January 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech. Having just been re-elected to to the presidency for a historic third term, FDR addressed congress and the American people on January 6, 1941 about the progressing threat of World War II in Europe, and the moral imperative Americans faced to defend democracy around the world.
Composer David Evan Thomas beautifully adapted this speech into his piece for vocal quartet and piano, "The Four Freedoms," which Fourth Coast Ensemble performed with pianist Mark Bilyeu on our 2018 Americana concerts.
This nation has placed its destiny
The song begins with all four voices in unison: evoking the mutual responsibility that citizens of a democracy share. Then, rich four-part harmony breaks out as the singers proclaim, "Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere." This line is repeated again as if to drive home the meaning of those words even further.
The four freedoms are laid out clearly by each of the four solo voices – bass-baritone, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and soprano – and the singers are spurred forward by an increasingly insistent piano part. This moment dovetails into a glorious a cappella section, and my personal favorite part of the song. The voices soar, simultaneously independent and inter-dependent. Beautiful melismas weave together and apart in satisfying harmony as we hear the four freedoms repeated again and again.
Piano and singers join together to conclude in agreement: "This is no vision for a distant millennium. It is attainable in our own time."
The song is an encouraging and uplifting reminder of our democratic ideals. It also invites each of us to reflect on what we are doing to further these goals as citizens today. Whether through social activism, getting an education, performing charitable work, or exercising your democratic right to vote, you can join your voice in the harmonious chorus of democracy. I invite you to take a moment in the coming days to appreciate the exciting power and responsibility we share as Americans: This is no vision for a distant millennium. It is attainable in our own time.
Amy Beach: The Year's at the Spring
by Ace Gangoso
The year’s at the spring,
Well, the year is not at the spring. Leaves are falling, the air is turning colder, and the sun sets earlier with each passing day. All is most certainly not right with the world. Am I delusional to have chosen to post this song at this time? With our reality being as it is, I think it’s reasonable to allow our minds to escape to such a vision of springtime beauty and optimism once in a while. I like to think of this poem as the Spring 2020 we had hoped to have. Maybe we can sing this song into existence by 2021.
I wonder what Amy Beach’s experience was with the 1918 pandemic. I’m curious about a lot of her life, actually, especially since I knew very little about her until I studied Three Browning Songs for this concert. I was instantly fascinated with her and her music. I learned that by the age of 2, Beach was probably a more skilled musician than I was at age 12—perhaps even 22. She was a piano prodigy and made her solo debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at age 16. When I was that age, I remember being nervous to the point of feeling nauseous to step on stage for my high school’s musical.
I wonder what it was like to be so gifted that early in life, and to have to find your way as a young American woman at the turn of the 20th century. I wonder what it was like to be the first American woman to publish a symphony, and to hear it premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I wonder what it was like to be hailed a pioneer, and to be welcomed as “one of the boys” in the illustrious Boston Six.
When I consider the audacious life and career of Amy Beach…
When I reflect on the calamity of the past eight months…
When I stop to take notice of the steadfastness, creativity, and goodwill that has continues to emerge in spite of it all…
…a part of me starts to believe that anything is possible. I invite you to join me in getting lost in wonder and daring to dream. There is new life ahead. Happy spring!
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!