BEAUTY of music | play that song
Play that song! The March edition of Beauty of Music sets up the American Pianists Awards Song Recital with an important linguistic definition.
You may had a conversation that went something like this:
“What’s your favorite classical song?” one may ask.
“Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony,” another might reply.
“No, no. What is your favorite classical song?” insists the first.
“Oh,” replies the second. “Barber’s ’I Hear an Army” is my favorite classical song. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, though, is my favorite piece.”
It sounds trivial, but in classical music, a song is a very specific thing, and that term is not applied to other types of works. Instead, we usually refer to them as works, pieces, or by their specific form (e.g., symphony or concerto).
However, there is a song genre in classical music, and it is typically a piece written for one voice plus accompanying instrument, most often piano. There are songs for more than one voice and with instrumentations as large as a symphony orchestra, such as those by Gustav Mahler. You will see the word Lied (plural Lieder), which is just German for song. You may also here the term art song.
Songs can either be strophic or through composed. A strophic song is the simplest form, and in it, you will see the music printed out one time, and underneath the music you will see several verses, all of which are sung to the same music much like you will find in a hymnal. Through-composed songs have different music for each verse, though there may be large sections that are repeated or varied only slightly.
Songs can stand alone by themselves, or they can be part of a song cycle, a single work comprised of multiple songs. Song cycles can be relatively short (three or four songs) to substantially longer (Schubert’s “Winterreise” consists of 24 songs with poems by Wilhelm Müller and takes over seventy minutes to perform).
Schubert is the composer most associated with Lieder. In his 31 short years on this earth, Schubert managed to write over 600 songs. One Schubert song has been said to have changed the course of music. From NPR:
Two hundred years ago today, a 17-year-old kid from Vienna wrote a song that would change the way composers thought about songwriting. That kid was Franz Schubert, and his song "Gretchen am Spinnrade" (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) put German art song — or lieder as it's called — on the map. The song's dramatic punch and bold innovations still reverberate today.
2017 American Pianists Awards finalist Sam Hong will perform "Gretchen am Spinnrade" with leading American soprano Jessica Rivera during the final week of competition. The American Pianists Awards Song Recital brings together Rivera and baritone Andrew Garland with the five finalists for an evening of performances pairing voice and piano.
In addition to the Schubert song, the program includes “Ariettes Oubliées” by Claude Debussy, “American Folk Set” by Steven Mark Kohn, “Songs of Travel” by Ralph Vaughan Williams and more.
Join us April 6 for an evening of great artistry—and your one opportunity to use the word "song" in classical music!