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In autumn the leaves change from lush green to vibrant yellows, oranges and deep reds. And once their lives are spent and the colors have faded to brown the leaves fall to the ground leaving the tree bare, until the next spring that is. The women being portrayed in this concert are going through the experience of autumn within the context of love. Some of them make it to spring and to a new love, but the focus of this concert is the brilliant colors that a woman turns, metaphorically, when love turns sour. And just as every tree produces different colors in the fall, so each woman handles the loss or lack of love in a different way. This program exhibits a wide range of emotion from longing to giddiness to grief so overwhelming it seems that death will provide the only relief. While each song addresses love and the problems of love from a woman’s prospective they are in no way repetitive because each song addresses a different aspect of the complexities of love showing that not only is love complex, but that the women experience something as intense as love are just as complex themselves.
But while the women portrayed in this recital are in the autumn of love, the time from which these songs are pulled is the early spring of vocal music. The program opens with two songs from twelfth century France. The first is the only song written by a trobairitz, a female French troubadour, which remains intact. Troubadours are composers and usually performers of vocal music which used Old Occitan, the medieval dialect that eventually evolved into modern French, poetry. The songs usually told stories of chivalry and courtly love and could be quite humorous and vulgar. The second piece is a good example of the types of stories that appeared in these songs. Bele Yolanz was written later than A chantar m’er, which was composed in the 1100s. The evidence lies in the language, which resembles modern French slightly more than the first piece. While there is no information available on the composer of the second song it is a clear example of a chanson de toile, which is a poem from the perspective of a woman who is weaving and waiting for a lover to return. In this case the lover does return and they promptly enjoy each other’s company, alone.
Ostinato vo’ seguire brings us to Italy in the 1500s. Bartolomeo Tromboncino was a composer, who was known for his frottolas, which is the equivalent of the French chanson and is just a fancy name for a popular, secular poem of the time set to music. They were intended to be performed by a single voice with instrumental accompaniment. Typically the singer would accompany herself on either lute or lyra de braccio, but since a lute could not be obtained for this concert a harpsichord will be used in its place. While the song is written rather simply this leaves room for embellishments, especially on the repeated phrases and are used to help portray the overwhelming power of love making it seem that the singer must resort to stuttering in order to express such an intense emotion.
Jacopo Peri is known as the founder of opera, writing the first known opera Dafne around 1597. He is better known for writing Euridice in 1600 because the opera has survived and is still performed today. This new style of presenting music and theatre was inspired by Greek tragedies, which were thought to have been entirely set to music at the time, thankfully since it is this misconception that led to the creation of opera. Because of this inspiration many early operas tell the stories of Greek myths. Care Stelle is only a small aria written by Peri telling of the difficulties of unrequited love.
Claudio Monteverdi improved upon the opera and composed at least eighteen within his lifetime three of which have survived. He is also known for his books of madrigals, which are usually written for 5 voices and make use of contemporary poetry. Monteverdi revolutionized the way music was written both through his madrigals and his operas. It is a shame that more of his operas were not preserved since what we have are so beautifully crafted. An excellent example of this unfortunate circumstance is the fact that Lamento D’Arianna is the only surviving piece of music from his very popular second opera L’Arianna, which was very influential to Baroque operas. First performed in Mantua in 1608 it tells the story of Ariadne and Theseus from the Greek legend. The lament tells of Ariadne’s grief at being left on the deserted island of Naxos as her lover, the man she left her home for, sails off to Athens. In the original opera a chorus, modeled after the Greek choruses, would have interjected with context or advice, but the music for this has been lost. Despite the amount of music that no longer exists from this opera the lament is a beautiful example of how Monteverdi uses music and words to shape and explore very powerful emotions.
The final group of songs in this program brings us to England in the late 1600s. Henry Purcell was an organist and the composer that gave a definition to Baroque music in England. Purcell grew up playing and writing music for the church and also wrote music for various royal occasions. He also put his own spin on the Italian opera. Instead of having the entire performance set to music he simply added music to a spoken play. However, he did write one traditional opera. Dido and Aeneas is a short three act opera that was inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid and was written in 1689. The first Purcell song on this program is from this opera. Dido has taken her lover, Aeneas, for a stroll through the forest and her lady in waiting sings of the story of how the goddess Diana turned Actaeon into a stag after he saw her bathing in the forest and lets his own hounds devour him. This opera shines an interesting light on women because it shows the complexity of the decisions a queen must make, especially in regards to love and then in-between Dido’s ladies and the chorus sing of goddesses and the consequences of foolish men’s actions.
The last two pieces on the program come from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, which is based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and was first performed in 1692. Purcell kept most of Shakespeare’s poetry intact, but added music for short masques, which were metaphorically related to and dispersed throughout the text. The first piece is the classic tale of a woman who has been deserted by her lover and doesn’t know what to do with herself without him. She is distraught and only wishes to be left alone to weep forever more. The second song has a cleverer attitude towards men’s fickle attitudes. In this lively little song it is decided that since resistance of a gentle caress is futile the game should be taken on and played by women in order to outwit the most persuasive lover. And that rounds off the various emotions and attitudes that a woman might experience when in the fall of love all of which make beautiful music.
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Merola, Leandra, ""To die upon the hand I love so well" A Senior Recital" (2011). Senior Projects Spring 2011. 78.
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