Many of you commented on how much you enjoyed my valentine serenade of ‘Plaisir d’amour’ on guitar. I thoroughly enjoyed putting that together, so I have been cooking up a few other similar projects. A number of Schubert songs came to mind that might be possible to adapt for guitar, and with spring upon us I thought ‘Heidenröslein’, a song about a little rose, might be the perfect choice.
Composed on August 19, 1815 (a day on which Schubert also set four other poems of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to music), ‘Heidenröslein’ tells the story of a boy who encounters a beautiful rose which he decides to pick, despite the little rose’s warning that she will prick him if he does so. The metaphor is difficult to miss; the little rose that the boy spies represents a young girl, and the boy feels the sting of thorns as he attempts to court her. In fact Goethe’s poem has inspired numerous illustrations over the years, and nearly all of them feature an eager young man inquiring after a demure young woman, with a field of roses essentially incidental to the scene.
Perhaps the thing that I most enjoy about ‘Heidenröslein’ is that it offers the singer a chance to portray multiple characters in the space of just a few lines of text and music. The narrator sets the scene, the boy makes his move, the rose strikes back, and the refrain seems to comment on the action after each verse: ‘Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot, Röslein auf der Heiden.’ Of course the music ties it all together, and Schubert in his usual way has managed to create a song that is simple like a folksong and yet full of variety and color. Although the musical material is identical each time, the instrumental coda that follows each strophe is somehow able to capture three different moods; from the excitement of seeing the rose in the beginning, to the admonishing tone of the rose in the middle, to the inevitable moral of the story at the end.
The alternating bass line and chord structure of this song seemed a natural fit for the guitar idiom, and my fingers got a bit of a workout on the instrumental interludes after each verse. I hope you enjoy my six-stringed version of this classic Schubert song!
The pleasure of love lasts but a moment; the sorrow of love lasts a lifetime.
Over the years, musicians of all stripes have been attracted to Jean-Paul-Égide Martini’s beautiful song "Plaisir d’amour". From classical singers like Paul Robeson, to folk singers like Joan Baez, Martini’s haunting melody has found a home in the repertoire of countless performers. Perhaps most famously the tune provided inspiration for the Elvis Presley hit "Can’t help falling in love" in 1961.
With the limitations that the pandemic has put on collective music making, many musicians have turned to creating more independent, self-produced projects. The rippling arpeggios in the accompaniment of "Plaisir d’amour" seem naturally suited to a guitar, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner I thought that an art song on the theme of "the pleasure of love" would be a fun quarantine project to put together. The text is a bit more wistful than your average Valentine’s Day card; Martini captures that mood with a simple but effective melody in the opening refrain. The first verse sets up the story of unrequited love, the second takes a melancholy turn into a minor key only to give way to the refrain once more.
"Plaisir d’amour" is the music for which Martini is best remembered today. He was born and educated in Bavaria, and made his career as a court musician in Paris. He composed music and led concerts for the royalty and politicians of France, including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Napoléon Bonaparte. He fled Paris during the French Revolution but returned in later years to teach composition at the Paris Conservatory. He died in 1816 on Valentine’s Day.
Enjoy this musical valentine from Fourth Coast Ensemble, much "amour" to you all.
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!