This recital by the young South African baritone Njabulo Madlala demonstrates his artistry
in some jewels of the European Lieder and song repertoire and also his deep
commitment to traditional African songs.
Du bist wie eine Blume (You are like a flower) comes from Robert Schumann�s song-
cycle Myrthen, composed between January and April 1840 to the poetry of Heinrich
Heine and several other leading German (and English) poets. Schumann presented the
cycle to his wife Clara as a gift on their wedding day in September of that year.
Traditionally, German brides wore wreaths of orange blossoms on their heads, but
Schumann felt Clara deserved a more symbolic wreath of myrtle (evergreen) leaves and
white flowers, which together were traditionally associated with Venus. Schumann said
Myrthen was not so much a cycle as a �diary� of the love between a man and a woman
and their struggles with the trials of life. In this context, Heine�s Du bist wie eine
Blume receives Schumann�s most rapt and stately treatment. The repeated chords of the
accompaniment provide a grave, majestic background to the singer�s declamation of the
text in a free kind of recitative. The song�s key is A flat major, often associated with
wedding ceremonies, and perhaps to be regarded as the �tonic� of Myrthen, whose first
and last songs are also in that key.
A very different and much larger Heine setting from 1840 is Belsazar, an extended
narrative � composed on a single day, 7 February � of which Schumann was so proud
that he published it as a separate opus all on its own. This is not so much, as in so
many of his Heine settings, an exploration of the poet�s irony as a re-enactment of a
dramatic Biblical story, achieving a colour and dramatic pacing that are almost
operatic. Heine�s account of Belshazzar�s feast finds Schumann responsive to every
nuance and musical opportunity in the text. It begins near midnight in the quiet
streets of Babylon, then moves to the riotous depiction of the feasting and dancing in
the king�s palace. At the climax of the revelry Belshazzar�s hubris leads him to utter
blasphemies against Jehovah, and a sudden shocked hush falls on the court: here
Schumann�s music becomes frighteningly sparse. As the divine hand appears and writes
God�s judgement against Belshazzar in letters of fire, the piano�s bass line makes a
sinister chromatic descent. The song ends with the chilling narration of Belshazzar�s
death, the piano confined to staccato chords separated by silences, and the voice
ending the song unaccompanied.
Franz Schubert composed two songs entitled Wandrers Nachtlied (Wanderer�s Night
Song), both of them to poems of Goethe. The later and by far the better-known of
these settings, to the poem ��ber allen Gipfeln, bist Ruh�, describing the beauty and
serenity of a sunset, dates from 1824, and Schubert requires only 14 very slow bars to
set the poem�s eight lines. The piano part hints at an opening hymn, at the peaceful
motion of the woodland in beguiling figurations, and at a distant horn-call echoing
among the silent mountains.
Liebesbotschaft (Love�s Greeting) is from the last group of songs that Schubert
composed, to texts by Heine, Rellstab and Seidl. They were published some months
after his early death by Tobias Haslinger, who gave the collection the title
Schwanengesang (Swan Song) though it is not a song-cycle as such and Schubert
probably intended the songs to be sung separately. Liebesbotschaft is one of seven
settings of Rellstab in the collection. According to Beethoven�s friend and amanuensis
Anton Schindler, Rellstab had hoped that Beethoven would set his poems, and after
Beethoven�s death Schindler passed them on to Schubert, who decided to set them in
Beethoven�s memory. In Liebesbotschaft the water imagery of Rellstab�s opening lines
prompts Schubert to allude to the music of his 1823 song-cycle Die sch�ne M�llerin in
the purling demisemiquaver right-hand figure that clearly depicts the rushing brook.
The voice part is a characteristically wonderful Schubertian melody, which, together
with a subtle yet profoundly poetic harmonic scheme, reflects every nuance of the poem
yet seems as natural as a folk song.
The ideal of the folk song also inspired Vaughan Williams�s most popular song, Linden
Lea, which was actually his first work to be printed. It appeared in the first number of
a new magazine devoted to the art of singing, The Vocalist, in April 1902, as by �E.
Vaughan Williams�, with a note by the editor that it �came to our notice on the strong
recommendation of Professor Stanford, whose pupil the composer was at the Royal
College of Music�. According to Vaughan Williams himself the song came to him and was
written down in a single afternoon. Vaughan Williams takes a poem by the Dorset poet
William Barnes (originally in Dorset dialect) and turns it into a song of such directness
and simplicity it feels as if it had always existed, as a folk song: though the subtitle he
gave it (�a Dorset Folk Song�) is positively misleading as well as typically self-effacing.
Another early song, Let Beauty Awake forms part of Vaughan Williams�s song-cycle
Songs of Travel, composed in 1902-4 to poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. As a
�journeying� cycle, Songs of Travel has obvious affinities with the song-cycles of
Schubert, especially Winterreise. Essentially this is a set of love-songs in which the
wanderer-narrator accepts philosophically the mixture of joys and sorrows that lie in
wait for him along the road. It is also a cycle for domestic performance, in the home,
that is all about breaking out of the humdrum, cloistered life. Stevenson had written
some of his poems with existing tunes in mind (�The Vagabond� is actually said to be
�to an air of Schubert�), but Vaughan Williams fashioned new melodies for them all. The
highly effective word-setting, respecting and embellishing Stevenson�s prosody, shows
how much he had learned from his teacher Hubert Parry, whose many English Lyrics had
set new standards in the setting of English poetry. Let Beauty Awake, essentially a
hymn to beauty, is the second song in the cycle and unfolds a long, raptly lyrical line
over rippling piano arpeggios.
Charles Villiers Stanford once spoke of another of his students, Herbert Howells, as �my
son in music�, though his music displays stronger affinities with that of Vaughan
Williams. King David, one of his most famous songs, was completed on 7 August 1919
and dedicated to the tenor John Coates. This is one of many settings Howells made of
poetry by his friend Walter de la Mare, but Howells considered this one extended song,
which is more like a scena, with its subtle and emotionally effective harmonic
progression from E flat minor to E major, to be one of his finest works. Every stage of
the narrative is depicted with a flair equal to Schumann�s in Belsazar. The nightingale�s
song, heard only in the upper register of the piano, is a haunting inspiration, while the
singer needs to project a great range of vocal colour.
The composer, pianist and poet Roger Quilter was one of the supreme artists among
English song-composers in the early years of the 20th century, partly due to his intense
study of German Lieder while still a student (he was one of the �Frankfurt Gang� along
with Percy Grainger and Cyril Scott) and also his study of contemporary French song-
writers, especially Gabriel Faur�. Though he cultivated song as a kind of sublimated
light music, he did so with elegance and fine technique and his songs are in danger
these days of being underrated.
O Mistress Mine, from Quilter�s first set of Three Shakespeare Songs, Op.6, was published
in 1905 and has always been admired as one of his finest songs for perfection of word-
setting and the interdependence of voice and accompaniment. Go, Lovely Rose, from a
set of Five English Love Lyrics published separately between 1922 and 1928, sets a poem
by the 17th-century Royalist poet and political trimmer Edmund Waller. Quilter�s setting
is sometimes criticized for its sentimentality, and sometimes hailed as Quilter�s
masterpiece, perhaps because sentimentality was an innate quality of his art. In any
event, the open, heartfelt quality of the main melody should subdue criticism by its
In song-writing, as in orchestral music, Richard Strauss hit his stride early. He wrote
some superb examples in his teens, and by his mid-twenties was already an assured
master of the Lied. (Success in opera would take rather longer.) The set of Eight Songs
to poems by the Tyrolese poet Hermann von Gilm, which Richard Strauss issued in his
late teens as his opus 10, is generally held to be his first truly representative
achievement in the field of Lieder-writing. Certainly it contains several songs that soon
established themselves in the repertoire and that remain popular even today.
Allerseelen, the last and best-loved of the set, is a radiant love song whose memories of
May-time love are set in the context of the graveside flowers of the celebration of All
Souls� Day (which falls on 2 November).
Heimliche Aufforderung, one of a set of four songs written in May 1894, sets a poem by
the Greenock-born poet John Henry Mackay, who spent most of his life in Germany. He
enjoyed quite a vogue at this period and one could never guess from this poem, about
a pair of lovers meeting among a group of merry-makers, that Mackay was more famous
for publishing wild anarchist tracts than for his verse. Strauss�s setting, with its
bravura piano part, has a fine swinging impetus. From the same group of Mackay
settings comes the ever-popular Morgen! Even though the voice never has the
magnificent main tune � announced at the outset by the piano alone � but
counterpoints it in a mood of profound rapture, the song contains such a wealth of
melodic invention and warmth of harmony that it is a classic of the late-Romantic Lied.
Against this selection of songs from the European art-song tradition, Njabulo Madlala
has counterpointed a range of traditional and popular African songs. He has said that
the strongest force in his family while he was growing up was his grandmother, a
domestic worker and intense lover of music. �She was the singer in our family. She was
the one always to be found singing and humming Zulu folk songs and lullabies in the
house, while doing just about anything. She was a very quiet woman, who spoke very
little, but found peace and solace in her music. Her prayer was also in song. I went to
bed listening to her singing. There was something so special in her voice; I used to get
goose bumps each time I thought about it. She could easily have been a professional
singer, her voice was really that good.� The songs on this CD were all sung by Njabulo�s
grandmother and mother. Thula Sizwe (Be still my country) is an Apartheid-era Zulu
lullaby, as is Thula s�thandwa sami (Sleep, my love). The more complex Thula baba...
Thula sana (Hush, sleep little baby) is also a lullaby, in which a mother sings to her
child as they await the return from work of the baby�s father. Malaika (Angel, I love
you) is one of the most widely known of all Swahili songs. Since the Swahili words for
an angel, malaika, can also mean a baby or small child, so part of this song also is
used as a lullaby throughout East Africa. Shosholoza (Go forward) is a Ndebele folk
song that was popularized in South Africa (in fact, it is sometimes referred to as South
Africa�s second national anthem) though it is believed to have originated in Zimbabwe.
It was originally sung by Ndebele-speaking migrant workers who travelled by train to
labour in South Africa�s diamond and gold mines, and was taken up by Zulu workers as
well. The song was sung by working miners in time with the beat as they were
swinging their axes to dig. It was also taken up in South Africa�s prisons. Nelson
Mandela sang Shosholoza during his imprisonment on Robben Island, to make the work
feel lighter, and described it as �a song that compares the apartheid struggle to the
motion of an oncoming train�.
Baxabene oxamu and Qongqothwane are traditional Xhosa songs and also examples of
�Click Songs� that allowed children to practice the various clicking sounds of the Xhosa
language (represented in transcription by the letters q and x). While Baxabene oxamu is
a nonsense rhyme of made-up words, Qongqothwane (�Knock-knock� beetle) is usually
sung at weddings to bring good fortune. The particular type of beetle makes a knocking
sound by tapping the ground with its abdomen, and the Xhosa believe it brings good
luck and the end of the dry season.
Deep River is a well-known spiritual of African-American origin, and was one of the
spirituals used by Michael Tippett in his modern oratorio A Child of Our Time because
he felt that spirituals had an equal force to the church chorales used in Bach�s
oratorios. The idea of crossing over the river Jordan symbolizes the release of the
Israelites from captivity, and thus also the freeing of African-Americans from slavery.
Lakutshon� ilanga (When the sun goes down) is one of the best-known songs by
Makwenkwe �Mackay� Davashe, who died in Soweto in 1972. As a saxophonist,
bandleader and songwriter he was for over 30 years one of South Africa�s most
prominent jazz musicians and an inspiration to many singers. This is a love song in
which the singer searches for his love in houses, hospitals and prisons.
Finally Nkosi Sikelel� iAfrika (�God Bless Africa� in Xhosa) was a symbol of the anti-
apartheid movement and the official anthem for the African National Congress in the
apartheid era. It became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the
national anthem of Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence, as
well as becoming a portion of the multilingual national anthem of South Africa after
the fall of the apartheid regime. It was originally composed in 1897 by Enoch
Sontonga, a teacher at a Methodist mission school in Johannesburg, as a hymn to the
tune �Aberystwyth� by the Welsh composer Joseph Parry.