• Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 29: All Souls' Day

Today, as many of you might know, is All Souls’ Day. Growing up Southern Baptist, this is not a day with which I was familiar until I met my fiancee, whose family is largely Catholic. All Souls’ Day is also know as the Day of the Dead, if that helps….

Like many classically trained musicians, I LOVE the music of Richard Strauss, particularly the early, shorter tone poems—Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks—all written within the relatively short period of 1888 to 1895. Just before that, though, in 1885, Strauss published his first ever set of songs—or “lieder,” in German—the opus 10, based on poems by Hermann von Gilm. The last of these songs is titled Allerseelen, or “All Souls’ Day.”

I actually first encountered this song in its relatively popular transcription for wind band by Albert Davis, but I didn’t realize that the conductor Robert Heger was the first to orchestrate the song back in 1932. Strauss himself apparently approved of Heger’s orchestration, and even conducted it in some concerts.

The text is below; and the performance is Heger’s 1932 orchestration performed by Diana Damrau and the Munich Philharmonic, conducted by Christian Thielemann.

Place on the table the fragrant mignonettes,

Bring in the last red asters,

and let us talk of love again,

as once we did in May.

Give me your hand, so that I may secretly press it;

and if someone sees, it's all one to me.

Just give me one of your sweet glances,

as once you did in May.

Flowers bloom and spread their fragrance today on every grave;

one day in the year is sacred for the dead.

Come close to my heart, so that I can have you again,

as once I did in May.

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