Contents of this page of Lehmann articles, poems and papers include:
1. The unpublished introduction to Eighteen Song Cycles
1a. The published introduction “Lieder Interpretation” to Eighteen Song Cycles
2. Lotte Lehmann’s first poem in English
3. “Listening to My Old Records”
4. On Eleanor Steber (Time Aug 17, 1953)
5. Toscanini Retired: I dare not believe it
6. Poem: Mit Bruno Walter am Klavier... (with English translation)
7. Wir von der Oper excerpt in English
8. Excerpt from Lehmann’s novel Eternal Flight
9. Lehmann’s Tribute to Elisabeth Schumann
10. Comparison of a Lehmann poem with her changes
11. Lehmann’s Poetry (in English translation by Judith Sutcliffe)
12. Foreword and Postscript to Lehmann’s 1938 autobiography Midway in My Song
13. Foreword to Lehmann’s More Than Singing, the Interpretation of Songs
14. Sieben Lehmannlieder, the poems and the recording of Thomas Pasatieri’s song cycle to the Lehmann poems
15. The article Lehmann wrote for the Theatre Arts Monthly magazine in 1937: “A Singing Actress Attacks Her Part.”
16. A silly sarcastic piece that Lehmann wrote for her friends (in her type-written manuscript) followed by my translation into English
17. A poem Lehmann wrote about singing on the radio
18. On Der Rosenkavalier (An in-depth analysis and interpretation of the story and music)
19. Toscanini (Lehmann’s various connections to Maestro)
1. Lotte Lehmann’s unpublished introduction to her last book, Eighteen Song Cycles. As you read it, you’ll understand that, though it expressed Lehmann’s thoughts, it wasn’t something that a publisher would choose to put at the front of a book.
“In writing this book I feel very strongly that the young generation of singers will not care for it. The world has changed so much – there are really very few singers who can afford to give Lieder recitals of German songs. One can count them on the fingers of one hand. Opera companies have been built up – and I am the last one not to be grateful for that! But the audiences [missing word] easily guided, like more the more spectacular and understandable stories of operas, and the recitals go slowly into oblivion. And yet I feel almost forced to say what I have to say about Lieder, to keep up the interest in them, the subtle and wonderful message of beauty which they – indestructibly – tell the willing listener…Everything in life goes in circles, I believe. There may also come a time again in which one longs for the Lied. May be that then this humble book will come into its own….
I have taken some of the Cycles from my book, “More than Singing.” This book is for a long time out of print. But how could I leave out in this new book, for instance Schubert’s famous and moving Cycles? Therefore I have put together what in my opinion has to be assembled in one place: This book, which I send into the world, asking for understanding and kind acceptance.”
1a. Lieder Interpretation An Introduction to Eighteen Song Cycles: Studies in Their Interpretation by Lotte Lehmann; published in 1972.
Interpretation means: individual understanding and reproduction. How then is it possible to teach interpretation? It seems almost paradoxical to emphasize the necessity for individuality in interpretation and at the same time want to explain my own conceptions of singing. First and foremost I want to say that 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 within themselves.
For imitation is, and can only be, the enemy of artistry. Everything which has the breath of life is changeable: a momentary feeling often makes me alter an interpretation. Do not build up your songs as if they were encased in stone walls. They must soar from the warm, pulsing beat of your own heart, blessed by the interpretation of the moment. Only from life itself may life be born.
What I want to try to explain here is not any final interpretation, but an approach which may be an aid towards the development of your individual conceptions. I want to point a way which might lead from the lack of understanding of those singers, who seem to consider only voice quality and smooth technique, to the boundless world of expression. And it will be seen that there is not just one, but an infinitely varied pattern of ways, which lead to this goal. Only he who seeks it with his whole heart will find his own approach to interpretation.
I have listened to many young singers, and have found with ever increasing astonishment that they consider their preparation finished when they have developed a lovely voice, a serviceable technique and musical accuracy. At this point they consider themselves ready to appear before the public.
Certainly no one can question that technique is the all-important foundation—the a b c of singing. It goes without saying that no one can master too carefully the technique of voice production. Complete mastery of the voice as an instrument is an ideal towards which every singer must work assiduously. But that technique must be mastered to the point of being unconscious, before you can really become an interpreter.
That God-given instrument—the voice—must be capable of responding with the greatest subtlety to every shade of every emotion. But it must be subordinate, it must only be the foundation, the soil from which true art flowers.
It is only with the greatest hesitation that I dare put into words my ideas regarding the interpretation of Lieder and of French Chansons. For is it not dangerous to give definite expression to something which must essentially be born from inspiration and be, above all things, vitally alive? Yet I have so often been urged by experienced musicians to help the younger generation with such a book as this, that I have decided to put down my ideas in spite of my hesitation. But I should like to take as the motto of this book Goethe’s words from Faust: ‘Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie —und grün des Lebens gold’ner Baum.’ (‘Grey, dear friend, is all theory and green the golden tree of life’.) So may you young, aspiring singers, for whom I write this book, take the fullness of my experience, of my studies, of my development and discoveries as the simile of the golden tree, but it is for you to pluck the fresh, living fruit from its branches. It is for you to infuse with your own spirit, that which comes to you as advice, as suggestion. When you have a deep inner conviction about a song—the words as well as the music—then be sure that your conception is a right one, even though it may differ from what is traditional.
For what is tradition?
The mother earth, from which springs everything which may grow and flower. The creator’s conception of an idea, a work of art, which has been handed down from generation to generation, which has been cherished and developed until it spreads before us as a network of determined paths which are to be followed without questioning. Strict tradition dictates that not a single step may be taken from these paths.
But you are young and the youth of every generation is eager and should be eager for new ways. You have a different viewpoint from that of your parents and teachers. You do not necessarily care for the old, recommended, well-travelled roads. You want to venture into new, alluring fields, to lose yourselves in the mysterious depths of the forests. I know that I am committing a fearful sin against holy tradition when I say: Excellent! Seek your own way! Do not become paralysed and enslaved by the set patterns which have been created of old. Build from your own youthful feeling, your own hesitant thoughts and your own flowering perception—and help to further that beauty which has grown from the roots of tradition. Do not misunderstand me: naturally I do not mean that you should despise the aspirations and the knowledge of earlier generations. I only mean that tradition is not an end but a beginning. Do not lose yourself in its established pattern but let your own conceptions and expression be nourished from it as a flower blooms from the life forces provided by its roots. Simply let them bloom more richly in the light of your own imagination. Certainly you will make mistakes. You will often take the wrong road before you find your true way, just as I have. I grew up in Germany, in the tradition of Lieder singing. I might have come much earlier to that holiest of all—the Lied, had I not been so completely immersed in the theatre. I lived, so to speak, in the opera house and took my few concerts on the side without much preparation. May Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf forgive me for the sins which I committed in their name!
As the reputation which I had won through my work in opera became known in other countries, concerts became more frequent, so that there dawned upon me a new and overpowering realization: that as a Lieder singer, I was at the very dawn of an awakening.
This was the first step: the awareness of my ignorance.
My approach was a hesitant one and I often went astray. In the beginning I felt that this came more from the words than from the music. If I had not been born a singer, endowed with a touch of the golden quality of voice of my good mother, I would without doubt have become an actress. Actually, throughout my whole life I have envied those who are free to express without the limitation of opera singing. So in singing Lieder, the words, the poem became the main thing for me, until—much later—I found and captured the true balance between words and music.
In general I find that the words are too much neglected. On the other hand I should like to protect you from the stage which I had to go through: of feeling first the word and only finally the melody. Learn to feel as a whole that which is a whole in complete harmony: poem and music. Neither can be more important than the other. First there was the poem. That gave the inspiration for the song. Like a frame, music encloses the word picture—and now comes your interpretation, breathing life into this work of art, welding words and music with equal feeling into one whole, so that the poet sings and the composer becomes poet and two arts are born anew as one.
That is the Lied.
Dynamic shadowings are like sketches but the enchanting in-between colours alone can give the tone picture a personal quality. There is a clear, silvery pianissimo which sounds light and ethereal, and there is a veiled pianissimo which trembles with passion and restrained desire. There is a bright forte–strong and forceful like a fanfare—and a darkly coloured forte, which breaks out sombrely, in grief and pain. The ‘veiled’ piano which I have mentioned is a vibration of tone which has no place in the realm of technique and yet, in my opinion, it cannot be neglected in inspired singing; in fact, it is of the utmost importance. How much restrained passion can be conveyed by a veiled tone and how much floating purity in a clear flute-like pianissimo!
One seldom hears a voice which is capable of altering its timbre. For me it goes absolutely against the grain to sing always with the same tone colour. Dynamic gradations seem dead without the animating interplay of dark and light, clear and restrained.
It almost seems superfluous to emphasize that a phrase must always have a main word and, with it, a musical highpoint. Yet it is incredible how often this elementary and self-evident fact is neglected. Again and again I am astonished by a lack of musical feeling for the essential nature of a phrase. Every phrase must be sung with a sweeping line, not just as a series of words which have equal weight and no grace. It is the floating sweep, not just a long breath, which makes the beautifully rounded phrase. The best help in learning to feel how a phrase should sound is to recite the poem. In speaking, you would never give equal emphasis to every syllable as you so often do in singing—through eagerness to hold the tempo or to give each note its exact value or above all to show that your singing is supported by excellent breath control. In my opinion, more important than all these factors, valuable as they are, is giving life to the phrase through emphasizing what is important and making subsidiary the words which have only a connecting value.
Singing should never follow a straight line. It should have a sweeping flow, it should glide in soft rhythmical waves which follow one another harmoniously. (I am referring here to the musical line of a phrase and not to sliding from syllable to syllable which generally has a sentimentalizing effect and should only be made use of most sparingly.) Each new sentence should have a new beginning, the new thought should live, should breathe, emerging from the previous sentence. Create yourself each new thought as if it had just come to life in you. Let it arise from your own inner feeling. Do not sing just a melody, sing a poem. Music lifting the poem from the coldness of the spoken word has transfigured it with new beauty. But you, the singer, must make your listeners realize that the poem, far from losing its beauty through becoming music, has been ennobled, born anew in greater splendour and loveliness. Never forget: recite the poem when you sing—sing the music as you recite the words of the poem in the Lied. Only from the equal value of both creations can perfection arise.
I should like to touch here upon a question, which often arises, as to whether a woman should sing Lieder which, according to the poem, are written for a man. I say with emphasis: Yes!
Why should a singer be denied a vast number of wonderful songs, if she has the power to create an illusion which will make her audience believe in it? It would be a very sad indication of incapacity if one could not awaken in the listener sufficient imagination to carry him with one into the realms of creative fantasy. If you sing of love and happiness, you must be a young person convincingly—and perhaps in reality you are neither young nor beautiful. The stage sets limitations which simply do not exist on the concert platform: on the stage you see the person who is represented, your representation must in some measure correspond outwardly to the character which you portray. The imagination of the audience has its limits: it sees the figure before it in the framework of the role, surrounded by the characters of the story which is being unfolded. In a certain sense it is very much more difficult to retain the illusion of a portrayal when the limits are set by reality. On the other hand on the concert stage it is the unlimited power of your art which must change you into just that figure which you seek to bring to life. You are without any material aids, without any gestures, without the footlights which separate so wonderfully the world of the stage from the world of reality. You stand close to the audience. Almost one with it, you take it, so to speak, by the hand and say: ‘Let us live this song together! Forget with me that I cannot have a thousand real forms, for I will make you believe in all these forms as I change my personality in every song. Let us together put aside reality, and let us, singing and hearing, soar away into the limitless realms of fantasy.’ As Mignon says in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister—‘und jene himmlischen Gestalten, sie fragen nicht nach Mann und Weib . . .’ (‘And there each celestial presence shall question naught of man and maid . . .’)—so the singer soars above all limitations, is young, is beautiful, is man or woman, longing and fulfillment, death and resurrection.
It is my hope that through this book I may open a door which may lead you to feeling what you understand—and understanding what you feel.
The road to the ever unattainable goal, perfection, is long and hazardous. No success with the public, no criticisms however wonderful, could ever make me believe that I have reached ‘perfection.’ Everyone has his own limitations and imperfections. Everyone is to a certain extent the victim of his nerves, his momentary mood and disposition. I am rightly reproached for breathing too often and so breaking phrases. This is one of my unconquerable nervous inadequacies. It is often not enough to know and to feel and to recognize. Human, all too human are the weaknesses under which all of us suffer, each in our own way. In a certain sense, it seems that perfect technique and interpretation which comes from the heart and soul can never go hand in hand and that this combination is an unattainable ideal. For the very emotion which enables the singer to carry her audience with her into the realm of artistic experience is the worst enemy of a crystal-clear technique. Perhaps, in this case, I am the well-known fox for whom the grapes hang too high! But I have found, again and again, that a singer who delights in technique (much as I may admire her virtuosity) still, in some way, leaves my heart cold. Do not misunderstand me: control of the voice is the soil from which interpretation springs. But do not despair over small imperfections, over mistakes which are difficult to eliminate. For if your spirit can soar above technique and float in the lofty regions of creative art, you have fulfilled your mission as a singer. For what mission can be greater than that of giving to the world hours of exaltation in which it may forget the misery of the present, the cares of everyday life, and lose itself in the eternally pure world of harmony ?
2. Lotte Lehmann’s first English poem Bridge To Eternity
You, who for a moment’s span were made —
Song, word, and evanescent tone –
Are not lost forever in the shade,
In mystic darkness of a source unknown.
Boldly snatched from time’s remorseless flight,
By new-found might of Science held in place,
You live, enchanted, in the glorious light
Of immemorial and eternal space.
O wondrous force! How strange it is to think
That man’s unfathomed genius can prolong
The fragile chain that holds from Lethe’s brink
The fleeting beauty of a moment’s song.
3. Listening to My Old Records by Lotte Lehmann [from the booklet of Angel’s “Great Recordings of the Century” LP COLO 112]
Listening to my old records—which I very seldom do—is a rather frustrating sensation for me. It makes me sad that ” my time ” is over. That my voice, once the instrument of my emotions, does not obey me any more, only—quite naturally—obeying the cruel demands of time…. I don’t belong to those who live in the past. I like to look forward, not back. The present and the future have yet promises for me—and always a goal. But, listening to these recordings, the past opens once more its golden gates, and the radiant light of happy memories envelops me anew.
Fidelio! How could I ever try to relate the excitement, the intoxication of those times! From the first performance—at the Beethoven centenary—this was one of my favorite roles. Franz Schalk, at that time Director of the Vienna Staatsoper, wanted me to sing it, brushing away my fear that the role might be vocally too dramatic. I am eternally grateful to him—because singing Leonore, acting Leonore, was one of my greatest artistic experiences. I sang it under the baton of great conductors: Schalk, Walter, Beecham, Strauss, Furtwängler and Toscanini. The whole performance under Schalk went to Paris—and Leonore brought me my first French medal, the Golden Palm, which later on was followed by the Legion of Honor.
What memories! It is all so long ago that I may be permitted to mention it without being accused of boasting…. But you see, I lived this life in another world, upon another star, brighter than my world of today.
My repertory was rather varied. It certainly is a big step from Fidelio to Werther’s Lotte, from Beethoven to Massenet. But what a challenge to do roles which are so entirely different! I loved singing Lotte. Our Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra seemed to like it too: they had always a lot of fun when at my first entrance I was surrounded by “my family “—all the children chanting “Lotte, Lotte, Lotte! ” I never forget how all my friends below in the orchestra turned their heads, smilingly greeted me, as if they joined the action on the stage…. Most of the time, Alfred Piccaver was my Werther—his heavenly voice caresses yet my ears.
The role of Ariadne was really a “second love ” for me: my first one was the Composer, this short and excitingly lovely part in the so-called “Prelude” of Ariadne auf Naxos. When I came to Vienna (1916) I got the role of the Composer as understudy (which hurt my feelings terribly by the way . . .). But Richard Strauss heard me once in one of the last rehearsals before the premiere, when I substituted for the excellent artist [Marie Gutheil-Schoder] who was chosen to sing the premiere—and immediately he decided to change his plan: I sang the premiere. It was the beginning of my “career”, an opening of doors into the great world…. One will understand that I always had a deep love for this role—and when later on I took over Ariadne I always stood in the wings during the Prelude, envy in my heart, listening to the Composer and wishing it would be possible to sing both roles….
Once something very funny happened: when Bacchus appears, Ariadne greets him singing, “Hail to thee, O messenger of messengers”, but strangely enough I forgot it, thinking that Bacchus had these lines—God knows why I was so mixed up! . . . Strauss sent me a card the next day, saying: “Because the high B flat was so beautiful, I forgive you. In the next performance you will have to sing the phrase twice. But never mind, it was very lovely . . . Your sincere admirer, Strauss.”
The sentimental, sweet Agathe in Weber’s Freischütz has a special significance for me: it was my debut performance in Vienna in 1916. And, two years earlier, I had taken part in a very good performance of this opera in the wonderful open-air theatre of Zoppot, with Richard Tauber as my Max.
D’Albert’s Die toten Augen also played an important part in my 1ife: the role of the blind woman whom Christ gives back her sight, and who—shocked by reality—prefers to be blind again, was the role I chose for my farewell performance in Hamburg in 1916, when I left the Hamburg Stadttheater for Vienna’s Hofoper. It is not great music, but the role is magnificent and gives an opportunity to act as well as to sing—which I always especially enjoyed.
Das Wunder der Heliane by Erich Korngold was another exciting event. This opera is not very well known, but the recorded aria was chosen for that reason, I suppose. It is very melodious and a kind of “luscious” music, demanding the utmost of vocal power and endurance. The aria is the confession and defense of the lovey Queen, who is accused of immorality because she tried to give beauty to the youth who—innocently—was condemned to death.
What a change to sing Frau Fluth in Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor! Is it not wonderful to be able to live so entirely different personalities, living many lives, feeling the heartbeat of so many people? Frau Fluth—what fun it was, to become the gaily scheming happy woman who—in this recorded aria—rehearses the act with which she plans to fool the silly old Sir John! I think I always had as much fun as the audience.
Another humorous role, that of Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, is a very pleasant memory for me because of the wonderful performance we had at Covent Garden, under the baton of Bruno Walter, with Elisabeth Schumann as Adele. I really don’t think I was very good in this role, but the gaiety of the music may add something enjoyable to this record—at least, that is the reason it has been included. (1)
And now, as the last, we have Isolde’s Liebestod. Isolde—the role I never sang, the role which I longed to sing through many, many years—never being able to fulfill this dream: my voice was not “high-dramatic”—I believe the role would have been the end of my singing career. Oh—at that time of my life I was touchingly foolish enough to say: “So be it my end! Could there be a better way of losing one’s voice? ” Fortunately I was wisely advised—and buried this dream. But at least I sang the Liebestod! I sang it for the first time under the baton of Arturo Toscanini in Vienna. For me it was one of those unforgettable hours of blissful abandonment, of dying in the surging waves of music, forgetting the world of reality . . . “Ertrinken, versinken” —there is nothing like it.
Now I close the shining doors of the past again and am back in my Today. It is good and wonderful, it is full of activities, of deeply gratifying work. I hope I will have yet the strength for some time to come, to look forward. Yesterday was beautiful—but there is always a beautiful Tomorrow.
(1) Mme Lehmann is far too modest. London rightly adored her Rosalinde, and on the record her comical intonation (at the beginning of the second verse) on the word ‘Pascha’ shows how completely she entered into the fun of the part.
4. Eleanor Steber: Time Aug. 17, 1953
… I am happy that Eleanor Steber had such a wonderful success in Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten … I remember … exhausting rehearsals with Richard Strauss … I went to his home in Garmisch–he studied the part of the [dyer’s] wife with me. He really was a very simple family man, entirely devoted to his temperamental wife–he was really a henpecked husband … I sang a lot of his lieder, and often his wife Pauline would listen. Some of the lieder seemed to bring back happy memories to them both, and Pauline would run to him, throwing her arms around him, saying with big sobs of touching sentimentality, “Do you remember, Richard?”–and he would have tears in his eyes, too. They were a strange couple. They fought like mad–needless to say, Pauline always started the fights … He said to me when I departed: “You have seen a lot which you will find strange in this house. But believe me, all the praises in the world are not so refreshing as my wife’s outbreaks of temperament.” He was so accustomed to meeting people who adored him, bowed before him in reverence. He did not like it; he was a thoroughly straightforward man–and his Pauline was like a draft of fresh water.
Lotte Lehmann, Santa Barbara, Calif.
5. Toscanini Retired? I dare not believe it, says Lotte Lehmann. April 11, 1954 Santa Barbara News Press
We take it for granted that our sun will shine forever. We see it go down in the evening and know tomorrow it will rise again. How would we react if one day we should hear that it would never come back? That it will be with us in a soft afterglow which will envelop the world with subdued splendor—but from now on the warm, glowing radiance will be lost to us. We would be confused and would not dare to believe such news.
Maestro Arturo Toscanini has announced his decision to retire. I dare not believe it.
If anyone has a right to retire it should be he. His whole long life has been complete devotion to music. Perhaps in his eighties he should enjoy the serenity and peacefulness of a private existence. And yet—saying this—I feel the impossibility of imagining him apart from his work, apart from music, apart from creation in music. How will he bear it?
I see his face before me in this moment, his dark brows knitted into a savage black line over his beautiful eyes (which are not as black as they seem, they are actually a soft, warm brown—little golden sparks flicker in their depths). But his glance would be black if he should hear me say that he couldn’t bear to live without music, that I could think his interest in life so limited. …He told me once he has a deep love for paintings, that he could sit before one holding it in his hands, close to his very near-sighted eyes and study it, penetrating its beauty for a long time. He likes to read and is able to do so in many languages. In a rehearsal of Meistersinger in Salzburg, I remember he once corrected the pronunciation of a German singer to the amazement of all of us.
It is hard to know where to start in telling of my reminiscences of the Maestro. I met him first in New York when he conducted his first commercial [radio] broadcast—for General Motors. He had heard me shortly before this in Vienna in the premiere of Richard Strauss’ Arabella. This had been a terrible day for me: my mother whom I had loved more than I can say, had died the day before the performance. It would have been understandable and excusable if I had canceled my appearance. But one could not do that. “The show must go on.” There was no one who could take my place, the house was sold out, it was a tremendous occasion, a Strauss premier. So I sang. Someone told me that Toscanini was in the audience—but I was so deeply unhappy that nothing made an impression on me. On that night I only lived as Arabella…
Later I heard that Toscanini had been very moved when he heard of the circumstances under which I had sung. His comment was: “That is the sign that she is a real artist.”
As a result of this performance he selected me for this broadcast.
I shall never forget the day I went to his hotel in New York for a rehearsal. I had to sing the great aria of Fidelio and Elisabeth’s aria from Tannhäuser.
At this time I was already a well known singer, at home in the great world, having sung in all the important opera houses throughout Europe. So one wouldn’t believe that I could be scared of Toscanini. But where is the singer who is not scared of him! He does not like this at all. It makes him very impatient and he expresses his displeasure in no uncertain terms. He just can’t understand the strange magic of his overpowering personality. I remember how I felt as I looked into those burning eyes, commanding me: sing! I started—the tone stuck in my throat! I almost broke into tears. And stammering that I was just scared to death of him, I tried again. The rehearsal was long and exhausting. Exhausting because of the tremendous inner tension with which I tried to do justice to all his commands.
I really don’t remember how the concert went. I just wasn’t on earth at all. The Maestro was satisfied with my singing—and no crown jewel could have given me more delight than his smile.
We were photographed together and he was in such a good mood that he permitted with great affability, what I took for granted, not knowing that he hated photographers and anything to do with publicity. I did not realize then that this meeting with him would be a very important day in my life.
Toscanini’s friendship and his enthusiasm for me as an artist have been the climax of my career. Unforgettable were the rehearsals with him in Salzburg where he conducted Fidelio a year after our concert! For us each rehearsal was a performance. There was no possibility of every letting down, of taking it easy. Everyone had to give to his fullest capacity—and even if he had not ordered us to do so, we would have done it, because he himself always gave his whole heart and his whole soul.
Needless to say that in the performance the audience went wild. After the third Leonore overture the whole house seemed to be in a frenzy—and we singers applauded like mad behind stage. Everyone who has seen him knows his helpless gesture of refusal: “It is not I who deserve this praise, it is the composer. I only did what he expected of me.” He has said this so often. Once when in my adoration I perhaps went too far, he said, quite annoyed: “But don’t you see that I am nobody to be glorified as you are doing? I am just a good conductor, that’s all.”
The Vienna Orchestra worshiped him—but they often had to endure fits of his terrible Italian temper which have become legendary. I once heard one orchestra member say to another: “One really doesn’t know how one should feel about this demon of a man. Should one hate him or should one kneel down?”
This remark is very typical. It was the way we all felt about him. But I believe no one ever hated him in reality. All of us wanted to kneel down…
Nerve-racking rehearsals of Die Meistersinger in Salzburg! I shall never forget them. After so many years the memory of them still makes me shudder…
He was never satisfied with anything we did. But instead of going into one of his dreaded fits of fury, he sat there quietly and looked at us with an icy stare of contempt. We were so nervous that we stumbled over the easiest phrase. I fought against tears and finally, unable to stand it any longer, I took my heart in my hand and went to him through breathless silence. I said to him: “Maestro, we want to do what you want us to do. But we don’t know what you want. Please tell us and we will do it.”
He raised his dark eyes and said with the touching expression of a dying dear: “There is no fire in this performance…” No fire! Any fire would have been extinguished by his icy silence…Fire! All right! We threw ourselves into our roles and in the end we got his wonderful smile…
I remember the general rehearsal of Meistersinger as an especially unforgettable experience. Certainly the performance was wonderful but somehow the general rehearsal seemed to me the climax. In the last act when the chorus sings the glorious tribute to Hans Sachs, the singer of the Hans Sachs role was so overwhelmed that he turned around with tears in his eyes and whispered to us: “How can I ever sing now? This demon has completely devastated me with his fire.”
I was in an intoxication of delight and after the performance tore into his room without even knocking at the door. There he stood, scarcely dressed—and I can still see the incredulous look of shock in the eyes of his chauffeur and faithful factotum Emilio as he stood motionless holding the Maestro’s trousers in his hands. But I paid no attention to him. I ran to the Maestro, kissed him, said “Thank you” and was out of the room…
Once in Fidelio I made a dreadful musical mistake in the last act. Knowing that this was a mortal sin, I felt terribly. I could only go to him and beg his forgiveness, but I didn’t dare to enter his room. I stood outside, trembling and wiping away my tears until his very kind wife Signora Carla took me by the hand and pulled me into the room. What could I say? I could only stammer: “Forgive me.”
He turned his sinister glance upon me, but before he could answer I added: “I shall weep the whole night.”
“All right, go home and weep,” was his answer. But I saw a flicker of his smile…
I remember one day as the sunniest of my whole life. In a little village near Salzburg, as was the custom there, a young peasant couple, the poorest in the village, was chosen to have their wedding celebrated in the most spectacular fashion. They received money, all their household furnishings, linen, silver, everything. Our Chancellor Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg was to be present, the Archbishop was to marry them and everyone with a name and position was invited to attend the ceremony. The Toscanini family was there and I sang in the church. The presence of the Maestro was especially inspiring even if it did make me a little nervous. What a wonderful day! The little village was filled to capacity with all the peasants, appearing in their beautiful fiesta [Lehmann lived in Santa Barbara when she wrote this] outfits. The young bridal couple was surrounded by a glamor they had never before seen or dreamed of seeing.
After the ceremony we participated in the big dinner. I sat beside the Maestro who was in wonderful humor and opposite us sat the Chancellor. We had to autograph one post card after another and that the Maestro did it without complaining was the greatest miracle of this miraculous wedding…After dinner the Toscaninis came home with me and we had such a wonderful time. He could be so simple, so utterly kind, so absolutely different from the demonic figure on the conductor’s podium.
Shortly after this I sang in one of his concerts in Vienna. It was the first time I had sung Isolde’s Liebestod, the ending of that heavenly role which I never sang in opera because it was too dramatic for my lyrical voice. To sing it in concert is rather nerve-racking: one has to sit through the whole long prelude and then the beginning of the aria is difficult because the orchestra doesn’t give any musical cue. One has to start, so to speak, out of nowhere…I told the Maestro that I was terribly nervous and that I would certainly die of shock if out of nervousness I should start with the wrong note. He promised to give me the tone and I mustn’t worry. I really didn’t. But he did. Through half the prelude he hummed the tone and since his voice is notoriously hoarse and rough I could scarcely tell what tone it was…But I started right and everything was saved…I shall remember forever the feeling of intoxication and utter abandon as I sang Isolde’s last words: “Ertrinken, versinken, unbewusst, höchste Lust” (to drown, to merge—unconscious—bliss sublime.) The music was like an overpowering surf in which I sank, lost in the splendor of sound…
And so I feel in remembering my association with Toscanini. The overwhelming strength of his magical personality is akin to the power of the ocean—devastating in its fury—awe-inspiring in its grandeur.
We shall have his recordings—that is true. In his perfection he will be with us. But that we shall never again be able to feel his nearness, to see him conducting, to see his face tortured through concentration, that I cannot and dare not believe.
He may have a long rest after exhausting work, he may feel well again and return to us.
I sent him a telegram on his birthday saying: “Years do not count with you. You are ageless. Stay with us for many years to come and make this world a better one.”
I say it again with all my heart.
6. Mit Bruno Walter am Klavier…
Poem by Lotte Lehmann (English translation below)
Es trägt sein Spiel, das sich mir tief verwebt,
Mich fort auf wunderbaren Schwingen.
Ich fühle im Zusammenklingen
Hinströmend meine Seele singen,
Die nun im Willen seiner Hände lebt
Und aufwärts schwebt zu lichten Höhen.
Vermahlt in einer Melodie—
Geführt und führend—hingerissen
Eines dem andern folgen mussen
In tiefstem Voneinanderwissen:
Geheimnis ist’s der Harmonie
Und wahres, reines Sichverstehen.
Here is my attempt at an English translation of its sense, not a word-for-word translation:
His playing, that deeply intertwines me, carries me to wonderful floating
I feel in the sounding together that my streaming soul sings, that now lives in the will of his hands.
And it floats upwards to the bright heights.
Painted in a melody, led and leading, enthralled; forced to follow each other in the deepest understanding: the harmony is a mystery.
And truly a pure self-revelation
In a translation by Mrs. Hilde Randolph:
“Deeply moved by his playing
I am carried away on heavenly wings
I can feel my soul singing in togetherness
following the will of his hands
carried to pure heights, united by a melody
guided and guiding
spellbound, having to follow each other
it is the secret of harmony
and real true mutual understanding.”
7. Wir von der Oper (We from the Opera)
In a small book called Wir von der Oper, which appeared in 1932, Lehmann writes: “I often long to know the concentration of the stage actor who doesn’t experience the obstacle of the musical phrase… But then when I myself stand on the stage singing, acting, completely realizing the character which I’ve become, then I feel that I wouldn’t do anything else but that what I do… Music allows me to forget the everyday…”
8. Eternal Flight
Lehmann’s only novel Eternal Flight published in 1937, was Orplid mein Land in the original German version.
Here are some excerpts in English translation by Elsa Krauch.
Of the lead character, a dancer, Lehmann writes: “She was like a bird of passage, brilliant and restless. Her life taxed her energies to the fullest. She had painfully little time for herself. Her ambition knew no bounds. Fame–always purchased dearly–demanded its price of complete self-surrender…”
Lehmann describes a famous opera singer: “She was a strange creature. People thought her haughty, cruel, calculating. In reality she was none of these things. She was a miserably lonely woman, beset by a frantic fear of anything that might disturb this loneliness….She had been happy today when she was singing Isolde. It was as though her real life did not begin until she stood there on the stage in another incarnation, released from herself and her loneliness, experiencing joys and sorrows that were not her own, yet of which she was so keenly conscious. Her art was no profession to her, no mere means of making money.”
Elisabeth Schumann’s passing away makes me infinitely sad – I don’t know how to find adequate words to express the deep sense of loss I feel. Not only the loss of a great singer, a wonderful colleague – but the loss of a friend with whom I shared a time in my life in which we were young together and went together on our paths, through failure and success, through laughter and tears, till we grew old and talked of the past whenever we met. The melody of our conversation seemed always to be: “Do you remember…?”
I shall remember her always; laughing, stepping lightly over obstacles, living with a song on her lips and in her heart; a generous and utterly noble heart, a heart which beat through her songs like the sound of a silver bell. Hers was not the tragic note of despair, not the dramatic outbreak. Hers was the infinitely fine and perfect glow of purity. Her concerts were a lesson in style and beauty.
She was the last great concert singer of noble tradition. Blessed the invention of the recording machine! Many of her Lieder are captured forever and will delight many generations to come. Young singers will try to learn from her, will try to make the clarity of her singing their own. But will they ever learn the greatest secret of Elisabeth Schumann? Her charm? Her delicacy? Her inborn exquisiteness? I hope so…
This morming I found a little dead bird in our garden. I wept – but not about this little crushed life in my hand. I wept about a gay, birdlike song which is stilled forever. A happy heart which will not beat again. An exuberant laughter which will never ask again: “Do you remember…?”
Farewell, Elisabeth, I shall remember always,
While researching the Lehmann Chronology at the Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscripts in March 2004, I discovered a Lehmann poem that is slightly different from the version printed in her “Gedichte” (Poems) of 1969.
Here is the published version (first) along with the altered (earlier?) version on the right. The translation was accomplished with the help of Hilde Randolph. The last strophe was unaltered.
Wie schön is dieser tiefe Schlummer Wie schön is dieser tiefe Schimmer How beautiful is this deep slumber How beautiful is this deep glimmer Wie schöne die saphirblaue Ferne! Wie schöne die licht durchströmte Ferne! How beautiful the saphire-blue distance How beautiful the light permeated distance Es leuchten über mir die Sterne, Es leuchten über mir die Sterne, The stars shine above me, The stars shine above me, Der ganze Himmel ist mein Zimmer, Der ganze Himmel ist mein Zimmer, The whole sky is my room, The whole sky is my room, In dem ich träumend liege. In dem ich schlafend, träumend liege In which I lay dreaming. In which I lay sleeping dreaming. Der Wind spielt in dem stillen Zweigen, Der Wind schläft in Tannenzweigen, The wind plays in the silent branches, The wind sleeps in the pine branches, Wie eine schwanke, grüne Wiege. Wie eine schwanke, grüne Wiege Like a swaying, green cradle. Like a swaying, green cradle. Drei schwarze Tannen stehen Wacht Drei schwarze Tannen stehen Wacht Three black pine trees stand guard Three black pine trees stand guard Und breiten ihre Engelsschwingen Und breiten ihre Engelsschwingen And extend their angel wings And extend their angel wings Über mein Bett. Und Sterne singen Über mein Bett. Und Sterne singen Above my bed. And stars trace Above my bed. And stars trace Ihre erhab’nen, ew’gen Kreise Ihre erhab’nen, ew’gen Kreise Their sublime, eternal paths Their sublime, eternal paths Uralte, wundersame Weise Uralte, wundersame Weise Ancient, wonderous songs Ancient, wonderous songs Durch diese warme Julinacht. Durch diese warme Julinacht. Through this warm July night Through this warm July night
11. Lehmann’s Poetry (in English Translation)
Lehmann was blessed as a singer, poet, writer, artist and teacher. Here’s a sampling of her poetry in English translations by Judy Sutcliffe.
My mother’s voice of dark gold
Rings out to me from distant child days.
She could, singing, say the most beautiful things,
And carry us, instinctively, involuntarily,
Out of the twilight of the everyday.
My mother’s voice of shattered glass–
So I heard her sing when grey–
A tremulous search for silent sounds,
And I saw her eyes, wet with tears.
My own voice’s burning glow
Rings out to me from a long lifespan,
From many coastlines, wonderful,
Far from my white and silent shore.
My own voice of shattered glass–
Lets me measure my mother’s sorrow:
My eyes brim with the heat
Of her unforgotten tears
For this treasure she and I possessed.
Roadrushing telegraph poles—
Gray-white smoke balls of cloud-play—
My train, toward its ever distant end
Racing, stamps its well-known melody
Across the wide, waving prairie,
Through a still and golden evening light.
This breathless forward rushing,
This never pausing, never standing still,
This restless coming, restless going on
Was the surging song of my life,
Was music to me and delight and the sound
Of the turbulent beating of my heart.
But now I feel the tumult die away—
And a deep stillness wakes in me,
As I, surfacing from chaotic night,
See the world for the first time
And its beauty entirely understand,
Falling enraptured to my knees.
God fully gave to me his blessings,
And my voice offered praise in song,
It was my inmost melody.
But now my eyes will bathe
In the new beauty of blessings yet unheard,
In newly wakened, deeply conscious life.
I never knew how much loveliness lives
In the branches of bare and leafless trees,
Nor that gold and silver lovingly weave themselves
Into bronze webbing in which buds dream
Of the coming, spring-drunk exuberance;
I never knew of these best,
These sublime gifts, strewn before us,
I never had that time, could never rest,
Was always driven like a hunted animal.
But now the hunter is my quarry.
I’ve caught what hunted me,
Upon its wings it has renewed my world.
I was looking through old music scores today—
And the past hurled itself into my present…
O bounteous beauty that once was mine…
O fatefully renewed ?In fleeing, world-vanishing time!
The delight of transformation—who can measure it,
Who only lives ONE life, bounded by reality?
Who never knows that sweet self-forgetfulness,
That lavish squandering of the self in Time,
The ego released in singing,
Loving and suffering—floating as if on wings
To a destiny foreign yet strangely one’s own,
Soaring on the wings of music!
“Perhaps it is too early to write my memoirs….before one is ready to forsake the “well-trod stage”…I have tried to relate my life from the cool heights of objectivity. But I must confess that there are many things that I have put away in the storehouse of my thoughts because I feel that they are meant only for me…Only poetry could be the right expression for them….This book represents to me a restful pause for breath—looking back into the valley. I want to go on. Ahead of me I know lies still a goodly climb. I am now so much one with my art that I could not imagine my life without it. I shall continue to work for music even if time forces me to retire….I am too serious a servant of my art not to step back happily and willingly, when that time comes. [Lehmann’s emphasis] Even then there will be much for me to do…I can think of no better profession than teaching. [She ends the foreword writing…] [this book]…was not meant to be a document of vanity; it was meant to be a greeting to those who will come and be victorious.”
At the end of the autobiography, written when she still had many years left on the opera, concert and recording arenas, she wrote:
“…I am far from putting finis to this book…I still see heights before me…I have so much to say to the world—so much to give…Songs keep pouring in as if from inexhaustible springs.To master them, to give my soul to them—what finer task is there in life?”
Postscript to Midway in My Song
Here is the Postscript that Lehmann added to her autobiography Midway in My Song. Remember that the Nazi regime had years before forbidden Lehmann to sing in the Third Reich.
Postscript May, 1938
“This book of my memoirs was written before Germany annexed Austria.
My blood is German, my whole being is rooted in the German soil. But my conception of art is different from that of my country.
I cannot serve politics. I can only serve that which always has been and still is the mission of my life. I cannot paint political boundaries on the measureless ways of the art world. I will not, and cannot probe whether the people to whom I give my art are good or bad, believers or unbelievers; nor does it interest me to what race they belong or to what politics they subscribe. I want to be an artist— nothing else. I want to live in my world which is more beautiful and loftier than all man-made countries or all states, my world of music. I want to sing the songs that I love, without questioning to what race the composer belonged. God put music into my heart and a voice into my throat. I serve Him when I serve music. I no longer understand the land of my birth.
And I who was born a German, and who was bound to Austria with the bonds of deepest love—I stand now at the door of America. I want to become an American citizen. I am sure that I shall find my third home here and that I shall not again need to wander. I want to become a good American. But that which was my beloved Homeland will live on for me in my songs.”
“….I have tried through these years of German dissolution under the Nazi regime to hold fast and help to preserve that which once so beautified and ennobled the land of my birth… Music which speaks an international language which is understood by all—the language of the heart, the language of the soul, the language of eternal and indestructible beauty… American has, during this bitter time of war, never forgotten that this German art stands above the confusion of the present time… This is a sign of such great understanding, such great generosity of spirit, that I bow before it, filled with gratitude and humility….”
14. Sieben Lehmannleider: seven poems that Lehmann had written, were chosen to be set as songs by Thomas Pasatieri in 1988 as part of the Lehmann Centennial. You can read the original German and an English translation.
15. “An Actress Attacks Her Part” an article that Lehmann wrote for Theatre Arts Monthly magazine in 1937.
Naturally, this is completely clear,
You have incessantly
Letters from devotees
In vocal categories, desolate vocalises,
Of voices clearly lousy,
New Carusos to be taught
And new Flagstadts, that in the wild
Fire burning play completely wonderful singing
And charm each audience.
Briefly said: those who teach singing,
Want to pass on to the Metroplitan
With their highly talented numbers.
O what a crowd
Of unbelievable song geniuses!!!
My stomach’s becoming upset
When I consider, that I myself began
I will fight with other teachers
And ambition trembles deeply, shaken snorting:
“This, oh fortunate world, experience,
This is the time, once again
Resurrected Caruso tone?”
I already feel the happiness
Which the teachers must enjoy,
When it makes them happy,
To bring success to the students…
I must admit to myself,
Will soon go to the dogs…
That’s why with a great deal of effort,
My greatly talented dog-animal
Educated as a pupil.
And lied about:
With trustworthiness in the rosy distant future
I look at each star,
Which will light up the Metropolitan…
The impressive roles picture!
Was Mimi ever lovelier and gentler?
Is Tosca not full of seductiveness?
And don’t you feel deep emotion
When you observe Elizabeth?
Ever my eyes tremble
How this Marschallin sweet and acquiescent
Yearningly fearful love glance???
I lay the skill
Of the highly gifted students now in your hands
And wait with the return
Of the mail with the contract. Consider
She this attraction!!! Not bestowed
Will this genius be…Then you know:
I take care of the business here…You must
Pay a lot- -Oh, I am very shrewd!!!
However my student is so good,
That only the Met with joyful courage
Can see into the future…
These thoughts will sweeten
The rest of the holiday for me. With many greetings
To everyone I am – as far as one can understand –
The not ever as now the proud one
17. On her first Australian tour (sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Lehmann was asked to write a poem about singing on the radio.
Seltsam beglückend ist’s, zu denken,
Das es durch Wunderfragt gelingt,
Millionen singend mich zu schenken,
Zu denen meine Stimme dringt.
Dem Vogel gleich, auf schnellen Schwingen,
Entschwebe ich der engen Welt,
Und weit von hier lauscht meinem Singen
Ein Jeder, dem es wohlgefällt.
Es weitet sich der Saal, in dem ich stehe,
Zu grenzenlosem Himmelsraum –
Und jede Ferne wird zur Nähe –
Und Wirklichkeit ein alter Traum.