Rorem Songs

This is the best recording that Susan Graham has made, in an imaginative selection of [song] songs by Ned Rorem, one of the greatest song-writers of our time

Author: 
Patrick O'Connor

Rorem Songs

  • (The) Santa Fe Songs
  • Clouds
  • Early in the morning
  • (The) Serpent
  • Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
  • I Strolled Across an Open Field
  • To a Young Girl
  • Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair
  • Ode
  • For Poulenc
  • Little Elegy
  • Alleluia
  • Look down fair moon
  • O you to whom I often and silently come
  • I will always love you
  • (The) Tulip Tree
  • I am Rose
  • (The) Lordly Hudson
  • O Do Not Love Too Long
  • Far - Far - Away
  • For Susan
  • (A) Journey
  • Sometimes with one I love
  • Love
  • Orchids
  • Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
  • Do I love you more than a day?
  • Ferry Me Across the Water
  • That shadow, my likeness

If Rorem's songs are not as well-known as those of Copland or Cole Porter, the two American composers whose songs crop up most frequently on 'serious' singers' programmes, it's probably because they're more difficult to sing. Perhaps the reason is also that, as with Milhaud, there is such a large body of work (more than 250 individual songs), it's difficult to know where to start.
The earliest song here is from 1947 (The Lordly Hudson, on a poem by Paul Goodman), the latest from 1983 (That shadow, my likeness, one of several Walt Whitman settings). Most of the others, though, were composed in the 1950s when Rorem was living in France. (His time there is described in his first and most famous book, The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem, New York: 1966.) One could look for obvious French influences - Rorem was a close friend of Auric and Poulenc - but strangely it is the later songs, from the cycle Santa Fe, on poems by Witter Bynner, that have a more Gallic sound, the piano and string trio accompaniment having that aching, nostalgic mood which Rorem himself describes as 'a period removed from Time and, like the act of love, [it] has no limits, no beginning nor end. 'The only song in French is a poem by Ronsard, an ode to peace, but two songs are about Paris. Early in the morning, a poem by Robert Hillyer, is an evocation of a young poet in love in and with Paris, its accompaniment a homage to all the sad waltzes that murmur their recollections of the city from Satie to Kosma. For Poulenc, written specially by Frank O'Hara for Rorem to set as part of an album of songs in memory of Poulenc, describes all the city in mourning.
Rorem called his autobiography Knowing when to stop, and it is a wonderful description of his own songs. The strength and beauty of Rorem's settings lies in their directness and candour. He doesn't linger, the poem and song are one, the melody growing from the accompaniment into the vocal line - and in this does he resemble Poulenc - but just as one seems able to grasp it, it's gone.
Malcolm Martineau plays with an unfailing sensitivity, giving all the tiny shifts of mood from exuberance to elegiac melancholy their exact and appropriate weight. In their conversation printed in the booklet, Rorem says that he would like to compose a cycle for Susan Graham and another singer, perhaps a baritone. But, he adds, he would need a little encouragement. The triumphant success of this recital ought to be enough.'

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