May 26, 2013

Pierrot's Tanzlied: Karl Hammes

Karl Hammes (1896-1939) 
New York City Opera mounted Korngold's Die tote Stadt perhaps four times in the years that I was with the company, and I have never forgotten hearing a baritone colleague sing a beautiful rendering of Pierrot's Tanzlied for the first time. "God," I thought. "What a beautiful aria!" I would go stand in the wings just to hear it, right next to the eight ladies of the chorus who provided an enigmatic obligato, and watch said baritone steal the show from the soprano, the applause at the end of the evening confirming  my impression. 

Pierrot's Tanzlied is sung here by Karl Hammes in 1930. It's a beautiful voice, one that was trained at the Conservatory of Cologne. Unfortunately, his recorded legacy is quite spare since he perished over Warsaw, flying a fighter plane that was shot down in the Second World War. We hear him here, however, singing radiantly before madness swept across Europe and destroyed everything in its path. 

Manuel García the Elder once said that 95% of the power of the voice was in its beauty. When I listen to Korngold's music, and hear Hammes sing it, I can only agree. 

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