Programs Notes with Elizabeth Morrison
Welcome to Up Next, program notes for ECMS’s next concert. Prepare for the concert at Live&Local, talks by Elizabeth Morrison before each concert. The talk for this concert will be held on Zoom, Monday May 8, 6 PM - 7:30 PM, through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Cal Poly Humboldt. The artists, Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Ryan McCullough, will be joining Elizabeth for this edition of Live&Local.
The Live&Local meeting for the concerts featuring Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Ryan McCullough will take place on Zoom, Monday May 8, from 6 PM to 7:30 PM.
Sign up at
https://extended.humboldt.edu/olli/courses/special-interest-groups/special-interest-group-live-and-local for the Zoom link and an email reminder.
Lucy Fitz Gibbon &
May 13, 2023 | 7:30 pm
Calvary Lutheran Church, Eureka
Concert + Conversation
May 14, 2023 | 3:00 pm
Lutheran Church of Arcata
May 13 + 14, 2023
Program for Mainstage Performance
7:30 pm May 13th, 2023
Calvary Lutheran Church, Eureka
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Ständchen (1886) 3 minutes
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Sechs Lieder Op. 13 (1843) 15 minutes
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Romance in g, Op. 21 no. 3 (1853) piano, 5 minutes
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Five songs from Wilhelm Meister (1849)15 minutes
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Morgen! (1894) 4 minutes
Adela Maddison (1862-1929)
Cinq mélodies sur des poèms d’Edmond Haraucourt (1904) 15 minutes
William Grant Still (1895-1978)
Three Visions (1935) piano, 10 minutes
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913) 9 minutes
Sheila Silver (b. 1946)
Laila’s aria from A Thousand Splendid Suns (2021) 5 minutes
An unusual concert!
Our fifth and final concert of the season brings us the renowned wife-and-husband duo of Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Ryan McCullough in a much-anticipated evening of art songs, plus two pieces for solo piano. They have chosen works from seven composers– a diverse group, but also one with much in common: Richard Strauss, Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, William Grant Still, Adela Maddison, Claude Debussy, and Sheila Silver. All but one, Ms Silver, were born in the 19th century. Robert Schumann first, in 1810, followed by his wife Clara Wieck Schumann in 1819. Then we skip ahead 40-plus years to Debussy, Adela Maddison, and Richard Strauss, all born in the 1860s. Next come two Americans, William Grant Still, in 1895, and Sheila Silver, in 1946. Some of the names are familiar. We certainly know the Schumanns, Debussy and Strauss. William Grant Still is perhaps a little less familiar, but hardly unknown. The women, Adela Maddison and Sheila Silver, are probably new. What’s unfamiliar is the repertoire. So, before we go through the program, let’s take a look at the art song concert itself.
An art song is a setting of a poem, almost always for voice and piano; it is more literary than a folk song, more private than an opera aria. In a sense it is a product of the Industrial Revolution. A new middle class had come into being with the means to have music in their homes, but without the wealth needed to maintain court musicians, like the aristocracy. Enter the piano. The ability to play piano, especially for women, became a status symbol showing one had arrived. You might recall Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice gently satirizing Lady Catherine de Bourg, who remarked that, while she had not actually studied piano, “if I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”
Art songs, called Lieder, began in Germany, initially in homes or cafes, where people gathered around the piano to sing. They continued to evolve throughout the nineteenth century, and increasingly became a concert genre. The first art songs on the program are German, but French composers wrote many of what are called mélodie; we will hear three from Debussy and five from Adela Maddison; she is English, but these songs are French. Women composers were especially drawn to the art song, perhaps because of its roots in the home. Art songs were and are written in English as well; note for example the partnership between Langston Hughes and Florence Price, both figures in the Chicago Renaissance. Price made settings of several of Hughes’ poems, including “Song to the Dark Virgin,” which were sung by great Black singers like Leontyne Price and Marian Anderson.
Art songs are chamber music, but today we are far less likely to hear them on a chamber music series. What a pity! Barbara Meister, in her An Introduction to the Art Song, wrote that these concerts have “a degree of intimacy seldom equaled in other kinds of music,” and require that the two performers "communicate to the audience the most subtle and evanescent emotions as expressed in the poem and music.” The Art Song Preservation Society of New York, among many others, is working to insure that the tradition remains lively. Our thanks to Lucy and Ryan for devoting their talents to the art song and for bringing us this wonderful, varied concert.
Because the art song repertoire is less familiar to most of us than our usual fare of string and piano music, I have included links to various performances. Lucy Fitz Gibbon has kindly provided translations for the songs she and Ryan McCullough will present (jump to Lucy’s translations here.) If you’re reading these notes before the concert, consider using the links and translations to preview the songs. You are also warmly invited to join Live&Local on May 8, 6-7:30 PM, to hear Lucy and Ryan talk about their program.
Richard Strauss, Ständchen (Serenade) (1886)
The concert opens with Ständchen, or Serenade, by Richard Strauss. Ständchen is the work of a young man; when Strauss set the poem by Adolf Friedrich von Schack he was just twenty-two. It is one of his most popular songs. We know Strauss mainly as a late-Romantic composer of tone poems and operas, but he was a prolific composer of Lieder and often wrote them with the voice of his wife, Paulina de Ahna, in mind. (Not Ständchen, though–he did not meet Paulina until the following year.) It is a true serenade–a song for the evening– where the singer, with an octave call, invites a lover to come out into the radiant moonlight of the garden, where “only love is awake.” The piano part is mostly as gossamer as moonlight itself, but wait until you hear the harmony darken in the third verse. The passion will take your breath away.
This recording is by soprano Kathleen Battle and pianist Warren Jones.
Clara Schumann, Sechs Lieder (1843)
After this beautiful opening, we will be treated to music by the Schumanns, Clara and then Robert. Clara’s songs, published in 1843, were mostly written during the first year of their marriage in 1840. They are love songs to her husband, so we are justified in thinking about the Schumanns’ marriage, which, in addition to being a passionate love match, was a close musical partnership. Clara met Robert when she was nine, and it seems that until she met Brahms, years later, she never looked at another man. The couple had won the right to marry after a contentious court case with her father, Friedrich Wieck. Famously, Wieck demanded how Robert planned to support his daughter, to which Robert retorted that of course Clara was going to support him, just as she had been supporting Friedrich (possibly this was the root of his opposition.) The marriage, when Clara was 21 and Robert 30, brought them two children in the first three years, and also brought a musical flowering to them both.
Neither Robert nor Clara was much of a talker; Clara herself did not speak until she was four. But both were fluent writers, and one way they communicated was through a joint “marriage diary.” It’s at least possible that they also communicated through their songs. Clara’s songs set poems by three different poets: two by Heinrich Heine, three by Emanuel Giebel, and one by Friedrich Rückert. For a newly married woman, they have a surprisingly melancholy cast. The first, “I stood in dark dreams,” shows a lover in tears before a portrait of her lost love. The second, “They loved each other,” is about lovers who can’t, or won’t, confess their love to the other. The third, “Love’s magic,” sounds more promising, but by the end we know that everything since that one magic moment has been but an echo. The fourth, “The moon rises silently,” shows a lover silently looking from the outside at the bright window of the beloved. Clara was young, and as happy as she would ever be, and the fifth and sixth songs express deep, loving feelings. But we can’t help a sigh for the life that lay ahead for this brave, talented woman.
This link will take you to a recording by soprano Anne Wright and pianist Kate Stevens.
Clara Schumann, Romance in g, Op. 21 no. 3, (1853) piano
The three Romances of Clara’s Opus 21, written ten years after her Six Songs, came at a much more difficult time of her life. She was kept from seeing Robert following his suicide attempt the year before and his self-admittance to a mental asylum where he remained until his death in 1856. The marking for the third Romance is Agitato. Another deep sigh.
Here are all three Romances, played by Ilja Scheps.
Robert Schumann, Lieder und Gesang aus Wilhelm Meister (1849)
Clara’s husband, the great early Romantic composer Robert Schumann, is known today mainly for his orchestral and piano music, but he was a prolific composer of Lieder. His output is especially striking when you consider that until the year 1840, the year of his marriage to Clara, he had not composed a single song. Moreover he had always, as he wrote in the musical journal Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, “rated vocal writing below instrumental music and never thought of it as great art.” This from a composer who eventually wrote 246 solo songs, including at least 130 in 1840, which is known as his Liederjahr, or “year of song.”
The five songs we will hear were written in 1849, almost a decade after Clara began her Sechs lieder. They are selections from Schumann’s settings of nine poems from the novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, by the German poet, novelist, scientist and stateman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Are you wondering, as I was, how poetry comes from a novel? It turns out that three characters in Goethe’s novel write poetry, and it is their poems which Schumann, and many others, set to music. The first song in particular, Kennst du das Land, has been set many times, including settings by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf; it also appears in several operas, including Mark Adamo’s Little Women. The poem comes from a character in the novel named Mignon, and four of our five songs are her poetry. Mignon is a young waif, born in Italy and kidnapped as a child by a troupe of acrobats, from whom Wilhem Meister, the novel’s eponymous hero, buys her freedom. I say “her,” but her pronoun is not clear; the German uses both masculine, feminine, and even neuter pronouns. Today Mignon might be called gender-fluid; she is a mysterious, troubled figure whose early death is a central event in the story. Schumann’s settings follow the arc of Mignon’s story, from yearning for her home, to awareness of her solitude, to what seems to be acceptance of her death. In the middle of Mignon’s four songs Lucy and Ryan will bring us one poem by another character in the novel, a flirtatious actress named Philene. Her charm can be felt in a lovely song about the delights of the night. “Sing not with sad tones of the loneliness of night,” she tells us. “No, it is, o lovely beauties, made for socializing!” Schumann’s setting, with irregular rhythms suggesting a dance, or a spontaneous expression of joy, contrasts beautifully to Mignon's depths of emotion.
This link is to Kennst du das Land, by soprano Edith Mathis and pianist Christoph Eschenbach.
This link is to Philene’s song, Singet nicht in Trauertönen, by soprano Diana Damrau and pianist Helmut Deutch.
Richard Strauss, Morgen!, Op. 27 (1894)
Strauss wrote the set of four songs that make up Opus 27 in 1894, to poems by John Henry Mackay, a German poet of Scottish descent, as a wedding present to his wife, the singer Paulina de Ahna. Like Ständchen, Morgen (Morning) is one of his most popular songs. He wrote it originally for piano and voice, then added violin, and later created a version for orchestra with violin solo.
We will hear the original version, but this link will take you to the orchestral version, with Renée Fleming and the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Adela Maddison, Cinq mélodies sur des poèms d’Edmond Haraucourt (Five songs on poems by Edmond Haraucourt) (1904)
After intermission we leave Germany, the home of Lieder, to hear art songs from England, France and America. Our first composer is Adela Maddison, an Englishwoman whose life spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and who lived in London, Paris, Berlin, and finally again in England. She was a prolific composer of operas, ballet and chamber music and a student and friend of Gabriel Fauré. Most of her work has been lost–unfortunately not an unusual occurrence for women composers. Lucy has noted that she found Maddison’s name in a footnote, and she is obscure indeed; she does not even appear in The Norton Grove Dictionary of Women Composers, with its 875 entries just through 1955. The five songs we will hear were written in 1904, during her time in Paris, to poems by the French poet and novelist Edmond Haraucourt. I was able to listen only to a portion of Vespérale, the second song on our program, sung by Lucy and available on Facebook. The link is below. It is a beautiful song about a lover, described as a pilgrim, walking in a violet evening. However there are several YouTube recordings of Maddison’s piano quintet, and the sheet music is available on IMSLP, so perhaps her star is rising.
William Grant Still, Three Visions (piano) (1935)
As Lucy wrote in her notes, to list the accomplishments of William Grant Still would take longer than the concert. He was the first African-American to conduct a major orchestra, and the first to have a work performed by one. (Florence Price was not far behind.) We know Still for his large scale works, especially his Symphony #1, the Afro-American, which until 1955 was the most widely-performed symphonic work by an American composer. It is rumored that the Eureka Symphony will play his Symphony No. 2, Song of a New Race, in the 2023-24 season. Ryan has chosen to play one of Still’s most individual pieces. Written for his wife, pianist Verna Arvey, Three Visions employs brilliantly idiomatic writing to convey a transcendental spiritual message. There are three movements, called Dark Horsemen, Summerland, and Radiant Pinnacle. Judith Anne Still, the composer’s daughter, wrote that "the three segments of the suite… tell the story of the human soul after death: the body expires, and the soul goes on to an apocalyptic judgment. If it is seen that the past life has been a good one, the soul may enter ‘heaven,’ or Summerland. After a period of time, the soul may reincarnate to learn additional earthly lessons on the human plane. Some souls reincarnate many times in a constant circular progress toward Godly perfection.” This is fascinating stuff. You will hear the galloping horseman, presumably death, in the first movement, and also perhaps the anguished sounds of the dying soul. “Summerland” is a wonderful name for heaven, and it sounds like a place I wouldn’t mind going. The last movement is full of rhythmic flow, and the ending, a deceptive cadence, leaves you wondering if earthly lessons ever end.
This link is to Summerland, played by the Singapore Wind Symphony.
Claude Debussy, Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913)
Yes, like every composer we know, Debussy wrote art songs, melodies, throughout his career, choosing poems by many French poets and writing some himself. These three songs are late, nearly the last he wrote. He and his respected rival Maurice Ravel both set three poems by Mallarmé, and the back story is interesting. Debussy was already associated with Mallarmé; his tone poem, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was inspired by one of Mallarmé’s poems. Ravel also had a predilection for Mallarmé, and in 1913, when a complete edition of his poetry was published, Ravel obtained the rights to set them to music. Debussy is said to have been furious, but apparently he went ahead and set them anyway. The first two poems, Soupir (Sigh) and Placet futile (Futile Petition) were set by both composers; they chose different poems to complete their sets, Debussy choosing Éventail (Fan) and Ravel a poem called Surgi (Arose.) Debussy’s settings are art songs; Ravel’s settings include a string quartet, two flutes and two clarinets, and are dedicated to Stravinsky. The poems are gorgeous; I can understand why Ravel opined in the New York Times that he “considers Mallarmé not only as the greatest French poet, but also as the "only" one, since he has made the French language poetic, which was not intended for poetry.” It may be the first time I have seen a lover’s freckles (taches de rousseur) mentioned in a love poem, or found the poet explaining to a Princess that he is not “your fluffy bichon.” Brava to Lucy for her excellent translations!
Here is Debussy’s setting, with soprano Sandrine Piau and pianist Jos van Immerseel
Sheila Silver, Laila’s aria from A Thousand Splendid Suns (2021)
The final piece on the program is an aria from a very recent opera. A Thousand Splendid Suns, which Silver composed with her long-time collaborator, librettist Stephen Kitsakos, was produced by the Seattle Opera in February of 2023. Sheila Silver is an American composer who, unlike Adela Maddison, actually is in my Norton Anthology of Women Composers. Her compositions have both tonal and atonal elements; she has also found inspiration in non-Western traditions such as Hebraic chant and Sikh prayer mantras. For her opera, she traveled multiple times to India to study Hindustani music. I haven’t seen the opera, but the book tells the story of two Afghani women, both of whom struggle with abuse and gender-based violence. The aria we will hear, though, is a beautiful expression of Laila’s love for Tariq, her lover and father of her child, whom she believes dead for most of the story. We are lucky enough to have a video (here) of Lucy and Ryan performing the aria, along with Brian Bak on violin. The performance will be a thrilling end to a fascinating concert.
Program for Concert + Conversation
3:00 pm May 14, 2023
Lutheran Church of Arcata
Selections from Tseyn Peretz Kinderlieder by Moses Milner
Selections from Resilient Earth by Sheila Silver
Surfing the Thin Places by Alan L. Smith
From Ten Poems of Y. L. Peretz Moses Milner
I. Cradle Song / װיגליד
II. Quiet, Little Cat! / שטיל, קעצעלע
III. A Good Night / אַ גוטע נאַכט
From Resilient Earth Sheila Silver
II. Stars, Sun, Moon
III. Big Ag, Small Farmer
Surfing the Thin Places Alan Louis Smith
I. Surfing the Thin Places
II. Morning Glories
III. Gratitude (There are no words...)
IV. To Tell a Life in a Line of Verse
V. Joy! Welcome-home Joy! (or "What We Like to Hear When We Return Home”)