Flax & Fire
Songs of Devotion
Stuart Jackson & Jocelyn Freeman
Release Date: July 17th
FLAX AND FIRE
Songs of Devotion
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
1 Purcell realisation: ‘Man is for the woman made’ (1947, Motteux) 1.03
2 Canticle 1 ‘My Beloved is Mine’, Op.40 (1947, Quarles) 7.41
3 Um Mitternacht (c.1960, Goethe) 3.50
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
4 Peregrina 1, No.33 from Mörike-Lieder (1888, Mörike) 2.01
5 An die Geliebte, No.32 from Mörike-Lieder (1888, Mörike) 3.26
6 Verschwiegene Liebe, No.3 from Eichendorff-Lieder (1889, Eichendorff) 2.29
7 Nimmersatte Liebe, No.9 from Mörike-Lieder (1888, Mörike) 2.10
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Tri Sonetti del Petrarca, S270a (1842-46)
8 i Pace non trovo 6.29
9 ii Benedetto sia ‘l giorno 6.35
10 iii I vidi in terra 6.39
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
11 Mein schöner Stern!, Op.101 No.4 from Minnespiel (1849, Rückert) 2.52
12 Widmung, Op.25 No.1 from Myrthen (1840, Rückert) 2.28
13 Stirb’, Lieb’ und Freud!, Op.35 No.2 from Kernerlieder (1840, Kerner) 5.31
14 Geisternähe, Op.77 No.3 from Lieder und Gesänge, iii (1850, Halm) 2.19
William Denis Browne (1888-1915)
15 To Gratiana dancing and singing (1913, Lovelace) 4.35
Total time 60.12
Stuart Jackson, tenor
Jocelyn Freeman, piano
Benjamin Britten has been described as the greatest English composer since Henry Purcell, and although a substantial passage of time separates the two, they shared similar musical preoccupations and principles. Britten said of Purcell: “He was open to many influences, he was a practical composer, he wrote for many different occasions… all that I find immensely sympathetic. Above all, I love his setting of words. I had never realised before I first met Purcell’s music that words could be set with such ingenuity, with such colour.” In 1959, Britten wrote of the warm response he and his partner, tenor Peter Pears, received for their performances of Purcell: “In practically every one of our concerts, given the length of three continents over the last twenty years, Peter Pears and I have included a group of Purcell’s songs… It is pleasant to get cheers at the end of Purcell’s ‘Alleluia’ in the home of Schubert and Wolf, requests for a repeat of ‘Man is for the woman made’ in the birthplace of Mozart… and an impressive silence as the last bars of ‘Job’s Curse’ die away in Düsseldorf, where Schumann spent many years.”
On the challenge of realising Purcell’s music, Britten explained that “the realiser must soak himself in the composer’s idiom in order to provide natural Purcellian harmonies for the melodies. Nor must he be afraid of those very Purcellian qualities of clarity, strangeness, tenderness and attack.” Man is for the woman made was realised by Britten in 1947, and his sensitivity to Motteux’s text is reflected in the subtly different settings of each verse: “In each successive verse of ‘Man is for the woman made’ I have invented new figuration to match the increasing dottiness of the words.”
Purcell’s influence is apparent in Britten’s Canticle I, ‘My Beloved is Mine’, also dating from 1947 and described by Pears in 1952 as Britten’s finest vocal work to date. In 1963, Britten explained that: “The First Canticle was a new invention in a sense although it was certainly modelled on the Purcell Divine Hymns; but few people knew their Purcell well enough to realise that.” While he was writing the work, Britten recorded: “My Canticle goes nicely now & I’m in love with the form”. He and Pears first performed it on 1 November 1947 at a memorial concert for the Rev. Dick Sheppard, one of the founders of the Peace Pledge Union. The 17th-century text, by Quarles, is partly derived from the Song of Solomon, and the music reflects the imagery of two streams overlapping until they merge, weathering a stormy central section but ending as one. Britten contemplated several Goethe settings but only completed one, in 1960: Um Mitternacht. Spare piano chords accentuate a haunting vocal line, tracing a man’s journey from a small boy marvelling at the stars to a grown man drinking in the beauty of his beloved with the same sense of wonder.
Hugo Wolf first became entranced by the words of Mörike in 1886, after which he set over 50 of the poet’s texts during a great surge of creativity. He wrote in February 1888: “I have just put a new song down on paper. A divine song, I tell you! Quite divinely marvellous! … I feel my cheeks glowing like molten iron with excitement, and this state of inspiration is more an exquisite torment to me than pure pleasure”. He went on: “What will the future unfold for me? … Have I a calling? Am I really one of the chosen? … That would be a pretty kettle of fish”.
Mörike wrote five ‘Peregrina’ poems in the wake of an anguished and ultimately doomed relationship. As Wolf explained in a letter of 1890, whilst touring Swabia in Germany or “Mörike country” as he called it, he did not fully understand three of the poems and so opted to set two as a pair of linked songs, Peregrina I and II. Both were completed by the end of April 1888, and became Nos. 33 and 34 of Wolf’s substantial Mörike-Lieder cycle. Peregrina I sets poetry of deep longing, Wolf’s music reflecting its nuances with subtle harmonic shifts in the piano and a caressing, increasingly passionate vocal line. An die Geliebte comes just before Peregrina I in the Mörike-Lieder and its ecstatic quality is matched by Wolf’s sensual music, the piano’s rippling textures emulating the poem’s vivid imagery: “The springs of fate ripple in melody”. The ardent Nimmersatte Liebe is the ninth in the cycle, heard here alongside Verschwiegene Liebe, to words by Eichendorff. Wolf frequently drew inspiration from Eichendorff’s words and had attempted to set this serenely beautiful poem once before, finally succeeding while staying in Vienna. The result is a song of exquisite tenderness; it became the third of the 20 Eichendorff-Lieder of 1889.
On 6 April 1883, Wolf met Franz Liszt and played him some of his songs; Liszt responded by hugging him and offering words of encouragement. Wolf was profoundly influenced by Liszt’s music, although he tempered profuse praise with the argument that Liszt’s output was often “more intellectual than deeply felt”. Liszt’s three-volume collection of piano pieces, the Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), traces the composer’s emotional journey through key years of his life. Book II, ‘Italy’, is contemplative in tone, and includes Liszt’s responses to great texts such as Dante’s Divine Comedy and Petrarch’s Sonnet 104, one of three of Petrarch’s poems set by Liszt in a triptych of songs, the Tri Sonetti del Petrarca. Petrarch’s sonnets about his unrequited love for a woman named Laura fascinated Liszt for many years, and the Tri Sonetti del Petrarca, S270a, were composed between 1838 and 1842, originally for high voice. A piano transcription of the songs was published in 1846, and Liszt later made substantial revisions to produce a low voice version in the 1860s, published in 1883. We hear the original version. Liszt’s setting of Petrarch’s Sonnet 104 opens with a recitative-like introduction followed by an aria of inflamed passion, conveying Petrarch’s account of the extremities of love with daring harmonies and operatic vocal writing. The second song, Benedetto sia ‘l giorno (‘Blessed be the day’) articulates Petrarch’s celebration of the first time he saw Laura, with Liszt’s tonal shifts mirroring the poet’s additions to his list of blessings. The set concludes with Liszt’s dreamy treatment of a sonnet in which Petrarch’s love finds echoes in the beauty of Nature.
Clara Wieck heard Liszt performing in 1838 and wrote: “He can be compared to no other player … he arouses fright and astonishment. He is an original”. Two years later, Robert Schumann wrote to Clara, by then his fiancée: “Oh Clara, what bliss it is to write songs, I can’t tell you how easy it has become for me… it is music of an entirely different kind, which doesn’t have to pass through the fingers – far more melodious and direct.” Schumann was alluding to his recent shift away from composing exclusively for the piano. Many songs followed, after which there was a long hiatus in song-writing until 1849, when Schumann wrote the song cycle Minnespiel, Op.101, to words from the first of six volumes of Gesammelte Gedichte by Rückert. The fourth song is Mein schöner Stern!, in which the poet likens his beloved to a star illuminating his inner darkness. Schumann’s “rich harvest of songs” composed during 1840 include Myrthen, Op.25, part of a wedding present finished in April and published later that year. The first, Widmung, to another Rückert text of profound and uncomplicated devotion, was transcribed by Liszt for solo piano in 1848. Towards the end of 1840, Schumann turned to the poetry of Kerner to produce the Zwölf Gedichte von Justinus Kerner, Op.35, the second of which is the Schubertian Stirb’, Lieb’ und Freud’! in which the poet expresses his love for a woman who has devoted herself to God. Schumann’s Lieder und Gesänge Volume III, Op.77, straddles the fallow period in his song-writing output. The first song dates from 1840, but the remainder are from 1850, including the third, Geisternähe, to poetry by Halm, describing the spirits of two lovers intermingling in the ether, their “harp-like murmuring” evoked in the agile piano part.
William Denis Browne was an English composer and critic born in Leamington Spa. He died in action during the First World War soon after burying his friend, the poet Rupert Brooke. Browne’s songs were published posthumously, among them To Gratiana dancing and singing. Setting poetry by Richard Lovelace, this is Browne’s most famous song, composed in February 1913 for his friend, the tenor Steuart Wilson. In 1908, Browne had participated in a student production of Milton’s Comus, during which he heard 17th-century music from Elizabeth Rogers’s Virginal Book, including an anonymous Allmayne that forms a countermelody realised in this song over a sequence of rich piano chords, above which the voice soars.
© Joanna Wyld, 2020
The English tenor Stuart Jackson was a choral scholar at Christ Church Oxford, studying Biological Sciences, before completing his training at the Royal Academy of Music in 2013. In 2011, aged 25 and the youngest finalist, he won second prize at the Wigmore Hall International Song Competition performing with pianist Jocelyn Freeman, and the pair also won second prize at the International Hugo Wolf Lied competition. He has appeared as a recitalist at Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, St John’s Smith Square, London and at Oxford’s Holywell Room amongst many others.
Stuart joined Stuttgart Opera Studio for the 2013/14 season. He is currently a Classical Opera Associate Artist with whom he has recorded the title role in Mozart’s Il Sogno di Scipione and Soliman in Zaide.
He has performed all over the world in opera, including with the Royal Opera House, at English National Opera, Glyndebourne, Garsington, the Komische Oper Berlin, Stuttgart Opera, Opéra national du Rhin, Opera Australia, Opéra national de Lorraine and Aix en Provence. Some of his favourite performed roles include Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Jupiter in Semele and High Priest in Saul.
He also performs frequently on the concert platform, performing Bach, Handel, Beethoven and much else all over Europe and the UK, including the Wigmore Hall and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.
Award-winning collaborative pianist Jocelyn Freeman is founder-director and curator of SongEasel, a new initiative established to provide a platform for song in South East London. Her artistry has been described as “outstanding”, “brilliant”, “sparkling” and “one to watch”, including accolades from The Observer and International Piano Magazine.
Jocelyn’s versatility ranges from Lieder to chamber music and concertos, often championing lesser-known composers alongside standard classical and contemporary repertoire. She has premiered and recorded works by John Brunning, Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Rhian Samuel. Her imaginative approach to programming is evident in projects with award-winning artists including Jamal Aliyev, Gareth Brynmor John, Elin Manahan Thomas and Julien Van Mellaerts, and her discography includes releases for Kissan Records, Orchid Classics and Ty Cerdd.
Jocelyn is a prize-winning graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, Phoebe Benham Fellow 2012 at the Royal College of Music, a Samling Artist and Britten–Pears alumnus. Prizes include the Viola Tunnard Young Artist Award, Marlow International Concerto Competition and the Internationalen Wettbewerb für Liedkunst in Stuttgart with Stuart Jackson.
Jocelyn is grateful for the support of the Arts Council England, the Carne Trust, Victor Wood, the Oleg Prokofiev Trust and the Nicholas Boas Foundation.
Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian
“…beautifully articulated by Jackson, who has a natural instinct for mood and drama – especially when this canticle darkens, with heavy, sooty piano chords, deftly shaded by Freeman, fading to a hushed end: so much compressed into seven minutes.”
Richard Wigmore, Gramophone
“Jackson’s healthy tenor and fine musical instincts are a pleasure in themselves… A lovely performance, this.”
Natasha Loges, BBC Music Magazine
“There is much to admire in Stuart Jackson’s bright, energetic sound… Jackson is at his best in the extrovert English songs, sounding thrilling and virile.”
Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical
“This carefully-chosen programme reveals a combination of vocal heft and poetic sensibility which should make Jackson a superb future Peter Grimes. Purcell’s Man is for the Woman Made, despatched with crystal-clear diction and supported by exuberant playing from Freeman…”
Claire Seymour, Opera Today
“Jackson delivers a masterclass in how to evoke consoling joy and controlled rapture, supported by Freeman’s sensitive complementing of the vocal line and tender bed of repeating quavers.”
Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill
“…the programme shows a willingness not only to be challenged, but to wander off the set pathways of programme-making….Throughout, Stuart Jackson is finely partnered by Jocelyn Freeman.”
Karine Hetherington, ArtMuseLondon
“A rich album and one which highlights Jackson’s highly expressive tenor and linguistic capabilities. A real feast!”