Poets and Their Songs Feature at 2015 Oxford Lieder Festival. Preview (RJ)

Poets and Their Songs Feature at 2015 Oxford Lieder Festival. Preview (RJ)

Dates: October 16th -31st

If only I could make up melodies myself, my songs would give greater pleasure than they do now,” wrote the poet Wilhelm Müller. “But no matter! A like-minded soul might appear who will hear the tune in the words and give them back to me.” A like-minded soul did appear, of course, in the person of Franz Schubert, and it is thanks to Schubert’s song settings that the name of Wilhelm Müller lives on.

Which brings me to the theme of this year’s Oxford Lieder Festival which has been brightening our Octobers for over a decade and has now become the leading event of its kind in the world. After last year’s successful exploration of the whole of Schubert’s song output, this year’s Festival will be looking more closely at the poets who inspired the music: Paul Verlaine, for example, who inspired Fauré, Pushkin and Tolstoy whose verse made such an impact on Russian composers, A E Housman whose poems were set to music by a generation of English composers. And there are plenty of others: Goethe, Eichendorff, Mörike, Paul Éluard – and Heinrich Heine who will feature prominently on the final day.

The Festival starts off by celebrating the French composer Fauré of whom Ravel wrote: “It is truly in his songs that Fauré reveals the flowering of his genius.” Graham Johnson will lead two study days on the composer and his work, and running through the Festival will be a recital series entitled Lunch with Fauré and Schubert. If you are an admirer of Fauré ‘s choral works you will not be disappointed, since a number of his works will be performed in churches and college chapels around Oxford during the Festival fortnight.

The focus on another composer might raise an eyebrow or two. Surely Berlioz is best known as a composer of large scale works.? That is true, but he also set over 40 songs of which those of his song cycle Les nuits d’été are the best known. Saturday 24th has been designated a Berlioz study day and will be followed by a recital of songs by the composer and his friends in the evening.

As usual there are a number of rarities, notably Brahms’ song cycle Die schöne Magdalena based on a Tieck novella, and Strauss’s Krämerspiegel – a setting of Alfred Kerr’s satirical songs. And there should be some interesting discussions on how well songs translate into other languages and plenty of examples to listen to.

The Festival seems to be larger than ever this time round with at least six dozen events including recitals, readings, talks, symposia, masterclasses and much more besides. A steady stream of the world’s best Lieder singers will be participating, including John Mark Ainsley, Sarah Connolly, James Gilchrist, Wolfgang Hozmair, Katarina Karnéus, Stephan Loges, Henk Neven, Christophe Prégardien, Joan Rodgers, Matthew Rose, Toby Spence, Elizabeth Watts and Roderick Williams. I must apologise to all those I have left out for lack of space!

A number of instrumental ensembles are due to appear, but I mustn’t forget the distinguished pianists who will be partnering the singers. They include Eugene Asti, Imogen Cooper, Julius Drake, Roger Vignoles and the indefatigable Sholto Kynoch, who is also the founder and director of this remarkable Festival. It never ceases to amaze me what imaginative ideas Sholto comes up with year after year to keep the Festival so fresh and invigorating.

For full details please see www.oxfordlieder.co.uk

Roger Jones

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