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 lfitzgibbon@sparksandwirycries.org if you would like to suggest a song, performer, or composer! 

March 28

Tonight, Charles Ives' setting of "Feldeinsamkeit," written when he was just a student at Yale University. This 1976 recording by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Michael Ponti beautifully captures the rolling grass and gentle vitality of a quiet summer's day, and poignantly brings us to the last two lines: 

Mir ist, als ob ich längst gestorben bin
Und ziehe selig mit durch ew'ge Räume.

I feel as if I long ago had died,
And drift blissfully with the clouds through eternity.

March 27

Tonight, Magdalena Kožená and Graham Johnson performing Antonín Dvořák's "Písně milostné" (Love Songs), Op.83.

Dvořák was not a natural song writer, and he struggled to perfect this part of his craft. Some of these eight settings of Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky's poems began their musical life as early as 1865, in the cycle "Cypresses." Dvořák reworked the musical material into various compositions, from string quartets to--eventually--some of these songs. Find English translations of the poems here.

March 26

Korngold's "Sterbelied" as the night draws to a close. Though the title might seem an ominous way to drift into slumber, this song (from Korngold's Vier Abschiedslieder) is a German translation of the following poem by Christina Rosetti: 

SONG
When I am dead, my dearest,
  Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
  Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
  With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
  And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
  I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
  Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
  That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
  And haply may forget.

Performed here by Konrad Jarnot and Reinild Mees. 

 

March 25

Happy birthday, Béla Bartók (1881-1945)! Today, we share Bartók's Op. 16, a collection of five settings of fellow Hungarian Endre Ady's poetry. Bartók believed Ady to be the most important poet of his generation; interestingly, while Bartók took inspiration from the folk music of his homeland, Ady broke against those traditions within the literary community and wrote in a distinctly modernist style.

Boosey & Hawkes describes Bartók's Op. 16 songs somewhat amusingly as follows: "Set to words of despair by iconoclastic Hungarian poet Endre Ady, this set of five songs for medium voice and piano unveils some of Bartók’s most unrelievedly dark and melancholy writing. The songs are suited to a mezzo-soprano and a pianist of virtuoso temperament."

March 24

Today, Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny and Scottish pianist Malcom Martineau extoll the virtues of falling in love in the city with "The Contrast," the fifth song from William Walton's cycle, A Song For the Lord Mayor's Table.

March 23

Happy birthday, Edmund Rubbra! Born on this day in 1901, Rubbra's compositional career encompassed everything from symphonies to song--including a number of works for voice and harp. Below, we feature the third movement of his "The Jade Mountain," settings of translations by Witter Bynner of Tang dynasty (618 - 907) poems (published under the same name).

Bynner was an American poet and translator who became close with the Chinese scholar Kiang Kang-hu (or Jiang Kanghu) when both were teaching at UC Berkeley. He and Kiang Kang-hu collaborated on translations of a famous anthology of Tang dynasty poems, compiled in the late 18th century by Sun Zhu (1722-1778). Their work, completed in 1929, became the first complete translation of Sun Zhu's "Three Hundred Tang Poems" to English.

March 22

Today, Messiaen's "Chants de terre et de ciel" (1938) performed by Messiaen's second wife, pianist Yvonne Loriod, and soprano María Orán. The cycle, a setting of texts by the composer himself, was inspired by Messiaen's first wife, violinist Claire Delbos (Mi), and baby son, Pascal (bébé Pilule). In typical fashion, it marries Messiaen's earthly, familial bliss (and fears) with his devout Catholicism.

March 21

Happy 332nd birthday, Johann Sebastian Bach! We often--and rightly--remember Bach for his soul-stirring religious compositions: masterworks such as his Matthew and John Passions and his Mass in B minor. However, Bach wrote a number of other compositions lauding earthly pleasures (the Coffee Cantata especially comes to mind). Today, in his honor, we present a short one from the Anna Magdalena notebook, "So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife," BWV 515. This short, stand-alone aria (or song!) both praises the merits of tobacco and compares our short human existence to its limits.

Our performance--complete with elaborate pipe!--comes from Klaus Mertens, baritone, and Ton Koopman, harpsichord.

March 20

Today, a virtuosic, live performance of Leon Kirchner's "The Twilight Stood" by the composer and soprano Beverly Hoch. Kirchner began the project by reading all of Emily Dickinson's poetry (some 1,775 works) before choosing these six poems. In his program note for the premiere, Kirchner wrote that in in writing this piece, "A small opera emerged, each poem a scene."

March 18

For some reason, Ernest Chausson's "Le colibri" has been stuck in my head for the past few days. Perhaps I'm wishing for spring? Here, we have the inimitable Gérard Souzay and pianist Jaqueline Bonneau in a recording from 1961.

March 17

Today, St. Patrick's Day, we feature Barber's setting of a prayer attributed to St. Brigit of Kildare and adapted and translated by Seán Proinsias Ó Faoláin. "The Heavenly Banquet" (from Barber's Hermit Songs) features perhaps one of the jolliest lines in all of poetry: "I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings."

Performed here, with most delicious diction, by Leontyne Price and Samuel Barber.

March 16

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847) also wrote a setting of "Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam"! Hers, called "Fichtenbaum und Palme," was written in 1838 when she was 33 years old. In its structure and in the variety of colors and styles Mendelssohn uses to illustrate the two worlds of the fir tree and the palm, we hear her mature compositional style. Mendelssohn was an avid reader of poetry, sensitive to text in a way that perhaps her more famous brother was not. In this particular setting, listen for the return of the first stanza's text at the end of the song.

If you haven't heard the two previous songs of the day, check out Liszt's and Rimsky-Korsakov's settings of this same poem! 

March 15

More snow in the northeast today! I'm not even sure I can open my front door... So, more of Heine's pine tree poem today.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Daniel Barenboim perform Franz Liszt's "Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam" No. 1, S 309. Liszt and Heine were friends, of a sort (it was an on-again, off-again relationship), and Heine actually coined the term "Lisztomania" to describe the frenzy surrounding the musician. By the time Liszt wrote this piece, they were "off-again"--but it is still a sensitive reflection of this poem.

For the complete text of the poem and to hear Rimsky-Korsakov's setting, see yesterday's Song of the Day.

March 14

From my window, snow is falling heavily, and I am reminded of the Heine poem below:
   Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam
Im Norden auf kahler Höh’.
Ihn schläfert; mit weißer
Decke Umhüllen ihn Eis und Schnee.

   Er träumt von einer Palme,
Die, fern im Morgenland,
Einsam und schweigend trauert
Auf brennender Felsenwand.

Luckily for us here at Sparks & Wiry Cries, this poem has been a source of inspiration for many composers, and we will explore many settings of it this week!

Today, we have a Russian translation of this poem in a setting by Rimsky-Korsakov, performed in 1960 by the late Nicolai Gedda (1925-2017) and pianist Werner Singer. This video contains three of Rimsky-Korsakov's songs, "The clouds begin to scatter," "The Pine and the Palm," and "The Lark Sings Louder."

March 13

A fascinatingly still and quiet interpretation of Strauss' "Morgen!" today, performed by Barbara Bonney and Geoffrey Parsons.

March 12

Today, a rare recording of H. T. Burleigh singing (and perhaps playing) one of his own arrangements, "Go Down, Moses," in 1919.

Henry Thacker "Harry" Burleigh (1866-1949) was a singer, composer, instrumentalist (a pianist, but he also played double bass in conservatory, where he was both a student and a teacher of Antonin Dvorak), and an arranger. Today, despite his immense accomplishments in all of these fields, he is known best for his skill in just one of them: his arrangements of spirituals.

If you wish to know more about the man and composer, there will be a musical tribute to Burleigh on March 31, 2017, at St. George's Episcopal Church in New York City.

To read more about Burleigh, start with this short biography from the Library of Congress.

March 11

Today, the radiant Sarah Connolly performing Ivor Gurney's "Sleep" with pianist Eugene Asti. This recording comes from a recital the duo gave at Wigmore Hall in 2010. However, if you'd like to catch her on this side of the pond, Connolly will be giving a recital with pianist Joseph Middleton on March 15 and 17 at the Park Avenue Armory

"Sleep" is one of Gurney's "Five Elizabethan Songs" (1912). For the last 15 years of his life, Gurney (1890-1937) was held in psychiatric hospitals, suffering perhaps from bipolar disorder or even syphilis. Despite his mental illness, Gurney wrote prolifically during this time, including poetry and plays as well as some music. It appears that the majority of Gurney's musical works have yet to be published or recorded.

March 10

Frédéric Chopin is of course famous for his compositions for solo piano--but much less so for his songs. Today, we feature a sensitive recording by soprano Elżbieta Szmytka and pianist Malcolm Martineau of his opus 74. These seventeen songs with Polish texts make up almost all of Chopin's vocal output.

From Robert Cummings' notes on the songs: "Chopin's apparent doubts about the artistic worth of his songs probably had something to do with his conviction that his best piano music was patently superior. The songs are indeed less distinctive works, but they offer much that is of interest, including unusual insights into the epic side of Chopin's thinking and a wealth of beautiful piano writing. It is also interesting to ponder the shortcomings of the songs in view of the fact that Chopin's pianistic language was itself heavily influenced by vocal music, specifically that of Bellini. The composer himself never partook in any concert performance of his songs, which offers further evidence of his doubts about them."

March 9

Today, Lois Marshall and Weldon Kilburn perform the last song from de Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas, "Polo." This is an exhilarating, electric performance, from a 1962 recital in Moscow.

Marshall (1924-1997) was a Canadian soprano (and later mezzo-soprano) known mostly for her concert and recital performances, as well as for her broad discography. She did occasionally perform in operas, but the polio she contracted as a child prevented her from feeling completely comfortable moving on stage. Of note are her operatic appearances in productions designed for her by noted director Sarah Caldwell.

March 8

Happy International Women's Day! Today, in honor of the occasion, we present these five songs by Alma Mahler. Angelika Kirchschlager and Helmut Deutsch made this stunning recording in 1997.

Mahler was born Alma Schindler in Vienna. She was raised in an artistic family and began composing at the age of 9, later studying with Zemlinsky. She married Gustav Mahler, 19 years her senior, when she was 23. One condition of their marriage was that she stop composing, so she did--abruptly--in 1901. However, after the death of her first child, Maria Anna, Alma fell into a depression and later started an affair with architect Walter Gropius. Gustav solicited advice from Sigmund Freud, who counseled that forcing Alma to give up her own artistic expression was perhaps detrimental to her sense of self and ability to have a self-actualized life... With some remorse, it is said, Gustav took a greater interest in his wife's work, eventually helping her to prepare the five songs below for publication in 1910.

It is unclear if Alma continued composing after 1910.

5 Lieder
I. Die stille Stadt
II. In meines Vaters Garten
III. Laue Sommernacht
IV. Bei dir ist es traut
V. Ich wandle unter Blumen

March 5

We've been keeping this beautiful rendition of Schubert's "Du bist die Ruh," performed by Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber, to ourselves for some time now. Perhaps this evening is the perfect time to share it:

March 4

March 1 would have been Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson's 63rd birthday. We honor her, though a few days late, with Mahler's "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen." This recording dates from a 1997 performance in Wigmore Hall with pianist Roger Vignoles. The entire recital was released on CD by Arkiv Music, and everything is just as ravishing as the simple, heartfelt, unfettered, utterly human beauty found here.

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

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