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ErraughtJanuary 9, 2018
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RoschmannFebruary 8, 2018
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Christoph Prégardien
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"My Favorite Song"

Guest contributors select one song that has a special, personal meaning for them, sharing specific reasons about why they find the music and lyrics irresistible, and choosing a performance that they feel ideally captures the spirit of that song.

Archive of Past Selections


"My Favorite Song"
January, 2014

Welcome to the monthly feature of the Vocal Arts DC web site in which guest contributors select one song that has a special, personal meaning for them, sharing specific reasons about why they find the music and lyrics irresistible, and choosing a performance that they feel ideally captures the spirit of that song.

Allison M. Clendaniel is a freelance soprano, art song appreciator, and the VADC super intern.

Berlioz: "Absence - Les Nuits D'été"

Aged sixteen and newly gifted a record player, I was anxious to hear music on vinyl. I found a recording of Jessye Norman singing Les Nuits D'été and Shéhérazade in my father's worn-out collection, and put it on. Honestly, I was more excited for the listening "experience;" I had never even heard a Berlioz composition before.

I sat down on my bed, stared at the ceiling, and listened. After "Absence," the fourth song of Les Nuits D'été played, I walked over and replaced the needle to hear it again. And again. And once more just for the opening phrase -- a cri de coeur whose drama is more powerful for being restrained and allusive.

On January nights, I find myself again attracted to this recording. To the loneliness which Berlioz so elegantly depicts with asymmetrical phrases and an irregular resolution of a tritone in the third bar.

"It is indeed a rare genius who can create works whose simplicity is in direct proportion to their size. Unfortunately I need ample resources to produce any effect."
--Hector Berlioz

Berlioz was the first composer to separate himself from the strophic romances tradition. He called his short vocal pieces mélodies. Les Nuits D'été was first published in 1841 for voice and piano accompaniment and was the first cycle of French mélodies. In 1842, Berlioz orchestrated "Absence" for Marie Recio, his mistress, revealing an exquisite transience which was lacking in the piano-voice setting. By 1856, the entire composition was set with orchestra. Of all the songs in Les Nuits D'Ete, "Absence" garnered the most admiration from critics and, as you have already may have guessed, from me.

The poetry for "Absence," along with the rest of the cycle, was written by Théophile Gautier. The poem has eight strophes, but Berlioz chose to set only three, with the first, the only stroph with word repetition, as a recurring rondo, A B A C A. The poem is simple, which allows the music to really triumph. In fact, this melody is so entwined in my mind with Gautier's words that I can hardly read the poetry without hearing the tune.

Victoria de los Angeles gives my favorite rendition of "Absence" in the following recording with the Boston Symphony. Her vocal production is organic and, as always, her supreme flair for language prevails.

Reviens, reviens, ma bien-aimée!
Comme une fleur loin du soleil,
La fleur de ma vie est fermée,
Loin de ton sourire vermeil.

Entre nos coeurs tant de distance
Tant d'espace entre nos baisers!
Ô sort amer! ô dure absence!
Ô grands désirs inapaisés!

Reviens, reviens, ma bien-aimée!
Comme une fleur loin du soleil,
La fleur de ma vie est fermée,
Loin de ton sourire vermeil.

D'ici là-bas que de campagnes,
Que de villes et de hameaux,
Que de vallons et de montagnes,
À lasser le pied des chevaux!

Reviens, reviens, ma bien-aimée!
Comme une fleur loin du soleil,
La fleur de ma vie est fermée,
Loin de ton sourire vermeil.
Come back, come back, my dearest love!
Like a flower far from the sun,
The flower of my life has wilted,
far from the charm of your smile.

Between our hearts how long a distance!
What a wide space our kisses divide!
O bitter fate! O cruel absence!
O longing vain, unsatisfied!

Come back, come back, my dearest love!
Like a flower far from the sun,
The flower of my life has wilted,
far from the charm of your smile.

From thee to me how wide the country,
Town and hamlets in long array,
What winding valleys, rugged mountains,
What tir'd horses along the way!

Come back, come back, my dearest love!
Like a flower far from the sun,
The flower of my life has wilted,
far from the charm of your smile.

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"My Favorite Song"

Archive of Past Selections