Liriche. Art Songs

By Carman, Judith | Journal of Singing, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Liriche. Art Songs


Carman, Judith, Journal of Singing


RESPIGHI, OTTORINO (1879-1936). LIRICHE. ART SONGS. Canto e pianoforte,voice and piano. Ricordi/BMG Publications, 2006.

This volume contains all of Respighi's vocal chamber works published by Casa Ricordi (1917-1922). As such it is a rather small sampling of the composer's about forty-five solo vocal compositions, the remainder of which were originally published by Bongiovanni. The eighteen songs published here include one very long work originally for voice and string quartet arranged for voice and piano by the composer in 1914, three single songs, and three sets of songs. The volume also contains a Preface by Alberto Cantú that discusses various aspects of Respighi's compositional style, primarily in his instrumental music. Only the last brief paragraph addresses the vocal music, and even that has little to say of interest or help to the users of this collection. It is as if a whole page of commentary were missing. There are, however, side by side Italian texts and English translations that will be very helpful to those who sing these songs.

The elements of Respighi's style are well known: his strong connection to the nineteenth century tonal tradition with influences from Wagner, Berlioz, and Strauss with traces of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century "isms," especially impressionism, grafted on quite naturally; his attraction to both ancient and Romantic poets; his knowledge and use of plainchant modes; his rich use of orchestral colors; and his affinity for "programme music." All of these elements are present in some fashion in the songs, and Respighi uses the piano extremely skillfully and often orchestrally to illuminate the texts. His accompaniment patterns that reflect or illustrate facets of the various texts are rich and individual and call for an accomplished pianist. The vocal lines are lyric, dramatic, chant- or recitative-like, or operatic, as the text demands. Rhythmic divisions follow word stress and can sometimes look daunting on the page, though on closer examination they are all quite natural. The ranges are not extreme, but a full sounding voice from bottom to top is usually called for.

The contents of this collection are "E se un giorno tornasse" (1911); "Il tramonto" (1914); Dieta silvane (1917): "I fauni," "Musica in horto," "Egle," "Acqua," "Crepuscolo"; Cinque liriche (1917): "Tempi assai lontani," "Canto funebre," "Par les soirs," "Par l'étreinte," "La fine"; "La donna del sarcofago" (1919); "La statua" (1919); and Quattro liriche (1921): "No, non è morto il figlio tuo," "La mamma è come il pane caldo," "Io sono la madre," "Mattino dì luce." For those who are familiar only with the few Respighi songs found in various collections (e.g., "Nebbie"), a brief look at a selected few follows.

"E se un giorno tornasse" (Vittoria Aganoor Pompilj). D minor; C^sub 4^-F^sub 5^; Tess: M; unmeasured, Molto lento e triste; V/M, P/E; 3 pages. Medium voice.

At first glance one might think this song somehow escaped from a collection of seventeenth century Italian monody and embedded itself in a twentieth century volume. A second look, however, reveals some unusual accidentals in the vocal recitative and decidedly unbaroque chords in the secco recitativo accompaniment. It is in fact harmonically quite impressionistic. A woman wonders to herself about what she would tell her absent lover if he should return after her death. Here we have two elements of Respighi's style, the love of old forms and the parallel harmonies of impressionism, coming together to form a riveting soliloquy.

"La fine" (Rabindranath Tagore; no. V of Cinque liriche). C major-impressionistic; B^sub 3^-G^sub 5^; Tess: M; 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 6/4, 6/8, 9/8, 5/8, Molto lento-a Tempo-moderato-lento-Allegretto scherzoso-Lentamente-Molto lento; V/mD-D, P/D; 11 pages. Medium voice.

A number of Respighi's songs on texts by various poets were published in 1917, and among them is this setting of a very beautiful text by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Bengali poet, novelist, educator, and musician. …

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