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Gene de Paul: Afterthoughts

This recording of Jessye Norman singing ‘Afterthoughts’ with Michel Legrand at the piano is remarkable. I love it—the tone of her, the risk-taking, the musical chemistry between them both and the journey they take us on. What a gift they left us…

Composer: Gene de Paul; Lyrics: Carolyn Leigh

Ravel: Shéhérazade

This three-song set is equivalent to three scenes from an opera. It paints the actions of the text both in reality and in abstraction, but in its most effective way, it depicts an unyielding longing for something unfathomable or unobtainable.

Ravel’s Shéhérazade sung by Jessye Norman with Colin Davis with the London Symphony

Richard Strauss: Beim Schlafengehen

Guten Tag. I admire Richard Strauss’ music. His harmonic language, texture, the surprising subito piano dynamics and frequent lack of downbeats creates a soaring, most round eternal sound. His ability to write for the voice was extraordinary. Strauss also loved words. He wrote numerous songs and operas and worked with master poets. I have a special connection to the Four Last Songs because I have performed them numerous times with piano and once with orchestra. Once I live with certain pieces over and over, I feel as they are my personal ones. And these songs particularly feel as though I commissioned Strauss to write them for my voice and my soul.  I love the simple and vivid poetry and of course the music that simply transports you into another world. They are so perfectly written and Strauss paints the words so vividly. It’s impossible not to see his vision.

I’m not going to say much more and just leave you here with this poem and the recording. Be enveloped in this beauty. My absolute favorite moment is right where the voice takes over after the gorgeous violin solo. It is divine! (The poem for me is a beautiful celebration of life… it’s about to turn to the chapter of eternity.)

Beim Schlafengehen – Upon Going to Sleep
Hermann Hesse / Translation: David Paley

Now that day has made me tired,
Will my blissful yearning
Receive the starry night
In friendship like a tired child.

Hands, rest from all your tasks,
Brow, forget all thinking
All my senses now
Want to sink in slumber.

And my soul, unwatched,
Wants to soar in freest flight
Within enchanted night time circles,
To live a thousand fold profoundly.

Gustav Mahler: Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

The question, “what should music do?” seems to always be in the air. And artists, critics, theorists and music lovers constantly provide new answers. Music should comfort. Music should challenge the powerful. Music should be beautiful. Music should bring people together. Truisms. Often we wrap our answers around our ideas around what we see as most needed in the world. These days I am interested more in what music does. The answers to this are different for each person and culture, but today I am thinking about music’s most sublime, and dangerous, capacity – the ability to transcend. And when I think of this I think of Mahler’s setting of Ruckert’s” Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (I am lost to the world). Here is a translation of the poem:

I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world’s tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song.

To be so transported that the ephemeral beauty of sound is enough, whether in creating it or receiving it. It is sublime, it is hypnotic. It is not deceptive, it makes good on its promise to transport. This song encapsulates that experience for me – of having such investment in worldly affairs, right and wrong, justice and injustice, and to relinquish that attachment because of music.

Here is Jessye Norman, bringing it to us, or us to it:

Hope to see all you readers at NYFOS’s Protest when we turn the power of music back into the world that so desperately needs our attention.

Leonard Bernstein: Somewhere

Perhaps Bernstein’s most well-known work, “Somewhere has an inherent timeless relevance. It expresses the hope of a world in which conflict is absent and people are able to live without prejudice and hatred. Bernstein spent his entire life being involved in social justice both in the U.S. and abroad. He was famously quoted, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” It is chilling how necessary and relevant these words are to our world today.

This recording of the incomparable Jessye Norman dates from 1993.

Johannes Brahms: Dein blaues Augen

Straight to the skinny on this song:

It comforts me and allows me to open old wounds so they can heal. It reminds me why I love and it shows me again and again how much I am loved. Groth’s words teach me to love better and they tell me what a privilege it is to be the reflection of another’s goodness—to see him whole and well so that he can see it more clearly himself. I get to do that. Wow. There’s love and genuine hospitality in action. And if it weren’t for Johannes Brahms, well, I probably would have never even heard these words, and definitely never in a way so transcendent.

When Jessye Norman sings it, well, be prepared to be healed. It’s an aural laying on of hands—a two scant minutes of bliss.


Song of the Day: October 1

from Michael Barrett:

Today’s song is “Let Us Break Bread Together” sung by Jessye Norman, with beautifully orchestrated accompaniment. Antonin Dvorak was an early champion of the negro spiritual during his stay in New York (and Iowa) in the early 20th century. He encouraged his black students to draw upon this music, extolling it for its thematic beauty. Here was the raw material, he thought,  for symphonies, oratorios, and concertos. “Let us Break Bread Together” is a wonderful example of this thematic richness. Sung by Ms. Norman, it already sounds like an important, noble, work of art.

Dvorak’s advice wasn’t heeded, alas, by his students. Very few attempts have been made to have negro spirituals enter the concert hall in new, large, musical forms. Perhaps that’s because of the enduring potency of these melodies and lyrics. They inhabit a special place in our national music, and our national social consciousness. They help tell an important story of our unflattering history and speak to the resilience, dignity, and perseverance of the downtrodden. And they remain in the “church”. I personally don’t regret that they haven’t found an inflated presence as material for our European-based symphony orchestras. Their authenticity, purity, and simplicity speak directly to me, and continue to educate my intellect and spirit.

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