Many of you commented on how much you enjoyed my valentine serenade of ‘Plaisir d’amour’ on guitar. I thoroughly enjoyed putting that together, so I have been cooking up a few other similar projects. A number of Schubert songs came to mind that might be possible to adapt for guitar, and with spring upon us I thought ‘Heidenröslein’, a song about a little rose, might be the perfect choice.
Composed on August 19, 1815 (a day on which Schubert also set four other poems of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to music), ‘Heidenröslein’ tells the story of a boy who encounters a beautiful rose which he decides to pick, despite the little rose’s warning that she will prick him if he does so. The metaphor is difficult to miss; the little rose that the boy spies represents a young girl, and the boy feels the sting of thorns as he attempts to court her. In fact Goethe’s poem has inspired numerous illustrations over the years, and nearly all of them feature an eager young man inquiring after a demure young woman, with a field of roses essentially incidental to the scene.
Perhaps the thing that I most enjoy about ‘Heidenröslein’ is that it offers the singer a chance to portray multiple characters in the space of just a few lines of text and music. The narrator sets the scene, the boy makes his move, the rose strikes back, and the refrain seems to comment on the action after each verse: ‘Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot, Röslein auf der Heiden.’ Of course the music ties it all together, and Schubert in his usual way has managed to create a song that is simple like a folksong and yet full of variety and color. Although the musical material is identical each time, the instrumental coda that follows each strophe is somehow able to capture three different moods; from the excitement of seeing the rose in the beginning, to the admonishing tone of the rose in the middle, to the inevitable moral of the story at the end.
The alternating bass line and chord structure of this song seemed a natural fit for the guitar idiom, and my fingers got a bit of a workout on the instrumental interludes after each verse. I hope you enjoy my six-stringed version of this classic Schubert song!
By Ace Gangoso
Almost exactly one year ago, we were singing in what would—unexpectedly—be our last concert of 2020. What a way to end my debut season with Fourth Coast Ensemble! Here we are a year later bouncing back, having recently kicked off of our Origin Stories concerts, live in HD. While we are all beyond excited to bring you these new performances, I still look forward to these blogs for The Art Song Fix because it gives us the opportunity to look back and reflect on how far we have come, in more ways than one.
My song of choice today is “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington. I must confess, I never really expected to be singing a jazz standard in a concert with “Chicago’s classical vocal quartet.” Shame on me! Of course, this was the point of the concert (entitled Between the Lines) which explored the boundaries surrounding what is typically considered classical vs. non-classical—in this case, jazz.
Duke Ellington was a very gifted musician and songwriter, and a pioneer with his own attempts to blur the lines between classical and jazz. Teaming up with Billy Strayhorn, he sought out to write a multi-movement orchestral work telling the story of Black Americans, particularly through the lens of religion and slavery. Black, Brown and Beige premiered on January 23, 1943 and was met with mixed reviews, and, like his other large-scale works, never garnered widespread acclaim.
We must consider, however, that classical music circles were even more Eurocentric at that time than they are today, and society at large more rampant with unchecked white supremacy. The insulting saying “good enough for jazz” was borne out of ignorance and hatred not just of the music, but its creators. Who knows what would have happened in a more equitable time and space, with ears more ready and willing to hear new sounds from a person of color on the concert hall stage.
Here and now, at the end of Black History Month in the year 2021, it is evident that some progress has been made. I was tickled to get to use my falsetto croon and improvise riffs on this song immediately after singing full-throttle on Agustin Lara’s “Granada.” In classical concerts, you would often hear jazz pieces (if included at all) tucked in towards the end or used as an encore, presented as lighter fare in comparison to the more “serious” works that preceded it. But good music is good music, a good song is a good song, and every style and genre deserves to be respected and represented. Depth and virtuosity can be shown in a myriad of ways. May we continue to challenge our minds and senses, draw the circle wider, and grow the Fourth Coast family beyond what anyone would have ever dreamed!
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!