The songs speak for themselves, no lyrics get in the way

Lieder ohne Worte – song without lyrics. One of the most popular songs is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, which takes its title from the word used to describe the singer’s warm-up routine that fills the hallways of the dressing room before a concert performance.

he’s the last of a set 14 Romans, it is sung only by the sound of a single vowel stroking the tender melody. But it’s still a song, with a voice to sing it.

Rachmaninoff’s masterpiece came in 1915, the best part of 100 years after the concept of a song without lyrics was put into practice. It was Felix Mendelssohn who popularized the form, but historians have suggested that it was his sister, Fanny, who came up with the idea.

Despite her family’s disapproval – “music will never be the foundation of who you are”, her father had told her – she composed brilliantly and did well.

But with the times lived, as a woman, it is very difficult to bring her work to the audience. Felix tackles this problem by presenting her works as his own.

This led to something bewildering in Buckingham Palace, of all places. Felix was a great favorite of young Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, both first-rate musicians.

They invited him to a small private entertainment one afternoon, and he duly accepted his selection of works. Then Mendelssohn invited the monarch to sing one of his songs. She chose one called Italy. He hadn’t been in the mood to tell her directly, but he had mastered it in the end. This phrasing of the contemporary Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer is not his own at all. The music belongs to his sister.

Between them, Fanny and Felix wrote hundreds Liarpopular art songs at the time, and it was this that inspired the performance of songs without lyrics.

Whichever one of them tested first, it was Felix who honed the form to perfection. Over 15 years he has produced 48 of them and with the new upright piano now a fixture in many studios, he has found a ready market. They became extremely popular.

Fanny’s eighteen extensive catalog of compositions for solo piano are instrumental songs.

Felix wants the music to speak for itself, elicit an emotional response, take the listener wherever it leads – without words getting in the way.

With that in mind, he avoids title tracks, simply including tempo markers to indicate how they should be played.

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However, enthusiastic publishers saw a marketing opportunity in their naming, and some of them stuck.

So the wonderful lyrical sixth passage in the fifth of eight episodes of Lieder ohne Wortegot to play allegretto grazioso (gracefully, at a fairly quick pace), which earned itself the title Spring song.

The thing that causes the house to collapse whenever it is performed is Presto from Volume 6. The absolute dynamism of a piece being played Bumblebee’s Flight-the style is aptly described in its moniker, Filmed. This translates fairly well as ‘spinning song’, but the German word carries an ambiguity that also implies a bit of madness.

George Hamilton presents ‘The Hamilton Scores’ on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am every Saturday and Sunday. The songs speak for themselves, no lyrics get in the way

Fry Electronics Team

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