Song of the Day

Beginning in January 2017, the Song of the Day will highlight art song performances from around the world. We will feature both established and up-and-coming performers and composers. Feel free to contact if you would like to suggest a song, performer, or composer! 

May 23

Happy birthday, Jean Françaix! Françaix, who lived from 1912-1997, wrote the cycle L'adolescence clémentine relatively early on in his career, in 1941. I think these five settings of Renaissance French poet Clément Marot (1496-1544) perfectly capture Françaix's lyricism and sense of humor.

May 22

Happy birthday, Richard Wagner! In celebration, here is Christa Ludwig performing the orchestrated Wesendonck Lieder with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, conducted by Otto Klemperer, in 1962.

May 21

Happy birthday, Alexander Pope! He may be most famous for his translations of Homer, but his work shows up on occasion in vocal music too--including (in German translation) in Schubert's "Lebensfunke, vom Himmel entglüht," D. 59. This famous text is best known in its original language:

The dying Christian to his Soul

Vital spark of heav'nly flame:
Quit, oh quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, ling'ring, flying,
Oh the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

Hark! they whisper; Angels say,
Sister Spirit, come away.
What is this absorbs me quite?
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my Soul, can this be Death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav'n opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy Victory?
O Death! where is thy Sting?

Performed here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.

May 20

I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today and accidentally wandered into the small but wonderful Shaker exhibition. There were some truly beautiful objects, but to me, the most striking was the video of Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring." I had heard Copland's music many times, but I had never seen Graham's choreography. One moment that I found particularly exhilarating is linked to below (the hat!!), along with William Warfield (featured here before!) singing the orchestral version of Copland's "Simple Gifts" from Old American Songs.

May 19

If you live within hailing distance of Manhattan and haven't visited the Morgan Library's exhibition dedicated to Emily Dickinson, I urge you to run (literally or figuratively--you choose) to catch it before it closes on May 28. If you've read much of her poetry, or the excellent biography by Ricahrd Benson Sewall, you may not find the informative placards revelatory. But I do promise that even if you have spent hours perusing the manuscripts on the Emily Dickinson Archive (highly worth doing in any case!), nothing compares to getting to see her characteristic script in person. And as an added bonus, there are objects including a childhood portrait, a lock of hair, and the famous daguerreotype.

Dawn Upshaw sings an orchestrated version of Copland's "Nature, the Gentlest Mother" in this recording with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. What's your favorite Dickinson setting?

May 18

I hate stand cigarettes, but on this sultry night, I can't help but think of the last line of Guillaume Apollinaire's "Hôtel," "Je ne veux pas travailler - je veux fumer." ("I don't want to work--I want to smoke.")

This text, from Apollinaire's Banalités, was integrated into a cycle by Francis Poulenc with the same title, and is performed here by Régine Crespin and Enrique Ricci in a 1969 recital in Buenos Aires.

May 17

In case you ever wondered what it would be like if Philippe Jaroussky sang "La diva de l'Empire"... well, today is your day! Because today, in celebration of Erik Satie's birthday (in 1866), we present...

May 15

Happy, happy, happy birthday, Claudio Monteverdi! It is hard to imagine what classical music (or should I just say music?) would be like today without Monteverdi's contributions. So, my paean of thanks is to share this exuberantly joyful performance of "Zefiro torna" by Nuria Rial, Philippe Jaroussky, and the L'arpeggiata Ensemble.


May 14

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers--the nurturers, the teachers, the singers in our community!

Today, Shirley Verrett and Warren Wilson performing Dvořák's "Als die alte Mutter" (the German translation of "Když mne stará matka zpívat, zpívat") at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969.

When my mother taught me to sing,
Sometimes there glistened a tear in her eye;
Hers were songs that like a river
caused my heart to quiver!
Now when I teach little voices,
Pass on my mother's choices;
How I tear up when they sing, when they
sing the songs, the songs my mother taught me.

May 13

Brazilian composer Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1933) was clearly destined for a musical life. Yes, that is is given name (his brothers were named Verdi and Rossine--as in Rossini--by his Sicilian-born father). It is a sign of my ignorance that I had never heard of Guarnieri, though perhaps I am not alone! At any rate, I hope that this recording of "Canção Ingênua," featuring Sandra Félix and Scheilla Glaser, helps to change that fact.

Interested in more? Emily Ezust's indispensable website features a comprehensive list of Guarnieri's song output.
Allmusic has a short but informative biography

May 12

Have you listened to Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview of Rhiannon Giddens (star of our 2016-17 season Gala) yet? If not, check it out here! If you have, you may remember that Rhiannon sang some of Strauss' "Morgen!" a capella. Today, we're sharing a performance of the entire song by Arlene Augér and Irwin Gage, and also discussing the Scotch-German poet, John Henry Mackay (1864-1933).

Mackay was an openly gay man at a time when it was dangerous to be so, as well as a respected writer on anarchy. His literary works uniquely capture life as a member of the LGBTQ community in Berlin in the early part of the 20th century, and knowing his background can help us better understand what may have inspired him to write this ravishingly beautiful poem--words which speak to all of us, but which must have been particularly meaningful in a society where true identities were forcibly hidden.

Below, a translation by Emily Ezust:

And tomorrow the sun will shine again,
and on the path I will take,
it will unite us again, we happy ones,
upon this sun-breathing earth...

And to the shore, the wide shore with blue waves,
we will descend quietly and slowly;
we will look mutely into each other's eyes
and the silence of happiness will settle upon us.

May 11

Happy birthday, Joseph Marx! Born on this day in 1882, Marx was an Austrian composer raised in a literary and musical family. He began writing poetry at an early age, and was surrounded by music, thanks to his mother, a concert pianist, who supported his study of the piano and cello. Rebelling against his father, Marx went on to study music at university, even coining the term "atonality" in his study of early 20th century musical developments. Despite the success that Marx's works found in his own lifetime, he has somewhat languished in obscurity since his death in 1964. Let's change that, shall we?

May 9

Maintenant, more Maurice Maeterlinck! Schoenberg was a Maeterlinck fan too, and set another poem from Serres Chaudes, "Feuillage du coeur," in a translation by Friedrich von Oppeln-Bronikowski. This piece, Herzgewächse, scored for soprano, celeste, harmonium, and harp, was written over the course of just a few days in 1911.

In this recording, we hear soprano Christine Schäfer with Hidéki Nagano, celeste, Dimitri Vassilakis, harmonium, and Frédérique Cambreling, harp.

May 8

Today, Ernest Chausson's "Serre Chaude" from the cycle Serre Chaudes, Op. 24, comprised of five settings of Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist poetry. (For more Maeterlinck, check back here tomorrow!)

Performed here by Brigitte Balleys and Billy Eidi.

May 7

Tonight, Francis Poulenc's "Dernier Poème", FP 163, performed by Gilles Cachemaille and Pascal Rogé. Let us always remember our past and work for a better future!

May 4

"How that life was but a flower..."

Gerald Finzi's "It was a lover and his lass" from Let Us Garlands Bring, performed here by Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau.

May 3

In this paean to May, the speaker--a pilgrim escaping from winter--beseeches the personified month to grant him refuge and love.

... Which, I've gotta say, is just about how I feel now that winter seems to be behind us! (Despite the predicted low of 34 degrees here in upstate NY tonight...)

Listen to Strauss' setting of Karl Friedrich Henckell's poem, performed here by Andreas Schmidt and Rudolf Jansen, below. (For more on Rudolf Jansen, check out this essay on our website.)

May 2

Another spring song, even though the weather this week (at least outside my window) is predicted to be cold and rainy... Clara Schumann's irrepressibly joyous "Das ist ein Tag, der klingen Mag" from her Op. 23. Performed here by Joanne Polk and Korliss Uecker.

May 1

Did you also have trouble sleeping last night? Perhaps it was because of Walpurgisnacht--the witches were out, according to German lore!

Listen to Brahms' setting, featuring Judith Blegen and Frederica von Stade with Charles Wadsworth, here:

April 29

Today, are you going to a People's Climate March near you? To get you in the spirit, here is a paean to the beauty of our planet: Roberta Alexander performing Samuel Barber's "Sure On This Shining Night," in an orchestral version with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic conducted by Edo de Waart.

April 28

Happy birthday, John Jacob Niles! Niles (1892-1980) was an important American composer, whose interest in folk music bled into the classical world as well. He began collecting the folk songs of his native Appalachia in his late teens and early 20s, after studying some music as a child. After being injured during his WWI service, Niles went on to study music in Paris, finish his studies at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and even sing opera in Chicago upon graduating. His passion for American song not only preserved the folk music of his era, and helped bring about the American folk music revival, but also inspired many classical composers from around the world.

One of Niles' most famous compositions, "I Wonder As I Wander," made its way into Luciano Berio's Folk Songs. Below, hear its dedicatee, Cathy Berberian, singing the orchestral version with Berio conducting:

April 27

Olivier Messiaen passed into another realm on this day in 1992. In his honor, here are Dawn Upshaw and Gil Kalish performing the ecstatic last movement of Messiaen's Chants de terre et de ciel, "Résurrection."

April 26

Happy birthday, Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and Worcester (MA)'s Elm Park--among many, many others!

In his honor, Debussy's "Dans le jardin," composed in the year of Olmstead's death (1903) and performed here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Harmut Höll. This song was written just one year after Pelléas et Mélisande, and listeners may note the close relationship!

April 25

Will we see you tonight at the songSLAM?

To whet your appetite, Charles Ives playing and singing "They Are There!" in this fascinating recording made on April 24, 1943. This is the second version of the song, originally written in 1917, as it was updated to reflect Ives' changing feelings about global conflict.

April 24

Are you as excited as we are about the inaugural songSLAM competition happening tomorrow night??? Well, if you also feel like this, then the answer is yes!

(Leontyne Price singing Dominick Argento's "Winter" from his Six Elizabethan Songs with David Garvey. This 1978 concert at the White House included a set of compositions by her contemporaries: in addition to Argento, Barber, and Rorem, works by Louie White and Howard Swanson. For more on this concert, see this splendid review from the Washington Post.)

April 22

Happy Earth Day! How are you celebrating our planet, our home? What songs are most apt for this occasion?

I'm starting out with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, performed here by René Kollo, Christa Ludwig, and Leonard Bernstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

April 20

Today, Lili Boulanger's "Parfois, je suis triste" from the cycle Clarières dans le ciel, a collection of 13 poems set to texts by Francis Jammes. This delicate recording, capturing the tenacity and fragility of Boulanger herself, is by Heidi Grant Murphy and Kevin Murphy.

April 19

Today, a musing on mortality from Gerald Finzi: "I Look Into My Glass" from Till Earth Outwears, a cycle of songs based on Thomas Hardy texts. John Mark Ainsley and Iain Burnside perform in the setting of the poem below.

 I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!"

For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

For past Songs of the Day, see the Sparks & Wiry Cries Facebook page.

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