The Songs of Mathilde de Rothschild

The publication of a double album devoted to Mathilde de Rothschild’s music constitutes a further important step in the reassessment of nineteenth-century women composers. Anyone who is familiar with the cultural life of the time, would be aware of the importance of the Rothschild family who were patrons of many prominent composers, such as Mendelssohn, Herz, Bellini, Spohr, Liszt, Meyerbeer, Rossini and Chopin. The latter, in 1849, was eager to teach the teenaged “Rothschild girl,” whom he clearly considered very talented. Mathilde went on to become a respected, prolific and well-published composer of beautiful music.


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'Sung as if each song is a precious and unique jewel.

What must it be like, first discovering and then learning songs by an ancestor whose name, in musical circles anyway has utterly vanished without a trace. That is what Charlotte de Rothschild has done and what a voyage of discovery it has been for her … and for the listener.

She sets a wide range of poets. Especially touching is O sage nicht - ‘O do not say that love dies away like a dream’. Here the harmony is more probing and interesting and the word setting is especially affecting. Her favourite subject matter includes love - lost or found, and the natural world and landscape. These are well summarised in the lovely song Komm! Geh mit mir in’s Waldergrün.

The booklet notes which fascinatingly recount the background to the de Rothschild family and its musical connections tell us that Chopin especially enjoyed visiting the family home. Indeed he taught Mathilde for a while when she was teenager. It is hardly surprising then that the two CDs are littered with occasional, quite short solo piano pieces - a Mazurka or two, a Nocturne and other romantic and dreamy salon pieces of great charm. Perhaps if she had written more for the piano Cécile Chaminade might have had some extra competition.

The first song of CD 2, Romance, parle moi is sentimental but has a memorable and wide-ranging melody. Another light-headed charmer is C'était en Avril, a setting of a good-natured poem by Pailleron. Also, what can be a more moving and beautifully arched melody than in Vous avez beau fair et beau dire; likewise in Je n’ose pas – perfect miniatures both.

Adrian Farmer is no mere accompanist although often the piano parts simply support the voice. On other occasions they are quite dominant and use the whole keyboard with sweeping arpeggio figures, melodies doubled in the right-hand and some rich and unexpected harmonic writing. Just to take two contrasting examples, in Les Papillons, a light almost luminous accompaniment adds more than the sum of its parts to the more monochrome vocal line. In the German song, Am See we move from rippling lake accompaniment to a dark, Schumannesque change to homophony for the remembrance of the dead lover. Farmer is utterly part of the duo and adds character where it is most needed and shows a strong understanding of style and nuance.

The discs come with a complex but fascinating history of the de Rothschilds - especially of those in the early 20th century - by Charlotte herself. There is also a useful and detailed commentary on ‘The Musical Voices of Mathilde de Rothschild’ by a very sympathetic Francesco Izzo. Each of these fifty-odd songs is sung with much artistry as if each is a precious and unique jewel. All of the texts are supplied in a separate booklet and have been excellently translated by various hands. The recording is ideal: intimate but spacious.' Gary Higginson, MusicWeb International, June 2013

Full review here

‘...she had a highly cultivated affinity with the genre of Lieder. Whether she is portraying Mussorgsky's whining child, a lover or a folk-singer, her intelligence as a performer always comes through.  She sang some charmingly dignified songs by her ancestor Mathilde, which had a Mendelssohnian purity flavoured with some very subtle shifts of harmony.’

The Times, London  

‘I have admired the artistry and vocal talents of Charlotte de Rothschild since she came to the Royal College of Music as a post-graduate...and am especially pleased that her C.D. includes songs by Mathilde de Rothschild, whose compositions deserve to be more widely known.  The delightful songs on this disc are beautifully constructed and immediately attractive.  Each song reflects the mood of the words with telling effect, and Charlotte de Rothschild instinctively responds to the subtle demands of the songs with well-judged rubato.’

Sir David Willcocks

‘In one of the most intriguing recordings of recent months, a present-day Rothschild sings works inscribed in her family's volume...Charlotte de Rothschild, whose attractive voice has earned her a career as a recitalist and oratorio soloist, intersperses treasures from the family album among other works associated with home musicales - most notably, songs composed by her cigar-smoking ancestor Mathilde de Rothschild.’

The New Yorker

Charlotte de Rothschild "sought out, studied, performed, recorded and so rescued from obscurity many unjustly neglected examples of the art of song. ‘I really began with my ancestor Mathilde de Rothschild (1832-1924). She was taught by Chopin and went on to become a prolific and remarkably successful composer in what, back then, was very much a man’s world. At the start of the 20th century, her songs were loved and widely performed; by its end, they were all but forgotten. Examining the scores, I decided that she more than deserved a revival... The outcome was The Songs of Mathilde de Rothschild, a two-CD set issuied in 2013. Of its 50 or so songs, some existed in published form and others survived only in manuscripts, which Miss de Rothschild found in a family attic. All are performed by her accompaniment by the eminent pianist Adrian Farmer, whose playing, like her singing, is by turns contemplative, rhapsodic and brilliantly virtuosic. Since then, their collaboration has resulted is recordings that have become the standard renditions of such British songwriters as Norman Peterkin and C.Armstrong Gibbs." - Mark Griffiths, Country Life.


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