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.

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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.”





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.





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?




Robert Coningsby Clarke: The Blind Ploughman

6 04 2009

Let the little birds of faith come and nest therein

"Let the little birds of faith come and nest therein"

This gem be Robert Coningsby Clarke (or possibly Conigsby Clarke) may be his only musical legacy — he is not even mentioned in Baker’s Biographical Dictionary, which is usually exhaustive. Regardless, it is one of my favorite pieces to give baritones early in their study. The text is inspirational and the music is dramatic and compelling.

There are few recordings of this, and I find Robeson’s to be the best, with Eddy’s a close second. Though expressive, Feodor Chaliapin’s voice and English leave something to be desired, but I feel I should mention it because of his phenomenal career on stage and screen.

I’ve submitted the text to recmusic.org, but until it’s published, I present it here.

Read the rest of this entry »





Robert Schumann: Waldesgespräch (Conversation in the wood)

31 03 2009
Lorelei

"Great are the deceit and cunning of men"

On a late, cold evening a man rides through the woods. He meets a beautiful woman who tells him to leave. When he recognizes her as the Lorelei, she condemns him to remain lost in the woods forever. The last strains of the song return to the horn-call motive of the man, but he does not sing; his voice has been silenced.





Christian Sinding: Vaardag (Spring Day)

18 03 2009

a

"New blooms spring forth"

In Minnesota, the snow is mostly gone, and the temperatures have risen above freezing — a sure sign of spring!  This lively song captures the joyful mood of seeing the blue skies, the birds, and the buds.

Christian Sinding’s works are attractive and expressive, and perhaps had he not been overshadowed by Grieg and had he not joined the Nazi party in 1941 (apparently as a formality if he wanted his works to be heard), his works would be performed more often today. Fortunately, nearly his entire output is available at IMSLP, so feel free to browse!