Program Notes: May 17, 2019

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Dana Suesse – Cocktail Suite

Dana Suesse was an female American composer from the golden age of film music and jazz. She grew up in the Midwest and was part of a vaudeville troupe in her youth, where she would ask audiences for a theme and improvise off their suggestions. In her early twenties, she moved to New York City, where she studied with Alexander Siloti (student of Liszt), Rubin Goldmark (who also taught Gershwin), and later, Nadia Boulanger. New York City heavily influenced Dana, as can be seen in works including “110th Street Rhumba” and “Jazz Nocturne,” amongst others. Her improvisatory style and technical facility is easily displayed in her compositions.

Claude Debussy – Chansons De Bilitis

I. La flute de Pan

For Hyacinthus day, he gave me a syrinx made of carefully cut reeds, bonded with white wax which tastes sweet to my lips like honey.

He teaches me to play, as I sit on his lap; but I am a little fearful. He plays it after me, so gently that I scarcely hear him.

We have nothing to say, so close are we one to another, but our songs try to answer each other, and our mouths join in turn on the flute.

It is late; here is the song of the green frogs that begins with the night. My mother will never believe I stayed out so long to look for my lost sash.

II. La chevelure

He said to me: ‘Last night I dreamed. I had your tresses around my neck. I had your hair like a black necklace all round my nape and over my breast.

I caressed it and it was mine; and we were united thus forever by the same tresses, mouth on mouth, just as two laurels often share one root.

And gradually it seemed to me, so intertwined were our limbs, that I was becoming you, or you were entering into me like a dream.’

When he had finished, he gently set his hands on my shoulders and gazed at me so tenderly that I lowered my eyes with a shiver.

III. Le tombeau des naiades

Along the frost-bound wood I walked: my hair, across my mouth, blossomed with tiny icicles, and my sandals were heavy with muddy, packed snow.

He said to me: ‘What do you seek?’ ‘I follow the satyr’s track. His little cloven hoof-marks alternate like holes in a white cloak.’ He said to me: ‘The satyrs are dead.

The satyrs and the nymphs too. For thirty years there has not been so harsh a winter. The tracks you see are those of a goat. But let us stay here, where their tomb is.’

And with the iron head of his hoe he broke the ice of the spring, where the naiads used to laugh. He picked up some huge cold fragments, and, raising them to the pale sky, gazed through them.

(translations from A French Song Companion by Graham Johnson and Richard Stokes)

David Von Kampen – Under The Silver And Home Again

David von Kampen was born in 1986, and is a prolific modern composer. Under the Silver and Home Again was written for Nathaniel Sullivan, who will be performing it at this recital, and won the 2015 MTNA Award. This was David’s first re-visitation to Walter de Mare’s poems since his first pieces written in high school, set to de Mare’s “The Ruin.” I personally hear a Copland -esque quality (fun fact: Copeland was the first classical composer that piqued David’s interest and study into classical composers), although David attributes influences of Benjamin Britten and Herbert Howells as main influences for this work.

Charles Griffes – Three Poems Of Fiona MacLeod

Charles Griffes was considered the American Debussy. Griffes is probably best known for his piano works (Roman Sketches) and is, in my opinion, sadly under appreciated and unknown. Fiona MacLeod was the secret pen-name of Scottish poet, William Sharpe. There is much unknown about MacLeod/Sharpe’s life, and that of his romantic assignations (or lack thereof) with writers of either sex. In the poetry that Griffes decides to set, it is interesting to note that the speaker of the poems is “Ian the Proud,” which adds a metaphysical dimension to the story. Ian is at the end of his life, reminiscing about his past lover—who has passed—and both the pain and the fond memories of their relationship. In the last song, he longs for death, and there is an almost Liebestod culmination, where he finds ecstasy in the thought of surrendering to oblivion—and rejoining his lover.

Frederic Chopin – Nocturne Op. 62 No. 2 In E Major

This nocturne was written in the three years preceding Chopin’s death, and is one of the last major works he composed. As pianist Alfred Cortot says, “[the] character of noble melancholy suggest[s] the idea of a true ‘Swan Song’…and it is hard not to identify its pathos with that of a resigned farewell.” For those unfamiliar with the legend of the swan song, it is said that swans, who are mute, will in a sudden burst of passion before death, sing a plaintive, poignant song as a last hurrah.