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.”

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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.





Hermann Bemberg: Chant Hindou (Hindu Song)

3 04 2009
a

The Temple of Brahma in Pushkar

The West has always had a fascination with the East, and in the Romantic period,  “Orientalism” in the arts was a particularly strong trend. Hermann Bemberg’s Chant Hindou was quite popular as a result, though the music itself shows little to no eastern influence. Today, Bemberg would be called a one-hit wonder, Chant Hindou being his hit song.

A note on this recording: There are no indications in the music that the interludes in this piece should move along at a quicker pace than the rest of the music as they do here. I presume this is due to the 78 RPM disc on which it was recorded — in order not to go beyond the disc’s three-minute length, tempi were often incredibly quick, particularly in piano interludes.

There is no translation at recmusic, so I have submitted one. It appears below:

Read the rest of this entry »





Cécile Chaminade: L’anneau d’argent (The Silver Ring)

27 03 2009
Obstinate receiver of so many memories

"Obstinate receiver of so many memories"

Shimmering sounds emanate from the piano and the singer sings a simple melody. The image of a glinting silver ring is easy to call to mind. Chaminade avoids low notes until the singer considers that they want the ring to shine on, even after they have died.

Cecile Chaminade was a pianist who wrote lovely character pieces for piano and for voice at the turn of the Century; clubs devoted to her music sprang up in Europe and America, and she was a regular contributor to popular womens’ magazines, where her music was included along with articles on “How to play my music.” Her works usually have a lovely, catchy main melody, a contrasting middle section, and finally a return to the main melody.

This song is familiar to singers and teachers from its inclusion in Joan Frey Boytim’s First Book of Mezzo-Soprano Solos, but her lovely works in several volumes are definitely worth investigation. The first volume is available online (see above), and additional volumes can be found in libraries and in reprints.

I have submitted a translation to recmusic.org, but until it is posted, I’ve included it here Read the rest of this entry »





Edvard Grieg: En svane (A swan)

14 03 2009

Du sang i døden

"Du sang i døden"

The mute swan, it is said, sings only before it is about to die. Grieg crafts a song that captures the swans grace and beauty in life, and the drama of its swan-song.





Alessandro Scarlatti: Se tu della mia morte (If you of my death…)

12 03 2009
If you wont give me death, give me your eyes

"Il dardo del tuo sguardo..."

A mournful song in which a spurned lover blames the beloved for dooming them to death. The two-voice imitation in the piano is a nice illustration of the two characters represented in this song.

Many singers begin by studying what I call the “24 greatest hits.” Sometimes, though, teachers and students alike weary of these tried-and-true friends. The Anthology of Italian Song of the 17th and 18th Centuries includes not only all of the 24 Italian Songs and Arias, they include many less-familiar gems, as well.

There was no translation at recmusic.org, so I’ve written one:

If you, by this strong right hand,
do not want to give the glory of my death,
you give it with your own eyes,
for the dart of your gaze
is that which kills me and consumes me.





Giuseppe Verdi: La seduzione

5 03 2009
Fu sedotta!

Fu sedotta!

Verdi tells the story of a woman who is seduced and dies in shame nine months later. Perhaps surprisingly, the song does not sound particularly sad, seeming instead to be a detached narrative, with a matter-of-fact setting of the last line: “No cross, no cypress, no stone bore her name.”