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! 

April 29

Today, are you going to a People's Climate March near you? To get you in the spirit, here is a paean to the beauty of our planet: Roberta Alexander performing Samuel Barber's "Sure On This Shining Night," in an orchestral version with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic conducted by Edo de Waart.

April 28

Happy birthday, John Jacob Niles! Niles (1892-1980) was an important American composer, whose interest in folk music bled into the classical world as well. He began collecting the folk songs of his native Appalachia in his late teens and early 20s, after studying some music as a child. After being injured during his WWI service, Niles went on to study music in Paris, finish his studies at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and even sing opera in Chicago upon graduating. His passion for American song not only preserved the folk music of his era, and helped bring about the American folk music revival, but also inspired many classical composers from around the world.

One of Niles' most famous compositions, "I Wonder As I Wander," made its way into Luciano Berio's Folk Songs. Below, hear its dedicatee, Cathy Berberian, singing the orchestral version with Berio conducting:

April 27

Olivier Messiaen passed into another realm on this day in 1992. In his honor, here are Dawn Upshaw and Gil Kalish performing the ecstatic last movement of Messiaen's Chants de terre et de ciel, "Résurrection."

April 26

Happy birthday, Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and Worcester (MA)'s Elm Park--among many, many others!

In his honor, Debussy's "Dans le jardin," composed in the year of Olmstead's death (1903) and performed here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Harmut Höll. This song was written just one year after Pelléas et Mélisande, and listeners may note the close relationship!

April 25

Will we see you tonight at the songSLAM?

To whet your appetite, Charles Ives playing and singing "They Are There!" in this fascinating recording made on April 24, 1943. This is the second version of the song, originally written in 1917, as it was updated to reflect Ives' changing feelings about global conflict.

April 24

Are you as excited as we are about the inaugural songSLAM competition happening tomorrow night??? Well, if you also feel like this, then the answer is yes!

(Leontyne Price singing Dominick Argento's "Winter" from his Six Elizabethan Songs with David Garvey. This 1978 concert at the White House included a set of compositions by her contemporaries: in addition to Argento, Barber, and Rorem, works by Louie White and Howard Swanson. For more on this concert, see this splendid review from the Washington Post.)

April 22

Happy Earth Day! How are you celebrating our planet, our home? What songs are most apt for this occasion?

I'm starting out with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, performed here by René Kollo, Christa Ludwig, and Leonard Bernstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

April 20

Today, Lili Boulanger's "Parfois, je suis triste" from the cycle Clarières dans le ciel, a collection of 13 poems set to texts by Francis Jammes. This delicate recording, capturing the tenacity and fragility of Boulanger herself, is by Heidi Grant Murphy and Kevin Murphy.

April 19

Today, a musing on mortality from Gerald Finzi: "I Look Into My Glass" from Till Earth Outwears, a cycle of songs based on Thomas Hardy texts. John Mark Ainsley and Iain Burnside perform in the setting of the poem below.

 I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!"

For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

April 18

Tax day here in the USA! For the occasion, a (extremely tangentially related) song by Beethoven: "Save me from the grave and wise," from his 12 Irish Folksongs, WoO 154 No.8. Though Beethoven's folksongs don't get much airtime today, he actually composed more folksong settings, in terms of numbers, than anything else! These Irish song settings were facilitated by George Thomson, who in fact called on a number of prominent composers of his day to create such arrangements.

This performance features Ann Murray, Toby Spence, Sir Thomas Allen, Elizabeth Layton, Ursula Smith, and Malcolm Martineau.

April 17

Some days, it's just a good day for "General Booth Enters Into Heaven."

Listen to William Sharp and Steven Blier performing Charles Ives' setting of Vachel Lindsay's poetry about the eponymous founder of the Salvation Army:

April 14

Today, Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten performing Britten's "The Holy Sonnets of John Donne" (1945). This somber cycle of nine songs was written after Britten visited--and performed at--the newly-liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Britten and the violinist Yehudi Menuhin gave concerts for the prisoners there and for others in the area controlled by the British, programming works by Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Bach. Both were forever changed from this experience, and in Britten's case, one result was this dark, probing composition.

April 13

If you, like me, were intrigued by César Franck's "Nocturne" a few days ago, perhaps you will also enjoy his "Roses et papillons." I have to confess that I'm entirely unfamiliar with Franck's vocal writing, despite knowing a few of his chamber works very well. Franck was not a particularly prolific composer to begin with, and only wrote a handful of songs. Still, from this brief introduction, they seem worthy of exploration!

Performed here by soprano Chen Reiss and pianist Charles Spencer.

April 12

Happy birthday, Martin Boykan! Boykan, an American composer and pianist, was born in 1931 and raised New York City. He studied at Harvard and then moved to to Switzerland to study composition with Paul Hindemith, whom he subsequently followed to Yale. As a performer, he had the opportunity to appear with many wonderful musicians including Jan DeGaetani, and (perhaps due to these close associations) as a composer, he has produced many wonderful works for the voice. Below, you can hear the first movement from Epithalamion, "Love Song," performed by James Maddalena, baritone; Nancy Cirillo, violin; and Virginia Crumb, harp.

April 11

Spring has sprung, and though the days are not quite "long in May," the words of the troubadors still bring to mind a song from afar. So, today, Dawn Upshaw performing Kaija Saariaho's Lonh (1996), a setting of Jaufré Rudel's "Laqand li jorn son lonc en mai" (When the days are long in May), for voice and electronics.

April 10

Many musicians gathered at the Concertgebouw on April 2 to celebrate the life and career of pianist and teacher Rudolf Jansen, including soprano Elly Ameling and Deen Larsen, the renowned educator, founder, and director of the Franz-Schubert—Institut. Jansen, in addition to his deep involvement with the Franz-Schubert—Institut and his own solo piano career, has performed and recorded with the leading singers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Elly Ameling, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Peter Schreier, and Brigitte Fassbänder (to name but a few). Larsen gave a wonderful citation of his colleague, which we will share shortly here and on our website, but for now we give you this wonderful recording of Jansen and Elly Ameling performing Cesar Franck's "Nocturne."

April 9

Today, more Wilhelm Killmayer!

Killmayer is most commonly encountered in the United States not through his own compositions, but through his arrangement of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." Killmayer was a student of Orff's, and prepared the 1956 two piano and percussion version of "Carmina Burana," a version of the piece that has considerable popularity today. However, Killmayer is a masterful composer in his own right, and furthermore has written a substantial body of art song. His compositions are a fascinating continuation of the 19th century song, flirting with avant-garde styles more common in Europe, but mostly staying true to his roots in German Lieder.

09. Wilhelm Killmayer - Schweigen und Kindheit (1996) from Uni Mozarteum Salzburg on Vimeo.

April 8

Today, some songs by Wilhelm Killmayer (b. 1927), beginning with "In dunkler Erde ruht der heilige Fremdling," from his Trakl Lieder (1993). The poetry, as one might suppose, is by Georg Trakl (1887-1914), an Austrian composer who died of a cocaine overdose at the age of 27. This performance, by tenor Markus Schäfer and pianist Siegfried Mauser, dates from 2014. It can be hard to track down recordings of and sheet music for Killmayer's songs, but it is a highly worthwhile endeavor!

08. Wilhelm Killmayer - Trakl-Lieder I (1993) from Uni Mozarteum Salzburg on Vimeo.

April 6

Today, the first song from Fauré's "La chanson d'Eve": Paradis. Listen to the way Fauré spins an entire world from the slow revolution of pitches, creating Eve's reality from the thinnest filaments of sound. This performance features Elly Ameling and Dalton Baldwin, in a recording dating from 1974.

April 5

Snow is melting here in Colorado, and the sky's brilliant blue is made even more sparkling by the dripping, glistening white. Hugo Wolf's setting of Eduard Mörike's "Er ist's", sung by the sublime Diana Damrau with pianist Stephan Matthias Lademann, has all the same glinting splendor.

April 4

Tonight, writing from Colorado, where I am in rehearsals for a work about birds, another flight of avian fancy: Brahms' "Nachtigall," Op. 97 No. 1, performed live by Victoria de los Angeles and Gerald Moore in August of 1957.

Be sure to read Emily Ezust's translation of Christian Reinhold's poem below:

O nightingale,
your sweet sound
penetrates my marrow and my bones.
No, dear bird, no!
what creates in me such sweet pain,
is not you,
but something else: heavenly, lovely tones
that have long since faded away;
in your song there is merely a soft echo.

April 3

Are you also on Spring Break this week? If you're an itinerant songster hitting the road, like me, perhaps you're also in the mood for Vaughan Williams' "Songs of Travel," performed here by Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau.

April 2

Yesterday was--no joke--Sergei Rachmaninoff's birthday! Today, we feature a performance of Сон (Dream) from his Six Romances, Op 3. Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was not a prolific song writer, but his eighty-three works in this genre do make up an important part of his oeuvre--despite the fact that he wrote no more songs after this opus. Rachmaninoff left Russia permanently in 1917, and his songwriting ended then.

P.S. For a joke about Rachmaninoff's April 1 birthday, see this NPR story from last year.

April 1

As your Saturday winds to a close, why don't you relax with this recording of Wolf's Verschwiegene Liebe? I thought it it might be nice to give a little-known singer a chance on this page, finally! After all, I've never seen her name before while browsing the classical records in my local shop, so she must be new to the scene.

March 30

A nightcap after tonight's premiere of "Mortality Mansions": George Crumb's "Night" from his Three Early Songs, performed here by Jan DeGetani and Gil Kalish.

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

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