Song of the Day

Beginning in January 2017, the Song of the Day will highlight art song performances from around the world. We will feature both established and up-and-coming performers and composers. Feel free to contact lfitzgibbon@sparksandwirycries.org if you would like to suggest a song, performer, or composer! 

October 14

Today would be Alexander von Zemlinsky's 146th birthday, and in celebration we present the first song from his Op. 27, a collection of twelve songs written in 1936. For Zemlinsky, who died in 1942, these songs came relatively late in his output, and though he liked the pieces well enough to assign them an opus number, they were not actually published until 1978. This beautiful setting of a Stefan George poem is performed by Hans Peter Blochwitz and Cord Garben.

October 13

A musician from our community, Laura Strickling, recently braved the horrific events unleashed by Hurricane Irma with her family. Since then, she has organized a very special concert with a cast of incredible musicians, to be held in NYC on Wednesday, October 18. We hope that you'll join her there, to help in the effort to rebuild these ravaged communities.
In the meantime, watch this website for a forthcoming essay by Laura about her experience. We're honored to publish her writing as a part of our online magazine.
And for tonight, Helen Boatwright and John Kirkpatrick performing Charles Ive's beautiful setting of "Abide with me."

October 12

Somehow the following music video, released in 2011, didn’t make it onto my radar. Had you seen it before? What do you think of this adaptation of Schubert?

October 11

Yesterday was also the birthday of Vernon Duke, born Владимир Александрович Дукельский (Vladimir Aleksandrovich Dukelsky, for those of you still brushing up on your cyrillic) in what is now Belarus and raised in Kiev. His wealthy and well-connected family fled the Russian Revolution in 1919, when Dukelsky was 16. They eventually arrived in America in 1921, and Dukelsky befriended Gershwin--who convinced him to become "Duke"--a year later.
The newly minted Duke kept his own name for his more serious compositions (premiered alongside works by the likes of his good friend Prokofiev by conductors such as Serge Koussevitzky), and stamped Duke on hits such as "April in Paris" or "Autumn in New York."
Alongside his large-scale orchestral works and his Broadway fare, Duke composed a handful of songs, some serious--but not these!

October 10

Happy birthday, Giuseppe Verdi! Of course, we all know Verdi better for his operatic compositions than his song--and hopefully no one will be shocked or dismayed when I avow that his orchestra writing has much more nuance than the piano writing I've come across so far... (For example, it is hard to compare Verdi's setting of Gretchen am Spinnrade, "Perduta ho la pace," with Schubert's inspired setting.) However, this other setting from Goethe's Faust, "Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorata," captures the gravitas of Gretchen's situation in true Verdian fashion. Performed here by Margaret Price and Geoffrey Parsons.

October 9

The great American baritone Robert Honeysucker passed away suddenly a few days ago. We have shared his brilliant work on this page before, but it is with a heavy heart that we post this video tonight, and consider the great loss to the musical community, and indeed the world, with his passing.

A very special video of a very special artist.

October 5

Posting from Ljubljana, Slovenia, with a coincidence: today, October 5, is the birthday of Fran Gerbič. This Slovenian tenor and composer was born in 1840, and came to more international prominence a century later, in 1940s Yugoslavia.

October 3

Today is the birthday of Louis Aragon, the poet perhaps most famous in the singing world for "C," a paean to war-torn France set so memorably by Francis Poulenc. Born in 1897, Aragon's long life (he died in 1982) allowed him to experience, influence, and take part in many different aspects of 20th century life, from WWs I and II to Surrealism to Communism. His poetry has been set not only by classical composers, but also by musicians of diverse backgrounds (check out youtube for a selection!). Today, we have Eileen Farrell's recording of "C" with pianist George Trovillo. If you don't know her story, check out the accompanying NY Times obituary (dating from 2002) for more!
For those of you who are offended by Farrell's use of rubato in this recording, we have already shared Regine Crespin's delectable live recording of both C and Fêtes galantes in a past Song of the Day, and that the historical significance of Farrell's recording makes it--at the very least--an interesting subject for debate!

October 2

Meditating on how to make a difference in these troubled times. For now, Cecilia Bartoli performing Maurice Ravel's setting of the kaddish with pianist Myung-Whun Chung, from his "Deux mélodies hébraïques."

October 1

Today is the first day of October. Hopefully you aren't feeling like Virginia Woolf did, when she wrote in her diary in October of 1920, "Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss?" But if you are, and it surely does happen to all of us at some point, take solace in this setting by Dominick Argento, "Anxiety," performed here with breathtaking perturbation by Martha Deatherage and David Garvey.

If you want more of Virginia Woolf's diaries, be sure to check out the Cincinnati Song Initiative performances of this cycle (alongside Copland's Dickinson songs) in January of 2018. For more fun, check out this past guest blog post by CSI founder and artistic director, Samuel Martin.

September 30

Today is September 30th, which means it's the last day of the #30DayArtSongChallenge! Today's Modern Singer Magazine challenge is to pick a song that reflects your background or heritage. I've gone with a beautiful song by American composer Sheila Silver from her song cycle "Beauty Intolerable." This evening-length cycle for three singers is composed solely of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. This recording of "Mindful of You" features not only Silver's ravishing setting, but is preceded by a recitation of the poem as well. Enjoy this stunning premiere performance by Tandy Cronyn, Deanne Meek, and Kelley Horsted.

Below are notes from the composer on this cycle:
I became passionate about the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay around 2011. I contemplated writing an opera about her and researched her deeply, but eventually, because it was so delicious just setting her poetry, I decided to compose an entire Songbook and put the idea of an opera on the back-burner for now. There are 14 songs plus two processionals (short rounds for 3 female voices together) in the Songbook. Some songs are more suitable for high voice and others for low voice. Some will work with either kind of voice. The songs can be performed in their entirety (we did the premiere with recitations of the poetry between each song and the two processionals bringing the three singers onto and off the stage) but a selection of songs for one singer works as well.
Millay’s poetry is powerful, honest, romantic, whimsical, deeply American and suits me perfectly as a composer. Courtesy of the Millay Society and its director, Peter Bergman, I had private tours of her house and the grounds at Steepletop, her home for the last 25 years of her life, which is just 10 minutes from my house in Austerlitz, Columbia County. I’ve seen her extravagant and petite gowns, her private pictures, her bedroom where she entertained many a person, the private cabin in the woods where she dlligently wrote for 4 hours a day, and even her private library where she stayed up late reading. I feel like I know her well.
Edna was a powerful and romantic figure — an idol in her day (1892-1950). She earned a substantial living from the sale of her poetry and toured the country from coast to coast giving readings to sold out audiences. She even filled the Hollywood Bowl with people eager to hear and catch a glimpse of this legendary icon. She was a feminist, a femme fatale, an intellectual, a devoted friend, wife, and lover, an avid naturalist and gardener, and even an owner of race horses. This is a woman who, in spite of long bouts with ill-health, lived life intensely and for the most part, joyously.
Edna’s voice is strong and accessible and I found her poetry easy to set because her intention is clear. Internal rhyme schemes abound – offering the composer all kinds of phrasing options. Her “Americaness” inspired me to delve into popular American forms. Seen through the prism of my “classical” voice, the listener may perceive elements of jazz, folk, and even rap. For each poem, my goal was to create a unique musical world. One of the more exotic poems, Aubade, is even based on an Indian raga.

September 29

Today's Modern Singer Magazine #30DayArtSongChallenge is a setting of a poem which has been set by many different composers. Though there are a lot of poems that fit this criterion (a perfect time for a shout-out to The Mirror Visions Ensemble!!), a favorite is Fauré's settings of "C'est l'extase langoureuse." Often overlooked in favor of Debussy's extremely beautiful--but very different--setting of the poem, this song weaves together motives from the other songs in this opus (58) for an evocation of ecstasy which is as secretive as it is sensual. Given Verlaine's own struggles (notwithstanding Fauré's own friendship with him), perhaps this interpretation is closer to the poet's experience than Debussy's evocation, for whatever that is worth. A beautiful recording from Nathalie Stutzmann and Catherine Collard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZbdLs1zVi4

September 24

Music has the power to heal, to console, to conjure up memories from our past, and to allow us to imagine memories we might have in our future. Tonight, Dutch-American composer Richard Hageman's "Music I Heard With You," performed by Roberta Alexander and Brian Masuda. As you're listening, remember that there are many families still waiting to hear from loved ones in Puerto Rico and the USVI: Hurricane Maria knocked out communications for millions of people, and the situation in both territories is dire. If you can, consider making a donation to help the recovery efforts. Because, "Music I heard with you was more than music."

For past Songs of the Day, see the Sparks & Wiry Cries Facebook page.

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