A sparkling piano introduction and accompaniment make this arrangement spicy and distinctive. Latin-syncopated chords and presto scales give the singer the style of support that an orchestra would give in a fully-staged production. References to the biblical Joshua leading the Israelites to march around Jericho and take the city are representative of the African-American spiritual’s prevalent themes of victory and deliverance.
Mark Hayes began piano and improvisation studies at age ten. He completed his Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance at Baylor University. He has been composing professionally since 1977, his output spanning piano arrangements, choral pieces, and works for soloist. Hayes writes both traditional church music and commercial music. According to Allison Smith, his varied influences include Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Copland, Barber, Vaughan Williams, George Gershwin, John Rutter, Stephen Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Smith, 155, 156) His collection, Ten Spirituals for Solo Voice, contains arrangements of the two spirituals heard today.
This familiar spiritual’s meaning may escape the listener at first notice. In Jeremiah 46:11, the balm from Gilead was a valuable commodity with healing power. However, in the song, “balm” is a new-covenant metaphor for Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The good news of the message is that it is only Jesus who heals the soul (Negrospirituals.com). A flowing accompaniment with occasionally rich chord substitutions provide the backdrop for the singer in this beautiful arrangement. The climax occurs at the key change, as if the singer changes from telling about the Savior, to announcing that he is indeed healed himself.
Among Poulenc’s compositions, his vocal music is the most celebrated, spanning hundreds of songs, choral works, and three operas (Randel, The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, 705). Chronologically, Poulenc takes the final position as a master of the French mélodie. His works grow naturally from the firmly established style of Fauré and from the developments made by Ernest Chausson, Henri Duparc, Maurice Ravel, and Claude Debussy. French baritone Pierre Bernac, who, often premiered Poulenc’s songs with the composer at the piano, summed up their character:
Francis Poulenc wrote no less than 146 mélodies. They are extremely varied in character, ranging from the craziest buffoonery to the most sincere lyricism, from obvious sensuousness to poignant gravity; but they never fail to bear the mark of his personality (Bernac, 269).
The poetry of Banalités is by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 -1918). Apollinaire grew up in the casinos of Monaco, Paris, and the French Riviera. Although he attempted to hide his parentage, he was most likely born out of wedlock to Angelica Kostrowitzky, who lived in the Vatican. Apollinaire’s colorful life included posing as a Russian prince, and being held in custody for a week under suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa. Apollinaire was closely associated with French avant-garde movements, and his work demonstrated traits of the Symbolist movement of the nineteenth century. Although his influences were largely from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, his edgy style was couched in traditional forms. His opera libretto, La mamelles de Tirésias, set by Poulenc, is known as one of the earliest examples of surrealism. In addition to Poulenc, Apollinaire was set by Arthur Honegger, Georges Dandelot, Jean River, and Dimitry Shostakovich among others (Poets.org).
Pierre Bernac writes about these songs, “They do not constitute a cycle in the true sense of the word, for they have no connexion with one another either poetically, or musically, and they vary greatly in character” (Bernac, 280). In spite of the title, a thoughtful hearing reveals that this may not be a set of songs about trivialities at all. Apollinaire’s poetry seems to move from glimpses of everyday life to deeper emotions unveiling a profound sense of tragedy in human life. This shrouded emotion is expressed from the woeful lives of the cart driver and the tramp in the “Chanson d’Orkensise,” to the ennui of “Hôtel,” and the last wrenching cry of “Sanglots.” Even “Voyage a Paris,” hints at an underlying sense of tragedy in the poets escape. And Poulenc’s writing certainly defies any sense of commonplace as well. Many of the hallmarks of his bold style are heard here: much use of the sustain pedal, the prominence of the melody, as well as chromatic coloring of the harmony. (Randel, The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, 705).
Although Donaudy composed his first opera at the age of 13, the beautiful melodies of the 36 Arie in Stile Antico are responsible for the composer’s rise to fame. Composed in 1918, published in 1922, these songs were likely drawn to the publisher’s (Ricordi) notice because of a recording made of one of the songs (“Vaghissima Sembianza”) by famed tenor Enrico Caruso in 1920, one year before his death. In the years that followed, tenors Claudio Muzio, Beniamino Gigli, and Tito Schipa recorded one of the songs heard today, “O del mio amato ben.” These recordings were responsible for establishing the popularity of the songs throughout the 20th century. Although the songs are composed in Romantic style, they are Renaissance in form, hence the term antico. Song texts for the collection were composed by Stephano’s brother, Alberto (Schmidt, 2). “O del mio amato ben,” is one of Donaudy’s most-performed songs. It is in strophic form; broad and lyric, the song progresses from a calm natured melody to an impassioned cry (Kimball, 439).
Vincenzo Bellini was the son and grandson of professional musicians and began composing in his teens. He was a student at the Naples Conservatory and from there went on to be a very successful opera composer. Performances in the Italian bel canto tradition that stressed beautiful singing above all other aspects of his operas’ elements were celebrated at the best of Italian opera houses including the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, and La Scala in Milan (Randel, The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, 61). Bellini also composed several songs, mastering the cantilena (song with a lyrical, vocal melody). These songs are filled with emotion, with music closely related to the text. In Bellini’s case this was so prevalent that his contemporaries called his songs music filosofica, a reference to the reverential treatment of prosody. These songs are referred to as arietta (small arias), and the song heard today was included in his collection Sei ariette, published in 1929. In “Vaga luna che inargenti,” the poet asks the moon to transport his message of love to his beloved. The contemplative text is reinforced by the undulating broken chord accompaniment. This two- verse-song foreshadows musically the aria “Casta diva” from his famous opera, Norma (Kimball, 427).
The song cycle is a product of several German traditions. Although the genre may have crystallized with works such as James Hook’s The Seasons (ca. 1783) and The House of Love (1792), aesthetically An die Ferne Geliebte (1816) marks the starting point of the romantic song cycle. It is likely that Ludwig van Beethoven was “the first composer to stamp the song cycle as a high art form” in such manner that it was accessible to the masses (Hallmark, 285). This is Beethoven’s greatest achievement in the world of song, foreshadowing the cycles of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and others.
Alys Jeitteles (1794-1858) is the author of the texts, himself a young medical student and amateur composer. The thematic content portrays the contemplations of a forlorn lover for his distant sweetheart including love, pain, nature, and longing. The strength of the work is attributed to Beethoven’s music, however. The astute listener will hear how Beethoven atmospherically paints the text of each song with the mood of his music, and uses melodic shapes and figures to highlight details in the text (such as trills in the piano representing little bird calls (Ried, 54)). Most importantly, this is the first “musically constructed cycle,” where musical transitions by the piano connect the songs together (Reid 47). The form embodies a succession of theme and variations involving the accompaniment in the design and mood of each (Kimball, 48). The key structure (Eb –G-Ab-Ab-C-Eb) and opening textual and melodic material are used as a unifying structure (Hallmark 285). In the closure of the work, listen for the return of the text, “und ein lieben Herz erreichet, was ein liebend Herz geweiht!” This signifies Beethoven’s message that, “music overcomes the bounds of physical separation” (Ried, 47).
Shen-An Lin states
In Bethoven’s lieder, there is not only a wider and more imaginative accompaniment figuration, but also an unprecedented interplay of motives between the piano part and vocal line. Sometimes the piano develops a character of its own, completely independent of the vocal part. In other words, Beethoven elevated the role of the ‘accompaniment’ not only to that of duet with the voice, but nearly to the solo position (Linn 35,6).
Bernac, Pierre. The Interpretation of French Song. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1970.
Dimitrov, Alex, ed. Guillaume Apollinaire. Poets.org. Accessed on June 12, 1970.
Available from http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/737; Internet.
Kimball, Carol. Song: A Guide to Art Song Style and Literature. Milwaukee: Hal Leondard, 2005.
Randel, Don Michael, ed. The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music.
London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.
Reid, Paul. The Beethoven Song Companion. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2007.
Schmidt, Elaine, ed. 36 Arie in Stile Antico. Milwalkee: Ricordi and Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998.
Shen-An, Lin. “The Lieder of Beethoven: A Stylistic Analysis.” M.A. thesis, North Texas State University, 1987.
Smith, Allison Renée, “A Study of English-Language Sacred Solo Literature by Selected
Twentieth-Century Composers.” D.M.A. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003.
Spiritual Workshop, ed. “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Negrospirituals.com. Accessed on
June 17, 2010. Available from http://www.negrospirituals.com/; Internet.