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Click links below to listen to recital tracks (UNI access only).
Click the blue "Download" button for the text document (UNI access only).
- 01 Hahn - Á Chloris, L'heure exquise, Nocturne, Dans la nuit, Si mes vers avaient des ailes
- 02 Danielpour - Margaret’s Lullaby, A Quality Love, Intermezzo [clip]
- 03 Strauss - Schlechtes Wetter, All mein Gedanken, Zueignung
- 04 Montsalvatge - Cuba dentro de un piano, Punto de Habanera, Chévere, Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito, Canto negro [clip]
Thesis (UNI Access Only)
Mezzo-Soprano Athena-Sadé Whiteside’s graduate voice recital took place on April 7th, 2021, and was performed in collaboration with pianist Korey Barrett. Due to COVID-19 quarantine regulations, she was unable to present an in-person recital and performed the recital via livestream from Graham Recital Hall in Russell Hall on the University of Northern Iowa campus. Repertoire for the recital consisted of art songs and arias, including works by Reynaldo Hahn, Richard Strauss, Richard Danielpour, and Xavier Montsalvatge. This document will examine these pieces with regard to poetic, musical, and historical context.
The recital began with a selection of mélodies by Reynaldo Hahn. These selections highlighted familiar themes of love and nature, beginning with “A Chloris,” a love poem written by Théophile de Viau. Chloris, the title character, is derived from Greek mythology and is based on the nymph who represents spring and flowers.1 Characterized by long legato phrases, the melody is skillfully contextualized by the contrast of a strong walking bass. The delicate right-hand accompaniment is memorable for the motivic use of a Baroque ornamental turn. Hahn vividly depicts the movement of insects and birds as they fly through flowers and trees by the contrast of a strong walking bass, evoking imagery of an ancient Grecian garden.
“L’heure exquise,” from Reynaldo Hahn’s Chansons grises, is set to the poem “La lune blanche” by Paul Verlaine. The sweeping accompaniment of arpeggiated chords is one of the most distinguishable aspects of this song. Marked tranquillo e dolce possibile, light arpeggiations in B major open the song in the delicate imagery of a starry night sky. Dynamic indications of p to ppp enhance the impression of intimacy, and are complimented by a similarly diminutive melodic range. Murmuring phrases limited to the rocking interval of a major third culminate in an ascending major sixth to the joyful declaration “O, bien-aimėe!” This pattern repeats in the final phrase to the words for which the song is entitled: “C’est l’heure exquise.”
The third song, "Nocturne," is set to a poem by French poet Jean Lahor, which describes the sweet moments of lying on a lover’s breast after a relaxing evening. This relaxing mood is effectively portrayed through the tempo marking andantino lento, and the persistent piano dynamic in the vocal line. Frequent repetition of minor arpeggiations in the melody brings focus to the text and creates a sense of stillness. The rhythmic ambiguity of alternating I-I6/4 chords in the accompaniment adds to this sense of stillness, as the music has no sense of forward movement.
The song that follows, “Dans la nuit,” provides a significant change in mood. The text from Greek poet Jean Moréas speaks of heartbreak leading one to commit suicide in the ocean. Central to the mood of the piece is the agitated accompaniment, which unfolds in turbulent, wave-like chordal arpeggiations. Adding to the intensity of the piece, the melody ascends to its climax on “D’un coup de lame alors” as the ocean sweeps the heartbroken one away. Settling into sustained notes, the vocal line insinuates that rest has been found in the embrace of the ocean. Following suit, the accompaniment descends with sustained chords, evoking imagery of the heartbroken storyteller sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
The set concluded with “Si mes vers avaient des ailes!” Set to poetry by French poet Victor Hugo, the text describes two lovers who wish to fly to one another with their words. Long melodic phrases contrast with swift accompanimental arpeggiations, uplifting the image of these lovers' sentiments as they soar through the air. One of Hahn’s most popular melodies, this piece incorporates the ostinato accompaniment for which he is well known.
The second set of the recital was Richard Danielpour’s “Triptych from Margaret Garner.” The opera Margaret Garner was composed in 2005 to a libretto by Toni Morrison, and is a fictionalized version of the story of the real-life character for whom the opera is named. An African-American woman born into slavery in 1834, the opera explores Margaret’s experience on the Maplewood plantation and her attempt to flee with her husband and children. This collection of arias are demonstrative of Margaret’s understanding of love for herself, and others. The set begins with “Margaret’s Lullaby,” an intimate illustration of Margaret’s love for her children. As an enslaved person, Margaret is expected to avoid attachment to her newborn child. Margaret, nevertheless, insists on holding her baby and singing her to sleep, embracing an opportunity to express love to her child. Though this piece does not contain a key signature, the chords in the accompaniment outline the key of D-flat major. These chords produce a sensation of rocking as they alternate between half note pulses on beats one and three in the left hand, and quarter note pulses on beats two and three in the right hand. The swing of triplets in the melody also contributes a tender lilt to this lullaby.
The delicate lullaby is followed in the set by “A Quality Love.” At this point in the opera, Margaret Garner is serving guests at the wedding reception of the plantation owner’s daughter. Margaret is asked by the bride to share her thoughts on love. The party guests disapprove of her views and they feel compelled to depart. Left alone with her thoughts, she declares her belief that there is only one kind of love. This introspective aria begins with a recitative-like setting of the vocal line. The melody is supported by triplets that undulate at an interval of a minor third. This figure invokes a sense of uncertainty and instability, emphasizing Margaret’s curiosity as she asks “are there many kinds of love?” The accompaniment broadens to sustained chords that support an expansive melody as Margaret confidently explains that there is only one type of love that can withstand the hardships of life. Margaret’s confidence in her beliefs produces a feeling similar to that of an anthem. This effect is exemplified through the steady pulse on beats one and three in the accompaniment and the sweeping gestures presented in the melody.
“Intermezzo,” the final aria, occurs after Margaret and her family flee the plantation with hopes of reaching the free states of the north. When Margaret’s family is caught, she murders her children to save them from a life of being enslaved. Margaret is then charged with “destruction of property” and faces execution. The aria begins with an elaborate prelude incorporating themes and motives from the previous arias in the set. Then descending to a low D-minor chord, the accompaniment introduces the darkness that Margaret feels around her. With the vocal markings “plaintive” and “slurring the words slightly” it is clear that the music is intended to express the grief and anguish Margaret experiences after losing her children. Supported by dissonant chords, she exclaims “Darkness, I salute you,” and continues throughout with short, declamatory phrases as she faces her actions with nobility. Accompanied by sustained chords, the melody builds to a climax on a G5 at the final iteration of “Darkness, I salute you.” as she fully accepts her life’s circumstances.
After a brief intermission, the second half of the recital began with a selection of Lieder by Richard Strauss. “Schlechtes Wetter” was selected as the opening piece for its stirring tempo. Set to the poem by Heinrich Heine, the text shares the storyteller’s experience as they observe the terrible weather outside their window. Beginning with a strike of a perfect fifth on a low F2 and C3, followed by a descending thirty-second note arpeggiation of a half-diminished D chord, the accompaniment is heard as thunder and rain blowing in the wind. With the meter in ⅜, a strong pulse on beat one gives the piece a buoyant feeling and drives the momentum forward.
“Befreit,” the second piece, ushered in a change of mood. With text by Richard Dehmel, the song explores the final exchanges between two lifelong lovers as one is surely passing away. “Befreit” is characterized by epic vocal phrases and a full, rich accompaniment, demonstrating Wagner’s influence on Strauss. The bittersweet moment between the two lovers features various emotions, which are emphasized by the alternation of major and minor keys throughout the piece. A triplet arpeggiation of a C-sharp minor chord opens the piece as the singer tells their lover not to cry. The music then switches to an arpeggiation of a B major chord on the word “smile” symbolizing reassurance that all will be well. A major key introduces the second section and the vocal line gradually ascends as the singer goes on to express their thanks. In the final section of the piece, the key of F-sharp minor is introduced as the lovers acknowledge the closeness of death. Despite the grief the lovers feel, each verse ends with a declaration of gratitude for happy memories to the text “O Glück!" meaning "Oh happiness!"
“All mein Gedanken,” the third song in the set, has a contrasting light-hearted nature. Set to a poem by Felix Dahn, “All mein Gedanken'' articulates the infatuation of a lover. This piece is defined by short, speech-like phrases, and a sparse, yet playful, accompaniment. The vocal line suggests a tone of immediacy and begins on beat one with the declaration “All mein Gedanken, mein Herz und mein Sinn” (All my thoughts, my heart, and my senses). With no interludes, the song is set as a series of musical periods made up of two two-bar phrases. In the beginning section, each consequent phrase is a varied repetition of the antecedent phrase. The rhyme scheme in this section, as well as the rest of the piece, mimics the speech pattern of folk tales or nursery rhymes and highlights the playfulness of the poetry. To enhance the storytelling aspect of this piece, Strauss utilized text painting in the vocal line. On the words “und klopfen” (and knock), Strauss set each syllable to a sixteenth note in the portrayal of three consecutive knocks. On the word “rufen” (call), Strauss emphasized descriptive importance by giving it more duration than any other word in the song.
Finishing the set was “Zueignung” with text by Austrian poet Hermann von Gilm. Within this song there is a return to a texturally rich accompaniment, and longer lyric lines. This Lied is in strophic form with three stanzas that proclaim the singer’s thanks for their lover. While the melody changes only slightly in each stanza, the rhythmic setting of duple against triple meter descriptively enhances the meaning of the text, creating antagonism and heightens emotion. The most significant change in both the accompaniment and melody is found in the third stanza at the climax of the piece on “heilig, heilig, ans Herz dir sank.” Here, the accompaniment switches from arpeggiated triplets to quickly articulated, repeating chords. The melody above it expands with a ritard on the highest note of the piece, F-sharp 5, and descends to the lowest note of the piece, C4. This stanza is followed by a brief interlude setting up the final iteration of “habe Dank.”
The recital concluded with Xavier Montsalvatge’s song cycle Cinco Canciones Negras. This cycle consists of five songs, with texts by four different poets. The poetry reflects the lives and experiences of black Spaniards, Cubans, and Africans. “Cuba dentro de un piano,” the first song, is set to poetry by Rafael Alberti. Referencing changes that occurred in Cuba in the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, the text comments on the resulting oppression of its black and brown citizens. The setting of this narrative poem contains evocative references to Cuban music in the form of spirited ostinato accompanimental interjections. Montsalvatge mimics the memories of Cuban songs with interjections of a habañera ostinato in the accompaniment. Compositional influences of impressionism and jazz are found in the chromatic vocal line, and ninth chords in the accompaniment.2
“Punto de Habanera (Siglo XVIII),” the second song, is set to a text by Nestor Luján that describes the objectification of a Creole girl as she goes on a walk. Set in strophic form, the melody and rhythm are marked staccato, enhancing the playful nature of the piece as the men “joke” and harass the young girl. Marking the beginning of the coda, the key shifts from E-flat major to F minor and a slower tempo is introduced. As the men refuse to stop watching the young girl, the playfulness of the piece is no longer felt. The song then reintroduces the main vocal melody on “La niña criolla,” which translates to "the Creole girl" and the lively mood of the piece returns. Rhythmically, the music follows the style of a punto, an African derived Cuban folk song. Typically, the punto consists of a back-and-forth motion between the piano and the voice. In this setting, Montsalvatge achieves this effect combining a duple accompaniment with a vocal line that alternates between 3/4 and 6/8.3
The third song in the cycle,“Chévere,” features a poem by Nicolás Guillén. The only piece in the cycle in 3/4, Montsalvatge exploited this meter in order to incorporate Cuban rhythms such as the guajira. Of all of the songs in this cycle, this poetry is thematically the most violent. “Chévere” refers to French chevaliers who had romantic or sexual encounters with lower-class women, ranging from seduction to rape. This song lists things a chevalier destroys, with the black woman being destroyed last. Through a heavily accented and dissonant motive, Montsalvatge expresses these acts of violence in the first and last phrases in the piano accompaniment. Reflective of Afro-Cuban dance rhythms, this motive is percussive and jarring, imitating the jarring motion of a knife being plunged into an item or a person.4
In stark contrast to the violent “Chévere” is the calm cradle song “Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito.” With text from Ildefonso Pereda Valdés’s lullaby, this song was the first piece composed for the song cycle, and was completed in one week. Marked lento, this lullaby has the slowest tempo of the song cycle and is to be sung piano whilst decreasing over the duration of the song. Similar to “Punto de Habanera,” this song incorporates a steady habanera ostinato representing the rocking of a cradle. The word “Ninghe,” a Congolese word used to lull babies to sleep, is repeated throughout on an interval of a minor third, contributing to the rocking motion. Montsalvatge also utilizes non-chord tones on the diminutive endearments “chiquito” and “negrito” as a means of representing sweet moments of affection towards the baby.
The final song in the cycle is “Canto negro” with text by Nicolás Guillén. This poem incorporates themes of race and gender, and was the second poem in this set by Nicolás Guillén. Most of the words in this piece are simply sounds intended to mimic Afro-Cuban dance rhythms and instruments, including, for example, the joyous exclamation “Yambambo.” Montsalvatge magnifies the excitement in this piece by combining a fast tempo with a rumba dance rhythm. Building upon this excitement, the exclamation “Aoé!” was added to the end of the song even though it was not in the original poem.5 Despite the present themes of racism and oppression in Cinco Canciones Negras, the joyful setting of this last song allows the cycle to end with a feeling of optimism.
Year of Submission
Master of Music
School of Music
Jean McDonald, Chair, Recital Committee
1 PDF file (11 pages)
©2021 Athena-Sadé Whiteside
Whiteside, Athena-Sadé, "Graduate voice recital: Athena-Sadé Whiteside, mezzo-soprano" (2021). Dissertations and Theses @ UNI. 1200.