Saturday, March 28, 2009

Czech Republic formerly Czechoslovakia

ANTONIN DVORAK (1841-1904)
IPA: /dvoɹæk/
Here is a very beautiful performance of mezzo soprano, Bernarda Fink singing two of the Dvorak Biblical Songs Op. 99.

Note: These songs were published first in 1894 for Sop./Tenor or Alto/Baritone and pianoforte. In 1895, he arranged Nos. 1-5 for orchestra and 6-10 were arranged by Zemánek.

1. Psalm 97:2-6
"Oblak a mrákota jest vůkol něho"

Oblak a mrákota jest vůkol něho,
Spravedlnost a soud základ trůnu jeho.
Óheň předchází jej a zapaluje
vůkol nepřátele jeho.
Zasvěcujít' se po okršku světa blýskání jeho;
To vidouc země děsí se.
Hory jako vosk rozplývají
se před obličejem Hospodina,
Panovníka vší země.
A slávu jeho spatřují všichni národové.
Clouds and Darkness are around Him:
justice and judgment are foundations of His throne.
Fire goeth before Him, and sets on fire his enemies around Him.
His lightnings flash around the world:
the earth sees it, and trembles.
Mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
the Lord of the whole earth.
and His glory is seen by all the Nations.

2. Psalms 119:114-117,119,120
"Skrýše má a paveza má Ty jsi"

Skrýše má a paveza má Ty jsi,
Na slovo vzaté očekávám.
Odstuptež ode mne, nešlechetníci,
Abych ostříhal přikázáni Boha svého.
Posiluj mne, bych zachován byl,
A patřil ku stanoveným Tvým ustavičně.
Děsí se strachem před Tebou tělo mé,
Nebo soudů Tvých bojím se náramně.
Thou art my refuge and my shield: I await Thy word.
Depart from me, ye evildoers:
so that I keep the commandments of my God.
Give me strength, so that I shall be saved,
and that I observe your law always.
My flesh trembleth for fear of Thee;
For I am afraid of Thy judgments, exceedingly.

Translations and more information can be found HERE.

Here are Bernarda Fink and Roger Vignoles performing Dvorak's song cycle Gypsy Songs Op. 55.

1.My song sounds of lovewhen the old day is dying;
it is sowing its shadows
and reaping a collections of pearls. My song resonates with longingwhile my feet roam distant lands.My homeland is in the distant wilderness -my song stirs with nationalism. My song loudly resounds of lovewhile unplanned storms hasten.I'm glad for the freedom that I no longer have a portion in the dying of a brother.

2. Ah! Why is my three-cornered bell ringing so passionately?
As a gypsy song when death is imminent -
the death of a gypsy brings an end
to song, dance, love and all concerns!
To song, dance, love and all concerns! 

3. The forest is quiet all around;

only the heart is disturbing the peace.
As if black smoke is flowing,
tears flow down my cheeks and so they dry.
They need not dry -
let other cheeks feel them.
The one who can in sorrow sing
will not die but lives and lives on. 

4 When my old mother taught me to sing,

Strange that she often had tears in her eyes.
And now I also weep,
when I teach gipsy children to play and sing!

5.The string is taut - young man turn, spin, twirl!

Today reach the heights, tomorrow down again and
after tomorrow, at the holy table of the Nile.
The taut string is stretched - turn young man - turn and twirl! 

6.Wide sleeves and wide trousers have

more freedom than a robe of gold.
The robe of gold constricts the chest
and the song within the body dies.
He who is happy - his song blooms with wishes
that the whole world would lose its taste for gold. 

Given a cage to live in made of pure gold, 
the Gypsy would exchange it
for the freedom of a nest of thorns.
Just as a wild horse rushes to the wasteland,
seldom bridled and reined in,
so too the gypsy nature has been given eternal freedom.

Here is Renée Fleming singing her signature aria from Dvorak's Opera, Rusalka.


  1. This is beyond a doubt, one of my most favorite opera arias! On a personal note, this was sung at my wedding and I encouraged my wife to sing this song last year at the concerto/aria competition at Montana State two years ago and she won! Thus, I feel a super strong connection to this piece! The entire opera contains motives that refer back and forth to this one aria. I particularly love the way that Renee Fleming lingers on the final high note in a way that some other opera singers do not. Surely, I have never heard another with more clarity. It is not hard to understand why the Czech people revere this aria so well! In a sense, the language kind of sounds like a language that developed from the sounds of water, making it particularly suited to this opera in particular.

  2. I really enjoyed the Bernarda Fink performance. I am fairly unfamiliar with Dvorak's "Biblical Songs," and impressed with their lyricism. That was the quality that stood out to me most, especially as I compared them to other settings of sacred texts such as Mozart's "Requiem", Bach's "Magnificat" or Mendelssohn's "Elijah". Certainly there are many stylistic differences between all of these pieces, but that beautiful lyrical quality is present in Dvorak's melodic writing even in the most fiery and violent textual moments. To my ear it seems like a departure, and a welcome one at that. Beautiful!

  3. First of all, what a dress!! Oh, Renee. This aria is so tremendously expressive and elegant, and Fleming sings it with heart-rendering intensity. Dvorak's music has a unique sense of subtlety and lyricism that sets him apart from other composers of his time.

  4. Renee's expressivity and ability to convey the text in a flexible, elegant and poised manner really shows how talented she is and how well the aria is written by Dvorak. I love the melody that Dvorak returns to in the piece. Does anyone else here part of the melody sounding like "Somewhere over the rainbow?" May be I've been teaching elementary students too long... I love this piece!

  5. The first thing that came to mind while listening to the Youtube video of the Biblical Songs is that they sound a little like moments in Rusalka, and that other parts reminded me a little of Wagner, These songs have that sort of tonally suspended quality that Wagner's music has. I thought that Kimball's appraisal of these songs was a little harsh; she said that they verge on the overly sentimental and aren't very devout. I would have to disagree. I've performed a couple of these pieces before, and for me, it was a very spiritual experience. I think that the music illustrates the love and care that Dvorak put into these psalms, and therefore his deep devotion to God and his religion. Just because it is not the "traditional"- sounding church music doesn't mean that it doesn't serve a spiritual purpose.
    I was always a little confused as to why the first song of this cycle was so frightening when some others were so comforting. Now that I know that Dvorak wrote these pieces after the deaths of two friends, and news of his father's illness, they make more sense. This cycle might have been a way for him to express his fears and thoughts about death, and how he can trust in God to bring him comfort.
    Bernarda Fink's performance is gorgeous. Not only is her voice beautiful, she brings a very vulnerable, yet profound, element to those pieces.

  6. I am a huge fun of Renee. I`ve actually read her book and she talks about her experience with the Czech language. She performed this aria/opera in Praga front of the Czech prime minister and she was terrified that she might did not get the right diction on this difficult language. Beautiful vocal lines, everybody should learn from her through this piece.

  7. The registration of the Biblical Songs is so monstrous! I feel that there aren't a whole lot of singers who can pull off that low and middle range with such clarity and power. I guess as a mezzo, those are the areas of the voice that always scare me the most, because it is just such a frustrating thing to place them and have them be heard. Though with Russian, the consonants are so liquid and expressive, the power comes out in a different way

  8. This language seems to lend itself well to singing, once one has a grasp of the sounds, in the sense that the many glide sounds could add to the sense of legato in a phrase. I noticed this to be the case when I was learning how to sing in Russian as well. The many voiced and accentuated consonants also give the singer something to sink his/her teeth into for interpretive purposes.

  9. This is perhaps the greatest vocal performance I have ever seen. The music is remarkable by itself but Miss Fleming communicates the aria with grace, beauty, power and passion. When I was listening to it the orchestra dissolved away and I was fixed on the vocalist. I like her movements from side to side. They add an emotional restlessness. Most powerful last 10 seconds of almost any piece I have heard. Thank you for sharing.

  10. This comment concerns the second of the two biblical songs set by Dvorak. I enjoy the two distinct textures in the work. The first is a chorale texture that to me is very similar to a hymn sung in most christian churches. The hymn seems to hold so much innocence and inward contemplation. Perhaps it could be described as an inward prayer with nothing external. The second texture is this outward presence of God and force. This is very apparent in the text "My flesh trembleth for fear of Thee: For I am afraid of Thy judgments, exceedingly." The contrast is communicated very well in the video by the vocalist. Her body becomes much more engaged in the "flesh trembleth" part.

  11. I haven't heard Rusalka before, or this aria, but it was a beautiful and and romantic perormance. At about 5:15, I really loved her lower register. It was rich and deep and the final high note contrasts with it very well.

  12. After hearing Emily's comments about how the rolled "r"s function, I definitely was able to pinpoint those consonants in the Biblical Songs. It is such an interesting sound and incredibly frustrating to try and duplicate. Fink (Unfortunate name) does a really good job of portraying the seriousness of the text mixed with the lyricism of Dvorak's lines. I too can hear a lot of Dvorak's writing for his operas in these songs.

  13. Regarding the Biblical songs, I definitely hear the lyricism so many other people have mentioned, especially in the second one, but the first struck me by its solemnity. The descending intervals, the stately rhythms in the strings, and the chromaticism all reflect the power and drama inherent in the text without losing any of the stateliness.

    I loved how the texture in the second dropped down to a more introspective level with the woodwinds as the speaker asks for strength. It's set as an expression of humility and hope, and it's beautiful in its simplicity.

  14. I have never listened to Fink perform before and I must say that I have a new favorite voice. Her sound is so controlled and consistent throughout her entire range. She handles the low tessitura of the pieces so well, and I can tell that she mapped out every phrase and knew exactly where it was in her voice. Also, I think her color choices and facial expressions matched the purpose of the texts very well.

    As for the Rusalka, the moment when the vocal melody drops down and is duetting with the English Horn is one of my favorite moments in opera period. The introspection that explodes into the finale is stunning.

  15. Dvorak- Fink singing “Biblical Songs”
    The beautiful line of Fink created is so captivating and completely lends itself to the sacred text. I feel that this piece is unique to some of the other sacred works I’ve heard by Bach and Mozart, with it’s distinct harmonic and melodic texture that focuses on the lyricism of the melodic line. I could sense the emotion from Fint and thought she expressed the text with honest devotion.
    Renee Fleming- “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka
    This aria is so beautiful. Having never heard it before I thought Renee did an exquisite job soaring through the high notes with such control and centering herself on the lower notes that draws in the focus and core feelings of the piece. I could hear distinct coloration in the orchestra that supported the melody so gracefully. The dramatic simplicity of the melody and repeated motives heard throughout the aria exploit Dvorak’s gift to assimilate atmosphere and immediate emotional appeal.

  16. This is the first time I heard these "Biblical Songs," and I thoroughly enjoyed them. The first is like a recitative, which is very fitting to the declamatory text. I love how Dvorak ended this first song very simply and with the sound of the flute, as being humbled by God's glory.

  17. I am really impressed and pleasantly surprised to here such a consonant rich language performed with such lyricism. Fink, in particular, doesn't allow the consonant combinations to interrupt her line. Dvorak's music is so beautifully melodic and the harmonies are rich and sweet. It is no wonder that Rusalka (and Song to the Moon) are performed with increasing frequency. Such lovely music must motivate singers to take on the challenge of the language.

  18. Emily Nelson already mentioned it, but I was actually surprised by the first biblical song, since it reminded me so much of Wagner. I believe that although the "squared" recitative-like vocal lines (with the orchestra taking the lyrical melodies) reflect the powerful judgement of the Lord, they also touch "by accident" on Wagner's "sound world." I was surprised because I usually would connect Dvorak to the musical tradition of Brahms instead (such as in the Gypsy Songs).

    Love Song to the moon. Love Fleming. Best combination ever!!!

  19. I was struck by the overall lyricism of Dvorak's gypsy songs- even the fast pieces have a breadth of line. Also, I find Dvorak's harmonic language fascinating. His harmonies are clearly consonant, but he uses the nodal colors in such a beautiful way, the songs sound fresh and passionate.

  20. Having recently become familiar with the choral arrangements of Brahms' Zigeunerlieder, I was really interested in hearing the Dvorak in order to compare the two. The variety and emotional depth of the Dvorak settings made them a more satisfying experience overall. I appreciated the ways in which the piano tells the story of some of the images of the natural world depicted in the text (as the storm in the first song and the quiet forest in the third). I was particularly moved by the fourth song in the set. It felt like the most perfect combination of melodic lines, harmonic movement and emotional commitment from the performers.

  21. I love the drama that is captured in the two featured biblical songs. I find that the texture of the orchestration really depicts the imagery such as the lightning in the first song. I love how the texture of the accompaniment really follows the mood of the text in the second song. The music is very operatic as a result. I love the 4th Gypsy song. The accompaniment and the melody are hauntingly beautiful.

  22. For "Biblical Songs", I really like how dramatic No. 1 is. The opening is so dark and intense, depicting "clouds and darkness". But the ending is so graceful and sublime, illustrating the Lord's glory.

    I can't describe how much I enjoy "Gypsy Songs". There are so many interesting details in the music that I can never get bored when listening to the song cycle! I like how the piano part shows thematic unity and I can identify each song very easily. When listening to this song cycle, I can just feel the passion, nostalgia and freedom of the Gypsies... Beautiful work!

  23. I find Dvorak's music so hauntingly beautiful. I had never heard "Biblical Songs" before and they are extraordinary. Bernarda Fink's performance is outstanding, with so much use of color and nuance, which I really appreciate. I love the drama Dvorak conjures with his compositional style! It's operatic, but there is definitely some serious "duende" here, in all three of these pieces/performances/videos.