Saturday, July 30, 2011

Discovering Unsung Songs at the Artsong Project

A fascinating venture out of Munich: pianist Philipp Vogler and soprano Hélène Lindqvist are in the midst of the Artsong Project, whose goal is to bring to life the art songs of under-appreciated composers. Here is their full artistic statement, which caused me to jump up and cheer earlier this evening:

This is our dream: We‘re finally in the position to share with you all the unsung songs we‘ve found. Some people ask why we bother spending our time with the works of composers nobody has heard of. Our answer is always: because we love to search for and discover new music.

Anyone looking through a music encyclopedia will find that a fraction of the composers listed are actually played in concert halls all over the world. Of course the repertoire differs a bit so that you will hear more french composers in France than in Germany or Finland for example. The variety of music played at one specific concert hall of course also depends on the interest and focus of the artistic director. This could be „18th century music“ or „contemporary classics“ etc.

But Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Mahler, to name a few, are omnipresent.

To hear a symphony by Heinrich von Herzogenberg or chamber music by Rebecca Clarke, you will probably have to travel further than to your local town hall. Unknown music doesn‘t draw a crowd. Dwindling attention from the audiences puts pressure on the organizers. So they play it safe with popular symphonic repertoire. Chamber music concerts are rare, and art song concerts only ever reach break-even financially with the big names.

Happily there are record labels off-mainstream that make it possible to at least hear unpopular music on CD.

One might ask why these composers are so obscure. Isn‘t there something like a natural selection taking place to let only the highest-quality music reach immortality? Yes and no. Of course there were always composers writing boring music around. Famous composers no exception. But it certainly would be a mistake to think a composer probably is of little interest only because he‘s unknown.

Stay with us. There is much to explore.

Go and explore their online collection of art song recordings, with some astonishing gems by composers such as Augusta Holmès, Joseph Marx, Wilhelm Peterson – Berger, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Anton Rubenstein, Gabriel Pierné, Franz Xaver Scharwenka, Elfrida Andrée, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Régine Wieniawski and Joachim Raff.

Remember that there's a massive amount of great music by little-known composers just waiting to be discovered - it's only our cultural bias that causes us to focus on such a small number of them.

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