Goethe’s Mignon sings to Wilhelm Meister

From Beethoven to Berg and beyond, a great number of major composers has set to music the poem Kennst du das land (Do you know the land) from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (Book III, Chapter 1, 1795) where the enigmatic adolescent Mignon tells Wilhelm Meister about her Italian homeland.

These songs vary greatly, despite the limited range of the verses.  Listening to my “other self,” collaborative pianist Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, listening to them I concentrate on the piano (or other instruments), which is not merely accompanying the voice but is singing with, or commenting on it.

As I travel to Mignon’s land through these “afterlives,” it is the piano that makes me notice their distinct approaches.  Listing 15 of them here (in chronological order) is a way to trace the evolution of the art song over two centuries but also celebrate Pantelis’ name day today.

Reichardt: Lieder Der Liebe Und Der Einsamkeit – Das glückliche Land (“Kennst du das Land?”).  Tania Bussi–Paolo Mora (violino)–Lorenzo Montenz (basso continuo)

Zelter:  “Kennst du das Land”. Bettina Pahn–Tini Mathot

Beethoven: 6 Gesänge op.75 – 1. “Kennst du das Land”.  Adele Stolte–Walter Olbertz

Schubert: “Kennst du das Land”, D321. Gundula Janowitz–Irwin Gage

Spohr: “Mignons Lied”.  Danuta Debski–Krzysztof Debski (guitar)

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel: “Kennst du das Land”.  Elena Cecchi Fedi

Liszt:  “Kennst du das Land”.  Brigitte Fassbaender—Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Schumann: Lieder und Gesänge aus ‘Wilhelm Meister’, Op.98a – 1. “Kennst du das Land”. Edith Mathis–Christoph Eschenbach

Thomas:  Mignon’s romanza, “Connais-tu le pays?” (sung in German as “Kennst du das Land”), from Mignon.  Elisabeth Grümmer

Duparc: “Romance de Mignon” (“Kennst du das Land”). France Duval–Marc Durand

Gounod:  “Mignon”. Marie Bejjani Daher

Wolf: “Kennst du das Land”. Irmgard Seefried—Erik Werba

Berg:  “Kennst du das Land”.  Jessye Norman–Ann Schein

Adamo:  Bhaer’s aria, “Kennst du das Land?”, from Little Women. Matthew Scollin

Blume: “Kennst Du das Land?” for bass clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Bibliographical addition (6/9/19):  “Mignon as Public Property,” ch. 6 of Jennifer    Ronyak’s Intimacy, Performance, and the Lied in the Early Nineteenth Century (2018).

July 26, 2018




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