NACOGDOCHES, Texas – The Singin’ Axes at Stephen F. Austin State University will showcase the work of Johannes Brahms when the student ensemble presents the virtual concert “Rhapsody” at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16.
Directed by Dr. Tod Fish, associate director of choral activities in the SFA School of Music, the Singin’ Axes will perform Brahms’ Opus 53, also known as “Alto Rhapsody.” Featured performer will be School of Music faculty member Nita Hudson as mezzo-soprano soloist.
Also on the program is Benjamin Britten’s “The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard.”
“These compositions go together because they both deal with the suffering that is caused by love,” said Fish, who described “Rhapsody” as a “deeply personal work for Brahms.” It is based on three verses from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1777 poem “Harzreise im Winter,” which Brahms stumbled across in 1868 (the same year Brahms wrote his German Requiem), in a time when the composer was conflicted in several aspects of his life.
“During this time, Brahms was still mourning the death of his mother, who had passed away in 1865,” Fish said. “Some scholars believe that the ‘Rhapsody’ is an outpouring of grief that deals with unrequited love – first from his frustrating, confusing relationship with Clara Schumann and then, later, from her daughter, Julie. It is believed, by some, that Goethe’s text provided the words to articulate Brahms feelings at this time.” Schumann described it as “…neither more nor less than the expression of his (Brahms) heart’s anguish.”
In Britten’s “The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard,” the composer appears to be in a completely different state of mind, as he is breaking away from a time of frustration and returns to England after living in America from 1939 to 1942.
“This work was written, interestingly enough, by Britten for a friend a friend of his who was serving as the artistic director of a prisoner of war camp’s music festival in 1943,” Fish explained. “Britten had received a commission from the Koussevitsky Music Foundation to compose ‘Peter Grimes,’ the monumental work that solidified Britten’s status as one of the giants of 20th century composers.”
The piece is out of the ballad madrigal tradition along the lines of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.” The text deals with a bitter love triangle between Lord Brand and Lady Barnard and someone known as Little Musgrave.
“The two lovers, Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, find a trysting place that is soon discovered by Lord Barnard,” Fish said. “Soon after, a battle ensues between Barnard and Musgrave with Barnard, in a fit of rage slaying both lovers. Britten masterfully uses the piano accompaniment, which is masterfully played by our collaborative pianist, Dr. Thomas Nixon, to drive the drama of this underrated composition.”
To access the live concert free of charge, visit music.sfasu.edu. For additional information, contact the School of Music at (936) 468-4602.