American Victoriana

Romance & Romanticism

European Roots, American Flowers

The Serene Sounds of Venice


American Victoriana with Harp and Voice

A review by Margaret Gupta

I recently attended a delightful program called "American Victoriana with Harp and Voice." Elisa Dickon harpist, and Jay Taylor, tenor performed as Aurora. The program was part of Deborah Carr's Water Music series at Virginia Beach United Methodist Church.

The selections spanned a wide range of "popular" music of the 19th century from Stephen Foster (Beautiful Dreamer) to Jules Massenet (Les Enfants). There were several songs of Thomas Moore (Avenging and Bright and O'Donoghue's Mistress) and the ever popular Grandfather's Clock by Henry Work.

The songs were well sung with excellent diction. The explanations, made the program so much more interesting and informal. Most of the songs were unfamiliar to me, so I enjoyed hearing new ones. Elisa accompanied most effectively and also played several harp solos in her own musical way with commentary about the pieces.

Unfortunately, there were not many in the audience as there were so many competing events, but those of us who were there thoroughly enjoyed the concert. We thank both Jay and Elisa for sharing their talents with us.

A Valentine for Listeners

      A program titled Romanticism and Romance, Music for Valentine's Day took place in the Cole Gallery at the Chrysler Museum on February 13, 2002. The performers were Jay Taylor, tenor and Elisa Dickon, harp, performing as Aurora, focusing on music popular in 18th and 19th century America. The recital was free and open to the public. Many young couples were there with art song regulars to enjoy an intimate evening of love songs and to tour several 19th century galleries of Romantic paintings before the music began. There was a larger than expected turn-out and additional seats had to be added, with folks looking on from an adjacent gallery.

      The romantics among us were not disappointed by the selection of songs, ranging from Robert Burns' The red, red rose, a deeply felt love song, and his Highland Mary, which touches your heart with the sadness of a love lost by the death of the partner, to songs by Thomas Moore, Stephen Foster, Gustave Mahler and Jules Massenet.

      Jay Taylor's voice has a very pleasing lyrical quality. Though it is not a big voice, his breath control and diction are excellent and his power of expression is deeply insightful. Both his and Elisa Dickon's commentary added delight to the program. The venue was perfect for the voice and the harp collaboration.

      As always, Elisa Dickon played well and with wonderful dynamics. She introduced her two solo pieces, Reverie, and La Source by Alphonse Hasselmans (1845-1912) as being in the Romantic style, with wooshy sounds: "Please, no snoring." Her harp teacher, now 93, studied with Hasselmans and she decided to share these very romantic pieces with us form her student days.

      The song by John Sinclair (1791-1857), O, saw ye the lass with the bonny blue een?, was a perfect example of Scottish music, and it led the set titled Nature. Other sets were titled Constancy, Love's Shadow, The Folk and Two Valentines, all of these major themes in artistic thinking during the Romantic era were also illustrated by the paintings featured in the gallery tour. Other songs in the Nature set were Psyche by Emile Paladilhe (1844-1926) and Massenet's (1842-1912) Ouvre tes yeux bleus (Open thy blue eyes), a lovely, lyrical song. Now welcome my wood by Robert Franz (1815-1892) closed the set. Several in our group felt that using the Massenet just before intermission would have ended the set with a dramatic flourish.

      The Two Valentines set included Starke Einbildungskraft by Mahler (1860-1911), a fanciful song from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, in which the girl challenges the boy to take her now that summer has come, since that is what he had promised to do. He declines because in his imagination he has had her the entire time. The second piece was Thomas Moore's Row gently here.

      The final set, The Folk, was two songs by Stephen Foster. Elisa says these were top 40 tunes form the 1840's. The Glendy Burke and I'm nothing but a plain old soldier, speaking of George Washington. All in all a most enjoyable and delightful program.

      I must not end this review without talking about the set entitled Love's Shadow. Robert Burn's Highland Mary (reviewed above) followed by At the brookside (An einem Bache) by Grieg (1843-1907), a most powerful song delivered with panache. The last song, Foster's I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair was to my ear just wonderful. My collaborator on this review saw it differently. She wrote "I dream of Jeanie involved too much scooping." I wonder if this was a common way of singing in the 1840's ?

      So we end this review affirming that there is no one way to appreciate music. The joy is in being able to share the music and our perceptions in an atmosphere of mutual respect for each other and our varying points of view.

Margaret Gupta and John Campbell

      Margaret holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Baldwin-Wallace College and a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan and recently gave a recital at the Scherzo Music Club. She is also an active board member of Portsmouth Community Concerts.

Aurora & Ives:
European Roots, American Flowers

      So how can you spend a rainy Sunday afternoon and have a rich and full experience? Try a trip to the Chrysler Museum of Art to see the American Impressionism show. Even better, was to be there Sunday, November 17, 2002 when Aurora presented chamber music of Europe and art song of America in the gallery, with the paintings as backdrop for the music.

      The chamber work, Claude Debussy's Trio for harp, flute and viola, was wonderfully played. Knowing this piece from recordings only, it was a surprise to hear the rollicking freedom of the viola line with its biting edge, the longing wistful sound of the flute and the precise rhythmic variety of the harp. Laura Baefsky on flute, Jennifer Snyder on viola and Elisa Dickon on harp made up the trio that gave us this experience.

      As Elisa Dickon pointed out in her introduction, music is the better medium for Impressionist theory because it happens in time while painting is static. Jay Taylor, tenor, joined by harp and flute sang the Charles Ives songs From the "Incantation" and later Mirage with harp accompaniment only. "Ives is music of the mind wandering in the way life really is. Try walking into a music building and listen to all the sound happening there," Elisa commented.

      When Jay sang The South Wind he commented that this piece is unforgiving because the singer has to create rhythm and pitch with no help. Elisa quipped from the harp: "You think you have trouble!" From the listener's perspective they both performed well, finishing the program with Memories A Very Pleasant B Rather Sad. This song of two boys, seated and excitedly waiting for a show to begin becomes a sad memory of a tune the boy, now an old man, remembers hummed by an Uncle, long gone.

      Jay Taylor's spirited natural delivery and his psychological rapport with an audience makes this music very accessible to the listener.

      The other songs on the program were by Edward MacDowell and Charles Griffes. The MacDowel songs in a romantic German style were Merry Maiden Spring, Sunrise and To the Golden Rod. Griffes used a five-tone scale to give the flavor of oriental music to these American songs: Symphony in Yellow, Landscapes and So-fei Gathering Flowers. Using word painting that was a joy to hear, a harp was the perfect instrument for these songs and Elisa Dickon's intimate, immediate communication of music and verbal introduction enriched the experience.

      The American Impressionism show will continue at the Chrysler Museum until January 5, 2003, but the music was a one-time event.

Aurora Serenades with The Serene Sounds of Venice

      Jay Taylor, tenor and Elisa Dickon, harpist, performing together as Aurora, created a relaxed hour of song and instrumental music in Huber Court of the Chrysler Museum of Art for the pleasure of their listeners on January 18, 2004. This innovative program of songs, most by composers from Venice, was assembled by Jay Taylor, who keeps exploring new repertory for their continuing series of recitals in historic houses and the museum.

      The rhythm of gently lapping water seems to have set the pace of life. Gliding in a gondola is how many people travel in this city of islands and canals, known as "La Serenissima." Even our performers seemed relaxed, sharing their joy in this music with us. Elisa Dickon explained that with a little research she realized that a harp would indeed have been one of the instruments used to accompany these songs when they were new.

      The occasion was tied to the Chrysler Museum's show of Venetian glass from the twentieth century and the recital set in the northeast corner of Huber court was at the entrance to the show. The renaissance style double stone stairway and arched opening in the wall behind suggested the ambiance of Venice with its ancient stone buildings and arched bridges.

      Venice's St. Mark's Square was called "the drawing room of the world" by poet Alfred de Musset and this program confirmed his point. Many of the songs we heard were by composers who were involved in music at St. Mark's Cathedral. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) moved to Venice in 1613 and composed superb sacred works for St. Mark's, leading to fame throughout Europe. Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) began in the boys choir as did Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676), who later sang tenor before becoming first organist. Antonio Lotti (1667-1746) began in the choir and eventually became choirmaster as did Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690).

      Most of the music we heard was written for the drawing room. From the first song, Son ancor pargoletta by Cavalli, with text about a twelve-year-old girl laughing at love, to the two closing songs, with texts about daytime and nighttime, the themes were of love and romance.

      The exception to this was music by Barbara Strozzi (1619-1664). Her song A St. Anna (Mater Anna) is complex and quite long with verses that were plain chant-like and others that were contemporary for her day, with piquant rhythm changes throughout. This remarkable woman was active in Venice as a leading singer who commissioned song cycles for her performances. She studied with Cavalli and was influenced by him in her compositions. Over one hundred works of hers were published. Many of them were solo songs and show her expert personal knowledge of the human voice.

      The second half of the program opened with a change of pace when Jay Taylor picked up a recorder and joined the harpist in Benedetto Marcello's (1686-1739) Sonata in D minor. The songs that followed included a George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) aria Alma Mia. He spent time in Italy before he settled in London where he wrote many Italianate operas. The closing song Row gently here was by Irishman Thomas Moore (1779-1852). He did not visit Italy but was much influenced by Italian music. His text has a somber side.

      This duo of fine performers creates recitals of great pleasure. Their intimate, conversational introductions to the music and composers adds to the audience's educational and aesthetically pleasing experience.

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