July 16, 2018. Flagstad and Stern. We missed two anniversaries last week. One was the birthday of Carl Orff, a somewhat controversial German composer, who was born on July 10th of 1895. He deserves a full entry, and that’s what we’ll do next year. Also last week was the birthday of Kirsten Flagstad: she was just two days younger than Orff, born on July 12th of 1895. The Norwegian soprano was regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Wagner singers of all time. She had a voice of phenomenal beauty, clarity and power. For the first 10 years or so of her operatic career Flagstad sang mostly lyric roles in the opera houses of Sweden and Norway. She then took on the heavier roles in Verdi’s Aida and Tosca, and, in 1932, sang the role of Isolde in Tristan und Isolde. She successfully auditioned for Winifred Wagner, Richard Wagner’s pro-Nazi daughter-in-law who ran the Bayreuth Festival, and in 1934 sang Sieglinde in Die Walküre and Gutrune in Götterdämmerung at the Bayreuth. The next year she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, first as Sieglinde, then in the role of Isolde. Her Brünnhilde, later that same year, was a phenomenal success. An invitation from the Covent Garden followed, and there she was also received with great enthusiasm. By the end of 1936 she was world-famous. In 1941 she returned to the Nazi-occupied Norway; that chagrined some of her American listeners (her husband was accused of collaborating with the Nazis but died before his trial ended). The British were more forgiving, and Flagstad resumed her after-war career in London. She sang the difficult Wagner roles, plus Strauss and more till about 1952.
By that time her tone became darker and it was harder for her to reach the top notes. She retired from the opera in 1952; fr a while she continued giving concerts, but her health began deteriorating. Flagstad died on December 7th of 1962, she was only 67 years old. Here is Kirsten Flagstad in Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Wilhelm Furtwangler conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra. Even though in 1952, when this recording was made, Flagstad was beyond her prime, this is a superlative live performance, both by her and by the conductor. We cannot have enough of her Isolde, so here is another live performance of Liebestod, from 1936. The recording is technically far from perfect, but Flagstad is absolutely glorious. Fritz Reiner leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The great America violinist Isaac Stern was born in Kremenetz, Ukraine, on 21 July 21st of 1920. He was 14 months old when his family emigrated to the United States. One of the greatest violinist of the 20th century and one of the most important cultural figures of his time, he deserves a full entry, and we’ll do it on an occasion. For now, here Isaac Stern and Eugene Istomin are playing Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin no. 7 Op. 30, no. 2.