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Jacob Wrey Mould: Architect of Central Park and Lyricist

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Angel of the Waters Fountain and Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, New York City - photograph by Ahodges7, used under Creative Commons license from WikipediaAngel of the Waters Fountain and Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, New York City - photograph by Ahodges7, used under Creative Commons license from Wikipedia

Each week for many years, Christopher Gray has written the Streetscapes column for the Sunday edition of the New York Times, focusing on out-of-the-way stories of curiosity, beauty, endangered and rescued architectural examples in New York.  His writings prompt one to stop, look, and reflect on the details of craftsmanship that have been put into the city and elsewhere.

This past week’s column (Jan. 16) focused on the Sheepfold—the building formerly known as Tavern-On-The-Green in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. (It's literally down the street—65th Street—from The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.)

Although Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux usually receive the most credit for its design, one of Central Park's overlooked architects is Jacob Wrey Mould (1825-1886).  Gray has been very good at bringing attention to Mould, mentioning him many times in the past years.  It's easy to see Mould's distinctive decorative details on the Terrace, its centerpiece Bethesda Fountain, Belvedere Castle, and other noted 19th century Central Park structures in which he participated. (Compare the photograph above with its design below.) Central Park, The Terrace., Digital ID 800914, New York Public LibraryMould’s design for the Terrace and Fountain - original in the New York Public Library (this image from the Library’s digital gallery)Usually as a postscript, biographical articles on Mould mention a musical connection. Wikipedia quotes James Stevens Curl’s A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture in noting that “Jacob Wrey Mould was an avid pianist and organist, and employed his talent for language in translating numerous foreign opera librettos into English.”  His translations of operas were published between 1847 and 1852, before his emigration from London to New York.  I’ve hastily compiled a rough list of his translation work and placed it at the end of this blog entry (I strongly suspect this list is incomplete).  As all his translations were intended to be sung, he can be considered as an English lyricist for operas and songs. (Sung translations often have to sacrifice literalness for versification.)

Beethoven, Fidelio. Vocal score published by Boosey, 1851, translated by Jacob Wrey MouldBeethoven, Fidelio. Vocal score published by Boosey, 1851, translated by Jacob Wrey Mould

I thought it might be intriguing to see how his lyrics stand up today.  The Music Division has a few of his opera translations, so I examined Mould’s translation for Beethoven’s Fidelio, in particular Leonore’s Act 1 aria Abscheulicher.  Here it is, beginning at the slow part at Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern (the literal translation being “Come, hope, let the last star”):

[Komm, Hoffnung]
The snowdrop peeps beside the rose,
Their native worth unblighted
On this fond bosom both respose
True Love with Hope united.
 
[Ich folg’ demm innern Triebe]
Their balmy grateful duty,
Gives courage life,
And bids the wife
Fulfil her sacred duty.

 

For my taste, it sounds rather archaic.  To his credit, Mould's explains in his introduction to this vocal score (dated April 23, 1851):  "For ourselves, we beg indulgence, having been hampered and tied in by ungainly metres and irregular lines in many places..."  Clearly, the libretto to Beethoven's opera gave him problems.

Once he emigrated to New York in 1852, Mould cut back but never eliminated his translation work.  His last translation (that I could find) would appear to be Tosti’s Aprile (April), published in 1884—just two years before he died.  I couldn’t locate that in our collection, but I did find several others from his final years.
 
Pasqualino Brignoli's "Vieni o bella in ciel la luna" translated by Jacob Wrey Mould (with the composer's signature above the caption)Pasqualino Brignoli's "Vieni o bella in ciel la luna" translated by Jacob Wrey Mould (with the composer's signature above the caption)
 
I had never heard of composer Pasqualino Brignoli, but Mould supplied a translation for his song “Vieni, o bella in ciel la luna” published in New York by William A. Pond in 1882.  Here’s the initial stanza:
 
Lo! The moon above us beaming
Bathes in light you lakelet shore,
There the starry heaven gleaming
With effulgence spans us o’er:
Let our hearts, aye let our hearts this happy moment,
Nature’s boundless rapture share,
Come, love, ah! come!
 
Knowing of Mould’s legacy, it’s hard for me not to think of pastoral scenes in Central Park while reading these lyrics.  The words may be flowery, but less archaic than the opera translations, while the imagery could evoke an evening on Bethesda Terrace or at Belvedere Castle.
 
Perhaps in summer, curious and enterprising musicians will perform some of Jacob Wrey Mould’s opera and song translations in Central Park itself, thereby juxtaposing his architecture with his lyrics, and enhancing the pastoral setting that Central Park visitors have enjoyed for nearly 150 years.
 

Operas translated by Jacob Wrey Mould:

 
Beethoven: Fidelio
Bellini: Norma
Bellini:  La sonambula
Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Donizetti:  Lucrezia Borgia
Gluck: Iphigenia in Tauris
Mozart: Don Giovanni
Mozart:  Le nozze di Figaro
Mozart:  Der Zauberflöte
Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia
Spohr: Faust
Verdi: Ernani
Weber: Der Freischütz
 

Songs translated by Jacob Wrey Mould:

 
Abt, Franz
Agatha
 
Ahlström, Jakob Niklas
Pasture, or Herdsman’s echo song
The sea king's bride
The stars of heav'n are gleaming
Winter warm'd into showers
 
Beethoven, Ludwig van
Adelaide
Knowst thou the land, = Kennst du has Land
The may song, = May Gesang
The quail-cry, = Der Wachtelschlag
Thus or thus, = So oder so
The warrior's farewell. = Der Krieger's Abschied
 
Brignoli, Pasqualino
Ave Maria. New York : William A. Pond, 1883
Vieni, o Bella in ciel la luna. New York : William A. Pond, 1882
 
Denza, Luigi
Love me! = Amami.  New York : Wm. A Pond, 1882
 
Dessauer, Joseph
The minstrel's solace = (Sanger's Trost)
 
Geyer, E. G.
The mariner
 
Goldberg, F.
The spring-zephyr = Mailufterl
 
Gumbert, Ferdinand
The little Mendicant = das bettelnde kind.  New York: Beer & Schirmer, 1868
 
Hay, Caroline E.
The summer bloom : ballad
 
Hölzel, Gustav
Sorrow = (Der Schmerz)
The village blacksmith's bride = Mein Liebster ist im Dorf der Schmied
 
Kücken, Friederich Wilhelm
The slumber-song = Schlummerlied
 
Lindblad, Adolf Fredrik
Herdsman's mountain song.  New York : Vanderbeeks, 1860
 
Lindpainter, Peter Joseph von
The song of spring = (Frühlingslied)
The standard bearer = Die Fahnenwacht
 
Lucantoni, Giovanni
Gay dance of love : arietta = La danza d'amore.  New York : Beer & Schirmer, 1863
 
Millet, E.
Diana : the maidens’ warning
 
Nicolai, Otto
Evening = Wenn sanft des Abends : duett for soprano and bass.  New York : Beer & Schirmer, 1863
 
Reissiger, Carl Gottlieb
The wanderer's evening lay = Wanderlied am Abend
 
Schubert, Franz
The wild rose bud = Heidenröslein
 
Spohr, Louis
Tears of affection = Dürft ich mich nennen
 
Tosti, F. Paolo
April : melodia.  New York : Wm. A. Pond, 1884
Midnight = Mezza notte! New York : Wm. A. Pond, 1883

 

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