THE SONG CYCLE HAS HAD A LONG and distinguished history spanning two hundred years. This genre has provided singers with memorable works of varying lengths in several languages, written for all voice types and featuring texts by both well known and obscure writers. Cycles have become an integral part of the advanced singer's repertoire. They help to vary the dramatic import and format on traditional recital programs and are a required element for auditions of all kinds. There is a tried and true, respected list of cycles that every singer has heard, admired, and perhaps performed. Those are valuable, indeed, and must be dealt with at some point in one's career, if only for study purposes. But most singers are ever in search of contemporary cycles that offer interpretive and vocal challenges that will take them to higher levels of expression than previously experienced; cycles that have a fresh approach, use texts that draw in the audience in unique ways, and allow the performers to explore imaginative staging and presentation.
Roger Vogel, professor of music at the University of Georgia has created such a work. He has written and published more than one hundred works, won prizes in national contests, and had his music performed internationally. His forty-five minute song cycle, Love Letters, for high voice, violin, and piano, is a major contribution to the song cycle repertoire for soprano and/or tenor. It was written in 2002 at the request of Levon Ambartsumian, Franklin Professor of Violin at the University of Georgia. This beautiful, captivating work contains eleven songs that are settings of excerpts from actual love letters that span a period of two thousand years from Pliny the Younger in the first century to John Steinbeck in the twentieth century. There is even a letter to Ringo Starr from one of his many fans. The composer states that "the excerpts were chosen to reflect the many different aspects of the universal emotion of love. Included are songs that reflect the joy in receiving a letter, the giddiness of infatuation, intense longing, the grim reality of a soldier on the front in WWI, and the despair of being abandoned by one's lover." This work is unique in that it may be the only song cycle that uses actual love letters as texts rather than poetry about various aspects of love. The historical expanse of the textual content will appeal to singers who enjoy delving into recorded, factual, authentic material from the hands of those who lived through the events about which they wrote.
Vogel's compositional style is tonal, lyric, expressive, fluid, and always insightful to the text being set. He has a superb ability to write characteristically for each instrument so that the listener's attention is never drawn to compositional craft, rather to its easy adaptation to the text. Most of the songs use all three instruments together; however, songs one and four use only voice and piano, song seven makes a duet of the voice and violin, and there is an interlude in the tenth spot for violin and piano without the voice. The cycle has a very satisfying emotional and musical shape, ending with all three instruments equally balanced in sentiment and musical expressiveness. The vocal writing is traditional and showcases the voice as it moves through long spinning phrases, conversational fragments, and occasional coloratura. The songs in the cycle display an incredibly diverse variety of moods, due to the fact that they express every major emotion that humans experience in love. They are of varying lengths, from one minute thirty seconds to seven minutes thirty seconds. It is delightful to find that the composer, in the forward to the published copy of the cycle, gives a brief history of each letter chosen. This puts each letter in context, historically. The songs and their texts are:
1. "Your Letter Moved Me" (Margaret Lawrence to Benedict Greene, June 21, 1942)
2. "I Lie Awake" (Pliny the Younger to Calpurnia, 1st century, A. …