Autumnal Fauré

Autumn is the subject of one of Gabriel Fauré’s most celebrated art songs. The season becomes a metaphor for the elusiveness and inevitability of time, the nature of memory, and ultimate mortality. A 33-year-old Fauré wrote Automne, Op. 18, No. 3 in 1878, the year the Eiffel Tower was under construction for the Great Paris Exhibition. The text is by the poet Paul-Armand Silvestre: Autumn, time of misty skies and heart-breaking horizons, of rapid sunsets and pale dawns, I …

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Kurt Weill’s “September Song” and the Power of Harmony

Even in the case of a popular song, harmony can be as important as melody. For example, listen to the harmonic surprise at the beginning of Richard Rodgers’ If I Loved You from Act 1 of the groundbreaking 1945 musical, Carousel. On the word, “loved,” a sudden, poignant diminished seventh chord takes us to a completely different world. This one melancholy chord tells us everything we need to know about what might lie ahead in the …

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Ned Rorem’s “Little Elegy”

It’s amazing how much can be said in the small space of sixteen measures. A case in point is Little Elegy, a song by American composer Ned Rorem (b. 1923). Rorem, who was born in Richmond, Indiana and will turn 93 in October, produced a series of operas, three symphonies, countless concertos, and chamber works over the course of his long career. But he’s most known for his prolific contribution to a genre …

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Ravel’s Shéhérazade: L’indifférent

Impressionism celebrates the vague and the intangible…the ephemeral play of color and light and the blurring of reality and dreams. That’s the atmosphere that surrounds L’indifférent (“The Indifferent One”), the final movement of Maurice Ravel’s 1903 song cycle, Shéhérazade. The song’s text is from a collection of 100 poems (One Thousand and One Nights) by Ravel’s friend, Tristan Klingsor (pseudonym of Léon Leclère). It tells a vague, seductive story of unrequited passion and infatuation from afar. The poem’s narrator is attracted …

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Das Lied von der Erde: Mahler’s Farewell

As late summer fades into fall, this seems like a good time to listen to the final movement of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (“The Song of the Earth”). The text, based on ancient Chinese poetry, evokes seasonal cycles…a sense of death, separation, and resignation, followed by rebirth, loss of the ego, and ultimate immorality. In this music, completed in 1909 near the end of Mahler’s life, the endless forward drive of …

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Old American Songs

Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs are full of ghosts. The collection of folk melodies Copland arranged in the early 1950s, at the request of Benjamin Britten, evokes memories of, and nostalgia for, the distant past. It’s easy to get a similar feeling taking in the small slices of rural American landscape visible in brief glimpses from a moving car…an old dilapidated barn, a picturesque village church, the leafy solitude of an obscure roadside cemetery… The …

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Schumann’s Dichterliebe: On a Radiant Summer Morning

Let’s finish out the week and follow up on Wednesday’s post with more music for summer. Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen is the twelfth song in Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Op. 48 (“A Poet’s Love”), written in 1840. The song contains some interesting harmonic surprises. The first hint of strangeness comes at 0:33. Then, we get an even bigger surprise around the 1:00 mark. The conflict of the opening chords returns unexpectedly at 1:45. Schumann’s music evokes the kind of mystery you …

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