The American Women Composers
Through the ages, they have played recitals, studied in conservatories, written symphonies, concerti, chamber music, operas and piano works. Their music has been performed and recorded by the world's most prestigious orchestras, chamber ensembles, vocalists and instrumentalists. Although frequently neglected, art songs have consistently appeared in the output of women composers.
From the parlor songs of Amy Beach to the jazzy accompaniments and lush tunes of Margaret Bonds, American and African American women have created well-written and interesting compositions and made exciting contributions to the art song repertoire.
This CD Ah! Love, but a Day is a compendium of these unsung (and in some instances unpublished) art songs. Some are romantic and rapturous, others folksy and frilly, yet all are replete with charm and dignity and worthy to be heard.
As performers, it is our hope that this recording of these unsung women will not only delight and enlighten the listener, but act as a catalyst for other musicians to discover, and program the songs and duets of American and African American women.
Dr. Jay A. Pierson
Dr. Louise Toppin
The Composers and Their Songs
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the interest of music by women composers. Recordings devoted to the music of a single composer or a group of composers have followed. Ah! Love, but a Day is a compilation of art songs and spiritual arrangements by twelve American women composers. To say that this recording is a veritable treasure-trove of American song is an understatement. The music here spans the entire twentieth century and the styles represented are as eclectic as the composers themselves. Their music, collectively, shows a depth of writing that is both intellectually convincing and musically satisfying. Although some of the composers will be familiar to listeners, many will not as the music has yet to be recorded or published.
The music on this recording is expertly performed by soprano Louise Toppin, baritone Jay Pierson, and pianist John O'Brien. It is, indeed, unusual for a CD of this type to be at such a uniformly high quality in terms of both the musical compositions and performances. Ah! Love, but a Day is as much a celebration of American music in the twentieth century as it is a testimony of the artistic achievements of these women composers. It is the product of meticulous research by these performers whose artistic talents will surely set a standard for years to come.
Gladys Rich's American Lullaby, is a beautiful strophic song, simple in style. Rich (1892-1972) is a graduate of the University of Utah and New York University. She was Music Director of State Teachers College in Clarion, PA, 1933-1935.
Clara Edwards (1887-1974), a composer, pianist, and singer who studied in Vienna, returned to the U.S. in 1914, to pursue an active career as a performer. A member of ASCAP since 1925, she wrote over 50 songs. Edwards is represented by two songs, both characteristic of her writing styles. O'Jim (John Van Brakle) blends the art song style with the familiar parlor ballad. Into the Night (words by the composer) is more classically oriented. Its gentle chromaticism and perfect wedding of text and music betrays the influence of Schubert's lieder. The poignant lyricism of the vocal line is masterfully conveyed in this performance.
Libby Larsen is among the best known composers on this recording. In 1973 Larsen founded the Minnesota Composers Forum in Minneapolis and in 1983 she was the Minnesota Orchestra's Composer-in-Residence. Her Three Cowboy Songs: Bucking Bronco (Belle Star), Lift Me Into Heaven Slowly (Robert Creeley), and Billy the Kid (anonymous) convey Larsen's penchant for writing lyrical passages in songs colored with atonal digressions.
When the Dramatic Overture, Op. 12, of Margaret Ruthven Lang (1867-1972) was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1893, she became the first woman composer in the U.S. to have a large-scale work played by a major American orchestra. In the Twilight (words by the composer), is a short, quiet song of some beauty. Her Irish Love Song, written during the dawning of the American nationalist movement in the U.S., like much of her music, unabashedly draws on Irish folk elements.
The selections from the Gwyneth Walker cycle, Though Love Be a Day, is one of the stunning contributions on this CD. Maggie and Mille and Molly and May (e.e. cummings) is a whimsical work about relationships. Still (words by the composer), on the other hand, conveys a depth of passion in life and in music that is controlled, yet at times beautiful in its darkness. The quiet, vocal line and the undulating waves in the accompaniment masterfully compliment the text. Though Love Be a Day was composed by Walker for soprano Kathryn Bennett, her former Oberlin student.
Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) was a concert pianist and composer of considerable repute. Prior to receiving her B.M. and M.M. in piano performance from Northwestern University, she pursued her budding interest in composition with Florence Price and William Dawson. Bonds continued her studies at the Juilliard School of Music. Bonds' song cycle, Songs of the Season, (Langston Hughes) is a compendium of styles embracing the whole of the African American tradition in music. In Young Love in Spring and Winter Moon, Bonds' cultural heritage is subtly evident. The former has sweeping vocal lines and a power that is rhapsodic while the latter song is rather short with static vocal lines. The African American vocal tradition is manifest in Poeme d'Automne and Summer Storm. The Poeme is dark and bluesy, while the virtuosic vocal lines and jazzy rhythms of Summer Storm describe vividly emotional “thunder” and the wonder of being in love.
Amy Beach (1867-1944) was a composer and pianist of considerable renown during her lifetime. Her Gaelic Symphony won critical acclaim when it was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896. At the time of Beach's death, only 3 of her 150 opus numbers remained unpublished, a remarkable accomplishment for any composer. Beach's Ah! Love, but A Day (Robert Browning) is the centerpiece of this CD and is the only duet on the recording. It is one of Beach's strongest songs with a well-crafted vocal line and colorful accompaniment.
Undine Smith Moore (1905-1988) was educated at the nation's most prestigious music schools including Fisk University, Columbia University, Juilliard School of Music, and the Manhattan and Eastman Schools of Music. She had a forty-five year teaching career at Virginia State College where she taught, among others, jazz pianist Billy Taylor. She wrote in a variety of forms but she was best known for her choral compositions. Her cantata Scenes from the Life of a Martyr was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has been performed by major orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Moore is represented here by three spirituals and an art song. The hymn-like To Be Baptized is written in the manner of a Harry T. Burleigh spiritual arrangement, that is, the accompaniment is simple enough to allow for concentration of the delivery of the text. The angular Set Down (composed for and premiered by Cassandra Carter, soprano/Louise Toppin, piano) and Come Down Angels, are challenging both vocally and pianistically. I Want to Die While You Love Me (Georgia Douglas Johnson), is a hidden treasure among Moore's unpublished art songs.
Florence Price (1887-1953) was the first African American woman composer to win widespread recognition. She wrote some 300 compositions including four symphonies and other orchestral music, over one hundred art songs and arrangements of spirituals, piano and organ music, choral music, and instrumental chamber music. Her Symphony in E Minor premiered by the Chicago Symphony in 1933 was the first orchestral work by an African American woman composer to be played by a major American orchestra. Sympathy (Paul Laurence Dunbar), The Glory of the Day Was in Her Face (James Weldon Johnson), and Hold Fast to Dreams (Langston Hughes) were all written during the Harlem Renaissance years although no overt African American musical elements are present. These three songs are evidence of Price's unsurpassed gift, during the 1930s, to unite words and music.
Jacqueline Hairston is an Oakland and San Francisco-based pianist and ASCAP composer and arranger. As a music educator and performer/clinician, she teaches and provides music workshops for churches and groups nationwide. The austere, Guide My Feet, which begins unaccompanied, is one of Hairston's many spiritual arrangements.
Margaret Bonds' The Pasture (Robert Frost) is an undiscovered gem in its compositional craftsmanship. The spiritual setting of Little David may be known to many listeners. It is full of text painting at the most descriptive level. The piano accompaniment uses harp-like figures throughout while the vocal line dances in counter-rhythms in the coloratura register.
Barbara Poulshock, a graduate of the University of Southern California, is Professor of Voice and Opera at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. At the Foot of Yon Mountain and Canaan are from a collection of six folk songs arranged by the composer. These songs are typical of those which emerged during the great revival camp meetings of the nineteenth century.
Betty Jackson King (1928-1994) was active as a teacher, composer, choral conductor, clinician, and lecturer in churches and universities. King's music—operas, cantatas, ballet, instrumental and vocal music—was performed nationwide. A more powerful composition than Ride up in the Chariot could not have been chosen to conclude this CD. The quasi gospel feel of the song is testimony to the enduring legacy of the African American spiritual. This arrangement not only provides an opportunity to display virtuosic prowess, but is the culmination of musical fervor evident on this recording.
Dr. Rae Linda Brown
University of California, Irvine
Soprano Louise Toppin, has received critical acclaim for her operatic, orchestral, and oratorio performances in the United States, Czech Republic, Sweden, England and Spain. Among her recent solo appearances with orchestra: the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, Richard Aulden Clark, conductor, the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Czech National Symphony and Malmo Symphony, (Sweden,) Paul Freeman, conducting, the Canton Symphony, The North Carolina Symphony under conductor Gearhart Zimmerman, the Lafayette Symphony, The Bach Aria Group, Phoenix Bach Choir, the Washington DC Bach Consort, The Bronx Symphony, The US Army Continental Band, and The Michigan Opera Orchestra.
She has sung the role of “Goldentrill” in Mozart's Impresario in performances with the North Carolina Symphony, the Canton Symphony Orchestra, and in The Kennedy Center, to rave reviews from The Washington Post. Other productions with regional companies includes: The Magic Flute (the “Queen of the Night”), The Impresario (“Silverpeal”), The Telephone (“Lucy”), The Coronation of Poppea (“Amor”), The Elixir of Love (“Adina”), L'Isola Disabitata (“Silvia”), the title roles in Treemonisha and the world premiere of the opera Luyala, Highway One (Mary), Porgy and Bess (“Bess” and “Clara”) and Don Giovanni (“Donna Anna”) She has appeared in recital on many concert series including Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall), Lincoln Center, Licieu Theatre (Barcelona, Spain), and numerous college campuses.
Represented by Joanne Rile Artist Management, she appears in A Gershwin Party with Leon Bates, piano, and William Brown. The trio has appeared on such series as the Minnesota Pops Cabaret Concert Series in Orchestra Hall, Spivey Hall Concert Series in Atlanta and NPR broadcasts. She has recorded eight compact disks of American Music Good News (New World) Songs of Illumination, (Centaur), Extensions of the Tradition (Albany), More Still (Cambria), Sence you went away (Albany) and 20th Century Visions Vol. II and IV (Albany) with the Czech National Symphony. As a record producer, she has recorded three CDs for Koch International, Visionary and Albany Records. She is the Artistic Director/President of the performing arts organization Videmus, Inc.
Ms. Toppin is a graduate of the University of North Carolina (BM, piano), Peabody Conservatory (MM piano, MM voice) and holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan. Among her teachers and coaches: George Shirley, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Charlotte Holloman, Reri Grist, Sylvia Olden Lee, Joan Sutherland, and Elly Ameling. She is currently a Professor of Voice at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.
Jay A. Pierson, baritone, conductor, composer, pianist, holds a B.M.E. degree from Olivet College, MI and D.M.A. and M.M. in voice performance from the Eastman School of Music. An active performer on the operatic and musical theatre stage covering a wide variety of repertoire, Pierson has appeared with the Rochester Opera Theatre, Art Park Opera, Opera Under the Stars, Brighton Light Opera, Eastman Opera Theatre, Coastal Carolina Opera and East Carolina Summer Theatre. He has also appeared as a soloist with the Rochester Philharmonic, Grand Rapids Symphony, North Carolina Symphony and has taped solo recitals for many public radio stations. Pierson made his New York debut singing the role of “Argenio” in Handel's opera Imeneo at Merkin Hall. Also at Merkin, as faculty member of the Bach Aria Group, he premiered the title role in The Contest of Phoebus and Pan with new translation by Sheldon Harnick. He also performed a solo recital at the famed Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall with pianist Robert Spillman. Recent performances have included “Jesus” in St. John Passion with the Washington DC Bach Consort, “Raphael/Adam” in the Creation with the Duke University Chorale and the North American premier of The Mirror of Perfection by Richard Blackford. Pierson performed concerts and gave master classes at the State Conservatory of Thessolonika and Kavalla in Greece, sponsored by the Fullbright Scholars Program and the U.S. Information Service.
Former head of the voice department and conductor of the Opera Workshop at Bucknell University, and former Associate Professor of Music at the School of Music at East Carolina University Pierson taught studio voice, pedagogy, diction, opera history, piano and assisted with the ECU Opera Theatre. His students have been accepted into voice programs at the Curtis Institute of Music, Eastman School of Music, Cincinnati Conservatory and North Carolina School of Arts. Presently, he lives in San Francisco and is a freelance singer, teacher, conductor, pianist, and composer. He is the baritone section leader for the SF Gay Mens' Chorus and can be heard as soloist on this group's recording of Q by Richard Rogers.
A published composer of voice/choral music, Pierson has enjoyed performances of his works throughout the United States and Canada. Three of his works, Variations on Two French Carols for organ and This Christmas Night (SATB with handbells published by AMSI) can be heard on the CD, Christmas Celebration, performed by the Los Altos Methodist Church Chancel Choir.
Accompanist John B. O'Brien has collaborated with such artists as Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Hilda Harris, violinist Eliot Chapo, tenor Bill Brown, soprano Louise Toppin, clarinetist Nathan Williams, flautist Carol Wincence (The Julliard School), clarinetist Deborah Chodacki (University of Michigan) and the East Carolina University Vocal Quartet. He has performed in New York's Merkin Recital Hall and at the Istanbul Festival with cellist Selma Gokcen. His frequent guest appearances have included recitals and masterclasses at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Florida State University, Columbus College and the Southeastern Music Festival. From 1984-1992, O'Brien served as the official accompanist for the finals of the Music Teachers National Association National Competition. He received the B.M. and M.M. degrees in Piano Performance and D.M.A. in Accompanying from the University of Southern California, where he studied with John Perry, Gwendolyn Koldofsky and Jean Barr. O'Brien is presently Associate Professor of Accompanying and Chairperson of the Department of Vocal Studies at East Carolina University. He is the Music Director of the ECU Opera program and conductor of the Eastern Youth Orchestra.
Special thanks to East Carolina University
Summer Stipends Grant Program,
Michael Banks, Janine Pierson and
models Maria and Mercedes Bent.
Executive Producer: Louise Toppin
Recorded at A. J. Feltcher Recital Hall,
East Carolina University, School of Music
Greenville, NC (1995-98)
Engineered and Mastered: Michael Dixon
at ECU, School of Music, Studio C206
Graphic Design: Kristi Stainback
Photography: Dwayne Frutiger
of ASAP studios, Greenville, NC and
Sylvanus Bent, Jr of Cupertino, CA.