Friday, October 10, 2008

Recital Programming: Part II

Women desired, adored, and their relationships with men in a secular world.

The second half of my Graduate Recital: bringing women from the 17th century to the present day.

The first half of my recital explores women in relation to the divine, in a time and a world where religion was central to people's lives (see my article, Programming: Part I). In the second half of my recital, I find connections between women and men on many levels. Their connection as secular objects of adoration and desire, as well as literal connections between the female composers and the famous men in their lives -- as wives, sisters, and daughters. My recital follows a thematic story line and a line of interconnection and common relationships as it explores women in music history.

At the beginning of the second half of my recital, we see the wife of a British Lord and poet, the Lady Dering -- Mary Harvey by name -- whose husband actually wrote the text for two of the three songs in my set. (As the wife of an organist, I can appreciate the value of collaboration between two people with complimentary talents who share a relationship). Since the subject matter deals with an object of desire (one that proves unattainable, resulting in despair and perhaps even in death), the next set deals with a stereotypical view of the female temptress, set with a Spanish flavor by French composers in a time when exoticism was almost an obsession in France, and their closest neighbor, Spain, proved a fertile source of inspiration with their enticing, Flamenco-dancing women. It also deals with the stereotype from the female perspective, especially in the first song by Germaine Taillefaire - the only member of Les Six who was a woman - which sets a flipant and almost mocking tone. We then fully explore the male perspective of this stereotype from the perspective of a male composer, Leo Delibes, with "Les Filles des Cadix." The conclusion of the set is a beautiful "Havanaise" by Pauline Viardot-Garcia, who was herself married to the famous native Spanish composer, Manuel Garcia. This exquisite piece transitions between allure (as is remembered from its most famous incarnation in Bizet's Carmen), sarcasm, and sincere emotion.

The scene now changes slightly as we explore the Germanic view of the unattainable woman - the enlightening muse, the siren, and the mirage of folk lore. All are beautiful characters that utterly befuddle the men that love them, but although the point of view in each text is from the male perspective, the composers are all women - women who were connected via an intricate web of well-known men. The multiple and complex levels within this set must be explored in a later article, but you may guess some of them when you know the names of these women: Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Clara Schumann, and Josephine Lang.

As we near the end of the recital, we reflect upon the destiny of women - what has been, what is now, and what potential the future may hold. We reflect upon the feminine "Portrait" that has been painted, before driving toward the future with two extraordinary contemporary women composers, with which I look to our origins in order to gain a perspective of the future. (They say that one can tell the future by remembering the past.) I chose Meredith Monk and Pamela Madsen because of my personal aquaintence and association with them and their music; from their repertory, I was able to choose pieces that integrated chant (which is always with us, as a wise advisor once said), connecting back to the beginning of the program and forming a complete circular connection and reflection of women in music that I can propel forward into the future and to the world.

Image above: Galatea, by Gustave Moreau, 1880. Photographic reproduction of oil painting, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Copyright © 2008. All textual materials are the sole property of Lorraine Joy Welling and may not be reproduced, copied, or used in any way without permission.

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