Songs of the Romantic Age


Songs of the Romantic Age

  1. Godard: Chanson de Juin (4:05)

  2. Debussy: Paysage sentimental (2:57)

  3. Chausson: Le Colibri (2:15)

  4. Bachelet: Chere Nuit (4:13)

  5. Faure: Chanson d'Amour, Op. 27 No. 1 (2:04)

  6. Pierne: Serenade, Op. 7 (2:21)

  7. Chopin: Moja Pieszczotka, Op. 74 No. 12 (1:59)

  8. Schumann: Ich Hab' in Traum geweinet Op. 48 No. 12 (2:19)

  9. Mendelssohn: Bei der Wiege, Op. 47 No. 6 (2:27)

  10. Medtner: Erster Verlust, Op. 6 No. 8 (1:47)

  11. Brahms: Nachtigall, Op. 97 No. 1 (2:28)

  12. Wolf: Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen (2:20)

  13. Strauss: Ich schwebe, Op. 48 No. 2 (1:50)

  14. Stravinsky: Pastorale (1:37)

  15. Mussorgsky: Where are you little star? (3:10)

  16. Tchaikovsky: Was I not a blade of grass? Op. 47 No. 7 (5:56)

  17. Rachmaninov: The Muse, Op. 34 No. 1 (3:41)

  18. Prokofiev: The bush on the hill, Op. 104 No. 3 (1:07)

  19. Ives: Two Little Flowers (1:10)

  20. Ganz: A Memory (1:48)

  21. Sibelius: Norden (2:14)

  22. Donaudy: O del mio amato ben (3:26)

  23. Respighi: O Falce di Luna (2:39)

  24. Falla: Tus ojillos negros (3:19)

  25. Delibes: Les fille de Cadix (3:47)

Total Time: (68:42)

Patrice Michaels Bedi, soprano

Deborah Sobol, piano

Songs of the Romantic Age

The art song has had an almost universal appeal among composers, performers, and listeners over the last two centuries. While songs make up a major portion of the output of some composers (such as Schumann and Faure), even composers more strongly associated with other genres have found a special affection for the art song. The form has proved an attractive outlet for expression crossing national boundaries and artistic schools. Thus, the songs represented on this disc encompass eight distinct national styles and range chronologically from 1837 to 1921.

All of the French composers represented on this disc either taught or studied at the prestigious Paris Conservatory. The precocious Benjamin Godard (1849-95) entered the Conservatory at the age of fourteen and published his first work, a violin sonata, two years later. While Godard may be most celebrated for his 1888 opera Jocelyn, he composed over 100 songs, of which Chanson de Juin is a particularly enchanting example. Even more of a prodigy, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) began his studies at the Conservatory at age ten. Paysage sentimental, composed in 1883, is an early impressionistic work in which the melodic line is subservient to the “accompanimental” harmonies. Ernest Chausson (1855-99) studied with Jules Massenet at the Conservatory followed by private lessons with Cesar Franck. Le Colibri (The Hummingbird), Op. 2 songs of 1882, is a passionate setting of a classically Romantic poem that compares a lover's kiss to the ecstatic death of a humming bird that “drinks too much form a rosy cup.”

Another Paris Conservatory product, Alfred Bachelet's (1864-1944) experience as an opera composer influenced his songs, including sumptuous Chere Nuit, which which he wrote for the celebrated Australian soprano, Nellie Melba. Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) was a prolific composer of songs whose well-crafted opuses, like the charming Chanson d'Amour, inspired contemporaries such as Debussy and Chausson. From 1896, Faure also influenced young composers as a teacher at the Conservatory, where he served as director from 1905 to 1920, Gabrial Pierne (1863-1937), whose breezy Serenade is typical of his lilting style, was also an alumnus of the Conservatory, where he studied organ with Franck and composition with Massenet.

Although Frederic Chopin (1810-49) is known almost exclusively as a composer of music for solo piano, he wrote many songs, often as gifts for potential amours. His dance-like Moja Piesczotka (My Darling), Op. 74 no. 12, from 1837, evokes the character of a mazurka in which Chopin's characteristic musical nationalism is intensified by the use of a Polish text.

The German Lied is generally viewed as the dominant form of nineteenth-century art song. After Schubert, perhaps no composer contributed more significantly to the development of this revered genre than Robert Schumann (1810-56). The somber Ich Hab' in Traum geweinet (In a dream I wept) comes from Schumann's 1840 song cycle Dichterliebe (Poet's Love), Op. 48. Also from 1840 but in a lighter vein is Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-47) lovely strophic lullaby, Bei der Wiege (At the Cradle), Op. 47, No. 6. Separating works by the early and late nineteenth century German song composers is a Lied by the Russian composer Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951). One of the finest pianists of the time, Medtner left Russia for Germany in 1919 and settled in Paris in 1925. Although Medtner is best known for his piano works, he also wrote around 100 songs very much in the German Romantic tradition, including the bittersweet Erster Verlust (First Loss).

Of the later composers of Lieder, Johannes Brahms (1833-87) was perhaps themost strongly influenced by folksongs: his songs are largely diatonic and do not contain lengthy introductions and postludes. The wistful Nachtigall (Nightingale) is the first in Brahms' Op. 97 set of 1884-85. Hugo Wolf's (1860-1903) Italienisches Liederbuch is a collection of anonymous love song settings that includes Wie Lange schon war immer mein Verlangen (How long have I pined for a musician's love). The song is reminiscent of Schumann and includes an amusing postlude depicting the not-s-competent playing of a violin. Appropriately concluding this group is a work by the last great Lieder composer, Richard Strauss (1864-1949), who wrote his characteristically sparkling Ich schwebe (I float), Op. 48, No. 2 in 1900.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1871) dedicated his 1907 vocalize entitled Pastorale to Nadezhad Rimsky-Korsakov, wife of Stravinsky's famous teacher. Atypical for Stravinsky, this playful piece has the lyrical feeling of a French chanson. Modest Mussorgsky (1839-81) was the greatest genius of the “Mighty Handful” of Russian nationalist composers who preceded Tchaikovsky. Although most celebrated for his great opera Boris Godunov, Mussorgsky wrote beautiful songs from the beginning of his musical career, as his melancholic Where are you little star of 1857 demonstrates. In the late nineteenth-century, the Russian art song became dominated by the romance, a sentimental form akin to the Victorian drawing-room ballad. Many of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's (1840-93) over 100 songs are of this type, including the sorrowful, distinctly Russian Was I not a blade of grass, Op. 47, No. 7. The songs of Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) reflect his brilliance at both piano writing and melodic invention. The impressive Op. 34 songs, including The Muse, feature simple melodies and piano inflections designed to emphasize particular words. The bush on the hill, Op. 104, No. 3 is characteristic of the more melodic, less acerbic music Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) wrote in his last years. This bright song is actually an authentic folk tune that Prokofiev ingeniously harmonized.

Although Charles Ives (1874-1954) is known primarily as a composer of thorny, transcendentally complex works like the “Concord” Sonata, Two Little Flowers proves there is a softer side to his artistry. Ives wrote the words and music to this affectionate song about his own daughters in 1921, describing them as “the fairest, rarest, [flowers] of all.” The Swiss-American Rudolph Ganz (1877-1972) trained as a pianist and conductor in Switzerland and Berlin, and emigrated to the United sates in 51901, where he served as director of the Chicago Musical College from 1929 to 1954. His tender song A Memory first appeared in 1919.

With more than 100 songs to his credit, it is surprising that the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is thought of almost exclusively as a writer of orchestral music Sibelius's harmonically exotic 1917 song Norden (From the North), set to Swedish text is considered one of the strongest of his Op. 90 set.

Stefano Donaudy's (1879-1925) Aire di stile antico is a collection of songs, each modeled on a specific older genre such as the villanelle and the madrigal. Beyond their neo-renaissance orientation, songs from this set like O del mio amato ben are unabashedly Italian in style, marked by a melody-dominated texture and an immediacy of appeal characteristic of Italian opera. There is a similar operatic quality to Ottorino Respighi's (1879-36) lush O falce di luna. Here is yet another example of a composer associated almost exclusively with orchestral music whose skill as a writer of songs is not sufficiently appreciated.

As a young man, Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) was deeply impressed by a nationalistic vein of Edward Grieg's music. Falla aspired to archive a similarly distinct Spanish idiom in his own music. This aspiration is already achieved in his early (1902) Andalusian song Tus ojillos negros. Before de Falla, it could be said that the best Spanish music was written by Frenchmen. Such flavor permeates Leo Delibes' (1836-91) delightful parlor aria Les files de Cadix, a perfect showpiece to conclude this wide-ranging collection.

  • David Ross Hurley