Clare McCaldin on Lieder

Ahead of her appearance at this year’s Oxford Lieder Festival, we sat down for a chat with Clare McCaldin about the artform. Clare is the director of McCaldin Arts.

clare mccaldin mezzo-soprano

© Ben McKee Photography 2018

What does ‘Lieder’ mean to you?

I think of landscape and drama – internal drama as well as the external. Sometimes it can be something simple like a tree that precipitates the poet’s responding to it. There’s this intimate connection between landscape and sentiment, and an internal or external narrative depending on whether the poet intends that.

What’s your first memory of Lieder?

I remember learning Die Forelle to sing at a music competition, or something. I guess I was about eight. That’s the first thing I mastered in German.

So the song being in German is important to Lieder?

Yes, Lieder is German song. It’s such an integral part of what the song is. Performing the song in translation cannot be the same.

When did you discover that this is the importance of Lieder? Did it coincide with studying modern languages at University?

No, it was when I started taking singing seriously. Obviously, studying the language meant I wanted to speak it properly, to understand the phonetics, but their relationship with song only began to matter when I became interested in singing.

So has the appeal of singing German poetry always been about the words or did you come to Lieder through this landscape, or abstract, connection?

I do know a lot of people who have a particular image for a particular song, that’s one way of working with music. That’s principally not how it works for me because I’m lucky enough to work in languages that I understand more or less well, because I speak French German and Italian, enough to understand what’s going on. I feel I have a detailed enough grasp of the text, that actually the text is the thing that takes me into the song. If images do come along then they have come from the text.

What Lieder recital has made the biggest impression on you?

I went to hear John Tomlinson singing, I think, his first Winterreise in public. I confess to having gone along a little bit out of curiosity as he’s not latterly done a great deal of Lieder, so I thought it would be an interesting thing to hear. It’s fascinating that it has stuck in my mind far more than recitals given by famous singers-of-Lieder, because it was an extremely powerfully felt story. Perhaps it was a natural choice, Winterreise, for someone who has done Wotan a lot. It felt that there was an enormous amount of direct experience in the songs. All of that was really distinctive and convincing and I just really liked how much it felt as if it came not just from him as an artist but through him, from a tradition. A different tradition perhaps, from the Lieder tradition, but a tradition nonetheless.

That’s idea of tradition is interesting. What then is the most ‘authentic’ Lieder performance you’ve heard?

Well in some ways, if that idea of tradition follows, then it needs to be a German native singer. One would hope they have the most direct, thorough understanding of the tradition. It needn’t be – it’s hard to say. We strive to get close to the tradition in terms of performing stuff that’s not ‘our own’. I mean, I’ve heard Holzmair and Gerhaher both of whom were tremendous, not just because they’re native speakers but something bound up with that. Oh… I don’t know whether it’s fair to say that Lieder feels most comfortable in the baritone range? It’s something about it being in the speaking range, somehow there’s a kind of intimacy to it. It’s interesting that I’ve named two baritones who I think excel in it. I don’t know if that favours me too as a mezzo-soprano!

You’re singing Röntgen, Brahms and Schumann. Do you like them?

Yes! The Brahms are quite finely wrought. There’s a lot of weaving with the viola, which requires a lot of control that’s really fun. Less so in the Röntgen which is more about passing the baton backwards and forwards. I’m really looking forward to them!

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Clare performs at the Holywell Music Room at 5.30pm on Thursday 25 October as part of the Oxford Lieder Festival, with Simon Tandree (viola) and Libby Burgess (piano).

Clare returns the next day, Friday 26 October, for a song workshop at the Shulman Auditorium in Queen’s College at 10am, and then performs new songs, settings of Whitman by composer Ross Griffey, also in the Shulman Auditorium at 3.45pm.