Song of the Day

The Song of the Day feature of Sparks & Wiry Cries highlights art song performances from around the world. Feel free to contact if you would like to suggest a song, performer, or composer! 

February 2

Today, baritone Donnie Ray Albert and pianist Polli Chambers-Salazar perform "3 Songs for Baritone and Piano," by the late Robert Owens. The harrowing texts for this cycle, dedicated to the memory of activist/author George Jackson, are by Claude McKay.
Albert, born in 1950, is best known for his operatic career, performing not only in major US houses but also appearing in leading roles in such renowned venues as La Scala.
Owens was a remarkable musician. His artistic life began as a pianist, studying with his mother, but Owens took up composing by the age of 10 and premiered his First Piano Concerto with the Berkley Young Peoples' Symphony at 15. His service in WWII allowed him to pursue further musical studies in Europe, where he faced considerably less racism than at home in America. He did briefly return to the US to teach at Albany State College, but after two years returned to Germany, where he remained for the rest of his long career as a pianist, composer, and actor. Owens passed away last January at the age of 92, but left behind a wealth of vocal music. Some works, like the songs below, directly confront the America that refused to accept him and his artistic gifts.

February 1

I sadly hadn't heard of the spectacular soprano Marvis Martin until a few days ago, when one of her recordings showed up as suggested video on Youtube. Let me tell you, I--and you, if you haven't heard her either--was missing out!

Martin was born and raised in Florida, making her Met debut in 1982. After some busy years of stage work, she made the decision to focus her work more on concert and song performance, saying, "I love opera, but don't necessarily love all the hubbub."

We at Sparks & Wiry Cries understand wholeheartedly! But, knowing that, where has the splendid Ms. Martin been my whole life? And why does there seem to be a paucity of details about her career on the internet? Does anyone know more about Ms. Martin?

Here she is performing three songs (Ned Rorem, and two arrangements of spirituals by Hall Johnson) with Jeffrey Kahane in 1987.

January 31

... happy birthday, dear Schuuuuuuubert... happy birthday to youuuuu!!!

Starting off the party with An die Apfelbäume, wo ich Julien erblickte, performed here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore. What's YOUR favorite?

January 26

Tonight, Hungarian mezzo-soprano (folk singer) Erzsébet Török performing Bartók's arrangement of "Székely 'Lassú'" with pianist Arató Pál. This selection was inspired by a wonderful concert of chamber music by Kodaly and Bartók tonight in Brooklyn (featuring pianist Spencer Myer, a past Casement Fund Song Series star)!

January 25

The late Dmitry Hvorostovsky and Ivari Ilya performing Mussorgsky's Колыбельная (Lullaby) in a 2005 performance.

January 23

The magnificent Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber performing 'Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen,' the 10th song from R. Schumann's Dichterliebe.

January 22

Today is the 230th birthday of George Gordon Byron, better known as Lord Byron. One of his most popular poems, in terms of the breadth of its musical settings, is "There be none of Beauty's daughters":

There be none of Beauty's daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmèd ocean's pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull'd winds seem dreaming:

And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o'er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving
As an infant's asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer's ocean.

Among the dizzying array of composers who set it to music are the Mendelssohns (Felix and Fanny), Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, Ignaz Moscheles, Robert Owens, Roger Quilter, Charles Villiers Stanford, and--in translation--by Hugo Wolf. Wolf's setting, performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Daniel Barenboim, is below.

January 19

Still glowing after the fabulous recital last night at Merkin Hall starring Stephanie Blythe, Alan Smith, Stephen Carroll, Chelsea Whitaker, and composers Alan Smith, Dan Mertzlufft, Ben Moore, and Paul Moravec. A hearty thank you to all of these amazing artists, and to all who attended!! Here's a video of one of last night's performers, Stephen Carroll, singing three songs from "MCMXIV" by Jeffrey Wood: "Survivors", "All the Hills and Vales Along" and "The Rear-Guard."

January 14

Saying goodbye to Cincinnati like Beethoven WoO 152 No. 20: Farewell bliss and farewell Nancy.

Farewell bliss and farewell Nancy,
Farewell fleeting joys of fancy;
Hopes and fears and sighs that languish
Now give place to careless anguish.
Why did I so fondly love thee?
Why to mutual passion move thee?
Why to wearing sorrow bring thee?
Why let causeless slander sting thee?

Gazing on my precious treasure,
Lost in reckless dreams of pleasure,
Thy unspotted heart possessing,
Grasping at the promis'd blessing,
Pouring out my soul before thee,
Living only to adore thee,
Could I see the tempest brewing?
Could I dread the blast of ruin?

Had we never lov'd so kindly;
Had we never lov'd so blindly,
Never met, or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken hearted.
Fare thee well, thou first and fairest,
Fare thee well, thou best and dearest;
One fond kiss, and then we sever,
One farewell, alas! For ever.

January 12

Today, at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, I saw a program from the 1963 March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial. This event famously featured Marian Anderson singing the Star Spangled Banner, and in fact you can see her name printed at the top of the right hand page. A little further down, you'll see Martin Luther King, Jr.'s--of course ushering him to give what we now know as his "I Have a Dream" speech.
So today, some recordings of Anderson (and William Primrose, violist, whose playing you may recall from the Anderson/Primrose recording of the Brahms Viola Songs posted some months ago) to commemorate this historic occasion.

January 11

We're still buzzing with excitement about our first-ever Minnesota songSLAM... so here's a buzzing song! (it's a little macabre, though... don't listen too closely...) Ruth Crawford Seeger's "In Tall Grass" from "Three Songs," performed here by Lucy Shelton, the Schönberg Ensemble, and conductor Oliver Knussen.

January 10

This recital by the great Camilla Williams--first African American to have a contract with a major US house--and Borislav Bazala features yet another setting of Hugo's "Le flûte invisible," this time by Léo Delibes under the title "Éclogue." But listen from the beginning to hear this totally stunning performance from one of the greatest American singers of the 20th century.
From the Song of the Day honoring Williams last year: Williams also had the distinction of being the first African-American to sing a principal role with the Vienna State Opera; of singing "The Star Spangled Banner" before Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech; of appearing as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and Royal Philharmonic, to name a few; and of appearing as Bess in the first complete recording of "Porgy and Bess." She was the first African-American Professor of Voice at Indiana University as well as at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
Williams was aware of being overshadowed by artists including Marian Anderson (who will be featured tomorrow, on her birthday). From the same 1995 interview, she noted that "The lack of recognition for my accomplishments used to bother me, but you cannot cry over those things. There is no place for bitterness in singing. It works on the cords and ruins the voice. In his own good time, God brings everything right."

For more on Williams, follow the link to the original posting of this recording and a longer biography from last year.  

January 9

Today, as promised, more invisible flutes! This time, Saint-Säens' take on the Victor Hugo poem, performed by Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg, and Andreas Alin. Compare to the Caplet setting we shared yesterday, performed by Jaroussky.

January 8

Today, Philippe Jaroussky, Emmanuel Pahud, and Jérôme Ducros perform André Caplet's "Viens, une flûte invisible," a setting of a text by Victor Hugo. For the curious--or the confused--Camille Saint-Saëns, Leo Delibes, and Bizet (with some adaptations) made settings of the same text. Watch this space for them later this week!

On a cold, icy day, it seems to breathe summer down the back of one's neck.

January 7

It may be freezing in New York, but our hearts are warm as we anticipate Stephanie Blythe and Alan Smith's upcoming recital of American song at Merkin Hall (guest starring Stephen Carroll and Chelsea Whitaker). If you haven't purchased tickets yet, jump over to Merkin's website and scoop some up before they're all gone. And enjoy this performance by Blythe as a teaser: Wagner's Wiesendonck Lieder.

January 6

Happy Epiphany to those who are celebrating! Hugo Wolf's setting of Goethe's not-altogether sober "Epiphanias," performed here by Mitsuko Shirai and Hartmut Holl. These three wise men are clearly here to usher in the Carnival season!

January 5

We are thrilled to share this new article for Sparks & Wiry Cries from Dr. Minnita Daniel-Cox, Assistant Professor of Voice and Coordinator of the Voice Area at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. Her collaboration with Herbert Martin, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”: A celebration of Paul Laurence Dunbar has been performed across the U.S., and has lead to the establishment of the Dunbar Multicultural Series and the Dunbar Music Archive.
So as today's Song of the Day, Phillip Harris, baritone, and Marvin Mills, piano, performing Marques L.A. Garrett's setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar's "A Love Song." Read the article to learn more about the inspiring and important Dunbar, and all the incredible work Dr. Daniel-Cox has done to preserve this important American voice.

"A Love Song" (from the song cycle "A Cycle of Love..."; Garrett/Dunbar) from The Hampsong Foundation on Vimeo.

January 4

A very happy birthday to the great Grace Bumbry, born on this day in 1937. We featured Bumbry back on February 14, and included more biographical information. For a little more on her remarkable life and career, check out this link. But for here and now, this gorgeous rendition of Brahms' "Alte Liebe," recorded way back in 1963 with pianist Sebastian Peschko.

January 3

Not *quite* an art song... but today is the birthday of J. R. R. Tolkien, and it just so happens that there's a recording of Tolkien singing a troll song on Youtube. So, you're welcome in advance!
(And actually, I do have an old book of art songs based on Tolkien's texts in my personal library, though I can't find any recordings to share.)

January 2

Happy birthday to Sir Michael Tippett, born on this day in 1995. A recording of The Heart's Assurance, premiered by his compatriots Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten in 1951, is below. Michael White, writing for The Independent in a review of a 1995 90th birthday concert for Tippett, said of the piece: "Now the first thing to be said about The Heart's Assurance is that it is a great work: one of the finest song cycles in the English language and central to what history will probably judge the richest period of Tippett's creativity. It was written in the middle of The Midsummer Marriage and stands in relationship to that first, flagship opera like a satellite. The mood is ecstatic (except for the last song, which intensifies into a solemn, Beethovenian weight of address), the voice stretched across toccata-like piano figurations that make texture through sheer business of movement; while the image that connects the texts - of love dancing on the precipice of death - is taken deep into the music. It isn't difficult to come out of this score unsettled and disorientated by its paradoxically invigorating pathos."

Enjoy this performance by Pears and pianist Noel Mewton-Wood.

January 1

Happy New Year to one and all! May 2018 bring you joy, love, happiness, and fulfillment -- in music, and in all other walks of life. In this new year, let us all pledge to use this art to the best of our abilities, to illuminate, to heal, to make this world of ours a better place for all. And, as inspiration, Elly Ameling and Jörg Demus performing Schubert's "An die Musik."

December 31

Yesterday, we featured a recording of Sanford Sylvan singing from the Copland "12 Poems of Emily Dickinson." Today, Martha Deatherage performing "Parents," from "From the Diary of Virginia Woolf." Both cycles will be featured in a series of concerts presented in the Cincinnati area next month.

December 30

Do you live in the Cincinnati area? If so, in just a few weeks, there's an exciting art song project headed your way: the Cincinnati Song Initiative (profiled in a blog entry on our website a few months ago) is pairing with the Cincinnati Chamber Opera to present staged performances of Copland's 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson and Argento's From the Diary of Virginia Woolf. You won't want to miss this exciting chance to enter the worlds of these two incredible wordsmiths. In the meantime, enjoy Sanford Sylvan's performance of "Nature, the gentlest mother."

December 29

Today, as promised, a very different side of Polish composer Roman Palester: "Baby, ach te, baby", from the 1933 film Zabawka.

December 28

On this day in 1907, the Polish composer Roman Palester was born. Now, I am already partial to his music since I'm performing in concerts featuring his works this spring (Philadelphia and upstate NY)--but my guess is that you, dear reader, may not yet have had the pleasure of hearing his music. Unfortunately, his solo vocal music (in the form of songs and chamber music) does not yet appear on many recordings. So, today, a piece of non-vocal music to whet your appetite for what is to come. And tomorrow, look for what appears to be an early vocal work in the form of popular song in a movie... "Ach te, baby"!

December 26

Today, in listening to a wonderful album of Phyllis Curtin, I realized that we haven't yet had a Song of the Day featuring Rorem's setting of our eponymous Paul Goodman poem, "What Sparks and Wiry Cries"! Enjoy!

December 25

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, be it with rest for the weary church musicians or with much music making for those who have not had enough caroling. So here, to celebrate with song and harp (and a little harp-playing soundboard and cymbal percussion), the wonderful Monica Whicher and Judy Loman in Loman’s arrangement of “The Garden of Jesus.”

December 24

A very happy Christmas eve to all who celebrate! Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Max Reger's "Uns ist geboren ein Keindelein."

December 23

Brahms' beautiful viola songs tonight, the second of which is, of course particularly topical: a lullaby to the infant Jesus. We already shared an amazing recording of Marian Anderson performing this piece with violist William Primrose and pianist Franz Rupp (totally worth searching the archives for!), but tonight we have Janet Baker, Cecil Aronowitz, and André Previn.

The second song, the Geistliches Wiegenlied, is a Geibel adaptation of a Spanish text by the great Lope de Vega (1562-1635), which Geibel then published in his Spanisches Liederbuch. Brahms chose to begin the song with the viola singing the melody of a medieval carol, "Joseph, lieber Joseph mein," tying the song to even earlier celebrations of the Christmas story.

December 22

The inimitable, brilliant, gorgeous Stephanie Blythe in a performance of "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain." Don't you wish you were there????

... well... if you promise not to tell anyone, I'll let you in on a little secret:

Stephanie Blythe (along with pianist extraordinaire Alan Smith and special guests Stephen Carroll and Chelsea Whitaker) will be giving a recital in January FOR US. That's right--Sparks & Wiry Cries is presenting Ms. Blythe & Friends at Merkin Hall in just a few weeks. All contemporary American song, all presented with that amazing voice, that incredible musicality, that winning charm...

So, what are you waiting for? Tickets can be purchased here. It's not too late to give someone the best stocking stuffer, ever!

December 21

Today, on the Winter Solstice, some Winter Words from Thomas Hardy and Benjamin Britten, performed by Nicolas Phan and Myra Huang.

Midnight on the Great Western

In the third-class seat sat the journeying boy,
And the roof-lamp's oily flame
Played down on his listless form and face,
Bewrapt past knowing to what he was going,
Or whence he came.
In the band of his hat the journeying boy
Had a ticket stuck; and a string
Around his neck bore the key of his box,
That twinkled gleams of the lamp's sad beams
Like a living thing.
What past can be yours, O journeying boy
Towards a world unknown,
Who calmly, as if incurious quite
On all at stake, can undertake
This plunge alone?
Knows your soul a sphere, O journeying boy,
Our rude realms far above,
Whence with spacious vision you mark and mete
This region of sin that you find you in,
But are not of?

December 20

The happiest of birthday wishes to the great John Harbison, who turns 79 this year! A toast to this icon of American music, this fabulous composer and teacher, in the form of the first movement of his "Mirabai Songs," performed here by Dawn Upshaw. (It's also Mitsuko Uchida's birthday, so send her a happy wish too!)

December 19

One of my favorite carols, in a setting by Peter Tiefenbach and arranged by harpist Judy Loman in this performance with soprano Monica Whicher.

December 17

Yesterday was also Beethoven's birthday, so please enjoy this recording of "An die ferne Geliebte" from Thomas Allen and Malcolm Martineau in his honor.

December 16

Happy birthday, Katherine of Aragon. This fascinating woman was the first wife of Henry VIII, whose dissatisfaction with her led to the creation of the Church of England. But lest you think that she was merely a catalyst for important events, rest assured that Katherine of Aragon was brilliant (she spoke many languages and was very well-educated, believing in the education of women as equals of men), she was the first female ambassador in Europe, she cared about the rights of the impoverished... Here is Libby Larsen's setting of a letter Katherine wrote to her (ex)husband on her death bed:
"My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene."

December 15

Today's the birthday of Gustave Eiffel, so in some sort of chaotic celebration of the eponymous monument, here is Auric's setting of Cocteau's poem, Portrait d'Henri Rousseau.
Des aloès et des mésanges
en costume de dimanche.
Les anges aux grosses ailes
volent autour de la tour Eiffel.
Le dirigeable RÉPUBLIQUE
Le nègre jouait de la pipe
Sur la Butte fumant sa flûte
L'autre s'appelait Jean-Jacques
Biplan soleil cloches de Pâques
Ce fut une belle Liberté.
On y voyait toutes les bêtes
de la jungle et de la cité.
Un lion et un cheval blanc
et tous les deux très ressemblants.
La mésange disait: "Vive la République!"

December 14

A beautiful song from the wonderful Florence Price, one which is not often performed (perhaps due to some of its technical challenges, evident at the end of the piece) but which certainly deserves more air time! (For those looking for more on Florence Price, she was featured on a Song of the Day post back in February. There's a wonderful WQXR broadcast on her life and work, too.)

December 13

Yesterday was the first night of Chanukah; today is the feast day of St. Lucy, whose story is also a celebration of light in darkness. So, we share this Evening Hymn by Henry Purcell, performed here by Emma Kirkby, Christopher Hogwood, and Anthony Rooley.

And bid the world goodnight;
To the soft bed my body I dispose,
But where shall my soul repose?
Dear, dear God, even in Thy arms,
And can there be any so sweet security!
Then to thy rest, O my soul!
And singing, praise the mercy
That prolongs thy days.


December 12

Today is the first day of Chanukah. As darkness falls, candles will be lit around the world. May this light bring greater clarity to a world that can, with frightening current events, feel cast in shadow. You'll have to click away from this page to listen to the recordings, but I hope you'll make the journey to listen to Hugo Weisgall's "Psalm of the Distant Dove."

December 11

On a day when one's faith in humanity is tested, dreaming of spring in all its forms: Schubert's beautiful Frühlingsglaube, performed here by Julia Kleiter and Michael Gees.

December 10

Ives' 'Christmas Carol', performed here by Ian Howell and Douglas Dickson, on this second Sunday of Advent.

December 9

I was looking for art song in Arabic, and found a Wikipedia article (always a good place to start, I suppose!) that mentioned a few names, including those of Syrian pianist Gaswan Zerikly and soprano Dima Orsho. Zeriklys's songs set Arabic poetry within the general scope of the Lieder construct, though with clear influences from his background. I hope you enjoy listening as much as I have! And if anyone has any more insight into this, I welcome your comments and thoughts!

December 8

Tonight, a rhapsodic profession of love from Hildegard Behrens and Cord Garben: Liszt's "Ich liebe dich."

December 7

Some gorgeous Strauss songs, sung gorgeously by Christa Ludwig, in a 1984 live performance with Erik Werba. Miraculously recommended to yours truly by the Youtube algorithm! The robot overlords have finally arrived, methinks.

December 6

Happy birthday, Henryk Górecki! Born on this day in 1933, Górecki achieved fame and enormous commercial success--unusual for a 20th century composer--through a recording, with soprano Dawn Upshaw, of his third symphony. For those interested in dipping a toe into (fabulous!) Polish repertoire, Górecki wrote a number of songs throughout his life that are worth exploring.

Today, an early song of his, from his 1956 opus 3: Ptak (A Bird)

December 3

I could listen to this song all night: Wolf's "Das Ständchen," performed here by Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees. (I may have already clicked repeat about 5 times...)

December 2

I tried to find a song about taxes, but it seems they're few and far between. Instead, a moment of escapism with Kilpinen's "Illalla."

December 1

I wanted to share some of the songs of Vivian Fine tonight, and, wouldn't you know--it seems NOT ONE is on Youtube, or Spotify. Can our community rectify this, please? In lieu of her vocal writing, here is a piece she wrote for chamber ensemble in 1990 entitled "Songs and Arias."

For past Songs of the Day, see the Sparks & Wiry Cries Facebook page.

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