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.

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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)





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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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.





Robert Schumann: Du ring an meinem Finger (Thou ring on my finger)

22 02 2010

by darklyseen (CC)

Robert Schumann’s song cycles Frauenliebe und –leben (The loves and lives of women) and Dichterliebe (The poet’s love) hold almost universal appeal among listeners and singers young and old, new and seasoned, amateur and professional. Not only are the real-life scenarios of love and love lost easy to grasp, but Schumann also sets them with heart-rending effectiveness.

In Du Ring an meinem Finger, we witness a private moment where a newly-engaged woman marvels in the beauty of a ring that somehow makes tangible the intangibility of love. Something about the rising and falling motion of the vocal line and the tenderness of the accompaniment is strikingly intimate. The middle section of the piece borrows heavily from the second song in the cycle, (Er, der Herrlichste von Allen, a song all about the wonders of the man whom she loves) with the text “I will serve him, live for him, belong to him entirely.” The piece finally returns to the revelry of the initial rocking melody.





Charles Gounod: Le vallon (The Valley)

12 02 2010

Vallon de Rechy

Vallon de Rechy by maurice_perry (CC)

I was at a freshman faculty meeting this morning, discussing the balance of teaching and scholarly activity in academia. While I have been doing a good job balancing performing and teaching, my writing has not been as consistent or as regular as I’d like it to be. I brought up whether or not blogging is considered publication or just simply something interesting a faculty member does in their spare time. Frankly, the thought that the time and effort I put into writing these posts may not be considered an important contribution to academia is discouraging. Maybe that’s an excuse for not writing more, but it’s always in the back of my mind. Prof Albrecht (another member of my freshman “class”) and I are going to have coffee soon and chat about this and about why faculty should blog.

So, on this French Friday, I present a song I found in the New Imperial Bass Songs Anthology (a poor scan is also available at the University of Rochester). I have a sophomore bass-baritone working on this story-song, and I’m sure he’s glad Gounod didn’t set all sixteen verses of Lamartine’s poem.

Gounod begins the song heavily and slowly, suggesting the desperation of the singer, who asks the valley of his youth to “give respite as I await death.” The poem alternates dark sections with moderately less dark sections until the singer begins to think of “a heart full of hope.” A new melody appears in the piano, suggesting the valley has a happy personality of its own. The song concludes with the words, “When everything changes, nature remains the same. Yes, the same sun gives light all your days.”