Benjamin Appl Forbidden Fruit

Forbidden Fruit

14 October 2023, 7:45pm - 9:00pm

This event has now sold out. To join the waiting list for returns please contact the box office ( / 01865 591 276)

Please click here to download the Texts & Translations for this event.

The Music The forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, with its irresistible spell and temptation to disobey, has long been a symbol for man's immoral, illegal, or illicit desires. This programme, taken from Benjamin Appl’s forthcoming CD recording, takes us from simple folk songs through to the great song composers such as Schumann and Wolf, ‘Impressionists’ such as Debussy and Poulenc, and back to ‘New Objectivity’ (see Event 7) via Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, all exploring the blurred lines of forbidden desires and sinful pleasures.

The Artists Benjamin Appl is one of today’s most exciting singers, whose performances never fail to captivate. His voice has ‘an almost infinite range of colours’ (Süddeutsche Zeitung) and ‘singing is his most natural mode of expression’ (BBC Music Magazine). For this concert, he is joined by our Artistic Director, pianist Sholto Kynoch.

Festival passes are the best way to experience the Festival. Save over 25% compared to buying individual tickets, and get access to more than 60 events (some venues have limited capacity so are excluded). Scroll down to book, or for more information click here.

  • Gabriel Fauré (1845 - 1924)
  • In paradisum (1948) Op. 48 from Requiem
  • Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1903)
  • Ganymed (1891) no.50 from Goethe-Lieder
  • Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)
  • La chevelure (1897) from Chansons de Bilitis
  • Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)
  • Loreley (1840) Op.53 no.2 iv.1840 from Romanzen und Balladen, iii
  • Frühlingsfahrt (1840) Op. 45 no.2 31.x–5.xi.1840 from Romanzen und Balladen, i
  • Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (1805 - 1847)
  • Die Nonne Op. 9 no.12
  • Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)
  • Urlicht (1892) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Notes on the Programme

‘We are ever striving after what is forbidden, and coveting what is denied us’. Ovid. 

In a world that is generally becoming more and more liberal, in which traditional hierarchies are rejected and authorities are being rebelled against, in which one can seemingly try almost anything without constraints and limits, the question remains as to the relevance of concepts such as temptation, the Fall of Man, prohibition, disobedience, good and evil. Since the dawn of civilisation, we have questioned the restrictions imposed on us by religion, leadership and society – continually breaking through and redefining those limits.

In the Garden of Eden, God created Adam and Eve as individuals with free will and freedom. They were given only a single restriction: not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.

Despite that, Eve still ate the forbidden fruit, because she thought she might have the chance to enjoy something that the other trees could not offer her. From then on, the forbidden fruit has become associated with desire. In many cultures, the apple was considered a sign of health, youth and immortality and in Greek mythology it became more of an expression of seduction, femininity and intimacy.

The story of the Garden of Eden teaches us the power of human decision-making: we may occasionally choose the ‘wrong’ path, despite being aware of the potential consequences.

We can sometimes find ourselves in the same internal conflict as Adam and Eve: tempted by the possibility of gaining new life experiences – eating the ‘forbidden fruit’ – that promise us something unknown and exciting. But after ‘tasting’, we often find ourselves oddly dissatisfied, and with more desire than ever to keep breaking through newly emerging boundaries. Does this pattern make life better? Do we really find more freedom, more happiness?

Fauré’s In paradisum bookends the concert and thus takes the listener through a story-arc from paradise, being cast out and a return to final peace once again. Individual quotations from the Bible are illuminated musically as if through a kaleidoscope. The repertoire ranges from folk songs to German art songs through French Impressionism, to settings of ‘New Objectivity’ and contemporary compositions.

The first half of the concert is primarily devoted to physical awakening, longing, seduction and intimacy, although many of the sociological and religious restrictions that applied at the time of composition no longer seem appropriate today.

Louÿs’ poem La Chevelure is based on an ancient Greek text, where his rejection of the restrictive Parisian moral concepts and his search for a sexually liberated alternative certainly impact the language displayed in this piece. As a reaction to Louÿs’ writing, Debussy wished for the premiere of this work to be performed by a virgin singer – someone innocent to the sexual imagery of the text. Poulenc’s L’Offrande ambiguously plays with the idea of losing one’s virginity, whilst the sketches of Goethe's Faust in Gretchen am Spinnrade point to the painful experience of her own defloration: a socially unacceptable extramarital pregnancy that led to infanticide.

It remains uncertain whether the Ballad of Paragraph 218 also has a fatal outcome. However, in the harrowing conversation between a doctor and a homeless, penniless pregnant woman, Brecht takes a much clear position. In late 1920s Germany, economic poverty drove the number of abortions in Germany to almost a million...

Heggie gives a contemporary voice to the biblical Eve in The Snake. After tasting the forbidden fruit, she describes it as ‘Sweet. Sour. Salty. Bitter. And the taste of air, of Rottenness...’. The question is posed to the listener: was it really worth it?

Hensel was not permitted to publish Die Nonne under her own name at the time of composition, so she assumed the identity of her brother, Felix Mendelssohn (and to this day, Felix Mendelssohn is often wrongly credited for composing this song and others). Uhland creates a deeply human character here, who, after the death of her lover, freed from feelings of guilt, is finally allowed to love him as an angel. The original German version of Just a Gigolo describes the alleged social decline in Austria after the First World War: a former hussar forced to earn his living as a dancer for sale. With unusual English text, set to music by Grieg, the consequences of being condemned to hell are portrayed in a humorous way in To a Devil.

Goethe’s figure of the Harfner in Wilhelm Meister’s apprenticeship is a tragic one. He finds out later in life that he and his sister (who were separated in childhood), fathered a daughter named Mignon, whom he later meets. He wanders madly through life from that moment on, crying out to the gods in Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß that although he was at their mercy, he is ultimately the one to blame for this sin.

Driven out of paradise, Mahler shares the idea that in the end there will be forgiveness, understanding and salvation. He wrote to a friend: ‘Urlicht represents the soul’s striving and questioning attitude towards God and its own immortality’. In a moving way, he expresses the everlasting hope for the salvation of man.

Looking at the programme as a whole, we wish for you to perhaps consider some questions: What are our personal forbidden fruits? Where does the snake slumber today? If we were offered a paradise in which there is no war, suffering, pain or disease, would we really be content?

This is an invitation to take you on a journey with me through the Garden of Eden and experience its diversity!

© Benjamin Appl from the album sleeve: Forbidden Fruit (Alpha, June 2023)

Website banner with text

13 October 2023 | 11:00am

Art:Song - Images, Words, Music

Previous Event
Parfums et Paroles
14 October 2023, 5:15pm - 6:15pm
Next Event
A Chapel Tour
15 October 2023, 11:00am - 11:30am

Help us with a Donation

We rely on the generosity of our supporters to help us continue to bring song to Oxford. Please consider making a donation today.

Make a Donation

Select Tickets