Julius Benedict: I mourn as a dove, from St. Peter

23 05 2010

by hour of the wolf (CC)

When a student came to me with the Spicker Oratorio Anthology for Soprano, I must admit, I had never used it before. The usual suspects like Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn were represented, but so were a number of composers I’d never heard of before. When I recognized this aria from another anthology I own, I assigned it, and was quite surprised and pleased with how attractive it was.

Julius Benedict worked hard to create a cohesive oratorio about the life of St. Peter. The work premiered in 1870 and received critical acclaim. I believe the work was too broad in scope, though, to enter the canon. After all, to boil the life of Peter down to five sections while using quotes from both Old and New Testaments is no small feat! Benedict settled on the following skeleton for his oratorio:

  1. The Divine Call – While Peter fishes, Jesus comes to him.
  2. Faith – Jesus walks on water, and calls Peter to him. Peter’s faith wavers
  3. Denial – When asked if he knows Jesus, Peter answers, “No.”
  4. Repentance – Peter realizes what he has done and repents before Jesus is crucified.
  5. Deliverance – After being thrown into prison by Herod, Peter’s convictions strengthen.

This aria is taken from the “Repentance” section. Jesus is handed over by Pontias Pilate, and the disciples sing of the “day of clouds and thick darkness.” Mary sings this aria before Jesus is marched away. One interesting element is that this aria is not in a minor key, a typical device for expressing sadness in music. The major key allows for greater breadth of emotion, and makes the aria seem somehow more reflective and more fateful, rather than self-pitying.

I mourn as a dove, I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul. (Is 38:14-15)
Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction. (Ps. 88:9)
Labour not to comfort me, for I will weep bitterly. (Is 22:4)

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Edvard Grieg: Med en primulaveris (With a Mayflower)

15 05 2010

by steve_chilton (CC)

When I was in San Diego earlier this spring, my dear friend Dr. Marla Fogderud taught for me while I was gone. She’s a specialist in Norwegian repertoire, and when I returned, I was pleased that a handful of students were working on Grieg songs (in Norwegian!) Grieg’s songs are carefully constructed miniatures, always well-balanced, nuanced, and colorful. I, for one, relished the opportunity to become more familiar with some of these gems.

I must confess, I had no idea that primulaveris was a flower until looking it up just now. Otherwise known as cowslip or mayflower,  it’s one of the first flowers of spring in most of Europe. This song cautions against rushing through spring to summer — a message I can definitely take to heart. The song has a simple, repetitive quality to it, but a broad, arching line which allows the listener to revel in the beauty of spring.

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George Frideric Handel: Rend’il sereno al ciglio (Bring serenity to your mien)

13 05 2010

by kashif (CC)

One of the first steps in learning an aria is to explore the words of the libretto, or at least a very good synopsis; this allows a singer to better relate to the character he or she is portraying. This often takes some digging, particularly when the aria is from an obscure opera, like today’s song.

The opera from which this aria is excerpted went through several revisions, with the libretto first titled, “Dionysius, King of Portugal;” the setting was moved to Spain in the first version of the opera — “Fernando, King of Castille” — and finally moved to ancient Mesopotamia with “Sosarme, King of Media.” The reason for the repeated change of venue was to distance Handel and his librettist, Antonio Salvi, from the reference to the quarrels at the British Court between King George II and his son Frederick Lewis.

In Sosarme, King Heliate has named his illegitimate son the heir to the throne, causing Argone, the legitimate son and proper heir, to prepare for war. The queen’s daughter, Elmira, delivers the news that her brother is preparing to go to battle to restore his place and return peace in the kingdom. Elmira advises, “Bring serenity to your mien, mother,” continuing that this is not a day for tears. The queen, however, has been informed by the goddess Hecate that peace will come at the cost of royal blood.

When Rend’il sereno al ciglio is presented outside the opera — which, for almost all singers, will be where it will be presented — the aria’s context may serve to confuse rather than clarify matters. Most singers can relate to the idea of consoling a someone, and would perhaps do better to motivate this piece from their own experience.

Despite its inclusion in several common vocal anthologies, I cannot find many performances of this lovely aria, either professional or amateur. The best comes from the 2007 recording of Fernando, re di Castiglia.

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Franz Schubert: Das Fischermädchen (The fisher maiden)

11 05 2010

by Svadilfari (CC)

Ah, iTunes. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I have 70+GB of music files, but it’s a MESS. Sure, my popular music is easy enough to sort, but as many before me have noted, classical music is a very different story. Over the summer, I’m going to be resorting my library (which contains over 20GB of classical selections), and I’m going to try tunequest’s method (unless anyone out there has a better suggestion!)

As I’ve been going through my library, I rediscovered Bryn Terfel’s recording of Schubert Lieder. It’s a gem of a recording, and I much prefer Terfel’s Schubert performances to almost any other baritone. I could easily feature every song on the album, but I’ll simply refer you to the album, which is available in its entirety on last.fm

As Schubert wrote over 600 songs, it’s hard to be completely well-versed. I’d never taught “Das Fischermädchen” before (The tenth song of Schwanengesang), but heard it several times at juries this semester. It’s attractive and simple, with a rocking accompaniment mirroring the rocking of the sea.





Jules Massenet: Crépuscule (Twilight)

7 05 2010

Dreams in the Dusk, (cc) afsilva

I’m still here, just digging out from the end of my first year at Concordia. Last week was jury week, and I heard so many pieces of music that I want to write about! Posting will be spotty this month, though, as I will be driving to Logan, Utah in a couple of weeks for my summer with the Utah Festival Opera. Hopefully over the summer, I’ll be able to get a cache of posts created so there won’t be this long silence again. As I’ve told my students, feel free to nag me if I’m not posting enough!

I taught several pieces by Jules Massenet this semester (“Je suis encore” from Manon, Bonne nuit, Élégie, and Ouvres tes yeux bleus) and was seduced by the beauty of his songs. Through the simplicity of the accompaniment and the sweep of the melodic line, Massenet is able to perfectly capture the emotion of the text.  I’m surprised to find so few have recorded his songs — perhaps this will become a project for me and my students in the not so distant future.

Many of Massenet’s works are available at IMSLP, including this gem. The song is SO simple, really serving to emphasize the beauty of the dusk. The gentle turns in the vocal line sound like the world settling in for the night, much like the lilies, the ladybirds, and the lovers that the text mentions.