Charles Tomlinson Griffes: An Old Song Re-sung

23 03 2009

I

"The summer wind was failing and the tall ship rolled"

A grand pirate ship sails by and the crew drinks merrily. For whatever reason, the ship begins to sink, but the crew takes no notice. Finally, the ship goes under and only the floating bottles remain, clinking against one another. Griffes captured all these moments deftly in this gem.

As a young singer, I patterned my voice after singers I liked the sound of. Before formal study, it was David Gayne of Depeche Mode; when I started singing in earnest, I copied Thomas Hampson, to the point my teacher regularly reminded me, “Stop trying to sound like him!” This piece shows well what I liked about him — the dedication to the text paired with a warm but powerful vocal instrument capable of an extremely wide range of dynamics and colors.

Advertisements




Hugo Wolf: Auf ein altes Bild (In an old painting)

22 03 2009

und dort, im Walde, wonnesam...

"und dort, im Walde, wonnesam..."

This simple song remains one of my favorites. So simple, so lovely. It moves slowly, at a strolling pace, as if one is walking through an art gallery observing a piece of art. When the viewer realizes that this lovely scene will soon lead to Christ’s crucifixion on the cross, the pain of the realization stings the soul.

The work may have been inspired by Durer’s Madonna and Child, but then again, many artists painted this same scene. In my mind’s eye, I see a conglomerate of works that I came to love growing up at Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum, namely di Credi’s work and the Gossaert’s “Mother and Child with Saint Agnes.”





Jean Sibelius: Flickan kom från sin älsklings möte (The Tryst, “The girl came from meeting her lover”)

21 03 2009

aa

"What has made your cheeks so pale?"

So often, songs are about young love and the loss of innocence. Sibelius’ takes the story of a girl who comes home with telltale signs of her adventures — red fingers and red lips — which Sibelius depicts both heroically and nervously in music. But when she comes home pale and her mother asks why, the music turns dramatic and the girl announces her grave should read that it was her lover’s infidelity that made her pale.

This is a perfect opportuntiy to address the problem of singing works in translation. Though the English version in the score (which, unfortunately, lacks the Swedish) is fairly close to the Swedish, the French singing translation keeps calling the girl “Gretchen,” a clear reference to Goethe’s Faust. There is nothing in the poet’s words to suggest this; Gretchen was certainly not the only girl to be betrayed by a lover!





Pauline Viardot-Garcia: Madrid

20 03 2009

aaa

"My Andalusian princess... a true demon, an angel"

Singer, pianist, and composer Pauline Viardot was born into musical royalty. Both parents and her older sister were famous singers — her father, Manuel Garcia, was the first tenor to sing a high C in full voice. Though born and raised in Paris, she obviously cherished her family’s ties to Spain, which she captures in this energetic and flirtatious piece with its flamenco-inspired rhythms and harmonies.





Franz Liszt: Pace non trovo (I find no peace)

19 03 2009

Death has me in a prison which he neither opens to me nor shuts

"Love has me in a prison which he neither opens to me nor shuts"

Liszt’s three Petrarch Sonnets are virtuosic for both singer and pianist, and the introduction of the first song is one of the most memorable in all of song, in my opinion. Nothing less could accurately express Petrarch’s obsession with a woman whom he could never have.





Christian Sinding: Vaardag (Spring Day)

18 03 2009

a

"New blooms spring forth"

In Minnesota, the snow is mostly gone, and the temperatures have risen above freezing — a sure sign of spring!  This lively song captures the joyful mood of seeing the blue skies, the birds, and the buds.

Christian Sinding’s works are attractive and expressive, and perhaps had he not been overshadowed by Grieg and had he not joined the Nazi party in 1941 (apparently as a formality if he wanted his works to be heard), his works would be performed more often today. Fortunately, nearly his entire output is available at IMSLP, so feel free to browse!





Ludwig van Beethoven: Come draw we round a cheerful ring, from Irish songs, WoO 152, No. 11

17 03 2009

No, Gossip Winter, snug within, we have no room for thee.

"No, Gossip Winter, snug within, we have no room for thee."

One of the hallmarks of the Irish is their love of stories, music, and community. Though not Irish, Beethoven caught the festive mood of a celebration in this catchy tune.

Beethoven wrote three sets of Irish songs for voice and string trio at the behest of Scottish folk song collector and publisher George Thomson. The songs range from quick and lively to heart-rendingly touching.

As it is St. Patrick’s day, I was searching for musical scores of Irish music this morning. Since I couldn’t find the Beethoven songs, I offer instead an online volume of Sixty Irish Songs, edited by William Arms Fisher.