In honor of the upcoming opening concert of Fourth Coast Ensemble’s HD season on February 20, we are excited to share our most recent virtual collaboration: Morten Lauridsen’s choral setting of “Sure on this Shining Night.”
This is a song that we’ve never sung before, and, in fact, we never could have performed before now because the vocal lines split into more than four parts! One of the benefits of collaborating remotely is that the quartet is able to record multiple vocal parts amongst ourselves, giving everyone the pleasure of hearing Lauridsen’s signature tone clusters and rich harmonies as-written.
James Agee’s enigmatic poem portrays the internal experience of an individual who finds healing in contemplating the night sky. Despite “wandering far alone,” the individual still looks at the “starmade shadows” and feels that “all is healed / all is health.” Lauridsen’s setting brings out the lyricism of the poetry with wonderful sweeping melismas for the voice, and simple flowing movement in the piano.
The first vocal divisi occurs mid-way through the song on the text “High summer holds the earth / Hearts all whole”. The shimmering tone clusters heard here continue to re-appear and radiate throughout the remainder of the piece. Although the vocal part settles into a satisfying and well-earned stillness at the end, the piano twinkles on, perhaps representing the onward movement of the stars overhead.
Like the wanderer in the poem, we each recorded apart from one another. However, the music has in fact given us the opportunity to find healing and health as we marvel at the sky we all share.
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This Sunday we celebrate the birthday of Viennese composer and songsmith extraordinaire Franz Schubert. As a pioneer of the song cycle genre with over six hundred songs written for solo voice and piano to his credit, he has clearly earned a place in the art song pantheon.
The music of Schubert has naturally found a home on many Fourth Coast concerts. ‘Die Forelle’, heard here in an arrangement for vocal quartet and piano, kicked off our ‘What a Zoo!’ program, which I had the pleasure of curating two seasons ago.
Composed in 1817 when Schubert was barely twenty years old, the song tells the tale of the titular trout and a meddlesome fisherman. The cheerful melody in the piano depicts the lively fish swimming about in the clear water as the fisherman attempts to catch it. The fisherman grows impatient and muddies the waters in order to trick the trout; the fish is caught! Here Schubert likewise muddies the musical waters with thick, crunchy chords in the left hand of the piano, returning to the original theme as the trout emerges from the water hooked on the fishing line.
I am always struck by the imagery that jumps off the page in a Schubert song. Using only the keys of a piano and the voice of a singer he is able to conjure vivid depictions of nearly any subject; from the pounding of horses’ feet in ‘Erlkönig’, to the incessant turning of the spinning wheel in ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’, to the lively antics of the trout in ‘Die Forelle’. To think that he achieved this in only thirty-one short years of life makes one wonder what could have been.
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Herr Schubert!
This performance was recorded live on June 2, 2019 at the Logan Center for the Arts in Hyde Park with pianist Kuang-Hao Huang. Audio by Joshua Sauvageau.
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!