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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Vincent d’Indy: Lied maritime (Maritime song)

27 01 2010

"ghosts" by Naama, used under Creative Commons

It’s the beginning of a new semester, which means I’ve been busy assigning repertoire to my students. I have come across this piece in several anthologies and online, and I have been tempted to assign it, but for lack of familiarity, I’ve avoided it. Additionally, I am so fond of Vincent d’Indy’s orchestral music that I didn’t believe a song this simple could stand up to those works I so enjoyed programming when I worked in classical radio. I was wrong to have doubted d’Indy, as this song is lovely!

The song is in two halves. The first half is calm and rocking, just like the calm sea; the lover looks at the closed eyes of the beloved and feels calm, like the sea. The second half is much more frantic, with rising and falling arpeggios in the piano, and with unexpected pitches and chords in both the voice and piano. The stormy seas are echoed in the troubled heart after looking at the “traitorous eyes” of the beloved.

Any time I get to feature Counter-tenor extraordinaire Philippe Jaroussky, I’m happy. This performance lacks some of the warmth and vocal agility that I tend to associate with him, but it’s still quite striking.

No translation on recmusic.org (though one is provided in the front of the commonly available “40 French Songs, Vol. II” by International). No videos on YouTube. I think this needs to be remedied, tout de suite!





Richard Strauss: Die Nacht (The Night)

5 01 2010

Cologne Dome at Night

Cologne Dome at Night, by h0m3rcl3s (used under Creative Commons)

Richard Strauss is known for his expansive and expressive writing, and vocal lines that require legato for days. Die Nacht is no exception, despite being one of Strauss’s first songs, written in 1885. The poem expresses the fear that just as night steals the color from everything that is lovely, “taking from the Cathedral Dome its gold,” it will steal the beloved from the lover. Strauss’s song picks up the sensual notes of the poem with a tenderness and sweetness tinged with sadness.





Hugo Wolf: Auf ein Christblume II (To a Christmas Rose)

22 12 2009

Christ rose

Hellebores (Christmas roses), by alphageek, used under Creative Commons

Hugo Wolf’s primary vehicle of musical expression was the art song, primarily because it allowed him great expressive freedom in a miniature form. He was never successful in the larger forms, such as symphonic works or opera, perhaps because he lacked the stamina to stay dedicated to them. He wrote in furious spurts of inspiration that lasted about a year, then wrote nothing for months or years. Today, I think Wolf would be classified as manic-depressive.

In my opinion, some of Wolf’s most evocative songs are the among the 53 settings of poems by Eduard Mörike. It’s easy to see why — the deep, reflective, quasi-spiritual nature of Mörike’s poetry must have appealed to Wolf’s troubled mind. Several of the songs (Auf ein altes Bild, Auf ein Christblume II, Schlafendes Jesuskind) are Christmas-themed; they are tender, but still have the chromaticism and pangs of raw emotion that are so typical of Wolf. Auf ein Christblume II takes up the theme of the flower sleeping beneath the snow, a familiar image at this time of year.

A shoutout to the folks at YourAccompanist.com — I am grateful to be featured on their site this month, largely in part due to this blog. They have several of Wolf’s song accompaniments available for purchase.





Sparks and Wiry Cries podcast

8 12 2009

by earsaregood under CreativeCommons

I received a comment from Martha Guth, a singer who hosts the “Sparks and Wiry Cries” art song podcast. I just finished listening to the most recent episode, and was particularly moved by the discussion and performance of Brahms’s second viola song, Die ihr schwebet, which begins with the tune of “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine” (or “Josef lieber, Josef mein” for the German purists).

Please jump over and support the Sparks and Wiry Cries podcast!





Stefano Donaudy: Come l’alodoletta (Like the little skylark)

19 11 2009
A skylark

by aaardvaark, under Creative Commons

“Peace and happiness flee a gentle heart in which love rules alone”

 

Stefano Donaudy’s music is timeless. Though written in the style of the 17th and 18th centuries, Donaudy himself lived early in the 20th century, and is known almost exclusively for his Arie di stile antico, the most commonly performed being Vaghissima sembianza (made popular by Enrico Caruso’s early recording), Sento nel core, O del mio amato ben, and Spirate pur spirate. They remain favorites of singers and teachers alike for their heartfelt texts (written by Donaudy’s brother, Alfredo) their simple yet effective accompaniments, and their exquisite sense of line.

Roberto Guarino recorded all 36 of the songs, which remains the gold standard reference recording. Though the University of Rochester only has the first 24 songs available online, there are volumes of all 36 songs commonly available for purchase in both high and low keys. Every singer should have these songs in his or her possession for their simplicity and beauty, as demonstrated in this song about the skylark.





Adolf Jensen: Song Cycle — Dolorosa (Sadness)

17 11 2009

By zu78, used under Creative Commons

“The day I have enjoyed is now gone”

I fell off the horse, but I’m back on again. For awhile, I’ll post every 2-3 days. Better than nothing!

Adolf Jensen was a late romantic German composer and pianist known primarily for his piano and vocal works. According to Grove Music Dictionary, he “possessed one of the most delicate sensibilities of all late Romantic composers.” He knew several of the great composers and musicians of the day, dedicating his works to Berlioz, Brahms, Franz, and Gade, among others. “He succeeded in his mature piano music and songs in assimilating the stylistic influences of Chopin and Liszt into a thoroughly personal style. His professed aspiration in his later works was ‘to translate Wagner’s ideas of beauty and truth into music in the smaller forms.’”

Without question, Jensen is a name like so many others that has all but faded from musical memory. If these songs are any indication, it is perhaps due to the choice of maudlin texts and too strong a reliance on traditional harmonies and forms; at first glance, there appears to be  a lack of dimension or surprise in the piano and vocal writing. On the other hand, the simplicity and straight-forwardness of the music fits the text quite well. Unfortunately, I can’t find any recordings digitally available and not all of the songs are available yet on IMSLP, but the cycle definitely deserves a read and may prove useful as teaching pieces or on a musical program.