NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

May 31, 2013

Saving the art song

'Belle of Amherst' to be feted in musical recital

While there is no shortage of American art songs, the audience for them is disappearing.

“An art song is a poem which is set to music,” said Beverly Soll, artistic director of the Boston Singers’ Resource Recital Series. “My focus has been primarily on American art song, because I think in a sense the art song is dying in our country — which frightens me, because it’s some of the finest music.”

Over the past two years, Soll has organized a program of songs by composer John Duke, who taught at Smith College for many years until his death in 1984, and another featuring songs of the sea.

The third program in her series, “A Musical Portrait of Emily Dickinson,” which will be held at the home of John Archer on Sunday, will feature poems by Emily Dickinson that have been set to music by 10 composers from New England.

Soll, a chamber musician, accompanist and solo pianist, is an adjunct music faculty member at Salem State University and will accompany three singers at the recital.

“It’s a huge tradition that goes back to the classical period,” Soll said. “Franz Schubert wrote over 600, using poems by Heinrich Heine and Goethe. That’s the starting point.”

Soll offered several reasons why this tradition has suffered in the United States, despite an abundance of talented composers.

“There is not the classical culture anymore,” she said. “In that sense, people aren’t prepared for it, they aren’t studying music.”

On the other hand, singers are getting only perfunctory exposure to art songs in school before entering a market where the emphasis is mostly on opera and musical theater. As a result, when there are performances of art songs, they usually draw from “the old recital format from college, this formulaic stuff that isn’t interesting,” Soll said.

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