Category Archives: Twentieth Century Music

Episode 89. The Radiant Heather Harper



I have dreamed of doing an episode on the great Irish soprano Heather Harper (1930 – 2019) since before I began the podcast. As we we find ourselves in close proximity to both the anniversary of her birth on 8 May 1930 and her death on 22 April 2019, I feel compelled to bring that dream to life. A peerless artist, probably most renowned today for her close collaboration with Benjamin Britten, whose War Requiem she learned ten days before the premiere when the scheduled artist, Galina Vishnevskaya, was refused by the Soviet government to participate in the performance. Her crackerjack musicianship is heard to full advantage in 20th century works by Michael Tippett, Leif Segerstam, Anton Webern, Luigi Dallapiccola, Francis Poulenc, William Walton, and Alban Berg. But her focused, flexible instrument also made her an ideal performer of the Baroque repertoire (we hear her in Purcell, Monteverdi, Cavalli, Bach and Handel). And the surprising stores of power she could summon made her a vital and sympathetic heroine in the operas of Wagner, Mozart, Strauss, and Gounod, as well Britten’s Ellen Orford, of which she was the definitive interpreter. She also excelled in the intimate medium of the Lieder recital. Vocal guest stars include Jessye Norman, Helen Donath, Nicolai Gedda, John Shirley-Quirk, Norman Mittelmann, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and others. Conductors heard include Pierre Boulez, Rudolf Kempe, Colin Davis, Raymond Leppard, Gary Bertini, Meredith Davies, Horst Stein, Anthony Lewis, Carlos Païta, Bernard Haitink, Steuart Bedford, Hans Swarowsky, David Atherton, and Gianandrea Gavazzeni. Fasten your seat belts and settle for an overdue tribute to the dazzling versatility and artistry of the great Heather Harper.

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 88. Jorma Hynninen @ 80: A Celebration in Song



A month ago the great Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen turned 80, and on May 2, his closest collaborator, the Finnish pianist Ralf Gothóni turned 75. We celebrate these two birthdays somewhat belatedly, but no less enthusiastically, with a program comprised primarily of art song, beginning with some choice German Lieder recordings, but ultimately focusing on the songs of their native Finland. We hear Hynninen in performances across the span of his entire career, from 1968 through 2015. Needless to say, their great compatriot Jean Sibelius is foregrounded, but, as is often the case in this country, there are a surprising number of fascinating composers whose work in this genre rewards further exploration. If the music of Oskar Merikanto, Yrjö Kilpinen, Erik Bergman, Selim Palmgren, Fredrik Pacius, Väinö Hannikainen, Taneli Kuusisto, or Toivo Kuula is not familiar to you, prepare to be delighted, surprised, and moved by the depth and variety of their creation. Soile Isokoski also joins the gentlemen in an excerpt from Gothóni’s cantata Der Ochs und sein Hirte. And Hynninen gives further evidence of his versatility with performances of pop standards and tango. Hyvää myöhästynyttä syntymäpäivää, Maestri!

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 86. Cathy Berberian’s Second Hand Songs



I return to Cathy Berberian, Prima Donna of the Avant Garde (or “The Divine Miss B” as she was sometimes called in the mid-seventies) for a further exploration of her career and influence on vocalism in the twentieth century and beyond. This time around I consider her explorations outside of the avant garde, specifically the recital. Based on her 1967 recording of Beatles Arias, the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt invited Cathy Berberian to take part in his groundbreaking 1969 period instrument recording of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. In 1969 Cathy Berberian began to perform recitals that exploited her entire stylistic and vocal range, a program which eventually became known as “From Monteverdi to The Beatles.” In 1971 her ex-husband Luciano Berio wrote a theater piece for her called Recital I (For Cathy), in which she portrayed an increasingly deranged performer who eventually descends into madness. Her interest in Reynaldo Hahn and Marcel Proust eventually led her to create a program entitled À la recherche de la musique perdue. Additional late-career recitals were called Cathy Berberian’s Second Hand Songs and Cathy Sings America. This episode features excerpts from all of those works, as well as a smattering of folk music and a recorded excerpt of her singing the title role of Carmen, a tantalizing prospect which never came to be. The episode also includes a tribute to Kathleen Ferrier, whose 109th birthday was observed this past 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. 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 84. Cathy Berberian, Part I: MagnifiCathy



This episode is the first part of a tribute I have been wanting to create for quite some time. It honors the extraordinary artist and musician Cathy Berberian (1925-1983), the cosmopolitan Armenian-American vocalist who made an indelible mark on contemporary classical music and the public recital. Possessed of an extraordinarily flexible intelligence and sensibility, she influenced an entire generation of composers, including John Cage, Sylvano Bussotti, Henri Pousseur, and, in particular, her one-time husband Luciano Berio. Each of these composers wrote music with Berberian specifically in mind, and Berberian’s input strongly influenced the shape and form that these works assumed. Divorcing Berio in 1964 freed her to pursue her own musical interests, which included her own compositions, a musical friendship with Igor Stravinsky, a burgeoning interest in folk music, and the music of the Beatles. Her 1967 recording of so-called Beatles Arias (titled Revolution in its US release) is a unique document, which both explores the hidden depths of this material, at the same time poking fun at the entire crossover genre. Her daring theatricality and vibrant personality continue to exert an indelible influence that extends far beyond the avant garde. In two weeks I will explore the directions that she pursued in her later career.

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.

Cathy Berberian resources:

Music is the Air I Breathe, a 1994 documentary on Cathy Berberian by the late filmmaker Carrie de Swaan:

Links to audio interviews and performances on CathyBerberian.com.


Episode 83: Frühlingslieder [Spring Songs]



Dear listeners, it is Easter Sunday. While we are strictly non-sectarian at Countermelody, I did want to offer a program of spring favorites to welcome in the earth’s rebirth. (I also had to scramble to create a “filler” episode due to having lost two days of work this week after receiving my first jab on Wednesday.) Hence today’s offering: a Blumenstrauss of songs celebrating the beloved season of spring. I decided to limit today’s selections exclusively to song, omitting opera, operetta, and oratorio, but somewhat arbitrarily including songs from musicals amidst the classical and pop offerings. Even so, what a lineup of stars today: everyone from Mabel Mercer to Jan DeGaetani, from Hans Hotter to Dionne Warwick, from Georgia Brown to Roberta Alexander, from Kirsten Flagstad to Gordon MacRae. We hear composers ranging from Alec Wilder to Franz Schubert, from Milton Babbitt to Burt Bacharach, and from Hugo Wolf to Tom Lehrer. May these songs and songsters help us to welcome in the long-awaited spring!

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 80. Sad Songs (with a twist)



It’s been a year since the pandemic sent us all into various degrees of lockdown, panic, and depression. In certain parts of the world there is no end in sight, while in other parts, medical expertise is being blatantly defied as lockdown measures are carelessly lifted. I did a survey of my friends and listeners this week regarding their favorite sad songs, and I got hit with an avalanche of a wide range of not-happy music. In this episode I am limiting myself to so-called “classical” music. Because the music itself is so heavy, I impersonate (at the top of the episode) a radio announcer for WOKE-FM, a fictional Milwaukee “Top 40 Classical Radio Station,” who is taking calls from all over the world from listeners requesting their favorite sad music. These spurious callers have invariably good taste, and request some glorious music, albeit very sad indeed, by some transcendent performers, including Irmgard Seefried, Maria Callas, Janet Baker, Pierre Bernac, Nan Merriman, Lois Marshall, Peter Pears, and two beautiful French sopranos, Renée Doria and Andréa Guiot, who, at extremely advanced ages, each recently departed this earth. Composers from Dowland, Rameau, and Monteverdi are represented, alongside Poulenc, Schubert, Mahler, Debussy, and Stravinsky. The episode also includes guest vocal appearances by singers, including Cathy Berberian, Magda Olivero, Charles Panzéra, Jorma Hynninen, and Bethany Beardslee, who will receive full-episode treatment in the near future. Ultimately, we return to the atmosphere of a normal Countermelody episode, and are deeply moved by the singers, composers, and music represented.

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.