Songs From Age Of The Closet

CD of art songs by gay composers of the 19th and 20th centuries

Tchaikovsky – Poulenc – Hahn – Szymanowski – Griffes – Hennessy

Elif Savas Felsen, soprano
Martin Hennessy, piano

 

This CD represents a celebration of gay contributions to western art song in the “age of the closet.” The second half of the 19th century represents for cultural historians the birth of homosexuality as a category of identity. Before this period, homosexuality was not a well-defined cultural concept; equivalent terms for it did not exist in ancient Greece or other societies where same-sex behaviors occurred. In fact, the word “homosexual” did not even appear in print until 1926.  For these reasons, we have chosen only to include those artists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries for whom compelling evidence existed regarding their sexual orientation.

The composers presented here showcase an incredibly rich font of talent. It is a delight to bring them together, some of whom are not well-known to listeners, and some of whom are but not in this context. The biographies of these composers truly are fascinating; the history of their lives and sexuality will be borne out through continued study and research. As a gay musicology continues to develop, hopefully listeners will build their own projects and make connections for themselves – but the real reward of this compilation is the joy in hearing this much-neglected music interpreted by Elif Savas with sensitivity and clarity of conception.

PETER ILICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

1. Otchego / Why? Op.6, No.5
2. Zabyt’ Tak Skoro / To Forget So Soon
3. Kolybelnaya / Lullaby, Op. 16, No. 1
4. Zachem Zhe Ty Prisnilasja / Why Did I Ever Dream of You? Op.28, No.3

REYNALDO HAHN (1874-1947)

5. Paysage / A Landscape
6. Fumée / Smoke

KAROL MACIEJ SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)

7. Taniec / Dance Op.24, No.4
8. Zakochany Wiatr / Song of the East Wind in Love Op. 24, No.5
9. Smutna Wiosna / Spring of Sadness Op.24, No.6
10. Zaloty / And You Came Into My House Op. 17, No.3
11. Wczesnym Rankiem / High in the Morning Sky Op. 17, No.1

FRANCIS POULENC (1899-1963)

Cinq Poèmes de Max Jacob:
12. Chanson Bretonne / Breton Song
13. Cimetière / Cemetary
14. La petite Servante / The Little Maid
15. Berceuse / Lullaby
16. Souric et Mouric / Souric and Mouric

MARTIN HENNESSY (1953-)

17. Lost Sense

CHARLES TOMLINSON GRIFFES (1884-1920)

18. Thy Dark Eyes to Mine Op.11, No.2
19. The Rose of the Night Op.11, No.3
20. Nachtlied / Night Song

PETER ILICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

1.
Otchego? Why?
Op.6, No.5
Text by L.A. Mey after Heine

Otchego poblednela vesnoj Why did the glorious rose wilt so,
pyshnocvetnaja roza sama? in the spring?
Otchego pod zeljonoj travoj Why is the blue violet
golubaja fialka nema? silent beneath the green grass?

Otchego tak pechal’no zvuchit Why is the song of the little bird
pesnja ptichki, nesjas’ v nebesa? so sad today?
Otchego nad lugami visit Why does the dew hang
pogrebal’nym pokrovom rosa? like a shroud upon the meadows?

Otchego v nebe solnce s utra Why is the sun cold and dull in the sky,
kholodno i temno, kak zimoj? as if it were winter?
Otchego i zemlja vsja syra Why is the earth wet
i ugrjumej mogily samoj? and gloomy like a tomb?

Otchego ja i sam vse grustnej And why am I ever more sad
i boleznennej den’ oto dnja? each day?
Otchego, o, skazhi mne skorej ty, Why – tell me quickly –
pokinuv, zabyla menja? did you forget me?

 

2.
Zabyt’ Tak Skoro To Forget So Soon
Text by Aleksandr Pushkin

Zabyt’ tak skoro, bozhe moj, To forget so soon, dear God,
Vsjo schast’je zhizni prozhitoj! all the happiness of our past life!
Vse nashi vstrechi, razgovory, All our encounters, our conversations!
Zabyt’ tak skoro, zabyt’ tak skoro! To forget so soon, to forget so soon!

Zabyt’ volnen’ja pervykh dnej, To forget the excitement of the first days,
Svidan’ja chas v teni vetvej! of our meetings under shady branches!
Ochej nemyje razgovory, The wordless exchange of our glances.
Zabyt’ tak skoro, zabyt’ tak skoro! To forget so soon, to forget so soon!

Zabyt’, kak polnaja luna To forget how the full moon
Na nas gljadela iz okna, gazed at us through the window,
Kak kolykhalas’ tikho shtora… how the curtain softly swayed…
Zabyt’ tak skoro, zabyt’ tak skoro, tak skoro! To forget so soon, to forget so soon, so soon!

Zabyt’ ljubov’, zabyt’ mechty, To forget love, forget the dreams,
Zabyt’ te kljatvy pomnish’ ty, pomnish’ ty, pomnish’ ty? forget your vows – do you remember, do you remember?
V nochnuju pasmurnuju poru, v nochnuju pasmurnuju poru, taken in the somber hours of night, taken in the sombre hours of night!
Zabyt’ tak skoro, zabyt’ tak skoro! To forget so soon, to forget so soon!
Bozhe moj! Dear God!

3.
Kolybelnaya Cradle Song
Op.16, No1
Text by A.N. Maikov

Spi, ditja mojo, spi, usni! spi, usni! Sleep, my baby, sleep, fall asleep, sleep, fall asleep!
Sladkij son k sebe mani: Beckon sweet dreams to yourself:
V njan’ki ja tebe vzjala I’ve hired as nannies for you
Veter, solnce i orla. The Wind, the Sun and the Eagle.

Uletel orjol domoj: The Eagle has flown back home,
Solnce skrylos’ pod vodoj: The Sun has hidden under the waters,
Veter, posle trekh nochej, And three nights later
Mchitsja k materi svojej. The Wind is rushing away to her Mother.

Sprashivala vetra mat’: The Wind’s mother has been asking:
“Gde izvolil propadat’? “Where have you been for so long?
Ali zvezdy vojeval? Have you been fighting the stars?
Ali volny vsjo gonjal?” Have you been chasing the waves?”

“Ne gonjal ja voln morskikh, “I haven’t been chasing the sea-waves,
Zvezd ne trogal zolotykh; I haven’t been touching the golden stars,
Ja ditja oberegal, I have been guarding a baby
Kolybelochku kachal!” And rocking gently his little cradle.”

Spi, ditja mojo, spi, usni! spi, usni! Sleep, my baby, sleep, fall asleep, sleep, fall asleep!
Sladkij son k sebe mani: Beckon sweet dreams to yourself:
V njan’ki ja tebe vzjala I’ve hired as nannies for you
Veter, solnce i orla. The Wind, the Sun and the Eagle.

4.
Zachem Zhe Ty Prisnilasja Why Did I Dream of You?
Op.28, No.3
Text by LA, after Heine

Zachem zhe ty prisnilasja, Why did I dream of you,
Krasavica daljokaja, unattainable beauty,
I vspykhnula, chto v polyme, and my lonely pillow
Podushka odinokaja? burn, as if on fire?

Okh, sgin’ ty, polunochnica! O vanish, vanish, vision of the night!
Glaza tvoji lenivyje Your eyes are languorous;
I pepel kos rassypchatyj, your ash blonde hair is spread,
I guby gordelivyje – your lips haughty.
Vsjo najavu mne snilosja, Everything I dreamed was as true as waking,
I vsjo, chto grjoza veshnjaja, and, like a daydream in spring,
Umchalosja, i na serdce has now vanished, leaving in my heart
Legla pot’ma kromeshnaja! a dark void!

Zachem zhe ty prisnilasja, Why did I dream of you,
Krasavica daljokaja, unattainable beauty?
Kol’ stynet vmeste s grjozoju My lonely pillow grows cold,
Polushka odinokaja? together with my dreams.
Zachem zhe, zachem zhe ty prisnilasja! Why, O why did I dream of you?!

REYNALDO HAHN (1874-1947)

5.
Paysage A Landscape
Poem by André Theuriet

A deux pas de la mer qu’on entend bourdonner Close by the booming sea,
Je sais un coin perdu de la terre bretonne In Brittany I know a sequestered spot
Où j’aurais tant aimé, pendant les jours d’automne, Where in autumn I would so have wished,
Chère, à vous emmener! My love, to go with you!

Des chênes faisant cercle autour d’une fontaine, Oaks encircling a fountain,
Quelques hêtres épars, un vieux moulin désert, Scattered beech, an old abandoned mill,
Une source dont l’eau claire a le reflet vert A well whose clear waters reflected
De vos yeux de sirène The green of your Siren’s eyes

La mésange, au matin, sous la feuille jaunie, The bluetit, each morning, among yellowed leaves
Viendrait chanter pour nous Would come to sing for us.
Et la mer, nuit et jour, And the sea, night and day,
Viendrait accompagner nos caresses d’amour Accompany our loving caresses
De sa basse infinie! With its boundless bass!

6.
Fumée Smoke
Poem by Jean Moréas

Compagne de l’ether, indolente fumée, Companion of the ether, indolent smoke,
Je te ressemble un peu… I slightly resemble you…
Ta vie est d’un instant, la mienne est consumée; Your life lasts a moment, mine is consumed,
Mais nous sortons du feu. But we come forth from fire.

L’homme pour subsister, en recueillant la cendre, Man, in order to exist, must gather aches,
Qu’il use ses genoux, While on his knees.
Sans plus nous soucier et sans jamais descendre, No longer caring, and never descending to earth,
Evanouissons-nous! Let us vanish!


KAROL MACIEJ SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)

7.
Taniec Dance
Text by the Persian “Hafiz” (Mohammed Schemsed-din); Polish translator anonymous
Op. 24, No.4

Wszystkie dzis tancza, taniec plynie w krag! Everything is dancing, dancing, dancing.
Boski to plas! Boski, boski to plas! Dance is divine, divine.
Wioda plasy w ponczoszkach, Some dance barefoot,
Jda w sandalkach w tan, lub nago! some with shoes!

Czesc! czesc, wam nago tanczace czesc! Up, up, you naked dancers!
Pieknoscia zuchwale! You beauties and muses!
Wszystkie dzis tancza, taniec plynie w krag! This day, everything is dancing!
Boski to plas! Boski to plas! Dancing with the gods! Dancing with the gods!

8.
Zakochany Wiatr Song Of The East Wind In Love
Text by the Persian “Hafiz” (Mohammed Schemsed-din); Polish translator anonymous
Op. 24, No.5

O! Nieszczesnemu mnie! Oh, unfortunate me!
Któz wiesc przyniesie od mojej lubej? Who will bring me news of my Beloved?
Wprawdzie wschodni wiatr na ucho od niej cos mi zlecic chcial Although the East Wind came,and whispered a
message in my ear,
lecz szepcac jakal sie i mylil tak, he stammered and confused me,
zem niemogl pojac nic! so I could not understand!
To jedno wiem, to jedno wiem, I know it well, all too well;
On musial sie ten nedzarz he himself is the worst off,
dac upoic i olsnic tak drunk, spirit whirling,
kochanki mej pieknoscia, because of my Beloved’s beauty,
lubej mej pieknoscia. her great beauty.

9.
Smutna wiosna Spring Of Saddness
Text by the Persian “Hafiz” (Mohammed Schemsed-din); Polish translator anonymous
Op. 24, No.6

Znów wiosna zawitala. Spring has come.
Pod jej tchnieniem narcyzy i hyacenty Laughing hyacinths, tulips and narcissus
z swoich grzadek na zloty wschodza blask. sprout from every field.
Lecz kedys ty? Kedys ty? Why are you waiting, still waiting?
Gleboko wziemi spisz pod nocy straza. Dark earth holds you fast.
Ja plakac bede wraz z wiosenna chmura, I will water you with my tears, like a springtime cloud,
a moze je szcze raz z pod ziemi mroków so that maybe, from your deep prison,
zablysniesz wio sny najpiekniejszym Kwiatem! you will rise, like the loveliest flower of Spring.

10.
Zaloty And You Came Into My House
German text by R.F.L. Dehmel with Polish translation by Stanislaw Baracz
Op. 17, No. 3

A gdy w dom mój niosac wdziek And you came into my house,
Czarnych zrenic ciskasz razy came with your dark beauty,
palm dalekich widzac mary I thought I saw distant palm trees,
Zrak twych biore kwiatów pek. thought you gave me a bouquet of flowers.
Te storczyki pelne rosy You gave me narcissus sparkling with dew,
rwalas zemna w kniej pustkowiu. that we had gathered in the lonely forest.

Spocznij! zlóz na mem wezglowiu You lay on the red couch,
swoje czarne bujne wlosy. your black hair trailing over the armrest of my shoulder.
Wej dz! w mym domu roztocz wdziek, Come back to my home,
niech tam kwitnie lesne kwiecie, let the wildflowers blossom,
usta nasze plona przecie! let our young lips press together!
Daj mi, daj mi kwiatów pek! Give, o give me, your flowers!

11.
Wczesnym Rankiem High In The Morning Sky
German text by R.F.L. Dehmel with Polish translation by Stanislaw Baracz
Op. 17, No. 1

Spójrz, jak ku gwiazdom wciaz sie wznosimy! See how we rise up to the stars!
Nasz wzrok promienny szczesciem Our eyes, brimming with good fortune,
olsniewa biela snieg szczytów. light up the snow on the mountains below;
Wnet sie z mgiel wynurza laki hal. soon the sun bursts through.

O! Jak plona doliny i szczyty: The depths and heights around us glow red,
Hen tam wgórze, nad mgla oddechów, through the mist of our breathing,
ostatnich iskrzacych sie blasków gwiazd daleko wzwyz! reaching the farthest glimmer of distant stars!
Widnieje noc narodzin twych, The night of your birth shimmers with light,
swita nam wniebowziecia dzien. the day of our ascent to heaven sparkles.

 

FRANCIS POULENC (1899-1963)

Cinq Poèmes de Max Jacob Five Poems of Max Jacob

FP. 59, No. 1-5

12.

Chanson bretonne Breton Song

J’ai perdu ma poulette I have lost my little hen
Et j’ai perdu mon chat. And I have lost my cat
Je cours à la poudrette I’d run myself to ashes
Si Dieu me les rendra. If God would give them back to me.

Je vais chez Jean le Coz I went to Jean le Coz’s
Et chez Marie Maria. And to Marie Maria’s.
Va-t’en voir chez Hérode Go check at Herode’s –
Peut-être il le saura. Maybe he will know.

Passant devant la salle Passing by the hall
Toute la ville était là The entire town was there
À voir danser ma poule Watching my hen dancing
Avec mon petit chat. With my little cat.

Tous les oiseaux champêtres All country birds
Sur les murs et sur les toits On the walls and on the roofs
Jouaient de la trompette Were playing the trumpet
Pour le banquet du roi. For the king’s banquet.

13.
Cimetière Cemetery

Si mon marin vous le chassez, If you chase away my sailor,
Au cimetière vous me mettrez, In the cemetery you will put me,
Rose blanche, rose blanche et rose rouge. White Rose, white rose and red rose.
Ma tombe, elle est comme un jardin, My grave, it’s like a garden,
Comme un jardin, rouge et blanche, Like a garden, red and white,
Le dimanche vous irez, rose blanche, On Sundays you will go, white rose,
Vous irez vous promener, You will go for a walk,
Rose blanche et blanc muguet, White rose and white lily,
Tante Yvonne à la Toussaint Aunt Yvonne at All-Saint’s Day
Une couronne en fer peint A wreath of painted iron
Elle apporte de son jardin She brings from her garden
En fer peint avec des perles de satin, Of painted iron with pearls of satin,
Rose rouge et blanc muguet. Red rose and white lily.
Si Dieu veut me ressusciter If God wants to resurrect me
Au Paradis je monterai, rose blanche, To heaven I will rise, white rose,
Avec un nimbe doré, With a golden halo,
Rose rouge et blanc muguet. Red rose and white lily.
Si mon marin revenait, If my sailor were to come back,
Rose rouge et rose blanche, Red rose and white rose
Sur ma tombe il vient auprès, By my grave he comes,
Rose blanche et blanc muguet. White rose and white lily.
Souviens-toi de notre enfance, rose blanche, Remember our childhood, white rose,
Quand nous jouions sur le quai, When we used to play on the dock,
Rose blanche et blanc muguet. White rose and white lily.

14.
La petite servante The little maid

Préservez-nous du feu et du tonnerre, Save us from fire and thunder,
Le tonnerre court comme un oiseau, Thunder runs like a bird,
Si c’est le Seigneur qui le conduit If the Lord is guiding it
Bénis soient les dégats. May the damages be blessed.
Si c’est le diable qui le conduit If the devil is guiding it,
Faites-le partir au trot d’ici. Kick him out of here.

Préservez-nous des dartres et des boutons, Save us from rash and pimples,
de la peste et de la lèpre. From the plague and leprosy.
Si c’est pour ma pénitence que vous l’envoyez, If it’s for my penitence that you send it,
Seigneur, laissez-la moi, merci. Lord, leave it to me, thank you.
Si c’est le diable qui le conduit If the Devil is guiding it,
Faites-le partir au trot d’ici. Kick him out of here.

Goître, goître, sors de ton sac, Goitre, goitre, get out of your bag,
sors de mon cou et da ma tête! Get out of my neck and of my head!
Feu Saint Elme, danse de Saint Guy, St Elmo’s fire, St Guy’s dance,
Si c’est le Diable qui vous conduit If the devil is guiding you,
mon Dieu faites le sortir d’ici. My Lord, make it get out of here.

Faites que je grandisse vite Make it that I grow up fast
Et donnez-moi un bon mari And give me a good husband
qui ne soit pas trop ivrogne Who will not be a drunkard
et qui ne me batte pas tous les soirs. And won’t beat me every night.

15.
Berceuse Lullaby

Ton père est à la messe, Your father is at mass,
Ta mère au cabaret, You mother at the cabaret,
Tu auras sur les fesses You’ll get it on your bum
Si tu vas encore crier. If you cry again.

Ma mère était pauvresse My mother was a poor woman
Sur la lande à Auray In the countryside at Auray
Et moi je fais des crêpes And me, I make crêpes
En te berçant du pied. While rocking you with my foot.

Si tu mourais du croup, Were you to die from laryngitis
Coliques ou diarrhées Colic or diarrhea
Si tu mourais des croûtes Were you to die from the scabs
Que tu as sur le nez, That you have on your nose,

Je pêcherais des crevettes I would go catch shrimps
À l’heure de la marée At tide time
Pour faire la soupe aux têtes: To make head soup:
Y a pas besoin de crochets. There is no need for hooks.

16.
Souric et Mouric Souric and Mouric

Souric et Mouric, Souric and Mouric,
Rat blanc, souris noire, White rat, black mouse,
Venus dans l’armoire Come in the closet
Pour apprendre à l’araignée To teach the spider
À tisser sur le métier How to weave on the loom
Un beau drap de toile. A beautiful linen sheet.
Expédiez-le à Paris, à Quimper, à Nantes, Send it to Paris, to Quimper, to Nantes,
C’est de bonne vente! It’s a good sale!
Mettez les sous de côté, Set the money aside,
Vous achèterez un pré, You will buy a meadow,
Des pommiers pour la saison Apple trees for the season
Et trois belles vaches, And three good cows,
Un boeuf pour faire étalon. A bull to be the stallion.
Chantez, les rainettes, Sing, little frogs,
Car voici la nuit qui vient, Since here comes the night,
La nuit on les entend bien, At night we hear them well,
Crapauds et grenouilles, Toads and frogs,
Écoutez, mon merle Listen my blackbird
Et ma pie qui parle, And my talking magpie,
Écoutez, toute la journée, Listen, all day long,
Vous apprendrez à chanter. You will learn how to sing.

MARTIN HENNESSY (1953-)

17.
Lost Sense
Poem by Constantine Popa, translated by Martin Hennessy with Micaela Ionescu and Carmen Popa

When you left I was born an orphan child.
Now at the height of day,
Light acts out its own tragedy
And moments die
In a womb of time.
The boundless frontiers of your absence plot no expectation!
Desert savages the flesh
Of the garden!

There is no hope that will ripen here again…
Each morning is a door closed shut.
And the journey of life
Beckons no more!

Copyright 1998 Maisie Light Publishing and Martin Hennessy. Used by permission of composer.

CHARLES TOMLINSON GRIFFES (1884-1920)

18.
Thy Dark Eyes to Mine
Op.11, No.2
Poem by Fiona MacLeod

Thy dark eyes to mine, Eilidh
Lamps of desire.
O, how my soul leaps –
Leaps to their fire.
Sure now if I in heaven,
Dreaming in bliss,
Heard but a whisper,
But the lost echo even of one such kiss –
All of the soul of me would leap afar
If that called me to thee
Aye, I would leap afar
A falling star.

19.
The Rose of the Night
Op.11, No.3
Poem by Fiona MacLeod

The dark rose of thy mouth
Draw nigher, draw nigher!
The breath is the wind of the south,
A wind of fire!
The wind and the rose and darkness,
O Rose of my Desire!

Deep silence of the night,
Husht like a breathless lyre,
Save the sea’s thunderous might,
Dim, menacing, dire;
Silence and wind and sea,
They are thee,
O Rose of my Desire!

As a winded dying flame
Leaping higher and higher,
Thy soul, thy secret name,
Leaps thro’ Death’s blazing pyre!
Kiss me,
Imperishable Fire,
Dark Rose,
O rose of my Desire!

20.
Nachtlied Night Song
Text by Emanuel Geibel

Der Mond kommt still gegangen The moon so peaceful rises
mit seinem gold’nen Schein, with all its golden shine,
da schläft in holdem Prangen here sleeps in lovely glitter
die müde Erde ein. the weary earth below.
Und auf den Lüften schwanken And on the breezes waft down
aus manchem treuen Sinn from many faithful hearts
viel tausend Liebesgedanken true loving thoughts by the thousand
über die Schläfer hin. upon the sleeping ones.
Und drunten im Tale, da funkeln And down in the valley, there twinkle
die Fenster von Liebchens Haus; the lights from my lover’s house;
ich aber blicke im Dunklen but I in darkness still look out –
still in die Welt hinaus. silent – into the world.

 
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PETER ILICH TCHAIKOVSKY 

b. May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia d. Nov. 6, 1893, St. Petersburg

It is often written that Tchaikovsky loved his mother with “all the ardor of an acutely-introspective child”; what is known is that when she died of cholera in 1854, the 14-year-old Peter Ilich composed one of his first works, a waltz for piano, in her honor. Eight years later, he entered the newly-founded St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music; in 1865 he became a professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory.

Although his compositions from the late 1860’s to the early 1870’s show an affinity with the music of the Nationalist group of composers in St. Petersburg (both in his treatment of folk song and in harmonies deriving from Glinka), some composers of his day regarded his music as too sentimental and not “Russian” enough. Nonetheless, he became the leading Russian composer of the late 19th century and an especially prolific composer and wrote a wide variety of exquisite orchestral works, art songs, ballet music, and a few operas as well. He died in November 1893, nine days after conducting the initial performance of his Pathetique Symphony.

Tchaikovsky kept his homosexuality a secret and was doomed to live the bulk of his life in frustration and loneliness, alleviated only by composition and occasional heavy drinking. Even the happy summers spent at his sister’s house in the Ukraine were spoiled by an acute sense of guilt when he fell in love with her son, his young nephew Vladimir Davydov. He saw marriage as a possible solution to his sexual problems, and when contacted by a young woman who admired his music, he (after first rejecting her) proposed marriage. The union lasted only a month and was a complete disaster: Tchaikovsky had a nervous breakdown, a possible suicide attempt, and fell into an unconscious state for two days, resulting in a doctor’s order to leave the country. His next relationship was with a wealthy widow named Nadezhda von Meck, also an admirer of his compositions; she stipulated that they should never meet, and the two corresponded solely through letters. Tchaikovsky’s condition continued to decline, however, and in 1890 Nadezhda suddenly ended their correspondence (and the composer’s annuity).

Various theories abound regarding Tchaikovsky’s death. One rumor that circulated at the time was he had committed suicide as a result of the failure of his last symphony, the Pathetique. Another was that he drank a glass of unboiled water during the cholera epidemic then sweeping the city and died of the disease. Scholarship in the second half of the 20th century, however, puts forth two other scenarios: that he underwent a ‘trial’ from a court of honor from his old school regarding his sexual behavior and it was decreed that he commit suicide; or that he was induced to commit suicide (by poisoning) after being accused of a romantic involvement with a male member of the imperial family.

Today Tchaikowski is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time; he is admired for the incredible melodic inspiration of his work, his brilliant orchestral writing, and his romantic and passionate musical sensibility.

REYNALDO HAHN

b. Aug. 9, 1874, Caracas, Venezuela d. Jan. 28, 1947, Paris, France

Reynaldo Hahn went to Paris as a child and later studied at the Conservatoire under Jules Massenet. He was music critic of Le Figaro from 1934 and in 1945 became director of the Paris Opera. His operettas, which were developments of the style established by Jacques Offenbach, include L’Île du Rêve and Ciboulette. He also wrote ballets (such as La Fête Chez Thérèse and Le Dieu Bleu) as well as incidental music for plays by Edmond Rostand, Sacha Guitry, and others.

Hahn’s memoirs are valuable sources for the musical and literary life of the time, and it is very interesting to trace the handling of his homosexuality through the various biographies that have been written about his most prominent lover, the novelist Marcel Proust, whom he was involved with for two years when Proust was 22. (Hahn’s piano suite Portraits de Peintres was inspired by poems of Marcel Proust.) Proust’s biographer George Painter writes with homophobic condescension: “In this pit of Sodom he [Proust] was following his vice, which had begun with love for his equals (Reynaldo [Hahn] and Lucien [Daudet])…” Edmund White, another Proust biographer, writes that the desperate search of Proust’s character Swann for Odette in after-hours Paris is “an echo of Marcel’s own desperate search for his lover Reynaldo Hahn one night in Paris.” Jean Yves Tadié, in his 1986 “Marcel Proust: a Biography,” writes that Proust abandoned his first novel, Jean Santeuil, because he broke off his passionate involvement with Reynaldo Hahn, the young composer for whom he was writing it.

Today Reynaldo Hahn is remembered chiefly for his art songs, several of which remain in the concert repertory. The pieces on this CD are less well-known and show the melodious and graceful nature of his vocal writing.

KAROL MACIEJ SZYMANOWSKI

b. Oct. 6, 1882, Timoshovka, Ukraine d. March 29, 1937, Lausanne, Switzerland

Karol Szymanowski was born into a family that had a deep interest in the arts; his siblings became musicians, poets and painters. He began to compose and play the piano at an early age, and in 1901 he went to Warsaw to study harmony, counterpoint, and composition. He went to Berlin and then Vienna, where he was influenced by the music of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky.

The advent of World War I caused Szymanowski to return to his homeland. Isolated from the European musical community from 1914 to 1917, he composed copiously and studied Islamic culture, the eanly history of Christianity, and ancient Greek drama and philosophy.

His music was championed by Paterewsky, Fitelberg, and especially the pianist Artur Rubenstein, to whom he confided his homosexual nature. The feelings of Polish nationalism that had inspired Chopin and his contemporaries continued through the nineteenth century, exacerbated by the repressive measures taken by Russia. The Russian revolution put an end to Szymanowski’s period of wartime seclusion. The family was compelled to move, for reasons of safety, to Elisavetgrad, and the property at Timoshovka was destroyed by the revolutionaries. In 1919 they moved to Poland, after the proclamation of the new republic.

Szymanowski became deeply interested in the Polish folk idiom and tried to create a Polish national style. He abandoned his atonal vocabulary, instead adopting the tonal language, syncopated rhythms, and winding melodies of the Tatra mountain people from Zakopane. His reputation grew at home and abroad, and in 1927 he took the position of director of the Warsaw Conservatory, which in 1930 became the Warsaw Academy of Music. The remaining years of his life were not easy, without any regular source of income, and he therefore made more public appearances as a performer. Szymanowski’s final years were clouded by illness and he sought an alleviation of the effects of tuberculosis abroad in Davos, Grasse and Cannes, and finally in Lausanne, where he died on 29th March 1937.

Today Szymanowski is recognized as the foremost Polish composer of the early 20th century. The songs on this disc show yet again Szymanowski’s very personal idiom, his poetic vision and his command of harmonic and technical resources.

FRANCIS POULENC 

b. Jan. 7, 1899, Paris, France d. Jan. 30, 1963, Paris, France

Poulenc was born into upper-class comfort, as the only child of one of the founders of what later became the Rhone-Poulenc chemical corporation. He started playing piano at the age of five and began composing a few years later without any formal training; he remained largely self-taught.

Poulenc, like Darius Milhaud, believed in expressing himself fully within the framework of tonality, whether writing a humorous or religious piece. As Hindemith wrote in 1937, “Music, as long as it exists, will always take its departure from the major triad and return to it. The musician cannot escape it any more than the painter his primary colors, or the architect his three dimensions.” Poulenc thus repudiated the stylistic legacy of Richard Wagner, instead seeking inspiration in the anti-Wagnerian modernism of Igor Stravinsky. Both also rejected Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system of musical composition as unhesitatingly as they had turned their backs on Wagner. Poulenc never regarded himself as a great stylistic trailblazer, as he wrote in 1942: “I am well aware that I am not the kind of musician who makes harmonic innovations, like Igor [Stravinsky], Ravel, or Debussy, but I do think there is a place for new music that is content with using other people’s chords. Was this not the case with Mozart and with Schubert? And in any case, with time, the personality of my harmonic style will become evident. Was not Ravel long regarded as nothing more than a minor figure [petit maitre] and imitator of Debussy?”

Poulenc’s most recent biography by Benjamin Ivry (Phaidon Press, 1996) explains how the composer’s great popularity during his own lifetime illustrates a turning point in gay music history. When over one thousand pages of Poulenc’s personal letters and musical sketches were finally released to the public in 1991, they revealed the fundamental conflict which emerged early in his life: brought up as a devout Catholic, he became as a young man a promiscuous homosexual who neither shook off the religious convictions of his childhood nor came fully to terms with his unorthodox sexual appetites. Some writers consider him one of the first “out” composers, as he is said to have openly discussed his sexuality in mixed company and often attended the social gatherings of “Gay Paris” under the arm of a male companion, even during the Nazi occupation of France in WWII; others maintain he lived his life in the closet.

Today Poulenc is admired for his deep understanding of the song as an art form. His songs are admired for their lyricism and for their sensitive integration of vocal line and accompaniment, as is evidenced by the pieces on this disc. Like many of his keyboard works, they range from parody to tragedy to drama, mingling the light, urbane character of 18th-century French keyboard music with 20th-century harmony.

MARTIN HENNESSY 

b. January 3, 1953 in Newtown, PA

Martin Hennessy is an eminent pianist and vocal coach in New York City. His studies at Georgetown University and at the Juilliard School with Samuel Sanders and Marshall Williamson have prepared him for rewarding collaborations with many leading singers. His keen interest in language and poetry, together with his exemplary accompaniments, continue to make him a highly prized recital partner. He has toured extensively through Europe, the United States and Asia with the Bel Canto Trio and the Ambassadors of Opera and he has served on the faculties of the Juilliard American Opera Center and Carlo Bergonzi’s Bel Canto Seminar.

As a composer he has received awards from ASCAP and Meet the Composer and a compact disc featuring seven of his songs, paired with Ned Rorem’s cycle, Women’s Voices can be found on the Newport Classic label (Women’s Voices, NPD 85613). This bears the fruits of a longstanding collaboration with Metropolitan Opera soprano, Heidi Skok. He is a core member of POSITIVE MUSIC, an ensemble of classical musicians in Manhattan furthering an awareness and visibility of AIDS through performance. Recent premiers of his works include Torch Song Sonata for flute, mezzo-soprano and piano at the National Flute Association Convention in New York and Le Virus S’Amuse for solo flute at Dancers Responding to Aids/The Remember Project. Laura Glenn recently choreographed his Vocalise for Soprano and Cello for the White Mountain Dance Festival and his setting of Benjamin Fraser for countertenor, flute, piano, cello and percussion was performed by countertenor John Carden at St. Peters Church in Manhattan. His musical, EDGAR, based on The Tell-Tale Heart of Edgar Allan Poe has been developed and produced by Live Arts Theatre in Charlottesville, VA and will be mounted by the Vital Theater Company in New York City.

Since receiving a positive HIV diagnosis in 1988, Hennessy has forged a creative -spiritual approach in living with HIV. As part of this approach he organizes three-day Enlightenment Residentials with therapists from London’s Helios Centre in which participants explore the question “Who am I?” He is also a recording artist and consultant for www.musacom.com, a pedagogical web site for classical singers. His music is published by Glendower Jones at Classical Vocal Reprints (www.classicalvocalrep.com). Hennessy also has an honors degree in English from Columbia University and he is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc.

CHARLES TOMLINSON GRIFFES

b. Sept. 17, 1884, Elmira, NY, U.S. d. April 8, 1920, New York City, NY

Intending to become a concert pianist, Griffes went to Berlin in 1903 to study piano and composition, but his teacher, Engelbert Humperdinck, turned his main interest toward composition. In 1907 he returned to the United States and took a job as a music teacher at the Hackley School for Boys at Tarrytown, N.Y, living and composing in New York State for the rest of his life. He was not a prolific composer, but his work was of uniformly high quality. Griffes was romantically involved with an Irish police officer, and he died young, at 35.

Although he studied in Germany, he was fascinated by French Impressionist music and is often regarded as one of the most sensitive impressionist tone poets America has ever produced. Characteristically, he wrote with subtle fragility, ambiguous tonality, and a blurring of the distinction between melody and accompaniment.

But Griffes’ magnificent ear for sonority and color took him beyond Impressionism, and he began to integrate more exotic subject matter with Oriental and Russian musical influences into a personal and original idiom. The selections on this disc evidence one of Griffes’ fortes: a fascinating interplay with the voice and piano.

“The performance and the selection of the pieces is excellent.  Congratulations – I thank the artists for making this exceptionally high-quality CD!” – Samuel Adler, Composer

Her voice is very expressive and here interpretation is especially fine – this is a remarkably assured debut…the CD is well-compiled and presented…a perfectly-paced program…I would recommend this disc most enthusiastically to adventurous classical music lovers and people who cherishes the work of gay composers and artists.” – Out on the Town Magazine, June 2001

“Elif Savas has an absolutely profound vocal gift…her clarity, sensitivity, and technique are well suited to the material, and do credit to the composer’s works. All in all the combination of Savas, Hennessy, and the selections included make for a beautiful and thoughtful compilation. This is a great choice to start your classical and or GLBT collection. If you are adding to an existing collection, this CD is a must.” – Stone Wall Society

The lyric translations were moving…I was impressed by the power and emotion of Savas’ vocals…a lovely, rich voice.” – Tim Murphy, Pridepage

A moving, intriguing musical odyssey…her clear voice and powerful expression prove she would be an asset on any stage.” – Kurt von Behrmann, ECHO Magazine

Elif Savas sings beautifully. She possesses a full, womanly soprano and consummate musicianship. Her interpretations of these rarely heard gems are wondrous to hear–at times impassioned, at times playful, at times spontaneous. The Szymanowski presents particular challenges, and she and pianist Martin Hennessy perform with gusto and command. A stunning debut.” – JMM Magazine

Songs From The Age Of The Closet is a beautifully and thoughtfully put together compilation of pieces written by gay classical composers. From the opening moments of Tchaikovskys’ “Otchego” to the final notes of Griffes’ “Nachtlied” the listener is taken on a fantastic dreamlike musical voyage that is only broken by the end of the disc. These selections are sung with great feeling as well as technical prowess by Elif Savas whose incredible dynamic range suits the material perfectly. This is especially true on “Paysage” and “Souric et Mouric”. It is unbelievable that it took this long to issue a disc with this grand a common theme. The result is worth the wait.”- Reviewer from Amazon.com

 

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