The Heart Of The Breath by Alison Mary Sutton
Reviewed by Jenna Brown, November 2023
The Heart of the Breath is a clear and concise introduction to how the principles of optimal breathing for singing can be applied in singing voice rehabilitation and beyond. It is the first in a new series of books on vocal health and rehabilitation. With excellent practical examples, presented in the form of a case study, this is a book that guides readers through both the science and artistry of breathwork. The design makes the material accessible for all readers, including those who may be new to singing teaching and those who want to take first steps in exploring working with injured singers or those facing vocal challenges.
The case study is at the heart of this book and is prefaced by an autobiographical introduction. This first chapter outlines the author’s personal background in singing and singing teaching and gives deep insight into her motivations for writing this book. It sets the scene well, conveying the author’s values of care and compassion that encapsulate her person-centred approach. I particularly enjoyed the personal perspectives in this book, both the author’s and the quotes from the case study. They added an interesting dimension, not often seen in books like this, and I immediately connected with the material.
The case study illustrates several techniques for rehabilitating a singer with Muscle Tension Dysphonia. I welcomed the focus on Contemporary Commercial Music, rather than Western Classical singing, which so often forms the basis of vocal pedagogy texts. In this case study we are first given an overview of the singer’s background, diagnosis and the rehabilitation plan. This includes references to repertoire used enabling the reader to better understand the genre and particular challenges faced by this vocalist. These musical references would also provide interesting resources for anyone seeking repertoire when working with a client facing similar issues in this area of singing. Explanation of the diagnosis was accompanied by endoscopy images. I found these images particularly useful. However, it would have been
helpful for the images of a healthy larynx and one with Muscle Tension Dysphonia to have been printed side by side for ease of comparison. This is a minor quibble and needless to say the anatomical and physiological explanations given throughout are detailed and precise.
As we are guided through four core rehabilitation sessions and a snapshot of subsequent follow up sessions, bespoke illustrations by Meg Pike help to ensure that the reader is anatomically and physiologically oriented, helping to make deeper sense of the written explanations. The exercises are outlined so that one could immediately put them into practice, and I enjoyed trying out the techniques on myself to gain a sense of how they might benefit my clients. Supplementary audio clips made this practical application even easier by giving examples of the exercises in use during the rehabilitation session. Access to these was through a simple YouTube link to the author’s page. In particular, I found the connections to Vinyasa Yoga insightful, particularly the Ujjay breath. For readers with an interest in various forms of bodywork for singers, this book would be an invaluable resource helping to connect body, breath and voice through a focus on the second of these.
Throughout discussion of each rehabilitation session, ‘Timeout’ sections interject to provide a deeper analysis of certain areas, for example on the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). These not only contextualise the exercises presented, but also give readers who may be less familiar with vocal anatomy a chance to build their knowledge in easily digestible, bitesize commentaries. Following the detailed and systematic descriptions of each rehabilitation session, summaries outline the post session practice routine, giving the reader instruction into how to structure a programme of sessions.
I enjoyed that this book is not just about the science of vocal rehabilitation. There are some excellent links between artistry and performance, such as in the chapter on regulating diaphragmatic action in singing. The author also makes reference to imagery, a mainstay of many singing teacher’s craft, and connects this with the functional exercises in a way that further adds to the relatability and accessibility of the material.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in voice rehabilitation, as well as those who would like to gain a deeper connection with breathwork as a singing teacher. It is a book for singers and teachers of all genres and indeed many of the exercises would also be applicable for those of us working with spoken voice users. Although a book about the breath, it presents tools that can be integrated into a holistic approach to the voice, considering a range of other important issues. I believe this is a book that readers will continually reference throughout their practice and I eagerly await the next title in the series.
Published by Compton Publishing: https://www.comptonpublishing.co.uk/The-Heart-of-the-Breath-epub.php
Trinity College London: Singing Exam Pieces from 2023 (Initial-Grade 8)
Reviewed September 2023
Trinity College London have not always had a strong output of vocal publications. However, this has changed in recent years and the solid series of books accompanying the 2018-2022 syllabus have now been refreshed, but not replaced. Unlike instrumental colleagues, vocal syllabus updates are usually just that, as opposed to wholesale replacement. These books do signal a welcome refresh for teachers and a useful resource for those starting their teaching journey and building a library.
There are a couple of key changes to the syllabus that vocal teachers should be aware of: 1) List A songs (Opera, Oratorio and Musical Theatre) can now be performed in any key, more on that later; 2) The sight-reading requirements have had a significant been update, which will be explored in a separate review; 3) The syllabus updates are more additions than replacement, so most of the repertoire from previous volumes is still valid.
The books are all well presented and easy to read. As with any volume like this, more experienced teachers may find some repetition from other anthologies, but there is a breadth of variety across the board. It is good to see songs from different cultures, and a large output of female composers featured, alongside more established repertoire. Even teachers with creaking bookshelves will find some material that is not easily available elsewhere – do be aware, though, that there is a little repetition from the previous set of books. I do have a personal gripe, across all of the exam boards, and not reserved to Trinity, that much repertoire featured in the early grades is aimed at younger children. It would be good to see a little consideration given to the inexperienced adult learner, although admittedly a much smaller proportion of students.
The upper graded musical theatre choices are largely sound, and offer a good breadth between legit and contemporary. The choice to offer songs in multiples keys is excellent from an inclusivity point of view and there are welcome contemporary musical theatre options such as ‘So Big, So Small’ and ‘She Used To Be Mine’ (to name but a few) – but in my opinion songs like this, alongside many classical counterparts, lose their impact if performances stray too far from the original key. The classical repertoire offers a good variety across modern European languages and styles, but only really features songs. Perhaps the lack of inclusion of any opera, oratorio or operetta in the upper grade song books was a missed opportunity. It would also have been nice to have a few repertoire choices aimed at the high-level treble – but again, this is a personal hobby horse of mine!
Overall, this is a solid set of books and a strong addition for the Trinity syllabus, offering teachers a great deal of flexibility in the repertoire paths through these exams.
Sibelius Zwei Lieder Opus 65
Review by Nicki Kennedy, June 2022
A pair of delightful mixed a cappella part-songs by Sibelius are presented by Breitkopf & Härtel. They were first published by the same company in September 1912. The first of the pieces, “Män från slätten och havet”, was deemed to be somewhat challenging for the choir tasked with the first performance and a string accompaniment had to be made. The second has an interesting tale, the melody being composed for daily playing on the small carillon installed in the new church of the district of Kallio in Helsinki, with a poem being supplied later to be sung with the melody. The text was not supplied to the publishers until three months after the melody. The choral version begins with unison male voices singing the melody of the carillon without harmony in an evocative rendition followed by a short and very simply harmonised hymn-like verse.
The edition is well presented and clear, with useful information and the texts and translations supplied, making the pieces more accessible.
Aside from some inconsistencies in the dynamic signalling and in the underlay of text, with lower voice parts being denied the text in their part on occasion, the edition makes for clear and easy reading. It is surprising to note a few rookie errors from such a publishing house, including some unnecessary crescendo marks in silent bars for the sopranos and altos. Perhaps a suggested tempo might also be a useful addition to the score.
However, to a choir who have an interest in the Finnish composer or music from Nordic territories this would indeed make a charming addition to a programme.
Antonín Dvořák’s Biblical Songs Op. 99
Review by Christopher Goldsack, June 2022
Bärenreiter has recently published a new critical edition of Antonín Dvořák’s Biblical Songs Op. 99. Originally conceived for alto voice, the new edition is available in two keys, one in transposition for high voice. The songs themselves are also frequently performed by male voices, and the first performance of Dvořák’s orchestrated version was indeed performed by a baritone.
Dvořák wrote numerous songs, of which his Gypsy Songs are perhaps the best known in Britain. The Biblical Songs were his last major foray into the genre, written in March 1894 as he was coming to the end of his first successful sojourn in the New World, where he was as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, in New York. They are Psalm settings in Czech, with texts drawn from the “Kralice” Bible – the first translation of the Bible directly into the Czech language from Hebrew. This version of the Bible was roughly contemporaneous with the King James Bible, and the language is now considered equally rich but likewise a little archaic. Dvořák, himself, was intensely religious and once told Brahms that he read the from the Bible every day. The songs perhaps inspired or served as a model for Brahms as he composed his Four Serious Songs to biblical texts, just two years later.
Like the Brahms settings, Dvořák’s songs are serious and reflective, but do become generally more uplifting as the set progresses – the final song being the only genuinely joyful setting. In contrast to the Brahms songs, however, these are shorter and more intimate, and there are ten in the collection. Dvořák is recorded as saying that he found the Czech language very difficult to set. He complained of the frequency in Czech of words having many syllables, with the stress always on the first. He implied that he found it difficult to find melodies that would fit the rhythms of the language. Nevertheless, in the Biblical Songs his word setting is considered admirable. The texts of the Psalms have no rhyme or metric structure, and Dvořák set the rhythms almost as natural speech. The effect is beautiful and full of fervour. The songs were immediately praised for their declamation by critics. Some of the songs are very simple, others employ rich and chromatic harmonies, yet none of them makes great technical demands on either the singer or the pianist.
When Dvořák sent the songs to his publisher, Simrock, in Berlin, he called them “the best of his works in this genre.” Publication was delayed in part because the publisher felt that the proposed German translation could not be made to fit the notes adequately, to which the composer replied: “every good musician who is sensible can adapt the notes to the text.” Dvořák had sent his manuscript to Simrock with only the Czech text set. The solution proposed by the publisher, and sanctioned by Dvořák, was to have a separate line for the German translation – which also served for an English translation. True to his word, whilst maintaining the melodic structure, the composer made considerable changes to the rhythms as he fitted the texts of the translations to the melodic line. In contrast to his feelings about the Czech language, he once wrote that “English is admirably suited to musical composition.”
With their sacred origins, these songs have perhaps fallen out of fashion in Britain, and the Czech language might also make them a little inaccessible to students and audiences. However, the translations were sanctioned, and the prosody was overseen, by the composer himself, so singers really need not feel it is inappropriate to sing them in translation. They are indeed richly beautiful and profound songs, and do work well in the translations.
The first Bärenreiter edition of the Biblical Songs had put all the languages onto one stave. With the different word settings required by the three languages, this was a confusing choice. The new edition, with David R. Beveridge as editor, has returned to the clarity of the Simrock first edition, using a second stave. In contrast to the Simrock edition, however, the first translated language is now English. As one would expect from a Bärentreiter Urtext edition, the score is admirably clear to read, and the scrutiny to detail is evident. There is an historical appraisal of the songs, and at the end, there is an exhaustive listing of the scholarly changes made by the editor. For the pianist, page turns are sympathetically chosen. The English translations, by one Natalia Macfarren, are the same as were originally published by Simrock, which were based closely on the King James Bible. This seems an elegant and appropriate choice. If there is one strange choice made by the editor, it is that he sets the texts out at the start of the volume, as is customary, with the three languages in columns, side by side – however, the translated texts offered are just the singing translations. It would have been so much more useful and illuminating to English or German-speaking students of the songs, wanting to sing them in the Czech, to have literal translations in modern-day prose, following the meaning of the Czech text as closely as possible with no literary pretence.
Vocal Aerobics: A 40-week Workout for Developing, Improving and Maintaining Vocal Technique by J. Mark Baker
Review by Rachel Sherry, April 2022
This is a daily programme of exercises and instruction for the voice over 40 weeks, supported by audio examples available for download or streaming via a unique access code on the title page. These examples can be adjusted for both tempo and key and allow the setting of loop points, making the sound files a valuable and flexible resource. The introduction suggests that the programme can be used both by beginner and more experienced singers as well as voice teachers and choral directors, whether the programme is followed on a daily basis or as a book to dip into as required.
Can anyone learn to sing from a book? As teachers, we know exactly what we mean when we give a direction, verbally or in writing, but that is no guarantee that it is understood the way it is meant! Herein lies the potential problem with such a book, where some directions are presented without qualification, although to be fair, much is clearly explained. In this volume, the text is generally lucid, with good physical advice, for example in consonant and most vowel formation, together with hints on monitoring activity and possible pitfalls. Explanations are largely clear when introducing concepts like open and closed vowels, continuant sounds together with voiced and unvoiced consonants. The recorded examples provide further clarification.
Although the book says nothing about the style of singing it teaches, the introduction recommends a 'balanced' (simultaneous) onset and the frequent reiteration that the larynx needs to be low and exercises such as a 'yawn-sigh' place it in a western classical genre. Will everyone agree with the need for a low laryngeal position, exactly what constitutes 'low' or whether we actually mean 'yawn' or a 'pre-yawn' manoeuvre, and if so, how much? In the introduction, the notion of a yawn is tied up with the idea of an open throat. 'Do you feel the back of your tongue descending?' [on yawning] is certainly likely but could encourage tongue depression given there is no further explanation or caveat. Not all vocal pedagogues will concur with the assertion that 'In truth, adult singers have only two vocal registers, head voice......and chest voice' The direction on day 1, week 1 that 'when you've contracted your stomach muscles as much as you can, your lungs should be fairly empty' for example would benefit from greater clarity, at week 3 the term 'support' ('take a good low breath, support the hiss as you exhale') is introduced, presumably with the assumption that we all know and mean the same thing. In week 2, I thought the phrase that for an EE vowel 'lips and teeth assume a smiling position' could be taken to mean a cheesy grin! IPA symbols are not used in the book, and whilst this may help those unfamiliar with IPA, it makes little allowance for the way a particular accent might change pronunciation of a vowel, especially UK ones. These are a few examples of directions and statements I thought could be open to misinterpretation for someone working alone or with a teacher whose approach may be at odds with some of the statements contained within.
Putting aside the reservations above, there is much to recommend in the carefully planned, incremental exercises, encompassing virtually every aspect of singing. I liked the many exercises for a particular vowel and precise changes of vowel with the same set of consonants. Clarity and variety of consonants are covered. Range, articulation, flexibility, breath management, rhythm, intonation, dynamics, expression, interpretation and more are covered, and the pieces (one every 8 weeks) are combined with useful practice tips and further exercises pertinent to the song's characteristics and potential pitfalls. These tips can be applied in other songs too, encouraging independent learning. The more I looked at this book, the more I warmed to it for its thoroughness and accessibility.
In conclusion, whilst not everyone will agree with some of the assertions made in the book, it is a resource that I think many teachers will find valuable in supporting student development.
Published by Hal Leonard. Visit musicroom.com to find out more
How to Practise Music by Andrew Eales
Review by Rachel Sherry, March 2022
This small (sized between A5 and A6), concise 80-page guide to practice, in the widest sense of the word, packs a punch. It carries a foreword by Paul Harris, who has himself written influentially on the subject. Eales' book is laid out in 50 sections, focusing on the crucial issue – how can any musician, whatever their instrument or preferred genre, practise more effectively? There is a little reference to research, and it is clear the author is familiar with many ideas informing current thinking. This publication is full of accessible, supportive, imaginative, wise practical advice and strategy for today's learner, gleaned from Eales' many years as a music educator. The book is divided into seven main sections, 'How to Be Motivated', How to Plan Your Practice', 'How to Warm Up', 'How to Practise Core Skills', 'How to Practise Pieces', 'How to Practise Mindfully', and finally, 'How to Practise Playing'. The sub-sections in each category are packed with practical ideas, for example in the 'How to Plan Your Practice' section, subjects covered go beyond advice on structuring what is done in the time available and include relevant contemporary topics like 'Consideration for Neighbours' and 'Using Practice Apps'. The book ends with a section on 'Getting Ready to Perform' with wise advice on ways to encourage peak performance. Most of the ideas and strategies contained in the publication are just as relevant for use in lessons as well as practice sessions.
I think this is a great book and recommend it highly as an easily digestible guide. Eales recognises the challenges faced by any musician. The reader is encouraged to focus, plan, reflect and explore in a spirit of creativity, mindfulness and engaged curiosity. It presents a fairly comprehensive compendium of useful and wide-ranging ideas with warmth and understanding without ever being patronising or didactic. Elements of motivation, progress and satisfaction are all acknowledged, both in the nitty-gritty of planned practice and the joy of playfulness and discovery. Reasonably priced to make a good recommendation for a student or their parent/carer to buy and small enough to pop into one's teaching bag, my only criticism is the size of the print, coming out at a font size of between 5 and 6 which will put some readers off. I speak as someone who increasingly needs long arms and good light even with a current optician's prescription.
Published by Hal Leonard. Visit musicroom.com to find out more
Oxford Solo Songs – Christmas
Review by Rachel Sherry, November 2021
Oxford University Press continues its successful series of collections for solo voice with the new publication of contemporary Christmas songs by some of the living composers on the OUP roster. I think they will be a welcome addition to shelves with a selection of 14 accessible and appealing seasonal songs in versions arranged or written for solo voice, with several written this year. These are available in high and low voice editions, with the latter a tone to a major third lower than the former. Ranges vary from a 9th to a 13th, the latter in Sarah Quartel's 'Snow Angel'. Keys are generally well chosen in order not to tax a developing voice, print is clear and the piano accompaniments fall well under the hands. Duration for each song is shown on the score. The companion website features downloadable backing tracks and a PDF of the optional 'cello solo for one piece. These useful resources are available via the unique access code printed in each book.
Arrangements of three carols each by John Rutter and Bob Chilcott hardly need an introduction, and these, together with two by Will Todd make up over half the collection, alongside settings by Cecilia McDowell, Toby Young, Alan Bullard, Becky McGlade and two by Sarah Quartel. Moods are varied, some contemplative, such as in Alan Bullard's 'Scots Nativity' and others sparkling such as Sarah Quartel's 'This Endris Night'. I found all of the songs attractive and was particularly taken with Cecilia McDowell's setting of the Christina Rossetti poem 'Before the Paling of the Stars' first published in a version for SATB in 2013. There are settings of familiar texts such as Chilcott's 'Sweet was the Song' and 'Midwinter', using the words of 'In the Bleak Midwinter' together with 'What Child is This' in a new setting by Becky McGlade.
I have started using this collection and students have been enthusiastic about the repertoire therein, with a few already planning to use songs in both concerts and competitions. I am sure there is fertile ground for OUP to produce solo versions of more of its choral repertoire and have always thought that a collection of Bob Chilcott or John Rutter works would sell well.
Visit oxford.ly/solosongbooks to find out more
Where Are All the Black Female Composers? by Nathan Holder
Review by Pamela Hay, September 2021
A music teacher colleague recommended a few music blogs to me a few years ago, including one belonging to a saxophonist and author, Nate Holder. I was so taken by his perspective on racism and unconscious bias in music that I subscribed and have read it ever since. As I am in the process of looking for a new composer to hire, I was delighted to purchase a copy of his book, Where Are All the Black Female Composers?
Written for perhaps ages 7 and up, and beautifully illustrated by Charity Russell, the book profiles over 20 Black female composers beginning with Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935) and continuing to the present day. It makes the point that this book “focuses on Black women who have written in a classical or neo-classical style,” rather than the gamut of styles from jazz to pop.
The book is concise, making it accessible for younger readers. Each profile is essentially a biography but with fascinating anecdotes and context, so the book serves as a good first introduction to these women, as well as as a quick reference guide for the professional musician. I liked that each profile lists some notable pieces by that composer, in addition to having a separate playlist at the back of the book, complete with QR code for easy access.
I’m ashamed to admit that I had heard of only some of the composers, which is why the canon of Western Music doesn’t change very quickly: if we listen to only the names we already know, those are the names who get performed, which means that they are the only names we ever know. We should know the names of Florence Price, the first African American woman to have a composition played by a major symphony orchestra, or Margaret Bonds, who studied with Nadia Boulanger, or Pamela Z, who won the Prix de Rome.
The included quiz helped me commit these names to memory as I explored the music, and I found myself constantly cross-referencing the book’s content to the playlist at the back.
Nathan Holder’s writing expertly balances the important yet potentially dry facts with personal details and colourful anecdotes, that leaves the reader curious to read further about - and listen more to - these talented women. He conveys the despair of trying to collect the music of these women, partially explaining the injustice that has meant that their names are not as prominent as they should be. For example, Nora Holt’s almost complete oeuvre was stolen from her storage facility, and Avril Coleridge-Taylor sometimes used a nom de plume.
I would have enjoyed a little more of a preface, with a “how to use this book” detailing that the women have been listed chronologically and so additional women’s names have been inserted between the profiles, but that is a minor quibble with what is an essential book: the perfect opportunity for the curious musician to educate herself on these unjustly neglected composers.
You can find out more about Nathan Holder at www.nateholdermusic.com, where you can find this and other books that he has written.
Where Are All the Black Female Composers? by Nathan Holder
Published by Holders Hill Publishing
Paperback ISBN 978 1 999 75303 0
eBook ISBN 978 1 9997530 4 7
Breath by James Nestor
Review by Janet Shell, April 2021
It was random: I clicked on a link to a podcast where James Nestor was speaking about his latest book ‘Breath’ and 20 minutes in I was hooked. So much so, I ordered the book in hardback and it arrived a couple of days later.
The subtitle is ‘The New Science of a Lost Art’ and from the opening words I found it a very easy if slightly uncomfortable read.
Uncomfortable because as I read further into the book, I was conscious of my own breathing, trying to match the optimum breath for a calm and healthy stable state body which turns out to be 5.5 seconds in and the same out.
What I will say is that this man took himself on a wild journey of discovery about breathing that involved him becoming engaged at many different levels and going through experiments that will make your hairs stand on end. Not least is the one where he (and a friend) willingly let leading Otolaryngologist at Stanford, Dr. Jayakar Nayak, plug the nose with silicone plugs so they can only breathe through the mouth for ten days before reversing the experiment and taping the mouth so that only nose breathing can occur. Needless to say, the ability to breathe through our nose is crucial for our health and later in the book, James is convinced that we can all learn to do this, even if we traditionally have trauma in this arena. He makes a convincing argument.
The book is a mix of his own story, the experiments he undertakes, and his reflective journey through all this. He interviews various breathing specialists: from trained deep-sea divers, to a choir conductor who claims that using the diaphragm to exhale stale air can cure respiratory disease, to yoga, to somebody who suffers ‘empty nose’ syndrome – something of a misnomer as the sensation is quite the opposite, i.e. sensing always having clogged up nasal passages despite them being perfectly clear. It can occur after nasal surgery and its symptoms include dizziness, gasping for air and at its worst, a sense of drowning, leaving the person in a constant state of panic.
He talks with Dr Marianna Evans, a dental researcher who has spent years looking at the mouths of human skulls both ancient and modern. She shows that in ancient times humans had much wider airways, leading to better aligned teeth, which aided our breathing. However, as our brain grew, it needed more space and so the face shortened and the mouth shrank leaving us with a smaller nose through which to breathe in and filter air. Our adaptation came at a cost.
Inevitably, Nestor looks at various spiritual systems that use the slowing of breath to bring about a mesmeric trance-like state, and I suppose with equal inevitability I was left with the sense of this book being partly about his own spiritual search. Nevertheless, alongside all this he also checks out athletes and sports mavericks who are experimenting with alternative breathing techniques.
In many ways, all you have to do is switch on your computer and all this research is already ‘out there’ just waiting to be found. For me there was a missed opportunity by not asking what professional singers know about breathing and managing airflow: what happens when we attach sound to air. I feel there is a missing chapter on the understanding that so many of us singers continue to reveal.
Ultimately, what we are buying into here is his personal route map, and his writing is very accessible: it flows well and it does parcel a lot into one place so is none the worse for that. Personally, I found it thought-provoking and stimulating. The Appendix brings together many exercises from all different disciplines to try out, including an explanation of why nasal humming is so good for us. It is all to do with nitric oxide which increases oxygenation, widens capillaries, and relaxes smooth muscles. By humming we increase the levels of nitric oxide up to 15 times and benefit ourselves hugely in turn.
I suspect that on re-reading, I might come to the conclusion that really the whole book is about making sure you breathe through your nose and not your mouth. Amen!
You can find out more about James Nestor on his website www.mrjamesnestor.com
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
Published by Penguin Life
An die ferne Geliebte
Review by Christopher Goldsack, December 2020
Bärenreither have recently published a new Urtext edition of Beethoven’s Lieder cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved), edited by Barry Cooper. This collection of six songs, performed without a break between songs, is often considered the first song cycle, though as the editor points out, none of its structural features were new. As one of the mainstays of the Lieder repertoire, a considered and scholarly new edition is certainly welcome. The print is clear and typesetting avoids the sterile appearance of many modern editions. As one would expect in a publication in this series, there is a thorough introduction which discusses the context in which the work was composed, talks about the research questions and makes an appraisal of performance practice. The editorial aims – to create an accurate text and to explain the meaning of notational uncertainties – seem to be amply fulfilled. At the back of the edition the editor has provided a reference to the sources used and a detailed listing of all the editorial questions raised. As a singer who performed these songs on numerous occasions, I found the discussions compelling. The editor has also provided English translations which are at once easy to read, but faithful to the German text, though no word for word translation is provided.
The collection has always been popular with male Lieder singers. The songs are attractive and accessible for both performer and audience.
Though simple and strophic, and making no great technical demands on the singer, the songs are nonetheless are very poignant, offering a wonderful vehicle for a tender and heartfelt performance, demanding artistry that belies their simplicity. Many have wondered if Beethoven had anyone in mind when he wrote the songs.
Just a few years earlier, in 1812, he wrote a passionate love letter to a woman known as his Immortal Beloved, whose identity is disputed, and the parallels are certainly compelling – requited love, but a relationship that cannot be fulfilled. Barry Cooper discusses the unusual care the Beethoven took in the publication process. It is clear this collection was dear to the composer.
This new edition certainly offers a performer the clearest and most authoritative reading of the musical text yet. The question that surprised me most was why the score is only published in the one key – the original key, for tenor. This certainly limits the market for the edition. The editor provides some tantalising thoughts as to why the songs should not be transposed, and it is clear that, in his view, transposition is inappropriate He even suggests that the range would still be manageable by a high baritone, which I would contest – manageable perhaps, but unappealing. This has actually made me look into the matter transposition. To understand the argument, one has to look into tuning and temperament. Like many, I had grown up being taught that Bach championed even temperament – so that transposition of material written after this was not a problem. I realise now that the evolution of temperament was much more complex than that suggests, and that Beethoven was not writing for what we understand to be even tempered tuning. Transposition would certainly have changed the feel of the songs. Does that mean they were never transposed? Was Beethoven less of a pragmatist than Schubert, writing his great song cycles just a decade later and surely writing for the same pianos? Schubert wrote his great cycles for tenors, but his music was championed by the baritone Vogl, with his blessing. Furthermore, these days tuning to anything other than even temperament is a specialist area. Realistically most modern performances are done on modern instruments with modern tuning. Whilst I now understand Barry Cooper’s reasoning, I feel that most singers will simply use alternative editions if they need to – I can only hope they at least compare their editions with this one to benefit from his undoubted scholarship.