Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

For some strange reason  - perhaps good marketing by the Austrian Tourist Board - Vienna is linked emphatically with New Year's and celebrations of seeing out the old and bringing in the new.

But perhaps it is not so strange - Vienna is the birthplace of so much of what was new in the 20th century.  And much of the history of Europe and the Western world in that century can be traced to the Imperial City of the Hapsburgs.  Modern music, art, philosophy, psychiatry, political and economic theory have many of their roots in a city known for living in the past.  The roots of two devastating World Wars that defined much of the century can be traced to the capital of one of the last dynastic Empires.

Now lest this sound like the beginnings of a rant against Vienna and all the gemütlichkeit associated with the city,  I will say that it has become one of my favourite cities in the world.  It took a long time for that affection to develop - there is always a certain melancholy about the city and Austria is a country that I have had a love-hate feeling for since my first visit in 1969.  But develop it has: I love Vienna and I love all the schmaltz that goes with it.  And as always one of my, and it appears some 50 million people in 90 countries, New Year's traditions is to listen to the Wiener Philharmoniker New Year's Day Concert.  

This year's concert was a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First Great War.  Well known for his Peace activism, particularly in the Middle-East,  for the second time in five years Daniel Barenboim was asked to be the guest conductor.  As always it was a more than enjoyable way of spending the first day of the new year.  

Marta Eggerth and her husband, and often singing partner, Jan Kieprua in one of their international successes: Zauber Der Boheme (The Charm of La Boheme).  They often appeared together on stage in Lehar's The Merry Widow - Marta estimated that she had sung the part of 2,000 times in five languages. 

As one Viennese music tradition continued on January 1, 2014, a treasured exponent of that tradition had passed from the scene only a few days before.  Marta Eggerth was the last link to the great Austro-Hungarian tradition of operetta as created by Lehár, Kalman, Stolz, Straus and Sieczyński.  Her remarkable career - a debut at the age of 11 and a final appearance on the stage in 2011 at the age of 99.  Her longevity can be attributed to many things - she said she never drank anything other than the odd glass of Tokay for medicinal purposes - including a rock solid technique, a god-given voice and the good sense to use it for what it could do.  And what it did it did without parallel even at the age of 80 in this clip from a New York concert.  Of course the voice is not what it was - how could it be, voices like people age but this one aged like the Tokay she loved.  It may not all be there the way it once was but what you hear is the authentic voice of the Vienna of the waltz, the polka, the csárdás -
gemütlichkeit as no tourist brochure or website could capture it.  Marta Eggerth sings Rudolph Sieczyński's Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume.

But it would be unfair to base her fame on a clip from her advancing years. Here is the young Marta - a much beloved international movie star - in 1936 singing that most Viennese of Strauss waltz songs Donanuwalzer (The Blue Danube).

Yes the style of singing is dated by today's standards but as Laurent said earlier this morning when we were listening to several recordings by Marta: they really don't make voices like that anymore, do they?  And I had to agree with him: b y any standards there are no voices like that today. 

January 1 - 1773: The hymn that became known as "Amazing Grace", then titled "1 Chronicles 17:16–17" is first used to accompany a sermon led by John Newton in the town of Olney, England.
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1 comment:

Ur-spo said...

Vienna must be amazing to see, although I fear I will be disappointed not to see people in rococo wigs or Mahler on everyone's mind.