Nietzsche: Sixteen Songs; Eine Sylvesternacht; Manfred-Meditation

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COMPOSERS: Nietzsche
LABELS: Newport
WORKS: Sixteen Songs; Eine Sylvesternacht; Manfred-Meditation
PERFORMER: John Aler (tenor), John Bell Young, Thomas Coote (piano), Nicholas Eanet (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: NPD 85535 DDD
‘Perhaps there has never been a philosopher who was… as much a musician as I am.’ Perhaps. Neither Hans von Bülow nor Wagner agreed with Nietzsche’s view of himself in this respect, so his musical career hardly got off to a good start. Here, though, is the opportunity to judge for yourself whether Nietzsche’s musical compositions were at worst inept or at best an incidental adjunct to his literary output.

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On this showing, the over-extended Eine Sylvesternacht for violin and piano, and the Tristanesque Manfred-Meditation for four hands are certainly more significant to the history of Nietzsche studies (to which an excellent essay offers some pointers) than to the history of music. But his songs, especially when performed with the commitment of tenor John Aler and pianist Thomas Coote, are true collectors’ pieces. Of the 16 on show here,the most courageous melodically and the most subtly inflected are the Schumannesque settings of the Hungarian poet Sandor Petöfi. ‘Verwelkt’ (‘Wilted’) and ‘Nachspiel’ (‘Postlude’) are disarming in their simplicity. One or two of his own poems are here, too: the sensuous ‘The Red Vine Waves’ and, unashamedly cribbed from Schubert, a ‘Fisher-Maiden’, living in just that element of Sturm und Drang from which Nietzsche was to spend his life trying to free himself. Hilary Finch