FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

I was first introduced to Art Song when I was an undergraduate music student. I fell in love with the genre, and have been hooked ever since. I believe that anyone who enjoys music and poetry, given the opportunity to learn about and experience this music, will be hooked as well. I have always been dismayed by the fact that Song tends to take a back seat to opera and other theatrical works, and rarely gets the attention from the public that it deserves. In the years since finishing music school, I have made it my mission to help change the status of Song in the classical music industry. My passion for the genre has led to the formation of Ohio Song Project which aims to do just that. I’m excited about collaborating with musicians and other local organizations to establish a source for excellent song performances in Ohio and beyond. 

Thank you for your interest in Ohio Song Project. We are a collective of singers, pianists, poets and more with a shared passion for the genre of music known as Art Song. Newly formed in the spring of 2018, we are in the process of planning our first season of events, gathering a growing roster of performers, and developing digital content about the art song repertoire which will be housed here on this site. There are many other things that we will need to accomplish in order to achieve our goal of becoming central Ohio’s source for art song performance and education, and we can’t do it alone. If you want to get involved, we would love to hear from you! Please drop us a line using the contact section of this site. If you’re new to Art Song, read on to learn a little more about this wonderful music, and check back frequently for new additions to our blog and media pages, where we’ll be exploring specific songs, composers, poets, styles, and more.

 

Scott Ewing, piano, artistic director
Scott Ewing, artistic director
Ohio Song Project

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Learn more about joining the Ohio Song Project Artist Roster.

What is Art Song?

Art Song is the general name for a type of music, usually written for one voice with piano accompaniment. Art songs are not part of staged or dramatic works like opera, musical theater, or oratorio. Most commonly, the text for an art song is taken from a pre-existing poetic work. This poem is the genesis of the song. That is to say that the song was written because its composer was inspired by the poem which provides the text for the song. Art songs come from all corners of the world and are usually referred to by the native word for “song” in their country of origin. While we celebrate songs from all countries and cultures, the most commonly performed art songs come from four countries: Germany, France, The US, and The UK. Read on to learn more and hear examples of each of these national styles.

Songs from Germany

Art songs by German composer are collectively referred to as Lieder (pronounced like “leader”), and a single song is a Lied (pronounced “leet”). Composers in Austria and Germany were inspired by the development of literature and poetry in the region during the Classical and Romantic eras. This is interest can be seen in early songs by Classical era composers like Mozart and Beethoven. The Lied as we know it is generally considered to have come to prominence with the songs of Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Schubert was a pioneer in the tradition of placing a paramount value on maintaining expressive qualities of text when setting it to music and elevating the role of the piano beyond mere accompaniment. In Schubert’s Lieder, the piano takes on many different roles. Composers after Schubert continued in this tradition, and the role of the piano became more complex as Lieder composition traditions developed. Other major figures in lieder composition are Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Hugo Wolf, and Richard Strauss.

Franz Schubert, composer
Franz Schubert, composer
Die Forelle (The Trout)
Music by Franz Schubert
Poetry by Christian Freidrich Daniel Schubart

In a bright little brook there shot in merry haste
a capricious trout: past it shot like an arrow.
I stood upon the shore and watched in sweet peace
the cheery fish’s bath in the clear little brook.
A fisher with his rod stood at the water-side,
and watched with cold blood as the fish swam about.
So long as the clearness of the water remained intact, I thought,
he would not be able to capture the trout with his fishing rod.

But suddenly the thief grew weary of waiting.
He stirred up the brook and made it muddy,
and before I realized it, his fishing rod was twitching:
the fish was squirming there, and with raging blood
I gazed at the deceived fish.
At the golden fountain of youth, you linger so confidently;
But think of the trout, and if you see danger, flee!
Mostly it is from lack of cleverness that maidens miss the angling seducers.
So beware! otherwise you may bleed too late!

Schöne Wiege, meiner Leiden (Pretty cradle of my sorrows)
Music by Robert Schumann
Poetry by Heinrich Heine

Pretty cradle of my sorrows, pretty tombstone of my rest,
pretty town – we must part, – farewell! I call to you.
Farewell, you holy threshhold, across which my darling would tread;
farewell! you sacred spot where I first saw her.
Would that I had never seen you, lovely queen of my heart!
Never would it then have happened, that I would now be so wretched.
I never wished to touch your heart, I never begged for love;
all I wished was to lead a quiet life where your breath could stir me.
Yet you yourself pushed me away from you, with bitter words at your lips; Madness filled my senses, and my heart is sick and wounded.
And my limbs are heavy and sluggish; I’ll drag myself forward,
leaning on my staff, until I can lay my weary head in a cool and distant grave.

Mausfallensprüchlein (A little mousetrap epigram)
Music by Hugo Wolf
Poetry by Eduard Mörike

Little guests, little house. Dear Miss or Mister Mouse,
just boldly present yourself tonight in the moonlight!
But shut the door tight behind you, do you hear?
And be careful of your tail! After supper we will sing,
After supper we will jump and do a little dance;
Witt witt! My old cat will probably dance with us.

Songs from the US

The landscape of American Art Song is not unlike the physical landscape of the country. There is enormous variety throughout the history of American Art Song, making it difficult to pinpoint specific aspects of this national style. American Art Song began to develop with the parlor songs of composer Stephen Foster, which were written to be performed in the home by amateur musicians. At the end of the 19th century, American composers began traveling to Europe to study music and adopting practices learned abroad. The study of German and French songs, in particular, had a great influence on the increase in popularity of Art Song in the US. At the beginning of the 20th century, Art Song composition in the US was becoming more distinct and separating itself from other national styles. Among the composers leading the development of Art Song in the US was Charles Ives (1874-1953). The experimental songs found in his self-published volume 114 Songs, set the tone for the varied and fascinating journey of American Song. Other major Song composers from the US include Samuel Barber, Ned Rorem, Aaron Copland, Amy Beach, and Dominick Argento. Art Song is still alive and well in the US today, with songs by composers like Ricky Ian Gordon, John Musto, Lori Laitman, Tom Cipullo, and Libby Larsen being heard regularly in recital all over the country.

charlesives-1
Songs my mother taught me
Music by Charles Ives
Poetry by Adolf Heyduk

(Translated from Czech)

Songs my mother taught me,
in days long vanished
Seldom from her eyelids
were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children
each melodious measure
Often tears are flowing
from my memory’s treasure.

Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?
Music by Aaron Copland
Poetry by Emily Dickinson

Why do they shut me out of Heaven?
Did I sing too loud?
But I can sing a little minor,
Timid as a bird.
Wouldn’t the angels try me just once more
Just see if I troubled them
But don’t shut the door.
Oh if I were the gentlemen in the white robes
And they were the little hand that knocked…
Could I forbid?

The Lordly Hudson
Music by Ned Rorem
Poetry by Paul Goodman

“Driver, what stream is it?” I asked, well knowing
it was our lordly Hudson hardly flowing.
“It is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing,”
he said, under the green-grown cliffs.”

Be still, heart! No one needs
your passionate suffrage to select this glory,
this is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing
under the green-grown cliffs.

“Driver, has this a peer in Europe or the East?”
“No, no!” he said. Home! Home!
Be quiet, heart! This is our lordly Hudson
and has no peer in Europe or the east.

This is our lordly Hudson hardly flowing
under the green-grown cliffs
and has no peer in Europe or the East.
Be quiet, heart! Home! Home!

Songs from France

French art songs or Mélodies developed and came to prominence in the middle of the 19th century, independent of their German counterparts. It grew from an earlier form of French songs called romances. Early pioneers of mélodie were Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod. These composers were instrumental in the evolution of French vocal music, setting texts of serious, contemporary French poets. One of the most prolific composers of mélodies was Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). Fauré composed over 100 mélodies, and his style changed drastically over time, making his work a great illustration of the evolution of this genre. Claude Debussy (1862-1918) contributed greatly to the output of mélodies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The innovative compositional techniques that Debussy employed in his instrumental writing are just as effective in his settings of poetry. Other notable composers of mélodies are Maurice Ravel, Henri Duparc, Jules Massenet, Reynaldo Hahn, and Louis Vierne. Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was arguably the last great composer of mélodies, having composed over 150 of them, with great variety of musical and poetic style.

claude-debussy
Prison (Prison)
Music by Gabriel Fauré
Poetry by Paul Verlaine

The sky above the roof,
is so blue, so calm.
A tree, above the roof,
rocks its bough.

The bell in the sky that one sees,
tolls quietly.
A bird on the tree that one sees,
sings its lament.

My God, my God. There is life,
simple and quiet.
That restful murmuring there
comes from the town.

What have you done, o you there
weeping unceasingly.
Tell me, what have you done, you there,
with your youth?

C’est l’extase (It is ecstasy)
Music by Claude Debussy
Poetry by Paul Verlaine

This is languorous ecstasy,
this is the weariness of love,
this is all the shiverings of the woods
amidst the embrace of the breezes,
this is the choir of little voices
among the grey boughs.

Oh, the frail and fresh murmuring!
It chirps and whispers.
It sounds like the gentle cry
that the ruffled grass gives out…
You would say it was, beneath the water which swirls,
the muffled rolling of the pebbles.

This soul which mourns itself
by this slumbering complaint,
it is ours, is it not?
Mine, say, and yours,
from which exhales the humble anthem
in this mild evening, so quietly?

Fêtes galantes (Gallant festivities)
Music by Francis Poulenc
Poetry by Louis Aragon

One sees marquises on bicycles
one sees pimps in petticoats
one sees brats with veils
one sees firemen burning their pompons

one sees words thrown on the rubbish-heap
one sees words carried aloft
one sees the feet of the children of Mary
one sees the backs of public speakers

one sees gasogene powered cars
one also sees handcarts
one sees fellows whose long noses bother them
one sees eighteen-carat fools

one sees here what one sees elsewhere
one sees girls gone astray
one sees gutter-snipes one sees voyeurs
one sees the drowned passing under the bridge

one sees shoe sellers out of work
one sees egg candlers dying of boredom
one sees reliable values in jeopardy
and life fleeing by the six-four-two

Songs from The UK

The development of English song is peculiar when compared to that of other European nations because we see very little serious art song being composed before the beginning of the 20th century. While there were strong singing traditions in the UK in the 19th century, singers were performing mostly ballads (popular songs),  leading many serious British composers to head for other European countries to pursue their art. With the great success and popularity of European romantic music throughout the 19th century, there became a demand for more serious music in the UK around 1900, and the English art song as we know it today came to prominence. The style trait that most obviously distinguishes British Song from the other national styles is the incorporation of folk music material. Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)  took great strides in folk music research, and this material deeply permeated the classical music being composed in the UK in the 20th century. Vaughan Williams himself is perhaps the first important composer of British Art Song, composing over 80 songs between the late 1890’s and early 1950’s. His work was hugely influential on other British composers, including Roger Quilter, George Butterworth, Ivor Gurney, Herbert Howells, Peter Warlock, and Benjamin Britten. Britten is perhaps the most successful of all of these composers, achieving great fame as a composer of Opera. Britten contributed greatly to advancing the song cycle as a form in the UK, as well as arranging dozens of folksongs for voice and piano.  His music is celebrated for its imaginative compositional techniques and particularly effective setting of text.

britten
Youth and Love
Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson

To the heart of youth the world is a highwayside.
Passing for ever, he fares; and on either hand,
Deep in the gardens golden pavilions hide,
Nestle in orchard bloom, and far on the level land
Call him with lighted lamp in the eventide.

Thick as the stars at night when the moon is down,
Pleasures assail him. He to his nobler fate
Fares; and but waves a hand as he passes on,
Cries but a wayside word to her at the garden gate,
Sings but a boyish stave and his face is gone.

O Mistress Mine (from Twelfth Night)
Music by Roger Quilter
Poetry by William Shakespeare
O Mistress mine where are you roaming?
O stay and hear, your true love’s coming,
      That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further pretty sweeting.
Journeys end in lovers’ meeting,
      Every wise man’s son doth know.
What is love, ’tis not hereafter,
Present mirth, hath present laughter:
      What’s to come, is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty:
      Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
Before Life and After (from Winter Words)
Music by Benjamin Britten
Poetry by Thomas Hardy

A time there was – as one may guess
And as, indeed, earth’s testimonies tell –
Before the birth of consciousness,
When all went well.
None suffered sickness, love, or loss,
None knew regret, starved hope, or heart-burnings;
None cared whatever crash or cross
Brought wrack to things. If something ceased, no tongue bewailed,
If something winced and waned, no heart was wrung;
If brightness dimmed, and dark prevailed,
No sense was stung.
But the disease of feeling germed,
And primal rightness took the tinct of wrong;
Ere nescience shall be reaffirmed
How long, how long?

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