The Art Song as a Western classical music genre is gradually losing ground, not only in South Africa, but across the world, to the more dramatic and often ostentatious opera and musical theatre genres. As one of the main streams of Western classical vocal music (with opera and oratorio), classical singing as a discipline will be significantly diluted without it. It is often through the study and practise of this genre that the singer truly learns how to delve deep into the text and its meaning in order to deliver a highly nuanced interpretation of a musical work. Whereas opera requires excellent acting skills and, to the uninformed, might sound technically more challenging, the challenges relating to the Art Song are as many, but often much more subtle. A high level of technical control and skill is required not only to attain vocal beauty, but to be in command of a colour palette varied enough to achieve word painting, without the added benefits of costumes, movement and gesture.
Art Songs are musical settings of existing poems. The words and music are so inextricably linked that these works stand as the musical embodiment of a nuanced language, its subtleties and power of expression. Therefore, the text is of crucial importance. Every note, rhythm, melodic and harmonic progression in an Art Song is written to reflect and highlight the condensed nature of poetry and it is the duty of the singer to delve into the significance of each element. A great deal of study is required to achieve this, as the singer often sings in languages that he/she does not speak fluently or at all. This collection includes songs in German, French and Italian. All but the two songs by Edvard Grieg are sung in the original language. Although the composer was not always happy with the translations of his songs, his publishers, who were German, ensured that his songs were translated into German. The resultant widespread practice of performing his songs in German ensured wider dissemination thereof at the time.¹
In her foreword to Poetry into song: Performances and analysis of Lieder , the renowned soprano and Lied interpreter Elly Ameling² writes about this genre, "No music pierces the heart's mysteries more deeply and no music is more deeply alive with verbal magic...a serious challenge indeed for performers..." The songs included in this recording span a period from late Romanticism to early World War II and are all in different ways characterised by music that speaks directly to the emotions of the listener. While the music ranges from intense and agitated to quasi transparent and music influenced by cabaret and tango, they all possess great emotional depth. Before Art Songs were performed at public recitals in big concert halls, they were private affairs, performed in middle-class drawing rooms. Recording this collection of songs in a relatively small space afforded me the opportunity to truly explore the fine nuances and subtleties integral to the music of this genre without the necessity of the voice having to fill a big venue.
The piano accompaniment is an integral part of the interpretation and it is therefore of vital importance for the singer to analyse, understand and incorporate into the performance the underlying meaning portrayed by the composer through the accompaniment. Singer and pianist are in conversation in the Art Song. In my own performing career and through listening to and observing other performing artists, I have come to the conclusion that the ability to truly stir the emotions of the listener is directly aligned to the performer’s skill to not only portray the written text but, perhaps even more so, the subtext in both words and accompaniment. This skill can only be developed through focused study over an extended period of time.
This is recorded at De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate, Stellenbosch