“But to me the actual sound of the word is all important; I feel always that the words complete the music and must never be swallowed up in it. The music is the shining path over which the poet travels to bring his song to the world” - Lotte Lehmann



          During my studies, I often performed based on knowledge derived from my teachers and in order to fulfill the standards for assessments like exams. Clean performance has simply become the standard for this highly competitive profession. I realized that I have inherited this legacy of literal performance from my own teachers and that this is not always compatible with my musical persona.

          As a lied singer, I often focus on the poetic and musical texts as the main aspects of my studyJust like many other singers todayI am so focused on the score and the text that often close off possibilities for greater freedom and depth in performance. We singers are often afraid to look beyond these sacred written texts for fear of stepping outside the bounds of what is considered acceptable performance practice. Musicologist Laura Tunbridge argues in Reading Lieder Recordings,” that a firm grip on scores and texts makes scholars reluctant to do more than dip their toes into the world of performance studies.1 The same holds true for many singers in today's world. Violist Emlyn Stam argues that there are restrictive ideologies such as adherence to the score inherent in what he calls mainstream performance practice (MSPs):   

“[...] MSPs characterized by adherence to notated detail and agreed-upon understandings of how specific repertoires should sound, making notated structure audible where detail is subordinate to form, a hierarchical and stable approach to rhythm where pulse is perceptible, togetherness of ensemble, clarity of articulation, precision of intonation, and abstaining from individualistic mannerisms such as ornamentation and portamento.2 

    In my attempt to explore performance style, I listened to early recordings from the 1930s that reveal a different approach to the one I have been taught. Musicologist Daniel Leech-Wilkinson argues that:  

“Early recordings provide a large number of revelatory examples that are quite unfamiliar to us now. They are excellent sources of models if we want to experiment with performing scores differently, for they present styles that we know were thoroughly successful in their time.3

Early recordings also reveal how performance style changed in the advent of the Second World WarAfter the war a gap was created between what has been called expressive singing and clean singing.4 Pre-war singers such as Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976), Elizabeth Schumann (1883-1961), and Elizabeth Gerhardt (1888-1952) represented an emotional, expressive approach to liedThese singers made use of unnotated freedom of tempo and rhythm, ornamentation, portamento, and color. Singers born a generation later like Dietrich Fischer Dieskau (1925-2012) and Elizabeth Schwartzkopf (1915-2006), emphasized speech sounds in pronouncing their text. The varieties of speech sounds include: 

[…] long drawn-out consonants, both at the starts and ends of words, allow him to linger over the ideas those words represent, sometimes eerily, sometimes longingly, but always suggesting that more is to be read into them than one might think; explosive consonants give words the force of irresistible energy or a ruthless command. At the same time, the colour and character of his voice can vary from seductively female (lower harmonics only, slides into and out of significant words, consonants almost silent) to overwhelmingly alpha male (every harmonic so strongly present that the upper partials are a blizzard of noise, acoustically barely distinguishable from consonants).5 

Finally, the lied singers who were born in 1930s such as Elly Ameling (8 February 1933), Janet Baker (21 August 1933), Peter Schreier (29 July 1935 – 25 December 2019)and  David Rogers (21 March 1935) inherited this approach from Dieskau and were restrained in the use of portamento, rhythmic freedom and ornamentation.6  

        After the Second World War, musical performance styles in Western Music evolved from the generally intensely expressive and less score-driven style of the early 20th century to a generally more clean and literal style that is widely adhered to by lied singers today. Musicians began to view the unnotated changes of tempo and rhythm and use of heavy portamento and ornamentation heard on early recordings as exaggerated and outdated.7 Musicologist John Potter claims that singers who still used portamento after the war inevitably sounded old or old fashioned and were described by younger singers as decadent.8 He compared the singing style of Angela Gheorghiu (7 September 1965), a soprano trained in Eastern European conservatoires in a kind of pre-war style, to Kiri te Kanawa (6 March 1944) her Western-educated contemporary. Potter argues that te Kanawa has a more restrained and clean singing style. Baritone Michael Volle (1960) has accurate articulation and does not add ornamentation to the written score. Compared to te Kanawa and VolleGheorghiu with her portamento was considered excessive and vulgar.9 What Potter shows is that increasingly singers have focused on closely adhering to notated scores. Leech-Wilkinson equates expressive emotion in music with elements such as portamento, rubato, and ornamentation, most of which are not notated in scores, and most of which were banished from lied practice after the Second World War. He argues that: 

One thing that recording has undoubtedly caused—and again we can hear it happening—is a trend towards the literal performance of scores. Sometimes this is described as greater accuracy, but whether it’s any more accurate to be literal is a question that takes us unhelpfully back to ontology and the composer’s intentions. So, let’s just say more literal. For singers and string players that means less portamento, less rubato, less ornamentation; for pianists it means synchronising the hands so as to play all the notes of a chord together, playing in stricter time, and forgoing doubling notes and the elaboration of scales and arpeggios—removing, in other words, all the things that musicians used to do as a matter of course in order to intensify the expressivity of a performance. As in so many other respects, the post-War generation marks a watershed in these habits too.10

          Leech-Wilkinson highlights possible reasons for these post-war changes in performance style by referring to the Nazi regime’s impact on German culture. After the unspeakable horrors of the war, driven by German nationalism and propaganda that drew heavily on German music of the 19th century, the romanticism of the love poetry therein could only be understood by singers as ironic or paradoxical. According to psychoanalytic research, a new generation considered themselves to be starting afresh in 1945. He argues: 

Young Germans after the War were in effect the first generation for whom psychoanalysis offered an obvious way of understanding human behavior. It’s not hard to see how in this context, especially given the weight of guilt and insecurity about the recent past, a new generation of singers would tend to read opera libretti and song poetry less literally and less innocently than their predecessors.11

The post-war generation read lied poetry searching for layers of meaning. Singers had subtexts in mind that could convey additional emotions or thoughts on top of the written lyrics. Meanwhile, the pre-war generation of singers focused on the lyrics with reference to giving an extrovert rendering of their literal or surface meanings.12 

        This project is an exploration of lied interpretation in Lotte Lehmann’s pre-World War II style, which circumvents both contemporary norms and expectations of adherence to the letter of musical scores. The goal of this project is to be able to inhabit the musical personae of the great lied singer Lotte Lehmann as expressed through her recordingsIn order to do this, I have posed the following research question: how might re-enacting Lotte Lehmann’s 1930s recordings of An die Musik by Franz Schubert and Ich grolle nicht by Robert Schumann inform and change my vocal practice? And further on, how might recordings informed performances shape my own approach to lied repertoireThe re-enactment approach is taken in order to bring lost elements of pre-war German lied practice back to life.  

          Leech-Wilkinson described Lehmann as an artist who was able to involve her audience in every nuance of a song. She was a lyrical soprano who had the warmth of tone color in the strong consonant lower harmonic.13 These characteristics connect with my own practice as I am also classed as a lyrical soprano and have been told that my singing is characterized by a warmth of color and a great deal of nuance. This gives me confidence that by re-enacting Lehmann’s recordings I may be able to capture something of the essence of her sound and practiceHowever, this approach seems to run contrary to Lehmann’s own recommendations:  

This book will fail in its purpose, if the young singers, for whom I am writing it, should consider my conceptions as something final and try to imitate them instead of developing their own interpretations which should spring with originality and vitality from their own minds and souls. For imitation is, and can only be the enemy of artistry.14

While originality is often seen as an important part of musical artistry, as Lehmann suggests, I argue that imitation does not necessarily exclude originality in performance. While there seems to be a contradiction between Lehmann’s advice and my imitation of her recordings, my body, experience, knowledge, and condition are fundamentally different from Lehmann’s. Even in imitating her singing precisely, I will not become her. Stam explains this process as follows:  

The all-in approach to copying early recordings is as useful for challenging the default parameters of MSPs and reimagining how Western Art Music (WAM) repertoires sound as it is for rejuvenating lost historical playing styles: copying early-recorded rhythmic and tempo flexibilities breaks our habits of playing with a steady pulse and the structural ordering of sub-phrases and phrases within larger sections; portamento and vibrato disrupt modern preoccupations with precision of intonation and unblemished quality of tone; pitch ornamentation can be a gateway to the further erosion of modern conceptions of Werktreue; and multi-layering makes neat and tidy vertical synchronization nearly impossible.15

          This project will help me see music from a historical perspective and explore expressive techniques not part of current performance practice. My performances will illustrate that focusing on these expressive devices at a cost of being less clean and literal in my approach to notated scores, can add to the range of possible performance practices today. I want to achieve a broader perspective on music-making and see what expressive tools I can gain from incorporating Lehmann’s performance style into my practice.