Barbara Bonney: Samuel Barber’s Four Songs, Op. 13

Think twentieth-century music and what comes to mind? Probably the atonal serialism of Arnold Schoenberg, Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, or Karlheinz Stockhausen, along with the witty, neoclassical utterances of Stravinsky. But we should never forget that twentieth-century music is also the distinctive, Neo-Romantic voice of American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Perhaps no composer in the twentieth century contributed to the genre of the art song more profoundly than Barber, who seems to have inherited the …

Read moreBarbara Bonney: Samuel Barber’s Four Songs, Op. 13

New Release: Renee Fleming’s “Distant Light” Blends Barber and Björk

Soprano Renee Fleming’s latest album, Distant Light, was released last Friday on the Decca Classics label. Recorded with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in the acoustically opulent Konserthuset, Distant Light features a hauntingly atmospheric assortment of twentieth century Scandinavian music. The exception is the opening track: Samuel Barber’s dreamy, nostalgic Knoxville: Summer of 1915, written in 1947. (If you find yourself longing for the warmth of summer, the sultry Tennessee night air experienced in Barber’s front porch rocking …

Read moreNew Release: Renee Fleming’s “Distant Light” Blends Barber and Björk

The Cohen Variations

The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world. -Leonard Cohen Pianist Simone Dinnerstein describes The Cohen Variations, written in 2009 by New York composer Daniel Felsenfeld, as a nocturne- music which evokes the atmosphere of the night and suggests the wildly adventurous harmonies of Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturnes. (For a particularly magical example, listen to the Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27). The Cohen Variations are based on Leonard Cohen’s song, Suzanne. The …

Read moreThe Cohen Variations

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 …

Read moreAutumnal Fauré

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 …

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

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 …

Read moreNed Rorem’s “Little Elegy”

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 …

Read moreRavel’s Shéhérazade: L’indifférent

Send this to a friend