Category Archives: Art Song

Episode 62. Gustav Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Music for a World in Crisis VI)



This week I turn to the music of Gustav Mahler, specifically his orchestral settings of poems from the influential collection of folk poetry, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, collected by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published in three separate volumes between 1805 and 1808. The themes of war, death, and humor, the latter often of the grimmest variety, pervades the texts that Mahler set. I present recordings of each of the fifteen orchestrated songs (several of which form movements of three of his symphonies) by such singers as Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Maureen Forrester, Lucia Popp, Brigitte Fassbaender, Irmgard Seefried, Bernd Weikl, Geraint Evans, Walter Berry, and many others, in performances conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Klaus Tennstedt, Wyn Morris, Bernard Haitink, and Adrian Boult. I also include a tribute to the Hungarian baritone István Gáti on the occasion of his 72nd birthday and a commemoration of the Dutch contralto Aafje Heynis on the fifth anniversary of her death. From chaos to transfiguration, Mahler conjures and depicts a world perhaps not far-removed from our own.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.


Episode 61. Margaret Price I: The Voice of Consolation (Music for a World in Crisis V)



Our world seems to be falling apart, both in the personal and in the global sense. I sustained an enormous personal loss this week when my dear friend Fred Berndt, the great German stage director, died suddenly on Friday. But we are all feeling an enormous sense of despair, of hopelessness, even of rage. Even before Fred’s death, I recognized that this episode needed to offer a message of hope to those who are finding it difficult to negotiate the world right now. The voice that has spoken to me most in my sadness is the Welsh soprano Margaret Price (1941-2011), whose distinctively cool yet engaged timbre, scrupulous musicianship, and communicative gifts prove unfailingly capable of conveying comfort and consolation to those who are distressed or grieving. I offer a survey of the career of this exemplary singer, a personal favorite of mine, in a wide range of repertoire including opera, oratorio, and art song. Composers include her specialties Mozart and Verdi, as well as Brahms, Strauss, Schumann, Schubert, Weber, Elgar, and the undervalued British composer Phyllis Tate. Collaborators include Otto Klemperer, Claudio Abbado, John Pritchard, Alain Lombard, Adrian Boult, and her mentor, the pianist and conductor James Lockhart, among many others. I hope that Margaret Price and her voice of consolation bring you much solace.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.


Episode 58. Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder (Music for a World in Crisis IV)



As the worldwide pandemic renews its threat and creates general unrest, panic, anger, and depression, as well as illness and death for so many, we turn as always to music for solace. One of the central pieces that I have always turned to in times of personal turmoil has been Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder. Over the years I have listened to and derived comfort from dozens and dozens of recordings and live performances. In this episode, I feature eight different sopranos, (Elisabeth Söderström, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Edda Moser, Soile Isokoski, Margaret Price, Teresa Żylis-Gara, Lucia Popp, and Sena Jurinac), each of whom makes her mark in a distinctive way on one of the four songs in the series. I also read each of the poems in my own English translation. These performances are supplemented by excerpts from Elektra, Daphne, and Die Ägyptische Helena performed by Rose Pauly, Hilde Güden, Christa Ludwig, and Walter Berry, as well as the world premiere 1985 performance of “Malven,” Strauss’s last completed work, sung by Kiri Te Kanawa; and the Oboe Concerto played by Léon Goossens in its first commercial recording from 1947.  Featured conductors in the episode include Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink, Zubin Mehta, Marek Janowski, Georg Solti, Karl Böhm, Heinrich Hollreiser, Fritz Busch, Alceo Galliera, and Milan Horvat. A bonus episode for my Patreon supporters will feature twelve more of my favorite sopranos, each one singing one of these autumnal Lieder. As we world citizens face the great unknown, these artists help lift our spirits and reorient our perspective.

Links to my previous Music for a World in Crisis episodes:

Episode 26: Calling You

Episode 27: That Time of Evening

Episode 29: A Social Isolation Schubertiade

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.


Episode 57. Francisco Araiza @ 70



On October 4, the great Mexican tenor Francisco Araiza celebrated his 70th birthday. On that day I promised my listeners a full episode on this exceptional artist in the very near future. And here it is! I’m thrilled to trace Araiza’s career path, from his studies with the great soprano Irma González through his early career encounters with Herbert von Karajan. Through the 1980s through the 1990s, Araiza was simply the greatest lyric tenor on the planet. I share live and studio recordings of his nonpareil performances of Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti, and the heroes of the French repertoire through his assumption of heavier repertoire including Verdi, Puccini, Beethoven, and Wagner. Though his critics dubbed these journeys ill-advised, I would argue that Araiza’s singing, always rooted in a very secure technique, in fact followed the natural trajectory of his voice and allowed him to retain vocal health and longevity. I also highlight his deeply-felt Lieder performances, including an exceptional live performance of Schubert’s Winterreise.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 55. Season Two Teaser



This week represents the limbo between the first and second seasons of Countermelody. I have been collating ideas for programs for the coming year and I have some short snippets representing singers and topics that we’ll be encountering there. We begin the episode with Francisco Araiza, who celebrates his 70th birthday on October 4th. And we conclude the episode celebrating the live of Helen Reddy, whose song “I Am Woman” formed the soundtrack to the burgeoning Women’s Movement in the 1970s. In between I present short clips of some of my favorite singers who will be featured in upcoming episodes, including Anita Cerquetti, Alexander Kipnis, Russell Oberlin, Ruby Elzy, Eidé Noréna, Sándor Kónya, Heather Harper, Paul Robeson, Cyndi Lauper, Milada Šubrtová, Carol Brice, John Reardon, Yi-Kwe Sze, Judith Blegen, Charles Cambon, Dory Previn, Donald Gramm, Pierre Bernac, Irmgard Seefried, Lotte Lenya, Dusty Springfield, and many others. This episode is also a thank you to all listen and support the podcast in whatever ways they are able. I can’t wait to bring you the first episode of Season Two next week!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 49. Eileen Farrell (Crossover Classics V)



The American dramatic soprano Eileen Farrell (1920–2002) was one of the finest and most versatile singers the United States has ever produced. Her singing career lasted more than fifty years, and this episode covers the entire chronological range of that career, from her early work as a radio singer in the 1940s to her final pop albums in the 1990s. While the episode focuses on her crossover work (and includes work by, among others, Harold Arlen, Jule Styne, Alec Wilder, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, as heard on two of her lesser-known pop albums with Percy Faith and the late André Previn), we also sample her opera and concert work, with examples from Verdi and Wagner, to Debussy and Charpentier, to Barber and Menotti. A late reunion with her frequent collaborator Leonard Bernstein caps the episode. In all her singing Farrell combines ease of delivery and a relaxed, insouciant response to the words and music with a vocal and interpretive precision that inevitably strikes a bullseye. Bow down to the Queen of Crossover, nay, the Queen of Song!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 48. Cesare Siepi (Crossover Classics IV)



Last month marked the tenth anniversary of the death of the great Italian basso Cesare Siepi, one of the most important basses of the twentieth century, after such figures as Nazzareno de Angelis, Tancredi Pasero, and, particularly, Ezio Pinza, the latter, like Siepi, particularly associated with the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. His dashing good looks, solid technique, sonorous voice and appealing artistry, placed him in the forefront of the opera world, particularly in the 1950s through the 1970s. In this episode, rather than his celebrated Mozart and Verdi portrayals, however, we will focus primarily on his 1958 Decca/London album, Easy to Love: The Songs of Cole Porter. Siepi also made two appearances on Broadway, including 1962’s nearly-forgotten Bravo, Giovanni, from which we hear two excerpts. Other musical selections in this episode include two operatic arias, several favorites from the Neapolitan song repertoire, and live and television performances from Brahms to Sigmund Romberg. Revisiting this artist, and particularly his spot-on Cole Porter performances, is a nostalgic journey for me, and I hope to convey to you his enormous appeal.


Episode 45. Muriel Smith (Crossover Classics I)



For the first of my Black History Month episodes back in February, I did a program featuring the extraordinary artist Muriel Smith, who in 1943, while still a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, created the title role in Oscar Hammerstein II’s Carmen Jones, which used George Bizet’s opera as the springboard for a hybrid musical featuring an all-Black cast. After several other Broadway appearances (including in a revival of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, Muriel Smith moved to London, where she was featured in the “exotic” roles in the London premieres Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I. For several years she was the toast of London, appearing on records, on radio, on television, and in concert, as well as singing Bizet’s gypsy in performances of Carmen at Covent Garden in 1957. Most of the currently extant examples of Smith’s singing are of popular music, which she performed with her unique blend of bel canto precision and pinpoint interpretive accuracy. I have recently gotten my hands on numerous rare 78s of Smith’s mid-1950’s pop records, as well as her 1953 EP, I’m in the Mood for Love, all of which are featured on this episode. I also share examples of her famous turns in musicals, capped with a rare recording of her singing Hugo Wolf’s “Nimmersatte Liebe.” Two excerpts from her 1955 Songs of Christmas 45 render this episode a veritable Christmas in July celebration! Musical guest stars include, among others, Marc Blitzstein, Georges Auric, Harvey Fuqua, Auyar Hosseini, Franz Waxman, Luther Saxon, Martin and Blane, Julian Bream, and the extraordinary Angela Morley.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 44. Gl’amour, Part Deux: The Invaders



Aux armes, citoyens! We have received advance warning that an army of foreigners masking as French speakers are storming the artistic gates, so to speak, and attempting to usurp France’s national artistic identity. Strangely, many of the invaders are operatic tenors, though they are accompanied by a coterie of vivandières singing popular music, all in French, no matter what their native tongues. Last week’s celebration of French glamour is today compromised, sullied, and usurped by all manner of unwelcome albeit glamorous guests, led by the New Zealander Frances Alda and buttressed by the American Eleanor Steber, fresh from celebrating her birthday this past week. Some of these figures masquerade more convincingly as actual French persons, but make no mistake, whether they be deceptive Canadians (Léopold Simoneau, Raoul Jobin, Richard Verreau), interloping Belgians (André d’Arkor), unwelcome Italians (the shocking Franco Corelli, the mysterious Dalida, and the dreaded Mirella Freni), subsersive Spaniards (Miguel Villabella, Alfredo Kraus, Tony Poncet) bullying Brazilians (Elis Regina), sneaky Swedes (Nicolai Gedda), denizens of the dreaded United Kingdom (Stuart Burrows, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Annie Lennox), Germans of nefarious intent (Marlene Dietrich, Daniel Behle), questionable Australians (Albert Lance, traveling incognito), suspicious Russians (Joseph Rogatchewsky), or worst of all, Americans intent on conquest (Barbara Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Barbra Streisand, Muriel Smith, and even the spotlight-stealing Daniel Gundlach), these characters are all intent on destroying France’s language and music and must be thwarted at all costs, no matter how appealing their songs might appear to be. Finally, following the heroic actions of Georges Thill, France re-asserts her right to her own repertoire. But it seems that the damage has been done, for Natalie Dessay, Françoise Hardy, and even the formerly trustworthy Hugues Aufray, now seem only interested in singing American pop songs, albeit in French. All in all, an episode packed with intrigue, deception, and glorious singing!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 40. Sisters in Sappho [Queer Pride I]



The first of my two Queer Pride episodes is devoted to a group of pioneering lesbians in the 1970s and beyond, in both classical and pop music. Two iconic mezzo-sopranos whose careers began in the 1960s and extended through the 1990s are the Greek-American Tatiana Troyanos and Brigitte Fassbaender, daughter of the German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender. I explore the similarities and differences in the repertoire and career paths of these two unique artists, and share examples of them singing repertoire from Handel to Weill, Scarlatti to Penderecki, with particular focus on Fassbaender’s Lieder performances and Troyanos’s work in bel canto. Then I turn to key figures in the Women’s Music Movement of the 1970s, including Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, Margie Adam, Holly Near, and Deidre McCalla, while also paying tribute to those who, in turn, paved the way for them, including Janis Ian, Dusty Springfield, and Ronnie Gilbert. We also acknowledge the work of queer African American singers, including Deidre McCalla, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Toshi Reagon. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these extraordinary artists, who created a world of possibility for their musical and artistic descendants, at the same time setting standards that will stand the test of time. Vocal guest stars include Janet Baker, Ileana Cotrubas, Margaret Price, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Arleen Augér, Cecilia Gasdia, and Reri Grist.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.