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Jacob Wrey Mould: Architect of Central Park and Lyricist
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.) 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.)
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 unblightedOn this fond bosom both resposeTrue Love with Hope united.[Ich folg’ demm innern Triebe]Their balmy grateful duty,Gives courage life,And bids the wifeFulfil 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.
Lo! The moon above us beamingBathes in light you lakelet shore,There the starry heaven gleamingWith effulgence spans us o’er:Let our hearts, aye let our hearts this happy moment,Nature’s boundless rapture share,Come, love, ah! come!
Operas translated by Jacob Wrey Mould:
Songs translated by Jacob Wrey Mould: