THE ART SONG FIX
Fourth Coast Ensemble's Blog
Today Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state in the nation’s capitol, the first woman to be so honored. She spent her career advocating for women’s rights and gender equality and leaves behind a legacy that has inspired countless citizens.
This past week I have reflected fondly on the times that I was fortunate to personally interact with Justice Ginsburg. A well-known lover of opera, she made regular pilgrimages to the Santa Fe Opera where I was lucky to perform over several summers. She was also involved in a number of panel discussions concerning opera as it relates to the law, and I count myself blessed to have taken part in one of those sessions. (There is nothing quite like performing a Gilbert & Sullivan song only to have its contents immediately dissected by a justice of the Supreme Court!) It is an experience I will always treasure.
This week’s Art Song Fix looks back on our American Woman concerts, which celebrated many of the civil rights advancements that Justice Ginsburg tirelessly worked for over a period of decades.
American composer Jennifer Higdon utilizes texts from the Civil War era in her song cycle Civil Words, among them an excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Lincoln speaks to a nation at war:
With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.
The mood is somber, the piano part thick and plodding, the harmonies searching desperately for resolution. Higdon paints a vivid picture of the sixteenth president: a leader seeking to inspire hope and reconciliation in a country entrenched in battle. As the United States continues to experience civil unrest in the present day, Lincoln’s words seem as timely as ever. May we soon achieve a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Rest well, RBG.
Lincoln’s Final was recorded in November of 2019 at St. Paul and the Redeemer in Hyde Park, and features pianist Maria Sumareva.
By Ace Gangoso
Atreus, Cadmus, and Alcides aren’t household names these days, but one need not be well-versed in Greek mythology to understand the singing poet’s struggle in An die Leier. The song has a startling beginning with chords that crash and clash, painting a sonic picture of disaster and destruction. It is essentially the soundtrack to the year 2020.
The vocal line begins with a pompous war-cry, declaring honor and loyalty to these mighty heroes as if marching into an epic battle. However, the piano (representing the lyre) takes on a life of its own, modulating toward a more peaceful soundscape. And despite another effort to revert to the original bombastic tones, the sounds of love ultimately win. The transitions are almost comical, but reveal a certain truth: artists can falter, but art is pure.
As a musician, I have found it difficult at times to keep a hopeful and optimistic focus. What helps to pick me up and keep me going is witnessing the craftiness and ingenuity that continues to emerge despite our current circumstances. From online virtual performances to mini-concerts on balconies to murals and street paintings—creative life lives on and thrives. This week, in celebration of the women’s suffrage centennial, sculptor Meredith Bergmann unveiled statues of pioneers Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth in New York City’s Central Park.
These are all wonderful reminders that, even in the darkest of times, beauty and inspiration are all around. As makers and lovers of music, we have to keep the faith and support one another. Although our world is volatile and full of discord, art can lead us and change the tune.
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!