Die Schöne Müllerin

On Friday, April 27, 2001, Steven Tharp, tenor, and Will Crutchfield, pianist, performed Die Schöne Müllerin by Franz Schubert, with text by Wilhelm Müller. The recital was presented by Art Song of Williamsburg at the Williamsburg Regional Library Performing Arts Center.

Mr. Tharp performed this most well-known song cycle with impeccable diction and a sense of style that made the 20 songs seem like an all too short evening. Although the savvy art song audience did not, in general, interrupt the flow of the story with applause, their spontaneous enthusiasm could not be contained during two of the more exuberant songs.

Will Crutchfield, a native of Hampton Roads, gave a pre-recital discussion on the evolution of Art Song from Folk Song. Schubert's earliest songs show small differences from the folk songs of his day. But even in these small changes, his genius is evident. As he matures we can see development in his ability to express musically the poet's meaning in both the accompaniment and vocal lines.

In talking with Mr. Tharp after the performance I learned that this was his twelfth performance of Die Schöne Müllerin and his sixth with Mr. Crutchfield. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this performance was his clear diction and crisp articulation. The words flowed in a lyrical, unassuming way like a native speaker. In words such as "Ich", "mich" and "dich" he uses the more formal closed [i] vowel rather than the [I] found in most dictionaries. For the uninitiated, [i] is a closed e sound as in "Mimi", "Fifi" or "cheese", and [I] is the open sound in "it".

I also learned from him that Die Schöne Müllerin was composed by Schubert for a tenor, not the baritone voice that is usually associated with the work. The tenor voice feels just right because of the youthfulness of the character in the text.*

Savoring the sound of a language often considered unmusical and brusque, but here transformed into such lyrical beauty by Schubert, Müller, Tharp and Crutchfield, made this a very memorable evening.

*The fresh lyric tenor voice of Fritz Wunderlich singing Die Schöne Müllerin can be heard on Deutsche Grammophon CD 447 452-2.

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