Enoch Arden – Melodrama for Richard Strauss’ narrator and piano on Tennyson’s poem
Basically the definition of melodrama refers to a work, or part of it, in which the text is recited about music. Although some operas have moments of melodrama – Fidelio or The woman without a shadow, for example – several composers dedicated whole works to this musical practice.
In 1896/97, Strauss composed the melodrama Enoch Arden, for voice and piano, on Tennyson’s text. The work is located between the symphonic poems Thus spoke Zarathustra of 1896, and D. Quixote of 1897 and, like these, it can already be considered a work of maturity for a composer with 33 years old who still had a long and creative career with your front.
It was with Enoch Arden that Strauss achieved a resounding success at the time, even greater than that achieved with symphonic poems, having made numerous tours with his dedicator, Ernst von Possart, actor and theater director.
Enoch Arden is one of the longest existing melodramas and one of the best built. The theme reminds us of Ulysses and Robinson Crusoe, but the melancholy of the sailor who loses and finds his family again formed, judging him dead, is totally romantic and finds its genial confirmation in Strauss’ music. The piano gives the key, so to speak, the very thing in the text, making it an indispensable partner for reading. Each character has his “conductive motif” musically and the interplay of the various themes, treated with a romantic modernity (I use the clash of concepts on purpose) typical of the composer, ends up pointing the way to many late stage works. It is really a masterpiece.
An interesting problem that clearly distinguishes the difference between the spoken word and the sung word is that, in the first case, the composer only tries to clarify the meaning of the text according to his personal reading, heard in the instrumental part, without composing taking into account the sound of the language directly counts, as it invariably happens in the sung texts. This gives the actor and pianist an added responsibility since the music that illustrates the text provides a safe indication of the type of reading intended, while allowing it to be spoken in the language of the country in which it is performed without “almost” causing damage to the reading made by the composer.
No wonder, then, that Enoch Arden was approached by a large number of reciters (among actors and singers) as famous as Claude Rains, Bruno Ganz or Jon Vickers and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who interpreted him in the English original and the German translation, and pianists like Glenn Gould, Emanuel Ax or Wolfram Rieger.
The work was never given in Portugal and it is up to us, me and Albano Jerónimo, the honor and joy of finally debuting in the Portuguese translation of Vítor Moura. As they say: “It was about time!”
(text by Nuno Vieira de Almeida)
Richard Strauss – Enoch Arden – Tennyson’s poem (translation by Vítor Moura)