Wednesday, November 16, 2011
One of the astonishing things about art is how you can discover it in the most unexpected places. This happened to me when I was 18-years-old, and my then-new-boyfriend Tom brought me to visit his home in Appalachia. There, one evening, I accompanied on the piano an excellent baritone who introduced me to the incredible songs of Franz Schubert.
This singer had been nicknamed “Crow” by his medical school classmates in Goettingen, Germany, because he sang “Die Kraehe” (“The Crow”) from Schubert’s great song cycle “Die Winterreise” so often. This singer had once auditioned for a European opera impresario, who declared that he could become a sensation, not only because of the quality of his voice, but because of his personality, which exudes the force and light of a solar system. Sig turned down the opportunity to develop a singing career because he believed his destiny was to “serve” (which, incidentally, was Beethoven’s philosophy about his own life.) To that end, my father-in-law spent over forty years working as a general internist in Appalachia, serving the rural population of Southeastern Ohio, where he and my mother-in-law live to this day.
Be that as it may, sometimes I cannot help but think how he would have benefited from the cultural riches we have here in Philadelphia. Last night I wished he could have heard the program Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchslager and pianist Warren Jones gave for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Rather than offer up familiar, tuneful songs, they chose to perform complex, rarely heard lieder of Brahms, Wolf and Hahn, and selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
How Sig would have enjoyed hearing Ms. Kirchschlager’s burnished, nuanced mezzo, and her penetrating interpretations. He would have been enchanted by her dramatic flair and the sometimes mischievous quality that make her appear a down-to-earth diva just inviting the family over to hear her sing.
My father-in-law would have admired, as I did, Mr. Jones’ gorgeous, virtuosic accompaniment that contained not one square edge.
Listening to this evening of lieder was especially poignant knowing that the following morning Sig, a doctor nearly all his adult life, would become a patient on an operating table in Columbus, Ohio, undergoing coronary bypass and replacement of an aortic valve that has been failing for some time.
Somehow the profundity of a great Lied, which deals with life or death as its subject matter, feels even more relevant when a procedure of this magnitude is facing someone you love.
Fortunately, all that singing has provided Sig with tremendous lung capacity, and as I write this, he has survived the operation and is recovering in the I.C.U. As soon as he makes it safely out of the hospital and into rehab, I will make sure he hears one of Angelika’s CD’s. I know he will appreciate it.