American Victoriana with Harp and Voice
A review by Margaret Gupta
I recently attended a delightful program called "American Victoriana
with Harp and Voice." Elisa Dickon harpist, and Jay Taylor, tenor
performed as Aurora. The program was part of Deborah Carr's
Water Music series at Virginia Beach United Methodist Church.
The selections spanned a wide range of "popular" music of the 19th
century from Stephen Foster (Beautiful Dreamer) to Jules Massenet
(Les Enfants). There were several songs of Thomas Moore (Avenging
and Bright and O'Donoghue's Mistress) and the ever popular
Grandfather's Clock by Henry Work.
The songs were well sung with excellent diction. The explanations,
made the program so much more interesting and informal. Most of the
songs were unfamiliar to me, so I enjoyed hearing new ones. Elisa
accompanied most effectively and also played several harp solos in
her own musical way with commentary about the pieces.
Unfortunately, there were not many in the audience as there were
so many competing events, but those of us who were there thoroughly
enjoyed the concert. We thank both Jay and Elisa for sharing their
talents with us.
A Valentine for Listeners
A program titled Romanticism and Romance, Music for Valentine's
Day took place in the Cole Gallery at the Chrysler Museum on
February 13, 2002. The performers were Jay Taylor, tenor and Elisa Dickon,
harp, performing as Aurora, focusing on music popular in 18th
and 19th century America. The recital was free and open to the public.
Many young couples were there with art song regulars to enjoy an intimate
evening of love songs and to tour several 19th century galleries of
Romantic paintings before the music began. There was a larger than expected
turn-out and additional seats had to be added, with folks looking on
from an adjacent gallery.
The romantics among us were not disappointed
by the selection of songs, ranging from Robert Burns' The red,
red rose, a deeply felt love song, and his Highland Mary,
which touches your heart with the sadness of a love lost by the death
of the partner, to songs by Thomas Moore, Stephen Foster, Gustave
Mahler and Jules Massenet.
Jay Taylor's voice has a very pleasing
lyrical quality. Though it is not a big voice, his breath control
and diction are excellent and his power of expression is deeply insightful.
Both his and Elisa Dickon's commentary added delight to the program.
The venue was perfect for the voice and the harp collaboration.
As always, Elisa Dickon played well and
with wonderful dynamics. She introduced her two solo pieces, Reverie,
and La Source by Alphonse Hasselmans (1845-1912) as being in
the Romantic style, with wooshy sounds: "Please, no snoring." Her
harp teacher, now 93, studied with Hasselmans and she decided to share
these very romantic pieces with us form her student days.
The song by John Sinclair (1791-1857),
O, saw ye the lass with the bonny blue een?, was a perfect
example of Scottish music, and it led the set titled Nature.
Other sets were titled Constancy, Love's Shadow, The
Folk and Two Valentines, all of these major themes in artistic
thinking during the Romantic era were also illustrated by the paintings
featured in the gallery tour. Other songs in the Nature set
were Psyche by Emile Paladilhe (1844-1926) and Massenet's (1842-1912)
Ouvre tes yeux bleus (Open thy blue eyes), a lovely, lyrical
song. Now welcome my wood by Robert Franz (1815-1892) closed
the set. Several in our group felt that using the Massenet just before
intermission would have ended the set with a dramatic flourish.
The Two Valentines set included
Starke Einbildungskraft by Mahler (1860-1911), a fanciful song
from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, in which the girl challenges the
boy to take her now that summer has come, since that is what he had
promised to do. He declines because in his imagination he has had
her the entire time. The second piece was Thomas Moore's Row gently
The final set, The Folk, was two
songs by Stephen Foster. Elisa says these were top 40 tunes form the
1840's. The Glendy Burke and I'm nothing but a plain old
soldier, speaking of George Washington. All in all a most enjoyable
and delightful program.
I must not end this review without talking
about the set entitled Love's Shadow. Robert Burn's Highland
Mary (reviewed above) followed by At the brookside (An
einem Bache) by Grieg (1843-1907), a most powerful song delivered
with panache. The last song, Foster's I dream of Jeanie with the
light brown hair was to my ear just wonderful. My collaborator
on this review saw it differently. She wrote "I dream of Jeanie
involved too much scooping." I wonder if this was a common way of
singing in the 1840's ?
So we end this review affirming that there
is no one way to appreciate music. The joy is in being able to share
the music and our perceptions in an atmosphere of mutual respect for
each other and our varying points of view.
Margaret Gupta and John Campbell
Margaret holds a Bachelor of Music Education
degree from Baldwin-Wallace College and a Master of Music degree from
the University of Michigan and recently gave a recital at the Scherzo
Music Club. She is also an active board member of Portsmouth Community
Aurora & Ives:
European Roots, American Flowers
So how can you spend a rainy Sunday afternoon and
have a rich and full experience? Try a trip to the Chrysler Museum of Art to see
the American Impressionism show. Even better, was to be there Sunday, November 17, 2002
when Aurora presented chamber music of Europe and art song of America in the gallery, with
the paintings as backdrop for the music.
The chamber work, Claude Debussy's Trio for harp,
flute and viola, was wonderfully played. Knowing this piece from recordings only,
it was a surprise to hear the rollicking freedom of the viola line
with its biting edge, the longing wistful sound of the flute and the precise rhythmic
variety of the harp. Laura Baefsky on flute, Jennifer Snyder on viola and
Elisa Dickon on harp made up the trio that gave us this experience.
As Elisa Dickon pointed out in her introduction,
music is the better medium for Impressionist theory because it happens in time
while painting is static. Jay Taylor, tenor, joined by harp and flute sang
the Charles Ives songs From the "Incantation" and later Mirage with harp
accompaniment only. "Ives is music of the mind wandering in the way life
really is. Try walking into a music building and listen to all the sound
happening there," Elisa commented.
When Jay sang The South Wind he commented
that this piece is unforgiving because the singer has to create rhythm and pitch
with no help. Elisa quipped from the harp: "You think you have trouble!" From
the listener's perspective they both performed well, finishing the program with
Memories A Very Pleasant B Rather Sad. This song of two boys, seated
and excitedly waiting for a show to begin becomes a sad memory of a tune the boy,
now an old man, remembers hummed by an Uncle, long gone.
Jay Taylor's spirited natural delivery and his
psychological rapport with an audience makes this music very accessible to the
The other songs on the program were by Edward MacDowell and
Charles Griffes. The MacDowel songs in a romantic German style were Merry Maiden
Spring, Sunrise and To the Golden Rod. Griffes used a five-tone
scale to give the flavor of oriental music to these American songs: Symphony in Yellow,
Landscapes and So-fei Gathering Flowers. Using word painting
that was a joy to hear, a harp was the perfect instrument for these songs and
Elisa Dickon's intimate, immediate communication of music and verbal introduction
enriched the experience.
The American Impressionism show will continue
at the Chrysler Museum until January 5, 2003, but the music was a one-time event.
Aurora Serenades with The Serene Sounds of Venice
Jay Taylor, tenor and Elisa Dickon, harpist, performing together as
Aurora, created a relaxed hour of song and instrumental music in Huber Court
of the Chrysler Museum of Art for the pleasure of their listeners on January 18, 2004.
This innovative program of songs, most by composers from Venice, was assembled
by Jay Taylor, who keeps exploring new repertory for their continuing series of recitals in
historic houses and the museum.
The rhythm of gently lapping water seems to have set the pace
of life. Gliding in a gondola is how many people travel in this city of islands and canals, known as "La Serenissima."
Even our performers seemed relaxed, sharing their joy in this music with us. Elisa Dickon explained that with a little research
she realized that a harp would indeed have been one of the instruments used to accompany these
songs when they were new.
The occasion was tied to the Chrysler Museum's show of Venetian glass from the
twentieth century and the recital set in the northeast corner of Huber court was at the entrance to the show.
The renaissance style double stone stairway and arched opening in the wall behind suggested the
ambiance of Venice with its ancient stone buildings and arched bridges.
Venice's St. Mark's Square was called "the drawing room
of the world" by poet Alfred de Musset and this program confirmed his point. Many of the
songs we heard were by composers who were involved in music at St. Mark's Cathedral. Claudio
Monteverdi (1567-1643) moved to Venice in 1613 and composed superb sacred works for St. Mark's, leading
to fame throughout Europe. Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) began in the boys choir as did
Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676), who later sang tenor before becoming first organist. Antonio
Lotti (1667-1746) began in the choir and eventually became choirmaster as did Giovanni Legrenzi
Most of the music we heard was written for the drawing room. From the
first song, Son ancor pargoletta by Cavalli, with text about a twelve-year-old
girl laughing at love, to the two closing songs, with texts about daytime and nighttime, the themes
were of love and romance.
The exception to this was music by Barbara Strozzi (1619-1664). Her song
A St. Anna (Mater Anna) is complex and quite long with verses that were plain chant-like and others that
were contemporary for her day, with piquant rhythm changes throughout. This remarkable woman
was active in Venice as a leading singer who commissioned song cycles for her performances. She studied
with Cavalli and was influenced by him in her compositions. Over one hundred works of hers
were published. Many of them were solo songs and show her expert personal knowledge of the
The second half of the program opened with a change of pace when Jay Taylor
picked up a recorder and joined the harpist in Benedetto Marcello's (1686-1739) Sonata in D minor.
The songs that followed included a George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) aria Alma Mia.
He spent time in Italy before he settled in London where he wrote many Italianate operas.
The closing song Row gently here was by Irishman Thomas Moore (1779-1852). He
did not visit Italy but was much influenced by Italian music. His text has a somber side.
This duo of fine performers creates recitals
of great pleasure. Their intimate, conversational introductions to
the music and composers adds to the audience's educational and aesthetically
Back to Aurora