“if music be the food of love, play on...” (Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare)
Love and music are linked in such a way, that to think of the one is to automatically think of the other. This relationship is explored here ~ the various aspects that make up love.
From the tragedy of a mother's loss in Vidit suum to the confident desire of Intorno and the fragile fearful longing of the delicate Amarilli, music has a way of capturing these emotions that are all one great emotion, love, as no other medium can. Gluck deals with the breathless excitement that a racing heart in love brings (O del mio dolce ardor) and it is Vivaldi who brings the loss of hope, the hurt of neglect, poignantly and beautifully across in Spoza son disprezzata*. The purity of line in these Aria Antiche transcends both translation and time and so we are able to enjoy them 400 years on.
Le Spectre de la Rose tells us that love is a fragile thing of beauty to be admired. Love is not always wonderful though and who more fitting than Shakespeare's doomed Ophelia to remind us of how fragile we can become in the face of loss and rejection? Poor Ophelia's madness and death by drowning are beautifully captured in Berlioz's haunting melody. The sound of the river and Ophelia's song weave in and out of each other until at the end they become a single melody. Absence is as the name indicates, the void that remains once love has gone. Berlioz seems to so perfectly understand that memories, once they are all that remain, can be both beautiful and painful, which is in a sense the essence of love, is it not?
The great song writer, Schubert, deals with passion, its promise and its consequences. In Ständchen we feel the pull of desire and passion. It has a wonderfully seductive masculine energy, which is brought out by the piano's bass line. Yet, it is in Gretchen am Spinnrade that we see the consequence of seduction - poor tragic Gretchen at her spinning wheel, destroyed through her passion yet entranced and unable to resist her inevitable doom! Schubert creates enormous tension between the delicate vocal line and the relentless spinning wheel which is a constant throughout the song.
Vesperal is a Brazilian song which deals with the beauty of Sunset. When the shadows of night touch the world like a kiss … While love can be passionate and painful, it is also the most basic of our needs. Cantiga de ninar is a gentle lullaby, the most basic relationship between music and love - how extraordinary that a little child can be so soothed by the love imbued in a song! Bachianas deals with love in a way the Brazilians and Portuguese would call saudade. There is no adequate translation for the word which loosely means 'to love and long for' and this song seems to me to be a longing for Brazil in all its beauty and vastness. Melodia Sentimental takes passion to new heights! What is love without passion after all? These soaring lines and sumptuous rhythms capture the vastness of this emotion in all its warmth and tangled glory as only the wild Villa - Lobos can!
These songs bring to light a partnership that is also a powerful 'love affair' of sorts, as artists ~ pianist and singer, work together to make music that would not be possible alone. It is a relationship that is stronger for being together than for being apart. That supports and enhances when the going is good and detracts and destroys when the going is bad! That soars and creates in a passion shared – if music be the food of love, indeed, play on!
Marcelle Volckaert 2011
*Sung in loving memory of Michelle Chapman (née van Schalkwyk) 23/01/1970 - 7/09/2010