Berg – Der Wein / How to Measure a Soprano

Because nothing says ‘Happy Friday!’ like . . . the twelve-tone stylings of Alban Berg? (The text is a German translation of Baudelaire, people! It’s serious party music!)

I listened to this twice. (It’s from the DVD of the Salzburg 2011 opening concert.) The first time I was paying more attention to the singing, and the second to the orchestra. That piano part is neat, isn’t it? There were several moments, e.g. around 4.15 and again at 6.50 or so where I paused and went back to hear it again. And the music has some little jazz-like glides, here and there, e.g. in the clarinet part at about 8.44 and right before that (here jazz-like is maybe not quite the right word) in the soprano part at 8.25. There is something about this piece that I find really interesting – after I wrote the foregoing sentences I went back and listened to it again, and I am tempted to go for a fourth, but it’s nearly eleven and my neighbors dislike me enough as it is. The way Röschmann sings this, you feel all the phrases are connected to one another in a really absorbing way – there’s a tension or structure to it that holds the whole thing together, but I can’t put my finger on it more specifically than that right now.

But even though I have not yet worked that out to my satisfaction, conversation about this clip with my fellow historian friend R did lead us to explore some previously unexamined interpretive questions, viz.:

R: How tall do you think she is?

Me: Röschmann? I don’t know. Not very.

R: [contemplatively] Too bad she’s never robbed a convenience store.

Me: What?

R: You know, how up and down the door frames at 7-11 they have that tape measure decal, so that if they need to identify anyone coming or going, they can tell their height from the security camera. Do they have those in Europe?

Me: If you can find video footage of Dorothea Röschmann holding up a convenience store I can pretty much promise you that her height is going to be the least interesting thing about that tape.

13 thoughts on “Berg – Der Wein / How to Measure a Soprano

      1. Heehee, in which case it might help to establish how tall VK is. According to an interview she said she’s 172 cm… That’d put DR at 163.4 cm or about 5’3″. 😀

        When she’s singing, though, she fills the whole room no matter how tall its ceiling is. 😉


  1. Under 167 cm.

    After the recital in Schwetzingen I still was in the entrance hall when she went to the artists’ dressing room. When she was passing me I had the impression, that she is smaller than me. (But that was certainly not the main thing I did care for at that moment :-))


    1. If I’d been in your place I wouldn’t have been thinking about her height either! (That was a lovely recital – I was listening to the audio again the other day.)


  2. 1. Thank you for sharing this. She is, of course, wonderful!
    2. Berg really admired the music of Gershwin.
    3. Maybe someone can write an opera about a woman robbing a convenience store, and D.R. can premiere it.
    4. She looks so stern when she comes in. When she smiles, it’s like sunshine…
    5. She would be a Very Intersting Lulu.
    6. What was the trio about to sing, and can we have a look at it?


    1. 1. Word.
      2. This makes total sense, given what I hear in Der Wein. (A lot of those guys in the early 20thc liked Gershwin, didn’t they!)
      3. This requires further thought.
      4. Yes – she seems to be one of those people who looks completely different when smiling.
      5. This had not occurred to me – maybe she would.
      6. It’s Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied. I’ll try to put it up on YT sometime this weekend.


      1. 2. There is a spurious (or apocryphal – I forget which is which) story about G. asking Ravel, Stravinsky, (or possibly Schoenberg) for composition lessons. Ravel (or stravinsky or whomever) asked him what he earned from his music and when G told him, Ravel (or Strav… ) said, “I should be studying with YOU.”
        5. Of course, that role is a soprano killer, so maybe we shouldn’t let her do that! (I am curious how Patricia Petibon’s voice is going to emerge from her round of Lulus)
        6. Oh, blurg. Maybe with D.R. singing, I will learn to love or at least like it.


        1. Yeah, I don’t love Das Klagende Lied (yet?) either. I don’t often listen to Mahler – I’ve enjoyed hearing some of his symphonies live, but he’s not a composer that really speaks to me in the same way as Brahms or Verdi or whathaveyou.


  3. Thanks for posting this performance. I have read that Gershwin and Berg did meet in person, and at a small gathering Gershwin was asked to play piano and told Berg he was nervous about playing in front of him. Berg replied “Music is music.” One of Gershwin’s most prized possessions was an autographed photo portrait of Berg. The influence and admiration went both ways with these two composers.


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