Schumann Liederkreis, op. 39 – Introduction

11 05 2011

The academic year has come to a close, and with it, my absence from this blog! In this welcome hiatus from the daily routine of teaching lessons and classes, I am excited to work on my own projects.

On October 14th, 2011 at 7:30 PM, I am scheduled to give a recital with pianist Andrew Fleser at Concordia College in Moorhead. On the program (tentatively) are Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 39 (Literally, “Song Cycle”), John Duke’s 3 “people” songs, and Auric’s Huit poemes de Jean Cocteau. I have performed the Duke and Auric before, but not the Schumann. I know I have heard the Liederkreis in the past, but it has never gripped me the way Schumann’s iconic song cycles Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben have. I think it’s time that changed.

I am going to take a new approach to learning this cycle by translating, considering, meditating upon, and memorizing the texts first, without the aid of music. I want to come up with my own sense of the story and become intimately familiar with the words and the characters before I begin to be influenced by Schumann’s ideas. This may be difficult as I have already spent a bit of time looking over the pieces this spring while trying to decide whether or not to commit to the cycle, but I intend to try.

I invite you to come with me on this journey over the next several weeks. I’m going to write about a song text each day, without sheet music (readily available at IMSLP or in many published editions) and without performance examples. Particularly because the title “Song Cycle” does not imply any story or anything other than the fact that the pieces are part of a whole, it will be an adventure!

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Rep assignments

8 09 2010

Journey to Bethlehem, by jwgreen (CC)

I always enjoy the first week of lessons. I get to assign so many pieces. Some pieces are new to me, some are only vaguely familiar, and some are old friends that I’m happy to introduce to my new friends. Here’s a nearly complete list of the repertoire I assigned today

 





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)





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.





Alan Louis Smith: Vignettes

11 01 2010

Ellis Island building

Abandoned Ellis Island by vilseskogen (used under Creative Commons)

I didn’t quite meet my New Year’s resolution goal of 3-5 posts a week last week. Gotta get back on the horse and keep trying! I must admit that sometimes it can be frustrating because I come to the computer with one particular idea in mind but then cannot find the music I’m looking for online.

Today is one of those frustrating days. I have been corresponding with mezzo-soprano Virginia Dupuy, who I studied with at SMU and who really has her finger on the pulse of contemporary American artsong. She recommended I investigate the works of Alan Louis Smith (not to be confused with Larry Alan Smith).

Sadly, I have little to offer you other than a name, a recommendation from a trusted source, and a single video. Smith has written a couple of song cycles (which he calls “vignettes”), one using writings of immigrants for Vignettes: Ellis Island. Smith’s Vignettes: Covered Wagon Women was premiered by Stephanie Blythe relatively recently, to good review. Ms. Dupuy also recommends Smith’s Vocalise.





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.