Friday, December 9, 2016

Schubert's Schwanengesang

As a theory teacher, it is rare that I get to sit and enjoy an entire song cycle. I hear them in single songs, bits and pieces, used only to reflect the music theory topic du jour. So it is quite the experience to listen to an entire story from beginning to end. 


Today's Nash Library Vinyl is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert's Schwanengesang (swansong). This song cycle contains 14 songs. Through the performance of the songs, the following story emerges (basically): Man loves woman who breaks his heart. Man fleas town where he and his love interest live. Man feels wretched. Man tries to persuade a fisher maiden to make love to him. Man returns back to town and is still miserable and alone. Man sings about a carrier pigeon.

The fourth song, Ständchen (serenade), is part of the undergraduate vocalist ouevre and was also turned into a piano solo. But my favorite song iDer Doppelgänger (the double). This is the song sung when the man returns back to the town where he and his love lived. This piece is used in undergraduate theory as an excellent example of the Neapolitan harmony. But I can't help myself. I want to scream from the rooftops how amazing this song is to my students so we have to review and analyze the text and listen to the whole thing. I don't care that the Neapolitan harmony can be pointed out in 10 seconds. WE HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE WHOLE THING!

The translation of the text is (thanks, lieder.net!): 


"The night is calm, the avenues are quiet,
My sweet one lived in this house;
She has already left the city long ago,
The house certainly still stands, in the same place.

A man is standing there, too, staring up into space,
And powerfully wringing his hands in torment.
It horrifies me, when I see his countenance,
The moon shows me my own form.

You my fearful double, you pale partner!
Why do you ape the pain of my love,
That has tortured me here in this spot
So many a night, in times long ago?"

The song is laboriously slow, with a tempo indication of "sehr langsam" (very slow) and a piano accompaniment of slow, rhythmically stagnant chords. You can easily picture the sickly man, stalking by his ex's house, shoulders drooping, and hands almost dragging to the ground. The singer hovers on a single pitch for much of the beginning, as the man cautiously enters the house. As the music and story unfold we realize that the doppleganger is not another person in his love's old house- the narrator is simply seeing a reflection of himself.  I only use Fischer-Dieskau's recording when I teach this song to my students- his deep mellow voice and his haunting interpretation of the piece are unparalleled.  Go listen to it! Go listen to it now!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Add some Janáček to you life!

There is just not enough Janáček in our lives. On the turntable today is Leoš Janáček's Slavonic Mass.
 
Janáček (1854-1928) was Czechoslovakian. He was the son of a Moravian schoolmaster and organist. He founded and was the first director of the Brno Organ School. It took him 30 years to really get rolling with his composition, but eventually he developed a unique style, incorporation Moravian folksong, and pitch inflections and rhythms of his native language (and bird songs, dog growls, wild animal cries, rustling leaves...). He was best known for his operas and organ music. Because of my background, I am more familiar with his string music so I thought this would be a nice change of pace.

The Slavonic Mass involves choir, soloists, orchestra, and organ. His style is deeply unique and "hard to explain." While his harmonies are quite usual his rhythms and melodies are short, angular, and striking. The use of speech and language pitches and rhythms makes his music immediately strange but familiar.

Janáček exuded Nationalism and, like Beethoven, his mass was never meant for the church.  The notes from the vinyl jacket read: "The Slavonic Mass, for all its flaming ardor, was not intended to be a religious work, but a national one. 'I wanted to portray the faith on the certainty of the nation, not on a religious basis but on a basis of moral strength which takes God for witness'...The Mass is based upon the text of the ancient Glagolitic rite, brought to Moravia in the ninth century by the Saints Cyril and Methodius, and extinct in the churches of that country since the fifteenth century."

Sources
Griffiths, Paul and Jan Smaczny "Janáček, Leoš." The Oxford Companion to Music. Ed. Alison LathamOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb8 Dec. 2016.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t114/e3526>.

Janáček, Leoš, Helga Pilarczyk, Janis Martin, Nicolai Gedda, George Gaynes, and Leonard Bernstein. Slavonic Mass: (mša Glagolskaja). Columbia, 1965. Sound recording.

John Tyrrell"Janáček, Leoš." Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb8 Dec. 2016. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/14122>.

About Me

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Since earning her Ph.D. in music theory and history from the University of Connecticut in 2014, Dr. Sekula has been a full-time faculty member with the department of music at USAO where she teaches the music theory curriculum and conducts the concert band. Sekula also serves as the coordinator for the department of music. She has previously earned Bachelor’s degrees in music education and flute performance from Lebanon Valley College and a Master’s of Music in flute performance from George Mason University. Sekula has studied flute with Barbara Divine, Dr. Theresa Bowers, Judith Lapple, and Dr. Barbara Hopkins.