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.
This week marked the official centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, so it seems only appropriate that we feature music from Lori Laitman’s song cycle Are Women People? on this edition of The Art Song Fix.
The text from the third movement, Take Pity, is excerpted from an 1894 speech delivered by Susan B. Anthony:
Now, women, if you haven’t any self-respect for yourselves, you should at least take pity on the men associated with you in your good works.
The singers perform a cappella without the support of piano accompaniment, perhaps a reflection of the lack of support early suffragettes may have felt for their cause.
Ironically the men sing the first notes of the song but thereafter echo the words uttered by the women, as if they immediately assume they have all of the answers but in reality only repeat the ideas of their female counterparts. The bass makes one final plea for pity at the end of the song, a humorous take on men finding a way to make women’s suffrage all about them.
You can hear the final movement of Are Women People? on our July 3 Art Song Fix, a setting of the text of the 19th Amendment itself.
Fourth Coast recorded the full song cycle in studio in January 2020, and we can’t wait to share the record with you upon its official release.
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!