Sänger ohne Grenzen
Der Gesang liebt die Schönheit
in den Brechungspunkten
Der Gesang liebt die Schönheit
in den Brechungspunkten
But the title is also the name of a song that Nicole Kidman sings in the film based on the musical Nine. She walks through the night with her producer and they talk about the love they share as an extension of the life that they live in the film, she in front of the camera and he behind it. He falls in love with the woman through the camera lens, which is another person than the one he has in front of him, something that she tries to explain to him. But the man is not ready to let go of his longing after the unattainable.
A singer’s life is heavily burdened by emotions and longing for the unattainable is what all artists carry within themselves as a drive to seek, practice and work hard. I will at the end of this talk return to this drive force.
I have lived a different life than many other singers. It has been a life in constant change, driven by the world’s incredible development over the last few decades and it has certainly been different in comparison with previous generations of singers.
If we consider that the technological and human development has progressed further in the last 30 years than during the last 350 years combined, the expression ”the beginning of time” gets its proper meaning, even if it in my case only corresponds to the last 25 years of career as an opera and concert singer.
Rapid development changes in the blink of an eye the conditions for our culture and the conditions for those who work with it. We can understand the development that takes place, but can we take responsibility for it today and for coming generations when we let it be controlled by our unawareness and our blindness, which has been created by our lack of perspective?
I’m a child of my time. My piano teacher called my parents when I was 8 years old and told them that I would never become a pianist, but rather a dramatic soprano. Great expectations were created and I was accepted as a so-called ”object child” to the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. When I was 11 years old I got my first role in a children’s opera written by Hindemith.
My parents used the Stockholm Opera as a kindergarten for teenagers and I sneaked out during the break for a saturated smell of smoke-reeking velvet curtains, powder, heavy perfumes and sausage sandwiches spiced with garlic. Leif Segerstam stood on the podium and on the stage Birgit Nilsson sang Isolde in Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. I hurried over to the Jazz club Fashing on Kungsgatan where my old-fashioned appearance fixed the age verification.
I studied song for Dagmar Gustafsson, a legend in Stockholm and teacher to Ingvar Wixell. After my B.A. from Stockholm University in musicology I continued my studies for Kammarsängerin Rita Streich at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. We were never allowed to wear pants at the school, since Rita Streich always wanted us to look presentable. One never knew when an agent would walk in through the door at the school. Being an opera singer was a role to be played full time.
Back then the operas were always sold out and at the concert houses even romantic concerts were packed with people. It was ”Come il faut” to do your debut after finishing your studies in the form of a romantic concert, which was supposed to mirror that you didn’t only have artistic content and knowledge but also the ability to artistically comprehend a program that in its length and artistic reach far exceeded even the longest opera roles.
I was back in Sweden and started performing at Norrlandsoperan in cooperation with the conductor Arnold Östman, before Birgit Nilsson became my mentor. I received her prize and I was to shoulder her knowledge, she also gifted some of her stage clothes to me. The tradition of carrying history forwards was natural and not easy. My own identity and integrity as an artist stood in the shadow of Birgit for a long time.
I travelled around to different singing competitions in order to present myself and when I reached the finals I was included in the international singer elite and was rewarded with medals and prices.
The art of singing was divided into opera, romance and church song and then there were those voices that were so small and general in their expressiveness that the ”only” things they could do were operettas and musicals, where the voices were reinforced with microphones if necessary (that was the perspective of the day). I was classified into the heaviest guard as a dramatic soprano within the Wagner-Strauss repertoire and got not only the Birgit Nilsson Prize, but also the Bayreuth scholarship and my first big role as Chrysothemis in Elektra by Strauss in Klagenfurt, Austria.
On the program ”Kvällsöppet”, classical singers were guests and you talked about what the songs were about and what they were doing and where they were. The singers were cultural ambassadors around the world and carriers of tradition and equally well regarded then as Zlatan is today.
The voice ideal was coloured by how one performed theatre on the speaking stages. Anders de Wahl stood at Dramaten during the forties and fifties and read the poem ”Nyårsklockorna” at Skansen at midnight on New Year’s Eve with a sombre voice, which gave an intonation that Birgit then translated into her art of singing in, especially, Wagner.
As the conversation on stage and in film got more intimate, not least through Ingmar Bergman, it also got a breakthrough in his interpretation of Mozart’s the Magic Flute. I think that many remember that that was also the breakthrough for Håkan Hagegård as a singer. Bergman’s success with that screen adaptation didn’t influence the opera stages much and here the contact between the conservative classical art music and the passing of time was broken. We have now reached the middle of the seventies.
The traditional art of singing was locked into a cultural tin can while the audience almost imperceptibly slowly turned its back on it. Today equally many watch opera at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm during a year as during the premiere of Mamma Mia at Globen. The romantic art is practically dead, which means that a considerable music treasure has ceased being heard. There are now not enough applicants to the church music program at the Royal College of Music in order to keep the program alive in the long term.
With the breakthrough of the CD, there came a temporary revival of the classical art music. One documented and dusted off old recordings and made sure to record the ”historical interpretations” of the great classical works. This way the interpreters made their way into the history books in a way that before hadn’t been possible or even desirable.
The passing of time has really always been a reality that cleaned out a number of musical works, which have now been forgotten. The big difference between music now and then is that the old was discarded at a slower rate, because society then was developing at a slower pace.
In order to do a summary, let’s make a travel through history and see where we turn up. During the Romantic era the national romantic music emerged and became a macro format with Wagner’s operas through the development of the all-artistic work and Berlioz fantastic symphony, which cracked the symphonic format. To the symphony orchestras new strong-sounding instruments were added, especially within the brass and percussion instrument sections, in order to recreate the sound picture that the composers were seeking in their expressiveness.
From Romanticism as an era the art music developed in all directions with the same joy of exploration as society as a whole, the industrial revolution put its mark on the music and with the mathematical logic as an origin point Arnold Schönberg developed the twelve-tone technique. It in turn became serialism without melodic connection through the work of, among others, Stockhausen and Boulez. One strived to dehumanize and objectify the music, Lutoslawskij produced some dice and from his composition experiment the random music emerged. This led to the ”free-pulsating” music that Leif Segerstam composes and that I have sung, performed and researched into. The music was seen in the same way as people were, a part of the machinery that was constructed to construct prototypes for use in industrial production. Musically this led to an increasing divide between the general public and the then contemporary art. People weren’t able to be a part of this experiment and instead looked for ”beautiful experiences” and reflections of the archetypical moments of their lives that art has a unique possibility to represent.
The electronic music started to take its place as a logical development and from that art of composition new music instruments were constructed and already existing ones were electrified and enhanced, like the electric guitar and the keyboard instruments. They established themselves in our everyday lives and replaced the role of the recorder as the instrument of choice for a beginner.
When the new times were changing society, music of course came to reflect this. Depending on where the composers were in relation to the societal development, the music came to diverge in every direction. This became noticeable within the art in the form of all the –isms, if we relate to the artistic painters Braque, Miro, Picasso, Monet and Salvador Dali.
After the Second World War it was difficult to gather all the different cultural expressions, but there were worlds where the music had lived unaffected by the war. Jazz and the musical didn’t need to rebuild their stages, they still lived and gave people their longing for freedom and a feeling of joy and hope of a new and carefree future.
The entertainment industry started developing new economic structures within the cultural sector, which didn’t suspect that entertainment was to become a part of the concept of culture.
The Israeli philosopher Martin Buber writes in his book ”I and Thou”, that without an ”I” there is no ”Thou”. The book is about the pair of words I-Thou and I-That, i.e. the difference between subject and object and what I do with our ”I”. Buber continues that ”Thou are something more than It knows. Thou seem more and more to experience the Thou than It knows.”
There is no longer any wish or expectation that I as a singer and artist should provide an artistic experience, instead I’m expected to give an objective truth about an artistic work that is then turned into a subject by the conductor, director or producer of a recording. I travelled to New York last autumn, the last time I was there was 25 years ago and back then I performed among other things the role of Anna Bolena at the Virginia Opera. I was asked to perform because of the opera singer I was and am.
In the UN building in New York there is meditation room created by Dag Hammarskjöld, the former Swedish Secretary-General. It was on his initiative that the writings of Martin Buber were translated into Swedish, since the books contain a deeply-anchored humanism shared by all worlds, peoples and religions. Martin Buber continues to deepen the concept of ”Thou” in a comparison with the art genres:
”As the melody isn’t put together by notes, the verse not by words and the sculpture not by lines, one needs to tear at them. Until one has turned unity into diversity, that’s the way it’s with the person to whom ”I” say ”Thou”.”
I was about to enter a studio, but what the producer was about to do with what was my voice and my work, through the texts that was a frame to and a part of the music, it was beyond the cultural notion. I probably needn’t say that, emotionally battered, I hurried to get home from New York. The ”verdict” isn’t merciful when the object starts speaking up and evolves into a subject, an artist, an experienced singer and a woman with integrity and a will of her known as well as knowledge and ability.
The singer Beyonce lip syncs in front of an entire world at the presidential inauguration. Pretending has become a legitimate form of cultural expression in the dehumanized world of perfection, equally insincere as when a top athlete uses drugs during the Olympiad and no one reacts. The song has been put together note for note, she could never perform it live. It therefore only exists as a sound technician’s sound collage and not in any living sense.
I stare at the title to a culture comment on SVT from the 27th of March that stands unanswered to and causes me to think, ”Culture politics – a remnant of the radical left”, by Lars Anders Johansson, culture spokesman for the industry think tank Timbro. I go back to my historical perspective in order to try to understand what he means.
Throughout the ages, culture has had different patrons. Originally it was the country’s king or emperor and later it was together with the church, where Hildegard von Bingen initiated and developed the music drama for the church room where the gospel took dramatic form. During the 18th century it was the smaller principalities together with the emperor, for example when Haydn was supported by the Duchy Esterhazy and Mozart, who stood under Kaiser Josef II protection, later after the revolution in Europe in the mid-eighteenth century the burghers entered the scene. In the second half of the twentieth century it became the responsibility of the state and the municipalities, acting as representatives for the voice of the people.
But who are the clients of culture today? Up until recently it was the responsibility of the state and the municipalities. Nowadays the municipalities know no such responsibility and the state only cares about what is called cultural heritage and the things that no one else would take care of. In all other things, the creators of culture are left to market forces.
And in a post-Christian age the voice of the people is transformed in the political powers ideological dismantling of the collective responsibility for the ”people’s home” from the state to the private sector’s think tank. Decisions for cultural reorganizations are left to auditing firms where one lacks the cultural knowledge necessary, its skills and doesn’t even have the wish to consider it. This reduces the culture to an obeying dog when entertainment is necessary or to a decoration at a formal ceremony or at the side of a catwalk for haut couture.
There is no place on our earth where people are either non-musical or irreligious. A person is no cogwheel in an engine, she has from the moment she is born a need to grow as a person and develop in her spirit.
Hermeneutics is a philosophy and an art of interpretation that have since its introduction in the mid-twentieth century seen increasing use in the humanities and the religious studies. To this Hans Georg Gadamer, one of the founders of hermeneutics, says in his book ”Truth and Method” (Wahrheit und Methode) ”Er läßt den wahren Sinn, der in einer Sache liegt, erst voll herauskommen. Die Ausschöpfung des wahren Sinnes aber, der in einem Text oder in einer künstlerischen Schöpfung gelegen ist, kommt nicht irgendwo zum Abschluß, sondern ist in Wahrheit ein unendlicher Prozeß.” (p. 279) This means that the concept of truth that we seek in the state of thing is ”that” which is the infinite process, that is the foundation and existence of the beginning and end of the art. Through our work we get with the help of different cultural manifestations to seek the eye of truth. We get ever closer to being able to look into it, but will we ever actually be able to do so?
”What is music? Music is not what sounds, music is why that which sounds, sounds like it sounds when it sounds” - Segerstam
The task for me as performer is about finding the answer to ”Why?”. And thus I have opened the work for You and given You the opportunity to come closer to the existential truth with the help of art.
All my years I have been a writer and in my search for a place to call home, I have found my language. I’m not at all gifted with languages because I have a too close relationship with the word.
I don’t write stories, my words are like mirrors that reflect Your own world. I want to create enough space around them so that Your own story gets room, so that the words create sentences while You create the connections between them from Your own life’s book.
We all go on a life’s journey. I’m an opera singer and author, I spend a lot of my time with today’s art music, since it’s each artist’s duty to take responsibility for their contemporary art. To be a part of a creative process is both fascinating and challenging and a way to put new life into the the world.
The book that is my life is not yet finished and we can’t know what will happen in the future. But the things that have happened, could I ever have predicted them?
at Rotary Gripen
the 4th of April, 2013
„Sänger ohne Grenzen“ ist eine musikalische Vereinigung, die im April 2010 anlässlich eines Konzerts im Schlosstheater Schönbrunn gegründet wurde. Das Konzert fand als Ehrerweisung für und zum Andenken an Birgit Nilsson statt, der zweite Teil war Benny Andersson gewidmet. Während des Konzerts trafen Vergangenheit und Zukunft aufeinander und im Zentrum, dem Jetzt, entstand der Begriff Sänger ohne Grenzen. Hier werden die Energien von SängerInnen aller Genres, Hobby- und professioneller SängerInnen, sowie junger GesangsstudentInnen gebündelt. Vorurteile werden abgebaut und der essentielle Kontakt zur Stimme wird in den Vordergund gerückt.
Die Idee dahinter ist, dass Sänger ohne Grenzen junge SängerInnen zu Beginn ihrer Karriere durch Workshops und Vorlesungen unterstützt. Wir wollen positive Energien bündeln, um zur Entwicklung der Sangeskunst als lebenswichtiger Bestandteil und Ausdruckmöglichkeit eines jeden Menschen beizutragen, unabhängig davon, ob man SängerIn oder ZuhörerIn ist, oder ob man lieber im Wald eine Arie zum besten gibt, wenn niemand zuhört.
Zu leben bedeutet, das Leben ernstzunehmen. Gesang wird als Ausdruck der Seele und der Geistes durch den Atem getragen und ist genauso ursprünglich wie das Lachen und das Weinen. Der Gesang vermag es, gleichzeitig Trauer und Glück zu beinhalten, und Dich als der facettenreiche Mensch, der Du bist, zu zeigen.
Ich hatte das Privileg, zwei Jahre Gesangspädagogik und Methodik bei Maj Britt Lannfjäll an der Musikhochschule in Stockholm studieren und an Sångsvanens Vorlesungsreihe teilnehmen zu dürfen. Dort wurden mir - angefangen bei Gehirnfunktionen und der Stimmforschung unter Prof. Johan Sundberg an der Technischen Hochschule in Stockholm bis hin zu unterschiedliche Gesangsgenres - tiefe Einblicke in die Sichtweise unterschiedlicher Ausübender auf ihr Instrument gewährt.
Meine Gesangsausbildung begann, als ich acht Jahre alt war und mein Klavierlehrer bei meiner Mutter anrief und erklärte: „Das Mädchen wird wohl keine Pianistin, dafür aber ein dramatischer Sopran.“ So traf ich schon als Achtjährige den legendären Folke Sällström und sang bei Sixten Liedbergius, bevor ich als sogenanntes „Objektkind“ mit zehn Jahren an der Musikhochschule aufgenommen wurde. Seitdem habe ich bei verschiedenen LehrerInnen studiert, u.a. an der Universität für darstellende Kunst in Wien, und arbeite kontinuierlich mit meinem Stimmcoach zusammen, um Feedback zu bekommen. Die Arbeit an und mit der Stimme dauert das ganze Leben, da sich die Stimme gemeinsam mit dem Körper und dem Inneren entwickelt.
Meine Lehrer und Mentoren: Folke Sällström, Sixten Liedbergius, Dagmar Gustafsson, Ks Rita Streich, Ks Birgit Nilsson, Oren Brown, Hofsänger Håkan Hagegård, Hofsängerin Elisabeth Söderström, Prof. Solvig Grippe, Maestro Vijay Upadjaya, haben mich an ihren Erfahrungen und Kentnissen teilhaben lassen und mir so eine Schatzkiste als Referendum(?) geschenkt.
Ich bin Mitglied im Schwedischen Gesangs- und Sprechpädagogenverband.
Unterschiedliche Sänger und Sängerinnen werden zu unserem Programm beitragen, das die vielfältigen Möglichkeiten unseres Gesangsinstruments aufzeigt. Hier wird man auch die Aktivitäten finden, die wir organisieren werden.
© 2011 Elisabeth Wärnfeldt, RSS