The Songs of Schumann, Poulenc and Ives

by guest contributor Julie Berridge

On March 26, baritone Elliot Madore sings the songs of Schumann, Poulenc, and Charles Ives. Madore who is Canadian, attended Humbercrest Public School and the Etobicoke School for the Arts before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in voice and a master’s in opera at the Curtis Institute of Music. In December, he performs the lead role of Figaro in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of the Barber of Seville in New York City.

Madore opens with Schumann whose relationship with art songs seems to have evolved over a relatively short period of time – less than a year.

This is what Schumann wrote in a letter to Clara, the woman who would later be his wife, in June 1839,

All my life I have regarded vocal music as inferior to instrumental music, and have never considered it great art

And this is what he wrote to Clara in February 1840,

Oh Clara, what bliss it is to write songs. I can’t tell you how easy it has become for me … it is music of an entirely different kind which doesn’t have to pass through the fingers—far more melodious and direct.

Belsatzar, Op. 57 is based on a short poem by Christian Johann Heinrich Heine. It tells the story of King Belshazzar of Babylonia, who after he desecrated the sacred vessels of Jehovah, saw an apparition consisting of writings on a wall that he could not understand.

Liederkreis, Opus 39, is a song cycle that Schumann composed in 1840. It sets to music Joseph Eichendorff’s collection of poetry entitled Intermezzo.

Poulenc’s Banalities are based on the work of Apollinaire. The five songs, Chanson d’Orkenise, Hôtel, Fagnes de Wallonie, Voyage à Paris and Sanglots, are said to be a balance between “cabaret style populism and Schubertian subtlety”.

Sanglots is moving and wistful. Chanson d’Orkenise is very much in the style of a folk song. Hôtel, brings to mind idle and languorous luxury. It consists of a few lines spoken by a character sitting in a hotel room who wants only to sit and smoke, as opposed to working. The last line reads, “Je ne veux pas travailler – je veux fumer” (I don’t want to work. I want to smoke). Voyage à Paris is a raucous nine line poem about a return to Paris after time spent in the “boring” provinces. The setting for Apollinaire’s Fagnes de Wallonie is a windswept plateau in Belgium. Poulenc ably captures the feeling of a landscape swept by gusting winds.

Madore brings the evening to a close with the compositions of Charles Ives. Ives was born in 1874. He was one of America’s first internationally renowned composers. Ives’ canon of songs has been described as a sort of receptacle or collection of his reaction to places, personalities and events. But he also set to music many classic European poems. Ives composed close to 200 songs before his death in 1954.


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