If you are familiar with my teaching style, you might know that I often resort to singing lines to understand how we might play them. We can learn a lot about phrasing, melodic contour, and legato note connection from listening to singing and singing ourselves.
So, to add to this appreciation of sung melody and to perhaps spark some curiosity, I have compiled some wonderful performances that offer some interesting juxtapositions. I encourage you to listen to the nuances in each of the vocal recordings, to notice shaping of phrases, pauses, breaths, tempo, and the continuity of tone.
By no means is this meant to be a definitive collection, or an in-depth history lesson. Rather, food for thought, and possibly fuel for practice.
Dido and Aeneas – Dido’s Lament, Remember Me
Nigel North: Weiss – Sarabande from Partita in G minor
Dido’s Lament is one of the jewels of western music. It comes from Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas” a work from the English baroque period. It is often used as an example of the “lament bass” which uses a descending series of stepwise notes that span a perfect fourth. In this case the descending scale is chromatic.
You may hear a similarity between the Weiss and Purcell at the opening, and this is because the Weiss Sarabande employs the same lament bass at the outset of the piece.
Hearing these two pieces side by side might give you an insight into how the Weiss piece lives very much in the world of melody and accompaniment that is so clear in the aria.
Exsultate Deo – Palestrina
Ricercare “La Compagna”, Francesco Da Milano
Polyphony means “many voices” and the renaissance had a grand master of vocal polyphony in the Italian composer Giovanni Palestrina. Exultate Deo has five vocal parts that intertwine and weave around one another.
The famous Ricercare by Francesco Da Milano draws from this polyphonic style in a style that precedes the baroque fugue. You might notice that the work starts out in a similar vocal style, but quickly becomes agile and virtuosic as it moves into a more instrumental style of writing.
Barbara Hendricks: Schubert, ‘Ständchen’
Marcin Dylla: Ständchen by Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert wrote over 600 lied, which translates simply to “song”. This very famous lied, Ständchen (Serenade) was expertly adapted for guitar my Johann Kaspar Mertz. The clear vocal line is independent from the accompaniment, although true to Schubert’s style of writing the accompaniment and melody often interact. The challenge on the guitar is to sustain this beautiful vocal line while offering a supportive, and sometimes interactive accompaniment.
One aspect that I feel is highlighted here is the free use of tempo change by Marcin Dylla. What do you think of this freedom?