Trying out a new idea: digital program notes ahead of the September 14 recital at Settlement Music School.Â Please leave a comment at the end with feedback, impressions, arguments, etc.
â€śO wĂ¤râ€™ ich schon mit dir vereintâ€ť from Fidelio (Beethoven)
Fidelio (op. 72) is Beethovenâ€™s only opera, and went through several revisions.Â The third version, premiered in Vienna in 1814, is the one commonly performed today.
This aria is sung by Marzelline, the daughter of the jail guard Rocco, who has fallen in love with Fidelio, a servant in her house.Â Little does she know that Fidelio is a disguised Leonore, the wife of the political prisoner Florestan, hoping to gain access to her husband through Rocco.Â The opera opens with Roccoâ€™s assistant Jacquino proposing marriage to Marzelline, but she refuses him, and when he leaves, she sings of her love for Fidelio.
The aria moves between two moods and modes of thought: she cautiously and coyly describes her future life with Fidelio in C minor music, only to burst out into joyful C major expressions of love, hope, and optimism that her dreams will come true.Â This aria has elements of Beethovenâ€™s signature vocal writing: straightforward intervals and arpeggios with clear text setting that requires full and open singing.Â Compared with other German-language ingĂ©nue characters like Annchen or Blonde, Marzelline has a more straightforward character with clearer, sweeter motives and wishes. Marzelline is a sweet dreamer with a straightforward view of married life and a genuine desire to be happy.
â€śFrĂĽhlingsglaube,â€ť â€śDie Forelle,â€ť â€śLachen und Weinen,â€ť â€śAn die Nachtigallâ€ť (Schubert)
Schubert was an incredibly prolific composer, and contributed over 600 Lieder to the vocal repertoire.Â These are some of his best-known and most beloved songs. While the texts are by different poets, they share quintessential qualities of Romantic poetry, intertwining nature imagery with intense feelings of love and loss. The texts are filled with the expressive energy of youth, and the narrators react sensitively and effusively to lifeâ€™s twists and turns.
The nuanced piano accompaniments add a second level of character and complexity to each song.Â Rather than serving as an echo or a supporting figure to the singer, the piano acts as a full and complimentary partner with the voice.Â Sometimes this interaction is fairly literal: the piano is the trout leaping in â€śDie Forelleâ€ť or the nightingale singing in â€śAn die Nachtigall.â€ťÂ Other times, the piano plays a less directly narrative role.Â The melodies that round out â€śFrĂĽhlingsglaubeâ€ť and â€śLachen und Weinenâ€ť give us a sense of what the character might be thinking or feeling even when she is not singing.Â Part of the challenge and joy in interpreting these classic Lieder is unearthing the full emotional potential of the song first introduced in those lines while staying true to their simple and elegant beauty.
â€śLa Fuite de la Lune,â€ť â€śThy Dark Eyes to Mine,â€ť â€śThe Rose of The Night,â€ť â€śEvening Songâ€ť (Charles Griffes)
I came across these songs while researching settings of Oscar Wilde poetry for another recital project.Â Discovering â€śLa Fuite de la Luneâ€ť led me to explore Griffesâ€™ songs, which are remarkable for their rhythmic sophistication, winding chromatic melodies, and intense poetry.
Charles Griffes (American, 1884-1920) wrote primarily chamber music, solo piano works, and songs.Â His piano music is often recorded, but his vocal music is harder to find. He studied composition in Berlin for four years with Engelbert Humperdink (best known for his opera Hansel and Gretel), and earned a living as a music teacher in Tarrytown, NY when he returned to the US.
His compositional style is considered the best American example of Impressionism, and he was greatly inspired by Debussy and Ravelâ€™s textures and harmonies.Â These songs have some of that French influence in them, but clearly contain a different sensibility, one that favors amorphous rhythms and strong, aggressive block chords.Â In some of Griffesâ€™ songs I can hear shades of Barberâ€™s heavier, more romantic songs like his â€śNocturne,â€ť a song that draws on the Egyptian imagery like Griffesâ€™ â€śEvening Song.â€ť
Griffes was gay, and while that part of his identity was a major source of artistic and personal strength, he hid it from society as a whole. While biographical details cannot reveal the entirety of a composerâ€™s intention, this detail is interesting in light of his choice of poetry.Â Two of the songs (â€śThy Dark Eyes to Mineâ€ť and â€śThe Rose of The Nightâ€ť) set poetry written by Fiona MacLeod.Â MacLeod, a female poet, strongly refers to what seems to be a female love object.Â In â€śThy Dark Eyes to Mine,â€ť that lover even has a female name: â€śEilidh,â€ť the Scottish Gaelic form of Helen.Â Further complicating this relationship between author and subject, Fiona MacLeod was a pen name of the Scottish poet William Sharp (1855-1905), whose poetry would have been contemporary to Griffes.Â Sharp pursued this dual literary identity for most of his career, even dictating his poetry to his sister when he needed it to appear in a womanâ€™s handwriting.
A closeted gay composer was setting the text of a female poet, who was actually a man writing intense heterosexual imagery â€“ but publishing it as a woman.Â This complex web of relationships may be a source of the harmonic tension and friction in these songs, a way to interpret the music, or a conjecture and coincidence unrelated to their composition, but it is certainly food for thought when first digesting the richness and beauty of Griffesâ€™ work.