Sponsored by Music
Alumni guest lecturer Evan Mitchell, in collaboration with adjunct faculty Wesley Frye, will present a concert of art song throughout the last 80 years. By exploring and performing the music of Francis Poulenc, Benjamin Britten, and Dame Ethel Smyth, we as listeners can gather a sense of what the 20th century contained in terms of soundscape and dramatic context. Through Poulenc’s songs, we can hear the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire, whose defense and usage of modernist and Surrealist language helped shape French art and culture up through the 1930s. As the 1960s ended, so too was Benjamin Britten’s compositional style, which began to take on a further, more distorted modal language. This can be heard through one of his larger late-period song cycles, Who Are These Children?, set to the poetry of the Scottish poet William Soutar. Finally, 2019 marks 75 years since the death of Dame Ethel Smyth, a pioneering composer, writer, and activist. Smyth took an engaged stance in women’s liberation, women’s rights, and specifically the right to vote as the 20th century began. Smyth’s compositional style, while more Germanic and conservative in theory, took the themes of youth and love and transformed them into a unique stroke of artistry which is yet to be matched, while also yet to be fully realized. To perform Smyth’s music is to resurrect her memory and her passion as a musician and as a woman.
The program will feature a concert of art song throughout the last 80 years, An Octave to Scale. The music of Francis Poulenc, Benjamin Britten, and Dame Ethel Smyth serve to show distinct forms of musical expression through the bulk of the 20th century: Poulenc with his distinct and purposeful disregard of the Wagnerian influences of the day in 1920’s France; Britten with his use of chromatics and modes to create a dynamic portrayal of a young person’s life in his 1969 song cycle Who Are These Children?; and Dame Ethel Smyth’s use of blistering vocal energy and exquisite piano writing through her 4th opus of lieder. The poetry and music ultimately examines the themes of youth, loss of innocence, nature as we observe it, and the joys of a fully absorbed life.
In three languages, throughout the works of three different composers, the themes of youth, loss of innocence, and of observable nature seem invariably present. The 20th century expressed through art song certainly ties these themes together, and the more matured works from the 1930s by Francis Poulenc is no exception. Poulenc dedicated time to the crafting of songs by giving intricate details to the setting of poetry by the French poet and journalist Guillaume Apollinaire. Benjamin Britten’s later song cycle Who Are These Children? also deploys detailed uses of modes and fragmented chromatics in exploring the growing up of a Scots lad and the terrors of change. Finally, Dame Ethel Smyth’s music is an ideal snapshot of conservative musical forms taken to express simple yet clear messages of comfort, individuality, and the joys of life.
One final feature of the program is a concert of art songs from the last 80 years, a program entitled An Octave to Scale. Surrounded by the later works of Francis Poulenc, Benjamin Britten, and Dame Ethel Smyth, Mitchell will explore the poetic themes of childhood, loss of innocence, and nature as we observe it through the lens of 20th century modal harmony. This presentation and lecture seeks to uncover the meaning behind 80 years of music, how this music came to be, and what it may mean for modern audiences by asking questions of what it means to be innocent of, or fully involved with, our own lives.
Questions? Contact Evan Mitchell, 563-387-1209