by John Campbell
Cecilia Bartoli has said that "there is no inferior music
by Mozart." It is easy for the listener to find delight in his songs. Most of Mozart's lied
are not art song by the strict definition of the Romantic period: art song is poetry
set to music that is through-composed. This definition was formalized in 1798, seven years after
Mozart's death. The early songs of Mozart
have texts of a simple wholesomeness. There are songs on friendship, joy, composure, tranquility and
of course romance to poems that were fashionable at the time. Most of his forty songs are
strophic and the only one set to poetry of a major poet is Das Veilchen (The Violet)
by Goethe. And even here Mozart adds words that suggest that he is joking if not being a bit condescending
about Goethe's text. He adds: "The poor violet! It was a dear little violet!"
In his lifetime only seven songs were published and the most substantial ones came near
the end of his life. After his operas became popular there was a market for his songs.
Mozart "seized the opportunity to respond to the demands
of publishers and public and thereby boost his often erratic income."
This information comes with the booklet from a 2 CD set:
Mozart Lieder - Notturni Phillips (422-524-2). Elly Ameling sings and Dalton
Baldwin accompanies her on piano. It is wonderfully well-done and a great introduction
to his songs. There is another 2 CD set of Mozart The Complete Masonic Music on VOX (VoxBox2 CDX 5055)
that has four lied
by male singers. It is a fun collection of music written for use at Masonic meetings,
lots of chamber pieces and a cantata for tenor which contains five short songs.
"To me Mozart songs are about seduction, before, after or during"
so said Sarah Wells, soprano who sang Sensucht nach dem Früling
(Yearning for spring) written in January, 1791, the year Mozart died, and Die
At the September 22 meeting of the Virginia Art
Song Society Dr. Julian Kwok gave a short introductory talk on Mozart lied and then
with Karen Scott, soprano we had a perfect demonstration of Viennese style in the song
Ridente la calma (a calm smile awakens in my soul). In her second selection Komm
liebe zither (Come dearest zither, come) Ms. Scott proved to be a stylist of
refinement accompanied by Chris Basford, an accomplished classical guitarist.
The co-MC Debbie Harris sang Oiseaux, si tous les ans
(Birds, avoid winter every year) in good French and with a lovely voice. Didi Granger
sang An Chlöe (To Chlöe), a song from 1787, characteristic of
Mozart lied in form and sentiment.
Warnung (Warning) an admonition to fathers
to lock away a maiden to protect her purity was bumptiously portrayed in her very
likable voice by Charlotte Elia, soprano. Als Luise die Briefe (On Louise's letter)
followed and was well chosen for the singer's dramatic and vocal gifts.
Das Veilchen was sung by a
youthful Rebecca Cross.
Abendenfindung (Evening thoughts) is a through-composed song and aria-like in sound. Wie unglucklich bin ich nit
(How unhappy am I) was written when Mozart was a teenager and sung by Pamela
DeMeyere, soprano. Her second selection Wiegenlied (lullaby) is not
on the Elly Ameling CD since this song once attributed to Mozart was actually
written by Bernard Flies, according to the "Lied and Song Text Page" of recmusic.org.
You will find the group's next meeting "Songs of Charles Ives" on the Calendar for November.
Patrick O'Donnell is the speaker and pianist.
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Virginia Art Song Society Sings Ives
"See, learning to sing Ives didn't kill anyone" was the opening
comment by Patrick O'Donnell, pianist and lecturer for a program
of Ives songs on November 3, 2002. Dr. O'Donell, who is vocal coach
and Education Music Coordinator of Virginia Opera, is also a lover
of the music of Charles Ives. "I find Ives to be very accessible."
Like Ives, he did his undergraduate work at Yale where Ives papers
reside. Now he wishes he had availed himself of the opportunity
for research the papers presented. Some of the characteristics of
this music that he emphasizes are that Ives does it all, he wants
things to happen, and he wants to communicate. Chance occurrence
stimulated the imagination of both father and son: two bands passing
in a parade, each playing its own tune, nostalgic tunes from childhood
are recreated, and direct experience of nature is translated into
song. His songs represent every facet of his external and internal
The program notes from the Albany CD The Complete Songs
of Charles Ives Vol.1 state: "The song literature of Charles Ives is the richest
and most important body of vocal music in the history of American music." Most of
the music selected for this program is from Volume One, which contains his
early songs, 1888-1896, roughly covering the years of high school through college.
Canon (1893) is a study setting words in the musical form of
a canon, but the text celebrates not only the eyes but the mind of his beloved.
Could this be a wry comment on European texts? Karen Scott sang this quirky
song, as well as one of Ives' most popular songs, Memories A. Very Pleasant,
B Rather Sad. Ives wrote that the singing should follow naturally from
American speech and Ms. Scott and most of the other singers in this program
did just that.
Didi Granger sang When Stars Are in the Quiet Skies (1891)
and A Night Song (1895). Both songs are lyrical and her voice was
lovely throughout. Pam DeMeyere gave us Nature's Way, which speaks of evening
bells that we hear in the piano. Ms. DeMeyere sings well with a natural control of
her instrument. Phyllis Hunter sang The Circus Band. The text by Ives is a
nostalgic remembrance, a child's excitement that the parade is happening right now.
Ms. Hunter sang with a cultivated voice and in an operatic style.
Kelly Poole sang Christmas Carol. Ms.Poole
has a relaxed way of presenting a song that beguiles the listener. In this song
Ives uses silences to make a huge impact in communicating his meaning in a text
that he also wrote. Two songs from Volume Two of the Complete Songs on CD were
sung. Romanza di Central Park was given by Rebecca Cross and Rosamunda
(from Four French Songs) by Debbie Harris. Both singers were effective
Jay Taylor, accompanied by Elisa Dickon on harp, sing Mirage
(1902) and The South Wind (1899), just as Ives would wish. He reprised
these songs in a second program reviewed below.
From Volume Three, Pamela DeMeyere chose Ilmenau, with
text by Goethe. A lovely song "Over all the treetops is rest, ... So my heart,
waiting, soon will rest." She sang it in German but Ives set it in both German and in
English in a translation by his wife Harmony. Ives set texts by
Whitman, Longfellow, Byron, Keats, and a host of other poets, but he also wrote
the texts for at least fifty of his own songs, and his wife wrote several others.
Autumn, sung by Pat Rublein and text by Harmony, is a lovely song
with a rich accompaniment. There is a big melody in the right hand that threatens
to take over the text. There is a sense of unbalance throughout and the ending
leaves one unsettled. I only wish I had a recording by Pat so I could hear it again and again.
The text of the church hymn "Shall we gather at the
river" by Robert Lowery was set by Ives as At the River in 1916. Copeland later
set the same text. Ives' setting is a challenge to the listener, deconstructing
the familiar tune and offering us a new experience, while Copeland makes the hymn
more bland, seeking a larger buying public. Kelly Poole, soprano, has a fine clear voice
and an ability to put this very American song across.
Didi Granger sang the only selection from Volume Four:
Two Little Flowers which celebrates his little daughter Edie and her friend
Suzanne. It is a charming song and Didi's singing was lovely.
The Virginia Art Song Society's program was a fine
introduction to the music of Charles Ives. Patrick O'Donnell is to be
congratulated for proposing the program, for coaching the singers and playing for them
with such understanding, and for his great enthusiasm for Ives' music.
Hopefully the group will plan a follow-up Ives meeting
presenting some of Ives' music written during his adult years. There is so much
fine material to pick from. How about General William Booth Enters Into Heaven,
Charlie Rutlage, Serenity, The Housatonic at Stockbridge, etc.
It would be helpful to have the text read before each song is sung or at least a
copy of the text for each listener. We need to know this American Schubert.
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ODU's Chandler Recital Hall was the site of a program
unique for Tidewater. With Peggy Kelley Reinburg at the piano and six women
soloists, we were regaled with the art songs of eight women composers.
Dr. Anita Fellman, Chair of the Women's Studies
Department of Old Dominion University gave an insightful overview on issues unique
to women composers: social roles and community norms that define the woman as
wife and childbearer for husbands who do "creative" work, patronizing views of
creative work done by women in the arts and the fact that the female artist who is
hailed as a genius in her lifetime seems to be ignored by the time history is written.
"I'm not claiming it's a conspiracy but ..." Birth control and changing norms are a
help, but the question remains: Will historians writing on our time give women
composers their rightful place?
Leslie Stewart, a conductor and the Director of Orchestral
Studies and an assistant Professor of Violin at ODU gave us a detailed presentation
on the lives of the composers of the music performed. However one
evaluates their compositions, it is apparent that we know of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel,
Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler because
they were part of the families of well known male composers. On first hearing
the songs were well-crafted and listenable. To hear more of their music, there is
a BIS CD (BIS 738). Would their music alone secure them a place in music history if
there was no bias against women composers? I will let you decide for yourself.
Fanny Mendelssohn was Felix Mendelssohn's sister
and an intelligent, well educated woman with musical talent. Pamela DeMeyere sang
two lovely, lyrical songs on texts of a pantheistic melancholic nature by the composer. Fanny
wrote several hundred compositions but only a few have been published to this day.
Leslie Stewart illustrated the social norms that defined her role, reading from
a letter to her from Papa Mendelssohn: "What you wrote to me about your musical
occupations with reference to and in comparison with Felix was both rightly
thought and expressed. Music will perhaps become his profession, whilst for you
it can and must only be an ornament...and your very joy at the praise he earns
proves that you might, in his place, have merited equal approval. Remain true to these
sentiments and to this line of conduct; they are feminine, and only what is truly
feminine is an ornament to your sex."
At age 24 Fanny married Wiliam Hensel who, unlike her family,
encouraged her. She published songs and some other compositions. She traveled, played a few public
concerts, had a son and died at age 41.
Clara Wieck (1819-1896) married Robert Schumann at
age 21, against strong objections by her father, who wanted her to continue her
career as concert pianist and composer! When she was nine years old she made her piano
debut and toured Germany and Europe as a young teenager. After his death in 1856 she became the foremost interpreter
of Robert's music. That year she visited England and often thereafter for
thirty-two years. She championed Brahms in his youth and they became life-long
friends. Her last public performance was at age 72. She was a dintinguished
teacher. Her compositions for piano, chamber music and songs were part of musical life in
Germany in her lifetime, but she composed music only as long as Robert lived. Why did
she not continue to compose? She was only 37 when he died. There is a CD of complete songs
of Clara Schumann on Hyperion (HYP 67249).
Charlotte Elia, who sang three of these songs,
wonderfully expressed the passionate emotion inherent in them. Here as in the rest
of the program, Ms. Reinburg was very supportive, never overpowering the singer.
In the autumn of 1901 Alma Marie Schindler (1879-1964)
met Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). He was 41 and she only 22. A cultivated young woman
whose father was a well known Austrian landscape painter, she was studying
composition with Alexander von Zemlinsky. They married in March the following
year and Mahler insisted that Alma give up composition and arrange their life
together around his creative work. Since Mahler died within ten years of their marriage
and she lived another 53 years, we might safely assume that composition for her
was an ornament.
Alma Mahler's songs have a more modern sound, having been
written around the turn of the 20th century. The poetry sung by Kelley Poole
is hallucinogenic in nature.
Are there other German women composers that we should
know of? Are these three the best that Germany has produced?
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944), a French composer
and pianist, had a long, active musical life. She produced some 400 works and about
135 songs and concertized for many of her 87 years. She was a popular performer
of her own music in both France and England. We did not hear the Chaminade songs
on the program because the singer Diedre Granger was ill. Ms. Reinburg did
play parts of the two scheduled songs to give us the flavor of this repertory.
The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 1995 edition says
"Notwithstanding the real charm and clever writing of many of Chaminade's pieces they
do not rise above drawing-room music." I would like to hear the music before I
agree with this statement. She gave her life over to her muse.
The good news is that DG records in 2002 released
a CD Mots D'Amour - Songs of Cécile Chaminade (DGG 471 331) with
the excellent mezzo-soprano Anne Sophie von Otter, who has performed a wide array
of art songs by many composers in the last ten years for Deutsche
The lovely Rita Addico Cohen sang songs by two
composers, the American Amy Beach (who exclusively trained in the U.S.) and the Belgian
Eva Dell'Acqua (1856-1930), whose song Villanelle is a high coloratura showpiece with
a French text about swallows soaring in clear blue skies.
This song, made famous by Lily Pons, seems to be the
only reason Dell'Acqua is remembered, though she composed some fifteen operas and
operettas and several later works were widely performed in Belgium, often with the composer
title role. André
Kostelantz was Lily Pons' second husband and in later life hired a young Beverly Sills
for the New York Philharmonic Promenades concerts. When Lily died in 1976 Kostelanetz gave
Ms. Sills sheet music and arrangements he had done for Lily. You can hear the
orchestral version of Villanelle on a Sony CD (SMK 60576) Plaisir D'Amour
with Sills singing and Kostelanetz conducting. The CD includes a dozen other
art songs arranged for orchestra.
If we are searching for a role model for women
composers, Amy Beach (1867-1944) is a good candidate. She was a piano prodigy who
appeared with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at age 18. By age 25 her Mass in E flat was
premiered in Boston and her concert aria Eilende Wolken in New York. She
married in 1885 at age 18 and for those 25 years of marriage she concentrated
on composition. Her husband was supportive of her composing but asked that she limit
her piano performances to a few charity concerts per year. She devoted her
creative energy to composing and left us with 125 songs, several with violin and cello
parts. After the death of her husband, Henry Beach, in 1910 she resumed an active
concert career. In 1932 she composed an opera.
She considered herself a universalist and not an Americanist since she drew
on all of European music for inspiration. Her music is being rediscovered some
60 years after her death. Barbara Quintiliani champions her songs "because
they are so much fun to sing" and includes them on many recital programs.
I would like to suggest that Amy Beach should be regarded as much a part of
the history of American song as Stephen Foster.
There is a recent CD of Beach songs and chamber
works Chanson D'Amour with Emma Kirkby and The Romantic Chamber Group of
London (BIS CD-1245) which I reviewed in December 2002 (Issue #18: Short but Sweet
Holiday Gift List). This CD contains the song that Rita Addico Cohen sang so well
at the Virginia Art Song Society meeting: Take Oh Take Those Lips Away.
Paul Sperry sings this and two other Beach songs on a CD Songs of an Innocent
Age, Music from Turn of the Century America on Albany Records (TROYO34-2).
Lori Laitman and Libby Larsen
In the last issue of Artsong Update announcing songs by Lori Laitman
(b.1955) on this VASS program, we anticipated a discovery
of exciting new songs. We were not disappointed! Deborah Harris
is a reliable art song performer with a lovely voice. The songs
on poems by Sara Teasdale: The Metropolitan Tower, a song
of cherishing the moment and falling in love; The Strong House,
where the text evokes a dark shadow that hovers over a strong relationship;
and The Hour with a text that is an affirmation of how perfect
this relationship is. Without a copy of the text I was not sure
that I understood each song, but I confirmed that I had when I read
them later. The composer and singer are excellent communicators.
Now I look forward to hearing other poems by Sara Teasdale from
Laitman's song cycle.
Karen Scott selected two songs from a cycle by Libby Larsen
(b.1950) who is a prolific major American composer who should be better known. (See Issue #4: Meet Libby Larsen on the website for more information).
Ms. Larsen often selects texts of historical importance to set. The two songs So like your Father's and All I Have from Letters from
Calamity Jane to her daughter Janey, 1880-1902 are powerful and evocative in
text and tune. Ms. Scott's diction was incredibly clear and the drama and pathos
with which the words were set is very moving. Calamity Jane reflects on her life
of blunders. She only has pictures of her dramatic life and because she is now
blind, not even those. She closes with "...forgive my faults and all the
wrongs I did you. Good night little girl.
May God keep you from harm." I feel that in Ms. Larsen we have a major composer.
Lori Laitman's Sleep Little Child
Both of these composers are familiar to regular readers.
Debbie Harris sang three settings by Laitman on poems by Sara Teasdale at VASS's Women Composers
program at Chandler Hall in January. When the Lullabies program was being put together
Mrs. Harris wrote to ask if Ms. Laitman had written any lullabies. Her response
was to say that: "A long time ago I wrote a short lullaby for a competition...I'm not even sure
where the music is - probably on an old computer. I'll look and get back to you."
Debbie Harris continues: "Was I ever thrilled when Sleep Little Child arrived in
the mail. What a sweet, sweet lullaby...I asked her about her inspiration for the words
...Lori Laitman worte: "I wanted something soothing and calm, which in turn affected my choice
of melodic line and the repetition that's in the piece. When I added the piano, I
changed the piece slightly, adding a few measures as an opening, interlude and ending."
We heard Debbie sing it again at Billye Brown Youman's Student Recital
on June 1st and it was even more lovely the second time.
John Dixon's All Through the Night
The Virginia Art Song Society's first commission was for a lullaby
by John Dixon. Mr. Dixon has written over 200 pieces of tonal choral
and chamber music over several years, but writing art songs is a
new interest. Attending the master class by Richard Hundley last
spring inspired him and he decided to try setting poetry to music.
Phyllis Hunter sang his setting of All Through the Night
with great power as an aria. I have since heard it done quietly
as a lullaby and it is a lovely setting of this traditional text.
Tidewater listeners this season have heard Mr. Dixon's Requiem
9/11/2001 and settings for string quartet played by Ambrosia
Quartet and A Christmas Overture played by the Virginia Symphony.
The composer has recently completed a song cycle, It's All I
Have, on six poems by Emily Dickinson to be premiered soon.
Karen Lykes and Kenneth Griffiths Terrific Recital
A unique selection of art songs was presented at Virginia Wesleyan
College's Hofheimer Theater on Sunday, February 1, 2004. The unifying
theme was Orientalism. The texts of the songs were written by poets
of the middle and far east, or on themes associated with the East
by western poets. In conversation Ms. Lykes explained that she had
noticed that two or three of her chosen songs had oriental themes
and built the rest of the program accordingly.
From the opening song Les roses d'Ispahan by Gabriel Fauré
(1875-1937), it was clear that Ms. Lykes is a genuine and expressive art song interpreter with a very
pretty voice. In Georges Bizet's (1838-1875) Adieux de l'hôtesse arabe (The Arab Hostess's Farwell),
the vocal part, with a vocalese on the word "Remember," is wildly colorful, lovely and also
one of loss. The pianist, Mr. Griffiths, can be dramatic and passionate as needed but also is supportive
of the singer - an ideal partner for art song. Medjé (Arab Song) by Charles Gounod
(1818-1893) closes this mid-eastern set by French composers.
The second set was made up of songs on poems by Marianne von
Willemer (1784-1860). Von Willemer was a friend to Goethe and these poems were sent to
him. He published them as his own in West-östlicker Divan (Poetry Book of East and West) in 1819.
It was not until 1850 that she "confessed" that she was the author. Robert Schumann's (1810-1856)
Lied der Suleika, Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) Suleika I and Suleika II and
Hugo Wolf's (1860-1903) Hochbeglûckt in deiner Liebe were all included. Our
vocalist floated some lovely tones as she sang these deeply romantic songs of anticipated, frustrated and realized love.
The pianist was excellent. From the stirring opening chords of Suleika I to the long intense
opening of the Wolf song to an ending of great intensity, you were aware that a master
accompanist was offering you his gifts.
Songs by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) came after intermission.
Instead of following his heart, Roussel joined the French Navy, spent time in Indo China and became
an officer. Only at age 25 did he resign and return to France to study music with Vincent D'Indy at the Schola Cantorum.
He stayed there to become a professor of counterpoint and later taught Erik Satie and Edgar
Varèse. When he married in 1909 he spent his honeymoon in India and south-east
The Oxford Dictionary of Music explains
that once Roussel was free of D'Indy's influence, he developed a neo-classical
style with Stravinsky-esque rhythms, daring harmonies and rich expressive
melodies that were often exotically oriental.
Our performers gave us À un jeune gentilhomme,
a charming, subtle song that becomes more impassioned with each verse based on a Chinese ode and
Amoureux séparés (Fu-Mi, poet), a song of beauty but with an ending
of frustrated love. The last Rousel song, Response d'une épouse sage (Chang Chi, poet),
is the tragic tale of love that blossoms too late after she is married into a house of "high
Both composers and songs were new to the audience
in the next set. Tre poesie persiane by Francesco Santoliquido
(1875-1937), an Italian who lived in Tunisia. The picturesque songs
we heard are imbued with local coloring with text by Islamic poets.
The Grove Dictionary of Music describes his musical language as modified
from Debussy by "wayward progressions of mild dissonances recalling
Satie" but with real dramatic force. The weighty text of Quando
le domandai (Negi de Kamare, poet) explores the question of distance
between two lovers and she explains to her questioner that she is
his soul, "Who is able to see the soul." The song Io mi levai
dal centro della terra (poet Abu-Said) is the story of young lovers. When asked, the young woman
explains to her questioner that she will tie her destiny to her own
self because she is love, the lover and the loved one, "Because I
am the Mirror, the Beauty and the Vision."
These themes drawn from the Mediterranean coast
of Africa are the best Santoliquido has to offer and they
were lovely. He founded a concert society and a music school
in the local village that later became a conservatory. The Grove Dictionary
describes him as an "original talent influenced by Wagner and Debussy."
Late in his life his claims in the Fascist press that "modern music
was to be shunned as an invention of the Jews" remains a stain on
As a capstone to this Orientalist
program, we were presented Asie by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
from his famous and first significant song cycle Sheherazade.
In 1903, the year it was written, Ravel also made a piano version
which pares away some of the shimmer but leaves intact the elegance,
the tailored lust and the exotic excitement of the orchestral version.
The performance was wonderful throughout this piece and the entire
program. The encore was L'Âne blanche by Georges Adolphe Hüe (1858-1948).
The lover sends his white donkey decked out in silk and jeweled leather
to fetch his beloved if she will come.
Both performers are on the faculty of the College Conservatory of Music of
the University of Cincinnati. Ms. Lykes is an Associate Professor of Voice
and teaches repertory and interpretation to undergraduate students, while Mr. Griffiths
teaches repertory and interpretation for graduate piano students. Both have had international
experience as students and as professional performers.
The recital was presented by Virginia Art Song Society. Dean Doss,
president, introduced the performers and thanked the Norfolk Commission for the Arts for a grant
used for this presentation.
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