The art of song:

Conductor Stewart Emerson and Opera to GO! director Joyce Parry Moore to introduce Romantic period musical movement to a Juneau audience

Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2005

In the heart of the Romantic period, when lyric poetry was at its height, musicians seized upon the idea of reinterpreting text into their own compositions.

The movement has come to be known as "art song," and it was the intimate folk gathering of the early 1800s. Composers could create operatic journeys in the span of three minutes. Audiences could hold small recitals in their parlors, rather than giant halls.

"Often people don't know about art song, or they'll discount it as something less than opera," Opera to GO! director Joyce Parry Moore said. "In America especially, everything has got to be big and bold and flashy, and something that's meant to be very intimate can get lost in the shuffle."

In Europe, art song is more popular. British conductor Stewart Emerson, now living in Berlin, will lecture about the art form at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, in the first Evening at Egan lecture of the year, at the University of Alaska Southeast lecture hall. Admission is free.

Parry Moore and Emerson will perform an evening of art songs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at the UAS Egan Recital Hall. The show will be preceded by a short reception and an auction of Opera to GO! costumes from seasons past.

On Sunday, Sept. 18, Emerson will lead a workshop from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at UAS. Cost is $40 for singers, $25 for pianists and $10 to audit. Call 321-0885 to register.

art songs

what: lyrical poetry reinterpreted into musical compositions.

lecture: conductor Stewart Emerson and opera to go! artistic director Joyce Parry Moore, 7 p.m. friday, sept. 16, at the university of alaska southeast lecture hall. admission is free.

recital: emerson and parry moore, 8 p.m. saturday, sept. 17, at the uas egan recital hall.

workshop: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. sunday, sept. 18, at uas. cost is $40 for singers, $25 for pianists and $10 to audit. call 321-0885 to register.

Born in London, Emerson is the music director of the opera department at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin. The academy has about 120 singers and stages 16 productions a year.

"I work with singers, and we work on three different kinds of repertoire," Emerson said. "Opera, oratorio and this art song repertoire. I spend a lot of time accompanying young singers in this sort of thing, and it's a great joy to do, because it gives you a completely different scale to be working on."

Last Friday, Emerson guest-conducted Il-Ryun Chung's dual concerto for bassoon and sheng in CrossSound's 2005 "Echography" main concert. In the fall of 2006, he will help direct the Juneau production of "Children's Crusade," a collaboration between CrossSound and Opera to GO!

Saturday's recital will begin with Benjamin Britten's version of Henry Purcell's "The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation," a song written long before art song's rise to popularity. Next is Robert Schumann's "Frauenliebe und Leben," a song cycle based on the words of the poet Adelbert von Chamisso. Schumann wrote the piece for his wife, Clara. It follows a young woman's path from first love to marriage to motherhood to loss. The first half of the program concludes with Schumann's reworking of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Mignon Lieder."

The second half brightens up, starting with "Les Nuits d'Ete," Hector Berlioz' cycle of six songs on poems by Theophile Gautier. It ends with three William Walton songs, based on poems by the eccentric Dame Edith Sitwell.

"If the audience does the journey with us, we have three ladies in the first half who are pretty distraught in one way or another," Emerson said. "That's pretty draining emotionally, so we have to do something in the second half to bring you back to normal.

"The Berlioz is actually an orchestral cycle, and that's where I'm tested the most. I've got to try to bring out more color to represent what the orchestra is doing.

"The last one (Sitwell), because it's nonsense poetry, you don't really have to worry about the text. It's just fun," Emerson said.

"Some of these songs I've done in different times of my life," Parry Moore said. "It's interesting to explore them vocally, emotionally and psychologically. They feel different than they felt in the past, and that's nice about a repertoire like this."

Art song gained popularity around 1800. Composers began to take lyric poetry and write songs based on them. Franz Schubert was one of the most prolific. He eventually wrote more than 600 art songs.

"Poetry was all the rage, and people would gather around and read poetry and some were composing songs," Parry Moore said. "A number of composers would compose songs to the same poem, and they would normally be performed in very intimate settings."

"Or the pub," Emerson said. "That was very often the only place there was a piano."

"There was no television, no radio, and this was one way of actually making music together and communicating and using poetry of the time," he said. "Schubert used to write songs to poems that his friends had written as well. It was a very important part of the social life at the time, especially on a sort of intellectual level."

For many, like the poet Goethe, art song was an abomination. He considered poetry sacred, and thought musicians had no right to sully text with their own interpretations.

But art song blossomed. It was an opportunity for composers to sketch out melodies and ideas that they could later expand in larger works. Primarily, it made more songs accessible to a greater range of people.

"The ideas are very condensed," Emerson said. "You can have the entire song subject of an opera in three minutes, and that's why a recital is the hardest thing you can ask a singer to do. You have to be as many different people as there are songs."

"It's nice that we do have three sorts of sets," Parry Moore said. "And within the sets there's a certain psychology and a certain journey. The melodies and the harmonics start playing to set the mood so clearly. You just listen and it's easy to transition."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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