Sullivan: The Lost Chord

1 09 2010

Pipe organ in the Cathedral at Beziers, by quinet (CC)

Over the summer, I performed with the Utah Festival Opera. Despite my best intentions, I didn’t have the time to devote to this blog. Now that it’s a new month and a new academic year, I’m back on the bandwagon.

I can’t really comment on the perfect marriage of text to music in this song, except to say it isn’t quite as effective when the accompaniment is played on the piano. There are many ways in which a piano can substitute for a full orchestra, but in a piece requiring powerful, sustained harmonies like an organ, it just doesn’t do justice.

Seated one day at the organ,
I was weary and ill-at-ease;
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.

I know not what I was playing
Or what I was dreaming then,
But I struck one chord of music
Like the sound of a great Amen.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the organ
And entered into mine.

Advertisements




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)





Lori Laitman: They might not need me

6 01 2010

Hidden smile

by focus2capture, used under Creative Commons

Since I try to highlight works in the public domain, I have essentially been ignoring anything published after 1923. This is a pity, because there is so much wonderful and exciting music that has come along since then! Lest you get the wrong impression that we might not need them, I’ll try to be better about incorporating them.

Several years ago, I performed at a national convention, and composer Lori Laitman approached me afterward, suggesting I look at some of her songs. I was not disappointed, as her music covers quite the range of expression, from humorous and lively (as in this song from the cycle Night and Day) to dark and somber. All her songs have a lot of heart, making it easy for both singer and audience to connect with them. Additionally, Laitman selects excellent texts, demanding equally excellent diction and commitment to character from the singer.

They might not need me — yet they might —
I’ll let my Heart be just in sight —
A smile so small as mine might be
Precisely their necessity —

–Emily Dickinson





Sir Hubert Parry: Jerusalem; Under the Greenwood Tree

21 09 2009

It’s a two-for-one day!

by Scott St. George (used under Creative Commons)

picture by Scott St. George (used under Creative Commons)

And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England’s mountains green?

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (referred to as C.H.H. Parry or Sir Hubert Parry) does not have the same name recognition, perhaps, as some of his contemporaries or successors (Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Finzi, or Quilter, to name a few) despite his distinguished positions at the Royal College of Music and Oxford University. Regardless, his noble, stately setting of William Blake’s poem, Jerusalem,  has become something of an unofficial English national anthem.

Dame Felicity Lott was one of the first lyric sopranos I ever heard who grasped me with not just her beautiful voice, but also with herability to really communicate a text; I still remember her vividly as Pamina in the video of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and as Anne Truelove in the recording of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. So when I came across her 2004 CD of English Song, entitled “My Own Country,” I knew I had to feature it, especially when combined with a discovery of a vast public domain treasure trove of songs by Parry.

Under the Greenwood Tree is another great example of Parry’s ability to create a sound-world in music that echoes the mood of the text. The music is playful throughout, but the enemies of “winter and rough weather” sound stark, though not particularly threatening.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?




Music and technology — Eric Whitacre: Sleep

16 09 2009

I’m using the Concordia College Faith, Reason, and World Affairs Forum to begin posting again. It’s my new place of employment, and this blog is one way in which I answer the following question:

This summer, I sang with the Utah Festival Opera, and it became painfully obvious how integrated technology has become in the arts world. The entire apartment complex had complimentary (although slow) Wi-Fi. Email was the backbone for all official and professional communication. News was received via the web, be it through individual web pages or through an aggregator like Netvibes or Google Reader, or by streaming audio/video or Podcasts. We saw the wide reach of the web when the director of the company was both lauded and vilified in comments made on the local paper’s site.

When it came to communicating directly, I wasn’t surprised that those with iPhones and GooglePhones always seemed to be a step ahead of the rest of us. I watched one colleague use his new account on Google Voice to set up a NYC phone number that would forward to his Houston-based cell phone for business purposes. The number of people who used Skype surprised me, and the fact that one colleague used Skype to take lessons from a teacher in New York City proved to me that we have moved into a new era of communication.

Less formally, everyone (including the artist coordinator) used Facebook to keep in touch with friends far away and friends just around the corner — my upstairs roommate and I would have entire Facebook conversations in the comment sections of a friend’s photo or status update after our other roommates had gone to bed. Texting was more than a luxury; I couldn’t have coordinated rides to the theatre or been alerted to an impromptu gathering without it. Twitter and FriendFeed hadn’t really caught on with the artists, but I tried them out, which left my personal journal virtually abandoned. I did some virtual gardening via Flickr — I was able to look at pictures of my garden and say what needed to be pulled and what needed to be kept.

We relaxed to shows and movies on Hulu, or the latest delivery from NetFlix, or to MMO video games like World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and Team Fortress. Some liked to kick it old-school and play old DOS, Nintendo, Sega, and arcade games on their laptops backstage, while others played games on their phones. Pandora provided the soundtrack to many evening get-togethers. No gathering was complete without sharing YouTube videos, both the ridiculous and the sublime.

It is in that spirit, then, that I want to look at what the web has allowed us to do. It serves as inspiration; it allows for individual expression; most impressively, it allows us to collaborate in new and unique ways. The way that these singers have been brought together into this one video is, to me, one of the most amazing uses of “Web 2.0” techniques I have ever seen. Technology can be overstimulating, but it can also be positively transcendental.


(I know this isn’t technically an art song, but Wednesdays on this blog are “wildcard Wednesdays” and this was too cool not to share)





Ralph Vaughan Williams: Easter

12 04 2009
a

The cross taught all wood to resound his name

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, Just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
And multiplied;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

–George Herbert





William Walton: Holy Thursday

9 04 2009

O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!

O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!

Today is Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday, given your tradition. It is the day of the Last Supper and of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. I will be in Church this evening, singing in the choir and watching the crowds and the stately procession, just like Walton captures in this song.