Wednesday 13 December 2017

Classic talk: Music for an evening of roses and candlelight

Unrequited love: Elisabeth Röckel
Unrequited love: Elisabeth Röckel

George Hamilton

Red roses at the ready, champagne on ice, and ­candles ­casting their romantic glow - the stage is set for ­Valentine's Night. Just the one question remains - which music will best fit the mood? The fact of the matter is, you're spoilt for choice.

So much that is wonderful has been inspired by love, whether it's admiration that's mutual, or the unrequited version. Beethoven's bewitching bagatelle 'Für Elise' was written for a young soprano he fancied - Elisabeth Röckel - but she only had eyes for another composer, a rival in more senses than one.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel's musical legacy pales beside Beethoven's, but he clearly had charisma. Elise, as she was known, became Frau Hummel. Beethoven never married.

It was the downside of romance that prompted the composition of Fritz Kreisler's haunting little vignette, 'Liebesleid' (The Sorrow of Love). Kreisler was a top violinist in the early 20th century. Edward Elgar composed his concerto especially for him.

Incidentally, Elgar was responsible for one of the most captivating love songs - 'Salut d'Amour', written for his fiancée as an engagement present.

Grieg was another to commemorate an occasion with a special piece of music. 'Wedding Day at Troldhaugen' celebrated his silver wedding anniversary.

Whether or not Kreisler's tunefully melancholic melody was borne out of personal experience is open to doubt, for he was famously lucky in love.

When 'Liebesleid' was published in 1905, he'd already wed his American wife with whom he'd share almost 60 years of marriage.

'Liebesleid' is part of a set - Three Old Viennese Dances - where it's bookended by two unashamedly positive pieces - 'Liebesfreud' (The Joy of Love) - and 'Schön Rosmarin' (Beautiful Rosemary).

Some 50-odd years before Kreisler would create his trilogy, Franz Liszt had done the same thing, setting three poems to music to highlight different aspects of love.

His three Liebesträume or Dreams of Love began life as Lieder. It's the third of them that's played most these days - a nocturne inspired by a German poem that advises to love as long as you can. You can't get much more romantic than that.

In opera, one of the most appealing tunes is actually a song without words. Jules Massenet's Thaïs features the 'Méditation', a solo originally for cello but played now on the violin, haunting and poignant in equal measure.

Puccini's Madama Butterfly may ultimately be a tragic love story, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for a sublime love song. 'Un bel di' is it, Butterfly dreaming of the day her American naval officer husband will come back to her in Japan.

Another Puccini highlight is 'O Soave Fanciulla' from La Bohème, the moment Rodolfo the writer, and Mimi, the poor seamstress whose tiny hand was frozen, realise they're meant for each other.

Opera abounds with magical music for romantic occasions, from the passion of Bizet's Carmen to the more subdued delights of Mozart's exquisitely crafted scores.

And if you're still searching for inspiration, then let your ears feast on the ballet music of Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake in particular - and of course, there is also the ever popular love theme from his fantasy overture, 'Romeo and Juliet'.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday

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