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.
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.
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!