For our Video of the Week, Heifetz 2020 student Mac Taback and faculty pianist Dina Vainshtein perform a revaltory remote collaboration of two profound – and aptly appropriate for our times – songs by Johannes Brahms, arranged by Mac himself for cello and piano.
Both pieces, dating from the late-19th-century, are remarkable settings of contemporary German poems to music. They are written for “low voice,” which tends to imbue them with a certain weight that lends so well to the cello.
The first piece, Feldeinsamkeit (or, (“Alone in a Field,”) from Sechs Lieder, Op. 86 is an art-song setting of words by the German poet Herman Allmers. Cellist Mac Taback describes the poem and the restrained musical setting as “a reflection of the positive and even transformative effects of loneliness and isolation.”
This time and quiet brought on by the social isolation has allowed Mac to dive deeper into the music he performs and has brought him an “appreciation for live music, something that we all miss dearly.”
Feldeinsamkeit (Translation by Richard Stokes)
I rest at peace in tall green grass
And gaze steadily aloft,
Surrounded by unceasing crickets,
Wondrously interwoven with blue sky.
The lovely white clouds go drifting by
Through the deep blue, like lovely silent dreams;
I feel as if I have long been dead,
Drifting happily with them through eternal space.
The second piece that Mac and Dina perform is Wie melodien zieht es mir (or, “Like melodies it steals softly through my mind”), from Fünf Lieder, Op. 105. This set of five songs was published in 1888, and again features works for lower voice and piano. This first work in the collection was set to the poem by Klaus Groth, a successful poet and friend of Brahms, as well as many contemporaries. In fact, Groth is believed to be the most painted poet in the 19th century, and there are 1,149 known musical versions of his poems by 224 composers. This text captures how the essence of a work of art can take hold of and transfix its audience. Despite the technical challenges, Mac and Dina certainly convey that feeling of transcendence in their rendition!
Wie melodien zieht es mir (Translation by Emily Ezust)
It moves like a melody,
Gently through my mind;
It blossoms like spring flowers
And wafts away like fragrance.
But when it is captured in words,
And placed before my eyes,
It turns pale like a gray mist
And disappears like a breath.
And yet, remaining in my rhymes
There hides still a fragrance,
Which mildly from the quiet bud
My moist eyes call forth.