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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Anni Frind: The Beauty of Elegance

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Had Keats been eulogizing singers, and not Grecian urns, I feel he would have to have found a place for elegance in his formula. It is an aesthetic problem of the first order: what exactly is the relationship between elegance and beauty? Can something be elegant and not beautiful? Or vice versa? Anything but easy! I do know that the very first time I heard Anni Frind sing, the first thought that entered my mind was, "this is absolute elegance!" And a moment later, "and very beautiful!" Whether the relationship be causal or parallel, I simply cannot say, but listening to Anni Frind may suggest an answer.

Anni Frind was born in Nixdorf, Bohemia, presently the Czech Republic, in 1900.* A musically precocious child, she was trained at an early age, in Dresden, studying with Eleanor Kahler-Riese, Grete Merrem-Nikish, and Luise Willer. She made her professional debut at the Berlin Volksoper in 1922, at first in a minor role. As so often happens in Europe, the big roles soon came along, as she gained in experience and public exposure. She was soon singing at the Munich Staatsoper, the Salzburg Festival (1926), and in Berlin, Dresden, and other major European cities. She was noted not only for her operatic singing (Mélisande, Papagena, Cio-Cio-San, Musetta, others) but also for her operetta singing and concert work, which was extensive. Like so many other European singers of her approximate age, her career was seriously interrupted by WWII, and she emigrated in 1951, along with her husband, to the United States, where she settled in New Orleans and began a teaching career at Tulane University. Her singing, throughout her career, was characterized by an extraordinary elegance, along with attention to minute musical and stylistic detail.

Anni Frind died in New Orleans, in 1987. However, as the great Caruso once observed, a singer's life should be told in song, not words. If you do not know her, please permit me to introduce you to Anni Frind!

I think a good place to start would be with an aria that will be known to most, and that is the lovely and wistful "Vilja," (Which we generally know as "The Witch of The Woods") from Lehar's eternally popular Merry Widow: (turn up volume)

So lovely! This is one of the best versions of this piece that I have heard. It is characterized from the first notes to the end by a curious but fascinating wistfulness and sentimentality that is somehow contained with the bounds of stylistic and aesthetic propriety. Sentimentality for its own sake often fails, and turns the listener away at precisely the moment he or she should be most emotionally engaged. I'm sure we can all think of moments when this happens. (Puccini, whom I admire greatly, can nevertheless have his share of faux pas in this area!) This is different. Wistful? Yes. Sentimental and retrospective? Yes. Schmaltz? NO! That is the secret, and that is the aesthetic conundrum. How does this happen? Extreme musicality, stylistic excellence, infinite attention to small detail, and a near worshipful regard for the author's intentions. It may not be the complete answer, but I believe all these elements are at the very least present.

With these notable gifts, it should not be a surprise that lieder singing was one of Anni Frind's greatest gifts. This area of musical art gave full scope to her abilities. She was particularly fond of the music of Max Reger, (and here is the respect for composer element manifesting itself again) and her rendition of "Waldeinsamkeit" is certainly one of the best ever:

That is simply exquisite. The attention to phrase and the near-infinite stylistic inflections she bestows upon the song make this a model of elegant singing. This cannot be faulted in any way—it can only be praised.

Finally, a Reger piece which I think illustrates another of the qualities that I mentioned above. If "Waldeinsamkeit" reflects the most exquisite regard for authorial intention and stylistic excellence, "Des Kindes Gebet" ("The Child's Prayer") reflects her equally refined (and almost mysterious) ability to refract sentimentality and contain it within the bounds of stylistic beauty. This is as hard, musically, as anything I can think of. Even to sing a song called "A Child's Prayer" is to immediately put the discriminating audience on alert. How does one soar above the sentimental aspect of THAT theme? Here is how:

Very, very touching, but the sentimentality is constrained. In fact, I think "constraint" may be the word I have been looking for, or perhaps "understatement." Frind is wise enough to know that the subject matter per se is all the sentiment that is needed. What she can add is musicality. Perhaps that is the secret: musicality (and this includes respect for authorial intention, something now so out of style in literature and increasingly in music ) coupled with a superior vision, which includes aesthetic purity and a restraint more Olympian than visceral. However it is that elegance becomes beauty, it would be hard to find a better exemplar than Anni Frind.

I would like to take this opportunity to advise readers that Anni Frind recorded a lieder recital in November,1954, which has been issued on Centaur Lp CRC-1002, featuring works by Schumann, Schubert, Hans Pfitzner, and Joseph Marx. It also contains comments by Frind and her pianist Peter Hansen, added in 1977. Plans are now being made for this recording to be released as a download by Centaur Records, Inc. When I hear of this release, I will advise readers.




*I am most grateful to Mr. George Weaver, at "Opertutto," who provided me both with photographs and important information relating to Anni Frind's biography.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Edmund, you have described Anni Frind with succinct, elegant writing that comes from a keen mind and heart. I think she would have been quite pleased with what you have written and the selections you have chosen for your readers. George

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for bringing new insights and information to us on people with whom we are not familiar.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you so much, George, for your lovely comment. It makes me feel very good indeed to know that you like the piece, and that you feel Anni Frind would also have been pleased. She sounds as though she was a lovely lady. Certainly a wonderful, elegant singer! Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I admit this is a discovery for me. Lovely singing! Are there any more videos of her on YT?


Edmund St. Austell said...

Yes, there are several. Just google: youtube anni frind and you will find several more.

Thanks for comment.

JING said...

I am so grateful that you have brought this marvelous singer to those of us for whom she was unknown. Your commentary, (They are always insightful and fascinating!) is, in the case of Anni Frind, extraordinarily subtle and enlightening. Your quest for just the right word to capture the particular quality of her elegance is simply a pleasure to read. Her style truly is, at least in the selections you have shared, one of constrained sentimentality.

As I listened to her sing and watched the flow of pictures, including ones of, presumably, her family, the thought came to me that this contraint is one that is gentle and protective (you have me hunting for words, too). It is as if her art is one that offers safety and snugness, that embraces us and envelops us - singing that is done most lovingly.

I see in her biography that one of her signature roles was Adele in Fledermaus (sung over 200 times) - an operetta I've always associated with being cozy and safe on a wintry night. I see also that she was an early opponent of Hitler and eventually performed for Allied troops. A woman and artist of enormous moral stature. Thanks again for bringing her to life for us!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you for a lovely comment! I really appreciate that. I absolutely agree with your sentiment. There is some very special about Anni Frind, and it does indeed set one to searching for words. The something is close to ineffable, but it is very real, and it makes itself felt very poignantly in her music.

Thanks again, so good to hear from you! Your comments are works of art in themselves!

Anonymous said...

This is another singer I never heard before. Thanks a lot for the article.
Anni Frind is an extraordinary singer, and your analysis of her style is very precise. She can be called ‘sentimental’, but it’s not the real sentimentality, which is strongly connected to ‘sugariness’. She is not sugary at all, even in “Child’s prayer’. Her voice sounds melancholic and tender, and very refined. It seems to me that such non-sentimental ‘sentimentality’ is rare now mainly because it requires great talent and skills. Perhaps contemporary artists are skillful enough, but they are afraid of this style. It’s sad, because such an angelic singing sounds very ‘refreshing’ now.

She also was a very good-looking lady, and her appearance suits her singing very much.


Edmund St. Austell said...

My word! What a lovely and insightful comment! Yes, I agree with all you say. Very well put, and absolutely accurate! Brava!

Anonymous said...

George was the person who introduced me first to Anni Frind and I am forever grateful for it. Anni's voice is so ideally suited to her repertoire, delicacy and nuance with great feeling that never overdramatizes or rings false. Thank you for a very insightful commentary on her as she certainly deserves to be better known. Lesley / sospello.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you so much, Lesley, for an excellent comment. I agree with all you say, and I too learned of Anni from George, to whom I owe the essential material that went into this article. He has performed a real service by making this lovely singer from the 20's and 30's known to us now. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou so much Edmund for posting the information regarding the beautiful voice of the late Anni Frind.Like so many people I recall during my childhood days (I am 68) listening to Anni on the radio singing 'The Nuns Chorus'...bringing back so many memories.
God bless her and thanks to you once again.

EdmundStAustell said...

My pleasure, my friend. I'm very glad you enjoyed it!

David in England said...

I am a complete operatic ignoramus, but I found my Father's old 12" 78 in two pieces and super-glued it together. Hearing the Nun's Chorus for the first time in over 40 years brought a lump to my throat. On your website Mr St Austel, I followed the links to more examples of this captivating voice. Until now, I thought that only Kathleen Ferrier's voice could do that to me.
I don't profess to know what it is about the two remarkable singers that moves me so much, but the explanation you give sounds a reasonable one. Thank you for the links.