Renaissance and Romance
Saturday, April 8, 2006
Jaqua Concert Hall at The Shedd
The “Lords and Ladies” of the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble, in their stunning Elizabethan dress, perform songs of love and spring from the Renaissance. The beauty continues as they perform the Brahms Neue Liebeslieder in elegant formalwear.
Ah! the Renaissance — a time of opulent dress, genteel manners and a wealth of fine vocal music. Having the skill to sing madrigals after dinner was an essential part of every English gentleman’s education. The well-known “fa-la-la” type of English madrigal is actually termed a “ballett” and was based on instrumental dance music. The various forms of the madrigal crossed the English Channel quite late in the Renaissance, flourishing in the late 16th and early 17th century. Many English madrigalists owe their debt to the master composer and teacher Thomas Morley, who studied in Italy and brought back this exquisite vocal art form from the Italian court. It’s French counterpart is the chanson and the German equivalent is the chorlied.
The 16th century madrigal is a secular vocal part song sensitively set to poetic text. And what primarily was the subject of the poetry? — Why love, of course! — playful courting, deep passion, rapturous joy and the heartwrenching pain of love unrequited.
The sacred vocal form is the motet, and we conclude our visit to the Renaissance with a double choir Latin motet in the Venetian polychoral style, singing praises to God.
In the second half of the concert, we forward in time to the Romantic Era. Johannes Brahms composed his Neue Liebeslieder, Op. 65 (New Lovesongs) in 1874. Like his earlier song set, the Liebeslieder waltzes, Op. 52, these solos and quartets utilize poems from George Friedrich Daumer’s Polydora (1855), a two-volume collection of poetry in German translation from varied cultures, ranging from Turkish to Sicilian, Russian, Malaysian, Serbian, Spanish, Latvian and Polish.
We begin by venturing into the dangerous sea of love, where boats are smashed to pieces and strewn about the shore. Each poem expresses its vignette of love, recounting cruel passion, exuberant joy or hopeless sorrow. Brahms brings this set of love songs to conclusion with the closing lines to the elegy “Alexis and Dora” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In vain the Muses have tried to describe how grief and happiness alternate in a heart stricken with love. The wounds inflicted by Cupid cannot be healed. We are soothed only by music.