The piano transcriptions of Robert Helps

Schilflied (1988) [F. Mendelssohn] [piano solo]

 — How many sighs of wistful enchantment have been heaved by those who had the chance to hear Helps play this gorgeous transcription? It was certainly a favorite encore during his last decade of concerts.
The transcription encapsulates a basic philosophy held by the guru/composer/pianist, also expressed by poet Verlaine:

De la musique avant toute chose
Et pour cela préfère l’Impair...

Much of Helps’ pianistic career unfolded his open preference for the “odd numbers” of the repertoire. Surprised that a truly ravishing song like Mendelssohn’s Schilflied (op. 71 no. 4) languished unknown except by a few lieder connoisseurs, his missionary zeal sprung forth to make this rare pleasure more “available”. He would continue this gesture through three other song transcriptions.

Schilflied (“Song of the Reeds”) opens with a sad, barcarolle rhythm rocking a plaintive melody in f-sharp minor. After reaching an emotional peak (richly elaborated by Helps with the simplest means), the key changes to F-sharp major for one of the most beautiful dénouements in the history of song…

Listen to Schilflied
, by Robert Helps (live performance)
Transcriptions tour : read about Transcription no. 2

View the manuscript score scanned by
Digital Commons @ University of South Florida

Sound clip - Schilflied
Auf dem Teich, dem Regungslosen
Weilt des Mondes holder Glanz,
Flechtend seine bleichen Rosen
In des Schilfes grünen Kranz.
Hirsche wandeln dort am Hügel,
Blicken durch die Nacht empor;
Manchmal regt sich das Geflügel
Träumerisch im tiefen Rohr.
Weinend muß mein Blick sich senken;
Durch die tiefste Seele geht
Mir ein süßes Deingedenken,
Wie ein stilles Nachtgebet.

Nikolaus Lenau