovenian composer Hugo Wolf. The Moerike lieder encompass a full range of human emotions, sounding variously like lullabies, love songs, bad dreams, or cheeky parlor entertainments. One warns against attempting to compose when hung over; another describes the unparalleled gratification to be derived from kicking a critic down a flight of stairs.
Reveries inspired by nature include a pair of odes to a flowering hellebore and a song of sympathy for a brimstone butterfly seen fluttering about during a brief warm spell in April. "At Midnight" is a study in nocturnal wonderment. This gentle song, which has taken up residence in my brain, often lulls me to sleep at night. Among Moerike's spiritual contemplations are a prayer for the blessing of moderation, a sobering meditation on impermanence, and a humble expression of religious devotion ending with the words "The stars are singing. I kneel to listen to their song of light."
The Moerike-Wolf songbook is peppered with plucky joie de vivre and openly expressed erotic enthusiasm--the most sexually explicit being a young woman's amorous reflections, alive with references to a blissfully burrowing eel or snake. There is also a pleasant description of affectionate postcoital glances exchanged
in the street after an overnight thunderstorm. Other songs invoke goddesses, water sprites, lake spirits, fairies, and elves.
Emotional extremes prevail in a song depicting a woman's frenzied attempts to converse with gale-force winds while standing on a hilltop and in the eldritch tale of a phantom firefighter on horseback. Partly shouted and partly sung, "The Fire Rider" usually scares the hell out of me. Wolf himself was sometimes frightened by his own compositions: "One sounds so weird and strange that I am quite afraid of it," he wrote. "There has never been anything like it. God help the unfortunate people who will one day hear it!"
[Originally published in January, 2020.]
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