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Pauline Viardot and Johannes Brahms: Les Bohémiennes

To celebrate NYFOS’s 30th Anniversary Season, Song of the Day is featuring some recordings from our archives, along with excerpts from program notes that accompanied them. (If the recording does not appear below in your email, please click on the title above to play the song on our website.)

Les Bohémiennes
Music by Pauline Viardot and Johannes Brahms
Performed by Dina Kuznetsova, soprano; and Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano
in A Bel Canto Dynasty (2004)

 

From the Program Notes by Steven Blier:
There were many great nineteenth-century singers who sent audiences into a frenzy. Grown men wept when Rubini sang; women fainted at the sound of Giulia Grisi’s voice. But their art lives on only through anecdotes about their performances and descriptions of their timbre. None of them could inspire a program as far-ranging as tonight’s. For Pauline Viardot’s claim to fame was not merely the ephemeral success of a great artist. She made her mark on history by the music she inspired, the composers she nurtured, the works she premiered, and the music she wrote.

[…]

And she created a substantial repertoire of art songs. Turgenev and George Sand both encouraged Viardot to write music as her singing career was winding down. Pauline never had a great deal of self-confidence as a composer, but she continued to nurture her creative voice in her later years. French art song was just beginning its ascent from its modest origins, the parlor ballad style known as the “romance.” In Viardot’s songs one can hear the increasing complexity of the piano writing, lovely turns of harmony, and a surprising range of colors from faux-antique (“Au jardin de mon père”), to Spanish bolero (“Madrid”), to Russian-German Kunstlied (“Das Blümlein”), to full-blown operatic anthem (“Grands oiseaux blancs”). She may not have been an innovator—Pauline was a classicist to the end—but her writing for voice and piano is expert. “A singer wrote this,” smiled Stephanie Blythe as she worked on one of the songs. “Every syllable is set perfectly, every phrase falls right into the voice. What a pleasure it is to sing!”

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