Reviews of Books on Art Song
Roger Quilter: His Life and Music, by Valerie Langfield. Woodbridge, Suffolk and Rochester, New York: Boydell, 2002. 375 p. ISBN 0-85115-871-4
Art Song in the United States, 1759-1999: An Annotated Bibliography, by Judith E. Carman, William K. Gaeddert, Rita M. Resch, with Gordon Myers. Third edition. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2001. 475 p. ISBN 0-8108-4137-1
Three recent titles in the area of art song are valuable gifts to performers, teachers, students, scholars, and enthusiasts of vocal music. Susan Youens's Schubert's Late Lieder: Beyond the Song Cycles, Valerie Langfield's Roger Quilter: His Life and Music, and the third edition of Art Song in the United States, 1759-1999: An Annotated Bibliography by Judith E. Carman, William K. Gaeddert, and Rita M. Resch, with Gordon Myers all deserve places in libraries, studios, and private collections.
When Susan Youens writes on Schubert's lieder, the musical world takes notice. She has written extensively on Schubert, and in this study, turns to his later lieder. With 1822 as her demarcation for the term "late," Youens begins her discussion with songs written shortly before Schubert's syphilis diagnosis and ends with the composer's last song six years later. Many of the songs she treats were written after Schubert received his diagnosis and certainly reflect his knowledge that he had a terminal illness. Many of the songs she discusses are relatively unknown, although "Nacht und Trme" and "Die Allmacht" are in the standard repertory.
Youens examines six poets (Collin, Pyrker, Leitner, Reil, Schlechta, and Seidl), all of whom were Austrian contemporaries of Schubert. Schubert either knew the poets personally or knew of them through his artistic circle. These were not the giants of Schubert's early lieder (Goethe, Heine, Schiller), but rather bureaucrats, aristocrats, clergymen, or censors. None attained fame as poets, yet their words became highly significant when Schubert, as he struggled with themes of death and desire, set them as lieder.
In the preface, Youens outlines the four large chapters of the book, each of which deal with a single poet or a small group of poets. The first chapter, "Of Dwarfs, Perversion, and Patriotism: Schubert and Matthaus von Collin," looks at the three poems by Collin set by Schubert: "Der Zwerg" (The Dwarf), D. 771, "Nacht und Träume" (Night and Dreams), D. 827, and "Wehmut" (Melancholy), D. 772. In examining the text to "Der Zwerg," Youens delves into the German fascination with dwarfs and death. In her discussions of "Nacht und Träume" and "Wehmut," she focuses on the romantic notion of the dream state and discusses artistic concepts of melancholy.
Chapter two opens with a look at the life of Johann Ladislaus Pyrker, a fascinating and despicable character. "Ego, Ehrgeiz, and the Lied: Schubert and 'The Homer of the Hapsburgs,' Johann Ladislaus Pyrker" focuses on the songs "Das Heimweh" (Homesickness), D. 851 and "Die Allmacht" (Omnipotence), D. 852.
In the third chapter, "Of Song, Sorrow, and Censorship: Schubert and Carl Gottfried Ritter von Leitner," Youens again looks at topics of death, desire, and departure as the criteria for analysis. "Des Fischers Liebesglück" (The Fisherman's Happiness in Love), D. 933, which deals with desire, and "Der Winterabend" (The Winter Evening), D. 938, which treats topics of death and withdrawal or departure, are, according to Youens, the most important of Schubert's Leitner settings. Other Leitner poems also deal with death, including "Der Kreuzzug" (The Crusade), D. 932 and "Das Weinen" (Weeping), D. 926.
The final chapter, "Songs of Life, Death, and Departure: Schubert's Viennese Contemporaries," investigates the topics of its title. Youens examines "Das Lied im Grünen" (The Song in the Green Countryside), D. 917, a setting of a text by Johann Anton Friedrich Reil. Reil worked with Schubert on the song, the result being their only collaboration. The song's principal subject matter is again, not surprisingly, death. Other songs by several poets are discussed as well, including Schubert's last song, "Die Taubenpost" (The Pigeon Post), D. 957, a setting of a poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl.
Youens's book is not light reading, nor is it aimed at those who seek a simple explanation of Schubert's late lieder. In each chapter, the author delves deeply into the lives of the poets and the culture that shaped their works. She then turns to Schubert's musical settings, thoroughly discussing salient features as they apply to the text, often drawing lines to Schubert's use of variation technique. The musical and formal analysis is lucid, but not simple. The writing is dense and extensive; however, the deep cultural and analytical insights Youens brings to light are so valuable to those who perform, teach, and appreciate these songs that it is worth the careful concentration necessary to read this compelling work.
Likewise, Valerie Langfield has done the classical vocal world a great favor by undertaking the topic of Roger Quilter's life and music. This is the first major biography of the famed English song composer. The first six chapters are biographical, grouped together by topics or major life events, while the final five delve more deeply into the music. The last third of the book is devoted to appendices, bibliography, and indices.
Langfield's biography begins rather slowly with the background and details of Quilter's early life. Born into wealth in 1877, he was the fifth of seven children, different from his siblings, quiet, and reserved. Although he survived his entire immediate family, he suffered ill health throughout his life. Langfield describes him as a tall, reserved, and handsome man with a speech impediment. His mother protected him, his servants cared for him, and his lifelong friends were completely devoted to him. Quilter, though, was never fully comfortable in British high society.
The survey of Quilter's education is complete without going into more detail than necessary. Quilter studied piano and violin before entering the Conservatory at Frankfurt-am Main. There his emphasis solidified in composition, and he received a conservative musical education. Langfield's discussion of the composition students of Ivan Knorr, known as "Frankfurt Group" or "Frankfurt Five"—Roger Quilter, Percy Grainger, Balfour Gardiner, Cyril Scott, and Norman O'Neill—is well researched and interesting for anyone with even the most general knowledge of twentieth-century music. Quilter's lifelong friendship with Percy Grainger is a fascinating dimension of his life illuminated by Langfield's research.
Quilter was not really comfortable with large forms although he did occupy himself for many years with the composition of light opera. He rewrote regularly and always doubted his abilities. His compositional process was often upset by ill health, world or personal affairs. Later in life he suffered a mental collapse. The last chapter on his life, which explains the possibility of blackmail schemes against him, is particularly intriguing.
Roger Quilter never taught but did work with singers who sang his songs, accompanying many of them in concert and on recordings. He was a generous and liberal-minded individual who helped a number of artists and students both financially and emotionally. He suffered through two major wars, doing what he could for both war efforts, and supported at least one Jewish family displaced by the Nazi movement. He embraced a number of African American artists seeking education and exposure in Europe, including Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson. Langfield is sensitive in her development and explanation of Quilter's personal life. There is never any lingering over the difficult aspects, nor are his humanitarian traits blown out of proportion. Personal information is presented in a straightforward way, always illustrating its impact on his music.
Quilter traveled regularly, especially on the continent and often to Italy in search of warm temperatures. Much to Percy Grainger's disappointment, Quilter never visited America, but he did take many long holidays with his mother. Quilter knew many of the major musicians of his time, including Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Frank Bridge and Benjamin Britten. The author believes Quilter was most comfortable with artists, as his inner circle of friends reflected this notion. Langfield states that he liked women, especially boyish types, but that in spite of two brief engagements, he was clearly homosexual. Quilter never had a lasting intimate relationship.
Chapters seven and eight treat the songs and choral works in a skillful combination of general analysis and historical background. There are generous musical examples to illustrate the points being discussed. The chapter devoted to Where the Rainbow Ends gives a clear plot description, discusses the early reviews, and gives some analysis with musical examples. Chapter ten deals with his piano music, orchestral music, and chamber works. Attempts at operatic composition are discussed in the final chapter of the book.
The first appendix is a family tree, particularly useful as one reads about Quilter's early years. Following is a schedule of the professional performances of Where the Rainbow Ends, illustrating the work's amazing popularity from 1911 through 1959, and an alphabetical list of people mentioned in the book. The chronological catalogue of works is grouped by medium (songs with piano, songs with instrumental groups, songs with orchestra, choral music, solo piano music, chamber and instrumental music, orchestral music, and theater music) and gives publication information, key signatures, dedications, and manuscript locations, where known. A discography, bibliography, and indices are also included.
One of the most remarkable and satisfying aspects of the biography is the CD that accompanies the book. Quilter appears on each track either as pianist or conductor.
Whereas the books by Youens and Langfield focus on specific repertory and composers, the third title under review offers an overview of song through more than two centuries in one geographic area. Art Song in the United States, 1759-1999: An Annotated Bibliography, now in its third edition, grew out of a 1975 project by the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) for the group's Bicentennial convention in Philadelphia in 1976. In the preface to the current edition, Judith E. Carmen states that the original concept formulated in 1975 has not changed through three editions. The authors' aim was and is to help students and teachers choose appropriate American song literature for their recitals, thereby showcasing the talents of American composers.
The bibliography itself is organized first by composer and then by song. Every song or cycle is assigned a number to aid in cross-referencing. Entries for each song include some or all of the following information: title, poet, publisher, date of composition, dedication, key, range, tessitura, meter, tempo, length, difficulty of both the vocal and piano parts, voice type, mood, description of vocal and piano parts, special difficulties, uses (programming, teaching), and commercial recordings.
A staggering 2,260 entries appear in the volume, many of which are sets or cycles. Because there are four authors, descriptions vary in length and style. From a single adjective to strings of clauses separated by semi-colons, the comments are well informed, exact, and very useful.
Following the main body of the bibliography is an appendix of compositions by American composers with foreign-language texts. The seventy-four entries are mostly for French and German songs, but there are also listings for texts in Hebrew, Italian, Latin, and Spanish.
A separate section by Gordon Myers, a specialist in early American art music, documents songs from 1759 to 1810. It contains sixty-seven entries, including a segment on songs by Moravian composers.
A discography was added to the third edition in an attempt to support the teaching, performing, and researching of these songs. Although many of the listed recordings are out of print or have been reissued with altered label and numbers, the authors felt this information would be valuable.
The book also includes a chronological list of all represented composers, a list of publishers with addresses, a reference list, and several indices. Especially useful is a special characteristics index that includes the following divisions: cycles (by voice types), easy/moderately easy songs, encores, songs especially suitable for elementary school audiences, extended songs (unusual length), group or program enders, humorous songs, Oriental poetry in translation (Chinese, Japanese, Middle-Eastern), songs for students with limited ranges, songs with special vocal effects and techniques, songs for special voice types, and vocalises. This guide is especially helpful in selecting repertory for performance and study.
Perhaps the most daunting challenge the authors faced was the selection of repertory. They chose to limit selections to art songs composed by Americans (United States) or immigrants to America (arriving before the age of 33) for one voice accompanied by piano with English-language texts (although there are a few non-English texts) that are or were recently in print. Beyond major works and/or major composers, the authors considered each entry's suitability for the modern concert stage and the potential for effective performing and teaching. There is no guide as to what the authors thought was or was not suitable for inclusion, nor is there an elaboration on what they believe to be effective song repertory. They make no claim to be all-inclusive, but rather present examples to spark interest in the American song repertory. A list of songs such as this is just the tip of the iceberg, and should be viewed as such.
All three titles, Susan Youens's book on late Schubert songs, Valerie Langfield's volume on Quilter and his music, and Art Song in the United States, 1759-1999, should find homes in every college and university library and in the studios of teachers and singers. They are well-organized, valuable studies that contribute greatly to the knowledge and appreciation of song repertory.
Rebecca Sherburn is an Associate Professor of Voice at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. As a concert artist she has been featured with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group and the New York New Music Group (Robert Craft) performing rarely heard contemporary works, some of which were written for her voice. She is an active chamber musician who frequently performs duos for voice and flute, clarinet, or trumpet. Her scholarly work has appeared in the NATS Journal of Singing, the ACDA Choral Journal, and the CMS College Music Symposium. The University of Missouri-Kansas City has awarded Dr. Sherburn two Faculty Research Grants in the area of chamber music.
As an internationally known opera singer with a variety of performing experiences, her prominent roles include The Queen of the Night, Lucia di Lammermoor, Gilda, Zerlina, Despina, Lauretta, Susanna, Frasquita, Adele, Musetta, Olympia, Cunegonda, Carlotta Giudicelli (The Phantom of the Opera), Hilda Mack (Elegy for Young Lovers), Lucy (The Telephone), Lady with a Hand Mirror (Postcard from Morocco), among others.
As a student she was an apprentice at the Zürich Opera, and a Chamber Music Fellow at the Aspen Music Festival. She won the regional Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions, Viktor Fuchs Award, Aspen Voice Competition, and American Opera Awards. Her Doctoral degree is from the University of Southern California. Dr. Sherburn joined the faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance in 1999. In 2004 they honored her with the Kauffman Excellence in Teaching Award.