La Scena Musicale

Monday, 3 August 2015

Next Great Art Song - Mia Bach's Favourite Art Song

The next submission to the "Next Great Art Song" survey is by Mia Bach. Share your choices at!

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.

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