The Ancient Ritual of Song

« previous episode | next episode »

Saturday, November 20, 2010

For musicians and listeners alike, the definition of the word "song" has become more of a litmus test than an answer: If a piece of music is indeed a "song," it should have the ability to be expressed by a lone instrument or voice, without the bells and whistles of elaborate orchestration.

For centuries, composers have used folk songs, lullabies and hymns, whether as the raw material for ambitious orchestration, or as inspiration for intimate song cycles. Pianist and composer Steve Nieve has embraced the ancient ritual of song for much of his career. Trained at the Royal College of Music, he worked for decades as a session musician, with Elvis Costello and others. A few years ago, Nieve and collaborator Muriel Teodori created an opera called Welcome to the Voice, whose art songs exude the kind of raw honesty and intense focus that songwriters strive for.

This week, we listen to Nieve's Grand Grand Freedom, and to other composers who nourish their music with the nutrients of song, including the likes of Robert Schumann, Zhou Long and Charles Ives.


Scherzo in A Minor, Op. 81/2
Felix Mendelssohn
Pacifica Quartet

Quatre Chansons pour enfants (Four songs for children)
Francis Poulenc
Michel Senechal, tenor; Dalton Baldwin, piano

Grand Grand Freedom
Steve Nieve
Sting, as Dionysos; Robert Wyatt, The Friend

Twilight (Zwielicht)
Robert Schumann
Don Byron, clarinet & bass clarinet; Uri Caine, piano

Panis Angelicus
Cesar Franck
Renee Feming, Soprano
London Voices
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Three Songs Without Words
Steven R. Gerber
Kurt Nikkanen, violin

Leaving Home (Chinese Folk Song)
Zhou Long
Shanghai String Quartet

Variations on "Home on the Range" for String Quartet
Stephen Chatman
Borealis String Quartet

The Magic Knot Waltz
Terry Riley
Terry Riley, Piano

Songs My Mother Taught Me
Charles Ives
Theo Bleckmann, voice, live electronics

Stabat Mater (There Stands the Mother)
Arvo Pärt
Lynne Dawson, soprano

Night Prayers
Giya Kancheli
Kronos Quartet

Comments [1]

Michael Meltzer

The ability to write a beautiful melody that can stand alone is a special gift, not even shared by most of the great composers by whose music we live. The gift seems to come about once in a century, if at all.
WQXR pays appropriate and frequent enough tribute to two of those masters, Schubert and Puccini, but the QXR policy of letting early music out of the closet only guardedly has kept you from exploring the beautiful and important work done by John Dowland. Start with Barbara Bonney, her "Fairest Isle" CD.
Special mention must be made of Chopin, composing for pianos with poor sustaining power that often made lines of music broken and disjunct. Chopin said, "So what?," and wrote beautiful melodies that worked quite well, anyway.

Nov. 18 2010 07:25 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.