CHAPTER VI: Re-enactment Experience and Extrapolated Interpretation

An die Musik by Franz Schubert (Lehmann, 1927) Re-enactment Experience

           For me re-enacting Lehmann’s portamento resulted in a new experience. Firstly, I recognized that I was not trained to sing with heavy portamento in which sliding between two pitches can be clearly heard. I found it difficult to control the speed at the end of the phrase. Potter explains that:

Downward portamento gives the singer control of the ends of phrases (and, on a micro-level, of words); the listener can be kept waiting - and is, in effect, at the mercy of the performer. It is at such points that the listener’s attention is at its highest and therefore the performer can maximize communicative effect.... Upward glides often are barely perceptible attacks from slightly below, rather than the deliberate placing of a downward glide.1

          Secondly, I had never sung portamento using the chest voice. Lehmann’s portamento in An die Musik 1927 showed how flawless her technique in hiding her passaggio. Her portamento slide from middle voice directly to chest voice was achieved without any cracking. I experienced stiffness in my tongue when I did portamento in the lower register. This meant my body was not accustomed to this technique. I had to adjust the position of my tongue to get smooth tone and be able to control the timing. Finally, I could not do a slow portamento over a major or minor second. However, Lehmann frequently stretches out her portamento over such small intervals.

          Lehmann uses her chest voice until F#4 in An die Musik. She emphasizes her chest color and allows the difference between chest and middle voice to appear in the same phrase. I was accustomed to switching to my middle voice at D4 to avoid a difference in vocal color within a single phrase. However, in this re-enactment process, I had to extend my chest voice and eventually succeeded in reaching F4, and finally through daily practice up to an F#4. This practice trained my larynx to stay low and allowed for the release of tension at the root of my tongue.

          In coloring the vowels, I had to adjust to Lehmann’s voice color by adding a [u] vowel to almost every vowel that I sing. I realized that my original [u] color was closer to an Italian [u] and similar to the [u] sung by Elly Ameling (8 February 1933). Perhaps due to the limitations of the acoustic recording process, I suspect that in bar 7 Lehmann’s pronounciation of ‘des’ sounds like ‘das’ and that her open [ɛ] vowel was not well captured. Therefore, I worked to mix my [ɛ] vowel with [æ] to sound like [dæs].

           Before the re-enactment process, I mainly colored my performances with vibrato where I intentionally did not add any vibrato in articles or one-syllable words such as ‘du’, ‘des’, ‘den’, ‘in’, ‘von’, ‘dir’, ‘ich’, ‘mich’; to allow the text to come across clearly. I also often used no vibrato swelling to vibrato on long notes (adding messa di voce / dynamics if necessary). However, in this re-enactment process, I was challenged to erase my musical ‘habit’ and added vibrato to articles and single-syllable words as Lehmann does in her recording.

          Finally, the slow tempo in An die Musik that Lehmann takes resulted in instability in my vibrato. My vibrato often stopped spinning, the legato line was interrupted, and I lost musical direction or line. I made unnecessary messa di voce in an attempt to continue the airflow. I had to practice keeping the air flowing in order to achieve both a stable vibrato and uninterrupted legato.

In the end, the re-enactment recording of An die Musik came across most clearly in collaboration with Pianist B.

The recording below is the combination of the recording above and Lehmann's 1927 recording to show the similarities.


Ich grolle nicht by Robert Schumann (Lehmann, 1930) Re-enactment Experience

          In the re-enactment process of Lehmann’s 1930 recording of Ich grolle nicht, I had to learn to control my vibrato while shifting registers. My vibrato became wider than usual while I had taken efforts to train it not to be too wide. The exploding emotion and the quick-shifting between chest voice and middle voice caused a wobblier vibrato and confused my larynx. Lehmann’s vibrato is never unstable or wobbly. It was important for me to find back my own healthy vibrato from this wider vibrato. Lehmann dramatized her text by breathing abruptly several times in one sentence, which I was not used to. I was trained to breathe low by expanding my lower part of my ribs that helps to keep my larynx low. However, as a consequence of the interruptions in breathing, my breathing became high and caused a high larynx position. The high larynx position would cause unpleasant tones; therefore, I had to be aware and mindful of keeping the low larynx position. In bar 26-29, Lehmann able to keep her larynx low although her breathing is high. While in general, singers often fail to keep their low larynx position from high breathing. On the other hand, I also had difficulties mapping Lehmann’s breathing onto my body and connecting it naturally to musical emotion.

          In order to make a similar color to Lehmann’s voice, I had to mix my natural bright chest color into a darker color with the middle voice in order to achieve Lehmann’s darker tone color. I learned to use and control the arrival timing of portamento langsam in both my middle and lower chest voice. In the second strophe, I found it difficult to still carry the resonance due to extreme change in voice color in ‘ich sah die ja im traume ...’ between bars 23-26.

          During the re-enactment of Lehmann’s tempo of Ich grolle nicht, all the pianists that I worked with were often irritated and disagreed with the continual tempo variation on the original recordings. This was challenging to achieve because Lehmann both changes tempo with great frequency and interrupts the accompaniment with her early and late entrances. I used Sonic Visualizer to analyze the tempo rubato and custom-made a “Lehmann metronome” for marking her tempo variation. The spectrograms also helped me to understand how far she stretched her portamento.

          I faced disagreement with pianist B in following Lehmann’s tempo. Due to the low quality of the recording, the quarter notes played by the string players in the orchestra are not clearly audible. Pianist B suspected that Lehmann miscounted her entrance in bar 12 'Wie du auch strahlst in Diamantenpracht.’ However, after I listened back and explored the pre-war recordings, I realized that the MSP culture of tempo stability had affected Pianist B’s taste and mindset and clouded his judgment of Lehmann’s performance. In his view, right or wrong was defined by a regular tactus. In my opinion, Lehmann did not miscount her entrance. Her entrance in bar 12 came naturally as she delivered her text in an extrovert fashion and her intention was captured by conductor Frieder Weissmann who was able to follow this.

          In the end, the re-enactment of Ich grolle nicht worked best with Pianist A. Although at the beginning of the preparation process Pianist A found it difficult to accept Lehmann’s flexibility of tempo, but after exploring and playing with Lehmann’s recording, Pianist A began to understand the musical intention. Pianist A had to modify the accompaniment part in order to follow Lehmann's tempo flexibility. In Pianist A’s opinion, Lehmann captured all the emotions in the song and made these directly audible for the listener, so even a non-German speaking audience could still feel the music’s impact without any explanation. Pianist A notes that she gained a new perspective on tempo and rhythmic flexibility from this re-enactment process.

The recording below is the combination of the recording above and Lehmann's 1930 recording to show the similarities. 

Du bist die Ruh by Franz Schubert Extrapolated Interpretation

         Here I will discuss my own recordings as part of this project starting with my recordings in a mainstream style in which I was taught and moving on to discuss my re-enactments of Lehmann’s approach and finally, my performance of Du bist die Ruh extrapolated from Lehmann pre-war style. I worked with Pianist A and Pianist B separately and in different time periods during this project. Before the rehearsals, I annotated my score to mark the places where I would breathe, scoop, use dynamics, portamento, dark or bright vowels, and tempo modifications. I recorded my singing without any accompaniment and listened back to assess which colors I wanted to choose. I decided to add more [u] vowel in the first stanza bars 8-24.

         In coloring the words, I added a little scoop (librar la voce) to emphasize the important meaning of some words for example: ‘peace’ (Ruh) in bar 9, ‘longing’ (Sehnsucht) in bar 12, and ‘you’ (du) in bar 13. I made a contrast between bright and dark colors in my voice for the words of ‘eyes and heart’ (Aug’ und Herz) as the eyes represent joy and the heart represents grief (linking to the previous sentence ‘Lust und Schmerz’). I specifically made a darker color and diminuendo for the word of ‘grief’ (Schmerz) in bars 19 and 40. I used a contrasting bright color that appears in bars 57 and 71 on the word of ‘radiance’ (Glanz). I used portamento langsam in bars 23, 25, 40, 48, 62, 64, and 77. Meanwhile, I sang ascending portamento in bar 59-20 and 73-74.

          Pianist A was inspired by Lehmann during the re-enactment process, and we captured a similar approach to Lehmann’s in our use of tempo. We tried several different tempi, but we decided to play at a Largo approximately 55bpm. In bars 53-60 and bars 68-73 we took a quicker tempo to give a different nuance and feeling to the phrase, where Schubert wrote crescendo and forte for the first time in the song. However, after the rest in bar 61 and bar 76, we went back to a tempo. In the end, we added ritardando in the final sentence in bars 78-79.

          The biggest challenge for me in singing this song was to keep my airflow spinning and vibrato stable throughout the vowels. I had difficulties singing due to my personal health condition (strained jaw muscle) that oftentimes caused a tremor in my face. With the tremor in my muscle, I was unable to hold the tone especially in my passaggio area, and produce stable vibrato.

Finally, the best recording of Du bist die Ruh was with Pianist A.