Intrigues in the salon, the kitchen, the nursery, and the bedroom! Let five emerging artists take you through a mini song cycle for every room in the house, with music by Saint-Saëns, Bernstein, Poulenc, Balfe, Montsalvatge, Bucchino, and many others. Performed on the floor of the Music Room at Caramoor with the audience surrounding the playing area, this concert will bring the listeners close to the singers for a more intimate experience.
Artistic Director Steven Blier selects five promising artists for a week-long residency that includes daily coaching, rehearsals, and workshops, culminating in a performance in the Music Room. Assisted by Michael Barrett, Associate Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), and developed in conjunction with NYFOS, this program focuses on art song interpretation and has a lasting impact on the growth, development, and professional practices of young artists.
Since its inception in 2009, the Schwab Vocal Rising Stars have received vital funding from the Terrance W. Schwab Endowment Fund for Young Vocal Artists. Created in memory of former Caramoor Trustee Terrance W. Schwab by his family, the fund is designed to nurture and support the artistic development and careers of young vocalists.
“…singing, music-making, and communicating as I have never before experienced.”
– Chelsea Morris, soprano, 2015 Schwab Vocal Rising Star
2016 Schwab Vocal Rising Stars:
Liv Redpath, soprano
Abigail Levis, mezzo-soprano
Galeano Salas, tenor
Justin Austin, baritone
William Kelley, piano
With Distinguished Artists:
Steven Blier, Artistic Director, Schwab Vocal Rising Stars, coach, piano, and arrangements
Michael Barrett, coach and piano
Alison Moritz, stage director
Chausson La nuit Haines Cigarette Saint-Saëns El desdichado Massenet Sevillanas Quilter To Daisies Balfe Trust Her Not
Villa-Lobos Food for Thought Bernstein Tavouk Gueunksis Bucchino Painting My Kitchen
Montsalvatge El lagarto está llorando Hahn My Ship and I Milhaud Tais-toi, babillarde
The Dressing Room
Mahoney I Love Me
Poulenc C’est ainsi que tu es Berg Im Zimmer Bacewicz Boli mnie głowa Mascagni Serenata Gurney Sleep
Liv Redpath, soprano
Soprano Liv Redpath is completing her Master of Music at The Juilliard School as a proud recipient of a Kovner Fellowship. Roles previous and upcoming at Juilliard include Thérèse in Les mamelles de Tirésias, Königin der Nacht in Die Zauberflöte, Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro, and Diane inIphigénie en Aulide with Met + Juilliard. This summer she will sing Echo in Ariadne on Naxos with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Héro in Béatrice et Bénédict with Aspen Opera Theater Center. Prior to her time at Juilliard, Ms. Redpath completed her studies in English at Harvard College, where she received the Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts upon graduation. During her time in Boston she sang Cunégonde in Candide, Tytania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Adele in Die Fledermaus, La Fée in Cendrillon, Belinda in Dido and Aeneas, and the title role in Lakmé.
Ms. Redpath is equally enthusiastic about concert repertoire and chamber music, and pursues a large variety. This year, she worked with Barbara Hannigan on Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2 for Juilliard’s Chamberfest and performed Babbitt’s Philomel for the Focus! Festival. Ms. Redpath had her Carnegie Hall debut in Poulenc’s Gloria and returned to Carnegie this past December for her first Messiah. With Juilliard415 she has sung the Angelo in Handel’s La resurrezione under William Christie, and with the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra Ms. Redpath has worked with George Benjamin on his A Mind of Winter. Starting her fall off with a bang, Ms. Redpath was honored to perform a traditional Chinese song for Mme Peng Liyuan, the first lady of China, at The Juilliard School’s unveiling of their plans for a campus in China.
Abigail Levis, mezzo-soprano
Named “Debut Artist of the Year” by the Joy in Singing Foundation, lyric mezzo-soprano Abigail Levis is emerging as one of the most exciting young singers of today. The Washington Post described her portrayal of Cherubino “outstanding” in Wolf Trap Opera’s productions of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. The Boston Musical Intelligencer praised her for her “dramatic style” and “high level of technical ability” in her performance in Israel in Egypt with the Handel and Haydn Society in Symphony Hall. She is a first year Domingo-Colburn-Stein Artists with Los Angeles Opera and – as a result of winning the prestigious Opera Foundation Competition – will join the roster of the Deutsche Oper Berlin next fall.
As a professional singer, Ms. Levis has also appeared as a soloist with the Flint Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Symphonie Atlantique, American Symphony Orchestra, Utah Opera/Symphony, Hubbard Hall Opera, The Crested Butte Music Festival, and Ars Lyrica Houston. She is also the winner of several competitions, including the 2012 Joy in Singing Competition, the 2013 New York Oratorio Society Competition (2nd place), the 2013 Classical Singer Competition, the 2014 Luis Mariano Song Competition (2nd place), and the 2014 William C. Byrd Concerto Competition.
A native of Portland, Maine, Ms. Levis holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music, the University of Houston, and Bard College where she studied with Edith Bers and Dawn Upshaw. She is a recent graduate of the Utah Opera Resident Artist program.
Galeano Salas, tenor
Praised for his romantic Italianate sound, Mexican American tenor Galeano Salas is quickly establishing himself as one of the leading young tenors of his generation. On the brink of an exciting international career, Mr. Salas recently returned from his first European concert tour after winning First Prize in the XIVth Altamura/Caruso International Voice Competition.
With a packed 2015-2016 season, Galeano will make his company debuts with Annapolis Opera, El Paso Opera, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, and the New York Festival of Song. At the Academy of Vocal Arts, he’ll be singing the title role in Massenet’s Werther, Avito in Montemezzi’s L’amore de tre Re and Rinuccio in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. This summer, Galeano will return to Santa Fe Opera as a second year apprentice artist to perform the role of Italian Singer in R. Strauss’ Capriccio.
Earlier this year, Galeano performed Borsa in Verdi’s Rigoletto with the Santa Fe Opera and Rodolfo in La bohème with the Academy of Vocal Arts. He also participated and won first-place prizes in the Young Texas Artists Music Competition, the American Prize Competition, and the Five Towns Music and Arts Foundation Competition. This years’ Oratorio works included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the Mozart Requiem, and Handel’s Messiah.
Hailing from Houston, Mr. Salas earned his bachelor of music degree from the University of Houston where he was a student of Hector Vasquez. He received his Master’s degree in opera performance from Yale University and is currently in his third year pursuing an Artist Diploma at the Academy of Vocal Arts. He is currently a student of William Stone.
Justin Austin, baritone
Praised in Opera News as “a gentle actor and elegant musician”, baritone Justin Austin has been performing professionally since age 4. Born in Stuttgart, Germany to professional opera singer parents, Mr. Austin began his singing career as a boy soprano performing at venues such as Teatro Real, Bregenzer Festspiele, Avery Fisher Hall, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Today, Mr. Austin is welcomed this season by the Caramoor Center for Music and the arts as a 2016 Schwab Vocal Rising Star and will make his Opera Theatre of St. Louis debut as Payraleyl in the world premiere of Shalimar the Clown by Jack Perla & Rajiv Joseph.
Mr. Austin has most recently been seen as The Chief in the film adaptation of Odeline Martinez’s Imoinda, directed by Hope Clark and produced by The National Opera Center, and as Jake in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at Landestheater Linz in Linz, Austria and at Grand Théâtre de Genève in Geneva, Switzerland. Mr. Austin has previously performed the roles of Sabari in Cavalli’s La Doriclea, Giuseppe in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, Etienne in Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, and as the baritone soloist in Handel’s Messiah, Schubert’s Mass No. 2, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Theodore Dubois’ Seven Last Words of Christ, Hayden’s Die Schöpfung, Monteverdi’s Vespers, Bach’s Matthäuspassion, and Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requem.
Mr. Austin’s prizewinning competitions include the Benjamin Mathews Vocal Competition, Leontyne Price Vocal Arts Competition for Emerging Artists, The Brooklyn Ecumenical Scholarship Competition, both the classical and contemporary divisions of the NAACP Act-So State Competition, and National Act-So Competition representing New York City. Justin is a proud graduate of The Choir Academy of Harlem, Laguardia Arts, and The Manhattan School of Music holding a Bachelor of Music Degree. Mr. Austin is currently a candidate for the Master of Music Degree as a full scholarship student under the mentorship of Catherine Malfitano.
William Kelley, piano
American pianist and conductor William Kelley [b. 1992] is a versatile artist who collaborates frequently with vocalists and instrumentalists in a wide array of projects including recitals, opera, chamber music, theater, and orchestral concerts. He has performed for audiences across the United States and Europe in cities including New York, Berlin, Salzburg, Düsseldorf, Dublin, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.
Recent performances include Schubert’s Winterreise with baritone, Christopher Herbert on Trinity Wall Street’s Twelfth Night Festival, a production of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges at The Juilliard School, and a live streamed masterclass with Joyce DiDonato.
During the 2014-2015 season, William made his Lincoln Center debut with a recital in Alice Tully Hall alongside baritone, Theo Hoffman, which included the New York premiere of Jonathan Dove’s song set, Three Tennyson Songs . Other highlights included an appearance in the Juilliard Focus! Festival featuring works of contemporary Japanese composers, Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin on the ART DE L’AUTRE concert series in Berlin, Germany, a performance on the Wednesdays at One concert series from Alice Tully Hall, a live streamed master class with Gerald Finley at Juilliard, and a theater-piece in collaboration with the Royal Irish Academy of Music entitled Ten Thousand Miles Away at The Lir Academy in Dublin, Ireland.
William is the founder of the North State Chamber Orchestra and served as its music director and conductor from 2012 until 2014. He also served as assistant conductor for a production of Le nozze di Figaro with UNCG Opera and was a guest conductor on the 2014 17 Days Festival in Greensboro, NC. He has worked as a coach for UNCG/Greensboro Opera and the opera studio at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf, Germany.
As a collaborator and soloist, William has performed in master classes with artists including Marilyn Horne, Frederica von Stade, Martin Katz, Malcolm Martineau, Robert Levin, Bruce Brubaker, and Gerald Schwartz. He has spent summers at the Music Academy of the West, the Atlantic Music Festival, and the Universität Mozarteum Sommerakadamie where he was a prizewinner in the 2014 Richard Strauss Wettbewerb.
William is a current graduate student at The Juilliard School where he studies with Jonathan Feldman, Margo Garrett, and Brian Zeger.
Steven Blier, Artistic Director of Schwab Vocal Rising Stars, coach, piano, arrangements
Steven Blier is the Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), which he co-founded in 1988 with Michael Barrett. Since the Festival’s inception, he has programmed, performed, translated, and annotated more than 140 vocal recitals with repertoire spanning the entire range of American song, art song from Schubert to Szymanowski, and popular song from early vaudeville to Lennon-McCartney. NYFOS has also made in-depth explorations of music from Spain, Latin America, Scandinavia, and Russia. New York Magazine gave NYFOS its award for Best Classical Programming, while Opera News proclaimed Blier “the coolest dude in town.”
Mr. Blier enjoys an eminent career as an accompanist and vocal coach. His recital partners have included Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Samuel Ramey, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Susan Graham, Jessye Norman, and José van Dam, in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to La Scala. He is also on the faculty of The Juilliard School and has been active in encouraging young recitalists at summer programs, including the Wolf Trap Opera Company, Santa Fe Opera, and the San Francisco Opera Center. Many of his former students, including Stephanie Blythe, Joseph Kaiser, Sasha Cooke, Paul Appleby, Dina Kuznetsova, Corinne Winters, and Kate Lindsey, have gone on to be valued recital colleagues and sought-after stars on the opera and concert stage.
In keeping the traditions of American music alive, he has brought back to the stage many of the rarely heard songs of George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill, and Cole Porter. He has also played ragtime, blues, and stride piano evenings with John Musto. A champion of American art song, he has premiered works of John Corigliano, Paul Moravec, Ned Rorem, William Bolcom, Mark Adamo, John Musto, Richard Danielpour, Tobias Picker, Robert Beaser, Lowell Liebermann, Harold Meltzer, and Lee Hoiby, many of which were commissioned by NYFOS.
Mr. Blier’s extensive discography includes the premiere recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles (Koch International), which won a Grammy Award; Spanish Love Songs (Bridge Records), recorded live at the Caramoor Music Festival with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Joseph Kaiser, and Michael Barrett; the world premiere recording of Bastianello (John Musto) and Lucrezia(William Bolcom), a double bill of oneact comic operas set to librettos by Mark Campbell; and Quiet Please, an album of jazz standards with vocalist Darius de Haas. His latest release is Canción amorosa, a CD of Spanish songs with soprano Corinne Winters on the GRP label.
His writings on opera have been featured in Opera News and the Yale Review. A native New Yorker, he received a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in English Literature at Yale University, where he studied piano with Alexander Farkas. He completed his musical studies in New York with Martin Isepp and Paul Jacobs.
Michael Barrett, coach and piano
Associate Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), Michael Barrett started NYFOS in 1988 with his friend and colleague Steven Blier. Mr. Barrett was Chief Executive and General Director of the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts from 2003-2012. In 1992, he co-founded the Moab Music Festival with his wife, violist Leslie Tomkins. From 1994 to 1997, he was the Director of the Tisch Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street Y in New York.
A protégé of Leonard Bernstein, Mr. Barrett began his long association with the renowned conductor and composer as a student in 1982. He is currently the Artistic Advisor for the estate of Leonard Bernstein. He has been a guest conductor with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Orchestre National de France, among others. He also has served variously as conductor, producer, and music director of numerous special projects, including dozens of world premieres by Bernstein, Musto, Bolcom, Rorem, and D’Rivera.
Mr. Barrett’s discography includes: Spanish Love Songs, recorded live at Caramoor with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Steven Blier, and Joseph Kaiser; Live from the Moab Music Festival; the Grammy-nominated Evidence of Things Not Seen (New World Records); Aaron Kernis: 100 Greatest Dance Hits (New Albion); On the Town (Deutsche Grammophon); Kaballah (Koch Classics) by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie; Schumann Lieder with Lorraine Hunt and Kurt Ollmann (Koch); andArias and Barcarolles (Koch) by Leonard Bernstein (Grammy Award).
Alison Moritz, stage director
Stage Director Alison Moritz’s 2015-2016 season includes directing productions of Die Zauberflöte for Opera Memphis and the Orlando Philharmonic, assistant directing at Seattle Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and Central City, and guest teaching at the University of Maryland’s Maryland Opera Studio. Along with the design collective The Libertine Committee, Alison was named one of the 2015 winners of the OPERA America Director-Designer Showcase for her team’s concept proposal for Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock (on display at the National Opera Center in NYC through June 2016). Most recently, Alison received the SDCF Kurt Weill Fellowship for 2015-2016, and her future projects include a new production of The Hobbit for Tulsa Opera.
Alison’s previous directing and assistant directing credits include engagements with Minnesota Opera, The Atlanta Opera, Wolf Trap, and Chautauqua Opera. From 2012-2013, Alison served as interim faculty at Eastman School of Music, where she taught acting for opera singers and directed both mainstage operas and scenes programs. She holds a B.A. in Music and Art History from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.M. from Eastman School of Music.
About the Music.
Notes on the program by Steven Blier
For many years I’ve flirted with the idea of a concert about a house, inspired (I now realize) by my many childhood games of Clue. But instead of murder weapons and suspects, each room would be filled with songs. I thought that the songs would have hidden stories to tell, revealing the relationships and secrets of the cast. A few summers ago I got to try out the concept at Wolf Trap and was thrilled to see the surprising way my playlist sprang to life. Having simply chosen music to evoke the different spaces in which we live our daily lives, I found that I’d created a house of intrigues and innocence, desire and narcissism, jealousy and fulfillment. Much of this was due to the brilliance of director Alison Moritz who saw the heat and lightning embedded in the songs. I was eager to revisit this house with her and see where a new cast of singers (and a few alterations to the original program) would take us this time.
The tour starts in the most public room, the salon, where we hear a series of pieces created for such an environment. Much of the song and chamber music we love today was commissioned by nineteenth-century patrons who held private concerts in their homes, especially in Paris. The dedications above the title on the sheet music include a Who’s Who of France’s wealthy, artistically inclined, and upwardly mobile, as well as tributes to leading singers of the day. One comes across names that ring a bell: Saint-Saëns’s “El desdichado” bears the inscription “A Mmes. C. Chamerot et M. Durvernoy, nées Viardot.” These young ladies, of course, were the daughters of the great Spanish-born contralto and composer Pauline Viardot, an intimate friend of Saint-Saëns (also pursued by Gounod, Brahms, Turgenev, Musset, and Berlioz). That accounts for the work’s Iberian rhythm and poetry. The Chausson duet, “La nuit,” was composed for Pauline Roger, a beloved performer and teacher of singing. And the glittery “Sevillana” might well have been dashed off for Massenet’s paramour Sybil Sanderson, whose meteoric rise and fall took her to the heights of the operatic world and the ruin of her fortunes in just twelve years. Massenet adapted the song from the entr’acte to his opera Don César de Bazan, adding coloratura flourishes and a frothy poem to fashion a showpiece for coloratura soprano.
Three English songs also make their way into this salon. “Cigarette,” which I first heard on a famous recording by Benjamin Luxon and André Previn, comes from a 1904 London musical called The Catch of the Season. It was a very popular show, good enough to be re-mounted on Broadway (with a few additional songs by the very young Jerome Kern). But a song about a woman who smokes cigarettes was considered quite risqué at the turn of the last century, and this lovely piece was cut from the New York production.
Nothing evokes the salon more quintessentially than the music of Roger Quilter. The exquisite “To Daisies” was one of his earliest works. It comes from the composer’s only true song cycle, To Julia, which was written for the prominent English tenor Gervase Elwes. The patronage of a famous performer like Elwes helped launch Quilter’s career, and he followed through with an oeuvre of delicate, vocally grateful songs that have become classics, including “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal” and “Love’s Philosophy.”
Today Michael William Balfe is known as the one-hit wonder who wrote the iconic “I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls.” But in his day—the mid-nineteenth century—his operas sent the public into frenzies of excitement. From our vantage point, Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl and The Siege of Rochelle seem like Gilbert and Sullivan operettas as performed by Monty Python. But Balfe knew what he was doing: he was an expert tunesmith, and having begun his life as a successful singer he knew how to write music that flattered the voice. His gift for melody earned him the nickname “The Irish Rossini.” Balfe also wrote over 250 voice-and-piano works—ballads, comic songs, bravura showpieces. The duet “Trust Her Not,” set to a Longfellow poem, falls into the last two of those categories. This charming vaudeville turn has always reminded me of the kind of number Tweedledum and Tweedledee would sing.
Everyone knows that the kitchen is the best place to hang out during a party. It’s not just that you get to grab the food before anyone else. Away from the formality of the drawing room, you also hear the best gossip and the truest confessions. To celebrate the glories of the hearth, we’ve got three American songs. Heitor Villa-Lobos was American? Well, no. The composer of Bachianas Brasileiras was Brazil’s greatest musical emissary of the twentieth century. But the piece we’re hearing tonight was from his 1948 Broadway musical, Magdalena. The piece was written in collaboration with George Forrest and Robert Wright, most famous for the 1953 musical Kismet. In the wake of their triumph in 1944 with The Song of Norway, whose songs were based on the music of Edvard Grieg, Forrest and Wright received a commission for a new piece with a South American theme. They decided to repeat the previous formula, this time using themes by a living composer—Villa-Lobos. The composer accepted their written proposal with enthusiasm. But Villa-Lobos’s English was fairly rudimentary and he had not taken the precise measure of the project. He thought that he had agreed to compose a new musical for Broadway from scratch, not merely to assist in the adaptation of pre-existing themes. “Why use old melodies, when I can write you brand-new ones?” he asked Forrest and Wright. Thrilled with the idea of an original score by Villa-Lobos, they accepted. The resulting musical is a magnificent oddity with some great songs—as well as a book that could use some work. “Food for Thought” is one of its successes, combining the sizzle of Broadway with the heat of the Amazon. It was introduced by Metropolitan Opera mezzo Irra Petina, who went on to create the role of The Old Lady in Bernstein’s Candide.
“Tavouk Gueunksis,” from Leonard Bernstein’s 1947 cycle La bonne cuisine, also has an international provenance: a recipe for a middle-eastern entrée taken from a French cookbook, translated into English by the composer. Bernstein turns this fairly straightforward recipe into a combination savage sabre-dance and exotic misirlou, a perfect vehicle for Russian-born mezzo Jenny Tourel who premiered it.
The sexy confidence of those two songs finds a delicious foil in John Bucchino’s manic, neurotic “Painting My Kitchen.” The song is somewhat autobiographical. In 1992 Bucchino was going through a dry patch creatively. His therapist gave him a prescription in the form of some simple advice: “Go home and write about anything—choose something utterly mundane. Like…write about painting your kitchen.” The result was one of Bucchino’s wittiest and most personal songs, rollicking through many keys and rhythms as it bounces from one idea to the next. It is good to report that Bucchino’s writer’s block is over. This gifted songwriter has supplied material for singers ranging from Liza Minnelli to Deborah Voigt, written a Broadway musical (ACatered Affair), and produced a brand-new solo piano CD called Beatles Reimagined.
Let’s go upstairs and see how the kids are doing.
First up is a gem by Reynaldo Hahn, a musical prodigy who took the salons of Paris by storm when he was a teenager. He composed “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” when he was just thirteen years old, and for once the description “instant classic” is no exaggeration. Hahn went on to create a large repertoire of songs whose sweetness and grace capture the essence of France’s Belle époque. His setting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “My Ship and I” comes from Five Little Songs, a cycle Hahn wrote during the winter of 1915. At the time he was serving as a volunteer private in the First World War. Stevenson’s poem provided Hahn with a welcome retreat into the innocence of childhood, a refuge during one of the roughest moments of the Great War. Jane Bathori, muse to so many French song composers at the beginning of the twentieth century, sang the premiere. Hahn, in turn, was one of Marcel Proust’s muses—a longtime boyfriend and lifelong intimate of the great novelist. Proust is said to have modeled the central character in Remembrance of Things Past on Hahn. “Everything I have ever done has been because of Reynaldo,” wrote Proust.
Catalan-born Xavier Montsalvatge was as committed to his native culture as he was to exploring the larger musical world around him. He was fearless in bucking Francisco Franco’s repressive artistic policy which limited composers to a conservative tonal language. Montsalvatge’s music boldly mixed French, Catalan, Castilian, and Cuban elements, adding in the avant-garde sounds of 12-tone and electronic music. I think of him as the Picasso of music, iconoclastic, far-seeking, and with a similarly long career—sixty-five years. You hear Montsalvatge’s voice clearly in “El lagarto está llorando” from his Canciones para niños, where spiky, dissonant clusters vie with the whole-tone scale under a sweet, playful vocal line—part Catalan charm, part Bartók crunch.
Darius Milhaud wrote his Quatre chansons de Ronsard in 1941, a year after he emigrated from Nazi-occupied France. He had been hired as a visiting professor at Mills College in Oakland, where he continued to teach until 1971. Due to Milhaud’s longtime interest in North and South American jazz, he attracted a surprising roster of students that included Dave Brubeck, Burt Bacharach, and William Bolcom. Milhaud was almost too prolific as a composer, with a huge, uneven output of masterpieces and duds. The Ronsard songs are top-drawer Milhaud. He wrote them for French coloratura star Lili Pons, whose easy, spinning upper register had established her as the reigning high soprano at the Met ten years earlier. The sunny optimism of Milhaud’s music transcends the terrors in France that were threatening the friends and family who had remained behind.
THE DRESSING ROOM
Our fantasy house is spacious enough to include the amenity of a dressing room—that coveted private area where we can either admire ourselves to our heart’s content or stare balefully at our imperfections. Tonight we’ll opt for a moment of pure narcissism with the 1923 specialty number “I Love Me.” It is attributed to the writers Eddie Weber, Jack Hoins, and Will Mahoney. In reality, only the first two of these actually wrote the piece; Mahoney was its first performer. It seems that Jack Hoins was at a party at the Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club one night in 1922, and was amused by the hired singer who was exhibiting a preening self-love onstage. From his table Hoins started writing an ironic song about him and asked his friend Eddie Weber to write a melody line. They sent their new song—just one verse—up to the band, where the singer rolled with the joke and performed it for the crowd. “I Love Me” went over big that night and soon began to make the rounds. Hoins eventually added three more verses for the sheet music. There were many 78s of the piece, Mel Blanc made a famous 45 rpm recording of it in the early 1950s, and Tiny Tim, the eccentric falsetto star of the 70s and 80s, used it as the title cut on one of his LPs.
In the bedroom we finally see the human heart at its most undefended. The lights are low, and we shed our worldly personas as we shed our clothes. What is left? Mostly a longing for love. Such is the case in Poulenc’s “C’est ainsi que tu es,” Berg’s “Im Zimmer,” and Mascagni’s “Serenata.” Each song sums up the essence of its country of origin. Poulenc’s is one of the most languidly sensual pieces of music in the entire repertoire. Louise de Vilmorin wrote the poem at the request of Poulenc’s musical partner Pierre Bernac. The result was a song so beautiful and so intimate that Poulenc counseled future performers to avoid falling into the trap of its allure (“No insipid prettiness”), and to look instead for its gravitas.
The deeply felt, philosophical “Im Zimmer” comes from Berg’s Seven Early Songs, a compendium drawn from his very earliest attempts at composition. Between the ages of 16 and 23, Berg merged his love for music and literature by writing some 150 art songs. He was an untutored amateur, but when Berg (on the encouragement of his brother Charly) submitted some of these songs to Arnold Schoenberg, the elder musician instantly saw the teenager’s tremendous promise and took him on as a student. Berg was 19 and barely knew how to write musical stems in the correct direction. During his four years with Schoenberg, Berg embraced the modern twelve-tone system and relinquished his old-fashioned romanticism. But he was one of the few musicians who could merge his teacher’s intellectual rigor with a rare lyricism in works like Lulu, Wozzeck, and The Lyric Suite. The deeply felt “Im Zimmer” gives us a taste of Berg’s original impulses as a musician. His early death at age 40 precluded his ever returning to tonal music, and I always wonder what beauty he might have created if he’d enjoyed a ripe old age.
While Berg’s song is internal and somewhat imploded, Mascagni’s is the polar opposite—extroverted, exposed, cajoling. In other words, a typical love song for an Italian tenor in heat. Mascagni wrote it five years after his meteoric success with Cavalleria rusticana in 1889, replicating that work’s torrent of melody and emotion. Alas, Mascagni may have peaked with Cavalleria, his first work—nothing else he ever wrote approaches that level of sustained inspiration. And his allegiance to Mussolini did little to enhance his already waning reputation in the 1930s. But at his best, as in this song, he captures the essence of the Italian soul as well as any of his compatriots.
Alas, the bedroom is not always a place of sensual bliss. “Boli mnie głowa” by Grażyna Bacewicz give us an Eastern European reality check—a two-line poem about having a headache. Bacewicz was best known for her instrumental works (she was a famous violinist), but her songs have a psychological acuity transmitted through her light-textured, slightly tart harmonic palette. Bacewicz’s music is like expensive gourmet vinegar, perfect for this pungent, comical kvetch of a song.
Ivor Gurney’s complex, quietly turbulent “Sleep” finally puts out the lights in the bedroom. He wrote it in 1914 at the age of 24, a year before joining the English forces in World War I. Gurney had never enjoyed psychological stability in his early life, and would have been diagnosed (and treated) as bi-polar in our times. The terrors of the battlefield wreaked havoc on his already fragile mental state, and he emerged from the war haunted and profoundly troubled. The gently roiling music of “Sleep” is like a self-portrait of the composer, who often took long walks at night to combat his insomnia and his demons.
Rob Kovitz writes in his book Room Behavior, “The room is not only the universe but also the étui of the private person. To live means to leave traces. The room is the inner, essential trace pattern of the internal lives of people.” The same can be said of songs, whose quiet combustion of words and music take us deep into the essence of our existence. Our house tour, begun with bravado, ends with the desire for contact, the desire for privacy, and the desire for rest—desires soothed and satisfied by song.