The concert vocalise, a dazzling wordless vocal etude intended for performance, is largely a phenomenon of the twentieth century. Made famous by composers such as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Maurice Ravel, the concert vocalise is generally a short, non-programmatic work with a relatively simple form. In contrast, Nikolai Medtner’s two monumental Op. 41 vocalises, the Sonata-Vocalise mit einem Motto “Geweihter Platz and the Suite Vocalise, are staggering in their length and formal complexity. They are also programmatically conceived, sharing the Goethe poem “Geweihter Platz” as their inspiration.
The innovation of adding a textual element to a traditionally textless genre introduces a tantalizing new layer of complexity that demands further research and exploration. However, as with any innovation, it also offers new challenges to performers wishing to program either or both works. Current scholarship has yet to offer any kind of in-depth analysis of either work, leaving questions as to the structural and motivic elements which bind these large works together, not to mention questions related to exactly how Medtner addresses the challenge of linking specific parts of Goethe’s text to the textless portions of music. Furthermore, neither work is considered standard repertoire, and recordings and performances are limited, leaving aspiring performers in something of an informational desert.
In this paper, I endeavor to fill this informational gap for performers and scholars alike by providing them with a brief biography of Medtner, an outline of the development of the concert vocalise genre, and the background of the Goethe poem that inspired Medtner. Then my in-depth analyses reveal underlying structural, motivic, and programmatic links both within and between the works. Finally, my performer’s guide, based on the analyses and my experience performing both works, offers suggestions regarding the interpretational, ensemble, and technical challenges presented by these great works.
- The Opus 41 Vocalises of Nikolai Medtner: Background, Analysis, and Performer's Guide