Song of the Day

The Song of the Day feature of Sparks & Wiry Cries highlights art song performances from around the world. Feel free to contact lfitzgibbon@sparksandwirycries.org if you would like to suggest a song, performer, or composer! 

November 18

Today is apparently a great day for birthdays: Carl Maria von Weber, Louis-Jaques Daguerre (daguerreotype), William Schwenck Gilbert (Gilbert & Sullivan), Ignacy Jan Paderewski, to name just a few. But it is also Sojourner Truth's birthday, and this is a perfect occasion to refresh yourself on the life story of this history-changing woman. Truth was born into slavery near Kingston, NY, on this day in 1787, making today her 230th birthday. She devoted her life to fighting for equal rights for women and people of color, becoming the first African-American woman to win a court case against a white man, in order to secure the return of her son. After feeling the call of religion, she changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth, and became known for her speechmaking.
But there is one special moment in her life where she used song instead of speech, and this is why she is the perfect woman to honor in today's Song of the Day: She was preaching at a Camp Meeting in Northampton, MA, in 1844. An unruly mob threatened to disrupt the proceedings, and Truth first hid--afraid that she, as the only black woman present, would be attacked first. But her courage overcame her fear, and she went up to a hill and sang “in her most fervid manner, with all the strength of her most powerful voice, the hymn on the resurrection of Christ." The hymn was the first of an hour of songs and prayers that eventually succeeded in quieting the mob and sending them away.
Unfortunately, I can't find a record of this song--no recording, or even any other reference to it outside of contemporary accounts of her life. So we will end with the text and a continuation of the account above:
It was early in the morning--it was early in the morning,
Just at the break of day--
When he rose--when he rose--when he rose,
And went to heaven on a cloud.'
All who have ever heard her sing this hymn will probably remember it as long as they remember her. The hymn, the tune, the style, are each too closely associated with to be easily separated from herself, and when sung in one of her most animated moods, in the open air, with the utmost strength of her most powerful voice, must have been truly thrilling.

November 17

Current mood: Jeanine de Bique (have you heard her "Rejoice Greatly"?!?) singing Wolf's "Das verlassene Mägdlein."

November 16

A beautiful work by Arvo Pärt tonight, "L'Abbé Agathon," performed Shanon Mercer in a concert programed by Soundstreams, in their words, "one of the world’s leading contemporary music companies, and the largest global presenter of new Canadian music. Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney and Executive Director Ben Dietschi are committed to showcasing the work of living and international composers with a focus on innovative thematic and experiential programming."

November 15

Hearty congratulations and big thank you to our participants (and audience) who came out to our 2nd annual songSLAM last night in NYC!!!
In honor of the occasion, Mahler's absolutely delightful "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?" (who doesn't love a jolly drinking song?), which ends with the following stanza:
Wer hat denn das schöne Liedlein erdacht?
Es haben's drei Gäns übers Wasser gebracht,
Zwei graue und eine weiße;
Und wer das Liedlein nicht singen kann,
Dem wollen sie es pfeifen.

Performed beautifully, and with much "keck" by Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber.

November 13

We can't believe our second annual songSLAM is... TOMORROW!!! Get ready to cheer for your favorite composer/pianist/singer team at the HERE Arts Center in NYC!
In the meantime, keep your jets cool (or perhaps turn them down to a nice, slow burn) by listening to this Barber song, "In the Deep Pinewood," performed by Thomas Hampson and John Browning.

November 12

We're busy gearing up for the 2nd Inaugural songSLAM in NYC, this Tuesday at 8:30 PM. Will we see you there? Like last year, the songSLAM will be hosted by composer Tom Cipullo. To get you in the mood, here is a delightful recording of Paul Sperry and Tom Cipullo performing the last song from "Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House."

November 11

Today, Veteran's Day, marks the 99th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice. Roderick Williams and Julius Drake perform Gerald Finzi's "Channel Firing," a setting of the Thomas Hardy poem below.

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares;
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, "No;
It's gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

"All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

"That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them's a blessed thing;
For if it were they'd have to scour
Hell's floor for so much threatening ...

"Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need)."

So down we lay again. "I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,"
Said one, "than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!"

And many a skeleton shook his head.
"Instead of preaching forty year,"
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
"I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer."

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

November 10

Happy birthday to Friedrich von Schiller! Most famous, naturally, for his "Ode to Joy," Schiller's texts appear in settings by many other German composers, from Zelter and Loewe to Schubert and Cornelius. Today, we're featuring a song by Fanny Mendelssohn that is blustery enough to suit today's frigid weather in the northeast, "Der Eichwald brauset"! Performed by Susana Gaspar and Malcolm Martineau.

November 9

Okay. Bear with me here... I just heard a beautiful performance of Brahms Op. 118, and when the pianist (Paul Lewis) got to No. 5, I couldn't help but think of Elgar... anyone else hear that connection? Just me? Sea Pictures was written just two years after Brahms' death, when Elgar was 56, so it stands to reason that the younger composer would have taken inspiration from the great works of Brahms--written just 6 years earlier. But somehow I never thought about the two men in the same sentence until tonight! Hope you enjoy listening to them both!

November 8

Reflecting that we're better when we're working together: as humans for a more just future for all, and as singers and pianists collaborating for a beautiful performance. Both on display here, in "Majority," with text and music by Charles Ives.

The Masses! The Masses! The Masses have toiled,
Behold the works of the World!
The Masses are thinking,
Whence comes the thought of the World!
The Masses are singing,
Whence comes the Art of the World!
The Masses are yearning,
Whence comes the hope of the World.
The Masses are dreaming,
Whence comes the visions of God!
God's in His Heaven,
All will be well with the World!

November 7

Remembering Steven Stucky today, on his birthday.

November 6

The October Revolution began on November 7, 1917, transforming life for the entire country of Russia and beyond. Anna Akhmatova (born Anna Andreyevna Gorenko) wrote masterfully about life under the Stalinist regime, and many of her works were set by important Russian composers, including Prokofiev. "Солнце комнату наполнило" (The Sun Filled the Room) comes from Prokofiev's "Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova" and is performed here by Tamara Sinjavskaya and Zinayda Kogan.

November 4

Happy birthday, Daron Hagen! Born on this day in 1961, Hagen has contributed greatly to the worlds of both art song and opera. Below is a recording of Hagen and his wife, Gilda Lyons (soprano and composer), performing Hagen's setting of a Paul Muldoon poem, "Holy Thursday."

November 3

Happy birthday, Vincenzo Bellini! Not known as well for his small art song output as for his operas, but still the source of some important (and popular!) works. Cecilia Bartoli and James Levine perform "Vaga luna che inargenti" below--a good song for the beautiful moon we've had this week!

November 2

If you're in the DC area, make sure you've gotten your tickets for this Sunday's New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) performance at the Kennedy Center! Featuring a fabulous roster of singers including Annie Rosen and Miles Mykkanen, this special event will kick off Bernstein's 2018 centenary. 

To whet your appetite, the beginning of Bernstein's "Songfest," performed at the 1988 Proms by Daisy Newman, Candice Burrows, Janice Meyerson, Salvatore Champagne, Jerrold Pope, and Robert Osborne with the the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra, and conducted by the man of the hour, Leonard Bernstein.

November 1

After yesterday's somber events in New York City, this All Soul's Day feels perhaps even more close to home than usual. Schubert's "Litanei auf das das Fest Allerseelen," D. 343, is a setting of three verses from Johann Georg Jacobi's 1776 lengthy poem by the same name. It is performed here meditatively by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.

October 31

Happy Halloween from Sparks & Wiry Cries! What's your favorite spooky song? We're starting off the day with Schubert's setting of "Der Doppelgänger," performed here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Günther Weissenborn.

October 30

Happy birthday to composer, pianist, and patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge! This doyenne of musical patrons is, naturally, best known for her philanthropic work. Her innovative ideas and love of music led to the establishment of the Berkshire Chamber Music Festival and, ultimately, the Tanglewood Music Festival. She established the Berkshire prize in 1919, with Bloch and Rebecca Clarke's viola sonatas winning the top prizes. This was the beginning of some 1,200 commissions. Some famous pieces made possible by her support include Samuel Barber’s "Hermit Songs," Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 5, and Martha Graham and Aaron Copland's ballet "Appalachian Spring." She encouraged the Library of Congress to not only collect scores, but to build a performance hall (with wonderful acoustics for chamber music plus the ability to broadcast programs on the radio) for the auditory dissemination of this music. Coolidge lived simply to preserve her wealth for the support of the music she loved, and in doing so she helped cultivate the arts in America for the entire nation to enjoy.
Today, we're sharing a piece of her own devising: the second of her 16 Mother Goose Songs (the score for which can be found on IMSLP), recorded in 1916.
A very, very well deserved happy birthday, with hearty thanks!

October 29

Meow! Today is #NationalCatDay! What's your favorite song about cats? The Poetry Foundation & Poetry Magazine shared Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno" this morning, which you may recognize from Benjamin Britten's "Rejoice in the Lamb," Op. 30. This recording features Carys Lane with organist Andrew Lumsden.

October 28

Yesterday was also Dominick Argento's 90th birthday! Happy birthday to a major figure in American Art Song! In his honor, enjoy "Johann Sebastian Bach to the Town Council," from Argento's Letter from Composers--the only song I know of to include the word "emoluments"! Performed here by Scot Weir and Volker Niehusmann.

October 27

Today, October 27, is Sylvia Plath's birthday. Ned Rorem's Ariel is a cycle based on four of her poems, scored for voice, clarinet, and piano. Listen to the first song, "Words," performed by Clare McCaldin, Libby Burgess, and Catriona Scott below.

October 26

Do you have the Brooklyn Art Song Society's upcoming concert on your calendar? On November 3rd at 7:30, catch "La France II: Ernest Chausson and Henri Duparc." Featuring Tami Petty, soprano; Timothy Fallon, tenor; Paul LaRosa, Mario Diaz-Moresco, baritone; Michael Brofman, piano; Spencer Myer, piano; and members of PhiloSonia, there will also be a free pre-concert lecture at 7:00PM by composer Daniel Felsenfeld. To whet your appetite, here is Susan Graham performing Chausson's "Les papillons" with pianist Malcolm Martineau.

October 25

Happy birthday, Pablo #Picasso! Poulenc's "Pablo Picasso" from 'Le travail du peintre,' FP 161, seems like an apt tribute. The cycle--all settings of Paul Eluard--was commissioned by the American soprano Alice Esty, and is performed here by Simon Keenlyside and Graham Johnson.

October 24

We promised another setting of Geibel's "Stille Lotosblume" while celebrating Liszt's birthday a few days ago... but then yesterday was Rorem's 94th, and we got distracted! Hopefully you'll forgive us for delaying the promised setting by another composer once you've heard this beautiful song.
Clara Schumann's setting of this text (op. 13 no. 6) is not only beautiful, but brilliantly crafted. She begins and ends the song with the same unresolved chords, and the pulsating, modified strophic form further lends itself to the obsessive nature of the poem. Below is a beautiful recent recording from Petra-Maria Schnitzer and Charles Spencer.

October 23

Happy 94th birthday, Ned Rorem!
A favorite, performed here by Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau.

October 22

Happy birthday, Franz Liszt! Tonight, Liszt' setting of Geibel's "Die stille Wasserrose": a hypnotic, quixotic glance into a shimmering pond, from the standpoint of a mature viewer. Diana Damrau and Helmut Deutsch navigate these potentially treacherous waters (and span the song's dynamic and emotional demands) with grace.
Tomorrow we'll hear another--very different!--setting by another composer!

October 20

Turns out yesterday's SOTD (Song of the Day) featuring Charles Ives' 'Autumn' was just an accidental early celebration of his natal day! Today, October 20th, would be his 143rd birthday. We might have been accidentally ahead of the times, but Ives really was. His compositional career largely played out on the sidelines of his own, more lucrative career in the insurance industry (his own work in life insurance created the framework for modern-day estate planning). In fact, in addition to his own ground-breaking compositions, which examined and reinvented style, tonality, rhythm, instrumentation, and everything else under the sun, Ives (anonymously) helped to support many other young composers. So, with grateful admiration for this polymath, a gentle setting of Longfellow for this evening, performed by Mary Ann Hart and Dennis Helmrich:

October 19

The weather might be persistently warm for October, but it is still Autumn! Charles Ives' answer to Pumpkin Spice Season is this delicious song, a setting of his wife Harmony Twitchell's poetry. Performed here by William Sharp and Steven Blier.
Earth rests! Her work is done, her fields lie bare,
and 'ere the night of winter comes
to hush her song and close her tired eyes,
She turns her face for the sun to smile upon
and radiantly, radiantly, thro' Fall's bright glow,
he smiles and brings the Peace of God!

October 18

Some beautiful Wolf for this evening: "Benedeit die selige Mutter," from the Italienisches Liederbuch. Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber made this recording in 2009.

October 17

Today is Herbert Howell's birthday. This British composer is best remembered for his choral works, but he also wrote beautiful song--perhaps the most famous of which is "King David," from an opus called 'A Garland for de la Mare.' Sarah Connolly and Eugene Asti perform at Wigmore Hall in 2010. "King David" is about the power of music to transform. If you are interested in being a part of this transformation, check out the "Blog" section of our website, and then attend--either in person, or virtually, her recital tomorrow night in NYC raising money for the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

October 15

Tomorrow, we'll be sharing an essay by soprano Laura Dixon Strickling about surviving Hurricane Irma, as she prepares for a benefit concert on Wednesday, October 18, in New York City. Tonight, we are honoring Virgil's birthday. Virgil gave us the Aeneid, which gave us Dido and Aeneas. Virgil didn't give us that much art song (especially not songs which are recorded), but he did inspire a number of composers. For that reason, and for the subject matter, we present Josquin des Prez' setting of "Fama malum." Rumour -- no other evil is swifter than her: She thrives on being quick, and gains strength as she goes; Small at first through fear, soon she lifts herself to the four winds And walks on the ground while she hides her head in the clouds.

October 14

Today would be Alexander von Zemlinsky's 146th birthday, and in celebration we present the first song from his Op. 27, a collection of twelve songs written in 1936. For Zemlinsky, who died in 1942, these songs came relatively late in his output, and though he liked the pieces well enough to assign them an opus number, they were not actually published until 1978. This beautiful setting of a Stefan George poem is performed by Hans Peter Blochwitz and Cord Garben.

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

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