Art songs Oubliees, Part 3.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
"Auf dem Kirchhofe" (Detlev von Liliencron) At the Churchyard. Composed 1886.
This is not unknown Brahms, but it is notable for the many harmonic and rhythmic changes during a fairly brief song--text painting of power and strength. The beautiful (and unexpected) Bach chorale texture in the major key that closes the song is a wonderful "Brahms moment." Ten years later Brahms composed Vier ernste Gesange, to which this song bears some relation.
Erich Korngold (1897-1957)
"Sommer," op. 9, no. 6 (Siegfried Trebitsch) Summer. Composed 1916.
"Das Heldengrab am Pruth," op. 9, no. 5 (Heinrich Kipper) The hero's grave at Pruth. Composed 1916.
Both of these songs belong to Korngold's opus 9, Sechs einfache Lieder, early songs composed in his teens. All six songs contain the fingerprints of a young prodigy, influenced by Wolf, Strauss, Mahler, and Marx; they are deserving of more study and performances.
Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)
"Warum sind denn du Rosen so blafi" (Heinrich Heine) Why are the roses so faded. Composed 1837.
"Die Mainacht," op. 9, no. 6 (Ludwig Holty) May night. Composed 1838.
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Felix's sister, composed some 300 art songs distinguished by elegant lyricism, warmth of style, and great originality. She chose poetry of the best of the contemporary poets of the day, including Eichendorff, Heine, Ruckert, Goethe, Holty, Byron, and Muller. These are fine representative examples of her work. Brahms's "Die Mainacht" is more familiar, but Hensel's setting deserves to be heard also. Like Brahms, she sets the last vocal phrase in an arching, extended line. Brahms set four stanzas of Holty's poem; Hensel set three.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
"Nachtlied," op. 71, no. 6 (Joseph von Eichendorff) Night song. Composed 1846.
Mendelssohn composed this song shortly before his death. It is an evening soliloquy of great beauty and dignity. The last stanza is exultantly dramatic, with expressive, expansive vocal lines.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
"Der Zwerg," D771 (Matthaus von Collin) The dwarf. Composed 1823.
This dramatic and chilling poem is the melodramatic story of a queen who is strangled by her former lover--a dwarf--far out at sea. He never again returns to land. Although this is one of Schubert's famous narrative songs--some liken it to "Erlkonig"--it needs to be heard more often. It is a dark song, and needs a singer with the dramatic talent to pull off the fearsome tale, which does not necessarily rule out female voices.
"Im Fruhling" (Ernst Schulze) In spring. Composed 1826.
Schulze's little poem is lightweight; Schubert creates a lovely lyric setting for it. The song is a set of variations--one of the few times Schubert used the form. The variations are found in the piano, but the voice has variants of some of the piano's material. All in all, a beautiful Schubert lied that fits neatly into the inner part of a Schubert group, but it is also an excellent opener.
Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)
"Ein Veilchen" (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) A violet. Composed 1853.
Clara Schumann's setting of Goethe's little drama about a lovesick violet will not eclipse Mozart's, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable narration of the little flower's unrequited love.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
"Belsatzar," op. 57 (Heinrich Heine) Belsazar. Composed 1840.
This is arguably Schumann's finest ballad, based on the biblical story of King Belshazzar's feast as chronicled in one of Heine's finest verses. Both singer and pianist are afforded the opportunity to display the dramatic potentials of their instruments.1 This is not ordinary storytelling, but, by turns, a mysterious, agitated, tense, and astonishing narrative.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
"Fur funfzehn Pfennige," op. 36, no. 2 (Des Knaben Wunderhorn)
For fifteen cents. Composed 1897.
"Hat gesagt--bleibt's nicht dabei," op. 36, no. 3 (Des Knaben Wunderhorn)
He has said--but it won't stop there. Composed 1898.
These are probably not the Strauss songs we turn to first for performance, but they are delightful examples of his settings of folk poetry--wry and knowing, charmingly humorous. They are very effective in performance and would be good "enders" for a group, providing the first songs were chosen carefully. These are audience pleasers.
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
"Meine Ruh ist hin," op. 5, no. 6 (Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe)
My peace is lost. Composed 1831-1832.
Like many others, Wagner also tried his hand at setting Goethe's immortal poem. It is fascinating to put Schubert, Verdi, and Wagner's settings side by side for a comparison. It might make an interesting recital group, with the Verdi as the middle selection.
Kurt Weill (1900-1950)
"Berlin im Licht-Song" (Kurt Weill) Berlin in lights song. Composed 1928.
Weill wrote the lyrics to this jazzy little song himself. It was composed for a festival to promote the city of Berlin in 1928. This song sounds as if it might have come from the score of The Threepenny Opera, which had its premiere two months earlier. The words were meant to tout Berlin as a "city of light" resembling New York or Paris. This is a fun song and goes well in a Weill group.
"Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?" (Bertolt Brecht) And what did the soldier's wife receive? Composed 1943.
Brecht's caustic text recounts the gifts that a soldier sends to his wife from the places he has been stationed and/or fought. Each gift is from a different place and delineates the stanzas of the poem. The denouement arrives with the last gift--a widow's veil.
ITALIAN ART SONG
Since there is an abundance of early seventeenth and eighteenth century "standards" that are sung with great regularity and have become a mainstay of early vocal training, this section has just a few suggestions. I would recommend that a bit more exploration take place among the excellent publications available so that the same "Italian Top Ten" might be retired, or at least made only part of a much longer list of repertoire of that period. I would also recommend looking at the interesting arrangements of many of these old Italian songs and early arias by composer Arne Dorumsgaard in his Canzone Scordate (22 volumes); volumes 2-6 are early Italian songs and arias. Space does not permit a full listing of the contents, but they may be found on the website of Recital Publications, Huntsville, TX.
Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
"Ma rendi pur contento" (Sei ariette) (Pietro Metastasio)
O love, bring contentment. Composed 1829.
This is typical of the nineteenth century "art song," although that term is used advisedly, since most of the songs of this period were composed for gifted amateurs to perform in gatherings in private homes. They were akin to little arias; Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, and Verdi composed in this opera-centered style.
Barbara Strozzi (1619-1664)
"Amor, non dormir piu" Love, do not sleep anymore.
"Spesso per entro al petto" (Cicognini) Often a little something passes through my heart.
The prolific and gifted composer Barbara Strozzi was a colorful figure of seventeenth century Venice. Her songs are marked by theatrical temperament and--because she herself was a fine singer--a somewhat virtuosic use of the voice. These two songs are fine examples of her art.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
"Perduta ho la pace" (Six Romanze, no. 5) (Luigi Balestri, trans. from the German of Goethe) My peace is lost. Composed 1838.
Here is the Italian translation of "Gretchen am Spinnrade," and it has all the hallmarks of a little Verdi aria. Verdi composed only about twenty-five songs--all early efforts--but some material from them appears in Verdi operas much later. Seventeen of the songs were published as Composizioni da camera. Composer Luciano Berio wrote that it was his belief that around eight of these can be considered as true studies for scenes, arias, and cabalettas in Verdi's operas. (2)
CYCLES AND COLLECTIONS
Ned Rorem (b. 1923)
Flight for Heaven (Robert Herrick). Composed 1950.
To Music, to becalm his Fever Cherrie-ripe Upon Julia's Clothes To Daisies, not to shut so Soon Epitaph upon a Child that died Another Epitaph To the Willow-tree Comfort to a Youth that had lost his Love To Anthea, who may command him anything
This is Rorem's first published cycle and it is wonderfully effective in recital. Herrick's sophisticated and elegantly nuanced poetry, filled with evocative images, is given an equally sophisticated and stylish musical treatment by Rorem. Bass baritones.
Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987)
Emily Dickinson Songs, op. 77. Composed 1957.
The Grass I'm Nobody When the hills do Out of the morning
These are beautifully shaped miniatures, admirably suited to beginning students, but this should not dissuade others from singing them. Lyric, melodious vocal lines and transparent piano textures capture Dickinson's poetic style beautifully. There are many, many art songs that set Dickinson's poetry. Persichetti's economical, exquisite settings need to be heard more often.
George Enescu (1881-1955)
Sept chansons de Clement Marot, op. 15. Composed 1908.
Estrene a Anne (Gift to Anne) Lenguir me fais (You make me languish ...) Aux damoyselles paresseuses d'ecrire a leurs amys (To the young ladies too lazy to write to their friends) Estrene de la rose (Gift of the rose) Present de couleur blanche (Gift of white color) Changeons propos, c'est trop chante d'amours (Let's change the subject; we've sung enough of love) Du conflict en douleure (If I suffer ...)
I have been a fan of this set of melodies for a long time. Marot was the court poet to Francois I. The poetry is a blend of the old and new; Enescu captures the ambience of Marot's time, portraying the poet as a troubadour. (3) Accompaniments are suggestive of a lute or small harp. Don't let the old French stop you; use contemporary pronunciation. It is easy and perfectly fine to extract a group from this collection. Mezzos or baritones.
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Five Little Songs (Robert Louis Stevenson). Composed 1915.
The Swing Windy Nights My Ship and I The Stars A Good Boy
If presented simply and without sentimentality, these little songs can be effective, although they have a bit of the parlor song style about them. When programmed and recorded, they are often sung as Cinq petites chansons in French, but they should properly be presented in Stevenson's original English, which is how Hahn set them. This would be a nice group for a younger singer.
Erik Satie (1866-1925)
Ludions (Leon-Paul Fargue). Composed 1923.
Air du rat (The rat's air) Spleen (Spleen) La grenouille americaine (The American frog) Air du poete (The poet's air) Chanson du chat (Song of the cat)
As expected with Fargue's poems, these little texts are elusive, with much word play--most of it involving puns, nonsense words, and verbal distortion. Satie's musical irreverence matches Fargue's poetry perfectly, and several songs make use of popular music hall style; two of the faster tempo melodies (numbers 3 and 6) call for rapid, clear diction. All the songs take about four minutes to sing.
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Calligrammes (Guillaume Apollinaire). Composed 1948.
L'espionne (The spy) Mutation (Mutation) Vers le sud (Towards the south) Il pleut (It rains) La grace exile (Exiled grace) Aussi bien que les cigales (As well as the cicadas) Voyage (Journey)
This cycle is often overlooked. Poulenc's settings are diverse and beautifully shaped, with a far-reaching emotional range. Poulenc composed them while waiting to be called to the front during World War I. Calligramme is the name Apollinaire gave to his patterned poetry. In this form, Apollinaire incorporated words, letters, and phrases into complex visual collages that typified the poetry's theme. Baritones best, although mezzos could sing it if the poetry is comfortable.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Le Promenoir de deux amants (Tristan l'Hermite). Composed 1910.
The walk of two lovers
Aupres de cette grotte sombre (Near this dark grotto) Crois mon conseil, chere Climene (Take my counsel, dear Climene) Je tremble en voyant ton visage ... (I tremble when I see your face)
This atmospheric cycle is not heard often. Debussy composed it in the same year as his three Francois Villon songs. The first song dates from 1904, where it appeared in Trois chansons de France (titled "La grotte"). Although the poetry is gender specific (poem #2), the cycle can be sung by a mezzo soprano as well as a baritone.
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948)
Quattro rispetti, op. 11. Composed 1902.
Un verdi praticello senza piante (A green lawn without trees) Jo del saluti ve nel mando mille (I send you a thousand greetings) E tanto c'e pericol ch'io ti lasci (And there is as much danger of my leaving you) O si che non sapevo sospirare (O yes, I didn't used to know how to sigh)
A rispetto is an Italian verse form of eight lines: the first four lines rhyme alternately and the last four lines rhyme in pairs. The source of these four simple verses is unknown. The style is closely tied to nineteenth century Germany. These are lyric and very effective pieces in recital. Wolf-Ferrari composed another set of rispetti, opus 12--also lovely.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Drei Liebeslieder. Composed 1883, 1880, 1880.
Rote Rosen (Red roses) Die erwachte Rose (The awakened rose) Begegnung (Meeting)
These early songs of Strauss are musically attractive and very accessible for young voices. Author Michael Kennedy observes that Strauss's melodic lyricism "burst forth in 1885, when he was twenty-one."4 In these lovely examples of the youthful Strauss, one hears the seeds that were to flourish and bloom very soon afterward. Published by Peters #6150 a-b-c.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Ophelia-Lieder (Wm. Shakespeare, trans. Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck). Composed 1873.
Wie erkenn' ich dein Treulieb? (How should I your true love know) Sein Leichenhemd weiss wie Schnee (White his shroud as the mountain snow) Auf morgen ist Sankt Valentins Tag (Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's day) Sie trugen ihn auf der Bahre blofi (They bore him barefaced on the bier) Und kommt er nicht mehr zuruck? (And will he not come again?)
These charming songs of Brahms are quite different from the Brahmsian style we are accustomed to hearing. In that sense, they are rather like hearing Der arme Peter of Robert Schumann--simplicity of presentation in voice and piano. Very accessible for young voices. Brahms composed them at the request of Josef Lewinsky, a celebrated actor, for his fiancee who was about to play Ophelia in a production of Hamlet in Prague. They were probably not accompanied by a piano; these accompaniments by Brahms were likely for rehearsal purposes.5
Francesco Santoliquido (1883-1971)
Trepoesiepersiane (Three Persian Poems). Composed 1914.
Quando le domandai (Negi de Kamare) Io mi levai dal centro della terra (Omar Khayyan) Le domandai (Abu-Said)
These songs are beautifully evocative of the atmosphere of the Middle East: mysterious, exotic, and languid. The vocal writing is a mixture of quasi-declamatory and lyric phrases; the piano textures are transparent, but fluid. This is a very different sort of Italian group to program, and one that is very attractive. Low voice/ piano. Published by Forlivesi (10803/10804/10805).
In these three columns of "forgotten art songs," I have offered some ideas for repertoire that should be programmed more often. In the throes of busy schedules, we often reach for the more familiar and comfortable repertoire instead of exploring something new. I hope that you will reach for some of these the next time 'round.
(1.) Richard Miller, Singing Schumann (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 120.
(2.) Quoted in Carol Kimball, Song: A Guide to Art Song Style and Literature (Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corp., 2005), 432.
(3.) Ibid., 541.
(4.) Michael Kennedy, "Richard Georg Strauss," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 18 (London: Macmillan Publishers, Ltd., 1980), 233.
(5.) Graham Johnson, liner notes to The Songs of Johannes Brahms, Vol. 2. Hyperion Records, Ltd., CDJ33122 (2011), 19.
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|Title Annotation:||The Song File|
|Publication:||Journal of Singing|
|Date:||May 1, 2012|
|Previous Article:||Awesome voices!|
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