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! 

June 21

To mark the official beginning of summer, here are Adrianne Pieczonka and Brian Zeger performing Strauss's "Rote Rosen." The poem, by Karl Stieler, compares the the speaker's object of devotion to a summer field, in full bloom at the solstice.

June 20

Today, Derek Lee Ragin and Julius Drake in an extraordinary performance of this extraordinary song. Recorded live, and released in 1990.
(And, coincidentally, today is just a few days after Mr. Ragin's birthday--which was June 17! Happy birthday!)

June 19

Today, on this 152nd Juneteenth, I have been reflecting on how far we have come--and how far we have to go. I have been thinking about justice--and the lack thereof. I have been thinking about Philando Castile, about Terence Crutcher, about Sandra Bland, about Eric Garner, about Mike Brown, about Rekia Boyd, about Sean Bell, about Tamir Rice, about Freddie Gray, about Danroy Henry, about Oscar Grant III, about Kendrec McDade, about Aiyana Jones, about Ramarley Graham, about Amadou Diallo, about Trayvon Martin, about John Crawford III, about Jonathan Ferrell, about Timothy Stansbury Jr. And now about Charleena Lyles.

How can our community make this country a more just nation for all?

June 18

Happy Father's Day! Jan DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish muse about "The Things Our Fathers Loved" in their performance of the eponymous Ives song here.

June 16

Today, June 16, is Bloomsday! Though this particular song, "Solitary Hotel," is somewhat somber in tone for a celebration, it is Samuel Barber's only setting taken from "Ulysses"--and it certainly seems fitting to choose one of Barber's Joyce settings when he drew so heavily on Joyce for inspiration. Like much of Joyce, the passage in question quickly moves from the absurd to the melancholy, and back again. Just preceding these beautiful, mysterious lines is the following gem: "What is home without Plumtree's Potted Meat? Incomplete. With it an abode of bliss." May your peregrinations today bring you the beautiful, the strange, the ecstatic, the scatological!

June 15

Happy birthday, Edvard Grieg! Grieg, who lived from 1843 to 1907, wrote this cycle in 1895. It is, in fact, the only song cycle (that is, a cycle in which the songs make up a continuous narrative) among his entire output, and tells the story of a shepherdess named Haugtussa. Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg perform the entire work here.

June 14

Today, Six Poèmes for Soprano and Piano de Guillaume Apollinaire by Arthur Honneger, composed between 1915-17. This performance by Dawn Upshaw and Jérôme Ducros, from the album "Hommage to Jane Bathori - The Inspiring Muse."

June 13

Happy birthday, William Butler Yeats! Born on this day in 1865, his poetry has been set by many composers, from his contemporaries to today. Perhaps one of his most famous poems is "The Second Coming,"* but today we share a quieter poem, "A Cradle Song," in a setting by Ivor Gurney. Performed here by Susan Bickley and Iain Burnside.

The angels are stooping, above your bed;
They weary of trooping with the whimpering dead.
God's laughing in heaven to see you so good;
The Shining Seven are gay with His mood.
I kiss you and kiss you, my pigeon my own.
Ah how I shall miss you when you have grown.

*which begins
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

June 12

Happy birthday to the brilliant Oliver Knussen, born on this day in 1952. Knussen contributions to vocal music are rich and varied, from operas to chamber music to works for solo voice and voice/piano. Here is but one tiny sampling, Lisa Saffer singing the last movement of "Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh" with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, conducted by the composer himself. It is an early work, but it still shows traits that--to me--mark Knussen's writing: a beguilingly simple complexity, an unending curiosity, a love of beauty.

June 11

Today, another Max Reger song, another "Sommernacht" to get you through the heat of the day! This time, it's his Op. 98 No. 5--a setting for solo voice and piano of a poem by Gertrud Triepel. Recorded here by Markus Schäfer and Ernst Breidenbach. Im Garten rauscht die Sommernacht,
durchs Fenster drängt es schwer,
mit weiten Augen lausch' ich still,
und alles schweigt umher.

Und alles schläft, ein Sehnen nur
weht heimlich ein und aus,
da fängt mein Herz zu weinen an
und wollt es wär zu Haus.

June 10

From Max Reger, one of the duets from his Op. 14, "Sommernacht," scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano, and piano. After a hot day (at least here on the east coast) I am certainly hoping for the cool of evening and a thousand golden stars glittering in the heavens! The text, below, is by D. Saul. Apparently a mysterious fellow, little seems to be known of his identity.

Tausend goldne Sterne glänzen
an des Abendhimmels Pracht,
duftig liegst du ohne Grenzen,
märchenschöne Sommernacht.

Jubeln möcht' ich, doch ich neige
still das Haupt zum Erdengrund;
wenn die Himmel reden, schweige,
schweig du armer Menschenmund.

June 9

Today, I'm listening for the first time to Stravinsky's "Three Songs from William Shakespeare," a composition scored for mezzo-soprano, flute, clarinet, and viola. Written in 1953, they were his first songs to be written since 1919, and his first in English. Click on the link to listen to a 1975 performance by Katherine Ciesinski, Mezzo-Soprano, Judith Mendenhall, Flute, Franklin Cohen, Clarinet, and Philipp O. Naegele, Viola.

June 8

Today, another June song, this time by Amy Beach: "Juni," from her Op. 51. This version is arranged for voice, piano, and flute.

June 6

Though this song by George Butterworth--"The Lads In Their Hundreds"--was written in 1911, and is a setting of an even earlier, 1896 poem by A. E. Housman, its sentiments seem to fit the occasion of today, June 6th, D-Day.

The lads in their hundreds to Ludlow come in for the fair,
There’s men from the barn and the forge and the mill and the fold,
The lads for the girls and the lads for the liquor are there,
And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old.

There’s chaps from the town and the field and the till and the cart,
And many to count are the stalwart, and many the brave,
And many the handsome of face and the handsome of heart,
And few that will carry their looks or their truth to the grave.

I wish one could know them, I wish there were tokens to tell
The fortunate fellows that now you can never discern;
And then one could talk with them friendly and wish them farewell
And watch them depart on the way that they will not return.

But now you may stare as you like and there’s nothing to scan;
And brushing your elbow unguessed-at and not to be told
They carry back bright to the coiner the mintage of man,
The lads that will die in their glory and never be old.

June 4

Today is the birthday of Russian poet Apollon Nikolayevich Maykov (1821 - 1897), known for his elegiac poetry praising Russian life, but also for his translations of German poets including Heine and Goethe. Appropriately enough for this date and the season, he also wrote the poem "Сон в летнюю ночь" ("A Summer Night's Dream"). It was set, in epic romantic fashion, by Nikolaj Rimsky-Korsakov.

June 3

Today is the third day of the month--the third of June--and, in honor of the original title of Berio's "Azerbaijan Love Song" we are celebrating. I'm raising a glass in honor of my friends' marriage. What about you?

June 2

And now for something completely different... for today's Song of the Day, Unsuk Chin's "Miroirs des temps" with the Hilliard Ensemble and BBC Philharmonic conducted by James MacMillan.

June 1

June is finally here! I love June, beautiful June!

In her honor, here is a ravishing song by Rebecca Clarke, "June Twilight," a setting of a poem by John Maesfield.

May 31

"Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset--earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow'd earth--rich apple-blossom'd earth!
Smile, for your lover comes."

For yes, today is Walt Whitman's birthday. Perhaps this setting--by George Crumb, from Apparitions--is somber for such a celebration. But I like to imagine that Whitman, a man of both sorrows and joys, would appreciate it all the same.

May 30

Well, I was going to post a song about being tired for today's Song of the Day--because I am--and then Britten's "Tell Me the Truth About Love" popped into my head... and here I am, smiling!

So hopefully it also lifts you out of any doldrum!

May 29

Memorial day is a somber occasion for many, and it has brought to my mind the veterans in my family and the fragility of peace. In that vein, here is a recording of Régine Crespin performing Poulenc's Deux Poèmes de Louise Aragon, "C" and "Fêtes Galantes," in this live 1969 recording with pianist Enrique Ricci.

May 28

The Fall Island Vocal Arts Seminar is an incredibly nurturing yet rigorous home for American Art Song, led by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and pianist and composer Alan Smith at the campus of the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. As today's Song of the Day, we are so pleased to share this recital featuring the 2017 participants.

May 26

Happy birthday, Ernst Bacon! Bacon (1898-1990) was an American composer who contributed much to Art Song in this country, though his pieces receive an inadequate amount of air time today, I think.

Bacon set many of Emily Dickinson's poems, including poems often overlooked by other composers (such as her "It sifts from Leaden Sieves," entitled "Alabaster Wool" by Bacon). Though piece shared below isn't a perfect recording, it is enough to give you a sense of Bacon's inventive voice and sensitive text setting.

If you are curious about Bacon's work, make sure you check out the Ernst Bacon Society website.

May 23

Happy birthday, Jean Françaix! Françaix, who lived from 1912-1997, wrote the cycle L'adolescence clémentine relatively early on in his career, in 1941. I think these five settings of Renaissance French poet Clément Marot (1496-1544) perfectly capture Françaix's lyricism and sense of humor.

May 22

Happy birthday, Richard Wagner! In celebration, here is Christa Ludwig performing the orchestrated Wesendonck Lieder with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, conducted by Otto Klemperer, in 1962.

May 21

Happy birthday, Alexander Pope! He may be most famous for his translations of Homer, but his work shows up on occasion in vocal music too--including (in German translation) in Schubert's "Lebensfunke, vom Himmel entglüht," D. 59. This famous text is best known in its original language:

The dying Christian to his Soul

Vital spark of heav'nly flame:
Quit, oh quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, ling'ring, flying,
Oh the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

Hark! they whisper; Angels say,
Sister Spirit, come away.
What is this absorbs me quite?
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my Soul, can this be Death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav'n opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy Victory?
O Death! where is thy Sting?

Performed here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.

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

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