Sunday, October 18, 2015

Art Song at the Gardner

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

This month on OTF, I have not planned to present any opera. My next opera post will be in November, and I promise that it will be a doozy.

Instead, for this installment anyway, I wanted to concentrate in what I think is the simplest, purest form of musical expression – one that involves a singer, and an accompanist, nothing more, nothing less. Just music that’s as naked as it comes.

Art song puts together all the basic ingredients of a great musical experience – it requires great music and musicians of course, but also great texts, great lyrics. The experience is incomplete if the words don’t match the sincerity and beauty of the music.

I hope we’re on the same page here…

All the performances I bring to your attention today are from the extensive chamber music library of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. According to the Museum’s website, Isabella Stewart Gardner filled the Museum with artists of all kinds during her lifetime, including many notable musicians and composers who drew inspiration from the museum’s unique atmosphere. Still today, the Gardner Museum honors this musical legacy by welcoming world-renowned musicians and exciting emerging artists to perform classical masterpieces, new music, and jazz on Sunday afternoons and select Thursday evenings. The Museum’s rich musical program is also available to listeners across the globe through concert videos, audio recordings, and a free classical music podcast.

In many of my posts on my blog and other platforms, I have relied on the ISGM Music library to illustrate some of my musical musings, as I am doing today. I wanted to share with you four particular performances from the library, each providing something unique.

We begin with Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs. The cycle of seven songs is based on Czech poetry by Adolf Heyduk about the lives of Slovakian gypsies. But Dvořák chose to premiere and publish the songs in a German translation of the original text. The cycle was fairly successful; in particular, the song at the heart of the cycle—the fourth of seven—has become one of his best-known, usually translated in English as “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” Throughout, the songs are both lyrical and spirited, combining the flavor of gypsy music with the sophistication of Western art song.

From Czech and German to Spanish, we next consider seven popular songs by Manuel de Falla, a delightful and varied collection of Spanish folksongs that is quite possibly the single most popular piece of classical Spanish vocal repertoire out there. The songs vary, from lovelorn laments to intimate lullabies to spirited dances, but all share an incredibly sensitive and evocative approach to the piano accompaniment—creating a sense of place and mood, while putting the traditional tunes front and center.

Some composers distinguish themselves in a single genre: Hugo Wolf, for example, whose brilliant lieder are like mini-monodramas, containing a whole world of feeling in less than two minutes of music. Wolf's first published songs were his Sechs Lieder für eine Frauenstimme (Six Songs for Female Voice), collected and printed in 1888. Like those of other cycles (like his Goethe-Lieder, for instance), these songs were not composed as a set, but were assembled from the numerous lieder Wolf had written up to that point. Thereafter, the composer would begin to conceive of large groups of interrelated songs, either by the same poet or drawn from the same source.

To complete our sampling of art songs, we will feature a tenor in Liederkreis, a set of songs based on poetry by Heine. The poems tell the tale of a love gone wrong. In nine songs, the singer recounts stories of lost love and painful separation.


Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841 –1904)
Cigánské melodie (Gypsy Songs) for voice and piano, B. 104 (op. 55)
7 songs after poems by Adolf Heyduk
Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano
Christopher Cano, piano

Manuel de FALLA (1876 - 1946)
Siete Canciones Populares Españolas (Seven Spanish Popular Songs) for voice and piano, G. 40
Jennifer Johnson Cano, mexxo-soprano
Christopher Cano, piano

Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
Sechs Lieder für eine Frauenstimme (Six Songs for Female Voice), for voice and piano (1888)
6 songs, texts by Anonymous (attributed to Reinhold), Friedrich Hebbel, Friedrich Rückert, Robert Reinick and Eduard Mörike
Jeanine De Bique, soprano
Warren Jones, piano

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Liederkreis (song circle), for voice and piano, op. 24
9 songs, Texts by Heinrich Heine
Mark Padmore, tenor
Jonathan Biss, piano


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