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Posted by on Jul 5, 2010 in Articles | 0 comments

American Art Song for Your Face

American Art Song for Your Face

by Melissa Wimbish

As singers who receive most of their training in the United States, you would think that a good size of our repertoire list would contain music by American composers. Not often the case. Most of our requirements at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in colleges and conservatories focus on work by non-American composers. By the time we have found ourselves at the end of our schooling, there is a great big gap in our brains where all of our knowledge of American composers should reside.

If you want to start exploring this repertoire (and believe me, you should considering the number of competitions out there that require a handful or more of American art songs) here is a teensy tiny list to get your ears watering. I’ll be compiling a few of these throughout the month, so stay tuned. Feel free to email your suggestions to if there is a composer, song, or particular cycle that you feel needs some airtime.

Samuel Barber’s MĂ©lodies passagères
Barber’s only songs with text other than English are so gorgeous and not terribly difficult considering other Barber concoctions. These five songs were premiered by baritone Pierre Bernac and have been recorded by baritone Thomas Hampson and soprano Patricia Petibon. Here is a clip of Mr. Hampson singing the second song in the cycle, Un cygne:


Lee Hoiby Songs
If you haven’t heard this name or explored any of this repertoire, get on it. Born in 1926, Mr. Hoiby has been busy composing hits for decades…AND…his aunts started an all-female touring saxophone band. Pretty slamming. Check out this clip of Leontyne Price singing The Serpent by Lee Hoiby:

Amy Beach Three Browning Songs
Child prodigy anyone? The songs of Amy Beach are definitely gaining more and more popularity after being highlighted by prominent voices and musicologists in the past couple of decades. Her most popular cycle includes “The Year’s at the spring,” “Ah, Love, but a Day!” and “I send my Heart up to Thee.” This is a clip of Gladys Swarthout singing one of the most exquisite songs ever written:

Charles Ives Songs
American composer Charles Ives is probably not going to be on your list of jury requirements this semester. When you look at one of his scores for the first time, you might actually drop the score on the floor of the library and jog off of the premises. When you make it back to the library, check out Dawn Upshaw’s recording of Ives Songs and have a cupcake.

Dominick Argento From the Diary of Virginia Woolf
Hello mezzos! Here’s some spooky stuff to add to your lists. Although the name Argento might not sound that American to you, he surely is a Yankee. Can you say that about people born in Pennsylvania? Dame Janet Baker’s recording with Martin Isepp accompanying has been called “a masterpiece of imagination.”

Happy repertoire-list-building! Beef up your knowledge of American composers this month because we just might test you later…

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