Schumann and Schubert: Paul Berry ’96 and Christopher Walter Perform as a Vocal-Piano Duo

With a sudden flourish on the piano, Christopher Walter, Instructor in Music, began to play a whirling melody from “Dichterliebe, Op. 48” by Robert Schumann. Paul Berry ’96, a tenor, accompanied Walter with fervor and intensity. Halfway through the piece, Berry’s voice rapidly climbed in both volume and pitch to hit a resounding high note. As his voice gradually trailed off, he began the next line more softly, only to crescendo again into a resounding low note.

“Dichterliebe, Op. 48” was one of 28 songs performed by Berry and Walter last Friday evening in the Timken Room in Graves Hall. Walter invited Berry to come back to campus and perform together as a vocal-piano duo for the night.
The pair also performed “In der Ferne,” by Schubert. The first section of the song featured Berry singing a hauntingly beautiful melody. As the song progressed, Berry began to sing higher and louder, but he steadily quieted towards the end of the second section of the song. In the final section, Berry sang with more freedom as he fluidly moved his body with the flow of the music. The piece culminated in one sustained high note as Walter’s played a reverberating chord.

“For me, In der Ferne is extremely difficult vocally. It demands a long line, it demands quiet and also extreme loud in the same piece, and it does so after you’ve already sung for an hour! To some degree, the challenging-ness is not an abstract thing; it depends on where the [song] is placed in the recital as a whole. So that song is particularly tough, because of where we put it,” said Berry.

Maintaining the smooth, slow melodies of Schubert, the duo performed “Ich hab im Traum geweinet” by Schumann. Berry opened the song, singing a wistful tune. All of a sudden, he paused, and Walter proceeded to play a progression of chords. When Walter finished, Berry began to sing again. Berry and Walter continued to alternate until the middle of the piece, when they joined piano and voice together before finally concluding with a breathy note and a soft chord.

“Half [of ‘Ich hab im Traum geweinet’] is [silence], and that’s actually really hard to do because you both have to know what the other person’s about to do, and you don’t want to break the mood of that silence and surprise one another. You have to really plan it, even though it really seems like nothing happens during the song,” said Berry.
In “Ich grolle nicht, und wenn das Herz auch bricht” by Schumann, Berry transitioned into a lower range of notes. The piece opened with Walter gradually getting louder as Berry sang a rich and low tone, his voice resonating throughout the room. The song continued to crescendo until Berry suddenly sang a high note. The piano’s volume reached a peak as Walter jolted his body with the intensity of the song, before slowing down to a more peaceful, calmer melody. As Berry’s voice softly trailed off, Walter continued to play a serene, lengthy tune ending in a single, punctuated note.

“The Schumann song, ‘Ich grolle nicht, und wenn das Herz auch bricht,’ is a particularly powerful song, but they’re all wonderful, and they all belong together, so it’s a kind of cumulative power of the whole piece that’s really special,” said Walter.

Berry’s main reason for choosing the repertoire they performed was because of the modest nature of the songs and the detailed arrangement and story behind each of the sets.

“I love that [the repertoire] isn’t just about vocal display, like how high you can sing and how loud you can sing and how fast you can sing,” said Berry, “but instead, it’s about a very intimate connection between the words that are very carefully selected by the composers and aligned with each other so that the poems are chosen so that when you put them in a certain order they make sense. They tell a story that’s bigger than any one poem and the alignment between that and the music, which is a really rich and deep and complex alignment.”