Live from Elm Court

Episode v Program Note

By Carl Halvorson

After the success of Debussy”s song cycle Ariettes oubliées, his next cycle of songs, the epic Cinqpoèmes de Baudelaire, was a failure, and he had to publish it by subscription.  He married the complex, lavish, and dense works by the great French poet (from his collection Les fleurs du mal) to a new style of music that did not find immediate favor with the public. This style was, of course, Wagnerism, for Debussy had recently made his pilgrimage to Bayreuth. Thus, one hears extended and arching melodic lines, chromatic harmony, interrupted cadences, and complicated pianism. These are extremely demanding works, with a grand scale requiring lyrical sweep and a more symphonic bearing from both artists.

Gabriel Fauré wrote over a hundred songs over the course of sixty years, and they are still today the heart and core of French song. Influenced by Chopin, Mozart, and especially Schumann, his patrician style evolved to a degree over his long career, and yet he basically remained true to his voice, as contemporaries such as Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky went off in other directions. These five songs are from the first of Fauré's three stylistic periods, and beautifully display, as explained by Carol Kimball,  “...his great precision, overflow(ing) with subtle nuance and delicate detail. His approach is elegant and rational, and deals with sentiment rather than literal sensation - a uniquely French characteristic.”

Amy Beach (she preferred Mrs. H. H. A. Beach) was America’s first great female composer of serious music. Living from the Civil War to WWII, she was a brilliant musical prodigy who later wrote an opera, a symphony, several choral works and oratorios, and numerous chamber and piano works. However, she is best known today for her approximately 150 songs.  Chanson d’amour, scored for voice, piano, and cello, is a thrilling depiction of love mixed with pathos, a salon aria that builds to a thunderous climax.