Amelia Seyssel - Concert Artist
...specializing in the performance of fine Art Song repertoire

PROGRAM NOTES

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel
The author gives permission to use the following notes in recital or concert programs provided they are unedited and accompanied by the following acknowledgment: "Program Notes by Amelia Seyssel, used by permission"

Listed in alphabetical order by composer last name:




Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Samuel Barber was one of the most frequently performed American composers during his lifetime. Aside from his 160 songs, his compositions include full symphonic works, chamber works, operas and virtuosic works for solo piano. Surrounded by a musical environment from his youth, Barber began his piano studies when he was a child, improvising and composing as well. His mother was a pianist, his maternal aunt the famous opera contralto Louise Homer, and his uncle, the well-known composer Sidney Homer, who was an influential mentor until his death in 1953. At age 14 Barber was enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he continued piano studies, started singing lessons, and studied composition and conducting. At the Curtis Institute, he also made lifelong friendships and professional associations, particularly with Gian Carlo Menotti who was to collaborate often with Barber, providing librettos for his first opera, Vanessa, and for other vocal works.

Barber's style is lyrical and romantic but, in its melodic and harmonic aspects, distinctive and original, frequently combining a romantic tonality with a more modern stamp of irregular accents and irregular phrase-lengths. Though tending toward European models, his music remains quintessentially American, writing directly and simply with an appealing quality that makes it easy to understand. It is in his songs, in which his superlative melodic gifts combine with brilliant pianistic writing, that Barber's particular empathy for vocal composition can be most appreciated. Like all good song-writers, he combines a fine poetic sense with an eloquently lyrical manner of setting the text. The melodic line seems to spring out of a supremely traditional singability, and is 'eminently vocal', falling "intellectually to the mind and beautifully on the ear." In Barber's own words: "...if I'm writing music for words, then I immerse myself in those words, and let the music flow out of them."

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

Known principally for his hugely successful opera Carmen, Bizet grew up in a household that fostered his musical creativity; his father taught singing and composition, while his mother was an excellent pianist. His talents, even as a child, were remarkable and he enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire at the unusually young age of 9 years old. Very quickly, beginning in 1849, he began to win prizes: in solfege, in piano, in organ and in fugue. In 1855 he won the Prix de Rome competition with his cantata David and shared a prize in a competition organized by Offenbach for his operetta Le Docteur Miracle. In 1857, with his cantata Clovis et Clotilde, he again won the Prix de Rome which awarded him a five year monetary grant, the first three years of which he spent in Italy. Bizet's repeated attempts to infiltrate the theatrical world included the opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles (1863), two other operas La jolie fille de Perth (1867) and Djamileh (1872), incidental music for a play by Daudot, L'Arlésienne (1872), from which he subsequently derived an orchestral suite, and his opera Carmen, first performed in 1874. None of these attempts achieved success in France during his lifetime, but Carmen quickly became a success outside of France.

If Bizet's early works were influenced heavily by the prevailing influence of Meyerbeer's operas, his more mature works reflected his newfound admiration for Mozart, Rossini, Schumann and Mendelssohn as well as his fascination with the character and rhythms of the music of Spain and Provence, exploited with great success in both L'Arlesienne and Carmen. Bizet's innate genius for orchestration expressed itself in light, delicate colors and 'luminous' tonal mixtures. His songs combine his brilliance as a pianist with his gift for melody. He composed around 48 songs using, with the exception of Victor Hugo, mostly minor poets. The best of them reflect the same qualities that excite us in his orchestrations: color, texture, melody and rhythmic excitement.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Benjamin Britten grew up in modest circumstances in Lowestoft, Suffolk in England, the son of an orthodontist and an amateur singer. As a boy, he studied piano (at which he later excelled) and viola, as well as composition with Frank Bridge. In 1930 he began studies at the Royal College of Music in London, continuing with piano and studying composition with John Ireland. Britten's compositions began to be published even at this early date, eventually winning him admiration from artists and public alike. He composed brilliantly in many different genres, including opera, ballet, orchestral pieces, incidental music for film, plays and radio, and many vocal works for solo and choral voices.

Britten was in constant association with singers and was greatly stimulated by them. At a time when the introduction of mechanical recording devices spawned a decline in the popularity of 'drawing room singing' and a consequent decline in new compositions in the song genre, Britten's timely contribution to the art song literature revived and invigorated English song. Rather than focusing on a precise setting of text, Britten consciously tried to distill the essence of the poem and translate it into music. He enlarged the harmonic resources of song composition and harked back to Henry Purcell's expansive fluidity in his treatment of melody. In Britten's own words, one of his chief aims was "to try to restore to the musical setting of the English language a brilliance, freedom, and vitality that have been curiously rare since the death of Purcell." Britten used short melodic motives in the building of accompaniments, not always relying on chords to create a flowing line. Most importantly, Britten had a gift for melody, for the "popular, easy, swinging tune." Most of his songs are composed in sets and cycles, with his most popular being his arrangements of British and French folk songs.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957)

Marie-Joseph Canteloube (de Malaret) was born in the Auvergne region of southern France and spent most of his early years there. His mother, an accomplished pianist in her own right, had him study piano from age six with a local Polish refugee, Amélie Doetzer, who had been a friend and student of Chopin. From early on Canteloube acquired a love of the Auvergne folk song and dance music tradition garnered from his many walks through the countryside with his father, the memory of which he cherished even to his last days. At age 12 he was sent to a Catholic boarding school outside of Lyon in western France, but in 1896, at the end of his schooling, his father died and he returned to the ancestral home in Auvergne (at Bagnac de Malaret), where his love of the local music was reinvigorated. He began working on and publishing his first compositions at this time. Following his mother's death in 1900, Canteloube remained in Bagnac, married and, in 1902, established a correspondence with Vincent D'Indy who, sharing his interest and respect of folk music, became his teacher and ultimately his dear friend. In 1906-7 Canteloube moved to Paris to formally study composition with D'Indy at the 'Schola Cantorum'. In Paris, Canteloube became involved with L'Auvergnat de Paris, an organization devoted to uniting and inspiring Auvergne compatriots living in Paris. Later, in 1925, Canteloube formed a subsidiary of this group called the 'Bourée', expressly for those Auvergnat-born eager to explore and reacquaint themselves with the folklore, music and beauty of their homeland.

Canteloube is one of those composers who might very well have slipped into obscurity were it not for one or two works so memorable and so colorful that they are returned to again and again by repeated generations of performers. His two operas, his numerous choral, orchestral and keyboard compositions...remain available but unperformed. His biographies of D'Indy and of Séverac, his musicological publications on the folk songs of the French provinces...remain obscure and relatively unkown. By contrast, his five volumes of arrangements of the folk songs of the Auvergne (Chants d'Auvergne) have been performed and recorded by uncountable artists since their publication, with various recorded interpretations having a devoted following up to the present time. Colorful, richly and luxuriantly harmonized, arranged for both piano or orchestra, Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne reflect his enduring love of the Auvergne countryside and it's sounds. "When the peasant sings at his work or during the harvest, there is an accompaniment which surrounds his song.... Only poets and artists will feel it.... It is Nature herself, the earth which makes this, and the peasant and his songs cannot be separated from this...." In his Chants d'Auvergne, Canteloube richly recreates the sound and passion of Auvergne itself.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Leo Delibes (1836-1891)

Born in France, Delibes received his early training with his mother and an uncle. He began his formal training at the Paris Conservatory in 1847. In 1853 he became organist of St. Pierre de Chaillot and accompanist at the Théâtre-Lyrique. He later (1863) became accompanist at the Paris Opéra and, in 1884, professor of composition at the Conservatoire. He is best known for his enduringly popular opera Lakmé, and as the first composer to write music of high quality for the ballet, exemplified by his large-scale ballet Coppélia, ou la Fille aux yeux d'émail. Delibes also wrote church music and several songs which are often exotic in content.

Delibes had a gift for expressive character in his music, a new idea at the time, producing music that contains early impressionist elements and some use of the leitmotif. His best compositions reflect a distinctive elegance and charm with colorful timbres and a fondness for profuse melodies, text painting and vivid orchestration. His songs, although not of equal quality, nevertheless demonstrate Delibes's innate melodic gift and his flair for bringing out the best elements of the voice, writing with grace and attractive rhythms to bring the text vividly to life.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




John Duke (1899-1984)

Born in Cumberland, Maryland, the oldest of six children, John Duke was one of America's finest composers of art songs. Duke began his piano studies at age eleven, having already had some musical education from his mother who was a singer. At 16, he entered the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and during World War I, served as a volunteer with the Student Army Training Corps at Columbia University in New York City, remaining there after the war to pursue musical studies with Howard Brockway and Bernard Wagenaar, who at the time were both publishing art songs. After debuting as a concert pianist in 1922 he accepted a professorship at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, teaching piano there until his retirement in 1967. In 1929-30, during his first sabbatical year from Smith College, Duke studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and piano with Arthur Schnabel in Berlin. Throughout his professorship years, Duke continued to concertize as well as to compose and, as his reputation grew, was master teacher at several different locations in the northeastern U.S.

While Duke's professional career centered around his piano concertizing and teaching, he quietly also composed hundreds of art songs which, for the most part, remained unpublished in his lifetime. In his own words, Duke was attracted to the "strange and marvelous chemistry of words and music," devoting much thought to song and to singing. His love for both the piano and the voice is apparent in all his compositions. Duke's songs are notable for their variety of style, their superb craftsmanship, and the genuine emotion and expression he is able to convey. His choice of poetry was most frequently drawn from his American contemporaries, particularly Frost, Teasdale, cummings, Van Doren, Millay, and E.A. Robinson. His prolific output of 256 songs combined with a consistent quality of composition represent a major contribution to the American art song literature. Subsequent to his death, more and more of his songs were gradually published with the devoted financial assistance of concerned admiring friends and colleagues who had long recognized the their quality, artistic beauty, and musical importance.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

Renowned as the father of twentieth-century Spanish song, Falla was born in the Andalusian city of Cadiz and received his earliest musical education both there and in Madrid. His mother began his pianoforte studies while finding local musicians (Odera and Broca) to instruct him in harmony, counterpoint and composition. In Madrid his piano studies continued with José Tragó while composition, his primary interest, was overseen by Felipe Pedrell whose desire to create a Spanish national music based on the Spanish folk-song found an eager pupil. In 1905 Falla's 2-act opera La vida breve, although not produced, won the prize at the Real Academía de Bellas Artes in Madrid. In the same year he won the Ortiz y Cussó prize for pianists. In 1907 Falla moved to Paris where, aided and encouraged by Debussy, Dukas, and Ravel, he combined the principles of Impressionism with his already personal Spanish style. With the performances of his now revised La vida breve in Nice and Paris (1913) followed by a highly acclaimed performance in Madrid (1914), Falla's reputation as a leading figure in the Spanish Nationalist School was secured. In 1934, with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and the ascendancy of the Franco regime, Falla moved to Argentina settling in Alta Gracia where he spent his last years.

Falla's primary contributions to the art song literature are his Siete canciones populares españolas (1914). The most performed of all Spanish art songs, these are quite representative of his early style. Following Pedrell's dictum to draw upon Spanish folk song as a 'source' for developing a truly Spanish style, Falla sketches the spirit of Spain in his arrangements. Somewhere between arranged folk-song and fully composed art song, in his Siete canciones Falla liberally draws out the original folk melody and fills the piano accompaniment with a variety of Spanish rhythms drawn from primarily Andalusian sources. His goal is always to evoke the 'spirit' of the song rather than be dictated by it. The brilliantly pianistic accompaniments are full of invention and artistry, interpreting and developing values and ideas not readily revealed in the song itself. Falla is said to have held the same views as the great Spanish poet García Lorca — that the soul of Spanish music was derived from its cante jondo, the 'deep song' of the Andalusian gypsy. Simple text, but deep in content, Falla's colorful hues recreate an idiom both clearly Spanish and distinctly 'Falla'.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Gabriel Fauré never allowed himself to be dominated by popular foreign styles, from beginning to end remaining supremely French. For his inspiration and models he looked to Rameau and Bach as well as to the more contemporary composers in the French style, Gounod and Saint-Saëns. He was a man content to be himself: a personality by all accounts mild, reserved, and socially charming. His music, like his person, is filled with delicately expressed feeling and a sense of being at once nostalgic and breathlessly fresh and new: an effect that some have referred to as his 'savante simplicité'.

Fauré's schooling differed from most of his contemporaries in that he never studied at the Conservatoire, but rather, spent eleven years (1854-1865) at the Ecôle Niedermeyer, a school whose primary purpose was the training of organists and choirmasters. At the Niedermeyer, he was exposed to the ecclesiastical modes (Gregorian chant) as well as to the music of Liszt, Wagner, Schumann, Beethoven and Bach—all of whom were not studied at the Conservatoire. This was also the beginning of a mutually rewarding lifelong friendship with Saint-Saëns. At age 51, after twice winning the Chartier Prize for chamber music, Fauré was appointed teacher of composition at the Conservatoire, succeeding Massenet in that capacity. His students there included Ravel, Koechlin, and Nadia Boulanger, all influential in their own way on succeeding generations of musicians. Nine years following this appointment, he became director of the Conservatoire.

Fauré had a predilection for the smaller musical forms—especially songs, chamber music, and the Romantic forms for the piano (Nocturnes, Impromptus, etc). His music marks the revival of purely French music after a long period of foreign domination in the arts, and his revolutionary harmonic processes influenced many succeeding generations of composers. With Duparc he refined the French song form into a distinct new genre, the 'mélodie', bearing little resemblance to the then predominant German 'lied'. Fauré's compositions are skillful and subtle, relying on technical mastery and frequent harmonic modulations to convey the general feeling of a poem. His music never 'shouts'; it is delicate, interwoven with infinitesimal expressive nuances. Fauré was ambidextrous and tended to place equal weight and importance to both hands in his piano compositions. His piano solo works and piano accompaniments to songs tend toward a feeling of orchestral fullness, often readily adaptable to string quartet and quintet arrangements. In fact, he himself (in 1898) arranged his well known song cycle 'La Bonne Chanson' for string quintet, though he later regretted the added texture as redundant, much preferring the simple piano accompaniment.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Enrique Granados (1867-1916)

Enrique Granados was born in the Catalan city of Lérida in Spain, and began his piano studies with Francesc Jurnet and Joan Baptista Pujol in Barcelona. In 1883 he began studying composition with Felipe Pedrell. Subsequently, from 1887 to 1889, he took private lessons from Charles Bériot in Paris. Returning to Barcelona in 1889, Granados gave some recitals and had some of his compositions successfully performed, but most of his time was spent teaching at his music school, the Academia Granados, which he established in Barcelona in 1901. In 1911, his recognition as a composer was permanently established with the success of his piano suite Goyescas. Granados is principally known for his compositions for piano and, along with Albéniz, is credited with being the creator of the Catalan piano school which is characterized by "an emphasis on clarity, color, and a mastery of the pedals."

Granados's compositions are less flamboyantly nationalistic than Albéniz and rely for their inspiration on early Romantic models. His best pieces show a sensitivity and simplicity along with a tendency to be less highly decorative than most assume Spanish nationalistic music to be. Granados was a remarkable pianist; his song accompaniments are exceptional in their partnering of the voice, using figures derived from the national accompanying instrument of Spain, the guitar. The spontaneity and brilliance of these accompaniments combine fine piano technique and style with a melodic line rooted in Spanish vocal idioms. Granados's song style and treatment of the piano influenced the vocal music of Falla, his younger contemporary, and of Turina; all used piano figures that imitate techniques of guitar performance: arpeggiated chords, fast repeated chords (rasgueados), and repeated notes (punteado). His reputation has, until recently, rested almost solely on his numerous compositions for the piano. Granados was essentially a miniaturist; his music is full of finely crafted details, and his mature stage works seem to be a series of cameos. His songs share an abundance of delicate musical touches.

Granados wrote a number of songs, among them what he called tonadillas escrito en estilo antiguo ('tonadillas written in the old style'). These he composed with texts by his librettist, Fernando Periquet, evoking the 'majas' and 'majos' of Goya's time, intending each of them to be a kind of romantic song associated with eighteenth century Madrid. By this very nature, he envisioned them as being accompanied by guitar, and his piano accompaniments inevitably reflect guitar figurations. More sophisticated than the tonadillas, his Canciones Amatorias tend to more subtlety and are more inward looking. They embody much less of a folk flavor and much more of the mark of an international caliber composer. Their beauty and sophistication bear witness to the true tragedy of Granados's early death.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




María Grever (1885-1951)

Born in León Quanajuato, Mexico as María Joaquina de la Portilla Torres, María Grever is credited with 850 songs, 18 of which have remained enduringly popular in Mexico. Although born in Mexico (her mother, Julia Torres Palomar, was Mexican), her father was Spanish and moved the family to Spain for a period of time when Grever was very young. She subsequently traveled all over Europe with her parents and claimed to have received musical advice from Franz Lehár. After returning to Mexico, she studied singing with her maternal aunt, Cuca Torres. In 1907 she married an American oil company executive, Leo Agusto Grever, adopting her husband's surname for all of her compositions.

After 1916, María Grever and her husband lived in New York and, from 1919 to 1939, she appeared in four professional recitals featuring her own compositions. In addition to single songs, Grever wrote what she called 'song dramas'. Among these are her one-act drama The Gypsy (1927) and her miniature opera El cantarito (1939). For most of her songs and operas, Grever also wrote her own Spanish lyrics, with English lyrics being provided by various American lyricists. Her first international song successes were the songs Bésame (1921), and Júrame (1928). Among her other commercial successes were the songs Te quiero dijiste (1929), sung in the film Nancy Goes to Rio (1950), and Cuando vuelvo a tu lado (1934), revived in 1959 as the song What a Difference a Day Made, a bestseller for singer Dinah Washington.

Grever has been praised for "her innate gift of spontaneous melody." Her melodies are often deeply expressive, her lyrics intimate and moving, and her accompaniments always have character. Her songs have been adapted to many different musical styles ranging from cabaret to operatic; Júrame was popularized by operatic tenor José Mojica and has recently been recorded by José Carreras.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)

Born in Elmira, upstate New York, Charles Griffes is commonly regarded as one of the first American composers whose work was both distinctly American and international in caliber. At age eleven, while recuperating from typhus, he expressed a fascination for the classical genre of music played by his older sister, a piano teacher, who subsequently began his piano instruction. By 13 he began studying with Mary Selena Broughton who, after four years of study, recognizing his talent, both recommended and financed his further studies at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin. After completing two years at Stern, Griffes remained in Berlin for some further study with Engelbert Humperdinck, during which time Griffes's original intention of pursuing a career as a concert pianist transformed into a desire for composition. At the death of his father, undertaking the support of his widowed mother, Griffes returned to the US and accepted a position as music instructor at the Hackley School for Boys in Tarrytown, NY, a position which exhausted his energies but which he nonetheless kept until his early death. Although he had been composing since his days in Germany, his works were increasingly modern and unconventional making it difficult to find acceptance among publishers. During the last six years of his life Griffes composed his most important works, the most significant being his orchestral piece 'The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan' which was finally performed by the New York Symphony in November 1919 just months before his untimely death from lung and heart problems aggravated by ongoing overwork and emotional strain.

Although he had been composing since his days in Germany, his works were increasingly modern and unconventional making it difficult to find acceptance among publishers. During the last six years of his life Griffes composed his most important works, the most significant being his orchestral piece 'The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan' which was finally performed by the New York Symphony in November 1919 just months before his untimely death from lung and heart problems aggravated by ongoing overwork and emotional strain.

Griffes's early songs from his stay in Germany followed the German Romantic model (Schumann & Schubert) and are settings of specifically German poets. However his style quickly changed to a more impressionistic style when, after 1911, he began setting English text. Overall, his songs exhibit a wide range of mood and style usually divided into romantic, impressionistic, oriental and abstract categories, and using Japanese and American Indian themes as well as oriental scales. Like all good songwriters, Griffes had a gift for integrating the written word with the tonal language of music. His songs are both lyrical and luxurious, tapping into a wide range of poetry and literature, inclining toward a musical language that is descriptive and pictorial. As his style developed and as he searched more and more for his unique 'voice', Griffes inclined toward more exotic and modern poetry, producing songs that critics of his day labeled 'ultramodern'. His piano accompaniments are generally rich and elaborate, indicative of his pianistic roots. Griffes often accompanied his own works and was fortunate in the quality and intelligence of the singers he was able to attract. His vocal lines generally demand an advanced competence in musicianship and a vocal technique generally associated with mature singers.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Jésus Guridi (1886-1961)

Born into a family of musicians in Vitoria, Alava province, in Spain, Jesús Guridi's aptitude in music was apparent at an early age. His musicality was locally fostered by his family, studying first with Valentín Arín in Madrid followed by his public debut as a pianist in Bilbao in 1901. By 1904, his aptitude had drawn sufficient attention that, with the support of the Count of Zubiría, he was sent to further his studies at the Schola Cantorum in Paris where, in addition to piano and organ, he studied counterpoint and fugue with d'Indy and composition with Sérieyx. He further supplemented his studies in Brussels (1906) with Leo Jongen in organ, and in Cologne (1908) with Otto Neitzel in instrumentation. Returning to Bilbao, he worked as organist in several churches, gaining a reputation for excellence in improvisation, and maintaining a professorship at the Academia Bilbaína de Música (later the Bilbao Conservatory). In 1939, he moved permanently to Madrid as the chair of harmony at the Madrid Conservatory, in 1955 becoming its director. In 1945 he became a member of the Academía de Bellas Artes. Guridi ranks with Falla and Turina as one of the most important composers of that generation, one of a group of Spanish composers later referred to as the "Maestros" for their role in laying the groundwork for a truly Spanish nationalist musical sound.

Inspired by Basque folk music during his stay in Bilbao, Guridi devoted himself to writing music rooted in the Basque tradition rather than in the music of Andalusia as did Falla and Granados. This element contributed to Guridi's unique sonorities as compared to other more internationally-known Spanish composers. It also meant that, because of the suppression of all things Basque under the Franco regime, his music did not immediately reach the level of international recognition achieved by other Spanish composers of his generation. Nonetheless, his zarzuela El Casério (1926), based on Basque themes, was immediately successful, its excellence keeping it solidly in the repertoire to this day, and his symphonic work Diez melodías vascas (1940) has been a favorite on Spanish programs since its debut in 1941. Of his songs and song-cycles, including three song-sets in native Basque, by far the most well-known and performed are his Seis canciones castellanas (1939) and Seis canciones infantiles (1946). His Basque roots, combined with his own tendency to express in his own personal musical language, set Guridi's style apart from other Spanish composers. His music inevitably reflects his own unique style with a color rooted in a strongly Basque heritage. Particularly beautiful of all his songs, and a favorite of Spanish divas, is the hauntingly beautiful No quiero tus avellanas from his Seis canciones castellanas.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)

Reynaldo Hahn was born in Caracas, Venezuela, of a German father and Venezuelan mother of Basque descent. When he was roughly four years old (the exact date is in dispute) his family moved to Paris, France, and it is in this turn of the century Belle Époque French environment — during the same years as Massenet, Debussy, and Ravel — that Hahn grew up, studied and developed himself as a singer, a music critic and a composer primarily remembered for his art songs. Hahn was a child prodigy, purportedly composing his first songs at the age of 8, and beginning study at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 10 or 11. His musical mentors were of the highest caliber including Massenet, Saint-Saëns, and Gounod; Ravel was a fellow classmate. Hahn was always also attracted to poetry and the written form in general, hence his successful career as a music critic as well as his long and enduring friendship with Marcel Proust. Hahn was also a fine conductor and was music director of the Paris Opera from 1945-46. In addition to his art songs, Hahn's compositions include ballets, incidental music for plays, and operetta. He was also a successful singer in his own right frequently both singing and accompanying his own songs at the most fashionable Parisian 'salons' of the time.

Hahn broke no new ground with his compositional style, but beautifully reflected the romantic character of the times. For this reason he has been sometimes neglected as a composer. Hahn's musical style is exemplified in one of his most famous songs, 'Si mes vers avaient des ailes' . The characteristic intimacy with flowing accompaniment and a romantic melodic line masterfully expressive of the text is truly remarkable considering that it was composed at the age of 13 while he studied at the Conservatoire. Hahn's music is described as 'melodious and graceful' and always attentive to the demands of expressing the text. His treatment of the text is exemplary, seemingly intent on creating a speech-like momentum within the constraints of maintaining a flowing melodious line. He was attracted to some of the finest poets of the time, so adequately interpreting their meaning that Verlaine himself was said to have wept at a particularly setting of one of his own poems.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Agustín Lara (1897-1970)

Agustín Lara Aguirre del Pino was born in Mexico City, the oldest child of a pharmacist. During his earliest years, he lived with his aunt Refugio Aguirre del Pino, director of the Hospicio de Niños in Coyoacán. Under her care, he had his first contact with the piano. At 13 years of age he took second place in the Juegos Florales, a poetic competition for youth, receiving recognition from that organization's prestigious judges Luis G. Urbina and Rubén M. Campos. Beyond this point, Lara's biography takes on an almost legendary character. His personality was so charismatic that numerous stories attached themselves to him which Lara, characteristically, saw no reason to dispel. Even the year of his birth has been debated endlessly by historians due to Lara's insistence that his actual birth date was not nearly as important as the date of his "rebirth", referring to a boating accident in Tlacotalpán were he and his friend nearly drowned. So effusive was he in regards to this incident that he went so far as to procure an official birth certificate with this date, engendering much scholarly debate. What seems clear is that by his twenties, perhaps even earlier, Lara was making a living playing the piano at cafes, cantinas and brothels. In a clear antithesis to his father's middle-class Mexican upbringing, Lara had found his unique 'niche' in life: a life centered around music and women.

Lara's popularity began very early in his career and accelerated quickly to the forefront of popular acclaim. The emergence of radio broadcasting in the 1930's propelled him into a career of major success. His professional career continued in full swing until his death 40 years later and included compositions for orchestra, realizations for movies and over 600 songs. Many of his songs were purportedly composed by his sister Maria Teresa Lara Aguirre del Pino and published under her name as a means of avoiding his exclusive contract with RCA Victor. Among his most popular songs in Mexico were Noche Criolla, La Clave Azul, Palmera and La Cumbancha. In the US his songs were popularized by artists such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Ames Brothers, with his most popular songs being Granada, The Nearness of You, Be Mine Tonight, and You Belong to My Heart (Solamente una vez).

Lara's songs are enduringly popular in Mexico. They are outstandingly lyrical and always convey a sense of sincerity and exuberance. Equally loved in Spain as in Mexico, Lara was awarded honorary Spanish citizenship by Gen. Francisco Franco in 1966. He used all the popular rhythms of his time including the tango, traditional Mexican song, the waltz, and ranchera songs. His unique personal style transformed Mexican popular song and had a strong influence on subsequent songs of Latin America and Spain. With no academic training, his genius was able to assimilate a wide range of musical styles from the fox-trot to the Cuban bolero. His lyrics always contain a poetic beauty whether simply or more elegantly stated. Lara's creations are the epitome of the so-called Golden Age of Mexican song. During Lara's funeral, a minute of silence was observed throughout Mexico while Toña la Negra performed one of his most well-loved songs, "Noche de Ronda".

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Federic Mompou (1893-1987)

Federic Mompou has been called "an authentic master.... one of the greatest, most original, and most independent figures of twentieth-century Spanish music." A Catalan, he was born in Barcelona of a Catalonian father and a French mother. He began his piano studies at a very young age and gave his first public concert at age fifteen. From 1911 to 1913, Mompou lived in Paris, studying with the pianist Motte-Lacroix who became a close friend and who later presented some of Mompou's first compositions. Subsequent visits to Paris were interrupted by the first World War, but Mompou finally settled there in 1920 and did not permanently return to Barcelona until sometime after 1941. By 1957, Mompou had become a prominent musical figure in Spain and, starting in 1958, was professor of composition at the Curso de Santiago de Compostela. In 1979 Mompou was awarded the Premio Nacional de Música for 'the universal significance of his work.'

Mompou's compositions focus primarily on works for the piano, with works for voice and piano being the most numerous and important oevre aside from his piano compositions. He was a master of miniature, creative and with a very personal style. Considering his French parentage it is, perhaps, not remarkable that he was influenced by the French impressionist composers (Debussy and Satie). It was during his early school years at the Ecôle Française in Barcelona, on hearing a Fauré concert in 1909, that he was inspired to abandon thought of a career as a piano virtuoso and turn to composing. However, those French influences did not overwhelm the more powerful influence of his musical roots; the influences of other Catalan composers (de Falla and Granados) and of the folk music genre had as much influence on him as the French. Even so, Mompou's style is not idiosyncratically Spanish or French; having developed early on a style that was uniquely his own, and it is for this unique and unparalleled contribution that he was recognized and honored in his later years. More than anything else, Mompou's music arises out of his search for a spontaneity grounded in a thorough examination of the possibilities of the harmony and timbre existent in the sonority of the piano. Present in all of Mompou's music is "an underlying mysticism derived from his interest in various philosophies and from his thoughtful, reticent, and profoundly human personality." His music is typically sensitive, intimate and subtle, deliberately simple and spare of means, using both lyrical and poetic impulses to convey is aesthetic message.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Fernando Obradors (1897-1945)

Born in Barcelona, Spain, Fernando Obradors is principally known for his four volumes of song arrangements: Canciones clásicas españolas. His songs have been favorites of nearly all Spanish divas and, as a result, have become known worldwide. Obradors studied piano with his mother, and later with Lamote de Grignon and Antonio Nicoau, although he was largely self-taught in harmony, counterpoint and composition. He directed the Orquesta Filarmónica of the Grand Canaries and briefly, the orchestral group of Radio Barcelona, later also conducting the Orquesta Filarmónica of the Grand Canaries and teaching in the Las Palmas Conservatory. In addition to his songs, he composed zarzuelas and some symphonic works, principally the Réplica a la Fanrandola de Bizet. However, the zarzuelas and symphonies did little to gain him recognition, his chief claim to fame being his song arrangements.

Obradors's songs are so internationally popular because they are the epitome of the popular conception of Spanish style. Composed in a style acquired from folk songs and tonadilla, his arrangements include folk songs from various regions of Spain, each being treated with a personal manner that draws on all the most typical aspects of Spanish music. His lyrics are drawn not only from the popular songs of the 18th and 19th centuries, but also from literature as early as the 15th, and his arrangements, if light in weight and texture, are nonetheless brilliant and effective, never failing to please.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)

Known as the precursor of musical nationalism in Mexico, Manuel Ponce was born in Fresnillo, Mexico, where his family, collaborators with the Maximilian regime, temporarily located for fear of reprisals when the empire collapsed in 1882. Two months after he was born, the family returned to their home in Aguascalientes where Ponce spent the remainder of his childhood. His mother was very musically minded and Ponce learned the notes of the musical staff before he learned his letters. At four years old, he began piano studies with his sister Josefina, writing his first composition at age 5 while convalescing from smallpox, a piece he titled: "The Dance of the Small Pox." After relocating to Mexico City and studying with Vicente Gabrielli, an Italian, the 19 year old Ponce began studies at the Conservatorio Nacional; by this age he was also proudly playing many of his own compositions, generally smaller forms like the Mazurka, Gavotte and Danza. Becoming bored at the Conservatorio, he returned to Aguascalientes and began teaching piano. It was during this period that he developed an enduring interest in developing a truly Mexican style based on Mexican folklore and folk music. At age 23, he determined to go to Europe and sold his possessions, including his piano, to finance the adventure. In Europe, he first enrolled in the Liceo Rossini in Bologna, studying first with Luigi Torcchi and then with Dall'Olio, a pupil of Puccini. Later he moved to Germany and studied with Martin Krause at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin. In 1908, Ponce returned to Mexico, but not before performing with great success in the Beethoven Hall of Berlin.

Back in Mexico, Ponce pursued his dream of developing a truly Mexican style and also disseminated the work of the European Impressionists (Falla, Ravel, Debussy) who were almost unknown in Mexico at that time. He also founded a piano academy, with Carlos Chavez being his most prominent pupil, and took over the professorship of piano at the Conservatorio Nacional. In 1912, while in Aguascalientes for a holiday, he was inspired to write his much-loved song Estrellita, composed in the style of the Mexican bajio songs. Ponce intended to "ennoble the Mexican song, raising it to the level of the concert hall." His song compositions include both concertized arrangements of folk songs as well as settings of poetry by various poets, all of which where warmly received and frequently interpreted by his wife, a contralto. Heifitz loved Ponce's compositions, transcribing Estrellita for the violin. In 1915, Ponce moved briefly to Havana, Cuba, and quickly attached himself to the concert activity there, founding the Academia Beethoven and writing articles and reviews on music. Returning to Mexico in 1917, Ponce was named professor at the Conservatorio and married Clementina Maurel, whom he had met and affianced just before his stay in Cuba. His renowned lifelong association with Andres Segovia began when that great guitarist visited Mexico in 1923. In 1925, Ponce and his wife settled in Paris where he enrolled in a composition course with Paul Dukas at the Ecôle Normale de Musique. Here also he associated with Joaquín Rodrigo and Hector Villa-Lobos while developing his friendship with Segovia and composing prolifically. Later, his connection with Segovia also put him in contact with Manuel de Falla. On completion of his course with Dukas, in 1934, Ponce returned to Mexico, with his wife following him shortly, after first performing in a Parisian concert dedicated to Ponce's work.

Aside from his songs, Ponce is most remembered for his long friendship with Andres Segovia and the consequent trove of new compositions for guitar, including his Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra begun in 1922 and finished in January of 1941. Ponce is described as "...a musician of true nobility, of easy and elegant inspiration and a complete dominion of all means of expression," and he is remembered as a simple, refined and friendly personality, highly respected and loved in Mexico. He was very fond of children and wrote 20 pieces in the Mexican style for young pianists as well as 50 choral pieces for Kindergarten. His songs continue to delight audiences wherever they are performed, the melodies having always a charm that captivates the listener.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

Organist, singer and one of the greatest composers of the Baroque period, Henry Purcell infused his music with a sense of immediacy and intimacy that, regardless of form or style, inevitably draws the listener up into its compelling momentum. Whether a majestic anthem, a sacred hymn, or a saucy catch, one can always be assured of an unusually high quality of musicianship and a scrupulous attention to detail. The variety and complexity of his music reflects the drama and paradox of the era in which he lived. The year 1660, one year after Purcell's birth, marks the restoration of King Charles II after the Cromwell Commonwealth. By the time Purcell was eight years old, he had personally experienced the London Plague (1664-5) which killed more than 70,000, possibly including his father, and the Great Fire of 1666 which left two-thirds of London homeless. It was an age characterized by primitive methods of dealing with everyday living and a callous insensitivity to the sanctity of human life—public displays of hang, drawn, and quartered executions were typical. Yet, the Baroque was not without its intellectual culture and love of beauty, as exemplified by the great names of the period: Newton, Locke, Rembrandt, Milton, and Moliére, to name but a few.

Details of Purcell's lie are sketchy, but it seems very clear that he began his musical life as a chorister at Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal. This put him under the tutelage of Henry Cooke, a proponent of the 'Italian style', then with Pelham Humphrey, who had studied both in italy and with Lully in France, and later yet with John Blow, renowned for his contrapuntal technique. When Purcell's voice broke at the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed in charge of the king's keyboard and wind instruments, which involved the repairing and upkeep of these instruments as well as an ability to play them. Purcell later played an important role in the continuing restoration of organs damaged during the Cromwell Protectorate. In 1679, Purcell succeeded John Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey and in 1683, he was also appointed organ maker and keeper of the king's instruments.

Purcell's songs rely primarily on his gift for melodic line. The ease with which he handles long continuous lines without repetition has all the qualities of a master musician. His wide-ranging vocal lines are highly expressive with a quality of nostalgia that can only be attributed to the magic of Purcell's personal involvement with the music. Purcell's tendency toward chromaticism was encouraged by the growing popularity of the 'Italian manner' and his vocal music, particularly his solo vocal music, uses chromaticism as a melodic feature to clarify, explicate, and intensify the text. Florid writing, though it occurs frequently in recitative as well as in the aria, rarely confuses the textual declamation. Only recently, with Benjamin Britten, has there been a possible rival to Purcell in setting English text. Notably, Britten was a careful student of Purcell's techniques.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Roger Quilter (1877-1953)

Roger Quilter received his primary education at Eton College, England, and then went on to study with Iwan Knorr at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany. Quilter began his song-writing career with his Songs of the Sea, four songs to words of his own, which was performed in London in 1900. Within just a few years major singers were including his songs in their recitals. Notable among these was Gervase Elwas, whom Quilter accompanied in many song recitals and for whose voice he wrote many works including the songs of Op. 3 and Op. 8. Regarding Elwas, Quilter writes: "I could have never written in quite the same way if I had not known Gervase."

Although Quilter composed a variety of materials including incidental music for Shakespeare's play As You Like It (1922) and the popular children's play Where the Rainbow Ends (1911), he is known principally for his song-writing. He is particularly noted for his fine settings of Shakespeare's poems, and some of his best songs are these as well as settings of other established English poets including the Elizabethans, Herrick, Blake, Shelley and Tennyson.

Central to Quilter's song style is his melodic gift, with harmonic elements skillfully woven into the overall texture, sometimes enriched, but never intruding on the interpretive sensibilities. Quilter's melodic setting of text is always intuitively correct, highlighting the heart of the poem with expressive harmony and melodies that seem to arise fresh made in the moment. His songs reflect an Edwardian age and are considered by some to be a peak in the English tradition of decorous romanticism, somewhat conservative for his time, but with a distinctive melodic flavor and always a refined taste in his choice of text.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Ravel was born in the French Pyrenees to a Swiss father and a Basque mother, but moved to Paris when he was an infant, beginning his piano studies there at the age of seven and studying at the Conservatoire from 1889 to 1904, including composition with Fauré. He never married and accepted almost no pupils (a notable exception being Ralph Vaughan Williams for 3 months), devoting his time to composition. Ravel was noted particularly for his genius at orchestration, his masterpieces being the well-known Bolero and his ballet Daphnis et Chloé, and for his great innovations in writing for the pianoforte.

The number of Ravel's songs is small when compared to his total output: 39 in all, eleven of which are arrangements and harmonizations of folk and traditional songs adapted with notable originality and genius. His compositions are often classified with Debussy's, but there are more differences than similarities, Ravel's writing showing more respect for classical forms than Debussy and consistently reflecting an extreme clarity of thought requiring a fastidiousness of execution. In his songs, Ravel preferred free verse to metered poetry, believing that regular verse restricted the musical interpretation. His piano accompaniments tend to be difficult and virtuosic and often provide the main musical interest while beautifully illuminating the melody and text. He wrote elegant and subtle melodies incorporating wit and harmonic richness balanced with a sense of flow. Driving rhythms, particularly in the piano accompaniments, along with dissonant harmonies and 'luxuriance of exotic colors' are also characteristic of Ravel's songs.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

Born in Sagunto, near Valencia in Spain, Rodrigo was blinded at age 5 as a result of diphtheria. He showed an early affinity for music, beginning his musical studies in Valencia with Antich, Gomá and Chávarri. By 1922 he was composing, premiering his first orchestral work, Juglares, in Valencia in 1924. In 1927 Rodrigo moved to Paris and began studies with Paul Dukas at the Schola Cantorum, then André Pirro at the Sorbonne and Maurice Emmanuel at the Conservatoire; Dukas considered Rodrigo one of his most promising students. During this time in Paris he became active with a group of Spanish composers also living there which included Turina, Albéniz, Granados and Falla. Falla in particular encouraged Rodrigo to incorporate Spanish elements into his compositions. From 1927 to the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Rodrigo continued to reside principally in France and Germany, returning briefly to Spain in 1933 to marry, and in 1934 to accept a professorship in the Colegio de Ciegos (School for the Blind) in Madrid from which he almost immediately acquired a fellowship and returned to Paris. He returned finally to Spain and settled in Madrid in the summer of 1939. By this time, Rodrigo was already an established composer with a style that included nationalist elements, "neoclassical forms, a harmonic and orchestral simplicity..., and an easy but attractive sonority." The work for which he is most famous, the Concierto de Aranjuez, was written in Paris during 1938-39. In 1947 Rodrigo was named the Manuel de Falla Professor of Music of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Madrid. In 1954, Rodrigo composed his other famous concerto for guitar and orchestra, Fantasía para un gentilhombre, based on a theme by Gaspar Sanz (c.1640-c.1710). His other well-known work, the Cuatro madrigales amatorios for voice and piano (1947), also drew on historical material for its inspiration. Although his creative activities slowed after the 1960's, Rodrigo continued to compose until a year before his death in 1999. During the latter half of his life, he was the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the music of Spain.

Rodrigo wrote many songs, written mostly in the traditional Spanish style and utilizing dance rhythms, folk material and the lyric plaintiveness of the Moorish and Gypsy melodies. Like Turina, Rodrigo's style matured very early in his career and remained with little development or deviation throughout his career. His was a somewhat conservative Spanish idiom, but with a distinct personality and an immediately identifiable style. Rodrigo himself had a modest outlook regarding his own artistic contribution writing: "Even though my glass may be small, I still drink from my own glass."

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Eduard Toldrá (1895-1962)

Born in the fishing port of Villanueva y Geltrú about 30 miles south of Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain, Eduard Toldrá was a child prodigy with the violin. His father, seeing his early talent, relocated the entire family to Barcelona in order to provide a better setting for his son's tremendous talents. In 1906, at eleven years old, Toldrá entered the Escuela Municipal de Música in Barcelona, studying violin with Gálvez and composition with Nicolau, as well as playing in various orchestras. Three years later, at age 14, he created a trio, and in 1911 (at 16 years old), a quartet – the Cuarteto Renacimiento (performing from 1911-1921). Both of these groups, trio and quartet, became Toldrá's primary avenues for furthering his virtuosic career. The Cuarteto Renacimiento also filled a void in Barcelona's musical life at a time when the political environment actively suppressed any regional leanings, particularly in Catalonia. Under the political atmosphere of the time, musicians such as Toldrá, who pointedly involved himself in the purely Catalan 'Noucentisme' cultural movement of the time, were marginalized in terms of the larger musical world of the Spanish peninsula. This fact, combined with the major upheavals of the two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War, resulted in a rather provincial career for Toldrá. Although valued in his own Catalonia, he is not very well known outside that area of the world.

Toldrá's compositions were generally composed in response to an outside stimulus, such as a competition or a prize; they were not his primary contributions to the musical arena. However, those pieces that he did write are generally very beautiful and are now beginning to be appreciated by a wider international audience. His contributions to the song literature, although small, shows a refined talent and at times an exquisite musical sensibility.

The Catalan 'Noucentisme' movement to which Toldrá subscribed arose both as a reaction against the avant-garde and as a kind of regional renaissance movement which played a major role in reviving and preserving Catalan culture and language. As such, language – particularly poetry – was its primary avenue of expression. All of Toldrá's compositions, instrumental as well as vocal, find their initial impetus in poetry: a poem, in whole or in part, was the inevitable 'source' of Toldrá's inspiration for the music he composed. His songs lean toward the romantic, influenced by Debussy, but choose a refined and accurate musical language that borrows harmonic ideas from his Catalan homeland. Toldrá's taste in poetry is impeccable whether drawing inspiration from well-established Spanish poets, from old folk songs, or from contemporary Catalan poets, notably including Josep Carner, called the "prince of Catalan poets" and an outstanding poetic representative of 'Noucentisme' sensibilities.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

One of the leaders of the 20th century revival of English music, Ralph Vaughan Williams began his music studies as a child, studying piano and violin. He studied at Cambridge University and the Royal Conservatory of Music with various teachers including composition with Parry and Charles Wood. In 1897 he studied with Max Bruch in Berlin, and took his Mus.D. from Cambridge in 1901. In 1908 Vaughan Williams spent time in Paris with Ravel learning techniques of modern orchestration that emphasized color. During this time he was also actively involved, along with Cecil Sharp and Gustav Holst, in the collection of English folk song. Vaughan Williams's compositions reflect a solid grounding in the English folk song tradition combined with modern harmony, counterpoint and instrumentation.

Vaughan Williams is described as one of the most important British composers of the 20th century. He wrote songs throughout his composing career including more than 150 art songs, arrangements, part songs, unison songs, and hymn tunes. Although he supposedly disliked the piano, his songs demonstrate his ability to compose exceedingly well at it. He also composed five operas, choral music, film music and numerous orchestral works. His harmonies display a 'distinctly modern treatment' while his mature songs favor melodies that are energetic, yet softened by melismatic passages. He was gifted at defining simple, yet aesthetically appealing settings of text and, in his songs, his melodies frequently predominate and outshine his accompaniments. His style is distinctively personal, combining the insights of his studies in English folk music with the strength of his own personality: "the modalities of the Tudor era with the sparkling polytonalities of the modern age."

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel




Peter Warlock (pseudonym for Philip Heseltine) (1894-1930)

Peter Warlock has been called one of the most gifted songwriters of the century and one of the most colorful talents in English 20th-century music. Raised with no formal musical education, his love of music was noted in preparatory school and was additionally fostered at Eton College. As a composer, he was essentially self-taught. Warlock was a distinguished editor and transcriber of music from the Elizabethan Era (with 570 published items of Elizabethan and Jacobean music) as well as editor, music critic, and author of nine books and 73 articles. His meeting with the French composer Frederick Delius in 1910 was the catalyst that inspired him towards music composition and resulted in a lifelong friendship between the two men. In 1916, Warlock met Anglo-Dutch composer Bernard von Dieren who influenced him towards a more mature contrapuntal style.

Often described as 'an Elizabethan born out of his time,' Warlock's compositions are distinctively his own. His songs seem to combine the spirit of Elizabethan music with impressionistic harmonic writing. Delius's influences are seen in Warlock's lyricism and "drooping chromatic harmonies," while Warlock's contrapuntal chromaticism derive from his association with von Dieren. Much of the time Warlock's solo song-settings are of Elizabethan poets and generally portray two contrasting moods: an extroverted joviality or a 'meditative lyricism.' Warlock's compositions demonstrate a skill, sensitivity and wit inevitably coupled with fine poetry. In all cases, he had not only a gift for melody, but also for brilliant piano writing, making many of his songs as much a duet for voice and piano as the songs of Hugo Wolf.

Copyright © 2005 Amelia Seyssel