VASS Sings Barber

Samuel Barber, American art song composer extraordinaire, lived from 1910-1981. With a talk that followed the singing, Dr. Patrick O'Donnell conveyed a deep appreciation, even love of the music of Samuel Barber to the members of the Virginia Art Song Society, Sunday, September 9, 2001. Using humor and his thorough knowledge of Barber's songs, he drew us into that gentle world. Didi Grainger co-presenter of the program, gave a brief introduction.

The music began with two songs from the cycle "Three Songs, op.2" (written in 1927 at age 17) sung by Jay Taylor: "The Daisies" and "With Rue My Heart is Laden" (written 1928). Jay's clear diction and enthusiasm was appreciated by the group. Later, Patrick O'Donnell drew our attention to the fact that Barber was a singer and pianist as well as a composer and that his output of songs was very consistent. The early songs written at age 17 and 18 were no less developed than his final one written in 1972.

Two of Barber's most popular songs followed: Patricia Rublein sang "Sleep Now" (from op.10 #2, 1935-36), and Carolyn Halbert sang "Sure on this Shining Night" from Four Songs, op.13 #3, 1938.

Next we were treated to five songs from "Hermit Songs op.29. This cycle of ten songs, written in 1952-53 on poems translated from anonymous Irish texts of the 8th to 13th centuries,were this writer's introduction to Barber's art songs back in 1968 on an LP recording sing by Leontyne Price with Barber at the piano.

Pam Burdett sang "Church Bells at Night" and "St. Ita's Vision", which was described in the lecture/demonstration as "operatic to an over-the-top text with recitative setting forth the story line and an aria that elaborates the emotions."

Melissa Thrasher West sang "the Crucifixion" which uses accidentals in the piano to create a tentative atmosphere in which Jesus' greatest regret was the grief that his death brought to his mother.

Karen Scott brought us the gift of "The Monk and his Cat", a gentle story contrasting the life of the monk and his fat cat, their lives winding around each other , without the one intruding on the other. "Desire for Hermitage" , was her second fine selection. This song with its huge piano solo between verses, illustrates clearly how the pianist is a collaborator rather than accompanist in Barber's music. In this song, which ends the cycle of "Hermit Songs", the line of the song ends with no musical resolution. This and many other points were illustrated on the piano in Patrick O'Donnell's presentation, which sent this writer home to listen to recordings of these songs with new ears. We were told that there are no time signatures given for this cycle. Pam Burdett observed that this may be because when the poems were written so long ago, there were no time signatures in music…timeless to us today. Perhaps the key to the lack of resolution in the music can be found in the text . The speaker says "Alone I came into the world, alone I shall go from it." Only death some time in the future will end his desire for hermitage and resolve his life.

The musical program concluded with "Now Have I Fed and Eaten Up the Rose" from Barber's final song cycle 'Three Songs op.45 #1. Performed by Pamela DeMeyere, it was a fine ending to a delicious experience.

The new venue for the group, Freemason Street Baptist Church, seems to be very good. Gathering near the corner of the sanctuary where the piano is located made for a sense of intimacy and afforded good acoustics. It was apparent that Patrick and Didi worked very hard to put together this fine program and we thank them as we do the singers who open to us this very special experience of live art song.

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