Four Italian Folksong Arrangements

Premiere: 19 October 2013 at Razzo Hall, Clark University, Worcester, MA. Jan Zimmerman, soprano; Ian Watson, piano

Duration: 10′

Instrumentation: Voice and piano

Score: View score

Performance Note: My Four Italian Folksong Arrangements were written in the early weeks of 2013, again for my friend, the soprano Jan Zimmerman. Jan requested them for her graduate recital at the University of Connecticut and I was very happy to comply, having, in the six years since writing “To Anacreon in Heaven…”, become familiar with a series of marvelous folksong arrangements by various composers, including Brahms, Dvorak, and Britten.

I selected four texts and three tunes from a book called Songs of Italy, published by G. Schirmer in 1904, that I found searching Google Books, and added a tune of my own to fill out my text selections. In writing these Arrangements, I found myself working references to various composers and pieces that I’ve long admired into my settings: the spirit of Benjamin Britten makes something of an appearance in the first, “La Savoyarde;” my favorite Schubert song, Im Frühling, turns up in the second, “La Pastorella;” the accompaniment to the Fischenpredigt from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn kicks off (and closes) the third, “Coraggio, ben mio;” and there’s at least a little hint of Verdi in the finale, “A la Fiera de Mast’ Andrea.”

These’re also a set of songs in which I felt free to move around, harmonically, in rather unpredictable patterns. Accordingly, the key structure of “Coraggio, ben mio” comprises a tone cluster: E minor, F-sharp minor, F-sharp major, and F minor; and “A la Fiera” modulates from B-flat major, to E-flat minor, to E-flat major, and finally settles in A-flat major. It may not be anything that draws the ear in performance (and these key changes shouldn’t bring too much attention to themselves), but they represent a kind of harmonic flexibility that’s been a hallmark of my recent work.

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