Presentation of the concert
C. Schumann, Liebst du um Schönheit
C. Schumann, Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort
C. Schumann, Sie liebten sich beide
C. Schumann, Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen
Brahms, Meine Lieder
Duparc, L'Invitation au voyage
R. Strauss, Ich schwebe
R. Strauss, Wasserrose
R. Strauss, Frühlingsgedränge
R. Strauss, Die Nacht
Fauré, Après un rêve
Fauré, Clair de lune
Fauré, En sourdine
Poulenc, Fiançailles pour rire
Debussy, Romance d'Ariel
Praised for both her sumptuous voice and her consummate acting ability, soprano Natalie Dessay refuses to be categorized and never ceases to amaze. Hear her in a program devoted to the gems of German Lieder and French song.
A coproduction with Pro Musica
Born in Leipzig, September 13, 1819
Died in Frankfurt, May 20, 1896
Raised by her father, a musician who diligently planned every moment of her life, Clara Schumann became one of the finest pianists and composers of the nineteenth century. Her songs, although not numerous, are filled with drama, tragedy, and power. Later in her life, she lost confidence in her compositional voice, saying “I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea.” The songs on today’s program illustrate how much she underestimated her gift.
Both “Liebst du um Schönheit” and “Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen” come from her Op. 12, a publication that intersperses her songs with those of her husband, Robert Schumann. “Sie liebten sich beide” was written as a birthday gift for Robert. This song and “Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort” demonstrate Clara Schumann’s ability to write memorable melodies with evocative piano accompaniments.
Born in Hamburg, May 7, 1833
Died in Vienna, April 3, 1897
A composer whose life was intertwined with those of the Schumanns for many years, Johannes Brahms wrote over 200 songs throughout his career. In these songs, he demonstrates his ability to identify with the ideas and emotions expressed in the poetry, whether it’s the work of a great poet such as Heine or a minor poet such as Candidus.
Both “Lerchengesang” and “Meine Lieder” are incredibly brief works. In the first, Brahms evokes the bird call of the lark with a distinctive right-hand figure. The second, a ternary form song, has an emotional tone that could only be described as bitter. “Geheimnis” is set almost as a love duet between piano and voice. The constantly shifting harmonies suggest that this love affair is filled with doubt, uncertainty, and mystery.
Born in Paris, January 21, 1848
Died in Mont-de-Marsan (Landes), February 12, 1933
Although he lived a long life, French composer Henri Duparc stopped composing at the age of 37. At this point, suffering from a mental illness, he destroyed many of his compositions. A scant 40 works survived, including just 16 songs. These songs, however, place Duparc as one of the masters of the French mélodie.
In 1870, while defending Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, Duparc set Baudelaire’s masterful “L’invitation au voyage.” This song, with its ambiguous harmonies and rhythms, reflects the poet’s drug-induced dream-like voyage of the mind. Duparc, a lover of Richard Wagner’s works, set Lahor’s “Extase” in 1874. This poem, like Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, brings together the concepts of love and death.
Born in Munich, June 11, 1864
Died in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, September 8, 1949
While he might today be better known for his operas and tone poems, the German composer Richard Strauss composed lieder throughout his career. His output particularly benefited from his 1894 marriage to the soprano Pauline de Ahna, who served as his muse.
In 1900, Strauss began working on a ballet. Sketches from this ballet, which was never completed, made their way into “Ich schwebe,” a delicate waltz-like song. “Wasserrose,” an earlier work from 1866-1868, demonstrates Strauss’ masterful command of evocative harmonies. At the beginning of the lied, he omits a real bass. In its place, he writes a pedal point that suggests the surface of the water on which the water-lily floats. The rippling arpeggios of “Frühlingsgedränge” contrast sharply with the stillness of “Die Nacht,” a song in which dark harmonies reflect the singer’s fear of the night.
Born in Pamiers, May 12, 1845
Died in Paris, November 4, 1924
Over the course of his career, the French composer Gabriel Fauré composed over 100 songs. With their avoidance of goal-driven harmonic progressions and their ambiguous rhythms, these songs are unmistakeably French. His student, Maurice Ravel, remarked that Fauré had saved French mélodie from the hold of the German Lied.
The text of “Après un rêve,” an early song, comes from Romain Bussine, a French poet who had adapted an anonymous Italian poem. Fauré’s beautiful and memorable melody reflects the speaker’s desire to return to the “mysterious night.” In 1887, Fauré set his first poem by Paul Verlaine, one of the composer’s favorite poets. This setting of “Clair de lune” features a tranquil stillness that evokes a moonlit scene. Verlaine penned “Prison” in 1873 while being held in the Prison de Carnes on charges of attempted murder following an incident with the poet Arthur Rimbaud. Fauré set this poem in 1894, one of his last settings of Verlaine’s poetry. Both “Mandoline” and “En sourdine” date from an earlier period. These songs were published in 1891 as part of the Five ’Venetian’ Songs. The light arpeggios in “Mandoline” represent a storyteller’s mandolin or lute.
Born in Paris, January 7, 1899
Died in Paris, January 30, 1963
The French composer Francis Poulenc was largely self-taught as a composer, although he studied briefly with Charles Koechlin from 1921-1925. The following year, he met Pierre Bernac, a baritone who inspired much of Poulenc’s vocal output. When Poulenc turned to his friend Louise de Vilmorin’s collection Fiançailles pour rire in 1939, it was to find poems to set for Bernac. The female point of view, however, made this collection more suitable for a female voice.
Despite the title, there is nothing funny or whimsical about the poems in this collection. In the first song, the singer questions whether a love will last, or whether it will become a distant memory. The tonal ambiguity at the song’s conclusion paves the way for the remaining songs. In “Dans l’herbe,” a mother sings an elegy to her deceased child. “Il vole” features an accompaniment written in the style of a difficult piano etude. The emotionally deep “Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant” brings contrast, with its legato melodic line. In “Violon,” the singer and pianist create a nightclub atmosphere, with legato lines and sultry harmonies. The collection ends with “Fleurs,” a song that reflects regret over a lost love.
Born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, August 22, 1862
Died in Paris, March 25, 1918
When he was 18 years old, Claude Debussy met the singer Marie-Blanche Vasnier. He accompanied her on the piano, and she and her husband supported Debussy as he struggled to make ends meet. He wrote numerous songs during the years that he was associated with the Vasniers, including “Apparition” and “Romance d’Ariel.” “Apparition” marks the first time Debussy turned to the works of Mallarmé for inspiration. In typical Mallarmé fashion, the poem speaks of odd anthropomorphisms, such as sad moons and melancholy perfumes. “Romance d’Ariel” features distinctive Debussyian vocal arabesques and fluid alternations between duple and triple rhythmic patterns.
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