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Songs Tuned to Harp

Portrait de Maria Malibran par Ary Scheffer 1831 1

Music by eight women composers and world premiere by Sylva Smejkalová

Portrait de Maria Malibran par Ary Scheffer 1831 1
Maria Malibran

The second concert of this year’s season of the Lieder Company Prague pays tribute to women composers and poets. The world premiere will also feature a cycle by Sylva Smejkalová. The concert will take place in the attractive space of Club Salsita in Prague’s Smíchov district on Sunday, 30 April at 7.30 pm. The opening part of the programme is devoted to the music of women, who in their time at the beginning of the 19th century were mostly prominent and respected personalities. Over time, however, their fame faded and was overshadowed by more prominent personalities – mostly men. In addition to A Lady of Fashion, by an unknown British composer, there will also be songs by the important opera, and especially oratorio, singer Harriet Abrams (1760-1822), who was accompanied on the piano by Joseph Haydn during his stay in Britain, and by Marie Malibran (1808-1836), reputedly the highest paid opera singer and composer in her time. The programme also included French composers, of whom the Marquise Jeanne-Renée de Travanet (1753-1828), witnessed at her wedding by Louis XVI himself, composed a song that is a testament to this revolutionary king led to his execution. It is possible that he himself dictated the lyrics of this song to her, as the date of her song gives two days before his journey to the guillotine. An important composer whose operas were regularly performed by the Paris Opera Comique in the early 19th century was Edmée Sophie Gail (1775-1819), a singer whose concert tours took her to many countries in Europe. Another important figure was Charlotte Duchambge (1776-1858), who studied with Jan Ladislav Dusik and Luigi Cherubini, among others. Nélia Maillard (1803-1835) was regarded as an outstanding singing talent, and taught singing at the École Royale de Musique et de Déclamation Lyrique, the forerunner of the Paris Conservatoire.

All of the English and French authors mentioned have fallen almost into oblivion. Their songs were set to a variety of poems and in many cases composed directly for voice and harp. This unusual combination, however, was an inspiration to other authors. For this concert we have therefore chosen works by their younger compatriots – the English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and the French composer, whom Czech listeners know mainly from his organ works, Louis Vierne (1870-1937). Benjamin Britten, whose 110th anniversary of birth is being commemorated this year, was a great admirer of folk songs. In six collections he arranged for voice and piano the songs of the British Isles, as well as French songs. Quite exceptional, however, is his cycle of Eight Arrangements of Folk Songs for Higher Voice and Harp, written in 1976. In brilliant and impressive arrangements using all the technical possibilities of the harp, there are unusual songs of various moods – from comedy to themes of death or unfulfilled love. One song will even be performed in the original Welsh language.

Louis Vierne dans les annees 1930
Louis Vierne

The composer Louis Vierne composed his cycle of Four Greek Poems on texts by the poet Anna de Noailles in 1930 for voice and harp. It is her use of colour and frequent parallel processes that give the songs an impressionistic feel, evoking ancient Greece, to which the poetry also refers.

The composer Sylva Smejkalová, who composed for this concert the cycle A la faveur de la nuit for soprano, tenor and harp, did not avoid hints of impressionism. She chose surrealistic love poems by the French poet Robert Desnos, who died in 1945 in the Czech town of Terezín. This cycle will be given its world premiere, and those interested can learn more from the author in a video on the Lieder Company Prague YouTube channel.

hartelova jmeno

The performers of this concert will be leading Czech soprano Irena Troupová, young tenor Ondřej Holub and solo harpist of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra Lydia Härtelová.