Carolyn Heafner Sings American Songs

It’s a pleasure to introduce the songs of Jay Pouhe as well as to look
back on working with the other talented composers represented on this
recording. With the exception of Amy Beach, when the original works
were recorded all of the composers were living. And, interestingly,
every composer represented is or was a pianist. From this came my
desire to have each song accompanied by the composer if at all
possible. And from there came the experience of working with the
composers. I have always tried to consult the source, and in most
cases it was as simple as picking up the telephone and dialing! I
have also always found composers to be accessible and delighted to
know of my interest in their music and their personal input.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The new addition to this
recording, The Amorous Line by Jay Pouhe, is a startlingly insightful
and beautifully written cycle of songs set to poems of Edna St.
Vincent Millay. Fortunately, Jay plays piano exceedingly well, and
was only too happy to give as much time as necessary to the project.
In working together I learned that he had quite an experience in
getting permission to use the poetry. Norma Millay Ellis, the sister
of Edna, had control — and I mean Control — of the estate. Jay sent
her the songs and then learned that she was a singer and that she took
his music to her accompanist. She would call him after every session
and ask specific questions concerning how a particular word was set,
and then would go back and try them again. She was apparently quite a
character (she rode a motorcycle to her singing sessions) and knew
exactly how she thought the poems should be set. She did give her
approval. I had occasion to speak with her quite a number of years
later concerning a totally unrelated project, and she asked me if I
knew Jay Pouhe’s songs. That’s approval!

I was privileged to work with Ernst Bacon many times. He was
wonderful at coaching his own music — energetic, talented, and kind.
He was already chronologically old when I met him, but not in any
other way. I had premiered a program of Emily Dickinson songs by
various composers at the Library of Congress. Quite a number of
Ernst’s songs were included, and he came from California for the
concert. He was, of course, introduced afterwards. He bounded out of
his chair, sprinted down the aisle, and almost leapt onto the stage.
I was later told that one lady in the audience said that it could not
be Ernst Bacon, because, according to the program notes, he was in his
80’s! Ernst was a wonderful pianist, but by the time this recording
was planned, he had lost the sight of one eye and had glaucoma in the
other. Later he had to have special, greatly enlarged staff paper in
order for him to be able to compose. His Dickinson settings are
miniatures, like the poems themselves, and he sometimes referred to
them as “water colors.” He continued to set them until the very end.
Hugo Weisgall probably had the most amusing response to my request
for him to play. He said that he could play three of the songs, but
that one song was simply too difficult. He truly wanted to play those
three! We discussed it at great length and finally decided that the
continuity just would not be there if accompaniment styles were
drastically changed. So he worked with me along with Dixie Neill, the
very talented accompanist for most of the recording, as did the other
composers who did not accompany. But I have often wondered....
And then there is Jack Beeson. Energy and brightness come to mind.
He was doing so many things — composing and teaching and heaven knows
what else — that he simply had not practiced piano in too many years
to begin at that time. But we worked and had many discussions
concerning the style. I remember that for The You Should of Done It
Blues, he always said to remember the “blue note.” During one of our
conversations, he mentioned that he had a song about a “Sinister
Potato.” Not long after that, I found a potato that had fallen behind
a cabinet and was more curly green growing things than it was potato.
Yes, I sent it to him!

I will bookend this introduction by ending, as I began, with someone
who did play his own works — Lee Hoiby. Lee is a greatly talented
concert pianist and was only too happy to play for the recording. Lee
is a gentle and generous man. We spent a lot of time working
together, on these lovely, delicate pieces, and there is no better way
to understand what a composer really wants than to hear him or her
interpret it with the accompaniment.

The experiences of making this recording were not only hard work and
a lot of fun, but also a time of incredible learning and growth thanks
to being able to listen to these extraordinary people. I learned to
hear with my mind and with my heart, all while making music with

Jay Pouhe, was born in Cicero, Illinois. At the age of seven he
began music and piano lessons with the noted Czech violin and piano
duo, Ada & Jan Gregor. His composing evolved from his first exposure
to music.

When he entered high school he also began studying composition at
the Sherwood Music School in Chicago. While in high school he
composed a full-length opera, Coatan, based on the first English
settlers in America. The work was performed by a student orchestra,
chorus and principals and was subsequently broadcast (for propaganda
reasons) by the “Voice of America” to iron curtain countries.
He continued his studies at the Eastman School where his teachers
included Louis Mennini, Thomas Canning and Howard Hanson. He received
scholarships to Tanglewood and there worked with Roger Sessions and
Boris Blacher.

His work at the opera department of the Eastman School enabled him
to become a coach and stage director of the Metropolitan Opera, and in
the same capacity he worked in Berlin and throughout Germany and
Switzerland. This experience gave him a thorough background in all
the practical disciplines of opera composition and production.
Leaving Europe for a post at the Santa Fe Opera, he decided to
concentrate on writing. Armed with Rockefeller and BMI grants, he
wrote two operas, Chillon and The Haunted. These were given readings
by the Metropolitan Opera Studio and resulted in commissions for other
works, including Pantomime, a one act opera which received its first
performance at the Toledo Opera in 1996.

Poûhe moved to upstate NY in the 1970’s and formed (in partnership
with his librettist Harrison Somers) the Pine Orchard Artists
Festival, a summer-long opera and chamber music venue. He continues to
live there writing, coaching, and teaching.

The Amorous Line was the first musical setting of the Millay sonnets
given rights for publication by the poet’s sister, Norma Millay Ellis.

Amy Beach (b. 1867 Henniker, New Hampshire; d. 1944, New York),
under her formal name, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, was the first woman composer
to be performed by important musical organizations (such as the New
York Philharmonic Society). She was also the first American woman to
compose a symphony and — with Stephen Foster, John Philip Sousa and
Edward MacDowell — one of the first American composers to be regarded
seriously in Europe. Beach began playing and inventing tunes before
the age of four, and made her debut as pianist with the Boston
Symphony Orchestra when she was eighteen. She claimed to be almost
entirely self-taught in composition, using Bach’s Well-Tempered
Clavier as her textbook.

Her Browning Songs were great favorites during her life-time. About
The year’s at the spring, she recalled that she had delayed in working
until time ran short. Then, sitting on a train from New York to
Boston, “[I] did nothing in a conscious way; I simply sat still in the
train, thinking of Browning’s poem, and allowing it and the rhythm of
the wheels to take possession of me. By the time I reached Boston, the
song was ready.”

Jack Beeson (b. Muncie, Indiana, 1921) has composed eleven operas.
All, with the exception of Cyrano (premiered in Germany in 1994,
libretto by Sheldon Harnick), are based on American subjects, in part,
perhaps, because the composer was born and raised in Muncie, Indiana,
long known as Middletown USA. After an uncharacteristic Hoosier
education (he decided to become an “opera composer” at age twelve and
wrote three libretti as a teenager), he attended the Eastman school of
Music and then studied with Béla Bartók in 1944-45. Immediately
thereafter he served as coach and assistant conductor of the chamber
operas performed at Columbia University and began a teaching career at
Columbia that has endured for half a century.

Five of the operas have been recorded, three televised. The most
widely performed is Hello Out There, which has been performed in four
other languages. Its libbretto, like two of the others based on plays,
is by the composer. He has composed over one hundred other works, some
for chamber and orchestral forces, many of them text-settings for solo
voice and chorus.

In addition to composing and teaching, Beeson has served many
organizations that aid American composers, such as the NEA, The
American Academy of Arts and Letters, and ASCAP.

The original New York City Opera cast recording of Beeson’s opera
Lizzie Borden (libretto by Kenward Elmslie) is available on CRI (CD
694, double CD).

Death by Owl-Eyes was composed in 1971 and is dedicated “to Otto
[Luening] in admiration.” The subtitle, “a history of music in 64-odd
measures,” speaks not only of the length of the song, but also of its
reference to various musical styles from the 16th to the late 20th
centuries. This oddity provides a progression from consonance to
dissonance that parallels the poet Richard Hughes’ progression from
simple ditty to chilly madness, a procedure he followed also in his
novel, A High Wind in Jamaica.

The You Should of Done it Blues, also from 1971, is the rueful
monologue of a woman who has lost a lover to someone else. The words
are by Peter Viereck (several of whose lyrics Beeson has set).
Eldorado, to the poem of Edgar Allan Poe, has been revisited twice
since it was composed in 1951. Responding to the poet’s image of
endless riding, the accompaniment and the vocal line — horse and rider
— are in rhythmic counterpoint, the accompaniment largely a chordal

Hugo Weisgall, (1912-1997), has been called America’s preeminent
composer of opera. His musical legacy includes ten important operas,
each based on a major theatrical masterpiece or theme, ten song
cycles, sacred choral music, with and without orchestra, and works for
orchestra, various chamber combinations, and solo piano. As a
life-long educator, Weisgall taught composition at Juilliard, the
Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, CUNY, and the Jewish
Theological Seminary of America.

Weisgall evolved a personal style of vocal writing in which the
rhythms and contours of American speech characterize dramatic
situations and emotions. His music is informed by his intimate and
passionate knowledge of 19th and 20th-century opera and song
literature drawn from his experience as a singer (he sang the role of
the Umpire in the premiere of Schuman’s The Mighty Casey), from his
prowess on the podium (he conducted orchestras in London, Brussels,
and Prague, and led the Italian repertory at the Prague National Opera
in post-war Czechoslovakia), and from his thorough knowledge of
synagogue music and cantillation (he conducted the choir in the
Baltimore synagogue where his father, also a composer and singer,
served as cantor). He was painstaking and slow-working as a composer,
and all his music is intricate, complex, and carefully-wrought.
A double CD of Weisgall’s vocal works, including the operas The
Tenor and The Stronger is available on CRI (CD 757 double CD).
Weisgall was attracted to the poems of Aedelaide Crapsey when he was
in high school in Baltimore, and wrote the songs while he was in his
early twenties. He says that he wrote Old Love after hearing Brahms’
Symphony No. 2 for the first time, and Oh, Lady, let the sad tears
fall is clearly influenced by the prelude to Act 3 of Wagner’s Tristan
and Isolde.

Lee Hoiby, has written extensively in many areas of composition:
some seventy songs, nine operas, two piano concertos, two oratorios,
three orchestral suites, three ballets, eighteen choral anthems,
numerous piano pieces, and works for violin, flute, wind quintet,
carillon, and music for more than twenty theatrical productions. His
first opera, The Scarf, was premiered at the first Spoleto Festival
(Italy) and has since had over fifty productions. A Month in the
Country was commissioned and premiered by the New York City Opera.
Summer and Smoke, with libretto by Lanford Wilson based on the
Tennessee Williams play, was produced by the New York City Opera in
1972 and telecast nationally by the PBS network in 1981. His three-act
opera The Tempest, after Shakespeare’s play, was commissioned by the
Des Moines Metro Opera and premiered there in 1986. It was seen at the
Dallas Opera in 1997. In 1989 his work was the subject of a
retrospective concert at the Kennedy Center on the American Composer

Hoiby is also a pianist of note, appearing in recitals of the
standard repertory, as soloist in his concertos, and as accompanist to
singers and instrumentalists performing his work. He was composer
in-residence at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 1996. Hoiby
also accompanies the baritone Peter Stewart in a disc of songs
released on CRI (CD 685).

Hoiby wrote the following for the CD release of this recording:
“When I first discovered these poems of Adelaide Crapsey, they sent
forth an immediate signal to be set to music. I was drawn to them as a
person might be drawn to a lilac bush. The poems are very lyrical,
simple and direct, not intellectual. Within the framework of her
carefully counted syllables, tremendous feeling is subdued and

Ernst Bacon (1898–1992), whom Virgil Thomson called “one of
America’s best composers,” was of that pioneering generation that
found a voice for American music. Born in Chicago on May 26, 1898,
Bacon’s music reflects the dual heritage of his Austrian mother, who
gave him a love of song and an early start on the piano, and his
American father.

As with Schubert, whose music was especially dear to Bacon, a large
body of more than 250 art songs is the heart of an oeuvre that also
includes numerous chamber, orchestral, and choral works, as well as
descriptive pieces for piano. According to Marshall Bialosky, Ernst
Bacon was “one of the first composers to discover Emily
Dickinson...and set a great number of her poems into some of the
finest art song music, if not actually the very finest, of any
American composer in our history.”

Bacon’s 67 Dickinson settings, which he sometimes referred to as
“water colors,” match the poems in poignance and economy. In 1981, he
wrote the following:
“My way of writing songs is a private matter, My methods, if any,
might seem too childish. But I can reveal, as a fact, not a boast,
that I have written perhaps three or four scores of songs to Miss
Dickinson’s verses and may even have been the first to avail myself of
this privilege (beginning in about 1927). And it is a privilege, for these poems do not require music, and indeed possess in
themselves a rare music of words.”

Carolyn Heafner
began a distinguished international opera career as a Scholarship
Award Winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Auditions, which
brought her to New York as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Studio.
She has performed with the Santa Fe Opera, the Opera Theater of
Northern Virginia, and the Lake George Opera among many others in the
United States. For five years she sang leading roles at the Bremen
Opera Company in West Germany, with guest performances throughout
Europe, to extraordinary acclaim for her exquisite lyric soprano
voice, her compelling stage presence and her superb musicianship. She
is equally distinguished in her career as soloist in oratorio and with
symphony orchestra. Her New York orchestral debut was with the Little
Orchestra Society in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

As a recitalist with an affinity for the art song, Carolyn Heafner
was recognized by both the Poetry and Music Divisions of the Library
of Congress with her program, “The Poetess Sings - A Tribute to Emily
Dickinson,” which was chosen to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of
the birth of the poet. This unique program formed part of a series on
Emily Dickinson which was broadcast nationally by PBS.
Carolyn Heafner has worked closely with numerous composers including
Aaron Copland, Ernst Bacon, Lee Hoiby, Otto Leuning, Robert Baksa,
Richard Hundley, and Jack Beeson. Along with her regular concerts and
recitals, Carolyn Heafner continues to perform American song
repertoire as well as American musical theater. She recently
participated in a world premier of Jay Poûhe’s Altar Pieces for four
solo voices.

In addition to her Metropolitan Opera’s National Auditions
Scholarship Award, Carolyn Heafner was twice the recipient of Martha
Baird Rockefeller Grants, and among the first recipients of the
prestigious National Endowment for the Arts Solo Recitalist Grants.
She was also the winner of the Southwestern Region of the Metropolitan
Opera Auditions, winner of the Advanced Division of the National
Association of Teachers of Singing; and the winner of the Fort Worth
Opera Guild Auditions. Miss Heafner is listed in Who’s Who In The
Arts in Germany’s international edition.

Dixie Ross Neill, piano, has extensive experience as a vocal coach and
accompanist. Her repertoire includes well over one hundred operas and
a vast amount of concert and recital material, spanning the varying
styles of over four centuries. Formerly a member of the musical staff
of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City, Neill has prepared
operas, including many world premieres, for the companies in Houston, Boston,
Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Amsterdam, to name only a few.