VASS Sings Barber
Samuel Barber, American art song composer extraordinaire, lived from
1910-1981. With a talk that followed the singing, Dr. Patrick O'Donnell
conveyed a deep appreciation, even love of the music of Samuel Barber
to the members of the Virginia
Art Song Society, Sunday, September 9, 2001. Using humor and
his thorough knowledge of Barber's songs, he drew us into that gentle
world. Didi Grainger co-presenter of the program, gave a brief introduction.
The music began with two songs from the cycle "Three Songs, op.2" (written
in 1927 at age 17) sung by Jay Taylor: "The Daisies" and "With Rue My
Heart is Laden" (written 1928). Jay's clear diction and enthusiasm was
appreciated by the group. Later, Patrick O'Donnell drew our attention
to the fact that Barber was a singer and pianist as well as a composer
and that his output of songs was very consistent. The early songs written
at age 17 and 18 were no less developed than his final one written in
Two of Barber's most popular songs followed: Patricia Rublein sang
"Sleep Now" (from op.10 #2, 1935-36), and Carolyn Halbert sang "Sure
on this Shining Night" from Four Songs, op.13 #3, 1938.
Next we were treated to five songs from "Hermit Songs op.29. This cycle
of ten songs, written in 1952-53 on poems translated from anonymous
Irish texts of the 8th to 13th centuries,were this writer's introduction
to Barber's art songs back in 1968 on an LP recording sing by Leontyne
Price with Barber at the piano.
Pam Burdett sang "Church Bells at Night" and "St. Ita's Vision", which
was described in the lecture/demonstration as "operatic to an over-the-top
text with recitative setting forth the story line and an aria that elaborates
Melissa Thrasher West sang "the Crucifixion" which uses accidentals
in the piano to create a tentative atmosphere in which Jesus' greatest
regret was the grief that his death brought to his mother.
Karen Scott brought us the gift of "The Monk and his Cat", a gentle
story contrasting the life of the monk and his fat cat, their lives
winding around each other , without the one intruding on the other.
"Desire for Hermitage" , was her second fine selection. This song with
its huge piano solo between verses, illustrates clearly how the pianist
is a collaborator rather than accompanist in Barber's music. In this
song, which ends the cycle of "Hermit Songs", the line of the song ends
with no musical resolution. This and many other points were illustrated
on the piano in Patrick O'Donnell's presentation, which sent this writer
home to listen to recordings of these songs with new ears. We were told
that there are no time signatures given for this cycle. Pam Burdett
observed that this may be because when the poems were written so long
ago, there were no time signatures in music…timeless to us today. Perhaps
the key to the lack of resolution in the music can be found in the text
. The speaker says "Alone I came into the world, alone I shall go from
it." Only death some time in the future will end his desire for hermitage
and resolve his life.
The musical program concluded with "Now Have I Fed and Eaten Up the
Rose" from Barber's final song cycle 'Three Songs op.45 #1. Performed
by Pamela DeMeyere, it was a fine ending to a delicious experience.
The new venue for the group, Freemason Street Baptist Church, seems
to be very good. Gathering near the corner of the sanctuary where the
piano is located made for a sense of intimacy and afforded good acoustics.
It was apparent that Patrick and Didi worked very hard to put together
this fine program and we thank them as we do the singers who open to
us this very special experience of live art song.
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The complete songs are available on a Deutsche Grammophone 2 CD set
(D 203205) sung by Cheryl Studer and Thomas Hampson, with John Browning
on the piano. The Emerson String Quartet collaborates with Hampson on
the song cycle "Dover Beach". We highly recommend the set, though Cheryl
Studer's creamy vocal tone does not offer the precise diction we heard
at our meeting.
Columbia Masterworks (MPK 46727) is a mid-price set offering "Dover
Beach, op.3" sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and "Hermit Songs" sung
by Leontyne Price with Barber at the piano, recorded at the 30th Street
studio in NYC, November 19, 1954. It also includes "Knoxville:Summer
of 1915" sung by Eleanor Steber with orchestra and "Andromache's Farewell,
op.39" sung by Martina Arroyo with the New York Philharmonic conducted
by Thomas Schippers.
RCA Victor (09026-61983-2) offers the world-premiere of "Hermit Songs"
on October 30, 1953 in concert at the Library of Congress in Washington,
DC. Leontyne Price sings and Barber accompanies. This all Price/Barber
disc offers Leontyne in "Knox ville: Summer..." and two scenes from
his opera Anthony and Cleopatra.
Koch International Classics (3-7125-2H1) offers an interesting CD with
"The Lovers /Prayers of Kierkegaard" for orchestra,mixed chorus and
soprano solo in "Prayer" and with baritone solo in "The Lovers".
Nonesuch's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" (also CD title) with Dawn Upshaw
and the Orchestra of St. Lukes is a fine rendition with impeccable diction.
Kathleen Battle does the piece on her CD "Honey and Rue", also with
St. Lukes, conducted by André Previn, paired on the disc with Previn's
song cycle "Honey and Rue" with text by Toni Morrison.
Prepared by John Campbell
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Moonlight slumbers in your heart,
a gentle summer moonlight,
and to escape the cares of life
I shall drown myself in your light.
These words written by Jean Lahor (1840-1909), set to music by Henri
Duparc (1848-1933) as Chanson triste and sung by Pamela Burdett
offered members of Virginia Art Song Society a sweet respite from this
period of national and personal angst. The October 28 meeting at Freemason
Street Baptist Church offered us French Romantic poetry of great tenderness
set to beautiful music. Relaxing into the music one could conjure a
fin de siècle Paris salon.
The poetry of courtly love was explored in a talk by Dr. Roseann Runte,
newly appointed president of Old Dominion University, and a specialist
in French poetry. Dr. Runte explained that to be a lover who is pale,
not too robust, is a mark of beauty. The lover is vulnerable, consumed
by the flames of love. Art can improve on nature.
Duparc,along with Fauré, is regarded as one on the finest composers
of French mélodie. His life was completely caught up in
the cause of French music. Yet, there are only 17 of his songs in existence,
written between 1868 and 1884, prior to his 36th year. He died in 1933,
having lived for another 48 years without writing another note. A student
of César Franck, Duparc has achieved international renown with
a small but very powerful body of work.
Reynaldo Hahn was a conductor and critic as well as a composer. Most
of his songs exude great charm. Hahn is not well-known today outside
France, but in his day he was very popular among the Parisian salons,
often accompanying his own songs. Hahn composed over sixty mélodies.
Hahn wrote and spoke in French. However, his first language was Spanish
and his surname was German. His mother was Venezuelan and his father
was born in Hamburg.
Emcee Agnes Fuller Wynne introduced the program which she had organized
with pianist Tom Marshall. The first two songs were sung by Patricia
Rublein, soprano: Hahn's Fetes galantes (the givers of serenades)
and Duparc's Phidyle, a song with a long intensive lovely sound,
very demanding of the singer's vocal range and executed to perfection
Didi Granger, soprano, sang Soupir by Duparc, which he dedicated
to his mother. In the song a lover waits for the absent beloved, staying
open, while the lover is long gone.
With a voice especially suited in size and sweetness of tone to art
song, Karen Scott sang L'invitation au voyage, text by Baudelaire
and music by Hahn, and Paysage (a landscape) by Duparc. Though
I don't speak French, a fluent speaker visiting for the first time commented
on Karen's accurate pronunciation.
In addition to the piece that leads this article, noted above, mezzo-soprano
Pam Burdett also sang Exstase by Duparc, well pleasing the audience.
Phyllis Hunter, soprano, with control and in beautiful voice sang
three Hahn songs. A Chloris is a song dear to Tom Marshall's
heart. Tom is a harpsichordist and the piano accompaniment is reminiscent
of a Baroque piece. The collaboration of these two artists greatly pleased
this reviewer. L'heure exquise (la lune blanche, white moon),
and Si mes vers avient des ailes (If my verses had wings) concluded
The musical part of the program concluded with Jay Taylor singing
Hahn's Quand je fus pris au pavillon (when in her pavillion I
lost my heart), a light- hearted text set appropriately.
A word about class and courage. As Jay finished the song he critiqued
his performance and found it lacking. "I'd like to do that again. It
just didn't work." He was correct and the second time through it did
work. Bravo Jay!
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I am very sure this morning that art song is thriving in our region.
On Friday, January 25th, Barbara Quintiliani, a diva in the making,
regaled the Art Song of Williamsburg audience with a diverse program
of songs. Monday evening, January 21, Billye Brown Youmans did a full
program of art songs with Barbara Chapman, harpist. Charles Woodward
was pianist for both recitals. On Sunday, January 20, a wide selection
of songs by Mahler was sung by members of Virginia Art Song Society.
Now my task is to digest the rich experiences and translate them into
feature articles with help from my fellow listeners.
The essay that follows was sparked by a Virginia Art Song meeting
where Minette Cooper gave a short talk, Cultural Perspectives on
the Life of Mahler, which was a brief history of anti-Semitism in
Europe from the eighth century until the Holocaust. By Mahler's lifetime
(1860-1911) Jews were assimilated into Austrian culture and society.
The talk chronicled how this assimilation was limited, falling apart
under pressure when the Nazis came to power. Mahler had died twenty
The pianist and speaker on Mahler's life and music, Peggy Kelly Reinburg,
worked very hard to put together such an extensive survey. She finds
Mahler's songs to be the apex of lieder and Mahler the last of the diatonic
I left the meeting baffled by several questions that were not clear
to me concerning Mahler and his time.
The Art Songs of Mahler: A Puzzle
My romance with Mahler's music began in late 1964. Columbia Masterworks
offered a sound magazine for members of their record club. Four times
a year members received a long-playing record in stereo, which had only
recently been introduced, replacing one-channel monophonic recording.
Each LP included twelve to twenty excerpts from Columbia's recently
released recordings. Mahler's Second Symphony, the part with an orchestral
song, was one selection, and it was so beautiful. Leonard Bernstein
was recording all the symphonies with passion, and in great stereo sound.
Trips to the library expanded my listening experience as he worked his
way through the entire nine-symphony cycle.
The next year found me in a graduate program near Philadelphia, where
Sam Goodie's Record Shop, with its thousands of LPs was a new world
for me. Knowing Mahler's symphonies prompted me to try an LP of his
songs, having never heard them before. Kindertotenlieder (Songs
on the death of children), and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen(Songs
of a wayfarer) by Christa Ludwig, recorded in 1958. I was enthralled
by the lovely sounds, the emotional expressiveness, the orchestral color,
and her rich contralto-like sound. I bought more. Christa Ludwig singing
other Rückert lieder. Das Knaben Wunderhorn with Bernstein
at the piano, sung by Walter Berry and Christa Ludwig as a bonus album
with the same repertory done by these musicians with orchestra. Those
were heady times!
For all these years I have listened to Mahler songs. The LPs are all
cleared out, replaced by CDs. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was discovered
along the way, and in the last five years Thomas Hampson our great American
baritone, has been researching and recording Mahler using his original
piano and vocal scores. Two of his albums I'd recommend are both on
Teldec: (D101590) Des Knaben Wunderhorn, with Geoffrey Parsons
at the piano and (D135255) Lieder eines farenden Gesellen , with
David Lutz at the piano. This recording contains Frühe Lieder
(early songs) with piano accompaniment and the same songs recently orchestrated
by Luciano Berio, who leads the Philharmonic Orchestra.
Over the years, I have had several recordings of Mahler's ultimate
expression: his song-symphony, Das Lied von der Erde. My current
favorite is with Jessye Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem and the Berlin
Philharmonic, conducted by James Levine (DG 439 948-2).
Virginia Art Song Society's Mahler Program
On January 20, eight singers did thirteen Mahler songs and as I carefully
followed , I realized that for me, Mahler songs are sound, creating
feelings and moods as I listen. Maybe when they were new to me I read
the texts, but no memory of text remains. My discovery is that unlike
Wolf and Britten, his songs are not enriched by knowing the text.
In trying to puzzle out how this could be I find that Mahler does
not coordinate words to music. His way of working is to distill the
essence of the poem and create beautiful musical sounds to convey the
Another aspect of his texts, especially in the Wunderhorn songs,
is that according to Hampson, they contain ironical incongruities, such
as contradictions between words and music. For instance Didi Granger
sang Lob des hohen Verstands ( Ode to a brilliant mind). In a
singing contest the ass judges the cuckoo, who appoints him judge, to
be the best singer, while the music for both him and the nightingale
What are we to make of a song like Das irdische Leben (The
Earthly Life), which the singer, Phyllis Hunter, compared to Schubert's
Earl King? In Erlkönig the father does everything
he can to avoid his child's death, while in The Earthly Life,
the mother neglects the child's need for food until he dies. Is this
folk humor which pleased Mahler? The singer's interpretation was intense
and dark. Hampson suggests that Mahler viewed many of these songs as
humoresques, i.e. as whimsical or playful musical compositions. Even
so, when Hampson sings Irdische Leben it still sounds dreadfully
Hampson writes that the humor would become clearer if it were paired
with Das himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life), recorded on Hampson's
Wunderhorn CD for the first time as a piano and vocal solo. Previously
it had only been heard in Mahler's Fourth Symphony as a soprano solo.
"The ironical aspect of this 'humoresque' can be brought out with a
special effect when it is sung by a baritone…pungent, more abrasive
and more dissonant…elucidating the bucolic, thoroughly 'unheavenly'
life that is presented here in such a charming and knowing manner."
Perhaps we can find a piece of the puzzle in Mahler's personality
as related to his personal history. Born in 1860 in Kalischt, Bohemia,
by age 6 he was learning to play piano and gave his first public recital
at age 10. At age 15 he was admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, where
Bruckner took him under his wing. He and Hugo Wolf, exact contemporaries,
were friends and fellow students. Mahler tried for the Beethoven Prize
in 1878, submitting his cantata Das klagende Lied which was rejected.
He graduated and began a slow climb from opera house to opera house,
the traditional path for an aspiring conductor. He found employment
as a conductor in smaller cities. In Kassel he wrote Songs of a Wayfarer.
His use of Austrian popular melodies harks back to Schubert but with
flexibility of rhythm and subtlety of texture (see A History of Song
by Denis Stevens, 1960, W.W. Norton & Company). From there he went to
Prague, then Leipzig as second conductor. In 1888 he took over the Budapest
Opera and his genius as conductor and administrator became visible.
The following year he conducted the premier of his Symphony No.1.
He kept moving to more prestigious positions. In 1894, at age 34,
he completed his Second Symphony, conducting it the following
year in Berlin. For the rest of his life he divided his time between
composition in summer and conducting in winter. His music met with hostility
at first, but slowly caught on as his devoted disciples promoted it.
Richard Strauss, who recommended him to the Vienna Court Opera position,
recognized his ability as director and conductor of opera. Brahms also
backed him for the job. In 1897 he converted to Roman Catholicism and
won the position, setting standards that are unsurpassed even today.
He came to the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1908 as a guest conductor.
The following year the position became permanent. He later became conductor
of the New York Philharmonic. He developed a serious heart ailment and
returned to Europe where he died in 1911 of an infection related to
his heart condition.
It is unclear whether Mahler's conversion should be seen as part of
his lifelong search for meaning or to further his career or both. Peter
Gradenwitz , in his book The Music of Israel, describes Mahler
as a Jew who became a fervent Roman Catholic. "There must have been
much pressure upon Mahler to embrace Christianity to further his career."
But why "fervent" if it was only to be a ticket to the position? I would
suggest that his religion is more accurately described as pantheism.
He attempted to give nature a voice in his symphonies and songs , reaching
for the expression of the ecstasy of a soul overwhelmed by beauty.
In Lives of the Great Composers, Harold C. Schonberg (1970,
W.W. Norton) writes that Mahler was a sentimentalist who enjoyed his
misery, wallowed in it, wanting the whole world to see how he suffered.
Some of the members of the romantic cult of Mahler have taken the notion
of his suffering and embroidered on it. … "the son of a brutal peasant
who abused his long-suffering wife and twelve children…" Other sources
give a different picture. Schonberg says that the father was a shopkeeper
and that it is true that Gustav was one of twelve children. This was
common in that period. Five of his siblings died at an early age. Life
is fragile and before anti-biotics and birth control, even more so.
But Mahler's parents saw his gift, gave him the opportunity to develop
it and saw that he got to Vienna by age 15 to study at the conservatory.
This doesn't sound like a brutal peasant to me. Mahler was a manic-depressive
with a sadistic streak. "Musicians respected him but hated to play under
his baton"; he would pick on individual players. He was nervous among
people and had no small talk.
Mahler was a tireless worker driven by his desire for perfection and
put so much time into his musical life that he had little time or energy
for his personal relationships. Years later, his wife Alma was to write
"I know that my marriage and my own life were utterly unfulfilled."
He saw Freud for one session in 1910 … "because his wife at that time
rebelled against the fact that he withdrew his libido from her." Freud
found that Mahler had a mother fixation but admired his personal psychological
insight. Mahler had married Alma eight years earlier. They had two children.
Much has been made of the fact that it was somehow prophetic that
his four-year-old daughter died six years after he set the poetry of
Fredrich Rückert (1788-1866) in his five-song cycle Kindertotenlieder
(Songs on the Death of Children). What I find remarkable is that he
wrote Kindertotenlieder around the time of his marriage to young
Alma Schindler, reportedly one of the happiest periods in this life.
That same summer of 1901, Mahler also set five poems known simply
as Rüchert Lieder. The entire cycle was performed at the
Sunday meeting by four sopranos: Jennifer Bern-Vogel sang Blicke
mir nicht in die Lieder (Do not look at my songs), which gave a
glimpse of a woman breaking free; Pam Burdett gave a passionate, nuanced
performance of Um Mitternacht (At midnight); Pamela DeMeyere
sang Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekhommen (I have lost touch with
the world), and with rich lower tones created a sense of tranquil repose;
Rita Addico-Cohen sang Ich atmet' einen linden Duft (I breathed
a gentle scent) and Liebst du um Schönheit (If you love
for beauty, do not love me!). We are very happy to hear Rita sing again
after time off to have a fine baby boy.
Lorraine Bell sang Hans und Grete (1880), the earliest composition
on the program, and created the whimsical sense of timing that seemed
just right. She also sang Serenade. Didi Granger also gave us
Frühlingsmorgen, caressing the final phrases beautifully.
Pat Rublein sang Ablösung im Sommer (Replacement in summer)
and Scheiden und Meiden (Partings) with feeling. Phyllis Hunter
also sang Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz (The Two Blue
Eyes of My Sweetheart) from Songs of a Wayfarer.
The Viennese tea that followed the meeting was lovely , with homemade
cake (George Rublein's), chocolate torte (Phyllis Hunter) and Strudel
(Carnegie Deli, by way of Uncle Louie). Many of us had a good visit
as we ate.
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At about 3:20 on Sunday, April 7, the master
of ceremonies was giving an extended introduction when Mr. Hundley interrupted
him: "Pardon me, but I was actually Zinka Milanov's studio pianist for
thirteen years instead of the ten listed on the website." Mr. Hundley,
dressed in a black double-breasted suit with a bright yellow and red
tie presided over the rest of the program with childlike aplomb.
Though there was a printed program with
text, Mr. Hundley asked that his song Waterbirds be done first.
In each case, he asked that the singer read the poem. Taken from his
cantata of ten songs for chorus The Sea is Swimming Tonight,
became a solo song when tenor Paul Sperry requested it be set for him.
This song of tenderness and nostaglia, performed by Deborah Harris,
contained interesting variations for voice and piano. Ms. Harris did
a lovely job of floating the closing notes. Charles Woodward, pianist
complied with the composer's request to extend the legato ending even
though it was not written in the music, and thus it was for the entire
Later in the program Deborah Harris, soprano,
sang Sweet Suffolk Owl, another of Mr. Hundley's most popular
pieces. "Modern but not dissonant with blocks of sound in the piano,"
it was brought to life by the effervescent singer with a sweet sound.
I especially liked the musicality of the oft-repeated owl sounds "Te
whit, te whoo!" However, the composer asked for a more bird-like "hootie"
sound. Mrs. Harris is a graduate of James Madison University.
Come Ready and See Me
No matter how late
Come before the years run out...
For no one can wait forever
Under the bluest sky
I can't wait forever
For the years are running out.
James Purdy, 1968
Sung by a poised Marilyn Kellam in a beautiful
mezzo-soprano voice, this song moved my heart and I was won over to
Mr. Hundley's music. Charles Woodward played beautifully as instructed.
Dr. Kellam sings in the Virginia Opera chorus and is an active recitalist
on the Eastern Shore.
Two whimsical songs were sung by vocal students
of Dr. Tod Fitzpatrick of Christopher Newport University. A sophomore,
baritone Joe Guardiano sang Epitaph on a Wife. Acording to the
composer, this charming, comedic song is to be done in a stately way.
He suggested folding the hands as in prayer at the end. The text: "Here
lies my wife, Semanthia Proctor, she had a cold and wouldn't doctor.
She couldn't stay she had to go - Praise God from whom all blessings
flow." The singer caught the fun of this song with his fine voice.
Anthony Colosimo, a freshman at CNU, sang
Bartholomew Green. Described as a bon-bon of a song, Mr. Hundley
was so pleased with the performance that his only request was that it
be repeated immediately and was disappointed that Mr. Colosimo was not
singing anything else.
On a text by e.e. cummings, Seashore
Girls is a profound story of very young children losing themselves
in a day at the seashore. Rita Addico Cohen sang this and Will There
Really be a Morning. Ms. Cohen's voice has taken on a richer patina
since the birth of her second child and her voice had an added depth
and beauty. Tweaking details of the accompaniment and singing of the
words is Mr. Hundley's conception of what is to be done at a master
class. Ms. Cohen has a masters degree from the Manhattan School of Music
and and has performed professionally in both musical theatre and opera.
Two other songs were on the program. Pamela
DeMeyere sang Sweet River. The composer's comment was "charming!
You did that beautifully and the rhythm was just right." Patricia Rublein
sang I Do, another bon-bon the composer dubbed a musical valentine,
commissioned by Paul Sperry, who has recorded the song. Ms. Rublein
sang this simple little song in a lovely voice. Ms. DeMeyere and Ms.
Rublein are board members of the Virginia Art Song Society which sponsored
the master class, and both perform locally.
Mr. Hundley has written some tuneful American
songs which should be better known. His emphasis on respect for the
singer and how words should be set were a main theme of his presentation.
Perhaps he will do a piece for us on this subject for a future newsletter.
The composer suggests that it takes six
months of singing a song before it is worked into the voice so it can
be done properly in public. Later he mentioned that a six-week grant
to do a recording of his songs brings a flat refusal from him. He is
interested in having enough time for high artistic achievement rather
than just a hastily put-together recording. This seemed a bit short-sighted
to this listener, given the scarcity of recordings of his music.
As our readers will recall, I could find
only one song of his on CD. Immediately after that article was out we
got feedback from our art song community readership. Dr. Tod Fitzpatrick
of CNU and Darryl Taylor of the African
American Art Song Alliance both recommended tenor Paul Sperry's
CD Romantic American Songs (Albany ALB 043). It includes eleven
songs, six of which were sung at the April 7th master class. Also included
are works by Thomson,Chanler, Bowles (4) and Farwell.
From Dr. Joanne Simms of ODU and Lisa Edwards-Burrs,
a fine vocalist from Richmond, we learned of a CD titled Where the
Music Comes From (American Songs), sung by Cynthia Haymon with Warren
Jones, piano (Argo). It includes Strings in the Earth and Air
and Come Ready and See Me. Unfortunately this CD is currently
out of print. You could look for a used copy or hope for a re-issue.
Also mentioned by Dr. Simms is baritone
William Sharp and William Blier's CD (New World NWR 80369). Only Sweet
Suffolk Owl is on this CD but there are a number of Paul Bowles'
songs plus Thomson, Lee Hoiby, John Musto and Eric Klein songs.
Tod Fitzpatrick also recommends American
Song Recital, Laura Wagner, soprano with Fred Weldy at the piano
on Channel Classics (CCS 5293). The songs: Come Ready and See Me,
Sweet Suffolk Owl and Waterbirds. Also included are songs
by Bernstein, Urquhart, Laitman, Bowles, Corigliano, Duke and Gershwin.
Come Ready and See Me from Fredericka
von Stade's 1992 CD Salute to America was used on WHRO to
announce the Hundley Masterclass. It is no longer available.
So Much Beauty a CD by Janeanne Houston, soprano and Robert Jorgensen, piano opens with three selections by Richard Hundley. Click here for the review.
Available CD's are currently listed on the
H&B Recordings Direct site. Thanks
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At the meeting on June 2nd Lorraine Bell,
emcee explained that her planned speaker, Dr. Thomas Ellis of Hampton
University, had left for Bath, England the day before, leaving her his
notes and best wishes for the presentation.
In the plays we find three types of songs:
Traditional. Songs popular in Shakespeare's time and used by
him in a play. Sing willow from Othello, and mad songs such as
How shall I my true love know?, sung by Ophelia in Hamlet
Songs woven into the plays. In The Tempest we have many
songs and the character Ariel who represents music. Full Fathom Five,
Where the bee sucks and Come unto these yellow sands are
examples. There is a wonderful film by Peter Greenaway staring Sir John
Gielgud in his 87th year called Prospero's Books. In this free-ranging
adaptation music is given its full due.
Incantations. Here the easiest example is the song of the witches,
Come away, Hecate in Macbeth.
The Virginia Art Song Society's musical
program opened with a song by Thomas Arne written for a 1738 revival
of As You Like It, titled When Daisies Pied, and sung
by Jay Taylor, tenor, who explained that "pied" means brightly colored.
Didi Granger performed When icicles hung
by the wall from Loves Labors Lost, composed by Ralph Vaughn
Williams. This song is part of a cycle of three Shakespeare songs including
Take, O take (those lips away) from Measure for Measure
with its plaintive melodic ending, and Orpheus With His Lute
from King Henry VIII ,which she sang later in the program. Didi
read the text of each song before she sang, adding to our understanding.
It is always exciting to hear the voice
of a new singer. Kelley Poole, sang Hey, Ho, the wind and the rain
by Roger Quilter from Twelfth Night. When she read the text,
we found that she has a very pleasant speaking voice. When she sang
she had an even nicer singing voice. The high notes in the last two
lines were especially lovely.
Jay Taylor and Carolyn Gregory, sang Wilt
thou be gone love set by Stephen Foster. Foster uses key phrases
from Romeo and Juliet, simplifying the language, expressing them
in the American speech patterns of his day. The couple debates the arrival
of morning: It is not yet day. It was the nightingale, and not the
lark... Obviously she does not want this night of bliss to end.
Lorraine Bell sang two settings of It
was a lover and his lass from As You Like It. The first by
Thomas Morley, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and a modern setting by
Betty Jackson King titled In the Springtime. The text used by
Ms. King is from the play while the Morely text is many verses longer.
We cannot be sure that Shakespeare wrote the extra verses but he may
have done so to make his "hit" more salable as sheet music.
The second half of the program was presented
by this writer using recorded material and as promised I will give a
discography with the commentary from the presentation.
Songs texts are drawn from different parts
of Shakespeare's writings. Let's begin with sonnet number XVIII set
by an American woman composer Lora Aborn (b.1907), Shall I Compare
Thee to a Summer's Day, sung by Jennifer Larmore on the CD My
Native Land (Teldec 0630-16069-2). Yes, you have already heard this
album recommended because it has a Hundley song. This CD includes three
songs by Ms. Aborn, "who is reported to be semi-retired in Oak Park,
Illinois." She is 95.
The next selection is Come Away, Death
from Twelfth Night set by Erich Korngold (1897-1957). Korngold,
born in Austria, came to the United States in 1934. The sad words of
this poem, set in a Mahleresque fashion, reflect the composer's time
and place. In the play the words are spoken by a young man frustrated
in love and reflect a temporary distress at most. The CD is Sure
on this Shining Night, the singer, Robert White, tenor with Samuel
Sanders, piano. (Hyperion CDA66920). This CD includes two additional
song on texts by Shakespeare: William Schuman's (1910-1992) Orpheus
and his lute and Virgil Thomson's (1896-1989) Sigh no more,ladies.
All twenty-eight selections are by American composers, several of whom
were naturalized citizens.
In our original Shakespeare issue we recommended
the CD (Phillips 446687-2) titled Shakespeare's Musick performed
by Musicians of the Globe led by Philip Pickett. We heard three pieces
from the CD. First, How should I your true love know. The name
of the composer is lost in time, but most likely Shakespeare used it
in his theatre production of Hamlet. It is also known as Ophelia's
Song and has been set by Brahms and others.
The other two songs come from The Tempest.
Full Fathom Five is a whimsical poem on a deceased father who
hears a sea nymph ring his knell hourly and the third Where the bee
sucks there suck I is about the easy life. From the liner notes
of this CD and from Dr. Ellis' notes we learn that in Shakespeare's
time you could buy the sheet music for voice and lute, voice and keyboard
or a concert arrangement on your way out of the theatre.
To add the finishing touch on this musical
tour we heard a setting of Who is Sylvia? by Richard Leveridge
about 75 years after Shakespeare's death. This was from a three LP set
titled Songs from the Plays of Shakespeare. My copy was bought
in February 1965 and is not currently available on CD. It is a collection
of over 50 songs from the plays, a Caedmon Production SRS 242-S, The
Shakespeare Recording Society.
To end on a high note we heard Bryn Terfel
sing Schubert's setting of An Sylvia. Terfel sings the middle
verse very softly, adding interest to this strophic three verse song.
This greatly pleased the audience. The CD is An Die Musik ~ Favorite
Schubert Songs DG 445 294-2. Malcolm Martineau is at the piano for
the 23 selections.
Also recommended, though not played at the
meeting is Schubert Leider by Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo soprano,
with Bengt Forsberg at the piano. She sings eighteen songs including
An Sylvia (DG 453 481-2). The standard recording of An Sylvia
by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore can be found on a DG CD
415 188-2 titled Schubert: Schwanengesang, 7 Lieder.
Another setting of Orpheus and his lute
is by Maurice Green who lived in England more than one hundred years
after Shakespeare. The singer is Emma Kirkby, an English specialist
in early music. We had the pleasure of hearing her and her husband,
the noted lutanist Antony Rooley, as part of the Hampton Great Performers
Series in 1995. The CD Maurice Green Songs and Keyboard Works
(The Handel Circle 070978). Green was the most naturally gifted of Handel's
English comtemporaries according to the liner notes. He also sets Italian
texts and six sonnets by Edmund Spenser.
Next we have an example of a spoken text
from Twelfth Night set as a song by Joseph Haydn in 1798, titled
She Never Told Her Love, sung by the pioneering African-American
recitalist Roland Hays, tenor with Reginald Boardman, piano in 1955.
The CD is The Art of Roland Hays from the Smithsonian Collection
RD041. They also do Quilter's setting of It Was a Lover and His Lass.
There is one CD that we plan to add to our
collection based on the web search for this article: Songs of Shakespeare
(Hyperion CDA 66 480) with Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor and Graham Johnson,
piano. The 27 selection survey is divided into Georgian and Regency,
Victorians and Edwardians, the later Georgians including Vaughn Williams,
Quilter and Ireland and the New Elizabethans Tippett, Britten, Horder
A closing note. Our CD collection is indexed
by composer and singer but not by poet, except for Shakespeare, which
I did last week. Volunteers for poet indexing will be gratefully accepted.
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