Musical Pairs: Mondnacht


Today, I'm excited to share with you two video recordings from our recent program, The Art of Song: Musical Pairs! Just to recap, Steve and I chose to perform two settings of "Mondnacht"–one by Schumann and one by Brahms.  There are several common musical features that suggest Brahms used Schumann's setting as a model:

1. Meter + perpetual motion. Both composers used 3/8 meter and sustained a sense of perpetual motion (suggested by the text) with constant sixteenth notes in the piano accompaniment.

2. Plagal "Amen" cadence. Both settings include a plagal or "Amen" cadence near the end, underscoring the last two words of the text - "nach Haus" (to home). This implies not only a sense of arrival and resolution but also a sense of rest (perhaps eternal rest, as suggested in the text).

3. Introductions. The introductions in both song settings are the same length (six measures), include a fragmented melody (stated twice), and end on a dominant, unresolved chord. This sense of suspension at the end of the introduction leaves the listener waiting for the vocal line.

Here is our performance of Schumann's setting:

And, for comparison, here is the Brahms setting (minus the final two chords because our camera died–so sorry!)

What do you think?  Do you hear the similarities between these two songs?  Did Brahms set this text as a tribute to the Schumanns or was he trying to compete with Robert?

Read more about this concert here, here, and here.

The Art of Song: Musical Pairs Recap


IMG_1696 The Art of Song: Musical Pairs was part of a community concert series at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford and we had a great time sharing this program with an enthusiastic audience of over 50 people this past Sunday afternoon.

Our inspiration for this program was the idea of musical pairs, specifically between art songs.  An art song is a musical setting of a poem, written for voice and accompaniment, which usually appears as part of a collection of songs. Finding connections between art songs–connections of composer, text, musical features, historical context, among other possibilities–provides insight into the compositional process of how these songs came to be.  These songs have stories to tell: stories that help us appreciate the wealth that this genre has to offer.


The concert program included the following:

"There's nae lark" and "The Daisies" (Samuel Barber) Christiana Reader, viola and Derek Remeš, piano

"Mondnacht" (Robert Schumann) and "Mondnacht" (Johannes Brahms) Steve Danyew, saxophone and Ashley Danyew, piano

"Bei dir ist es traut" (Alma Mahler) and "O ihr Zärtlichen" (Peter Lieberson) Caroline O'Dwyer, mezzo-soprano and Heather McEwen Goldman, piano

"Sure On This Shining Night" and "Nocturne" (Samuel Barber) Dr. Jared Chase, trumpet and Dr. James Douthit, piano


In between each duo, Steve and I led the audience in an interactive game of "Musical Memory"* using the board pictured above.  This was a fun way for everyone present to discover musical pairs, even across genres!  Thanks so much to the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford for inviting us to share this concert program, to all of our friends who performed, and to all who attended and shared in the experience!

*Musical Memory was first seen at the Westminster Chamber Music Workshop in June 2011

Image Credit: personal

The Art of Song: Musical Pairs

Steve and I were thrilled to be asked to present a recital in our church's concert series this spring.  Some of you may recall our previous "Art of Song" recitals - see an overview here and here.  This time, we decided to invite a few friends to join us. In "The Art of Song: Musical Pairs," you'll hear from 4-5 duos, each performing a pair of art songs that have something in common.  This may be a thematic element, a common text or poet or composer, or something more musical and aesthetic.  The repertoire will be chosen by each duo.  Each art song pairing will include performance and a brief discussion about the songs, providing insight and context for the listener.  Steve and I will be performing and facilitating a fun, interactive activity so that you, too can make musical pairs!  If you're in the area, we'd love to have you join us!

Sunday, April 7, 3:00 p.m. First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford Pittsford, New York Suggested Donation: $5 | $10

The Art of the Spiritual - Part III

Steve and I had great fun planning a presenting a short lecture recital on traditional African-American spirituals a few weeks ago.  Here is a video clip and a little bit of history on the third piece on our program, “Wade in the Water.”  Enjoy!

This familiar piece has two scriptural reference points.  First, it tells the story of Moses parting the Red Sea and leading the Israelites safely through on dry ground.  Second, in the New Testament, we read the story of the healing pool.  John 5:4 says, “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.”  Again, the text seems to parallel the slaves’ yearning for freedom and for healing.  In fact, it has been suggested that this piece refers to the Underground Railroad.  Wading through rivers meant leaving fewer tracks and not leaving a scent to be traced (Gray, 2012).  The text reads:

Chorus: Wade in the water, Wade in the water, children. Wade in the water, God’s a-goin’ to trouble the water.

Verse: See that band all dress’d in white? God’s a-goin’ to trouble the water. The Leader looks like the Israelite, God’s a-goin’ to trouble the water.


Verse: See that band all dress’d in red? God’s a-goin’ to trouble the water. It looks like the band dat Moses led. God’s a-goin’ to trouble the water.


-- Resources: Gray, H. T.  Negro spirituals still resonate.  Myrtle Beach Online.  Accessed Wednesday, February 29, 2012.  http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2012/02/29/2688494/negro-spirituals-still-resonate.html.

The Art of the Spiritual - Part II

Steve and I had great fun planning a presenting a short lecture recital on traditional African-American spirituals a few weeks ago.  Here is a video clip and a little bit of history on the second piece on our program, “Deep River.”  Enjoy!

This lyrical piece symbolizes life after death and freedom for the Israelites in the Promised Land (see above).  A glimpse of a free life, this song may also have symbolized the slaves’ crossing of the Ohio River into the free states (Kimball, 2006).  The text reads:

Chorus: Deep river, my home is over Jordan, Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

Bridge: Oh don’t you want to go To that gospel feast, That promis’d land Where all is peace?

Tag: Oh deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

The use of the word “campground” in the chorus is not a biblical reference; rather, it refers to a place where a religious “camp meeting” was held.  During the 19th century in the south, a campground consisted of a series of “tents” or cabins where people could cook and sleep and a centrally-located meeting house where worship took place.  The inclusion of this term in “Deep River” could signify the desire to worship freely.  In addition, the word “peace” is left unresolved as it leads into the tag ending – a symbol of unrest and a sense of a greater reality.

-- Resources: Kimball, C. (2006). Song: a guide to art song style and literature. Hal Leonard Corporation.

The Art of the Spiritual - Part I

Steve and I had great fun planning a presenting a short lecture recital on traditional African-American spirituals a few weeks ago.  Here is a video clip and a little bit of history on the first piece on our program, “Go Down, Moses.”  Enjoy!

The first spiritual to ever appear in print in 1861 (during the first year of the Civil War), this rhythmic, march-like piece tells the story of Moses petitioning to Pharoah of Egypt to free the Israelites from bondage (Burkholder et al., 2006).  The story, as recounted in the book of Exodus states, “And the Lord spoke unto Moses, go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, thus saith the Lord, Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Exodus 7:16).  As one can imagine, African-American slaves in the American South could identify with this struggle for freedom from bondage and this spiritual likely became a song of hope (Burkholder et al., 2006).  The text reads:

Verse: When Israel was in Egypt’s lan’, Let my people go, Oppress’d so hard they could not stan’, Let my people go.

Chorus: Go down, Moses, ‘Way down in Egypt’s lan’, Tell ole Pharaoh, To let my people go.

Verse: Thus saith the Lord, bold Moses said, Let my people go, If not I’ll smite your first born dead, Let my people go.


A typical African musical feature, the element of call and response (Burkholder et al., 2006) is exhibited in the verses with the recurring line, “Let my people go!”

-- Resources: Burkholder, J. P., Grout, D. J., Palisca, C. V. (2006). A History of Western Music, 7th Edition. W.W. Norton & Company: New York.

The Art of the Spiritual

Some of you may remember my posts on our lecture recital last spring: The Art of Song.

Steve and I were asked to put together a program for the Women’s Fellowship at church last April so we chose three art songs from three different periods, talked about the genre (music for voice and piano), the composers who wrote this kind of music, the texts they chose to set, and our process of preparing this music for performance on the saxophone and piano.  We had a wonderful audience!

In just a few (short!) weeks, we’ll be giving another lecture recital of sorts, this time on the history of the spiritual.  We thought it might be fun to choose a few of our favorite Gospel tunes and explore a little bit of the history behind this well-loved genre.  With musical classics such as “Wade in the Water” and “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” if you’re in the area, we’d love to have you join us for a fun, engaging program of performance and conversation!  The event, free and open to the public will be held on Monday, March 12, 2012 at 7 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Westminster.

Hope to see you there!

Lecture Recital: Mondnacht

Remember my posts from a few months ago titled, “The Art of Song”?  Well, just in case you don’t, you can catch up here, here, and here.  These posts were my initial outline for a lecture recital that Steve and I put together last month.

As a saxophone/piano duo, we enjoy playing transcriptions of art songs (vocal music) as much as anything else.  This program consisted of three vocal pieces – Schumann’s “Mondnacht,” Chausson’s “Sérénade italienne,” and Copland’s “Heart, We Will Forget Him” – all transcribed for tenor saxophone.  We took a few minutes before performing each piece to talk about the composer, the time period, the text, and our considerations when preparing it for the first time.  We even asked the audience for input!

The Art of Song - Part III

Where would this lecture recital sketch be without Robert Schumann's "Mondnacht" with text by Joseph von Eichendorff? In addition to providing language contrast, the title (translated "Moonlit Night") is consistent with the celestial theme (sun, moon, and stars - see?) From the 1840 song cycle, Liederkreis, Op. 39, this piece may be most famous for its embedded code. Schumann used the pitches E-B-E repeatedly. The significance? "Ehe" is the German word for "marriage" and in German music, B-flat=B while B-natural=H. This song cycle is from the year Robert and Clara were married. The text reads as follows: It was as though the sky had softly kissed the earth, so that she, in a gleam of blossom, had now to dream of him.

The breeze ran through the fields, the ears of corn gently swayed, the woods rustled faintly, the night was so starry and clear.

And my soul spread wide its wings, flew over the silent land, as if it were flying home.

Beautiful text yet it leaves us to wonder - who is the girl? Who is he that appears in her dreams? Where does this story take place? What time of day is it? Where is home, as mentioned in the last line? Where is the character who is speaking? Listen to Hans Hotter and Gerald Moore in this stirring rendition.

In conclusion, three composers: Copland, Chausson, and Schumann. Three languages: English, French, and German. A rough celestial theme: sun, moon, and stars (or at least nocturnal with all texts taking place at the end of the day). Three scenes portraying love: love lost, love found, and love eternal.

Previously: The Art of Song - Part I The Art of Song - Part II

The Art of Song - Part II

Another piece Steve and I are considering for our upcoming lecture recital is Ernest Chausson's "Sérénade italienne" with text by Paul Bourget. The title indicates that it is a serenade, the poem indicates that it is a barcarolle, and interpreter Pierre Bernac states that it is neither. "It should be sung con slancio [vigorously, with dash] (half note=63), with pretty vocal effects" (The Interpretation of French Song, p. 94). The text reads: Let us sail in a boat over the sea to pass the night under the stars. See, there is just enough breeze to inflate the canvas of the sails.

The old Italian fisherman and his two sons, who steer us, listen but understand nothing of the words which we speak.

On the sea, calm and dark, see, our souls may commune, and none will understand our voices but the night, the sky and the waves.

Where does this story take place? What time of day is it? How many people are on this boat? Who is the character speaking and who is he/she speaking to? Perhaps we are in Italy but given the last line, it seems as if the two main characters are foreign to the surroundings: "And none will understand our voices but the night, the sky and the waves." There seems to be a feeling of secrecy and delight in this thought, don't you think?

Listen to Gérard Souzay perform with pianist Jacqueline Bonneau here. I love the atmospheric writing for the piano!

Previously: The Art of Song - Part I