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Art Song Festival

Cleveland's Art Song Festival:  Its Origin and History

The Art Song

The art song as we know it today is a creation of the early 19th century. It is first and foremost a marriage of poetry and music. The music critic Anthony Tommasini, of the New York Times,  has said that: “the glory of art songs is in the literate and subtle way words and music are mixed The true song recital is as much an engrossing evening of poetry as it is a vocal performance."

While Mozart and Haydn wrote a few songs, the first composer who specialized in writing songs (what we refer to today as German Lieder) was Franz Schubert. In his short life he composed almost 600 of them. He was followed in Germany by such great exponents of the art as Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler. In France in the period 1820-40 Hector Berlioz wrote the first of what we now call mélodies, Although Charles Gounod and Jules Massenet wrote many mélodies  they are largely remembered today for  their operas. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century in France that a real flowering of the genre occurred with the advent of such composers as Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, who collaborated with the greatest poets of  tbeir day. Minor masters such as Ernest Chausson and Henri Duparc (known almost exclusively for his mélodies) were also prominent in the latter part of the century and France gave us probably the greatest 2Oth century song composer in Francis Poulenc.

In the English-speaking world no great song composer stands out until the arrival on the American scene of Charles Ives in the ea4y 20th century. Later, following World War II, Britain gave us one of the finest exponents of song composition in the work of Benjamin Britten and in America came the many fine songs of such composers as Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem. Other countries developed their own traditions. In Scandinavia Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius each left a rich legacy of songs and in Spain we must mention Manual de Falla and Enrique Granados. In Russia Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff all made major contributions to the genre.

It is the preservation of this art form as represented in the work of these composers that is the raison d'être behind Cleveland's Art Song Festival.

The Art Song Recital:  Some Historical Background

Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians defines a recital as "A concert given by one performer or a small number of performers." The performer is alone on stage. There are no costumes or scenery. There are no orchestras or choruses to back up the singer. The performer provides the whole show by him or herself.  The term was first used by Franz Liszt in London in 1840 to announce a solo performance that he was to give there in a public hall. The earliest performances of Schubert's songs were given for the most part in private settings  in the homes of rich musical patrons or the nobility, usually as after-dinner entertainment. Some musicians, for example the Mendelssohn family   (Felix and his sister Fanny in particular), organized concerts in their home to which a small number of friends were invited. Public recitals in the 19th century were rare, however, until after the advent of such piano virtuosos as Liszt and his rivals.

The earliest vocal recitals given by such singers as Jenny Lind were hybrid affairs. Singers did not present an entire evening's program by themselves. Instead "Assisting Artists" were engaged. These were usually a violinist (or cellist) and a pianist, who performed solos in between the groups of songs offered by the singer.  Sometimes a young beginning singer spelled the more renowned artist. Most of the programs were a hodge-podge of popular ballads and operatic arias, with perhaps a few serious Lieder or mélodies thrown in.  It was not until the turn of the century that a few celebrated opera singers such as Marcella Sembrich and Frieda Hempel pioneered the art song recital as we know it today.

In England another type of vocal concert grew up in the Victorian Era. That was the "ballad concert". Before the advent of the radio or the gramophone, if a family wanted music in their home they had to provide it themselves. Young ladies in good society were expected to be able to play the piano or sing and were so trained. Their gentlemen friends might also want to display their musical talents in the drawing room. Publishers provided sheet music of songs and piano pieces of not too great difficulty for these amateur musicians. In order to publicize their latest releases the publishing houses sponsored 'ballad concerts" in which a group of young professional singers were engaged to sing two or three songs each in the hopes that members of the audience would want to buy the music to perform themselves. Many singers got their first taste of performing before the public in these ballad concerts.

The serious solo song recital reached its greatest flowering in Europe and America in the years between the two World Wars and shortly thereafter. During this time it became possible for an artist to have a career almost entirely confined to the solo song recital. Two great examples of this are the Irish tenor, John McCormack, and the African-American contralto, Marian Anderson. John McCormack started his career in opera but he was never at ease as an actor and soon renounced operatic appearances in favor of song recitals.  While most famous as a singer of Irish ballads, John McCormack organized programs around the literature of the serious song.  He sang a great deal of German Lieder and was particularly noted for his interpretations of Hugo Wolf, at a time when that composer was largely unknown. His many recordings of Lieder attest to that interest.

Marian Anderson, who came to prominence in the 1930s, some twenty years after John McCormack, was barred from the operatic stage by her race.  She also found many symphony orchestras unwilling to hire her as a soloist. Thus she was forced into a solo recital career. Those of us who heard her at the end of her career in the 1950s and 60s or only know her from her recordings undoubtedly think of her as having a fairly limited repertoire. A recent examination of recital programs to be found in the archives at the University of Pennsylvania reveals that her repertoire was indeed a vast one. It included nearly 80 Schubert songs and over 60 songs by Brahms. While in later years she seemed to prefer the German repertoire, in her earlier days she sang a great many French mélodies; as well as many Scandinavian songs in their original language. This last was undoubtedly due to the influence of her accompanist in the first half of her career, the Finnish pianist Kosti Vehanen.

In the 1930s American musical life was enriched by the arrival in our country of many refugees from Hitler's Europe. These included such notable exponents of the song recital as Elisabeth Schumann, Lotte Lehmann and Alexander Kipnis. They developed devoted followings with their concerts in the major cities of the U.S.

How were so many of these artists able to sustain careers uniquely in the recital hall? This was because of the existence of presenters all over America who organized vocal as well as piano and violin recitals. Most important were the Community or Civic Concert Series. Almost every middle-sized and small community in the U.S. had such a series.  These series were organized out of New York by the two largest concert managers of the time and offered each community a package of four or five concerts, one of which was nearly always a vocal recital.  Thus two or more generations of singers enjoyed the possibility of being heard in innumerable communities around the country. Larger cities had their own concert promoters who engaged artists and put on a considerable number of concerts every season. In Cleveland for many years it was the Cleveland Opera Association run by Giacomo Bernardi who occupied that role.

The art song repertory was also heard extensively in the period from 1930 to 1960 over the air waves.  Each radio network had its well-known classical music program and many of them were devoted exclusively to singers. The most famous of these were the Bell Telephone Hour and the Voice of Firestone.  The Columbia Broadcasting network presented the soprano Eileen Farrell in her own program for many, many years.  While operatic arias were a staple of these programs, two or three songs were always included and thus listeners throughout the U.S. got to know the standard song repertoire.

The development during the first half of this century of the recording industry also helped spread the knowledge of the serious song literature to the general public. Early 78 rpm discs were limited to a little over four minutes in duration. Songs were thus very appropriate for recording as the full work could be accomodated on one side of a record,  unlike symphonic works or even some operatic arias which had to be abbreviated or spread over several records.

By the 1980s this traditional concert life was coming to an end.  Local concert promoters went out of business or converted their operations to the presenting of pop artists.  The Community or Civic Concerts were attacked as being monopolistic. Concert managers, other than the two big corporations running the community concert series, found it hard to get their artists included in the series and filed suit.  The result was that the big New York managers largely withdrew from the community concert business. Concert series were now largely in the hands of educational institutions, such as music schools, or museums.  Only in the biggest cities of America -- New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago --were any large number of vocal recitals being offered to the public. Singers now eamed their living by appearing in opera or as soloists with symphony orchestras or choral groups.  Almost no singer could make a living uniquely by giving song recitals.

Cleveland's Art Song Festival

It was in this climate of diminishing opportunities for singers to perform the vast solo song repertoire that George Vassos, the Head of the Voice Department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, decided in 1985 to try and do something to preserve this art form.  With the support of the Institute's then Director, Grant Johannesen, he organized the first Art Song Festival in Cleveland at CIM.

His idea was to bring two established recitalists with their regular accompanists to Cleveland for a week, not only to give concerts but also to pass on their knowledge of the art song repertoire to a younger generation of beginning artists.  The art song recital is a close collaboration between singer and pianist and so it was planned from the very beginning that the young singers would come to the Festival with an accompanying pianist with whom they had worked for at least a year.  The number of teams was to be limited to ten so that each team would have adequate time to work with the major singers and their pianists. The teams were to be recruited nationwide by way of auditions, initially here in Cleveland and more recently in New York, as well as by submitted tape recordings. The judging at the auditions has been done by Mr. Vassos and other CIM faculty members and graduates, as well as outside experts, both singers and pianists. Once in Cleveland the singers and their pianists would have the opportunity of observing two great artists each present a solo recital program and then be able to work with both of them on songs that they had prepared before hand. At the end of the week the participants would present a joint song recital of their own, featuring the best of the works that they had worked on during the week.

Finding singers who not only had specialized in the song recital but who also were willing and able to teach was not easy. Some established artists had no desire or no ability to communicate their knowledge to a younger generation. What indeed can a concert artist do for a young singer that cannot be done in the vocal teacher's studio? First and foremost is probably the knowledge of how to communicate with an audience. Only an artist with long experience before the public can do this. Furthermore an artist in a master class situation comes into the picture hopefully after the student singer has acquired a vocal technique, has learned the necessary languages, and acquired a certain basic repertoire.  The artist-teacher can then show the student how best to get across the message expressed in the song and how to catch and hold the attention of the audience.  The veteran singer or pianist can sometimes offer "tricks of the trade". With their long experience with singing or playing the songs themselves they will have suggestions for presentation and interpretation which should be of enormous value to the beginner.

The Artists

Mr. Vassos was fortunate in being able to engage for the very first Festival two of the greatest recitalists of the time, the Dutch soprano, Elly Ameling and the French baritone, Gérard Souzay. They both had used the same pianist for much of their careers--Dalton Baldwin.  Mr. Baldwin  had local connections, being a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, and  was one of the world's most renowned accompanists.   Elly Ameling, who had probably made more recordings of art songs than any other artist of her time (except perhaps Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), proved to be a particularly felicitous choice as she clearly enjoyed teaching and was eager to pass on her expertise to younger artists. Over the years she was to return to the Festival more times (five in all) than any other singer and since her retirement from concert giving she has continued to visit CIM annually for master classes. The Festival was pleased this past year to designate her as an Honorary Artistic Council member.

The first Art Song Festival was such a success, both with the concert-going public and with the team participants, that Mr. Vassos was able to put the Festival on an annual basis. In 1986 the artists brought to Cleveland were the Swedish soprano, Elizabeth Söderström, with Warren Jones as her pianist, and the Canadian contralto, Maureen Forrester, who came with Thomas Muraco.  In 1987 Elly Ameling and Dalton Baldwin returned for a second engagement and Håken Hagegård,  the Swedish baritone (renowned at the time for his portrayal of Papageno in Ingmar Bergman's celebrated film of The Magic Flute) made his first engagement at the Festival, with Mr. Jones as his accompanying artist.  Warren Jones is now the artist who has appeared the most often at the Festival. This current 2000 ASF marks his seventh appearance. In addition he has appeared in off-year recitals on two other occasions and like Elly Ameling makes annual visits to CIM for master classes for students there.

The Festival continued one more year on an annual basis. In 1988 the artists were the Finnish baritone, Tom Krause, with Mikael Eliasen as his pianist, and once again Elly Ameling and Dalton Baldwin.  Following criticism by Robert Finn in the Plain Dealer that the American song repertoire had been neglected in the first years of the Festival, a third artist, the American baritone, William Sharp, with Steven Blier, pianist, was engaged to give an all-American song program. Mr. Sharp had been the winner of the Carnegie Hail International American Music Competition.

Presenting the Festival on an annual basis proved in the long run to be too ambitious a schedule. In the early days the Festival had no permanent staff and fund raising was in the hands of an ad hoc volunteer committee, often with little carry over from one year to the next.  The raising of  the necessary funds is always a challenge.  In 1989 it was decided to suspend operations for one year.  When the festival resumed in 1990 it was scheduled every two years.  Since 1992 the Festival and the Cleveland International Piano Competition have shared the same Executive Director, Karen Knowlton, thus insuring continuing professional management.  It was at this time that a Governing Council was organized and by -laws adopted, thus giving the Festival a permanent structure. Enid Politzer had served as Chairman of the ad hoc Committtee for eight years (1985-1993) prior to the reorganization and deserves great praise for her devoted service.  Lloyd Max Bunker was named the first Chairman of the Governing Council and served from 1993 to 1998 when he was succeeded by the present Chairman, Ray Clarke.

When the Festival resumed in 1990 one of the artists was the late soprano, Arleen Auger, who was joined by the Cleveland-born pianist, Irwin Gage.  A tape of Arleen Auger and Irwin Gage's recital has recently been converted to a CD and is on sale during this Festival.  It is the only live recorded recital of Ms. Auger currently available on CD and thus presents a unique aspect of her art. The second artist engaged for 1990 was the British baritone, Benjamin Luxon with his pianist, David Willison.

Since the Festival was now on a biennial schedule 1991 was an "off-year." Fortunately it was possible to fill the gap in song recitals in Cleveland by offering a single recital that year, the artists being Dawn Upshaw, soprano, and Richard Goode, pianist. This has now become a tradition. In the years when there is no Festival and no teams of students come to Cleveland to work with major artists, the Festival sponsors a song recital.  Thus the Festival keeps its name and activities before the public and is able to continue its fund raising. "Off-year" recitals were given in 1993 and in 1997 by HAken Hagegard and Warren Jones, and in 1995 Elly Ameling gave one of her "farewell" recitals at CIM' again with Mr. Baldwin. In 1999 the Festival sponsored the first Cleveland appearance of the Russian baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, with Mikhail Arkadiev, pianist. Mr. Hvorostovsky's appearance aroused great enthusiasm and the concert was sold-out weeks in advance.

In 1992 the Festival had featured once again Elly Ameling and Dalton Baldwin, as well as the French baritone, François Le Roux, with Warren Jones making another appearance as his accompanying artist.  In 1994 it was the turn of the German baritone, Olaf Baer, with Mr, Jones and the British mezzo-soprano, Sarah Walker, with Roger Vignoles.   In the following "off-year" Ms. Walker returned for a "cabaret" evening with Garth Hancock, which proved to be very popular with the Cleveland audience.

The 1996 Festival brought the great American mezzo-soprano Marilyn Home to Cleveland with Mr. Jones.  This gave Ms. Horne first-hand knowledge of what the Festival was trying to accomplish and subsequently has resulted in an on-going collaboration with the Marilyn Horne Foundation (of which more later). The other teaching artists that year were the tenor, John Aler and Jeff Cohen, pianist. Andrew White, a six-time alumnus of the Art Song Festival, was invited to give a recital of songs by Cleveland composers as an addition to the Festival program.  In 1998,  Barbara Bonney, soprano, appeared with Warren Jones and François Le Roux returned once again.  Originally he was to have appeared with the pianist Craig Rutenberg, but Mr. Rutenberg was taken ill soon after conducting his first master class and Linda Jones of the CIM coaching faculty stepped in at the last minute and replaced him for Mr. Le Roux's recital.  Warren Jones also graciously offered to take over Mr. Rutenberg's other master classes.

Repertoire

During the fifteen years of the Festival our many visiting artists have sung songs by all of the composers that were mentioned at the beginning of this article as being important in the history of the art song except for Hector Berlioz.   One other great omission -- the song cycles of Franz Schubert -- is to be corrected this year with Håken Hagegåard's decision to devote his entire evening's recital to Schubert's masterpiece: Winterreise.  But our concert going has been enriched by the songs of other important composers. The Seven Early  Lieder of Alban Berg were sung by Håken Hagegård in 1987 and such artists as François Le Roux,  John Aler and Hagegård enlarged our acquaintance with melodies by such French composers as Georges Bizet, Camille Saint-Saëns, Reynaldo Hahn,   André Caplet and Darius Milhaud.   Dmitri Hvorostovsky contributed to our knowledge of Russian works by featuring songs by Mikhail Glinka and a masterful song cycle by the contemporary composer Georgii Sviridov in his 1999 recital. A most important contribution has been the large number of Scandinavian songs presented in recital, not only those of Grieg and Sibelius but also songs by Wilhelm Stenhammer and Emil Sjögren.  Surprisingly it was not only our Scandinavian artists (Söderström,  Krause and Hagegård) who included songs of their native lands in their programs but also Sarah Walker and Barbara Bonney as well. Finally it is well to note once again the all-American program of William Sharp and the Cleveland composers program of Andrew White, both of them singing a wide range of American works. Hågan Hagegård has also championed American music by including songs of Charles Ives and a song cycle by the contemporary composer Stephen Paulus in his programs.

The Marilyn Horne Foundation

Mention has previously been made of the Marilyn Horne Foundation.  Like George Vassos, Ms. Horne had long been concerned with the languishing art song solo recital. She had devoted a large part of her career to recitals and had given them in every state of the Union and in many foreign countries. In 1993 she established her Foundation to support young singers in giving recitals. As she stated in an interview in the New York Times: "They learn the song repertory in schools. They all want to sing it; they are prepared.  The question is finding places that want them."  Young singers, who are still in the early stages of a professional career, are recommended to the Foundation by teachers and fellow artists known to Ms. Horne and then, like the Art Song Festival, are auditioned and selected for inclusion in the Foundation's program by Ms. Horne and her colleagues. The Foundation then awards grants to presenting organizations around the country in large cities and small, and on college and university campuses, to enable them to present one of the Foundation's young artists in recital.  In return the presenter  agrees to arrange for the artist not only to give a recital but also to appear in outreach programs in schools in the vicinity.

Since 1998 the Art Song Festival has been able to participate in the work of the Foundation. We received our first grant in that year and this enabled us to bring the Canadian baritone Russell Braun and pianist Carolyn Maule to Cleveland for a fine recital. The young couple gave several outreach programs in the East Cleveland Public Schools with great success during their visit here. For this year's Festival, the Horne Foundation has provided the support necessary to bring Akron-born soprano Nicole Heaston and her pianist colleague Carol Anderson for a recital at the Festival and for work in schools in Cleveland, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.  The Horne Foundation's work complements and enlarges upon the training that is done at the Art Song Festival and we are grateful for their collaboration and support. 

Lectures

In one of the early Festivals (1986) the practice of including a lecture or two in the week's program was commenced. That year Shirlee Emmons, a member of the vocal faculty of Boston University and co-author of the book The Art of the Song Recital gave a lecture entitled "Innovations and Theatricalitv in Recital Building." She returned the following year to give "The Singer/Accompanist Relationship." The well-known music critic, Will Crutchfield, gave two lectures in 1990: "The Art of the Accompanist" and "The Great Singers of Song in the First Quarter of This Century." The most frequent lecturer over the years has been Richard LeSueur, librarian and record collector, who began his series in 1988 with a lecture entitled "Lotte Lehmann and the Art of Song." He continued in 1992 with "The History of Recital Programming in the 20th Century." Other subjects he has explored have been: "The Forgotten Repertoire" and "Revitalizing the Song Repertoire" (1994); "Treasures To Be E~lored: Ahernate Versions of Fanious Songs" and "Various Song Settings of Great Poets" (1996); and "The Art of the Accompanist" and "An Historical Overview of Song Recital Programming" (1998) Many of Mr. LeSueur' 5 lectures have been illustrated by the playing of recordings. In 1998 Regina McConnell, a soprano who had her early training at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music and is now on the voice faculty of the University of Maryland and Catholic University of America, gave a lecture-recital with Linda Jones, pianist, on "The Art Songs of Harry T Burleigh." These lectures now form a vital part of the Auditors' Program which was initiated in 1994 and which aims to bring voice teachers from around the country as well as other singers and song lovers to CIM for a week of listening to the lectures, observing the master classes and attending the artists' and students' recitals.

Team Participants

What has happened to our team participants since their participation in the Art Song Festival? Some of them are still continuing with their studies, others are embarked upon professional careers as singers or pianists. Some have taken up or resumed their teaching positions and are thus in a good position to pass on their knowledge of song literature and how to present a solo song recital to their students. Many continue as important assets in their local musical communities. A recent examination of the list of almost 200 participants shows that a dozen or more currently enjoy professional management. Four have made it onto the roster of the Metropolitan Opera: Vivica Genaux (ASF 1994), Carolyn James (ASF 1986), Eduardo Valdes (ASF 1986 and a CIM graduate) and Maria Zifchak (ASF 1996).

As for work in the field of solo recitals two former participants stand out: Wills Morgan (ASF 1990 and 1992) and Lynette Tapia (ASF 1994). Wills Morgan, who returned to England following his graduation from CIM, has recently formed the "Art Song Collective" in London and is embarked on issuing a series of CDs of song literature. His first CD featured the art songs of the contemporary Scottish composer, Ronald Stevenson. A second CD, comprising the songs of the nineteenth century British Negro composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, will be released in June of this year. Lynette Tapia recently was chosen by Carnegie Hall as its participant in the Rising Stars4)istinctive Debuts program. This program was originally launched by the European Concert Halls Organization in 1995 and Carnegie Hall linked up with it during the following season. In this program young artists are offered the opportunity of appearing in several of Europe's and America's most prestigious halls. It is a unique opportunity for young artists to be heard not only by sophisticated audiences in the music capitals of the world but also by managers who might then be encouraged to hire them for further concert work.  Ms. Tapia, after a recital in Weill Recital Hall in New York this past season, presented recitals in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Hall and in Cologne, Vienna and other European venues.  It would be interesting to survey all of the other participants to find out how they have profitted from their experiences at the Art Song Festival.

Conclusion

As the Art Song Festival celebrates its fifteenth years of existence and its tenth Festival, it can look back on considerable accomplishments. The art song will always appeal to a limited audience but it is a source of rich musical pleasure for many and it should not be lost. Future generations should have the opportunity of experiencing this art form live and not just on records. Hopefully George Vassos pioneering work will continue for many years to come.

Richard  K. Gardner

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