Suzanne’s Rosetta Stone compilation

Here are the blog posts Suzanne DuPlantis wrote in the days leading up to our May 2013 Rosetta Stone concert.

Program of our upcoming Rosetta Stone concert

Posted on April 8, 2013 by Lyric Fest

The next Lyric Fest concert, the last of our 10th Anniversary Season, is scheduled for Sunday May 5 at 3 pm at the Academy of Vocal Arts. The concert includes songs composed in a language other than the native language of their composers. You can see the program of the concert at this link (PDF): Rosetta_Stone_Music_Program.

Rosetta Stone Posts

Posted on April 24, 2013 by Suzanne

With “Rosetta Stone” Lyric Fest ends its 10th Anniversary Season of Journeys. Read on to learn about the final trek!

The language of music

Here is the thing… A composer, who already communicates using the language of music, gets it in his or her mind to write songs.  We can assume said composer loves words, loves poems. (You would be surprised how many routinely went to bed with books of poetry on their bed stands: Sam Barber, Benjamin Britten, Ned Rorem, Johannes Brahms…) Said composer is undoubtedly inspired by the moods, the colors, the emotions they provoke! (Otherwise, why not compose a work for violin and piano?)

Lo! Some composers make a leap. Instead of composing songs in their own native tongue, they “journey” to a foreign land and set poems in foreign languages. And sometimes… OK, often in languages they don’t even know.

Why? And what is the result? That is what Lyric Fest’s Rosetta Stone celebrates. Tomorrow, we start with reason number 1 (numbered quite arbitrarily) — Friendship and Ravel’s Greek Songs.

Reason Number 1: Friendship – Ravel’s Greek Songs

Posted on April 25, 2013 by Suzanne

Paris, 1904 — The story goes that Maurice Ravel, a composer as we know, but also a music critic, had another music critic-singer-friend, a Greek man named Calvocoressi, who asked him to doll up some Greek folk songs for a lecture he was presenting entitled ‘The songs of oppressed peoples—Greeks and Armenians’. Ravel dashed off the first set in 36 hours.

Then, sometime over the next two years, some of these songs were omitted, others added and the final result became the “Cinq mélodies polulaires grecques.”  Nobody calls them by their Greek title. In fact, few even sing them in Greek, for Calvocoressi himself translated them into French and it is in this version that they have stubbornly, charmingly held up alongside Ravel’s more sophisticated songs.

But you have to hear them in Greek!!  They are amazing.  Here is the wonderful Greek mezzo soprano Irma Kolassi singing them.

This is the standard cycle of Ravel’s Greek Songs, sung spectacularly in Greek, as you will hear them at Lyric Fest.  Five in number, short and sweet.  The whole set lasts just over 7 minutes.  You’ve got time for that!

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Now, if you are hungering for more, here is Irma singing lots more Greek songs, not set by Ravel. Yes, I digress, but notice the fascinating difference between Ravel’s settings and these! And while you are there, please enjoy the fun slide show of all the neat Greek scenes, tavernas, ruins, dancers decked in tradition costumes and olive groves, something to really put you in the mood! Do grab a shot of ouzo, a dish of olives and feta, sit back and enjoy.

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Lastly, some may want to do yet another comparison — here they are in French, as they are typically performed today.  A lovely version with Kenneth Bass and James Gardner.

Reason Number 2: Homework Assignments — Ives’ German Settings

Posted on April 26, 2013 by Suzanne

Hartford Connecticut, 1897 —  Charles Ives is at Yale studying composition.  The civil war is a recent memory. Parlor songs and Sousa marches are in. “Charlie” as his friends know him, is receiving a very traditional European musical education, studying the works of Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, etc. His teacher, Dr. Griggs, assigns him the task of writing a few songs. We can assume this from the pencil sketch of Feldeinsamkeit (a song you will hear on Rosetta Stone.) Dated back to Ives’ Yale years, it shows a note scratched in the upper right corner of the that reads “for Dr Griggs’ recital in Center Church chapel Nov-10-1897…. Wednesday, but Dr. Griggs was singing at Simsbury that evening.”

The Ives songs in German you will hear at Rosetta Stone are very traditional, not your everyday Ives. And why is it that Ives did not continue in this vein?

Easy — Ives’ real learning had begun at his father’s knee, a guy known as “the best band leader in the Union Army”. Musical exercises for the day might have included: dividing the octave into 24 microtones, sitting Charlie in a public square and setting two marching bands in motion on either ends of town, each playing a different march in a different key, all for Charlie’s enjoyment, or having the youngster sing Swanee River in E-flat while dear old dad accompanied him in C major.  If you think Charles Ives was ahead of his time, how about his dad!

Here for your listening enjoyment is Charles Ives’ homework assignment for November 10th 1897, a version of Feldeinsamkeit. It is brought to you by a young Fischer-Dieskau. Ponder that. It is like Sir Lawrence Olivier reciting the poem you wrote for your freshman Poetry Writing 101 class.

And you might find it fun to listen to the more famous setting of Feldeinsamkei by Brahms that Ives probably knew well, sung also by the world’s beloved Fischer-Dieskau. The one who created this video included a translation of the poem, and made it as a tribute to the great baritone “on the day he was laid to rest.”

Reason Number 3: Roots — Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s “Coplas”

Posted on April 27, 2013 by Suzanne

Italian 20th century composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed a song cycle in Spanish called “Coplas.” Lyric Fest’s Rosetta Stone concert will feature 4 of these bright, brief songs. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was 20 when he wrote them. He was inspired by his own roots, being as he was, descended from a group of Sephardic Jews who fled Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. (Some of us are blessed with DNA that remembers.)

He encountered the little Spanish poems, called “coplas” in a novel by Jean Richepin. They were inserted here and there, and their charm captured the attention of the young composer who was at the same time searching for his Spanish identity.

Think of the texts, these “coplas,” like slightly extended Haiku (only in Spanish, and meant to be sung.) In Spain these are the folk poems fluidly created by peasants, poets and lords, through many centuries, passed down from fathers to sons, lovers to lovers, great aunts to little nieces and nephews.

Here’s a little gem:

See the day is breaking,
now the quail announces it
Goodbye, joy of my life

or this:

Your eyes and mine
have become tangled together
like two blackberry bushes
in the hedges

Or these, set by Castelnuovo that we are performing…

In a song I will depict for you
the wheel of life;
sinning and doing penance
(girl of my heart)
sinning and doing penance
then starting all over again


When the judge asked me
how I made a living
I answered, “By stealing”,
(this is the plain truth)
I answered, “By stealing
… as your Grace himself does!”

You will have to come hear them on Lyric Fest’s Rosetta Stone concert — can you believe this? — there are no YouTube videos of these songs!

Reason Number 4: Love — Lieberson’s Neruda Settings

Posted on April 28, 2013 by Suzanne

Where do I start to tell you about these amazing songs? In all my years of singing and loving art song I don’t think I have ever encountered anything more gratifying, more inspired, more authentic than these incredible songs. And they were composed and premiered in the 21st Century. How is that for the promise of this genre?

Love, it’s all you ever need…

It would be enough just to have the songs, but the story that goes with them is equally something. These songs are the artistic culmination of a love between two artists, composer Peter Lieberson and singer Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. They met and fell in love in 1997, and were married 1999. (Yes, Peter left his former wife and three children to marry her.) The union was so brief, less than a decade. Lorraine, one-of-a-kind and beloved artist that she was, died in 2006 of breast cancer, leaving a sputtering host of loved ones, fans and fellow artists. Lieberson himself fell ill with cancer the following year and died in 2011. “What makes the human life so poignant is the recognition of its profound impermanence,’’ (Lieberson to David Weininger a year before he died.)

What we have left are the songs. Ah, the songs! They both loved Neruda. Lorraine loved pink. Peter was in an airport when he spied a small book with a pink cover. It turned out to be a little collection of Neruda love poems. He selected the poems, arranged them for her and presented them as a gift, saying he had finally done something he had never done before, express his love for Lorraine in music. If I can recommend that you do something extra special for yourself today it is this: Buy these songs. The performance from 2005 with Boston Symphony, James Levine conducting. Lorraine cancelled most of her concerts in her final year, but sang two performances, both of this work and this recording is one of them.

To hear Lorraine, curtesy of NPR, follow this link. There are two tracks on the playlist, settings of the following poems of Neruda:

Ya eres mia, reposa con tu sueño en mi sueño

And now you’re mine. Rest with your dream in my dream.
And now you’re mine. Rest with your dream in my dream.
Love and pain and work should all sleep, now.
The night turns on its invisible wheels,
and you are pure beside me as a sleeping amber.

No one else, love, will sleep in my dreams. You will go,
we will go together, over the waters of time.
No one else will travel through the shadows with me,
only you, evergreen, ever sun, ever moon.

Your hands have already opened their delicate fists
and let their soft drifting signs drop away;
your eyes closed like two grey wings, and I move
after, following the folding water you carry, that carries
me away. The night, the world, the wind spin out their destiny.
Without you, I am your dream, only that, and that is all.

Pablo Neruda

Amor mio, si muero y tu no mueres

My love, if I die and you don’t–,
My love, if I die and you don’t–,
My love, if you die and I don’t–,
let’s not give grief an even greater field.

No expanse is greater than where we live.
Dust in the wheat, sand in the deserts,
time, wandering water, the vague wind
swept us like sailing seeds.

We might not have found one another in time.
This meadow where we find ourselves,
O little infinity! we give it back.
But Love, this love has not ended:
just as it never had a birth, it has
no death: it is like a long river,
only changing lands, and changing lips.

Pablo Neruda

Reason Number 5: Necessity and the Art of Staying Alive — Kurt Weill’s Songs for the American Theater

Posted on May 4, 2013 by Suzanne

Rosetta Stone is Lyric Fest’s final concert of our 10th Anniversary Season of “Journeys”. Come enjoy the final trek (and have a glass of wine with us) following this fascinating program that explores the many songs in which composers wrote songs in languages other than their own.  In this last installment of the reasons why composers did this, we take up the American music theater songs of German composer, Kurt Weill.

Already a wildly successful composer for the German Theatre scene with such successes as “Die Dreigroschenoper” (The Three Penny Opera), “Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny” (The Rise and Fall of Mahagony) and “Der Zar lässt sich photographieren” (The Czar has his photograph taken) Kurt Weill became a direct target of the Nazi regime in the 30’s.  He fled to France, and then to the US, where he redirected his energies toward creating countless works for the American Music Theater.  Once in the US, he never set German words again. A true chameleon who is nevertheless utterly “Weill,” (no pun intended!) his works from the American period are convincingly idiomatic of the American style.

Here for your enjoyment is one of my favorite mezzos — Anne Sophie von Otter singing a Kurt Weill classic, “I’m a Stranger here myself” from One Touch of Venus written with librettist Ogden Nash and dating from 1943.

Extra Program Note:  And this art of staying alive?  It goes for several other composers featured on Lyric Fest’s Rosetta Stone:  Stravinsky, Korngold and Castelnuovo-Tedesco too, all fled to the US during the Nazi era and the outbreak of World War II.


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