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.
by Ace Gangoso
Here we are at the end of 2020. Good riddance, as many say, alongside high hopes for the year ahead. Today’s musical offering is perhaps not the first Christmas tune that comes to mind. You probably won’t hear it playing over the loudspeakers inside department stores. There are no bells, no fa la las, Glorias or Hallelujahs, nor are there any descants and melismatic vocal fireworks—appropriately so, given the year we have had, full of the unusual and unexpected, to put it mildly. And if “In the Bleak Midwinter” does happen to be one of your go-to carols, I would be willing to bet that you are most familiar with the choral setting by Gustav Holst.
Our setting of choice is by another English composer, Harold Darke. There are striking similarities between the two settings, both rhythmically and melodically, particularly in the opening phrases. Both are simple, strophic, and beautifully capture the somber and pensive mood of the poem by Christina Rossetti. Using words like bleak, cold, and hard to describe the nativity scene, she highlights the ironic nature of the savior of the world being born into such humble conditions.
This is not “Joy to the World,” but to be clear, this is not a sad song, either. For me, the key word is “enough.” If I have learned anything this year, it is that I can afford to restructure my own concept of “enough” and how it relates to basic necessities, finances, health, relationships, and more. I love songs that challenge, and the challenge presented here is for us to redirect our foci: away from that which we currently lack to that which we have and take for granted, away from where we aren’t in order to be fully present where we are—and in spite of hardship, to find ways to give and show love.
So please accept this gift from Sarah, Bridget, Dave, and me in the form of a brand new virtual performance from the comfort and safety of our own homes. Thank you for your continued support and loyalty to us, and for helping us to get through this year. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to you and yours!
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble 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 #artsongfix!