La Scena Musicale

Monday, 6 July 2015

Next Great Art Song - Christopher Dunham's Favourite Art Song



La Scena Musicale is celebrating the Art Song in 2015-16 with the launch of an worldwide survey, What is your favourite art song? Submit your vote at www.nextgreatartsong.com. Here is our second submission, by baritone Christopher Dunham.  
An old christian song first written in the early 19th century and popularized over the years was arranged by several American composers. The most recognizable of which is Aaron Copland's arrangement. Though it is difficult to categorize this as purely an art song due to its arguably more popular use in tradition christian hymn books. The simplicity and beauty of the music and text has allowed it to transcend the realm of "classical music" and into the traditions of millions of peoples.
2. Ballade que Villon fait à la requeste de sa mère, from Trois Ballades de Francois Villon (Claude Debussy)

During his time, Debussy was a brilliant innovator of song, stretching harmonic and artistic language even further into the 20th century. All the while he kept his mind on the past and infused the beautiful poetry and music of the 14th century. The poem, written by Francois Villon is a prayer for his mother, who was illiterate and wished for a deathbed prayer. Debussy artfully uses medieval modal harmonies to grace the poetry and create a song cycle which is hauntingly beautiful.
The antithesis of the German art songs is to be found in Mahler's works, particularly this piece. Originally a chamber piece, it is equally beautiful when performed with piano. Magnificent poetry, coupled with 300 years of German counterpoint, this song takes the number one position, in my mind, of all art-songs.

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