Roelof Temmingh’s song cycle Met apologie for mezzo soprano and piano (1992) represents one of the most outstanding contributions to the already extensive genre of the Afrikaans art song. It sets to music a series of poems by the same title, published by the Afrikaans poet D.J. Opperman in 1964. In his poems Opperman presents nine parodies in the style of Afrikaans poets from the generation known as the “Dertigers”, based on a common subject, about a widow taking her dog for a Sunday afternoon walk on the beach. The poets parodied in the cycle are C.M. van den Heever, I.D. du Plessis, W.E.G. Louw, N.P. Van Wyk Louw, Uys Krige, Ernst van Heerden, Elisabeth Eybers and S.J. Pretorius. Opperman’s procedure is reminiscent of the musical genre theme and variations, to the extent that the “theme” is to be read out prior to rendering the “variations”. “Raak getref én tog onaangetas gelaat” (“Aptly struck, yet left unscathed”) are the words by which the critic Rob Antonissen describes the manner in which Opperman depicts the targets of his parodies.
In his music Temmingh echoes this procedure by setting each poem to the style of a different composer or genre from the 20th century, including Debussy, Webern, Hindemith and Shostakovich. This article places Opperman’s poems in their wider literary context and then turns to a critical contextualisation and analysis of Temmingh’s songs. Stylistic characteristics of the songs are examined in relation to the composers whom they imitate, in some cases even pointing to specific works that could have served as models. As in the case of its literary model the music has a humorous rather than a satirical intent. It does not resort to distortion of its stylistic model and as such represents a unique kind of parody. At the same time the songs are shown to present particularly apt and evocative musical interpretations of their subject matter. The various guises in which the widow is depicted in the poems, ranging from the tragic to the comical, from the erotic to the obsessive and deranged, are found to be echoed in the respective songs by means of particularly striking musical characterisation. The final song in Met apologie also serves as a case study as to how a musical setting of a poem may add a layer of interpretation or characterisation that was not necessarily present in the written text on its own.
Several observations are made about the challenges a singer faces when endeavouring to perform the songs. With its nine examples of starkly different styles and idioms, Met apologie is a tour de force of compositional variety. Although this cycle demonstrates Temmingh’s ability to compose in various idioms and to imitate other composers very accurately, the songs also exhibit the composer’s own unique voice in an unmistakable way. In that sense Temmingh’s Met apologie must be regarded as a highly significant contribution to South African music at large, worthy of taking its place in the standard repertoire of performers of the voice type for which it was written.
Keywords: Afrikaans art song; D.J. Opperman; Met apologie; parody; Roelof Temmingh; South African art music