Listening to Poetry
Putting Tunes to Poetry
Composers have been inspired by poetry for thousands of years. Some take a poem and add melody; some take a melody and add a poem. Then, a singer takes the song and brings it to life. This list of recordings is the proverbial tip of the iceberg for those who want a tune and a verse.
with Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano and Leo Smit, piano.
COMPACT DISC Vo Cop 13288
Aaron Copland sets 12 of Emily Dickinson’s poems - two American icons. My favorite is "Why do they shut me out of Heaven?" Copland’s musical language is perfect. Bonus about this performance- it was recorded in a library!
Arleen Augér, Soprano with Joel Revzen, piano; Members of Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra.
COMPACT DISC Vo Aug 5140
American composer Libby Larsen chooses 5 poems from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s "Sonnets from the Portuguese." Larsen and Augér decided together upon the poems to use, ones that would show a woman’s growth in mature love. Augér says of the work in this recording’s liner notes: "Oh, Libby, every time I hear our piece the more I fall in love with it."
by Joni Mitchell.
COMPACT DISC Po Mit 37316
This album is really songwriting at its best. Mitchell wrote the lyrics and the music, and the album explores different types of relationships. Mitchell says of the album, "There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals." Songs include "River" and "A case of you."
COMPACT DISC Jz Por 2900
Cole Porter is one of the great American songwriters who wrote both the lyrics and the music for many tunes that are now classics from this disc’s title track to countless others. Several jazz vocalists do their interpretations here, including Pittsburgher Billy Eckstine.
with Peter Stewart, baritone and Lee Hoiby, piano.
COMPACT DISC Vo Hoi 5996
The American composer Lee Hoiby has a knack for picking great poetry to set to music. This disc includes a wonderful set called "I was there," that features 5 of Walt Whitman’s poems including the very familiar verses of, "O captain! my captain!"
The new Gershwin musical comedy. Original Broadway Cast (1992).
COMPACT DISC Mc Ger 3762
Two brothers: George writes the songs; Ira writes the words. Fantastic. This Tony-winner for Best Musical, featuring songs from their other musicals with a new script, has some of their best hits, including "Someone to watch over me" and "I got rhythm."
By Robert Schumann with Olaf Bär, baritone and Geoffrey Parsons, piano.
COMPACT DISC Vo Schum 76
The recording features two song cycles, but it is the first one (The Poet’s Love) that is probably Schumann’s most famous. The beautiful words of Heinrich Heine are coupled with the composer’s rich harmonic language. The final poem speaks of the poet throwing his bad dreams, sorrowful love and suffering into a large coffin for twelve giants to throw into the sea.
COMPACT DISC Po Dyl 34386
Is Bob Dylan the American Bard? Some say so. This 3-disc set covers Dylan’s output from 1962 to 2006 and includes many of the classics from "Blowin’ in the wind" to "Tangled up in blue."
(Music by Andre Previn, Words by Toni Morrison) with Kathleen Battle, soprano and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
COMPACT DISC Vo Bat 11792
Kathleen Battle commissioned Previn and Morrison to write a song cycle for her, and "Honey and Rue" is the result of the collaboration. The piece speaks of "the bitter and the sweet" in life.
(Art songs) by Franz Schubert with Ian Bostridge, tenor and Julius Drake, piano.
COMPACT DISC Vo Schub 13812
This disc features poetic pairings with many of Schubert’s contemporaries, but one of the most famous is probably "Der Erlkönig" with words by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The singer plays 3 roles: a father, his son, and the mysterious Erlking, an evil spirit. The pianist gets a workout on this one, emulating the galloping horse of the Erlking.
with Alfred Deller, countertenor, Robert Spencer, lute, Consort of Six.
COMPACT DISC Vo Dow 7707
Many consider Dowland to be the master of English art song of this period. This disc features one of his most famous works, "Come again, sweet love." For a different take, try Sting’s album, Songs from the Labyrinth.
(Art Songs) by Claude Debussy with various singers and Dalton Baldwin, piano.
COMPACT DISC Vo Deb 12244
This 3-disc set features most of Debussy’s vocal compositions. A particular favorite for me is the set of six songs called "Ariettes oubliées" (Forgotten Ariettas) with poetry by Paul Verlaine, sung here by mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. It really is exquisite.
by Manuel de Falla with Victoria de los Angeles, soprano and Orquestra de Cambra Teatre Lliure; Josep Pons, conductor.
COMPACT DISC Vo Fal 7775
This set of seven songs was originally for voice and piano. Each song is written in the style of a Spanish region’s folk music and uses folk poetry as the text. The version on this recording is for orchestra - imagine a giant guitar!
with Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, tenor and Graham Johnson, piano.
COMPACT DISC Vo Rol 17095
The Bard of Avon wrote 154 sonnets and 37 plays. His words are quoted by many, and have been set to music by many as well. This disc highlights settings by some of his British countrymen.
COMPACT DISC Ho Ame 23520
No list such as this would be complete without some "bad" poetry. These songs are the products of a 1970s "scam": you would send your lyrics and money via mail to a company, and they would compose music, record your song and send you copies of it. It is a safe bet that none of these songs have become Christmas classics!