By the second year of America's involvement in the Second Great Euro-Asian Conflict, a young fourteen year old Akron lad was trying to overcome what appeared to him a monstrous difficulty. Seen is the restless im- patience of a youngster waiting for his voice to settle; so that he may continue doing what he loved more than anything in life: to "sing to the glory of God".

Everyone was telling him that he would become a baritone; but, surprisingly his voice began to rise. At first, he found it rather difficult to sing in the upper reaches of his voice. He would not try to push it either way; but instinctively, Rus practiced pieces which would require the use of his top-most registre. [As Russell Oberlin was later to reiterate in the capacity of a vocal teacher, from his very own personal success, when one is "thoroughly familiar with both technique and the vocal literature" one "can by judicious use of selected reperatory---even by the use of one song or aria, in whole or in part---be more successful in overcoming the difficulty."]

The original French haute-contre altini were uniquely trained tenors who could without problem negotiate the contralto range and still keep their masculinity and soaring vocal prowess...retaining a flexability unmatched by any of the "bellow & bleet" Italian school. These tenors, reportedly exercized their top-most registers (as Oberlin instinctively did as a youngster) 'til it was pure, full and smooth without vocal strain. By age sixteen, Oberlin knew he was a high tenor, with a vocal compass far out of the ordinary....

In 1946 Russell Oberlin graduated from John R. Buschtel High. Instead of attending another Buschtel school (the University of Akron), he quickly found a job in a Cleveland church, about 20 miles from his home, as a tenor soloist. ("...I got a good job in Cleveland as a tenor soloist in a church and began studying voice production there.") Still but seventeen, he went to Chautauqua, New York, where Evan Evans took a paternal hold on him. Under Evans" guidance, he prepared for his eventual scholarship to New York City's "Juilliard School of Music"....By the Fall of 1948, he was enrolled.

Europe was in shambles, but with the silence of guns came a post-war urge to resurface from their protected underground homes the beauties of old Western civilization. Old instruments were resalvaged and re- constructed....

Right prior to the bloody conflict, Helmut Koch, back in 1936 realised the original "ancient instrumentation" and edited the score to Monteverdi's "Orfeo"....At that time his exhaustive efforts did not lead to anything....Remember this was a time when authenticity meant little and was unheard-of.... Ensembles as the "Societe des Instuments Anciens" was founded in 1901. The (American) "Dessoff Choirs" was founded in 1925. The "Vielle (Fidel) Trio of Munich" was created in 1927. The "Dvonch Ensembles" (Yves Tinayre's chosen group), Sanford Cape's "Pro Musica (Brussels)", and the "Stuttgart Viol Trio" were all well received when the 20th Century was young.******** (Born in 1875) Christian Doebereiner (who died in 1961) cannot really be considered here---although he worked since 1904 on Baroque Performance---; because he, and likewise Paul Gruemmer [who was born in 1879, and died in 1965] failed to recognize the significance and sound a fret makes: surely NOT an inferior characteristic as they chose to believe!

And still, prior to the Second World War, performing artists wouldn't permit the "d'amore art" to die: Our thanks to the Casadesus Family [Marius founded the ensemble "Violes et Violons"], the M-M. Boulay brothers (Robert and Lawrence) and Paul Doktor....All became honorary legends; but such a surge could never been accomplished without craftsmen as the Dolmetches and Msr. Nuepert....

In 1938, Mitch Miller and Elizabeth Schumann recorded for RCA, J.S.Bach's "Wedding Cantata" with true harpsichord and oboe continuo.

The American public was not as quite caught-up in the ferver which was emerging; but, some Utah technicians weren't satisfied with the status-quo or placement of recorded sound and music. Many individuals really did enjoy listening to one movement at a time on easily broken EPs (or "shellac" as they were named)! Yet Columbia encouraged the Bonneville team in their efforts at a slower speed microgroove Lp. They felt the proposed improvement in sound alone would spell acceptance!

The visions of Max Ernst"s "Europe After the Fall" were finally being laid-aside. Humanity was finally enjoying life again! Electronics was blossoming; particularly in Germany. Youth were flocking to the arts as in no previous time or epoch....For truly was such a impact felt, as post-war technology was permitted to broaden her horizons and influence beyond destruction and fortification efforts. Dgg was hinting at long-play Schallplatten....

Thus America finally opened her arms to the dreams of the young Columbia Records engineer William Bachman, and with Rene Snepvenger, under Peter Goldmark, on the 21st of June 1948, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York; where they displayed a means of preserving recorded sound on a vinyl disc which would hold more than a half-hour per side: Such an advancement only a few old "soldiers" refused to embrace.

In the newly created West German state, a Blaupunkt radio is preparing to tune into a landmark performance: One of many Berlin Radio performances of distinction. This one took special significance...Now Helmut Koch's painstaking efforts could lead to somewhere! Recordings would be preserved on Goldmark's American invention! And there would even be a true haute-contre to sing many of the leading Operatic and Concert parts: Helmut Krebs....

see also:Biography of HELMUT KREBS


Evan Evans assumed Russell Oberlin would end up a conventional tenor. Majoring in voice, Evans helped Oberlin to get tuition scholarships throughout his tenure. But, Oberlin also undertook professional singing engagements with the Hofstrader Singers. He recorded the "Cherry Carol" (as soloist) and participated in other recordings of the Robert Shaw Collegiate Chorale for RCA-Victor in their J.S.Bach presentations too. These early professional activities helped ofcourse to pay for his living expenses as he resided in NYC at 40 W 11th Street (at that time). He became the tenor soloist at NY's Episcopal "Church of the Ascension" at 5th Avenue and 10th. All through this time, he sang none of the haute-contre repetoire, nor any music above the normal tenor range, even though there was a third of his upper registre which even the highest tenor parts never gave him a chance to use!

At this time, another major factor came into the picture: An American sailor (Noah Greenberg) was avidly taking in as much of the post-war early music rebirth in Europe as possible. Greenberg's fingers would scan the RIAS radio waves in Berlin. At this time, Walther Gerig would be heard playing the theorbo, and a performance of the revitalised Koch-edited "Orfeo" of Claudio Monteverdi would be aired using Anthology Senore's Swiss master of underground WW2 pageants, Max Meili in the anguish-ridden title role.

(Meili was born on the 11th of December 1899. Max resettled in London after WW2, as did Hughes Cuenod, making home in the Westminster sector. Meili died the 17th of March 1970 in Zurich.)

In this 1949 Berlin performance, singing with Meili, as Apollo and the First Shepherd, was Meili's prime pupil, the German countertenor, Helmut Krebs....

(German's called this type of countertenor "DESCANTUS". A modern prototype of Helmut Krebs is Ekkehard Wagner, who is frequently heard singing tenor, as well as the "alto" repetoire.)I have followed the great tenor Helmut Krebs' career since a youngster in 1949, with my first few Lps from the Haydn Society. Please look at my website for a more complete picture of this remarkable man, twice-married (both wives now deceased, 1966 and 2002 respectfully) afterward celebate; dedicated to God and his music his entire life, who passed into the Eternities on 30 AUGUST 2007.


He was also a fine composer on his own terms; 'though nothing was commercially available. His scores are, through the "Berlin Astoria Verlag", and "Boosey and Hawkes". Helmut Krebs possessed a very extensive range; and his use of the "rubergeunsungen" technique of his ["over-singing"] maybe hard for a opera-lover who is used to the "below-and-bleet" school most typically heard in Italian and American Opera styles for the last century. Helmut's voice was a true Haute-contre; he did not use falsetto; but occasionally used what one may term "the witch [white-male timber] voice". It mostly depended on the key he was singinging-in also. If the orchestra he was working with, was at "concert-pitch", he occasionally did use his "witch-voice" ; but with the same piece in a different concert hall or church, at a "baroque-pitch", he never resorted to it! A good example is his two distinctly different renditions of J.S. Bach"s Cantata # 147 "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben". [In the Pforzheim recording he uses his "witch-voice"; in the Weinsberg recording he never does.] It had nothing to do with his age or condition of his vocal cords.

I am sure that Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, also has memorable memories of Helmut Krebs' innumerable Mozart concerts and operatic performances; and in particular his portrayal of the Assyrian Bishop Abdisu in Hans Pfitzner's "Palestrina"...which remains an operatic-favorite of Our Holy Father....In the 1952 Cologne recording of Pfitzner's "Palestrina" he thought it also appropriate to use his "witch-voice" in the part of the Asyrian Bishop Abdisu.

Krebs was very well as capable of singing full voice when it called for, as in the Verdi "Requiem" under Fricsay; or in Monteverdi or Schütz as well! He had an uncanny sense of style and ornamentation, perfect-pitch [which contemporary composers took well advantage of and adored him for]; and never forgot about the words he was conveying! But, Krebs voice was most peculiarly suited for the French Baroque repetoire [which he adored... and this was unmistakenly revealed in his recorded renditions]. His [singing-voice] was definitely a haute-contre of the same genere as Rodrigo delPozo, Marcel Beekman, Marco Beasley, Colin Ainsworth, Ekkehard Wagner, Giles Ragon and Jean-Paul Fouchecourt are today. [Their repetoire's are remarkably similar to what his was in the 1950's and 1960's.] Pieces Russell Oberlin performed at the same time period [particularly Telemann and Buxtehude] were already being performed by Helmut Krebs in Europe. To an untrained ear, it would be hard to tell the performances apart.

Unfortunately Helmut Krebs never came to America. As you probably know the American State Department is sometimes very strict about World War II matters; knowing his rank and where he served during WW2 [even if Helmut was the least predjudiced, and the most good-hearted man one could possible find...singing openly the works of Schreker, Schoenberg, Milhaud, when it wasn't the wisest thing....]

If you've ever listened to Krebs speak; you know it was not high at all; and could be quite cutting and dark if he desired his voice to be. [Check-out his performance as the Watchman in Carl Orff's "Antigonae" 1949.]

Krebs was not only one of the greatest "Evangelist" 's of his day; but he infused in so many [and particularly within me] a tremendous love for Christ. He did not "pretend" when he sang sacred music and liturgy...Helmut Krebs actually loved and lived the Word through song, composition and an honest, positively Christian lifestyle.

Even when I was at a very young age, Herr Krebs opened up to me the Passions and the words of the Gospel in a manner, no one else could have approached; and he brought Jesus into my life and surely into the lives of many others (who would not have known Jesus otherwise)....HOW COULD WE NOT THANK HIM FOR THAT? [He NEVER asked for fame or fortune; he never wanted "STAR"-billing....]

Prof. Helmut Krebs' love for the French Baroque music of Fathers' Brossard and Campra (and of Francois Couperin); his help in the revival of Buxtehude and Telemann, was indeed a boon to the classical world...and a perpetual legacy. He also showed everyone also that contemporary music can be very uplifting and Holy as well....precisely because he himself was truly "holy"!...and God gave him the vocal prowess [and rare countertenor timbre...without resorting to ugly falsetto] to sing and perform all of this in praise and honor of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with such an ease and simplicity that was not burried under an over-heavy Romantic tradition. Romanticly, even his HELMSMAN was an exceptionally airy "joy"!

(Krebs was doing what conductor Phillipe Herreweghe...who is exactly my age as well...just began to understand and develope beginning in the late 1960's.)

Now, back to the main story:

A light burned in young seaman Greenberg, for an inevitable future encounter with an American possessing this special voice....

In 1951, Oberlin graduated from Juilliard with a simple diploma in voice. (This was a remarkable time for Juilliard. Among its pupils of this period were Dalton Baldwin, Charles Bressler, Leontyne Price and the future conductor of the Hartford Symphony, the late Arthur Winograd. Paul Roehner [tenor] was on the vocal-music faculty.)

Back home, fresh in from the Merchant Marines, influenced by what he heard over the Berlin RIAS, and securing a professorship at "Mannes", Noah Greenberg wanted to make an Ameican revival in Early Music interest. His first order of business was to recruit his ensemble. Soon he heard what he described as a cherub-faced very young tenor while sitting in a church pew....

At this period, the accepted vocal-technique in the States was the Italian bravurra style, (being the "standard" since the turn of the 18th Century). So, no true haute-contre were easily heard, much less on disc, until the appearance of Richard Dyer-Bennet in the late 1930's. Director, John Ford filmed one for his movie centered around the Irish rebellion, "The Fighter", long before the voice was singled out as special.

Immediately, Greenberg spotted the Ascension Church soloist as that rarest of vocal-talents, the true "haute-contre-altino"; so long believed that the cultivation thereof was here extinct. Greenberg readily recognized Oberlin as possessing that peculiar voice, by his (Greenberg's) sharp and empathetic, understanding ear.

Greenberg was so overwhelmed and impressed by Oberlin, that not only did he invite the young man to be a charter member of the group he so wished to form; but, was so "annoyingly persistant and would not accept 'no' " (as Russell Oberlin would later recount), he was finally engaged as the first member of Greenberg's "Primeavera Singers of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua". Obviously, the arrangement was musically advantageous: Oberlin's prescence gave Greenberg's newly formed ensemble a unique distinction; and Greenberg was utterly delighted to find the voice ideally suited to the florid demands of Renaissance and Early Baroque music.*

Oberlin could now stop wondering how he could use his unique vocal talents; and Greenberg gave him a career....Coincidentally, Niklaus Harnoncourt (who like Oberlin, was born in 1928), in this same year, 1953, formed the "Concentus Musicus Wien"....

Helmut Krebs played the title role in "Orfeo" under August Wenzinger in his summer fest of 1955 and was immediately recorded at the "State Highschool for Music in Hamburg" for the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft series: PLEASE READ THIS amazon.uk review:

Helmut Krebs is the perfect Orfeo - lyrical and impassioned, but precise and perfectly controlled. You feel his joy when he tells you of his courtship and winning of Euridice, and share in his despair when she dies. And it seems entirely credible that Proserpina should be so moved by his music that she arranges for Euridice's liberation from Hades. The cornetti are played slightly less perfectly than in recent performances, and the age of the (mono) recording shows at times, but the quality of singing from Krebs and Wunderlich more than compensate for this. Wenzinger brings out Monteverdi's subtleties too - hear the return of themes from happier times when quoting Dante's words about the pain of remembering happiness when in the depth of sorrow. Buy this disc for Krebs, and to find out why Monteverdi operas came into the standard repertoire.

The late Fritz Werner really pushed forward with authentic J.S.Bach renditions. Today it is great news that the Fritz Werner: Bach cantati have been re-released digitally; maybe future-wise even in DVD-Audio? My hopes that the transfers will give the music and performances what they truly deserve [as some of the greatest early "period" renditions], has finally been realised; and have now erased the neglect Warner has given them in the past....

This discussion seems to have been completed for me by MICHAEL WHITE, for "The New York Times", published, 06 August 2006:

FORTY years ago there was not much of an issue about how you performed a Mozart symphony, a Bach cantata or a Handel oratorio. You played it the way Wilhelm Furtwängler, Thomas Beecham or Herbert von Karajan might have: with mid-19th-century ideas that had hardened into accepted norms and generally meant big symphonic forces, heavy textures, slow speeds and modern instruments.

Then came “early music,” also known as period performance. Early musicians researched period instruments, rediscovered forgotten composers, revived old performance practices and in effect declared war on the interventionist musical culture of the mid-19th century. They set out to make their case with fundamentalist fervor, espousing lighter forces, faster speeds and period instruments. And through the 1970’s and 80’s they mutiplied and gathered force.

At the start they were largely dismissed as eccentrics, the musical equivalents of New Agers and Flat Earthists. The British conductor Neville Marriner, who championed the performance of early repertory with a relaxed sense of period style on modern instruments, called them “the open-toed-sandals and brown-bread set.” Early players on period instruments were often scorned as musicological types unable to master their exotic instruments and play in tune.

But sooner than anyone might have expected, they gained the upper hand. They espoused their gospel of period instruments, original sound and composers’ intentions in dogmatic, almost moral terms, often shaming conventional instrumentalists and ensembles away from early repertory. Along with the advent of the CD, their new-found repertory and fascinating new-old sound gave a boost to a classical recording industry then (as ever) in need of one.

If early-music specialists have since lost some of their combative edge, it is largely because they have been absorbed into the mainstream, with pianists emulating the sound of the harpsichord in Bach, symphony orchestras scaling themselves down to chamber proportions in Beethoven and almost all performers adopting aspects of period style.

So what was once a counterculture on the barricades, pleading its cause hot with passion, has for the most part won its arguments. The heat has cooled, and maybe some of the excitement. Performers who were its enfants terribles have become its elder statesmen.

The British harpsichordist and conductor Trevor Pinnock, for one, is celebrating his 60th birthday by revisiting a landmark in both his professional life and the period-performance movement. In 1981 Mr. Pinnock and his band, the English Concert, caught the wave of excitement about period performance with a celebrated recording of Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos for Deutsche Grammophon. It opened many ears, turning Mr. Pinnock and his players into stars. Now he is recording the “Brandenburgs” again, for the Avie label, this time with a crack new band, assembled from players in leading period ensembles, which recently convened in Sheffield, England, before a international tour.

Oddly, through all of this, North America, with its wealth of musicologists and performers, and New York in particular, have been slow to follow. Mr. Pinnock, who himself tried to establish the Classical Band in New York in 1989, said the United States “is not a strong voice” in early music. Yet 50 years ago New York was something of an early-music hotbed, largely on the strength of Noah Greenberg and his New York Pro Musica Antiqua.

Historians trace the modern early-music movement back to Arnold Dolmetsch’s colorfully reinventing viol consorts in the early 1900’s, and to events like the Göttingen Handel Festival in Germany, which started the slow process of restoring Handel’s operas to the stage in 1920.

But by common consent, the first generation to make a real difference in the way early music is played and heard was that of Gustav Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt (both born in the late 1920’s). And things really took off in the 1970’s, when a second generation emerged, creating period bands in every direction.

Mr. Pinnock got in fast, founding his English Concert in 1972. In 1973 came Christopher Hogwood’s Academy of Ancient Music and Reinhard Goebel’s Musica Antiqua Köln. Ton Koopman’s Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra appeared in 1977, John Eliot Gardiner’s English Baroque Soloists in 1978 and William Christie’s Arts Florissants in 1979. Thus was the scene set for a cultural revolution.

“Why it all got going in the 70’s I can’t explain,” Mr. Pinnock said, “except in terms of zeitgeist and the collective unconscious. We just seemed to have the same idea at the same time, which was that old music on conventional instruments had reached the end of a road. It was time to explore a new sound world that the generation just before us had opened up.”

The lutenist and conductor Konrad Junghänel, who was in residence at the Göttingen Handelfest this summer, offered a different take. “I trace it back to 1968,” he said, “when Europe was in general political and cultural protest. Period performance followed on as a protest against the prevailing music establishment.”

The disrespect that greeted early musicians back then was in many cases deserved, Mr. Junghänel says, because their technique was limited. “Players were finding their way with these instruments,” he added. “And when you hear recordings from then, sometimes you laugh, it’s so bad.’’

The conductor Nicholas McGegan, who directs the Göttingen Handelfest and the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque, points to “vastly improved techniques” today and to a change of attitude. “Early music used to come like brown rice,” he said, “in ‘this is good for you’ packaging that could be quite severe, didactic and forgetful that when you get on that concert platform, you’re giving a performance, not an academic paper on a performance.”

Early music has since shed the dogmatism that accompanied the notion of authenticity. Today period performers — chastened by, among others, the music historian Richard Taruskin, who was once one of them — shun the word.

“Looking back,” Mr. Pinnock said “I think people oversold what we were doing with the instruments as more than it was. In the right conditions old instruments help because you can push them to the limits of their capabilities, and they won’t get in the way. A forte on a modern keyboard is likely to be too thick. On a period keyboard, it won’t be. But we don’t always have the right conditions in modern concert halls. And the instrument is only a tool of the trade.”

Another period conductor in retreat from dogmatism is René Jacobs, the director of an influential early-opera festival in Innsbruck, Austria. “We are now in a position where the facts of old performance practice are well known,” Mr. Jacobs said, “but we have risen above those facts. I don’t feel I have to reproduce how things were done in the past. I reimagine them. And in doing so, I respond to the current situation as well: the size of the hall, the acoustic, whatever.”

Although a sense of fantasy is clearly back on the agenda, Mr. Jacobs still believes in scholarship and thinks the new generation of period players don’t do it rigorously enough.

Mr. Jacobs also worries that the repertory is narrower than it should be by now: “Handel is of course the period-performance superstar, and his operas are now easy-listening. Likewise Monteverdi and — in France at least — Rameau. But there’s so much virgin territory in Italian opera: especially Alessandro Scarlatti, a great genius, though not so hummable as Handel.”

THE meltdown of the classical record industry has been a problem. Mr. Junghänel said: “The early-music boom of the 70’s owed everything to radio stations like WDR in Cologne and to the record companies, who in those days were looking out for new and interesting work. They made all these ensembles possible. Now they just record Your Top 100 Pieces over and over. The repertoire shrinks, and the players themselves become less curious, less hungry to discover.”

Meanwhile the geography of the period world has shifted. In the 70’s it centered largely on Britain and the Netherlands, but now the most exciting newer period bands are coming from elsewhere, notably Italy and Spain.

Yet North America remains the great blank on the world map of period performance. It has some history beyond Greenberg, including the Boston Early Music Festival, which was founded in 1980. It has ensembles. And, Mr. Jacobs says, it has the best musicology in the world.

“What comes out of obscure colleges in the middle of the Arizona desert is amazing,” he said. “But this doesn’t translate into everyday musical life. I don’t know why. Maybe the structures are too rigid, or there isn’t the motivation. So American players by and large still have to come and work in Europe.”

When the British period specialist Harry Bickett conducts Monteverdi’s “Incoronazione di Poppea” in Los Angeles this fall, he will use Americans based in Europe. “That’s where they tend to live these days,” he said. “It’s too hard for them to make careers in their home country. I’d say the U.S. is 15 years behind Europe in the early-music stakes, and the reason is that America hasn’t learnt to take it for granted.”

That kind of everyday acceptance of period instrumentalists as musicians, pure and simple, has been the quantum shift for period performance in Europe over the last decade or so. From being a discrete interest that divided the music world into those who played on period instruments and those who did not, it has opened out into a broad stylistic concern on the part of all musicians to investigate the historical context of pre-Romantic music. .

A growing number of players now lead double lives, in period and modern bands. And those who don’t are at least respectful of their counterparts, and curious themselves. In that process, period-performance values have become an expectation rather than a surprise. And the pleasure of finding everything he has campaigned for during 25 years now taken for granted is, for Mr. Pinnock, worth all the attendant dangers.

“When you graduate from the sidelines into the mainstream,” he said, “you create a new conservatism and risk losing the sense of discovery that drove you when you started. But to be mainstream was our dearest ambition in the 70’s, and I think we succeeded beyond expectation. Period consciousness is now basic to being a musician, whether you’re in the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra or the Vienna Philharmonic. We’re the same world now.” **************************************************************************************************************

Christella Bernardene Krebs [theorbo1@hughes.net]

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