Die Stadt, by Richard Trunk (1879-1968)

Richard Trunk, was a German pianist, conductor, educator and composer. Most of his compositional output--written in a melodious, late Romantic style--was devoted to the voice, in both choral and solo formats. There was a remarkable assemblage of composers actively writing Lieder  in Germany between the two world wars, and names like Richard Strauss, Hindemith, Pfitzner and Reutter dominated the catalogs of the major publishers of the time. As a result, most of Trunk's songs were published by rather secondary German firms, which meant they were not easily obtained outside Germany and received little international recognition. They may not have been that well distributed even within Germany, for I have been searching used-music shops there for many years now, trying to complete my collection of Trunk songs, and have succeeded in finding only about half the titles on my want list.

Trunk's taste in poetry was wide ranged, and it must be admitted he often set verse that has not withstood the test of time. That is certainly not the case with his Opus 40 however, though it employs texts by such diverse poets as Nietzsche, Jacobi, Goethe and, for the third song, Die Stadt  (The Town),the somber north German Theodore Storm (1817-1888):


Am grauen Strand, am grauen Meer
und seitab liegt die Stadt;
der Nebel drückt die Dächer schwer
und durch die Stille braust das Meer
eintönig um die Stadt.

Es rauscht kein Wald, es schlägt im Mai
kein Vogel ohn' Unterlaß;
die Wandergans mit hartem Schrei
nur fliegt in Herbstesnacht vorbei,
am Strande weht das Gras.

Doch hängt mein ganzes Herz an dir,
du graue Stadt am Meer;
der Jugend Zauber für und für
ruht lächelnd doch auf dir, auf dir,
du graue Stadt am Meer.

On a dreary shore, by a dreary sea
There lies a lonely town;
Its gables groan under heavy mists
And a ceaseless pulse from the sea
Pounds through the heavy air.

No trees rustle there, no warblers
Sing their sweet songs in spring,
Only the harsh cries of wild geese are heard
As they fly past in the autumn night.
Wind whips the grass on the shore.

Yet my heart always resides with you,
You dreary town by the sea;
Enchantments of my youth linger
As blissful memories of you, of you,
You dreary town by the sea.

Anyone who has spent much time along the north German coast can relate to the monochromatic scene Storm depicts, but I believe only a native of the region could love it as unconditionally as the poet. Yet a universal has been captured here: the nostalgia each of us carries for that place--no matter how homely or unlikely--where we were first nurtured and happy.

This is a marvelous song, filled with color, effect and passion, and it provides an excellent expressive experience for student singers and accompanists as well. Trunk lets the poem dictate his musical form and the result is an excellent example of Barform--two Stollen  and an Abgesang, complete with a truncated [yes, a pun] and superbly poignant reprise. Written in the treble clef, the vocal gamut is not excessive--in the original key (B-flat minor/D-flat major) it runs from C-sharp below the staff to top-line F; while the dynamic range is from pianissimo to forte. Indeed, it is the modest top range that may create a problem for the young singer, for the considerable intensity demanded by Trunk's marvelous Abgesang  must be summoned even though the vocal line remains within the staff. Singers with high, light voices, who must rely on extended range to convey intensity, may not find this song a congenial one, as Sergius Kagen has wisely pointed out in his book Music for the Voice.

An intriguing alternate setting of Die Stadt  is found in Hermann Reutter's Opus 58, Fünf Lieder nach Gedichten von Theodore Storm, written for low voice. Composed in 1948, it employs a freer form and more advanced harmonic style than Trunk's version. It is a richly pictorial setting, sketched with three thematic ideas: the dark, heavy mood of the nearby ocean, an exotic birdlike counter melody, and the wild, haunting shriek of the migrating geese.

I found my copy of Die Stadt  in the album: Richard Trunk Lieder, Verschiedene Dichter, Band II, which was published in both high and medium/low versions, copyright 1927, by the Munich publisher, Otto Halbreiter Musikverlag.


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Copyright 1999, John Koopman. All rights reserved. No part of these websites, designated A BRIEF HISTORY OF SINGING and UNSUNG SONGS, or their contents may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means--electronic, photocopying or otherwise--without the written permission of the copyright holder. For information about the use of this material please contact the author through the Conservatory of Music, Lawrence University, Appleton, WI , (U.S.A) 54912-0599. Fax 920 832 6633