Das kroatische Kunstlied – Croatian Art Song

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Since the beginning of the 19th century, the Croatian lied has shown an orientation towards international styles. In addition to Croatian poetry, Croatian composers have set to music poems by German, Italian, French, and Czech poets. For this album priority was given to settings of German poetry by a diverse number of Croatian composers in order to acquaint an international audience with the Croatian lied.

Link: JPC –JPC:
Musicians and music lovers in German speaking countries jealously assume that the voice and a piano is an exclusive art form of German and Austrian composers. This belief is bolstered because the songs performed at concerts for the most part originated in Germany and Austria by the acknowledged Composers such as Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, Johannes Brahms and later Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and others.
However, it does not mean that in the 19th century Europe there were no other composers of art songs. Edvard Grieg in Norway, Gabriel Faure in France, Peter Tchaikovsky and Modest Musorgski in Russia are just some of the names showing that the art song form was cultivated in many other European countries.

Mezzo soprano Nataša Antoniazzo and the pianist Mia Elezović clearly demonstrate on their latest CD that Croatia had also a rich tradition of art songs. The two artists included the songs of Vatroslav Lisinski (1819-1854), the composer who wrote the first Croatian opera Ljubav and zloba (Love and Malice) in 1846, then continued with Ivan Zajc (1832-1914), a Romantic-era composer, to the Countess Dora Pejačević (1885-1923), who was the composer of the first modern Croatian symphony. The choice on the CD is a wonderful representation of the 19th century Croatian art songs, often very beautiful and melodious.

The latest edition of Antes Edition fulfills and obvious discographic void, since in the German speaking world we know very little about Croatian music. Apart from Countess Pejačević (1885-1923), whose valuable works were issued by the cpo record label and much deserving of a mention, we are unfamiliar with the other composers on this new CD.
The art song was evidently a very important form of music in Croatia both at the end of the 19th and into the beginning of the 20th century.
Besides employing patriotic lyrics, Croatian composers also turned German, Italian, French and Czech poems into songs. The selection on the CD includes eleven poems, with the focus on German ones. Of the eleven, one poem is from France, and only four of the chosen lyrics are from Croatia. Such a choice, though probably not representational, has obviously been selected to introduce Croatian music to foreign audiences.
Listening to the Croatian selection we can conclude that the Croatian art song was developed in parallel with those of Germany although clearly developing independently.
Both the themes and romantic stylisation of songs composed by Vatroslav Lisinski (1819-1854), have their roots in the bourgeois salon culture. The songs of Ferdo Wiesner Livadić (1799-1879) and of Ivan Padovac (1800-1873) resemble the works of Robert Schumann. Mediterranean and oriental influences can be recognised in their melody and rhythm.
Franjo Kežma, a violinist virtuoso who died extremely young (1862-1882) is featured here with his composition of Heine’s lyrics (“Du bist wie eine Blume”) and Lenau’s (“Bitte”). He undoubtedly strongly rivals the best of his German contemporaries.
Ivan Zajc, who was a successful opera composer also followed the Italian opera style. The influence of belcanto can be seen in his songs. Countess Dora Pejačević and Blagoje Bersa (1873-1834) are the representatives of the then Avantgarde and are influenced by the zeitgeist of the European fin-de-siecle.
Both artists, Nataša Antoniazzo (mezzo soprano) and Mia Elezović (pianist) are dedicated cultural representatives of their national music and demonstrate the variance in styles (especially the performance of the pianist in this regard). The mezzo soprano has a full, gently timbered voice, with practically pitch perfect phraseology in German. By using somewhat dark tones she renders the lighter songs more melancholic giving the whole recital a more defined and well-rounded presence.
Ekkehard Pluta [05.02.2019]

Heinrich Heine’s “You are just like a flower” (”Du Bist Wie Eine Blume”) is a poem we would never expect in the collection of Croatian art songs. Besides Heine’s work, there are Goethe’s poems, the poems of Nikolas Laenau and “An die Tanne”, a poem from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection. In addition we have a cycle of four Anna Ritter’s poems set to music. Ritter issued her first collection of poems in 1900 and as a contributor to Gartenlaube (family newspaper) and to Stollwerck-sammelalben became a well-known name in German literature.

In September 2018 Croatian mezzo soprano and music educator Nataša Antoniazzo, together with the pianist Mila Elezović, recorded the works of seven composers who are virtually unknown to us (Antes BM319302). Probably the exception is Ivan pl Zajc (1832-1914), whose opera Nikola Šubić Zrinski from 1876, is still on a standard repertoire on Croatian stages. The second name is Vatroslav Lisinski (1819-1854), who composed the first Croatian opera Ljubav i zloba (Love and Malice) in 1846, as a reaction to cultural and political situation of the time. This was the first original and independent Croatian opera. The representatives of Moderna movement in Croatia are Dora Pejačević and Blagoje Bersa, whose works from the beginning of the 20th century give a very big role to the piano.

The Croatian art song presented on this CD mostly used the lyrics of German poets, to bring it closer to the international audience. The songs were composed in the fashion of the romantic bourgeoise salons, typical of the 19th century Europe.
Rich and powerful mezzo soprano of Nataša Antoniazzo puts dark shades on the melancholic atmosphere of the songs, reinforcing the melancholy in the lyrics, particularly in ”The Day of the Dead” and in the most extensive example “Seh duš-Dan” by Blagoje Bersa.

Cantus, Croatian Composers’ Society magazine, December 2019, Irena Paulus:
„….Her interpretation contributes to great emotional intensity, artistically tempered and restrained in keeping with the true professional artifice of an accomplished mezzo soprano. Nataša Antoniazzo brings it all wonderfully to life through carefully chosen techniques. She demonstrates brilliant elocution, regardless of the language in which she sings. Meticulous throughout the performance, her attention to phrasing and dynamics is highly accomplished. Her restraint in where to apply more or less vibrato, her sense of where to communicate strength of voice and where to transpose a softness and indeed a ‘thinness’, readily convey the true ambience and message of the music and lyrics.

In terms of outstanding musicality, Nataša Antoniazzo’s performance is a powerful invocation of how the atmosphere and dialogue of the pieces should be conveyed. The lyrical piano performance of Mia Elezović, endows all solo songs with a remarkable inherent strength, particularly ”An die Fruhlingswinde“ by Lisinski, which actually is his idyll “Večer“ (“Evening“) turned into a solo song.
The interpretations of Nataša Antoniazzo and Mia Elezović drastically change the conventional perception of Croatian composers of the National Revival period, embracing all from Livadić to Lisinski. These two musicians, Antoniazzo and Elezović, reveal that the works of the Croatian authors from the Early Romanticism were not created by insufficiently educated talents, but by exceptional authors who take their rightful place in the company of the elite world composers of the 19th century…”
Croatian art songs become a real discovery after experiencing the performance of the mezzo soprano Nataša Antoniazzo and the pianist Mia Elezović on the CD Das Kroatische Kunstlied. The reviews of the CD in the world have highlighted its quality and some of these reviews were published in the last issue of the Cantus. Every song is more beautiful than the other. Every one of them unique. They do justice to these composers and rightly represent them as significant and important artists and individuals in the world portfolio of music. Unfortunately, up until now, not enough attention has been paid to them in much the same way as the solo song genre has been sadly neglected. All now unreservedly deserve a place in music history.