I do not come from a musical family. My budding interest in music as a child was highly unusual and frankly confusing from my parents point of view. If I were to take the title of the popular Dvorak song Songs My Mother Taught Me and apply it to my own life, I would end up writing this blog about Nick Cave and Simon & Garfunkel, with special mention to Blondie and the Divinyls. But in terms of my journey into classical music my mother couldn’t be more important. I couldn’t be luckier than to have the parents I do. Most parents from non-musical families would have held out on a child’s requests to learn music and play the flute, considering we lived in a small country town in Victoria with a population of 13000 – but not my mum. She went and researched the opportunities to learn music, and found a small private music academy in the town. I couldn’t have been in better hands, and with the guidance of the academy my musical training started. I began with group ensemble lessons, progressed to piano lessons, and after joining the school choir I started private singing lessons as well. All of this was made possible through my mum taking the initiative, and acting on my odd request to learn music. I can confidently say that I would not be where I am, living and breathing something I’m so passionate about without my mum listening to me all those years ago. So as a quick message to my mum this Mother’s Day, in addition to thanking you for everything else that comes with being a mum this Mother’s Day, thank you for giving me the gift of music.
To celebrate Mother’s Day here at The O Word I would like to take you through some of my favourite works associated with motherhood. First off we have the song I used for the title of this blog – Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me. It is one of Dvorak’s gypsy songs and has remained one of his most celebrated pieces. Here is Dame Joan Sutherland and Gerald Moore performing the sad, yet seemingly optimistic song.
I couldn’t allow myself to ignore Schumann’s masterpiece Frauenliebe und -leben. This isn’t necessarily a song cycle about motherhood, rather a song cycle to celebrate the life (and love) of a woman. Do yourself a favour and take half an hour to listen to this entire cycle, it is truly magical. Take special notice to the seventh song in the cycle, Am meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust (At my heart, at my breast), where a young mother rocks her newborn to sleep. Here is Dame Janet Baker and Graham Johnson.
It would be rude not to include an aria in this list, from one of the most well-known mothers in the opera repertoire. I am talking about the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Here is Diana Damrau singing the extremely famous Der Hölle Rache, in which the Queen of the Night commands her daughter Pamina to kill her rival Sarastro – let’s just hope that no one encounters a situation like this today.
Brahms dedicated his mammoth German Requiem to his mother, Johanna Brahms. Her memory is reflected in my favourite movement of the Requiem, movement 5. The soaring soprano part represents Johanna, which takes its text from Isaiah 66:13, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” This recording is of the Dohananyi Orchestra, Budapest, led by Dian Tchobanov and with soloist Adrienn Miksch.
I will leave you with one of my favourite pieces by Richard Strauss, Muttertändelei (Mother-chatter). In this tongue twister of a piece a proud mother brags about her newborn child. It was written by Strauss two years after the birth of his first child, Franz. Pauline, Strauss’ wife, fell in love with the piece – so much so that she wouldn’t lend the manuscript to other musicians! This is the remarkable Barbara Bonney with Malcolm Martineau.
Happy Mother’s Day from The O Word!
Written by Louis Hurley