We begin the first half of this evening’s programme with a selection of love songs and arias. The love represented in our songs comes in all forms, as it does in life—the good and the bad, the pure and the slightly frisky
The earliest song in our programme was written by the Venetian Baroque composer Antonio Lotti (1667—1740). Lotti composed music in a variety of genres, both religious and secular, including masses, madrigals, cantatas, instrumental works, and about 30 operas. Pur dicesti, o bocca bella, a song that celebrates the exuberant beginnings of love, is probably an aria from one of these operas. No records exist to confirm this. The fact that this song survives today is due to the efforts of Italian composer and editor Alessandro Parisotti who, in 1885, compiled a collection of 24 arie antiche for young singers, a volume that is still much treasured today.
Stefano Donaudy (1879—1925) is a fellow Italian composer. His reputation nowadays rests solely on his collection of 36 Arie di Stile Antico, songs composed in a style reminiscent of an earlier musical language. He did however compose other works, including operas, chamber pieces, and orchestral music. The failure of his final opera, La Fiamminga, at its premiere in 1922 so disheartened him that he stopped composing for the rest of his life. O del mio amato ben, a song about the pain of lost love, is one of his most popular songs, and among his most beautiful. The 18th century inspired melodic line of this work is made even more piquant with 19th century harmonies.
Like Donaudy, the Russian composer Alexander Alabiev (1787—1851) is also a bit of a one hit wonder, despite being fairly prolific as a composer. His output includes 7 operas and numerous other staged works, orchestral pieces, many chamber works including 3 string quartets, and nearly 200 songs. His name now is unfortunately associated with only one work, the song Соловей (The Nightingale). Composed in 1825, this song is one of the most well known within the Russian art song literature, and its popularity amongst singers has ensured that it has attained an almost folkloric status.
Included in the programme are three duets by French composers Charles Gounod (1818—1893), Camille Saint-Saëns (1835—1921), and Léo Delibes (1836—1891). All three are amongst the most famous and influential during the middle of the 19th century, and their works are still part of standard repertoire. Gounod is probably most famous for his Ave Maria setting, a reworking of Bach’s C major prelude, and his opera Faust. Delibes is known for his opera Lakmé, and more importantly, his ballet Coppélia. Many of Saint-Saëns’ works have remained with us, the most popular probably being his Le carnaval des animaux, a firm favourite for children’s concerts. The three duets presented today display the different styles of their individual composers, but they are also all marked by one very obvious characteristic, a grace and felicity of melodic inventiveness that is a hallmark of the French.
To round up this first half of the concert, we present two arias from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756—1791) collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte, the operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. The comic opera The Marriage of Figaro, from which the cavatina L’ho perduta, performed by Barbarina the gardener’s daughter, is taken, premiered in May 1786 and was a huge success from the start. It remains one of the most regularly performed operas nowadays. Zerlina’s aria Vedrai carino is from the opera Don Giovanni, Mozart’s other great success. The opera premiered in 1787, and has also become part of the standard operatic repertoire of opera houses and companies all over the world.
For the second part of this evening concert, we present one of the greatest articulations of love set to music, Robert Schumann’s (1810—1856) song cycle Dichterliebe. 1840, the year in which this song cycle was composed, was a landmark year for Schumann. He finally married the love of his life, Clara, after a prolonged anxiety-ridden courtship and a long drawn out legal battle with his now father-in-law. 1840 thus saw an outpouring of love for his new wife through the medium of song, and this has become known as his Liederjahr, his year of song. Almost all of his most famous lieder were composed during this period; he composed approximately 140 songs in this one year alone, and practically all of them are now part of standard repertoire for singers. The texts of the 16 songs that make up Dichterliebe are taken from Heinrich Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo. The cycle goes through a whole gamut of emotions—terderness, doubt, despair—a reflection of Robert’s love for Clara, and the anxiety that will plague him till the end of his life about the uncertainty of their future together, as well as his own mental state.