A Little Lunch Music 9/14: AU Faculty Will Tackle Schubert’s Final Song Cycle

baritone Matthew Hoch

On Thursday from noon to 1 p.m., the series will present a free concert featuring baritone singer Matthew Hoch with pianist Jeremy Samolesky in the Grand Gallery. The duo will perform music by Franz Schubert. Gifts from anonymous friends of the series are helping to make this performance possible.

Click here for the full schedule for A Little Lunch Music and more about the performers.

In addition to a solo piano piece by Schubert, the duo will perform the composer’s final song cycle. Titled “Shwanengesang” and translated “Swan Song,” the publisher released it a few months after Schubert’s death in 1828.

In 2016, Hoch and Samolesky performed Schubert’s first song cycle “Die schöne Müllerin.” Next year, Hoch said they will learn the composer’s second, “Winterreise,” finishing out the composer’s canon of song cycles. “Jeremy and I view this as a rite of passage,” said Hoch.

Hoch said that Samolesky is a fantastic performer of Romantic music, which he added can be difficult to interpret. He said it has an expressive quality that requires a certain looseness that Samolesky can really pull off. “He just has a great way of communicating a piece to an audience so that it makes sense,” said Hoch.

Hoch said he entered music school in college as a saxophonist, but soon became jealous of the singers’ repertoire. He said as a freshman, he heard a concert by famous Dutch soprano Elly Ameling during her farewell tour. “She sang an all-Schubert recital and I was hooked,” he said. Soon after, he switched to study vocal performance.

“Schubert for me is kind of like Shakespeare might be for the English teacher,” said Hoch. “I just find a richness there that I’m never going to get to the bottom of,” he added.

“Schwanengesang” is a collection of fourteen songs that were unpublished when Schubert died at age 31. Hoch said this has caused some debate on the subject of whether it can, in fact, be called a song cycle. Often, a song cycle is a composer’s musical setting of a collection of the work of one poet. This is true of Schubert’s other two cycles, but “Schwanengesang” includes the poems of three poets.

The song cycle’s poets are Ludwig Rellstab, Heinrich Heine, and Johann Gabriel Seidl. Hoch said though there are different poets, the songs are connected by thematic material. He said many of them are in the voice of a man separated from his beloved. Secondly, the idea of a type of character Hoch calls “the wanderer,” common in Romantic German poetry, appears frequently. He also noted the recurrence of melodic ideas.

Rellstab’s work makes up the first seven songs. This group includes the song titled “Ständchen,” translated “Serenade,” which Hoch said is one of Schubert’s most famous melodies. After Rellstab’s poems, Heine’s work makes up the next six songs. Then the final song is the only setting of Seidl’s poetry. “It’s kind of obvious that the publisher put that in to give it some cyclical unity,” Hoch said.

Hoch defends the publisher’s decision to add the third poet. In his program notes, Hoch uses “sinister” to describe the cycle’s second-to-last song, “Der Doppëlganger,” translated “The Wraith.” He described this setting of Heine’s poetry as delivering “a recitative of thrilling terror.”

In contrast, Hoch wrote that the final song with Seidl’s poem “elegantly reflects a more joyful side of the composer’s spirit.” Hoch said it gives listeners a reprieve from the adventurous harmonic language and dark imagery of “Der Doppëlganger.” He said it nicely ties together the full song cycle, even bringing back thematic ideas from the Rellstab poems.

baritone Matthew Hoch

photo credit: Lesley Foote

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