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The songs of Théodore Gouvy: a new CD by MeeAe Nam, John Elwes, and Joel Schoenhals is Incredible!

I know that there are many of you readers who remember the mellifluous voice and supreme artistry of soprano MeeAe Nam. She left Denver a few years ago to teach at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, and she is still continuing her rigorous performance schedule throughout the world, giving concerts, conducting workshops and lecturing at conferences. I am happy to announce that you will now be able to hear her voice almost any time you wish, because she has recorded a CD (Toccata Classics) of some of the songs by the obscure French composer, Théodore Gouvy (1819-1898).

 

Before I discuss the CD, I will provide with a very brief outline of Théodore Gouvy’s biography.

 

Louis Théodore Gouvy was born on July 3, 1819, in Goffontaine (today it is Schafbrücke, in the district of Saarbrücken, in Germany). Pierre Gouvy, his grandfather, opened the first steel mill of the four that the family eventually owned, built the workers’ apartments, and, expanding them to a considerable housing complex, gave it the name Goffontaine. His son, Henri (Theodore’s father), ran the steel mill as did his son Henri, Theodore’s oldest brother. The area of the Lorraine where he spent his childhood had a huge impact on Théodore’s life: not long before he was born, the border had moved because of the Second Treaty of Paris in 1815, and his home was now considered to be in Germany. Thus his brothers were French, but he was technically German.

 

In spite of his love for the arts and languages, he was encouraged to become a lawyer to assist in running the family steel mills; however, after graduating from the University of Paris, he failed the French equivalent of the bar exams twice because of his preoccupation with music. When he tried to enroll in the Paris Conservatory, Luigi Cherubini, then the Director, refused to admit Gouvy because he considered him to be German. Not to be daunted, Gouvy paid the faculty surreptitiously for several years and received a very good education in music. He eventually became a close friend with all of the leading composers of his time: Berlioz, Liszt (with whom he often played cards), Mendelssohn, Spohr, Grieg, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, and many others.

 

His works were performed in all the major cities in Europe including Amsterdam, Berlin, Bern, Brussels, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig, London, Munich, and Vienna. They were even heard in New York where his works were commissioned by the Philharmonic Club of New York. His works include a large number of songs, piano sonatas and miniature piano pieces, piano trios, string quartets, chamber music for winds, a Requiem Mass, a Stabat Mater, symphonies, and many works for chorus and orchestra. He was awarded the highest honors: the Prix Chartier bestowed on him by the Académie des Beaux-Arts and membership of that body, the Légion d’Honneur, and membership in the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

 

You must understand that Dr. MeeAe Nam is not only a performer, but she is a very accomplished scholar, and she is one of the few individuals in the United States that is thoroughly familiar with the works of Théodore Gouvy. For those of you who may not be familiar with her work, I will quote briefly from her bio statement. In addition I will also quote from the bio statements of those who join her on the CD. Appearing with her is a wonderful tenor from England, John Elwes. The pianist is Joel Schoenhals.

 

“[Dr. MeeAe Nam] has appeared as guest artist with numerous ensembles including the Colorado Symphony, Boulder Philharmonic, Boulder Bach Festival, Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, Evergreen Chamber Orchestra, the Jefferson Symphony, the Ariel Trio, the DaVinci String Quartet, the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, Fort Collins Symphony and Colorado Chamber Players, Augustana Chamber Orchestra, Colorado Ballet and Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra.

 

“Dr. Nam earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in vocal performance and pedagogy from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Dr. Nam joined the faculty of the Music & Dance Department at Eastern Michigan University in 2009 as Assistant Professor of Voice. She previously taught voice at Metropolitan State College of Denver where she served as chair of the vocal studies program for 5 years and also founded and directed the annual “Vocal Arts Competition for Young Colorado Musicians”. As lecturer and vocal clinician Dr. Nam frequently travels throughout the United States and South Korea to give vocal workshops at conferences and Universities. Repeatedly, she was a guest recitalist and lecturer for the Colorado State Music Teachers Association and also gave a lecture recital at the MTNA National Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her students have been active in national and international competitions and music festivals. This year Dr. Nam appeared as advisor and guest artist clinician in the first annual Seoul International Opera Festival, where three of her students performed lead roles in Mozart’s Magic Flute.

 

“With her husband, Dr. Horst Buchholz, organist and conductor, she has given numerous recitals for organ and voice in Germany and Austria including performances during the Salzburg International Summer Music Festival. Her excellent understanding of works by Mozart led her to perform many soprano solos in Mozart’s sacred works, as well as Requiem and Exultate, jubilate with the Mozarteum Orchestra in the 250th anniversary year of Mozart’s birth during Salzburg Festival. This year she will appear as guest artist in Bach’s Wedding Cantata with the Boulder Bach Festival and in Monteverdi’s Love Songs with the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado.”

 

John Joseph Elwes (original name John Hahessy) (born 20 October 1946) is an English tenor singer. Born in Westminster, he was Head Chorister in the choir of Westminster Cathedral, London. His musical and vocal education were furthered by the eminent harpsichordist George Malcolm, the then Director of Music.

 

“Under the name of John Hahessy (his father was from Carrick-on-Suir, Co.Waterford, Ireland) he had considerable success as a boy soprano – from BBC broadcasts and recordings with Decca to concerts with such conductors as Benjamin Britten. He made the 1st recording of Benjamin Britten’s Canticle Abraham and Isaac, singing the role of Isaac, accompanied by the composer. Britten later dedicated his Corpus Christi Carol to him. He went on to study at the Royal College of Music, and made his stage debut as a tenor in 1968 at The Proms.

 

“John Elwes is particularly well known for his sensitive and musical performances. His repertoire is extensive ranging from Monteverdi, Rameau, Bach and Handel to Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Mahler and Britten. He regularly performs with the leading conductors of baroque, classical and contemporary music. He has sung in over one hundred recordings, including Dowland’s First Book of Ayres, Schubert’s song cycles Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, Purcell’s The Tempest, Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Mass in B minor, Handel’s Messiah and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, for which he was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2008.”

 

“A dedicated teacher, Joel Schoenhals is active in local and state chapters of MTNA and was featured as the keynote artist for the Idaho Music Teachers Association state convention. He presented lecture recitals and a master class at the Oregon Music Teachers Association state convention, and presented lecture-recitals at MTNA national conventions in Kansas City and Austin. He was a featured artist, judge, and teacher at the Besparmak International Piano Festival in North Cyprus and has performed concerts in China and South America.  He is currently performing the cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas in eight concerts between 2012 and 2016.

 

“Schoenhals holds a Master of Music, Doctoral of Musical Arts, and Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music. He earned his undergraduate degree in piano performance at Vanderbilt University. From 1998-2010, he was a faculty member of the Summer Piano Program at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York.

 

“In his recording of twenty Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs, [Dr.]Schoenhals cultivates a beautiful, well-paced tone that is always easy on the ear. His sense of flow in the interpretation of these pieces enhances the idea of narratives without words that Liszt aimed to achieve” (Classik Reviews). “Seek this one out and find one of the greatest releases of the year (Liszt). Now if someone would only help me to close my jaw, hung open by the second track. Only then can I return to mundane existence” (American Record Guide). “Schoenhals awakens Schubert’s exuberance, lifts it from piercing melancholy to ecstatic flights, and touches the throbbing heart of Liszt’s recreations in a way that persuades us the piano is indeed a viable, if not preeminent, medium for so much vocally conceived music. Schoenhals is passionate . . . impetuous . . . radiant. There’s abundant pleasure to be found here” (Fanfare).”

 

As Nam and Elwes point out in the CD program notes, Gouvy’s songs were not well known in his lifetime, nor are they well-known today. This has always been startling to me, because Gouvy was known for writing some of the most beautiful melodic lines of the Romantic period. His style is a combination, a wonderful fitting together if you will, of German forms and an early French romantic harmonic structure. His writing for the piano in the songs is totally unified in mood and description with the voice, just as the piano is in Schubert’s songs. Of course, this is the way it must be, but there are still many concert attendees who consider the pianist as an accompanist, rather than an artist of equal importance in song literature.

 

And, there is one other crucial aspect of this CD which marks its importance: only 11 of these songs have ever been recorded before, and the 26 songs on this CD are done exactly the way Théodore Gouvy wanted them. They are sung in the original key in which they were written. This has a great impact on the way the songs’ sound. Both Nam and Elwes have the ability to sing the songs without transposing them to a different key just to fit the vocal range or to make them easier. The result in sound is very exciting because it is precisely what Gouvy had in mind.

 

Aside from being a pianist and composer, Théodore Gouvy was also a linguist. He very much enjoyed the Renaissance poetry of Pierre de Ronsard, and the songs on the CD are largely by that Renaissance poet.

 

I am quite familiar with the Gouvy’s works, but the melodic lines in his songs never fail to startle me. Not only are they difficult, but they soar into almost unimaginable heights with unbridled passion. Both MeeAe Nam and John Elwes are capable of such melodic flow at these heights, the passion they bring to these melodic lines is unlimited. There is no question in my mind that Pierre de Ronsard is the most passionate of the poets represented on this CD, and, certainly, there is no doubt in my mind that Gouvy feels a kinship with this poet. What is truly amazing about Nam and Elwes and Schoenhals is their ability to communicate that passion so easily. Nam and Elwes have truly remarkable vocal production – and I count breath control in that production – so that their phrasing is absolutely impeccable. And, it always seems as if Joel Schoenhals is breathing with them because he is as intent on helping them shape their phrases as they are helping him shape his phrases. It has been a very long time since I have heard such mutual artistry (and artistic agreement) between vocalists and pianist. How is it possible that anyone can be more expressive than MeeAe Nam in the 16th track of the CD where she sings (and I will use the title in English) The draw of your beautiful eyes:

 

Since by loving you I can have no better,
Allow at least, that in dying I might sigh.
Is it not enough to witness my martyrdom,
Without you mocking my troubled pain.

 

Or in the 4th track of the CD, What are you saying, what are you doing, my sweetheart?

 

I have your beauties, your grace and your eyes,
Engraved in me and I wander in a thousand places,
Where I saw you dance, speak and laugh,
I hold you as mine and yet am not my own self,
In you alone, in you my soul breathes…

 

Or in track seven, were Elwes sings À Hélène:

 

You had still a child’s countenance,
Speech, gait, your mouth was beautiful,
Your brow and your hands, worthy of an immortal,
Your eyes that make me die as I think of them.

 

There are so many more instances not only of these vocalists’ art, but the art of the poet as well. And, truly, all of this is reflected by the art of Dr. Joel Schoenhals, who is superb.

 

It certainly deserves mention that Toccata Classics, the label of this fine CD, specializes in producing  “Forgotten music by great composers, and great music by forgotten composers.” You really must visit their website because it is a perfect example of preserving works and composers who need to be heard.

 

The details of this CD are: Théodore Gouvy: Songs to texts by Pierre de Ronsard and other Renaissance Poets. MeeAe Nam, soprano; John Elwes, tenor; and Joel Schoenhals, piano. The catalog number for this recording is: Toccata Classics TOCC 0269.

At caltech, my engineering aspirations will be realized in this challenging.
  • 30 Sep, 2014
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