Category Archives: Singers in Old Age

Episode 181. Nicolai Gedda in Song



Today’s episode is a special request from one of my most dedicated listeners, and one with which I am happy to comply. It is already seven years this month since the death of the great Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda (11 July 1925 – 8 January 2017). One of the most cultivated singers of the twentieth century, Gedda not only had a rock-solid technique and an instantly recognizable timbre, but he was a brilliant musician and a polyglot of the first order, singing a wide range of repertoire and styles in a host of languages. He was also a prolific recording artist. Though he sang an enormous range of operatic roles, in this episode, I have decided to focus entirely on a slightly lesser-known aspect of his career: his work in art song. Gedda was a master of French style, but also celebrated for his performances of Russian music. And one of the three languages he spoke while he was growing up was German, which lends his work in that language a real authenticity as well. In listening to recordings of song repertoire, I was struck by the frequent added spontaneity and commitment of his live versus his studio performances, so the episode features a large number of selections culled from Gedda’s live recitals. Gedda is accompanied by some of the most exceptional pianists of his time: Alexis Weissenberg, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Gerald Moore, Geoffrey Parsons, Dalton Baldwin, Erik Werba, Hermann Reutter, and his compatriot and most frequent collaborator Jan Eyron. Another extraordinary aspect of Gedda’s singing was his longevity. We hear him in songs by Strauss, Berlioz, Schubert, Janáček, Duparc, Grieg, Schumann, Fauré, Respighi, and Gounod, recorded over a period of nearly 40 years. Here is another singer who was active into the twilight of his life and sang into his seventies with both the intimacy and clarion power that were his musical trademarks.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 178. Andrzej Hiolski



This week I have been tantalizing my followers with the promise of a tall, dark, handsome singer who was born on January 1. I shall keep you in suspense no longer: he is the great Polish baritone Andrzej Hiolski, born in Lvov in New Year’s Day 1922 and died in Krakow on 26 February 2000. I have known of Hiolski for years because of his association with the works of the late Krzysztof Penderecki, but I began digging deeper into his legacy a few years ago and was absolutely stunned at what I found: a singer with a near-perfect technique with a powerful voice with a slightly burred timbre characterized by both beauty, range, and subtlety of expression. I have been collecting his recordings for a few years now and have featured him at every possible opportunity on the podcast, including twice already in the current season. But this episode is devoted entirely to him and it may well serve, strange as it may seem for an artist who is so revered and treasured in his native country, as an introduction for many of my listeners to one of the great baritone voices of the twentieth century. The episode features recordings and performances, many of them exceedingly rare, ranging over more than 50 years, and includes music by Verdi, Wagner, Schubert, Mahler, Bach, Leoncavallo, Mozart, Tosti, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, and Giordano, but also a generous helping of music by Hiolski’s compatriots, including Karol Szymanowski, Frédéric Chopin, Augustyn Bloch, Mieczysław Karłowicz, Stanisław Moniuszko, Tadeusz Baird, Tadeusz Szeligowski, as well as, of course, Penderecki. Guest vocalists include the supercharged Greek-American mezzo Tatiana Troyanos and the delectable Polish soprano Alina Bolechowska, as well as the venerable Polish bass Adamo Didur, an early mentor of Hiolski’s. who now joins company with Jorma Hynninen and Gérard Souzay in the triumvirate of my favorite baritones of all time!

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.

 


Episode 177. Great Singers at Twilight



For the last episode of 2022, I begin a series of episodes which was one of the reasons I began Countermelody in the fall of 2019: a celebration of great singing from great singers in the late years of their lives and careers. In the early years of the recording industry, a long-retired artist such as Adelina Patti would consent to leave recorded documents of their voices for future generations to experience. Oftentimes a cherished artist will make a guest cameo appearance at an important event (think of Leontyne Price coming out of retirement at age 74 and singing “God Bless America” at the September 30, 2001 memorial concert at Carnegie Hall). Other times, artists like Johnny Mathis, Regina Resnik, or Helen Donath, simply never retire, but continue to bestow their artistry upon us decade after decade. Sometimes, as is the case of Lotte Lenya, a performer finds herself later in her life on a mission which demands that she resume performing, in Lenya’s case, as a means of securing the musical legacy of her late husband Kurt Weill. There is also, in the case of someone like Alberta Hunter or Elisabeth Welch, the thrill of a jazz or pop artist at the end of her life experiencing a career resurgence at the end of a long life. In the classical world, artists late in their lives can still give extraordinary performances of art song, which makes fewer demands on their voices than taxing operatic roles, while allowing full display of their deepened artistry and experience. There are also operatic roles specifically designed for the more mature artist: roles like Schigolch in Lulu, or the Countess in Pique-Dame, among many others, which are sampled here in performances by Hans Hotter and Rita Gorr, respectively. There are also those rare and exceptional artists who are able to perform movingly even into their nineties, like the Ukrainian bass Mark Reizen, or the verismo soprano Magda Olivero; or after having suffered catastrophic physical setbacks, like the German tenor Karl Erb, the African American baritone Robert McFerrin, or the pop icon Joni Mitchell. These artists (along with many others) and this topic seems deeply appropriate as 2022 draws to a close and we look forward to the inevitable challenges, the blank slate, the looming horizon, of the year to come.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 149. Music Black and Queer



Over the course of history, for Persons of Color who also happen to be queer, the interface between these two populations is sometimes an enormously challenging one, but one which also frequently produces path-breaking musical artists of enormous courage and originality. In celebration of Juneteenth this coming weekend, and as a follow-up to my Queer Blues episode published last year, I once again pay tribute to an extraordinary array of Black and Queer musical artists across a wide spectrum of popular musical styles, be it Blues, jazz. middle-of-the-road pop, musicals, rock ‘n’ roll, disco, and folk. Artists represented include Billy Strayhorn, Billie Holiday, Johnny Mathis, Tracy Chapman, Mabel Mercer, Joan Armatrading, Nona Hendryx, Sylvester, Joséphine Baker, Jackie Shane, Carmen McRae, Billy Preston, Esquerita, and Carolyn Franklin, Michael R. Jackson, the 2022 Tony Award winner for A Strange Loop, is introduced by my dear friend the theater scholar David Savran, who describes what makes this piece and its creator so daring and original.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 95. Queer Blues and Beyond (Pride 2021)



For my second Queer Pride episode this month, I offer you a panoply of blues and other popular music sung by women of color over the past 100 years and over a wide range of the LGBTQ spectrum. The focus is on the queer and bisexual women of color who enlivened the Harlem blues scene in the 1920s, including the newly popular and celebrated Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, as well as other vital and iconoclastic singers of that era, including Bricktop, Lucille Bogan, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Hegamin, and the fascinating Gladys Bentley. The net is further extended to include jazz (Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington), pop, rock ‘n’ roll (Big Mama Thornton), gospel (Sister Rosetta Tharpe), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Joséphine Baker), soul (Carolyn Franklin) and folk (Joan Armatrading, Meshell Ndegeocello, Toshi Reagon, and Laura Love). Of course in this episode the musical categories are as flexible as are the sexual and gender boundaries, so expect to see a lot of genre-hopping as well among these subversive, innovative, and pathbreaking women of color.

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 21. Charles Holland (Black History Month II)



Today’s episode, the second in my Black History Month series, is a tribute to the extraordinary African American tenor Charles Holland (1909-1987) whose career spanned more than four decades. Early appearances as a vocalist with the band of Luther Henderson and the Hall Johnson Negro Choir led to his Hollywood film debut and to appearances on the Broadway stage. In 1949, frustrated with the lack of career opportunities for an African American tenor, Charles Holland departed for Europe, where he enjoyed a distinguished career. Late in his life he experienced an extraordinary career resurgence through an association with American conductor Dennis Russell Davies, which led to his belated Carnegie Hall solo recital debut in 1982 at the age of 73, as well as serving as the inspiration for Laurie Anderson’s surprise 1981 pop hit, O Superman. Musical excerpts include live and studio recordings over more than 40 years and a wide swath of genres.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories 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 also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com