By David Govertsen
The overture from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music is an oddly appropriate musical number for these many months we have spent in quarantine. Much like 2020, you never know quite what is coming next.
Sondheim scraps the traditional instrumental overture one expects at the top of a musical drama and instead lets the singers kick things off, and a cappella at that. The ensuing three minutes are a wild ride of key changes, shifts in tempo and texture, leaps of vocal register and dynamics, and musical moods that turn on a dime. Listen as each singer switches roles between featured soloist, background accompaniment, and balanced four-part ensemble member (Sondheim actually composed this for five singers, bonus points if you can figure out how we covered all the parts with a quartet). As a performer I love the variety that this kind of music provides, but it is certainly a major vocal workout.
The overture contains three main themes that appear later in the show: "Remember’" "Soon", and "The Glamorous Life". Since live performances have come to a standstill there has been much time to reflect on music we made in the past. Ah, how we laughed, ah, how we cried…remember? Though in the context of the show it has a very different meaning, the lyrics seem to answer the question we are all asking: Will life in the performing arts as we once knew it return? Soon, I promise. From the standpoint of a performer it is incredibly strange not to have worn a tuxedo for a concert in so long. Pack up the luggage–Hi-ho, for the glamorous life!
Fortunately, Fourth Coast Ensemble has exciting plans to bring up the curtain once again with our seventh season. The complete announcement of our inaugural HD season, including ticket info for three live broadcast concerts, will happen on January 5, 2021. Until then, please enjoy this la la la from the archives!
This performance was recorded live on March 3, 2020 in Buchanan Chapel with pianist Kuang-Hao Huang. Audio by Joshua Sauvageau. Video by Nadia Oussenko.
We are connected to one another, whether we like it or not. We are, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” While it may not always feel like it in American society right now, this messy conglomeration of people with different cultures of origin and values is still one (unruly, intersectional) body.
I’ve thought a lot about this interconnectedness while reflecting on "Love Knows not ‘Mine’ or ‘Thine’,” Wayland Rogers’ setting of Christina Rossetti from the ensemble’s 2018 commission, I-Thou. Traveling through this song cycle that investigates so many different human relationships, we arrive at this final movement that celebrates sharing and oneness. I’ve needed to let this song wash over me, and to marinate in its message this week. We are connected.
The movement begins with each voice on its own, a capella, calling out “in truth” - perhaps competing individual truths? - but then joining in one unison “truth” to state that “love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine’.” The voices move together in homophonic, simultaneous rhythm, while keeping consonant harmonies that make the music rich. All are together as one, while keeping their individual range and color. As the poem continues to refer to “both of us,” and “the love which makes us one,” the voices take their own versions of the same phrase while the music swells and grows in volume and range, until the four singers come back to unison - truly one. The final note rings in the air over an open, repeating pattern in the piano that feels like a sonic breath of fresh air. Openness, freedom, and unity in sound, as well as in text, to culminate the whole song cycle in “the love that makes us one.” After a cycle investigating conflict, dissonance, sarcasm, humor, beauty, and pain, we end up here: in harmony, through love.
Thanks for the reminder, Wayland. Here’s to the work of (messy, difficult, worthwhile) love.
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!