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[Ben Phelps looks at a crane]

Works > Songs > Liebestod Waltzes

Liebestod Waltzes

Song cycle for high voice and piano

2003. Premiered in Germany on a concert produced by tenor Gregory Weist. 15 minutes

The Liebestod Waltzes are settings of increasingly bad translations of Wagner’s famous Liebestod aria from Tristan and Isolde, inspired by the experience of enjoying opera through the medium of less than poetically translated libretti.

The first song is based on the classic (public domain) translation by H&F Corder. It is fairly straightforward, though slightly stilted, and I’ve adapted it to help emphasize its awkwardness. The second is a less faithful if more imaginative translation by myself, but here the emphasis of the text setting begins to feel a bit off- games are played with the placement of syllables, and meaning is obfuscated. The final song is a faithful word-for word translation by a free online computer translater, wherein meaning perhaps becomes secondary.

There are many multiple layers of experience here. First, the Liebestod text, even in German, is very odd. In it, Isolde basically achieves highest rapture singing to her dead lover, a rapture which kills her for no physical reason- she is simply overcome by her own intense sensuality. Wagner achieves the sublime in his music- and you are left feeling the need for no further explanation. In many ways, it is the ultimate love song,

My goal is slightly different- the music passes through several styles and moods as the text repeats itself through the three songs. The overall outcome is that the singer achieves sublime death three times, each time a little more incoherently.

Only the first song is actually a waltz.