To be Sung Upon the Water

Song Cycles by Argento and Vaughan Williams


Song Cycles by Dominick Argento (b. 1927)

Letters from Composers (26:24)*

  1. Frederic Chopin (3:55)

  2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (3:07)

  3. Franz Schubert (4:51)

  4. Johann Sebastian Bach (3:39)

  5. Claude Debussy (3:28)

  6. Giacomo Puccini (2:29)

  7. Robert Schumann (4:36)

Songs About Spring (10:45)

  1. I. who knows if the moon's a balloon (2:11)

  2. II. Spring is like a perhaps hand (2:50)

  3. III. in just spring (1:31)

  4. IV. In Spring comes (1:34)

  5. V. when faces called flowers float out of the ground (2:26)

To Be Sung Upon the Water (27:22)**

  1. I. Prologue: Shadow and Substance (3:33)

  2. II. The Lake at Evening (3:08)

  3. III. Music on the Water (3:15)

  4. IV. Fair is the Swan (1:38)

  5. V. In Remembrance of Schubert (3:43)

  6. VI. Hymn Near the Rapids (2:43)

  7. VII. The Lake at Night (3:59)

  8. VIII. Epilogue: De Profundis (5:00)

Songs and Vocalises by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Three Vocalises for Soprano and Clarinet (4:02)**

  1. I. Prelude (1:52)

  2. II. Scherzo (0:40)

  3. III. Quasi menuetto (1:25)

Selections from Along the Field (10:36)

  1. II. Along the Field (2:49)

  2. VI. Good-Bye (2:24)

  3. VII. Fancy's Knell (3:41)

  4. VIII. With Rue My Heart is Laden (1:33)

Patrice Michaels Bedi, soprano

* Jeffrey Kust, guitar

Elizabeth Bucceri, piano

** Larry Combs, clarinet

Elliott Golub, violin

Total Time: (79:34)

To Be Sung Upon the Water notes by W. Stuart Pope

Dominick Argento

Dominick Argento was born in York, Pennsylvania on October 27, 1927. His parents were innkeepers from Italy. Argento first studied composition at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore with Hugo Weisgall, Nicolas Nabokov and Henry Cowell. Graduate study was at the Eastman School of Music, with Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers. He took yearly courses with Luigi Dalapiccola in Flroence, Italy, and has returned regularly to spend summers in Forence, his second home and source of considerable inspiration. Argento has been on the faculty of the University of Minnesota since 1958 and is now a Regents Professor. In 1975, Dominick Argento received the Pulitzer Prize for his song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Wolff.

Letters From Composers

The cycle Letters from Composers was written for and dedicated to tenor Vern Sutton and guitarist Jeffrey Van. The texts are letters or fragments of letters written by Chopin, Mozart, Schubert, Bach, Debussy, Puccini and Schumann. They reveal a wide range of problems, having almost no relevance to their compositional careers: illness, anger, loneliness, penury, love, even happiness. Dominick Argento's settings show his clear understanding of each composer's expressive style.

  1. Chopin, laid low with tuberculosis, staying with George Sand in Majorca, as a rest from the bustle of Paris, describes to a friend the quiet of his surroundings and the relaxed manner of the lifestyle in Palma. Chopin's prose is poetic to an extreme, and Argento has set it to music that is as poetic as the writer's own nocturnes.

  1. Mozart writes to his father in Vienna to tell of his dismissal by the archbishop of Salzburg and plead for understanding.

  1. Schubert corresponds with his friend Kupelwieser in Rome, despairing of his health, lack of money, even thoughts of failure…and in this fragment, longing for death to take away his burdens. He recalls a phrase of a song he wrote years before (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), “my peace is gone, my heart is heavy,” which is quoted (musically) in the song. Argento also uses a frequent Schubertian device: hovering between major and minor.

  1. Bach, in the obsequious, baroque form of address required in his time writes to the Town Council of Leipzig to beg the redressing of a grievance; a prominent local businessman has married out of town and thus cheated Bach of his fee as organist for he ceremony, which should have taken place in St. Thomas' Church. Argento gives the song recitative, inversions, canons, augmentation, etc…a veritable baroque delight.

  1. Debussy is writing to a friend; near the end of his life, he is wracked with brain cancer and despairing of the futility of World War I, which rages on in Europe. In his setting, Argento eschews the use of bar lines and rarely has the singer and guitarist together; rather, the instrument comments on the words, giving emphasis to the prose.

  1. Whereas Chopin would appear to miss the formality of Paris, Puccini yearns to leave it (shortly after the triumph of La Boheme) to return to his beloved Italy with its informality and rural atmosphere. His letter is wonderfully poetic in spite of his hatred for so much of Paris life. The setting is rhythmic, measured, and bold.

  1. Lastly, a love song: Robert Schumann to Clara, his wife-to-be. Some of us, receiving and reading this letter might have had second thoughts about the marriage. Schumann takes Pygmalion-like credit for making his bride worthy of his hand. Dominick Argento has given us a beautiful setting that could certainly stand on its own in a recital program. In this song and, for that matter, in the Puccini setting, one has a foretaste of the yet-to-come Argento cycle, “Casa Guidi,” a setting for mezzo-soprano and orchestra of letters written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her sister in London from the villa in Florence where she lived with her husband Robert.

Songs About Spring

Argento composed Songs About Spring, his settings of texts by e.e. cummings, while an undergraduate at the Peabody Institute. The cycle was first performed in May, 1951 by Carolyn Bailey, the composer's wife, with her husband at the piano. At the Eastman School of Music, Argento made a chamber orchestra version which had its first performance there in July 1960, with Carolyn Bailey, soprano, and Frederick Fennell, conducting. This simply charming work was Argento's first song cycle; his setting of the words shows a degree of fluency unlikely at such an early point in his career. As this recording will attest, however, Argento has always had a wonderful way with words. Can we thank his Italian heritage or his marriage to a very talented singer? Surely both.

“Who knows if the moon's a balloon” is set as a waltz that invites one to whirl away to the balloon/moon. The quiet simplicity of “Spring is like a perhaps hand” carefully matches in song the poet's descriptive verse. “In just spring” returns us to the waltz-like setting as it tells of children at play outdoors after an imprisoning winter. “In spring comes” is a canon at the unison, the piano echoing the meditative vocal line. “When faced called flowers float out of the ground” brings us back to dance a waltz once again, rejoicing at the return of spring.

To Be Sung Upon the Water

To Be Sung Upon the Water (Barcarolles and Nocturnes) was composed in 1973. Dominick Argento has set poems and sections of poems by William Wordsworth for high voice, piano, and clarinet (also bass clarinet).

The composer has selected the verses with his customary care and skill, symmetrically fashioning arches within arches: Prologue and Epilogue forming the frame for pairs of poems using time of day and emotional attitude as reference points. His settings have produced a most singable cycle, grateful for the voice and subtle in the use of the clarinet, with the bass instrument most effective in songs where it is used.

The cycle opens with a Barcarolle describing the discovery of the things one sees in the whereas one glides along. Thus Argento introduces the listener to the words and music in the next two songs, which describe the tranquility at night of and nocturnal birdsong on the water. The fourth song, “Fair is the Swan,” is a particularly effective setting for voice and bass clarinet. The majesty of the mute creature as it sails across the still water of the lake in the moonlight is wonderfully portrayed. Next we hear “In Memory of Schubert,” perhaps the heart of the cycle. Titled by Argento in homage to the earlier master, Wordsworth wrote the poem for fellow poet and friend Collins. The song is a glorious melody with a moving and satisfying piano accompaniment; all calm and serene polytonality. Next comes a prayer for safety on the water, the voice part maestoso against the rapidly moving piano and bass clarinet, followed by a return to solemnity and prayerful calm. The seventh song, a rhapsody, further describes the movements of the lake at night through rapidly moving, pianissimo instruments and voice; by the song's end, the “whole wide lake in deep response is hushed…” The concluding Epilogue is a setting of the familiar Wordsworth sonnet “The world is too much with us.” The composer has given us a virtual duet for voice and clarinet with piano accompaniment. He sums up the cycle in both words and music by recalling motifs from previous songs.

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in 1872 in Sown Ampney, a village in Gloucestershire. This charming place is now well known to church musicians from the hymn tune Vaughan Williams wrote and named for it: Down Ampney (“Come down, O love Divine”). The composer died in London in 1958. He was educated at Charterhouse School, and Cambridge University, and studied at the Royal College of Music with Max Bruch. He wrote music in all forms, including nine symphonies, six concertos, a host of vocal music, five operas, and well over one hundred folksong arrangements.

Vaughan Williams composed his song cycle Along the Field in 1927. At its premiere, only excerpts of the complete cycle of eight songs were performed. The unusual use of the violin as the accompanying instrument is something that Gustav Holst, the composer's close friend, had earlier successfully employed. The poems are by A.E. Housman. Vaughan Williams has set them with customary sensitivity. The title song is particularly beautiful. “Fancy's Knell” is perhaps the most ambitious of the set, with the violin providing a dance tune commentary on the poem.

The Three Vocalises for Soprano and Clarinet is one of Vaughan Williams' last works; it was first performed on October 8, 1958, in Manchester, England, less than one month after his death.

  • W. Stuart Pope is a former President of the music publishing house, Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.

About The Performers

“Like the Romantic ideal of art, Patrice Michaels Bedi's voice is both natural and passionate,” declares Classical disCDigest. The New Yorker calls her “a formidable interpretative talent.” Patrice Michaels Bedi has concretized extrensively throughout North America, appearing in concert with renowned ensembles including the St. Louis, Atlanta, and Milwaukee Symphonies, the Minnesota Orchestra, Chicago's Grant Park Symphony, and Boston Baroque. Miss Michaels Bedi has also sung with Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Cleveland Opera, Colorado's Central City Opera, Chicago Opera theater, and the Maryland Handel Festival. Her recordings on other labels include Bach's St. Matthew Passion with Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for London Records, Mozart's Requiem on the Amadis label, and Mozart's C minor Mass with Chicago's Music of the Baroque.

Performing with Miss Michaels Bedi are Elizabeth Bucceri, assistant conductor, Lyric Opera of Chicago and principal pianist of the Chicago Symphony Chorus; Larry Combs, principal clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; guitarist Jeffrey Kust, a frequent performer and participant on recordings with the Chicago Symphony; and Elliott Golub, concertmaster of Chicago's Music of the Baroque.