Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Irish Folksongs for the Vocal Studio, Part 2

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Irish Folksongs for the Vocal Studio, Part 2

Article excerpt

[In the previous Journal of Singing publication, Dr. Angelí wrote of the effectiveness of Irish folksongs for teaching basic skills and opened the doors to a great number of songs most likely unknown to most voice teachers. The author continues his compendium into the 20th and 21st centuries in this second part of the article.]

CHARLES VILLIERS STANFORD (1852-1924) was the first Irish composer whose work consistently demonstrates the clear use of traditional melody within a trained European aesthetic. The very title of Stanford's 1893 volume, The Irish Melodies: the Original Airs Restored and Arranged for the Voice (available for free as a digitized volume), indicates that Stanford wishes to differentiate his approach from that of the many composers-such as Moffat, Balfe, and Somervell-whose Moore arrangements were published at a similar time. Stanford's approach is consistent: every song has a short piano ritornello that is a variation of the melody's first line, and the accompaniment is mostly chordal, with some running eighth notes and an occasional dissonance, permeated by the conservative Victorian sound of his oeuvre. He does provide pleasant variety between strophes in some songs, and although the accompaniment gestures do not necessarily reflect the text, they avoid monotony. The soaring melody of "Oh! Breathe Not His Name" is set for high voice in two brief verses with contrasting texture. The song requires the singer to use rubato, phrasing, contrasting dynamics, and clear diction to convey the emotion of the text, which elegizes national hero Robert Emmet. The accompaniment is not difficult, but it provides interesting countermelodies while still supporting the voice. "Rich and Rare" is one of Stanford's best Moore arrangements, with four verses that are varied in accompaniment motives and dynamics, and a text that relates a story. It is also among the most attractive melodies, and the key is appropriate for medium voice. The range is large, and a full rendition of all four long verses will test the singer's memorization and ability to sing without excessive effort. "How Dear to Me the Hour" is a beautiful, long-breathed melody that lengthens the end of each phrase a full measure beyond the expected duration. It provides a high-voiced singer with an exercise in breath management and singing legato through a line that ascends and descends between F and F. The accompaniment begins with a soft treble motive, and becomes fuller and deeper toward the end. Stanford's accompaniments for fast, rousing songs are less imaginative than those written for slow songs, although he is successful in his settings of the fast songs "Come, Send Round the Wine," "While Gazing on the Moon's Light," "I'd Mourn the Hopes That Leave Me," "Love's Young Dream," "To Ladies' Eyes," and "When First I Met Thee." Stanford's volume has a number of the slow, lyric songs of love or grief that became associated with John McCormack and that provide melodic leaps and expressive ornaments for lyric tenors. Such songs include "I Saw Thy Form" and the outstanding "At the Mid' Hour of Night." The latter has a varied accompaniment and a melody that carries its forward motion through cadences. The affect of subdued passion must be evident, and the singer must contrast full-voiced singing with engaged pianissimo. "The Last Rose of Summer" is through-composed for medium voice, with the germ of some devices that Britten later used more fully in his setting of this song, such as the ornaments written into the melody and the triplet accompaniment figure. The difficulty with this popular song is that the language is sentimental and the prolonged metaphor of a rose may not succeed in capturing the artistic imagination of a young singer. "The Song of Fionnuala" is one of the best arrangements in Stanford's volume, although the pianist must be careful to play the sixteenth note figure subtly so that it does not become too busy for the plaintive melody in the second verse (Example 1). …

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