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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The Wound-Dresser

Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals, The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young, Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad, (Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested, Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.) -Walt Whitman, The …

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Mahler for the First Day of Spring

Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer! I must get out and breathe the air deeply again. -Gustav Mahler Spring seems to erupt with a raucous fervor from the first notes of Gustav Mahler’s Der Trunkene Im Früling (“The Drunken Man in Spring”). The song is part of Das Lied von der Erde (“The Song of the Earth”), Mahler’s combination symphony and song cycle, completed in 1909. The text comes from Die chinesische …

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The Salley Gardens

Benjamin Britten’s 1943 setting of the Irish folk song, The Salley Gardens seems to float in midair with a surreal, hypnotic beauty. An undercurrent of continuous eighth notes runs throughout the song, suggesting a static, dreamlike atmosphere…a sense of motion within timelessness. In the opening, haunting three-note fragments seem to be searching for a way forward. Listen to the way this piano line returns with interjections throughout the song. Also listen for the sudden …

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