As a vocal coach and
instructor at the University of Toronto for the past few decades, I have been
fortunate to be able to spend my days exploring art songs of hundreds of
composers. Initially I thought it was impossible to pick just three, but I
realized there are certain songs that I have performed/coached countless times,
yet each time feels like a fresh discovery. As the collaborative pianist
for the French Mélodie classes at the University, I couldn’t help but include
two French composers. If the definition of great art song is the
inseparable fusion of poetry and music, then Debussy’s cycle Trois Chanson de
Bilitis is a perfect specimen. Within the first interval of the first song “La
Flûte de Pan” one is immediately transported into the realm of the poem; the
introductory two bars establish not only mood, but a sense of time and place.
The imagery, the characters, their surroundings in the poem are miraculously
captured with masterful vividness in the musical language by Debussy, and one
cannot imagine the words being melodically “spoken” in any other way.
Thank you for the
opportunity to explore this question – it may be that on another day, I may
have other choices (other Debussy, Faure, Poulenc, Schubert, Wolf, Britten,
Barber….!), but it would be hard to get past Debussy’s incomparable ability to
fuse text and music – the definition of art song.
La Scena Musicale is a monthly Canadian classical, opera, jazz and world music magazine published in English and French by La Scène musicale/The Music Scene, a non-profit charity dedicated to the promotion of music and the arts. La Scena Musicale's award-winning website SCENA.org has been a world leader of classical music and arts news since 1996. The LSM Blog is the place for commentary and news on music and the arts in Canada and around the world. Publisher: Wah Keung Chan; ISSN 1925-9700