THE ART SONG FIX
Fourth Coast Ensemble's Blog
La vie en rose is the song that launched cabaret singer Édith Piaf to international success. The original 1947 Colombia Records pressing of the single sold a million copies in the U.S. and was the number one best selling single in Italy that year. Piaf, who authored the lyrics, collaborated with a number of composers on the music, although the musical authorship was ultimately attributed to Luiguy. This became one of Piaf's signature songs and was included on most of the subsequent albums she recorded in her lifetime.
However, success was hardly prescribed in her life. She fought to overcome many difficult circumstances to achieve success as a chanteuse, starting right from the beginning when her mother abandoned her at birth. She was raised in a brothel until age 14, when her father took her on the road and trained her as a street performer and acrobat. She became a young mother herself at age 17, and overcame extreme stage fright to make her cabaret debut at age 20. Music changed the course of her life over the next 10 years, until 1947 when she would record La vie en rose.
Knowing the basic facts of Piaf's life, one can appreciate the sentiment of this song even more. The title translates as "Life through rose colored glasses," and the lyrics describe the protective emotional cloak that a love affair can provide at it's height. "When you press me to your heart / I'm in a world apart / A world where roses bloom." This bittersweet sentiment was at the core of Piaf's greatest hits and very identity: life may do its best to break you down, but as humans we can still find beauty when we choose look for it.
I hope you enjoy this performance from Fourth Coast Ensemble's March 3, 2020 Between the Lines concert, featuring my own rendition of this iconic song with pianist Kuang-Hao Huang.
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.
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!