ClassicsOnline Home » ROREM, N.: Selected Songs (Farley, Rorem)
By Lawrence Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
ROREM, N.: Selected Songs (Farley, Rorem)
By Michael Anthony
THE SONGS OF NED ROREM
Having written hundreds of songs, in this medium Rorem rivals Charles Ives in quantity and originality. There the comparison ends. While Ives was much more conservative in his songs than in his chamber music or orchestral works, these gems have the unique and unmistakable Ivesian irreverence. Rorems songs are in the realm of poetry. A highly literary and cultivated personality, Rorem infuses every one of his songs with a special insight into each poem. His choice of poets and specific poems reveals much about his own thinking.
In an essay of 1980 Rorem wrote as follows:
"How do you choose poems for setting to music! Formerly by whats called inspiration, the yen for self-expression that has nothing to do with talent. Today I choose them according to pre-set requirements. My approach -fast or slow, soft or loud- to a given poem varies according to whom Im musicalizing it for, and to whether its to be one of a sequence or standing alone. Yes, I am drawn to poetry which, as we Quakers say, speaks to my condition, and whatever my songs are worth, Ive never set a bad poem."
As early as 1959 Ned Rorem was publishing essays describing his philosophy and ideas in articles entitled "Song and Singer" and "Writing Songs". He described the intricate, delicate relation between music and text, and the influence of prosody, mood and rhythm, as well as the poems imagery. For Rorem, the final product, the song, becomes "a greater magnitude than either the text or music alone."
In his numerous books of diaries, which are delightful to read and continue to be published year after year, Rorem demonstrates an uncanny obsession with details: the aroma of a Paris morning decades ago, someones persistent perfume, the colour of a friends eyes, a glance from a stranger fleetingly seen only once. Discussing his own music, Rorem often mentions the date and even the hour of composition, the weather, and his mood at the time of writing the work. Obviously, his music is at least as personal a statement as his very revealing diaries. With his music, there is much that is left to the imagination of the listener. The performer has the advantage of Rorems ample explanations and ability to describe his musical intentions in clear prose. Carole Farley also had the advantage of having worked closely with the composer in rehearsing and recording these songs. Having studied with Pierre Bernac, Poulencs close friend and interpreter, and assimilated the art of French song, Farley became one of Rorems ideal musical partners. Her several recordings of songs by Debussy, Satie, Fauré, Poulenc and Milhaud, prepared her further for Ned Rorems idiom, as did her more recent series of songs by Kurt Weill and Prokofiev.
When Time Magazine wrote that Rorem is
undoubtedly the best composer of art songs now living, he was yet to write some of his best and most powerful works. Besides three symphonies, six operas, several concertos, numerous works for voice and orchestra, choral and chamber music, several ballets and incidental music for plays, his songs seem a special thread, constantly appearing between the larger compositions. Many of Rorem's songs were inspired by the art of great singers such as Ellen Faull, Donald Gramm, Phyllis Curtin and David Lloyd. His very personal style reveals an interest in polyphony, the wit and transparency of Poulenc and Ravel, even Satie, and a conscientious effort to build a piano accompaniment that has a powerful life of its own, one that differs outstandingly from song to song. Add to this palette Rorems penchant for the frequent use of jazz colourings, the use of seventh, ninth and eleventh chords (As Adam Early in the Morning, Night Crow and Early in the Morning), the influence of his early association with Virgil Thomson, and we have a truly original and American music, an output that seems to be growing in impact with the passage of time, becoming in effect timeless.
Carole Farley's essay on Rorem's songs declares that
"...singers favor his evocative music because his songs feel comfortably on the voice. Listeners feel involved because the texts are clear and communicative, their emotion heightened by the music. Composers of diverse schools respect and admire his output because he has kept alive a tradition otherwise relegated mostly to music theater or popular songs. Rorem's strengths lie in his uncanny facility with language, his deep understanding of the texts, and his ability to compose fluid, eminently singable vocal lines."
Born in 1923 in Indiana, Ned Rorem studied at Northwestern University, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Juilliard School. In 1949 he went for a summer holiday to Paris, and remained there for eight years. While in France, he received a Fulbright Fellowship, and later on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Upon returning to America in 1958, he held positions as composer-in-residence at the universities of Buffalo and Utah, and has been teaching composition at the Curtis Institute of Music for several decades. His music has been performed by most major orchestras throughout the world under such conductors as Stokowski, Bernstein, Ormandy, Mitropolous, Reiner, Previn and Serebrier. He has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and in 2000 he was named President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His writing career has been equally successful, including the best selling The Paris Diary, The New York Diary, The Nantucket Diary, Music and People, and the most recently published Lies.
From the start of this production, Ned Rorem was keen to include, for the first time, the complete collection of the Roethke songs. He suggested many of the other songs in this recording, to suit Carole Farley's dramatic and expressive qualities. The order of the songs was chosen by both artists. This collection encompasses over four decades, from some of the earliest songs of 1947 to1990. The following list indicates the date of composition of each song and the poet's name.
The Waking (Theodore Roethke) 1959
Root Cellar (Theodore Roethke) 1959
My Papa's Waltz (Theodore Roethke) 1959
I Strolled Across an Open Field (Theodore Roethke) 1959
Memory (Theodore Roethke) 1959
Orchids (Theodore Roethke) 1959
The Serpent (Theodore Roethke) 1970-72
Night Crow (Theodore Roethke) 1959
Snake (Theodore Roethke) 1959
Little Elegy (Elinor Wylie) 1948
The Nightingale (1500 AD) 1951
Nantucket (William Carlos Williams) 1978-79
Lullaby of the Woman of the Mountain (Padhraic Pearse) 1951
Love in a Life (Robert Browning) 1951
What if some little pain... (Edmund Spenser) 1949
Visits to St. Elizabeth's (Elizabeth Bishop) 1957
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost) 1947
Spring (Gerard Manley Hopkins) 1947
See how they love me (Howard Moss) 1956
Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal (Alfred Lord Tennyson) 1963
I am Rose (Gertrude Stein) 1963
Ask me no more (Alfred Lord Tennyson) 1963
Far- Far- Away (Alfred Lord Tennyson) 1963
Early in the morning (Robert Hillyer) 1958
Such Beauty as Hurts to Behold (Paul Goodman) 1957
Sally's Smile (Paul Goodman) 1953
Youth, Day, Old Age, and Night (Walt Whitman0 1954
O you Whom I Often and Silently Come (Walt Whitman) 1957
Full of Life Now (Walt Whitman) 1989
As Adam Early in the Morning (Walt Whitman) 1957
Are you the New Person? (Walt Whitman) 1989