On my playlist right now are Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs (Vier letzte Lieder). I should write still on my playlist as I was learning these last year as an online workshop to sing with The Choir of the Earth. It was originally called The Self-Isolation Choir, as it arose as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Strauss wrote these songs for soprano and orchestra. Three of the four, composed in 1948, when Strauss was 84, comprise his final complete works. Strauss died in 1949 and his friend Ernst Roth had these works published in 1950 after Strauss’ death. It was Roth who coined the title Four Last Songs.
The four songs are Frühling (Spring);September; Beim Schlafengehen [de] (When Falling Asleep); and Im Abendrot (At Sunset).
I was lucky when opportunities came – even though late in life – to have classical voice training and I still sit down sometimes and sing through the entire Vaccai Method, just for the hell of it. Four Last Songs are very difficult to sing but if you’re going to do anything in the arts, you have to do it full-on, or not at all. I’ve long had an interest in the connections found between musical notation and visual art.
Anyway, here’s the fabulous Renée Fleming singing Strauss’ Four Last Songs. I love her voice, it’s like honey and was able to hear her perform Strauss’ Daphne a few years back in The Royal Albert Hall.
The premiere of Four Last Songs took place in the Royal Albert Hall in London on 22 May 1950 and was performed by the wonderful Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad.
Here’s an English translation for Frühling (Spring):
In shadowy crypts
I dreamt long
of your trees and blue skies,
of your fragrance and birdsong.
Now you appear
in all your finery,
drenched in light
like a miracle before me.
You recognize me,
you entice me tenderly.
All my limbs tremble at
your blessed presence!