These reviews begin with the “interview” and then the actual reviews start thereafter.
Interview with Gary Hickling, Musician, Author, and Expert on German Singer Lotte Lehmann
Some five years ago, I reviewed (Fanfare 39:5) what turned out to be the first volume of an iBook series on legendary German soprano Lotte Lehmann (1888–1976), by Gary Hickling. The book was to my mind an exceedingly fresh and new way of looking at one of the greatest of 20th-century singers. With its multi-media approach enabling the user not just to read about, but to actually see and hear, this great soprano, this was an original and innovative way to find out about these great figures from the past and to hear why their voices were considered to be from a golden age. Hickling has now not only updated that first volume but added another eight. I therefore was very pleased to be given the opportunity to ask him about the singer and his somewhat expanded project.
For those readers who do not know about Lehmann, a few details might help explain her fame. It was reported, in her first American season in 1930, that her singing was of superb order, tonally beautiful, emotionally warm, yet always informed by authoritative musicianship. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1934 and gave her last performance there in 1945. Lehmann was not only one of the great voices of the 20th century, but her voice was used with an artistry that remains both eloquent and moving. Her recordings are, to quote Michael Scott, “a perfect marriage of verbal and musical accent that makes her art so compelling.” She was an artist with humanity and intensity. One only has to listen to her Erlkönig by Schubert to hear every shade of emotion and dramatic realization of the song. Her career continued in recital until 1951, when she finally retired from singing at the age of 63. She had throughout her 41 years some technical difficulties involving the supply of breath, but she retained the steadiness of her voice right to the end, and the survival of so much for so long was indeed a miracle.
You have achieved a tremendous amount as founder of the Lotte Lehmann Foundation and the Lotte Lehmann League. The first question has to be, how did your liking for singing begin and how did you first discover Lotte Lehmann?
My love of singing and my discovery of Lehmann happened simultaneously. At that point, I was studying double bass, playing in orchestras, and listening to orchestral recordings. As with some other instrumentalists, I had a low opinion of singers, whom I believed were not on our exalted level of music-making. So it seemed a chore for me to drive my baritone buddy for a lesson from UCLA, where we both studied, to Santa Barbara, where Lehmann taught in her home. She had already retired from the Music Academy of the West by 1961, when I met her at that lesson. However, her teaching personality was so effective and compelling that even the first lesson jolted me from any prejudice I had developed about singers. For the second lesson, I made sure to bring a copy of Dichterliebe that my friend was studying. I also observed lessons in which he learned the role of Pizzaro in Fidelio, Ravel’s Chansons Madegasques, and individual songs of Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, and Strauss. You can imagine that I quickly bought LPs of Lehmann’s Lieder singing. Her operatic recordings came a little later.
Following on from that choice why did you not choose, say Elisabeth Rethberg or perhaps Elisabeth Schwarzkopf?
Schwarzkopf gave a recital at UCLA that I had attended. Her voice and presence were charming, the technique secure, and the lovely singing only lacked the warmth and spontaneity that I’d heard in the Lehmann recordings. Lehmann greatly admired Rethberg, who was of her generation. Though that voice is secure and grand when necessary, the ability to “act with the singing voice” I heard in Lehmann was missing. Other singers such as Elisabeth Schumann had that irresistible personal element. So did the baritone Michael Bohnen, who matched every facet of Lehmann’s youthful enthusiasm in their recorded Eva/Sachs duet; or the bass, Richard Mayr, Lehmann’s favorite Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier. It’s important to note that I was also prejudiced in Lehmann’s favor as she became, over the years, friendly and a kind of guiding grandmother figure in my life.
After the success of the first volume and its innovative style, and a huge advertisement for what can be achieved, have you made any significant changes or improvements to the next volumes?
There aren’t a lot of important improvements, but one does learn about layout details. For instance: Don’t crowd too many words, audios, and photos onto one page. It can be overpowering. Lehmann fans can be meticulous, and I did receive some good suggested corrections. To help with downloading and navigation, I created a two-minute YouTube instructional video at Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy. Each of the nine volumes has its own core. There’s a focus on biography and background in Volume I. Many of the chapters found there are completed in Volume II, which concentrates more on the personal side of the singer. The chapter called “The Lehmann Others Knew” includes audio memories and tributes from, among many others, Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, tenor Lauritz Melchior, conductor Bruno Walter, pianist Graham Johnson, and soprano Jessye Norman. Volumes III–V encompass audio and video masterclasses from the Music Academy of the West, Northwestern University, London’s Wigmore Hall, and other venues throughout the United States. In those masterclass volumes you’ll find the original words of each song or aria along with a translation, though Lehmann often provides her own English summary of the text. Among the hundreds of students, you’ll hear the young Marilyn Horne and Benita Valente. Volumes VI and VII provide the audios and videos of Lehmann interviews. This is also a chance to get to know Lehmann the person, including her sense of humor. The second one is all in German. In Volume VIII we’ve assembled many views of Lehmann’s art work and included the first publication of her novelette (in English) On Heaven, Hell and Hollywood. Volume IX contains Lehmann’s recently uncovered handwritten and typed suggestions for song and aria interpretations. In addition, documents found in previous volumes of this series, such as the Lehmann Discography, Chronology, Bibliography, etc., are included.
Writer Lanfranco Rasponi in his The Last Primadonnas said, “There have been many more perfect singers, but few have been more intense and honest than Lotte Lehmann.” Would you necessarily agree with that? Could you expand?
I completely agree with Rasponi’s opinion. When the audience, as well as the critics of her own time, heard Lehmann in opera or recital, they felt that she was singing directly to them. When interpreted by Lehmann, Elsa’s predicament or the rejected lover of a Lied profited from an individual’s genuine involvement. As for the imperfection of her breath control, I like the comment of a music historian who wrote that lamenting Lehmann’s shortness of breath is like criticizing the Venus de Milo for not having arms.
Would you agree that Lehmann’s singing of Sieglinde and the Marschallin became icons for years to come? Are there any other roles to which that might apply? Critic John Steane described “O namenlose Freude” from Fidelio as a moment of ecstasy!
Lehmann’s Sieglinde and her Marschallin have rightly become historic touchstones for her portrayals of the psychological dilemmas of these women. Personally, she considered her many assumptions of the role of Leonore in Fidelio (which she sang 88 times!) to be the high points of her career, especially when conducted by Toscanini. Lehmann told me that she also considered her performances of Elsa and Elisabeth to be significant in her career. Similar emblematic moments can be heard in a wide range of her Lieder, whether in Winterreise, Dichterliebe, Frauenliebe und -leben, or individual gems such as Auf Flügeln des Gesanges or Morgen.
One role she sang in, that of Puccini’s Turandot, seems surprising for this singer. Did Lehmann make the right operatic choices in her career? There is only one Verdi role. Is her repertoire considered to be narrow?
Since “lyric soprano” was Lehmann’s Fach, Turandot does raise the eyebrows of connoisseurs who believe that the role’s demands are beyond her vocal abilities. However, that fear is dispelled when one hears the ease with which she sings Turandot’s highest range in the two recordings she made from the opera. With over 90 roles to her credit, Lehmann’s opera repertoire isn’t limited, especially when we remember her success with the Wagner roles of Sieglinde, Elsa, Elisabeth, and Eva, or Mozart’s Pamina, Dorabella, Countess Almaviva, and Donna Elvira. She triumphantly sang in many operas by then-contemporary composers such as Bittner, Braunfels, and d’Albert that aren’t performed today. Although she only sang Desdemona from Verdi, her Puccini roles also included Manon, Mimì, Tosca, Butterfly, and Suor Angelica, the last-mentioned drawing special praise from the composer. Finally, we must remember that historical singers’ important roles are often overlooked, even though they were meaningful career markers at the times. In Vienna, Lehmann sang more Manons by Massenet (66) than any other role!
She was the idol of Vienna from 1914, and London from 1924, until her journey to the United States in October 1937. Did she cope well with the stresses and strain of such adulation and fame?
Lehmann’s basic good humor guided her throughout her life. While in Germany, the summers were spent relaxing at Sylt, on the North Sea, where she rode horseback and swam. There was stress: Lehmann had a mind of her own and her outspokenness sometimes caused her problems with opera company administrators, although she was usually able to smooth things over. Lehmann loathed being fawned over but nevertheless enjoyed the ardent adulation from her fans. During the years that I knew Mme. Lehmann (in her 70s and 80s), she continued to bask in the glow of her former glory.
Paul Jackson, in his wonderful tomes on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, says that her career at the Met was a checkered thing. Can you tell us why that may have been, especially as she seemed to be so successful as Sieglinde and of course in Der Rosenkavalier?
Perhaps Jackson is remembering two operas that didn’t work out well for Lehmann. She had sung Tosca successfully in Vienna, but her few performances of that role at the Met just didn’t gel. Also, although her contract had offered her the role of Fidelio/Leonore, it was given to the sensational Kirsten Flagstad when the Met discovered that it could count on a sold-out house whenever the Norwegian sang.
In May 1938 her sudden departure from Covent Garden after not completing a performance was, according to Harold Rosenthal, due either to illness or pressure from some of the more Nazi-orientated members of the cast of Der Rosenkavalier. What effect did the politics of the time have on her as a person?
No one could escape the Nazi politics of the time. The whole scary story of her meeting with Göring is told from her point of view as well as from a historian’s in Volume II. No one returns from such a meeting smelling like roses. As they say, “it’s complicated.” Though Lehmann’s husband wasn’t Jewish, his first wife was, so their children were subject to Nazi threats. During that May 4, 1938 performance, she was frantic because her stepchildren were escaping from Austria at that time. On that same day Lehmann had learned that her husband had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. As if that wasn’t enough tension, evidently Tiana Lemnitz, the Octavian, made snide remarks backstage to Lehmann about her possibly experiencing vocal issues. Nevertheless after leaving the stage in tears in the first act, Lehmann subsequently learned that her stepchildren were safe, so she was able to sing her famous Marschallin on May 10 and 12.
Lehmann created roles in the world premieres of a number of works by Richard Strauss, including the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos in 1916 (later singing the title role), the Dyer’s Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Christine in Intermezzo in 1924. Of course she also was the first, I believe, to have sung all three roles in Der Rosenkavalier. How would you describe her relationship with the composer? And did she ever record, privately, any of the Four Last Songs?
Lehmann knew Strauss as a conductor as well as a composer. At the Vienna Opera, he conducted many non-Strauss operas in which she sang. Yes, Lehmann had effectively sung Sofie and Octavian before assuming the role of the Marschallin, which Strauss believed to be the best performance of this role that he had heard. He’s the one who said of her: “She sang and the stars were moved,” words found on her tombstone in Vienna’s Central Cemetery. Strauss and Lehmann got along well; he coached her for the role of the Dyer’s Wife at his home in Garmisch, where he happily accompanied her in his Lieder. She never sang any of the Four Last Songs.
In her later years she became well regarded as a teacher or coach of many, many singers including Jeannine Altmeyer, Karan Armstrong, Judith Beckmann, Grace Bumbry, William Cochran, Kay Griffel, and Marilyn Horne. Is there any particular pupil who actually ended up sounding like their teacher or at least resembling the characteristics of Lehmann’s style and interpretation?
Lehmann frequently said that imitation was the enemy of artistry and “I don’t want a bunch of Lotte Lehmanns running around.” But a student always hopes to achieve the level of his or her teacher, so I’m sure that all of Lehmann’s many students aimed at her exalted standard. Luckily for subsequent generations of vocal enthusiasts, many of them successfully developed their own strong interpretations in opera and song. Altmeyer told me that there was one trick that Lehmann taught her. Just before singing Elisabeth’s “Dich, teure Halle” she’d run full speed across the stage, arriving at her mark to greet the hall of song with the required enthusiasm.
Lotte Lehmann had so much—her singing is always so alive and sung with glorious tone. If you ever end up being stranded on your desert island, which performances on disc might you like to have with you and why and which do you think exemplifies her best for our readers?
Besides bringing along the classic recordings of Der Rosenkavalier (1933), or Die Walküre (1935), I’d enjoy having the intimate Lehmann in the many Lieder she recorded late in her career for RCA (Schubert’s Im Abendrot) or for Columbia (Die Mainacht by Brahms). The care that Lehmann took with every syllable of a poem always moves me. Our readers would appreciate the huge range of Lieder, light songs, and opera arias found in the recent CD box set of Lehmann’s electric recordings engineered by Ward Marston.
LOTTE LEHMANN & HER LEGACY VOLUMES I–IX. By Gary Hickling. New York: Gary Hickling, 2015–2020. 3,397 pp. Free to download from iBooks
For the younger ones among us, perhaps, singers from a distant past are now heard as mere scratches on an old-fashioned format. One hardly hears about Ezio Pinza, Eva Turner, or even Alfred Piccaver. Finally, nearly 64 years after his death and for the first time, there is a recently published, substantial biography in English on the Pavarotti of his day, Beniamino Gigli. So these new iBooks on German soprano Lotte Lehmann, from expert Gary Hickling, are a very attractive proposition indeed.
Who was Lotte Lehmann? Born in 1888 in Brandenburg, she made her debut in 1910. She became particularly renowned for her performances of the songs of Schumann and in the roles of Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. She became closely associated with Viennese culture up until 1937, where Richard Strauss chose her for several of his operas, including the title role in Arabella. From 1938, she moved to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1945 and continuing an active career until she retired from the stage in 1946 and then from the concert platform in 1951, ending her singing life at the age of 63. She then quickly became a highly successful teacher. In describing her voice, John Steane said in his book The Grand Tradition, “Her voice gives us so many of the pleasures a singer can afford…. She was able to a remarkable extent to sing opera with the intimacy of a lieder singer, giving out a glorious stream of voice, yet attending imaginatively to the enunciation and coloring of the text.” Gary Hickling is Lotte Lehmann’s discographer; he is also a musician and taught the double bass. He is a radio show host for Hawaii Public Radio and founder of the Lotte Lehmann League. He first met Lehmann in 1961 when he took a friend along for a lesson, and got to know and admire her from then until her death at the age of 88 in 1976. As he says in the interview published in this issue of Fanfare, “She became, over the years, friendly and a kind of guiding grandmother figure in my life.”
Volume I of this huge project of over 3,300 pages is a revised volume which was originally published five years ago. From the contents page, as it is with all the volumes, you can click on the chapter headings and that will take you to the selected chapter. There is a mini-biography to start and part of an interview that Christopher Nupen gave to Jon Tolansky about Lehmann. There are over 100 examples which the reader just clicks on, both sound and video, of Lehmann speaking and also reading the poems of Schubert’s Winterreise. In this volume, I alighted on chapter five, which is the first part of comparisons with other singers. This has, as one of its examples, a discussion of five versions of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. It is hardly much of a surprise that Lehmann never sang the whole role. She is compared with her namesake Lili Lehmann as well as to Kirsten Flagstad, Maria Callas, and Birgit Nilsson. Lotte does rather beat the competition with the depth of her characterization and her expressiveness, not to mention the glow of her tone! For collectors, another valuable chapter is “Rare and Well Done.” This discusses recently discovered tracks of Lieder from live performances. These were given by Ward Marston, and Lani Spahr was the audio engineer throughout. There are also some rare snippets in the last chapter, including her final broadcast for CBS at Christmas 1941. She was at this stage, i.e. after Pearl Harbor, an enemy alien, making it impossible for her to continue these broadcasts. For all fans of the singer, this volume, as do the others, opens up a whole new world of her life and career. This is an invaluable edition and an immense project and the notes about the author tell us that he has initiated the website, the Lotte Lehmann League, and that he has helped in the production of many recordings issued by Music & Arts and Marston.
Volume II continues in a similar format to the first, beginning with a short and generalized biography, not by Hickling but by Daniel Jacobson, professor of music at Western Michigan University. There follows a short chapter containing mini-biographies on conductors Lehmann worked with and are probably well enough known to any likely reader, and in the end one wonders a little what it is doing there. Rather more interesting are the chapters on “The Lehmann I Knew” by Hickling and “The Lehmann Others Knew.” Hickling has gathered shortish tributes from a range of people, including for example singer Dorothy Warenskjold, who was an American lyric soprano and had an active singing career for a number of years from the mid-1940s and who asked Lehmann for a reference. A little more guidance as to who these people are would also be helpful. Another is writer, philosopher, and music critic André Tubeuf, who offers up a personal remembrance. There is a fascinating chapter on Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Lehmann’s teaching, reading, and singing of the song cycle. Part two of the vocal comparisons features the fiery Czech soprano Maria Jeritza as well as a delightful comparison of Mozart’s Das Veilchen between Lehmann and Elisabeth Schumann, both gorgeously sung, but one rather more theatrical than the other! Chapter 11 is another collector’s delight, with recordings of some test pressings which list among them an extraordinary and surprising version of the song made famous by Italian soprano Toti dal Monte, Fa la nana bambin. There are some excellent new pictures, chapters on her “Legendary Marschallin” as well as the “Music Academy of the West” (MAW) where she taught, and a chapter on Lehmann’s companion of many, many years, Frances Holden. The last chapter delves into the chilling period of the 1930s and her relations with Germany at the time. This is taken from the biography by Michael Kater, Never sang for Hitler. It tells the tale of her infamous 1934 visit to Hermann Göring, who was trying to persuade Lehmann to stay and sing in Berlin exclusively. There is Lehmann’s own manuscript and description of what happened, as well as an additional summary by Kater. He reveals that Lehmann was criticized by Elsa Walter, wife of the conductor Bruno Walter, for “not turning her back on Germany.” She did eventually, some years later. Kater is a little critical of Lehmann here, saying it is “an historical tragedy that she stole the legacy of moral and political resistance and used it when she did not deserve it.”
The largest chapter in Volume III illustrates actual sound recordings from over 100 of Lehmann’s masterclasses of individual art songs, Lieder, mélodies, and even a spiritual! It shows her teaching methods, her philosophy on interpretation, as well as the impact on her students. There are a few that have videos attached, but most are sound only and around 12 minutes or so in length, with a particular singer trying out a particular song. In Zueignung, as for most of the masterclass examples, she goes through each verse, reading it out in English for the benefit of the singer, but also for the assembled audience. These documents are terrific. As always with masterclasses it is quite obvious that the teacher has so much more presence and understanding. What is revealing is Lehmann’s breadth and wealth of knowledge. She tries to explain the meaning of each song, all of which is marvelous for Lehmann fans, for the student, and for those listening at the time. It is interesting that she did not make commercial recordings of all the songs she went through. She had obviously studied Die Forelle for the concert hall, but there is only a live recording. All throughout, text and translations are given. The sound on these masterclasses is variable, however. Sometimes it is clear and in good mono but there are also a few which have distortion as well as some surface noise. Morgen by Richard Strauss reveals an interesting concert trick by Lehmann in suggesting that the singer go for a short walk around the stage during the very long introduction! Erlkönig was one of Lehmann’s great recordings, and she tries to get her pupil to see her vision. I am not entirely convinced the pupil succeeds. However, Lehmann manages to bring all these songs to life. In the spiritual, she freely admits that this was not part of her musical Fach, but as she says, “A song is a song,” and she offers up to her understanding student a valid interpretation.
Volume IV is very much a companion to the third volume, in that we hear more masterclasses on complete song cycles or portions of them. The first of these offers thoughts on cycles not associated with her repertoire. Although she worked with the great Mahler conductors, including Walter and Klemperer, she sadly did not record his songs. Her impressions are nevertheless most valuable. There are actually three classes we can hear just on the first of the Lieder eines fahrendes Gesellen. Amusingly she criticizes the singer’s stage movement and says it will ruin “her very nice, what she does, singing.” She also works on Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, Frauenliebe und -leben, by Schumann, Dichterliebe by Schumann, and Schubert’s Winterreise.
Volume V provides sound recordings of Lehmann’s masterclasses of operatic arias and scenes. Besides her classic roles—the Marschallin, Elsa, Elisabeth, Fidelio, and Manon—she also tackles operas in which she never sang. The masterclasses were taught at a variety of locations, including the MAW in Santa Barbara. There are also recordings of private lessons that Lehmann taught at her home. The sound again is variable, and it is not always possible to catch all the jokes. What is clear is there are some very fine singers in all these examples. The act III aria, “In fernem Land” from Lohengrin, lets us hear a particularly fine tenor. These classes are not without humor, and Lehmann offers up numerous anecdotes, which are wonderful for those of us who are keen on historical singers. For example, she describes her rival in Vienna, Maria Jeritza, when she sang “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca. Jeritza used to sing it lying on the floor, which she eventually found to be contrived. They were rivals! She also tells a funny story about her own singing of the aria in concert. Her accompanist suggested she sing the first words without the piano. She would be seen as a great artist. She did this in one particular concert, not realizing her accompanist had not quite joined her on the stage as yet! As with the songs, she tells the story of the aria. She tells the baritone who sings Iago in Verdi’s Otello not to look so comfortable—he is an evil man! That baritone is also a fine singer and sounds a little like Lawrence Tibbett. She has fine insight and great knowledge to impart to her pupils. It also noticeable how different the singers sound after she has spoken. In all the masterclasses, she almost never comments on the singing itself, only on the interpretation. Volumes III–V are really valuable in learning about this golden-age singer.
Volume VI offers interviews with Lehmann in English. Interviews in German, beyond the remit of this journal, can be found in Volume VII. Again, as with all the volumes, you can click on the chapter of your choice and go directly to it. These are revealing documents, and just hearing Lehmann and her views is such a privilege and a joyful experience. The three conversations with Studs Terkel are most enlightening and lively, as he contributes the most. He is fully prepared, and she responds fully as she explains that it is her “goal to bring the drama to life.” The voice is just the instrument to convey the drama. She said that you have to sing “on the wings of emotion.” She complains as well about the lack of an ensemble in the opera house and stylized acting on the modern stage. She also admits that she would be too old-fashioned for more modern times. She complains as well about the lack of opportunity in the opera world—and that was in the 1960s! There are a few joint interviews, of which one is with her great former colleague, soprano Maria Jeritza, in which the interviewer is John Gutman. Competitive, surely not, as they compete to talk about Richard Strauss as a conductor and contemporary singing, among other things. There are several clips, amounting to around 20 minutes. These are most amusing. Another fascinating clip is her “interview” on Toscanini. It is clearly from a prepared script. They were, as is well known now, very close and that is clear. However, she also talks about how he was seen by musicians: “Should one hate him or should one kneel down?” she remembers one orchestral player as saying. In another clip about Bruno Walter, she describes him as her greatest teacher. Hickling says that he is offering only a sample of what is available, as Lehmann tended to relate the same stories over and over again. Sadly, the interview with Lehmann and Elisabeth Schumann is hardly illuminating, as it is only an interval talk, but there is a funny story about Schumann’s dog! There are two interviews with Lehmann and Hickling himself, in the second of which she talks about the death of Lauritz Melchior (in 1973), which is very informative as she describes how he seemed to become the part whenever he sang with her and not just “the great Melchior.”
Lotte Lehmann was a busy woman and she said throughout her life that she did not want to waste time. Her 1951 retirement lasted all of two weeks before she started on a new quest or traveled some more. One hobby she took up was painting. She became a competent artist as well as a writer. Both her satirical novel and its drawings are published in Volume VIII for the first time. Lehmann also sings and speaks in the chapters on Winterreise, Dichterliebe, and Die schöne Müllerin; she created drawings for each song-cycle. These are illustrated in each cycle, which also includes her reading the poetry, singing the song, and giving a masterclass where those are available. As before it’s the masterclasses which are perhaps the most valuable, as we hear the musical artist at work. Sadly not all the songs in the cycles have masterclasses attached, which of course leaves us wanting more, despite these multiple volumes offering so much.
The final volume, Volume IX, offers documentation on Lehmann’s life and work. Perhaps one of the highlights is her suggestions on the interpretation of songs and arias in Lehmann’s own handwriting or typing. It also includes some obituaries, plus letters to fans, charmingly written. For those who are interested in the career details, there are playbills, reviews, and of course a chronology of her artistic career as well as a discography. I am not sure why, but these and some other items in this volume are duplicated in previous volumes. For those who wish to know more about her, there is a bibliography listing her own works on interpretation, her novel, and a biographical section, complete with commentary, magazine articles and much, much more.
Gary Hickling tells us not to be overwhelmed! It is very hard. There is an absolute wealth of material here, covering all aspects of Lehmann’s long life and career. The format is fresh, new, and innovative, especially in illustrating the career of such an historical singer. What is so wonderful is being able to click on the various examples of songs, masterclasses, or performances at the press of a finger! You can hear her as you read. How can future biographers better this or compete? We must all also hope that one day, it will be available on other formats and not just Apple. For those that do not have Apple, PDFs are available on Hickling’s website, but clearly without any musical or video examples. However, everything is logically and beautifully presented, and it is as clear as it possibly can be. Not all the recordings are perhaps the best and in some of the masterclasses the sound is not quite audible; however, this is such a small price to pay for so much of this material to be as available as possible to a new generation and future generations. These great singers of the past surely deserve it. David Cutler
LOTTE LEHMANN & HER LEGACY VOLUMES I–IX. By Gary Hickling. New York: Gary Hickling, 2015–2020. 3,397 pp. Free to download from iBooks
To say this is an act of Love (with a capital “L”) is an understatement. Nine books (one featuring interviews and texts in German) that document in huge, but never extravagant, detail Lotte Lehmann’s life, her activities, her music (most gloriously) and, perhaps most valuably, her teachings in the hundreds of masterclasses at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. Did I mention it is all free? No? Did you miss it in the title? Well, let me be clear: this will not cost you a dime/penny/Euro cent. This is more than a labor of love on Gary Hickling’s part; it is a gift to the entire musical community. And if it sends you scurrying forth to further your Lehmann-centric listening (as it did me), all the better: to re-acquaint myself with Lehmann’s Sieglinde and Marschallin, to name but two, was in itself a huge injection of pure joy (how could I miss out her “Abscheulicher!” Fidelio, I hear you ask).
The magic of the internet is here, and fully utilized; it is of continuing interest to me how the introduction of streaming and downloads has enhanced our appreciation of old recordings, not negated it (one thinks of Pristine Classical and Naxos Historical, to name but two). In the Lehmann e-books, sound samples (often complete songs, talks, or masterclasses) appear at a mere click; videos bring a touch of Harry Potter to the page, as suddenly the page is alive and Lehmann speaks once more. There is a full discography, which one can access via the click of an internal link, divided into Commercial Recordings, Non-Commercial Recordings, LP Reference, CD Index, and LP Index. The only thing is you can’t do, as far as I can tell, is to turn the virtual page while listening to an excerpt, so one either has to wait for it to finish or interrupt it. But there is zero chance of this being a dry read.
Here is the structure of this multi-volume, multi-perspective celebration of the long life of Lotte Lehmann (she died at age 88):
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume One: Overview of Lehmann’s life; Early Recordings; Recorded Comparisons; Arias & Lieder (with Commentary); Winterreise; Appendices of Opera Roles; Song Repertoire; Discography; Bibliographic Resources.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume Two: Misconceptions; Lehmann’s Conductors; The Lehmann others knew; more Arias & Lieder with commentary; Critics’ Reactions; Photos; Tributes; The Music Academy of the West.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume Three: Songs, including Lehmann’s teaching philosophy; Impact on her students; Song videos; Song masterclasses.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume Four: Song Cycles – Die schöne Müllerin; Frauenliebe und –leben; Dichterliebe; Winterreise (including Lehmann’s own illustrations).
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume Five: Arias sung by Lehmann as taught to her students; Opera Masterclasses.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume Six: Interviews in English.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume Seven: Interviews in German.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume Eight: Artworks.
Lotte Lehmann & Her Legacy Volume Nine: Documents.
Working through all of this (and remember, it’s not just 3,400 pages; it is a whole sheaf of masterclasses—some of significant length—and songs) is at once a gargantuan task and a pleasure. Gary Hickling was close to Lehmann (we hear some phone interviews), and everything is done to promote Lehmann’s cause, but with a full awareness of criticisms levelled against her and complete openness about her experiences with the Nazi regime, Hermann Göring specifically. As Lehmann says at one point, “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.” Her Indian summer in Santa Barbara as a teacher (her masterclasses are classes in interpretation, not vocal technique) shows how a legacy may be passed down with the utmost integrity.
We do hear from Lehmann of her early experiences, how she was in contact with Mathilde Malinger (the first Eva Meistersinger: June 21, 1868), and of her beginnings in Hamburg (Second Boy, Die Zauberflöte). At the click of a mouse we have the 1914 “Einsam in trüben Tagen” from Tannhäuser, a rare excerpt from d’Albert’s opera Die toten Augen, a glorious “Wie nahte mir der Schlummer” from Der Freischütz (1917), or a delicious Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume. We hear Lehmann’s 1951 farewell recital speech; Hickling’s interview with Lehmann (when she was age 85) is another clear highpoint of this ebook. Lehmann herself was no slouch when it came to publishing, of course: a total of eight books, including an autobiography, Anfang und Aufstieg.
Lotte Lehmann took on the great lyric soprano roles: the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (her most famous role), Leonore in Fidelio, Elsa in Lohengrin, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Sieglinde in Die Walküre. In Hamburg, in 1912, it was the role of Elsa which consolidated her position with the company. To have rare 1920s photographs accompanying Lehmann’s “Dich, teure Halle” Tannhäuser is a treat indeed.
One of the keys to Lehmann’s entrance into the eternal Hall of Fame is the emotional believability of everything she touched (she memorably said that if she were to come back, she would be an actress next time around). Whatever the character, from the shortest Schubert or Wolf song to Sieglinde in act I of Die Walküre, we believe her; more, we become immersed in her. From a wonderful pre-mike “O Sachs, mein Freund!” (1920) to a 1938 radio “Vissi d’arte,” Tosca (slow, and beautiful), we’re there with her, and sonic limitations disappear. Not that there is much to criticize when it comes to the actual sound of the samples themselves: Hickling’s files sounded just fine through headphones via a MacBook Air.
And then there’s the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier from 1933. Bruno Walter was absolutely laudatory about her assumption of this role (remember that she also sang Sophie and Octavian); Volume II has a whole chapter on her Marschallin, but it is the role that keeps coming back like a Viennese boomerang; in a sense, it defined Lehmann’s place in musical history.
As we move to the Lieder volume, there is another slice of historical lineage: An early mentor of Lehmann’s had known Hugo Wolf. “One sings from head to toe,” she says in a masterclass, and for her that is as true of Lieder as it is to the opera stage. One has to credit Hickling for his layout, too, taking a Lied from each major composer: from Mozart (Das Veilchen, slower than most but including some lovely darkening), Beethoven (Der Kuß), Schubert (from Winterreise, considered by some her finest Lieder recording), and a 1941 Schumann Nussbaum, to the Brahms Sandmännchen (heard in 1932 with instrumental accompaniment—remember that Brahms was very, very important to Lehmann). We hear her from the beginning to the end of her career; the sound of her voice accompanies her story (and indeed, the stories she tells!) in a way no mere paper book could hope to offer.
As far as Lieder is concerned, perhaps the most fascinating material comes from Schubert’s Winterreise. Lehmann was the first woman to perform and record Winterreise (split between RCA & Columbia, 1940–41). Hickling inserts Lehmann’s watercolors to illustrate. And not only do we get her Winterreise; we get inserted masterclasses to illuminate it (although the similar treatment Dichterliebe is accorded runs it a close second). Book IV actually presents the cycles Winterreise, Dichterliebe, Die schöne Müllerin, and Frauenliebe und -leben, with masterclasses and performances whenever available (my review of the 1946 Frauenliebe with Ulanowsky in the Immortal Performances transfer appeared in Fanfare 40:4).
And so, to Lehmann’s so-called “third career”: teaching. Even when she was actively performing opera, leading singers would go to her for advice. The masterclasses are exactly that. Masterclasses of interpretation, gripping and sometimes funny (to the American dramatic soprano Carol Neblett, “Good you have good legs, you can sing the sexy parts”). When one includes her private students, there is a whole galaxy of stars. She taught Grace Bumbry, Marilyn Horne, Hermann Prey, Gérard Souzay, Janet Baker, Rita Streich, Alberto Remedios, and Régine Crespin, to name a few. Book II explores her teaching in further detail. As Hickling puts it, “Lehmann gave her pupils meaningful singing experiences that would open possibilities of expression”; and here, as elsewhere, he is completely honest: “I do not want to glorify her teaching—I only wish to do it justice. Lehmann was Lehmann. Impulsive, even hasty in her judgments, impatient with dullness or ineptitude. She could, on occasion, cut to the quick. But for those who could take it, those classes were an incomparable learning experience.” And of course, we get to hear Lehmann’s take on music she might not have recorded or indeed sung: When it comes to the opera masterclasses, it is interesting she includes Tosca here, not really associated with her (the aria she is teaching is Cavaradossi’s “E lucevan le stelle”).
The compulsive record collector (is there any other kind?) will surely appreciate the chance to compare Lehmann side by side with other singers. There are bound to be surprises: mine was in regards to the Wolf song Wenn du, mein Liebster, steigst zum Himmel auf as compared with Elisabeth Rethberg, one of my most admired singers of all time. To my amazement I prefer Lehmann, whose resonance with the song is complete. The list of singers set next to Lehmann is impressive, from Delia Reinhardt to Alexander Kipnis (the latter in Schubert’s Erlkönig, and Lehmann differentiates far better than Kipnis between the “voices” in the poem). Or perhaps one can head to Schubert’s Nacht und Träume, which finds Lehmann (a test pressing from 1947) against both Hermann Prey and Elisabeth Schumann (Lehmann saw, with some justification, the latter as the most noble embodiment of Lieder singing). Many of Lehmann’s own Lied recordings are with Paul Ulanowsky (1908–1968), her preferred pianist from 1937 until her final appearance in 1951.
Hickling covers Lehmann’s life in detail, and shies away from nothing, devoting a whole chapter to her meeting with Göring. There’s a chapter called “Misconceptions” that clears away just that. In the second book (where we are also reminded she’s neither Lili Lehmann, nor is she Lotte Lenya!), we are also reminded that Lehmann never sang at Bayreuth, La Scala, or Glyndebourne. But we are reminded that she was a fine singer of operetta (not what springs to my mind when I hear the name Lotte Lehmann, at least, but she was). Reception history is important, and that is here too (including an article on Lehmann by Reynaldo Hahn). Rivalries are also considered, possibly most pertinently that between Lehmann and Maria Jeritza in pre-Anschluss Vienna; Jeritza also held sway at the Met later, and Lehmann did not sing there until Jeritza had left.
Of course, Lehmann left many interviews, and they are here, too, many of substantial length. She was ever the fascinating speaker (and raconteuse), and hearing her speak on Toscanini’s Fidelio in an interview with Olin Downes for a Met intermission was one highlight for me. She called Bruno Walter “my greatest teacher … he gave me an entirely new approach.” There is a 30-minute film An Evening with Lotte Lehmann (1954), and a little Great Britain section, including a 1959 Desert Island Discs (you’ll have to listen to it to hear which recordings she chooses). German speakers will enjoy Volume VII (the text is also in German; but you can also hear Lehmann reading monologues from Rosenkavalier).
The final two volumes take us through her artwork (really, I massively encourage you to follow up on this aspect of Lehmann’s legacy) and, finally, documents in facsimile, which are then, with painstaking patience, transcribed and translated.
Highlights? There are too many, really, to list although a Wolf Kennst du das Land with Ulanowsky is the first to step up to the plate. Or perhaps one might name the intoxicating excerpt from Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane.
Along the way, Hickling explains minutiae of technicalities as to how recordings were effected, and how techniques changed. It’s fascinating, all part of a complete contextualization of Lehmann. Separate chapters on specific aspects, from “Lehmann’s Conductors” to Frances Holden (Lehmann’s companion from 1938 until her death in 1976) are all part of this forensically executed panoply.
When one thinks of the lineage she left (Marilyn Horne and Grace Bumbry to name but two singers), our collective debt to Lehmann increases exponentially. The “ardent Lehmanniac” (Hickling’s memorable phrase) will find this a treasure trove; for those embarking on the journey, there is no better nor more comprehensive way. Colin Clarke
LOTTE LEHMANN & HER LEGACY VOLUMES I–IX. By Gary Hickling. New York: Gary Hickling, 2015–2020. 3,397 pp. Free to download from iBooks
I’m hard-pressed to think of a more gifted, beloved, multitalented, and influential singer than German soprano Lotte Lehmann (1888–1976). As an operatic artist, Lehmann sang a broad and diverse repertoire. Still, Lehmann is best remembered for her performances in German repertoire, and in particular, the works of Richard Strauss. Lehmann was Strauss’s personal choice to sing the roles of the Composer in the revised version of Ariadne auf Naxos, the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Christine in Intermezzo for the works’ respective premieres. Lehmann was the first to sing all three leading soprano roles (Marschallin, Octavian, Sophie) in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Her Marschallin in the 1933 abridged EMI recording continues to reign supreme. The same may be said of Lehmann’s Sieglinde in the legendary 1935 recording of act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre alongside Lauritz Melchior’s Siegmund, with Bruno Walter leading the Vienna Philharmonic. In both the Rosenkavalier and Walküre recordings, Lehmann, like no other soprano before or since, embodies the humanity and passion of these iconic operatic heroines. And Lehmann is in radiant voice on both occasions. But truth be told, humanity and passion are common elements in just about any Lehmann operatic recording, be it studio or in-performance. The same is true for Lehmann’s work in the song repertoire. Just one of countless examples may be found in a side-by-side comparison of recordings of Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s Erlkönig. In Volume I of his epic and glorious nine-volume iBook survey of Lehmann’s life and art, Gary Hickling offers side-by-side versions of recordings by basso Alexander Kipnis and pianist Gerald Moore (studio, 1936), and Lehmann with Paul Ulanowsky (CBS Radio broadcast, 1941). Kipnis was a sublime artist, and a great Lieder singer, and his rendition of Erlkönig is masterful; gorgeously sung, intense, and with each of the Lied’s four characters carefully and arrestingly delineated. But with Lehmann’s version, we are transported to another realm entirely. Lehmann matches all of Kipnis’s laudable achievements, but now in the context of an intensely personal narrative in which every second is a hair-raising matter of life and death. Lehmann’s narrator does not just describe the child’s fear and father’s anguished concern; she shares it wholeheartedly. By the end of this rendition, I was physically and emotionally spent.
Lehmann’s professional singing career lasted from 1910 to 1951. She retired from opera in 1945, but continued to perform Lieder recitals for another six years. Lehmann then devoted her energies to teaching, basing her work in Southern California, but also giving masterclasses throughout the U.S. and Europe. Marilyn Horne and Grace Bumbry are among many of Lehmann’s singing pupils who went on to become international stars. And if all these accomplishments aren’t impressive enough, Lehmann starred in movies, and was a gifted painter and writer. And so when Hickling documents Lehmann’s interpretation of Schubert’s great song cycle Winterreise, he of course includes the soprano’s 1940s studio recordings (Lehmann was the first female vocalist to record the cycle). Hickling also includes Lehmann’s spoken recitations of the Müller poems, and audio files of Lehmann coaching masterclass students in the various Schubert songs. And to crown this glorious presentation, Lehmann’s paintings—striking visual representations of each of the songs—are also featured. This Winterreise retrospective is but one example of the abundance of gifts that Gary Hickling gives us in his nine-volume Lehmann series. And “gifts” is an appropriate term in every way, for the entire survey may be downloaded free of charge from Apple Books.
Hickling provides this summary of the first seven Lehmann iBooks: “Volume I includes information about Lehmann’s life, examples of her singing, teaching, writing, Discography, etc. Volume II expands on the first and offers information in chapters entitled Misconceptions, Lehmann’s Conductors, The Lehmann I Knew, The Lehmann Others Knew, Frances Holden, and Chronology. Volume III provides Lehmann’s master classes of individual songs; Volume IV, of song cycles; Volume V, of arias and opera scenes; Volume VI, interviews in English; Volume VII, interviews in German.” Volume VIII comprises Lehmann’s visual art works, and Volume IX contains other documents. There is, of course, a considerable amount of duplication of materials, but appropriately so for each volume’s subject matter. Lehmann’s recorded legacy is abundantly represented, as well as the recordings of her contemporaries. There are numerous video clips as well, including Lehmann’s masterclass sessions. Quite often, Lehmann demonstrates the craft of singing/acting to her students, and to mesmerizing effect. All of the embedded audio and video clips are of excellent quality. Gary Hickling has for decades been one of the foremost advocates for the legacy of Lotte Lehmann. And Hickling’s commentary on Lehmann’s life and her art is scholarly, informative, and imbued with the author’s obvious reverence and love for his subject. Lehmann devotees will spend hour upon hour exploring the abundance of riches Hickling provides in his nine-volume survey. But I feel certain that anyone who loves the art of singing will enjoy the opportunity to celebrate this brilliant and unique artist. This is a priceless treasure, one truly worthy of its subject. Bravo, Gary Hickling, and brava, Lotte Lehmann. Ken Meltzer