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.

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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?




Giovanni Maria Bononcini: Deh piú a me non v’ascondete (Hide from me no more)

17 09 2009

by Paul J Everett (under Creative Commons)

by Paul J Everett (under Creative Commons)

“You could bring this soul out of sorrow”

When it comes to teaching, I’ve got the 24 Italian Songs and Arias down, but there are quite a few out of the Anthology of Italian Song of the 17th & 18th Centuries that I’m not as familiar with. Playing them through at the piano is one thing, but hearing is quite another. “Italian Thursday” will be heavily weighted toward exploring this volume in the coming weeks.

Bononcini’s Hide from me no more has both a grace and a playfulness to it. Dame Janet Baker’s is on the graceful side, while this unknown recording on YouTube tends toward the playful. The music, with its running notes at the end of phrases, seems to suggest the “sorrow” the singer mentions isn’t terribly serious.

Translation behind cut

Read the rest of this entry »





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)





On hiatus for other creative activities!

23 05 2009

University of Minnesota graduate school graduation - May 9, 2009

A newly minted Doctor of Musical Arts

My poor neglected blog has been put on the back burner for a while, and will be for at least another week. During much of April and the early part of May, my time was taken up with writing and defending my doctoral thesis, entitled The Singer as Communicator. Any writer can tell you that every document takes on a life of its own, and this was certainly no exception! The document ended up being a more about the pedagogy of expressive singing rather than an the handbook I originally conceived. In any case, I’m pleased with the outcome, and I would be honored if you would care to read it and comment!

After my last post on the 6th (!), I had family in town for my graduation from the University of Minnesota. Then, I performed the wonderful Huit poemes de Jean Cocteau of Georges Auric for pianist Andrew Fleser’s doctoral lecture recital. The music is quite exciting, and we have discussed recording these songs in the fall, along with another set of songs in Dutch by Alphons Diepenbrock. Both sets are rarely performed despite being quite exquisite music. I’ll keep you posted!

Since then, I’ve been preparing for my summer in Logan, UT, where I’ll be performing with the Utah Festival Opera. I’ll be singing in the chorus of Carmen, I Pagliacci/Cavalleria Rusticana, The Mikado, and Camelot. I’ll also be covering (that’s opera-speak for understudying) the roles of Dancairo in Carmen and Lancelot in Camelot. I understand the summer season at Utah Festival is really wonderful, so I encourage you to take in a show if you’re in the neighborhood!

I’m not sure if I’ll have sufficient time or internet access to keep the blog all that active in the next few months. This blog does remain a priority, though, and should I be unable to maintain it over the summer, I will begin posting regularly in the fall.

Until then…
Dr. Hindemith 😛





Rhené-Bâton: Sérénade Mélancolique

6 05 2009

With your body, with your arms, make a tomb

With your body, with your arms, make a tomb

My love for the International Musical Scores Library Project grows by the day! Today, I discovered scores by a conductor and composer from the early 20th Century named Rhené-Bâton. His music sounds like a hybrid of Debussy and Fauré – not a bad thing!

The fourth song of Rhené-Bâton’s Op. 16 has an unabashed romantic flair. Much of the text describes the beauty one finds in a lover. At the end, though, the text turns dramatically, and the singer asks the beloved to “make a tomb” with his or her body within which the singer can hide from pain, hence the “melancholy” of the title.

Text (Jean Lahor) and new translation behind cut: Read the rest of this entry »





Franz Schubert and Carl Loewe: Erlkönig (The Erl King)

5 05 2009
Who rides so late through night and wind...

"Who rides so late through night and wind..."

One of the most iconic of German Lieder is Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s Erlkönig. It is a story of a sick child whose father carries him home by horseback. The child is terrified by the “Erl King,” who threatens to take him by will or by force. The father doesn’t believe the child, thinking the child is hallucinating.

Unfortunately, this song is far too demanding for many pianists with its rapidly repeated triplets in the right hand, and it requires a singer with some serious dramatic chops to do it justice. Carl Loewe’s setting of the same text is also extremely effective and a masterpiece in its own right. Additionally, it is a great alternative to the Schubert.