Category Archives: Mezzo Madness

Episode 78. Twentieth Century Pioneers (Black History Month 2021 VI)



To round off #BlackHistoryMonth2021, I bring you an array of artists singing a wide range of 20th Century repertoire. Included are singers who have previously been featured in full episodes (including Lawrence Winters, Gloria Davy, Charles Holland, and Carol Brice), legendary favorites (including Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Roberta Alexander, and Barbara Hendricks), important concert singers (including Adele Addison and Betty Allen), lesser-known artists (including Helen Thipgen, Martha Flowers, William Pearson, Mareda Gaither, and Olive Moorefield), and iconic singers (including Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and Christiane Eda-Pierre) for whom important new work was created by Judith Weir, André Previn, and Charles Chaynes. The range of composers represented is equally vast and includes Leonard Bernstein, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Virgil Thomson, Michael Tippett, Lee Hoiby, Shulamit Ran, Gian Carlo Menotti, Judith Weir, Paul Bowles, Lukas Foss, and David Del Tredici. with special attention given to African American composers Margaret Bonds, Howard Swanson, William Grant Still, Hall Johnson, and Robert Nathaniel Dett. In other words: something for everyone and just a foretaste of future Countermelody programs that will continue to celebrate the contributions of African American singers.

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. 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 including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my 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 74. Lucretia West (Black History Month 2021 II)



The great African American contralto Lucretia West, born on 13 November 1922, is one of the great singers of German Lieder in general and of the music of Gustav Mahler in particular. Though she occasionally appeared in her native country, the majority of her life and career was spent in Germany. She was a favorite of some of the greatest conductors of the 1950s and 1960s, including Hans Knappertsbusch, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Carl Schuricht, and Hermann Scherchen. Her collaborations with them are all featured in this episode. Her recorded legacy is not large, but it is impressive, and includes releases of Schubert Lieder and two albums of spirituals which are among the most significant contributions to that genre. Though she did not sing much opera, I did uncover a 1958 recording with Ferdinand Leitner of Carl Orff’s realization of Claudio Monteverdi’s Orpheus, in which she sings the role of La Messaggera (Die Botin in Orff’s German-language version). All of her work reveals a singer of enormous expressivity and makes an interesting contrast with that of her near-contemporary, Carol Brice.

I had originally intended to post this extra episode as a bonus for my Patreon supporters, but I decided that all of my Black History Month episodes should be available to all interested listeners, whether they are Patreon subscribers or not. Please enjoy, and please pass on the word to all persons who might enjoy learning more about some of the lesser-known African American singers of past generations. And, if you are so inspired, please do consider becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon. I’m so happy that you are here to join in the celebration of this magnificent artist!

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. 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 including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my 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 73. Carol Brice (Black History Month 2021 I)



Countermelody’s Black History Month celebration for 2021 begins with the great African American contralto Carol Brice (1916-1985) who had a distinguished and varied career singing everything from Bach to Harold Arlen. I first heard Carol Brice many years ago in her recording of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” which exemplifies all her musical virtues: simplicity and directness of utterance, lack of sentimentality, and deep identification with both text and music. Add to this a voice of such depth and refinement and a technique so secure that she is almost without equal. From her early career outings as the first African American to win the coveted Naumburg Award, through her appearances on the Broadway stage and in Porgy and Bess, Carol Brice brought an emotional honesty to her performances such as is rarely encountered in any field of genre. On this episode I feature her in a wide range of live and commercial recordings from Marc Blitzstein’s Regina to concert pieces by Brahms and Mahler, focusing in particular on a matchless 1947 song recital with her brother Jonathan Brice as her collaborator. I also feature her husband, the baritone Thomas Carey in a pair of recordings. I hope you will be as moved by Carol Brice’s singing as I am every time I hear this radiant artist.

This week’s bonus episode for my Patreon supporters features another great African American contralto, Lucretia West, who spent a significant portion of her life and career in Germany, where she was celebrated for her performances of Mahler and Lieder in particular.

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. 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 including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my 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 69. Voiceless Wonders: An Introduction



Some of the greatest singers in history are not necessarily the most vocally-gifted. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of episodes devoted to such artists. I consider singers across many genres: recitalists (Pierre Bernac, Madeleine Grey, Povla Frijsh, Jane Bathori), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Noël Coward, Julie Wilson, Barbara, Lotte Lenya), musicals (Fred and Adele Astaire, Chita Rivera), pop music (Bob Dylan, Lou Reed), jazz (Billie Holiday, Alberta Hunter), actors (Audrey Hepburn, Melina Mercouri, Judi Dench, Hildegard Knef, Divine), and even comedians (Dody Goodman, Bourvil), with special focus on a few of the voiceless tenors who hold a special place in my heart (Hugues Cuenod, Karl Erb, Helmut Krebs, Julius Patzak). At the end, I feature two aging icons (Marlene Dietrich and Joséphine Baker) in unforgettable live performances of two protest songs that are painfully relevant at this moment in time. Composers include Alec Wilder, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Franz Schubert, Stephen Sondheim, Francis Poulenc, Abel Meeropol, Claude Debussy, Kander and Ebb, Pete Seeger, Carl Orff, Manos Hadzidakis, Fats Waller, Maurice Ravel, and Rudolf Sieczyński. Please join me for this very special episode. But prepare yourselves for an emotional wallop.

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 including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my 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 68. Margaret Marshall, Songbird



Welcome to 2021 chez Countermelody! Today’s episode is a birthday tribute to the splendid Scottish soprano Margaret Marshall, who was born on 4 January. Since she burst upon the scene in the late 1970s, she has been a favorite of lovers of great singing. Her timbre, artistry, and technical facility evoke comparisons with many treasured singers of the past. Though she retired from public performance in 2005, this past year, in tandem with her daughter Nicola and a group of dedicated supporters, she launched a website called Songbird, which focuses on the early years of her career, and which features many rare soundclips, both live and studio, from that period, many of which have been assembled into a new downloadable release entitled “Margaret Marshall Songbird.” Today’s episode features a wide range of her live and studio recordings, including a few samples from the Songbird release. Included are works by Galuppi, Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, Gluck, Elgar, Finzi, Richard Strauss, and Alban Berg in recordings and performances between 1975 and 1990, with collaborators including conductors Neville Marriner, Riccardo Muti, John Eliot Gardiner, Vittorio Negri, Charles Groves, Antal Doráti, Philip Ledger, and Rafael Kubelik and fellow singers Ann Murray, Francisco Araiza, Alfreda Hodgson, and Sesto Bruscantini. Compiling this episode has provided my ears and spirit with many blissful hours; I wish my listeners the same experience! Many thanks to both Margaret and Nicola for providing advice and guidance in the selection of today’s material, and many happy returns to the “Scottish supersoprano”!

Link to the Margaret Marshall Songbird website: www.margaretmarshallsongbird.com

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 67. Good Bye 2020 (and Good Riddance!)



Is there anyone out there who will not be relieved to bid farewell to 2020, this annus horribilis? I know I’ll be delighted to kick its ass out the door. How to make any sense of this year of pandemic, panic, political shenanigans, poverty, racial injustice, climate disaster and general global upheaval? I have no answers, except to return to music. The episode begins with a mini-tribute to Broadway great Rebecca Luker, who lost her hard-fought against ALS on December 23rd. Then I return to the year 1935, since, as I discovered as I was preparing my mom’s birthday episode a couple weeks ago, so many interesting musicians were born in that year. Some of those artists are still with us, others died some time ago, while still others were among the many casualties of 2020. I take a journey through the composers (Arvo Pärt, Aulis Sallinen, Nicholas Maw, Peter Schat, Josep Soler, Giya Kancheli, and Peter Schickele [aka P.D.Q. Bach]) and singers (Helga Pilarczyk, Sherrill Milnes, Dominic Cossa, Arlene Saunders, Albert Remedios, and Teresa Berganza) born in that year, and conclude with those beloved artists Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti (both of whom were also born in 1935) in an extended excerpt from a live 1975 performance of La bohème, that exemplifies near-perfection, operatically speaking. Let’s “tak a cup o’ kindness yet” at the passing of this challenging year as we also look forward to a new year better in every imaginable way than its predecessor!

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.

Links to related Countermelody episodes:

Episode 64: Jorma Hynninen in Opera (Features the baritone in several operas by Aulis Sallinen): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-64-jorma-hynninen-in-opera

Two episodes in memory of Mirella Freni:

Episode 25: Freni on the Fringe (Freni sings unexpected repertoire): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-25-freni-on-the-fringe-mirella-in-memoriam-ii

Episode 24: Freni in Duet (Freni with various distinguished partners): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-24-freni-in-duet

And three episodes devoted to great artists that we have lost recently:

Episode 59: In Memoriam Rosanna Carteri: www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-59-rosanna-carteri

Bonus Episode 5: In Memoriam Christiane Eda-Pierre (available to my Patreon subscribers at any level of support): www.patreon.com/posts/42459803

Episode 15: Hail and Farewell (a tribute to all the great musicians who died in 2019): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-15-hail-and-farewell

 


Episode 66. Christmas (Art) Songs



In preparation for the upcoming holiday, this week I offer a cross-section of art songs and arrangements of folk songs, not only from Germany, which is the epicenter of the Christmas Lied, but also France, Norway, the United States, Finland, England, and Spain The performers, recorded between 1927 and 2010, include Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Régine Crespin, Hermann Prey, Claudia Muzio, Elly Ameling, Marian Anderson, Ian Partridge, Karl Erb, Wolfgang Anheisser, Jan DeGaetani, Jorma Hynninen, Bernarda Fink, Olaf Bär, Susan Dunn, Kathleen Ferrier, and Bernard Kruysen, among many others, in songs by composers including, in part, Johannes Brahms, Joaquín Nin, Hugo Wolf, Peter Warlock, Claude Debussy, Charles Ives, and Paul Hindemith. The episode features several performances by my teacher, the esteemed accompanist John Wustman, who on Christmas Day celebrates his 90th birthday.

Links to my 2019 Christmas episodes:

Episode 13: Christmas with the Tenors (including everyone from Fritz Wunderlich to Georges Thill to Roland Hayes): www:countermelodypodcast.com/episode-13-christmas-with-the-tenors

Episode 14: Christmas Potpourri (including my choices for the six most depressing pop Christmas songs ever!):  www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-14-christmas-potpourri-ii-hard-try

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 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 60. The Bach Aria Group (Full-Figured Baroque I)



Today’s episode, dedicated to historical performances of Johann Sebastian Bach, is the first in an ongoing series I have dubbed “Full-Figured Baroque.” It begins with a bang with the great Canadian soprano Lois Marshall rocketing her way through the opening salvos of “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” an apt way to celebrate the US election outcome after a week of even greater anxiety than usual. I describe my love for old-fashioned Bach performance, and why it still speaks to us in a genuine and elevating manner. In particular, I foreground the early years of the Bach Aria Group, founded in 1946 by the American philanthropist and collector William H. Scheide. All the singers in this episode (including Lois Marshall) performed under the aegis of this ensemble, either as members or featured guests: Eileen Farrell, Maureen Forrester, Richard Lewis, Norman Farrow, Mack Harrell, William Warfield, and Jennie Tourel. Many of the great instrumentalists associated with the group are heard in duet with these singers, including Robert Bloom, Samuel Baron, and Bernard Greenhouse. The episode ends with that most radiant of singers, Eleanor Steber, also an occasional guest of the Bach Aria Group in a fleet but full-voiced outpouring of celebratory coloratura.

YouTube Link to the documentary about the Bach Aria Group referenced in the episode:

A Time for Bach (1948)

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 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!