Development of American Art Song 1860 - 1930: Dominance of Western European Style
American art song began to find a unique national voice in the late 19th and early 20th century. Until that time, American composers were trained in Europe and wrote in a style that differed little from the Germanic and French style and traditions of song composition. As American composers of art song refined their compositional style they took their European training and influences, added American folk-song idioms, hymn tunes, Negro minstrel melodies and form and combined them with a native language that had its own inflections and cadences. The result is a distinctive American style of art song.
In the late eighteenth century, songs written in the United States were composed primarily by New Englanders such as William Billings, Jacob French, Timothy Swan and others (Nathan, p. 408, 1960). They wrote primarily sacred music included in the tune-books that itinerant choral directors used in their efforts to revive religious music (Mellers, p. 6, 1967). These songs were not intended for use by trained singers in a solo vocal setting, but rather for the community singing groups most often associated with the church. The melodies were harmonically modal, almost folk song in character, usually supported by a homophonic accompaniment. In a Journal of American Music Society article, Lowens (1953) agrees with this, and states that the New England tunes are in a semi-folk idiom (Lowens, p. 43). Many of these folk tunes would later be used for different effect by composers as varied as Stephen Foster and Charles Ives.
The beginning of the 20th century was characterized by the establishment of the professional composer who preferred and cultivated art song (Nathan, 1960, p. 422). This followed the rise and establishment of the romantic art song in Europe, most particularly the Lied. At that time it was the custom for most American composers to travel to Europe for study and training in Western European tradition, particularly the Germanic style. Composers such as Horatio Parker and Mrs. H. H. A. Beach "wrote in styles not appreciably different from those current in Europe at the end of the 19th century." (Sternfeld, ed., 1973, p. 366)
Horatio Parker (1863 - 1937)
Horatio Parker, teacher of Charles Ives, studied three years in München with Josef Rheinberger and contributed a body of songs among which are "commendable examples of Germany's training of and influence on the...Americans of Parker's generation." (Villamil, p. 286, 1993) Tawa (1991) writes that Parker had "exceptional skill in the management of harmony and modulation and a gift for lyric melody." (pp. 157-158) Parker's songs "may sometimes lack spontaneity, but are always written with great skill and much harmonic richness." (Upton, p. 132, 1938) Although Parker's songs do not contribute to the establishment of a unique American art song style, they are noteworthy examples of an American composer's art songs. Tawa (1991) sums up Parker's compositions with "Parker's music contains nothing especially American, except for scattered passages in his choral works that hint at a Puritan psalmodic heritage." (p. 158) Nathan (1960) is ultimately critical of this entire generations' compositions.
It was the custom at this time for practically all American composers to study in Germany for a few years. They returned with an infinitely more solid sense of craftsmanship than existed in earlier generations: for example, their piano parts were carefully worked out and written to complement the vocal line and its text, their middle voices and basses showed continuity, and their modulation planning. However, since they were conservative, timidly clinging to worn concepts of early romanticism, their songs remained nondescript (p. 422).
Parker's most significant contribution to the development of the American art song may lie not in his actual composition, but the fact that as an influential pedagogue, he was one of the vanguards of the old romantic traditions. He therefore provided the element against which the next generation of American composers such as Copland and Thomson would rebel.
Amy (Mrs. H. H. A.) Beach (1867 - 1944)
Villamil (1993) states that "Amy Beach was America's first important woman composer." (p. 36) She remained a virtuosic performer and composer throughout her life, and was a strong member of the Music Teachers National Association and co-founder and first president of the Association of American Women Composers. Like Parker, Beach was part of the group of New England composers that included Arthur Foote (1853-1937), George Chadwick (185-1931) and Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953). In an era that completely discounted the ability of a woman to compose music that would remain in the repertoire, Beach became noted for her major compositions in several genres (Tawa, 1991), and her Symphony in e minor ("Gaelic"), op. 32 was the first symphony written by an American woman composer. (Tick, p. 318, 1980) In addition to this symphony, Beach wrote chamber music, sacred and secular choral works and a piano concerto. (Tawa, 1991) She composed approximately 120 songs, which Villamil (1993) calls "...successful and, indisputably solid and masterful, even today have much that recommends them." (p. 37) Tawa (1991) reports "in a majority of the songs, idiomatic vocal melodies move appealingly above variegated accompaniments that communicate the ambiances of the poems." (p. 180) Her songs have much to recommend them to today's singers; they use texts that are both contemporary and classical, some in German and French, the accompaniments, although sometimes elaborate, are supportive of the vocal line, and her style of vocal writing ranges from the simple, folk-like to the expansive, operatic. Beach was "one of the first American composers to be trained completely in the United States of America" (Tick, 1980) and she was a pioneer woman composer in America. The bel canto, often operatic quality of Beach's vocal lines are found in many songs of America's contemporary composers and demand an established vocal technique.
John Alden Carpenter (1876 - 1951)
One song composer influenced by French style and tradition was John Alden Carpenter who wrote chiefly in the style of Debussy. Upton (1938) writes that Carpenter's songs were "permeated with French influence...yet thoroughly individual...[an] expert at fitting the tone to the word..." (p. 197). Carpenter's catalog of over 50 songs shows heavy emphasis on the musical expression of nature and its influence on human existence. The 19th century romantic composer often used the mysteries of nature as a springboard to human emotions and experiences, and they created music that both evoked and explored human feelings. This focus on nature typical of 19th century Lied and early 20th century mélodies is shared by Carpenter, and places him among the American composers of song that fit more comfortably in the European rather than the American tradition. Later in his life Carpenter did attempt to break away from the French style by composing Four Negro Songs to texts by Langston Hughes. Nathan (1960) reports that these songs "utilize the racy idiom of jazz...paraphrase[d] in his own manner...without achieving the authenticity of a Broadway product." (p. 426) Villamil (1993) assesses the songs as "a pioneering work in the use of jazz and blues in serious song..." (p. 84). Carpenter's songs are strongly rooted in the French tradition, yet they are often beautiful examples of the best in the marriage of words and music. Indeed, Carpenter's most important contribution to the development of American art song is that he was primarily responsible for "lightening the fabric of American music" by "throwing off the yoke of German influence" (Villamil, p. 83, 1993).
Charles T. Griffes (1884 - 1920)
American Charles T. Griffes contributed a "body of compositions that marks him as on e of the major American composer of the early twentieth century." (Freidberg, p. 30, 1981) Villamil (1993) writes "his songs require considerable vocal, musical, and interpretive maturity" (p. 183) and Chase (1966) states, "...his songs are among the best we have." (p. 522) They show the influences of his Germanic training as well as his interest in the French style. He briefly ventured into the post-romantic interest in Oriental exoticism, yet ultimately returned to a more traditional idiom. (Nathan, p. 429, 1960). Griffes, having shown only a brief glimpse of his compositional genius, died at the age of 36. He was recognized by Prokofiev, Leopold Stokowski and Oscar Sonneck who acknowledged his musical gift and mourned the "great loss that the music of America had suffered." (Nathan, p. 427, 1960) Like Beach before him, Griffes set German texts in a manner reflecting his days of study in Berlin. He was however, interested in the contemporary American poetry of his day. His attempt at setting Sara Teasdales's Pierrot proved unsatisfying to him, yet he utilized the poetry of American's John Tabb and Sidney Lanier for six of his songs. Griffes attraction to American poetry is a common link to today's contemporary American song composers.
The composer first to be considered wholly American was Charles Ives (1874-1954). Machlis (1979) states, "[Charles Ives] is the first truly American composer of the 20th century and one of the most original spirits of his time." (p. 335) Friedberg (1981) in her book states simply, "Charles Ives stands alone." (p. 43)
Ives was American-born and received his musical training, first from his musician father, and later, at Yale University under Horatio Parker. Ives, frustrated by Parker's conservatism, would ultimately break from his strict teachings and the European traditions upon which Parker's teachings were based. By the end of his life, Ives is credited with having "emancipated music, both consonance and dissonance from the necessity and rule of Western European tradition." (Yates, p. 269, 1967)
Like Stephen Foster before him, Ives used musical quotations from American war melody, hymns, parlor songs, ragtime and cowboy ballads in his songs. Foster incorporated folk idioms, Negro minstrel tunes and forms, and American hymnody to create a genre of parlor songs, many of which still enjoy great popularity. Unlike Foster, Ives used them to highlight his texts and render them as "vivid and realistic as possible", rather than stripping them of their original intent (Nathan, p. 433, 1960). Friedberg (1981) states a major characteristic of Ives' songs was a "careful and effective attention to the details of word setting that is in the finest tradition of art song composition and belies any suspicion of randomness that might arise from the poetic fragmentation." (p. 451) Ives preserved the unique inflection and intonations of American speech in his songs and believed the text was the primary focus of song. Nathan (1960) writes
The existence of a characteristically American quality in many of Ives's songs can be demonstrated with the following experiment. Let them be performed with the subtleties of diction, timbre and dynamics as demanded by the traditional European vocal repertoire. The performance will sound stilted; but entirely natural if done by a singer whose voice and manner are shaped by the informal and comparatively steady cadences of American speech. (p. 432)
This focus on the text meant Ives' primary concern was not on creating a beautiful vocal line and many of his vocal lines are jagged and disjunct (Villamil, p. 223, 1993). Ives used any device, vocal or instrumental that would heighten the words, and there are examples of shouting, whistling or speaking in his songs to emphasize and add color to the text. "All these features...must be understood as the result of the composer's desire to make the details of his texts as vivid and as realistic as possible." (Nathan, p. 433, 1960) Ives preeminence among American song composers results from his development of a distinct compositional style that incorporates speech patterns, rhythmic inventions, and musical materials that are wholly and uniquely American.
American Art Song: Post World War II
Aaron Copland, Theodore Chanler, Paul Bowles, Virgil Thomson, and Samuel Barber are recognized as important 20th century composers of American songs. In the 1920's Copland and Thomson were the first Americans to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. They would in turn recommend others to follow the same path. In his book, 20th Century Music: A history of musical style in modern Europe and America (1991), Morgan includes a discussion of Boulanger's profound influence on this generation of composers and American music. He states that Boulanger believed
to be American--or more generally non-European--was at that moment in music history an advantage. A non-European perspective could facilitate the development of innovative compositional ideas and a fresh expressive focus. (p. 283)
A letter from Virgil Thomson to Aaron Copland corroborates this idea. Dated November 26, 1963, Thomson writes that "Boulanger's particular and special merchandise [was] a motherly guidance to overcome American timidity about self-expression" (Page and Page, eds., 1988, p. 100). Whether as a result of study with Boulanger or a musical education in American conservatories, American composers were no longer inhibited by Western European traditions and rules of composition.
Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990)
Aaron Copland is "probably America's most admired and recognized composer." (Villamil, p. 104, 1993) The youngest child of Russian Jewish immigrants, he was born and lived for 20 years in Brooklyn, New York. Mellers (1965) quotes Copland as describing his neighborhood as
...a street in Brooklyn that can only be described as drab....it was there I spent the first twenty years of my life. It fills me with mild wonder every time I realize a musician was born on that street. Music was the last thing anyone would have connected with that street. In fact, no one had ever connected music with my family or with my street. The idea was entirely original with me. (p. 82)
As a child Copland studied piano and by his early teens had decided to become a musician. He studied harmony with Robert Goldmark and after saving enough money, moved to Paris to further his education. He began studying with Boulanger in 1921, becoming the first of many Americans to migrate to Paris for lessons with the teacher. Copland wrote two batches of songs, one in the 1920's and the later songs written after 1950. "Although the earlier songs are more lyrical, both periods are pure Copland-linear, spare, and luminous." (p. 104) Mellers (1965) states the open texture so closely identified with Copland, that is the fourths, fifths, minor sevenths, major seconds and major ninths were evident in his setting of Richard Barnefield's "As it fell upon a day" (1923) for voice, flute and clarinet. (p. 83) These open, spare harmonies are a reaction against the lush romantic style and would eventually become synonymous with the American West. The early abstract music and the ballet music feature a slow harmonic movement as compared to the animation of his melody and rhythm. (Mellers, p. 88, 1965)
Although not primarily a composer of song, Copland's setting of 12 Emily Dickinson poems is hailed as a major work of the composer and a "major addition to the American art song literature." (Friedberg, p. 119, 1981) Of Copland's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson Mellers (1965) says the cycle
"manifest[s] a remarkable development of Copland's speech-inflected declamation towards lyricism" (p. 94) and the songs "are among the most central of his achievements..." (p. 95). The poems deal with human love, death, nature and eternity, themes that struck a resonant chord in Copland. Mellers (1965) writes that the poems are a "lyric distillation of both his rural and his urban loneliness." (p. 96)
The music in the cycle contains jagged, leaping melodic lines, strong elements of dissonance and spirited rhythmic passages. Each song is a succinct statement in which the piano and voice intertwine in animated motives. They range from the poignant love song Heart, we will forget him, that uses tempo as the primary device to express the emotion of the text. Nature, the gentlest mother, in which the piano and voice take on the roles of the two characters, Mother Nature and varying animals. The world feels dusty, uses the rhythm of a quarter note followed by a half note to express the quiet, final dying moments of a loved one, and Dear March, come in uses changes of key to portray the various stages of the text. As a rest from writing the cycle, Copland arranged two volumes of American folk songs, described by Nathan (1960) as songs which "represent the most genuine arrangement of indigenous folk material that has appeared so far." (p. 448) Copland's songs, though relatively few in number, display beautiful vocal lines entwined with independent and complex piano accompaniments that come together in songs that are powerful and memorable. His harmonic language, principally his open spaced chords and the use of fourths and fifths, have become almost synonymous with American music, popular and classical.
Theodore Chanler (1902 - 1961)
Theodore Chanler chose to express himself almost solely in the miniature of the art song. Virgil Thomson (1970) wrote that his songs are masterpieces and "probably the best we have..." (p. 88). Chanler grew up in western New York, the youngest son of wealthy parents. In 1920, Chanler had planned to attend Harvard University, but after meeting Ernest Bloch, he followed the composer to Cleveland to study under him at the Institute of Music. In the late 1920's, while attending Oxford University, he studied intermittently with Boulanger in Paris. From the early 1930's until 1935, Chanler composed very little. From 1935 until the late 1940's, Chanler composed around 50 songs and one chamber opera, but after that he composed very little. Chanler was a regular contributor to the journal Modern Music and was briefly the music critic for the Boston Herald. In addition he taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Music (1945 - 1947) and the Longy School in Boston until his retirement.
Chanler's approximately 30 published songs are recognized as true gems. Villamil (1993) writes their "gossamer lightness masks their tidy precision and scrupulous craftsmanship. Melodies flow like musical speech with prosody so artless as to seem unremarkable." (p. 94) Mellers (1965) states that, like Barber's music, Chanler's "is lyrical, conservative and related to French tradition both in its approach to prosody and in its use of the piano as an atmospheric harmony-instrument." (p. 204) Sperry (1996) writes that his "piano parts are extremely sophisticated and challenging, and his voice lines are eminently singable. [Chanler] covers a substantial range of moods, from almost religious seriousness to broad humor." (p. 24)
Chanler's cycle Eight Epitaphs set to Walter de la Mare's imaginary gravestone inscriptions is considered to be Chanler's masterpiece and a masterpiece of the repertoire. (Villamil, p. 95, 1993) Nathan (1960) writes that "Eight Epitaphs [is] one of the most valuable contributions to art-song in America." (p. 441) Chanler uses vocal lines that follow the natural stress and inflection of speech in Alice Rodd, evocative piano writing in Susanah Fry and Three Sisters, meter changes in Thomas Logge to evoke the discontent in the text, rocking rhythms evoking a lullaby in No Voice to Scold, harmonic writing that depicts the deeper emotion of the texts in Ann Poverty and Be very quiet now. Mellers (1965) sums up the cycle by stating
One cannot imagine they will ever sound dated. They are a part of history-as many big, well-intentioned symphonic works are not-because they have realized, to perfection, their modest truth. (p. 205)
Chanler's songs capture the poetry beautifully and explicitly, pay meticulous attention to detail that results in songs that require control, sensitive musicianship and scrupulous attention to subtle nuances of detail. The coherent unityof texts and music make some of his songs, particularly Eight Epitaphs, the "most valuable contributions to art song in America". (Nathan, p. 441, 1960)
Paul Bowles (1910 - )
Paul Bowles may be best recognized for his settings of texts by Tennessee Williams. A New Yorker by birth, Bowles had experienced a difficult childhood, the legacy of which would leave him a loner. (Friedberg, p. 23, 1981) Although the young Bowles dreamed of becoming a poet, he studied piano and wrote music. After reviewing two of his compositions, the composer Henry Cowell recommended that Bowles study with Copland. He followed Copland to Paris, Berlin and Morocco. (Villamil, p. 65, 1993) Bowles had frequent contact with Virgil Thomson, who would be instrumental in securing work for the young composer. From 1933 until 1947, Bowles established a reputation as a composer of music for theater, ballet and film in New York City. Between composing, Bowles was writing articles and short stories. Villamil (1993) writes that "his transformation from composer to author culminated with the 1949 publication of his most important novel, The Sheltering Sky." (p. 65)
Villamil (1993) describes Bowles' songs as "blend[ing] the lightness, precision, and sophistication of the French influence with American folk and popular elements. His songs are delicate graceful, fresh, clever, and evocative." (p. 66) Excellent examples of these qualities are found in Bowles' setting of Tennessee Williams texts entitled Blue Mountain Ballads. Bowles incorporates flowing melodies with accompaniments that contain jazz and rag rhythms evoking the milieu of a small town in Mississippi. The first song, Heavenly Grass is an exquisite monologue in dialect of powerful poetic imagery. Its simple vocal line supported by an accompaniment that is primarily modal giving the song is folk-like feel. Rag rhythms and style in the accompaniment provide a perfect foundation for the character speaking the text in the second song, Lonesome Man. In the third song, Cabin, Bowles uses subtle tempo and juxtaposition of major/minor key changes to highlight the good versus evil of the morality tale that is the text. The cycle closes with Sugar in the Cane, a blending of ragtime and the flatted thirds typical of the blues that perfectly supports the idiomatic text of sexual innuendo. New Yorker Paul Bowles uses elements of American folk, popular and jazz to perfectly illuminate that subleties of the southern experience as expressed by Mississippian Tennessee Williams.
Virgil Thomson (1896 - 1989)
Virgil Thomson came to music with a strong literary background. In an addendum to Thomson's American Music Since 1910 (1970), Victor Yellin wrote, "Virgil Thomson's main contribution to American music is his blending of the musical elements of melody, harmony, and rhythm into a musical style proper to American speech." (p. 91). Thomson combined a literary talent with an impeccable musical training that he received first at Harvard and then in his studies with Boulanger in Paris. Thomson's interest in literary pursuits was obvious throughout his life. In Junior College days in Missouri he wrote for the magazines Vanity Fair, The New Republic and American Mercury and Modern Music. He also collaborated with Gertrude Stein for his two operas, The Mother of Us All and Four Saints in Three Acts. His songs are characterized by ease and naturalness of prosody, supportive accompaniments and wit (Villamil, p. 360, 1993), and his natural gift for language and inflection made him an innovator in text setting. In his discussion of Thomson's contribution to American music, Machlis (1979) writes that Thomson was one of the "most articulate proponents of new romanticism [and] sought to capture the lyric tradition in 20th century terms." (p. 413)
In her discussion of Thomson's songs, Villamil (1993) states
The best songs are jewels fashioned out of finely etched melodies, subtle harmonies, sparkling rhythmic invention, a frugality of notes, and-more often than not-wit. The poorest are dead weights, comprised of pedestrian melodies, unforgiving ostinato accompaniments, and aimless ramblings. The majority lie somewhere in between-pleasing, amusing, serviceable, but not compelling. (p. 360)
Thomson believed that vocal music could be understood if the text were set correctly and the ease and naturalness of his text setting lends an air of easy conversation. Although his songs often appear to be simple and easy, there are often complex rhythms that can be fun, yet challenging. In Thomson's music, one can sense the delight he takes in debunking the expected. In his autobiography Virgil Thomson (1966) writes about the influence of Dada movement on him.
Such a declaration of independence from commerce, the academies, and all other entangling alliances was congenial to my natural rebelliousness. I loved the climate of it, its high, thin, anti-establishment air....for me it offered an ethical ideal, as well as an expression of my inmost temper: so relentlessly (in the eyes of many) frivolous, at the same time so resistant to being governed. I think all Americans are a little Dada-minded. What else is our free-wheeling humor, our nonsense, our pop art? (p. 58)
Thomson's own free-wheeling sense of humor is evident throughout his catalog of songs. For example, his practice of misbarring music producing a false sense of meter is found in the setting of the French poem by Duchesse de Rohan, Jour de chaleur aux bains de mer. The piece, set in a square, duple meter, is misbarred to produce the effect of a waltz. The result is a natural charm and lightness. Thomson's sense of irreverence, typically American, is reflected in a catalog of songs that can be light, wickedly fun, and charming.
Samuel Barber (1910 - 1980)
"The lyric genius of Samuel Barber was a gift of grace that occurs only once or twice in a generation." (Friedberg, p. 7, 1981) He was thoroughly American and showed a "natural bent for expressive lyricism" (Ewen, World of 20th Century Music, p. 16, 1968). Barber came from a family with consummate artistic credentials; among his illustrious relatives were the painter Winslow Homer, the composer Sidney Homer, and the famed contralto Louise Homer. He had trained at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, triple majoring in voice, piano and composition. His training as a lyric-baritone is particularly evident in his songs. In his book, Music In a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music, Mellers (1967) states "...the core of his music lies in his understanding of the human voice....throughout his career he...excelled as a writer of songs..." (p. 197). Barber's songs are characterized by settings that preserve the natural stress of the words, complex rhythms and shifting meters, chromaticism, and melodies that are predominately tonal.
Barber's song cycle Hermit Songs, op. 29, may contain some of his best songs. They are settings of translations of medieval Irish poems by monks and scholars and are examples of the full range of vocal color, from simplest lyricism to passionate floods of sound. The Monk and His Cat is a lovely cross of a simple vocal line over a soft rumba pattern in the accompaniment. Its warm, languorous musical feel and evocative words describing the sinuous weaving of the cat around the monk's legs, emphasize the contrast of the sensual warmth with the cold, harsh monastic life. The Crucifixion is one of the most poignant, tender songs in the cycle. The opening bird-cry chord, a perfect-imperfect fourth, recurs throughout the song perfectly representing the cry of the bird, the cry of the mother and the cry of Jesus. The deep agony of the mother, heard in the pathos of the single descending grace note that interrupts the melodic line in the accompaniment, evokes the feel of sobbing. Barber wrote around 68 songs, including possibly his most famous song, Sure on this Shining Night, the humorous Monks and Raisins, and Nocturne to name a few. His catalogs of published songs contain examples of pure lyricism, passionate writing for both voice and piano and intimate charm. Nathan (1960) writes that Barber's neo-romantic style adapts the lush romantic style of Brahms, yet "the settings are considerably more lucid, and...they...counterbalance an unabashed tonality with the modern means of irregular accents and irregular phrase lengths....and the composer's agile elastic melodic idiom served him well in solving the problems of [American] poetic prose." (p. 443)
Richard Hundley (1931 - )
Richard Hundley has throughout his compositional career focused primarily on the art song. One can draw parallels between Hundley and the composers discussed above. Like Ives, Hundley takes a thoroughly American approach and desire to preserve the natural cadence of American speech. Like Barber, Hundley was trained as a singer and has an expert knowledge of the voice. And with Thomson, Hundley shares a delight in language and poetry and the challenge of "solving the problems of musical declamation in the English language" (Friedberg, p. 29, 1984). His songs employ flowing, lyrical vocal lines and use melodic movement supported by harmonic material "rethought so that it comes across freshly in the contemporary spirit" (Friedberg, p. 249, 1987).
Richard Albert Hundley was born on September 1, 1931, in Cincinnati, Ohio to a father who was an itinerant laborer, and a mother who was a housewife. About one year after his birth his parents separated and then divorced, with the court awarding his mother custody. She remarried, but several years later was again divorced. They moved several times, and Richard recalls a lonely childhood. "I played alone, which was most of the time, because my Mother, having divorced my father seemed always to be moving from one city to another. No sooner than I had made a new friendship, it was abruptly ended by our moving." (Hundley, personal communication, September 6, 1996) Around the age of seven, Richard went to live permanently with his paternal Grandmother, Anna Susan Campbell, in Covington, Kentucky.
At his grandmother's Hundley had a "backyard, playmates and an upright piano." (Hundley, Juilliard Masterclass; November 14, 1995) In the living room of his Grandmother's house sat a huge upright, and he recalls being "immediately attracted to this wonderful instrument on which I could pick out the melodies I had been singing." (Hundley, personal communication, September 6, 1996) Hundley remembers that as a child he was always singing. "I sang on my way home from school, and sang when I played alone." (Hundley, personal communication, September 5, 1996) His grandmother, recognizing his love for music and believing that all children should have an avocation, enrolled him with the local piano teacher, Mrs. Wyman. Mrs. Wyman encouraged his love of music, but he still preferred improvising his own pieces to memorizing those of another composer. "Making up pieces seemed the most natural thing in the world, it was the title that caused me difficulty." (Hundley, personal communication, September 6, 1996)
Richard's grandmother gave tea parties for her lady friends, and he soon began performing his pieces for his grandmother's friends. At one of these gatherings, a woman who called herself a medium declared that Richard had been famous in another life, like Chopin. (Hundley, personal communication, November 14, 1995) Not knowing who Chopin was, Richard's grandmother called the Cincinnati Public Library for Chopin's identification and was informed that he was a famous composer and pianist. From that time on, Richard's grandmother proudly referred to him as a "pianist and a composer."
Around the age of 10, Richard was introduced to grand opera at a Cincinnati Summer Opera performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore, at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens. He recalls that hearing operatic voices accompanied by a large orchestra was a revelation, and the emotion he experienced "remains as fresh in his memory as if he had just returned from the performance." (Hundley, personal communication, September 6, 1996) He was deeply moved by the ability of this vocal music to portray deep emotion and feeling. His imagination was kindled and the impact of this experience can be found in his music throughout his career. His focus on text and its inherent emotions, as well as a love for the classical voice is rooted in this early episode.
By the time Richard was a young teenager, his grandmother recognized a need for a more disciplined approach to the piano, and arranged for him to take piano lessons at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. At the conservatory he was put in the charge of Illona Voorm, a Hungarian pedagogue and formerly an assistant to Belà Bartok who was a strong disciplinarian. Madame Voorm's training was so effective that within a few years, at the age of fourteen, Hundley performed Mozart's Piano Concerto in d minor (K. 466) with the Northern Kentucky Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mr. Katz. At the age of 16 he performed a movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto in A major (K. 488) with the Cincinnati Symphony under the baton of Thor Johnson.
During his freshman and sophmore years in high school, Richard began notating his compositions. His fluid improvisatory gift made composing easy, however, notating these improvisations into formal pieces was so difficult that by his junior year in high school he had only written down two compostions. But in his junior year, and within one month, he composed and fully notated five songs. The reason for this sudden outpouring of creative energy was that he had fallen in love. Richard had become attracted to a smart girl in his English class. To win her favor, he appealed to her fondness for popular music by adding to his piano repertory a piece with "an elaborate boogie-woogie bass and lots of glissandi for flashy display." (Hundley, personal communication, September 9, 1996) Soon after, the girl consented to a date. When he went to her apartment, he was introduced to her mother, Mary Rodgers Fossit. "She was an attractive and very feminine woman in her mid-30's. She loved music and I was immediately attracted to her. Soon after, I lost all interest in the daughter and became infatuated with the mother." (Hundley, personal communication, September 9, 1996). The resulting friendship with the mother would profoundly and permanently influence him.
Mary Rodgers Fossit had a deep love and knowledge of literature and was herself a poet. She introduced him to the works of Gertrude Stein, Baudelaire, Kathryn Mansfield, D. H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden, to the biographies of Frederic Chopin and Peter Illytch Tchaikovsky by Herbert Weinstock, whom he was later to know in New York City. She also introducted him to the music of Jean Sibelius and Sergei Rachmaninov. Richard asked her to write lyrics for him to set to music. She consented and they became collaborators. An examination of these first songs, although musically naive, reveals a gift for melody and word painting. Several of these songs were entered into a National Scholastic Magazine Competition and Richard won a Prize. He was now garnering attention for his compositional skills as well as his piano skills.
Hundley's early life was profoundly influenced by three women, all of who recognized and nurtured his love and talent for music. Madame Illona Voorm took an undisciplined talent and through a formal instruction method cultivated a young performer capable of comfortably performing with seasoned musicians. Her solid musical training prepared him to enter the competitive world of professional music. Mary Rodgers Fossit introduced Hundley to contemporary literature and collaborated with him as an equal partner in creating songs. She provided a sympathetic environment where he could express his innermost thoughts and feelings. His lifelong, deep love of the arts was nurtured through this warm relationship. His Grandmother's influence would reverberate most deeply throughout Hundley's life. Anna Susan Campbell's supportive presence provided an environment that allowed his inborn love of music and compositional gift to flourish. She never hindered his creativity nor stifled his imagination or spontaneity. Her deep pride, loving admiration and encouragement of his musical talent can be largely credited with his becoming a professional musician.
Establishing Career in New York
Throughout his tenure in high school, Richard had regularly entered and competed successfully in local and regional music contests as a pianist, yet he had developed a strong interest for composing. In 1948 Richard Hundley graduated from Northern Kentucky High School and entered full-time study at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, majoring in Composition and minoring in Piano. Toward the end of the scholastic year, his piano Professor Robert Goldsand, announced that he was moving to New York to teach at the Manhattan School of Music. Richard was offered a scholarship and recognizing this as a good opportunity to move to a more exciting environment, he followed Professor Goldsand to New York City. He enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music in 1950, but after a year of study the scholarship ended and he was forced to withdraw due to financial hardship. During this transitional period Hundley made several trips back and forth to Kentucky, but finally with his Grandmother's blessing and fifty dollars in his pocket, he moved back to the city and settled permanently. Life in New York was a daunting proposition. Unable to continue his formal musical training and faced with the necessity of making a living he worked at various odd jobs. In the evenings, Hundley immersed himself in the musical scene of New York City. In the second half of the 1950's, he began composing again. Noel Ferrand, a composer and founder of the Rachmaninov Society, introduced him to other composers. In the late 1950's, Hundley began studying counterpoint with composer Israel Citkowitz. Citkowitz had studied with Boulanger in Paris, and taught Hundley the same lessons that he had had in Boulanger's studio. Citkowitz helped Hundley with counterpoint, but was unsupportive and critical of his compositions. Nonetheless, Hundley continued to compose. He wrote Softly the Summer (August, 1957) and Epitaph on a Wife (November, 1957), and The Astronomers (September, 1959).
In 1960, at the suggestion of his roommate, singer David Waner, Hundley auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Thanks to what he called "sheer luck and natural talent", he and 10 other tenors were selected for an intensive six week training course during which they had to learn 10 operas encompassing four different languages. The sole survivor of that course, he passed another audition and earned a position in the chorus. He remained in the chorus for four years, and continued to compose during the three month summer hiatus. His pieces from this period are Isaac Greentree (March, 1960), Elizabeth Pitty (an epitaph) (July, 1960), Joseph Jones (an epitaph) (October, 1961)Spring (October 1962), For Your Delight (October and August, 1962)I am not lonely (1963), Maiden Snow (1963) Daffodils (1963), My Master Hath a Garden (January, 1963), Postcard from Spain (1964), Some Sheep are Loving (1964), a duet entitled Just Why Johnnie was Jimmie (1964), Screw Spring (1968), and a cycle of six poems by Elizabethan poet, John Fletcher, written between 1964 and 1966. The songs are entitled, Weep No More, Tell Me Dearest, What is Love?, Sweet River, God of the Sheep, Green Woods are Dumb, Care Charming Sleep.
In 1962 soprano Eileen DiTullio sang Softly the Summer and Spring in a concert at Town Hall in New York City. Among those in attendance was Paul Kapp, Director of General Music Publishing Company. Impressed, he telephoned Hundley the next morning and asked to meet with him. Kapp explained that General Music Publishing Company was interested in starting a catalog of serious music, and that he wished to begin this project by publishing the two compositions he had heard. General Music Publishing Company would eventually publish seven songs of Hundley, "grabbing them as fast as I could finish them." (Hundley, personal communication, September 21, 1996) Ballad on Queen Anne's Death, Maiden Snow, For Your Delight, Softly the Summer, Spring, Postcard from Spain, andWild Plum were all published in the period of 1962 - 1964. Not satisfied with some of the accompaniments, Hundley eventually revised the piano parts for Ballad on Queen Anne's Death, Maiden Snow, For Your Delight, Softly the Summer, and Spring, but the revisions have not yet been published.
His employment at the Opera House reaped much more than a paycheck. During this time, he ingratiated himself to many of the singers and began showing them his music. Impressed with the songs, some of them began including them on their concert programs. Annaliese Rothenberger and Rosalind Elias were the first in 1962, followed by Anna Moffo, Teresa Stratas, Lili Chookasian and John Reardon in 1963. In 1965, renowned mezzo soprano Betty Allen began to include his songs on her numerous international recital tours sponsored by the United States Department of State.
It was Anna Moffo, at the height of her world fame, who won wide critical attention for the young composer by including a group of his songs on her recital programs. Throughout the 1960's, she was to sing Hundley's songs on her concert tours of major cities in the United States as well as some European capitals. In Philadelphia in 1963 where Miss Moffo first performed his songs, Max de Schauensee (1963) in the Phildelphia Evening Bulletin wrote, "the songs showed a gift for melody and writing for the voice." (March 15, 1963) Hundley's "gift for melody" would often be noted by future critics.
In 1962, Richard Hundley was introduced to composer Virgil Thomson by Chicago music and theater critic, Roger Dettmer. Although Hundley never engaged in formal lessons with Thomson their relationship would span the next 27 years and would prove highly stimulating and beneficial to the younger composer. "He never denied me access to his store of knowledge", reports Hundley, "about composing, New York, the business, etc." (Hundley, personal communication, September 21, 1996) Thomson's ideas about setting words to music would influence Hundley, and the young composer would begin to set abstract texts. Thomson sponsored Hundley for membership in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Performers (ASCAP). Though they would have their differences, they would remain a friends to the time of Thomson's death in 1989. "We liked each other's music." (Hundley, personal communication, October 31, 1996)
At the suggestion of Virgil Thomson, Hundley continued his studies, especially harmony, with Harold Knapik.
Harold was a Chicago composer, gourmet cook, and author of a book on counterpoint. He and his wife, Virginia, had lived in Paris where she had worked a little while for the Embassy, but they were mainly supported by Osborn Andreas, a Chicago millionaire and patron of artists. After Harold broke his hip and Andreas was ruined financially, the Knapiks returned to America. They settled in New York City on the Upper East Side, where they opened an art gallery, unsuccessfully. (Hundley, personal communication, October 23, 1996)
Hundley worked with Knapik between 1962 to 1965.
Knapik encouraged me in all my compositional projects, he backed me up...said 'Of course you can do it!'...and then went straight to the heart of the technical problem. It was like what Virgil said about Boulanger's approach to music composition...'like sitting down and writing a letter.' I was not overwhelmed or buried with the idea of creating a masterpiece (Hundley's emphasis), I just did it. (Hundley, personal communication, October 14, 1996)
The first concert entirely of Hundley's music took place in the spring of 1964, when the Metropolitan Opera visited Cleveland on its annual tour. The concert was given at Karamu House, the oldest black settlement house in the United States. This event was arranged by Kay Williams, the wife of a successful inventor, Alfred Williams. "She was a woman of great personal charm with a rare sensitivity to artists" says Hundley. (Hundley, personal communication, October 5, 1996) The program of the concert consisted of two groups of songs, sung by soprano Jeanette Scovotti, and the premier of a duet for tenor and bass on a text by Gertrude Stein, Just Why Johnnie was Jimmie, performed by George Shirley and Ezio Flagello. The composer was at the piano. A Note on The Young Composer by Carl Van Vechten accompanied the program. The audience was distinguished by the presence of divas Renata Tebaldi and Gabriella Tucci, by several Metropolitan Opera conductors and soloists, and prominent Cleveland artists. Also by nearly 60 socialite ladies, sponsors of the Metropolitan Opera's visits to Cleveland, most of who had never before visited Karamu. Mrs. Williams arranged for the composer to be driven to his concert in a chauffeured Rolls Royce. The concert was reviewed by the composer Herbert Elwell, also the critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who summed up his review by saying "Hundley's writing is melodious, in the best sense. Obviously he has a wide knowledge of how to employ the voice to its best advantage. His music has charm and fluency in a conservative idiom." (Elwell, April 24, 1964)
Hundley left the Metropolitan Opera employment at the end of the season in July, 1964. "After four years I was finding it an unbearable hindrance to my creative development to sing six performances a week and rehearse almost every day. My ears were filled with dead men's music!" (Hundley, personal communication, October 3, 1996) To earn a living, Hundley performed as a church and synagogue musician. Hundley states "I expected to get some assistance from foundations giving grants to other artists. Something to help me along the way. Nothing was forthcoming. Nevertheless I found the money to continue to study and compose paid for by myself or given for free, such as my lessons by Bill Flanagan. (Hundley, personal communication, September 29, 1996) One of the strongest reason that he was finding it difficult was that he was writing music that was in total contrast to the type of music written, promoted and sponsored by the Establishment. Roger Dettmer writes in a Chicago American article "Richard Hundley, a Musical 'Maverick'", July 19, 1964,
Unless a young American composer is acknowledged, and sponsored, by the eastern Establishment-a tight circle of interbred cliques with headquarters on Manhattan island-he is likely to find his professional life a Kafka-like sequence of closed doors and deaf ears....It takes guts [and an outside income] to pursue a career in music without the blessing of the Establishment.... It takes a steady hand, as well as talent, to write music that is not serial neo-classicism, or left-over Satie....Hundley...has found a creative direction....he writes communicatively in our age of alienation....[his music] has a directness that casual listeners might call charming, except the word is currently in disgrace....He gives one fresh faith in mavericks. (p. A-16)
During the late 1960's, Hundley was invited and participated two summers at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. In the summer of 1966, Hundley studied with composer William Flanagan. Flanagan had studied at the Eastman School of Music and later worked with David Diamond, Aaron Copland, Arthur Berger and Arthur Honegger. He was also music critic for The Herald Tribune, Stereo Review and Musical America. Flanagan died an untimely death, but he left the genre with "beauty and profound pathos." (Villamil, 1993 p. 168). Under his tutelage, Hundley analyzed Stravinsky's Persephone, an accomplishment that he calls "very helpful." Asked to explain, Hundley replied, "the intervallic spacings of the chords in Persephone gave to classical harmony a new and fresh sound. After I had explored the work, it was obvious to me that Copland, Diamond, Fine and Flanagan had profitted earlier by a harmonic analysis of the work." (Hundley, personal communication, November 2, 1996)
Hundley's music and talent continued to be recognized by singers audiences and critics alike. In an extensive review of Hundley's music in The Diplomat, January 1967, by Hi-Fi Stereo Magazine editor Robert Offergeld writes,
In some respects the most interesting of the very newest young Americans is Richard Hundley, a composer of Art Songs. Uncowed by the current fashion for eye-music, Mr. Hundley writes ear-music that is fresh, vigorous, and above all vocally effective. His specialty being unabashed communication, his prosody is both clear and convincing. At two programs of Hundley's songs heard this past fall , the startled and respectful attention of largely professional audiences, obviously unprepared for these unusual developments in serious lyric composition, was almost amusingly evident. Mr. Hundley's vocal line is large, shapely and venturesome, and his expressive resources include a remarkable lyric intensity as well as humor. If his mood occasionally seems neo-Romantic, the elegant economy of his writing derives from classicism and I would guess that he would have much more up his sleeve along this line than at present appears. (p. 36-37)
In 1967, Hundley began to accompany the vocal studio of the great soprano, Zinka Milanov. Milanov had enjoyed an extensive and highly successful operatic career. For 29 years she was the leading dramatic soprano of the Metropolitan Opera. Her roles there were Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana), the Leonora's (Il Trovatore, La Forza del Destino), Maddelena (Andrea Chenier), Desdemona (Otello) and the title roles in Norma, Aida, La Gioconda and Tosca. She is considered to be one of the great sopranos in the 20th century and "the foremost Verdi soprano of her time"(Bruce Burroughs, personal communication, October 26, 1996).
At first I was reluctant to accept her offer [to become her studio accompanist] because I was afraid that serving as her accompanist might take too much of my time away from composing. But when I confessed to her that I was very interested in finding out what the art of bel canto was really all about, she replied 'No one can show you better than I can.' And so I became her accompanist....In the ten years I played for the great diva, there came through the doors of her studio a long line of famous singers--mostly women--eager to profit from her instruction. (Hundley, p. 108, 1990)
In her studio, Hundley accompanied the leading singers including Regine Crespin, Grace Bumbry, Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry, Rosalind Elias, Milka Stojanovic, Anna Moffo and Betty Allen. In an Opera Quarterly (1990) article, Hundley wrote, "Zinka Milanov often told me that her singing had given her her supreme joy in life. My relationship with this great singer gave me one of the deepest inspirations of my (Hundley's emphasis) life." (p. 111) The 1970's was a fruitful time for Hundley, and he composed some of his most successfully received songs during this period, including Come Ready and See Me (Jan./Feb. 1971), Lions Have Lain in Grasses Before (1971), Vocal Quartets on Poems by James Purdy (1971), If You Love Me (1972), Birds U.S.A. (June 1972), I Do (Aug. 1974), Are they Shadows that We See? (1974), Evening Hours (Feb. 1975), Bartholomew Green (Nov. 1978) Sweet Suffolk Owl (June 1979).
Vocal Quartets to Poems by James Purdy, celebrate love for the sea and for animals. They were composed in the spring of 1971 and received their premiere at the Ram Island Arts Festival in Maine in that summer. The reviewer for the Evening Express in Portland, Maine wrote, "The originality of the Purdy poems, combined with the extraordinary feeling and mood that Mr. Hundley imparts to them with his style and elegance of vocal line, make these works immediately accessible to an audience. There is a warm, human quality to Mr. Hundley's music." (R. Raymond Adams, July 28, 1971) The New York premier of the Vocal Quartets was given by the Metropolitan Opera Studio at the New York Cultural Center on February 23, 1972, in a program that featured Hundley's music. Hi Fidelty/Musical America (1972), included a review about the performance in its June issue.
Hundley is a polished craftsman and can spin out very lilting, salon-type melodies. The quartets in particular ought to be popular among singers, considering the derth of contemporary vocal chamber music. The blithe and bubbly Jenny Wren is an especially delectable number. I also recall the exquisitely distilled nostaglia of one of the songs, Come Ready and See Me." (p. 62)
Much of the material in the Vocal Quartets was incorporated by the composer into his later work, The Sea is Swimming Tonight. Trinity Church in the City of New York presented an all-Hundley concert on October 25, 1972, which included the Vocal Quartets as well as groups of songs. The church also commissioned a song, It You Love Me, to a text by Saint Paul. This composition was given its premiere the same day as part of a short religious service prior to the noon-day concert. The performers were Faye Robinson, soprano, and Larry King, organist and musical director of Trinity Church.
Come Ready and See Me is perhaps Hundley's most widely performed song. Because the song arouses strong feeling, critics have been divided in their opinions of it. William Crutchfield (1985) in a review published in The New York Times, called it a "sappy song" (May 5, p. C-12), while Robert Sherman (1987), also in The New York Times, called it "absolutely ravishing" (October 25, p. C-9). Whatever the critics have written, this song continues to find new advocates each year and to deeply move audiences.
On February 2, 1982, in Alice Tully Hall, Newell Jenkins and the Clarion Music Society performed the world premiere of The Sea is Swimming Tonight, a cantata on poems of James Purdy, commissioned to celebrate the Society's 25th anniversary. It is a 10-movement, choral-song cycle for SATB chorus, four soloists and four-hand piano that celebrates love for the sea and activities at the seashore. New York Post music reviewer Bill Zakariasen reported (1982) that "it proved an instantaneous hit...[a] lovely cycle...that can stand on its own merits." (p. 15) The cycle, contains the original choral setting of Waterbird. Tenor Paul Sperry was so moved by the melody that the morning after the premiere he contacted Hundley expressing the wish to commission an arrangement of Waterbird for solo voice. It wasn't until six years later, that Hundley accepted the commission and the solo arrangement of the piece was completed. It was first recorded by Sperry in 1992. Also from The Sea is Swimming Tonight is the solo Over Green Leaves, for soprano voice.
The 1982 International American Music Competition for Vocalists sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the Rockefeller Foundation included Hundley's music in its select repertory list. 222 vocalists, representing 38 states and 14 foreign countries, participated in the preliminary auditions for the 1982 Competition. There were 12 semi-finalists and four of these included groups of Hundley songs in their programs. (Stagebill, vol 6, no. 1, September, 1982)
In 1983 Hundley's songs were performed to enthusiastic response from audiences at the Newport Music Festival. Edwin Safford (1983) in the Providence Sunday Journal wrote, "Hundley's natural bent, as viewed from this encounter, is for setting words to music in a clearly romantic, custom-fit fashion, as if one were meant for the other." (p. C-11) Through combined grants from the New England Foundation, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and the Raytheon Corporation he was offered the position of composer-in-residence for the 1984 season. Hundley was to continue to be the composer-in-residence for four seasons at the Music Festival (Safford, The Evening Bulletin 1984; Eckert, Jr., The Christian Science Monitor, 1987). Among the composer's works which received their premieres at the Festival were the songs Are They Shadows That We See ? andBeverly, and the Saint Stephens-Prince Antelope duet from an incomplete opera, Wedding Finger, based on a play by James Purdy.
During this period, Hundley's choral work "Ball" (1985) was premiered by the Robert Page Singers, Robert Page, conductor. They had commissioned the work and Hundley set a whimsical text written especially for him by James Purdy. It is scored for four soloists, chorus and four-hand piano. A review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer written by Robert Finn (1985) said
Hundley's straightforward, squarely tonal and rhythmically regular music catches a kind of nostalgic air about the typical American picture of a group of boys tossing a ball into the air. But toward the end, when Purdy's text gets surreal and more profound meanings are at least suggested, Hundley's music follows suit, growing pensive, almost suggesting a small town American Ralph Vaughn Williams or Mahler in one of their reflective moods...."Ball" is short [about nine minutes], easy to assimilate at first hearing, and undeniably attractive. The audience enjoyed it, and Page commanded a repeat performance on the spot. (p. 17)
In 1987 the Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition, designated Richard Hundley as one of the standard American composers for vocalists. The other eleven composers signaled out for this honor were Dominick Argento, Samuel Barber, Paul Bowles, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, John Duke, William Flanagan, Charles Griffes, Charles Ives, John Jacob Niles and Virgil Thomson.
Maud Muller was commissioned by the Sleepy Hollow Concert Association in commemoration of its 40th anniversary season. It was first performed by Christopher Trakas, baritone, and the composer as pianist at a gala concert, Saturday evening, April 16, 1988, in the Washington Irving Auditorium in Tarrytown, New York. Robert Sherman announced the event in The New York Times, April 10, 1988. In an article under the heading "Premiere Song Cycle to be in Tarrytown", Sherman wrote (1988),
the score is a setting of verses from Maud Muller, a narative poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. Mr. Hundley, whose compositional style is lyric in the extreme, has frequently been attracted to poetic explorations of lost opportunities and regretful illusions, and the Whittier poem would seem to fit right into that mold; 'For of all sad words of tongue or pen/The saddest are these; it might have been'. (p. C-6)
The piano-vocal score is 26 pages and the work lasts around 10 minutes. Hudnley says about the cycle,
I now want to enlarge it by adding eight of the lines I left out while composing it. I also want to orchestrate it. I think of this work as a male-Knoxville. James Purdy encouraged me to set this American bucolic poem to music and insisted that it was ideal for me. (Hundley, personal communication, November 1, 1996)
In 1990, Hundley completed work on his song cycle, Octaves and Sweet Sounds, which had been commissioned by Art Song Minnesota, a festival sponsored by the University of Minnesota. The set of five songs using 20th century poetry, was written for mezzo soprano Glenda Maurice and was premiered by Miss Maurice and pianist Ruth Palmer at the McKnight Theatre in The Ordway, in St. Paul on June 9, 1990. The cycle was published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1993. Also in 1990, Tom, Tom the Piper's Son was commissioned by Young Concert Artists, for the soprano Dawn Kotoski. Miss Kotoski with Eugenia Zuckerman, flutist and Warren Jones, pianist premiered the work on November 13 at the Kaufmann Concert Hall at the 92nd Street YMCA. James Keller reviewed it for Musical America (1991), writing,
This composer is a sort of American Poulenc, expert at creating characterful melodies and illuminating their corners with flashes of harmonic surprise....the composer's singer-friendly phrases spotlighted Kotoski's agreeable timbre. (May, p. 52)
In addition to the works mentioned above, Hundley completed the songs Arise My Love (1981), The Girls of Golden Summers (1982),Will there really be a Morning? (1987), Fine Manners (1989), Awake the Sleeping Sun (1991), The Elephant is Slow to Mate (1992), White Fields (1995), and the Whales of California (1996).
Richard Hundley continues to live and compose in New York City. Over thirty years ago, the composer John Corigliano wrote that Hundley's "lyrical approach has ideally suited him for the composition of vocal music." (John Corigliano, WBAI Bulletin, 1964). In a recent article on American Art Song in Opera News, Paul Sperry writes (1996),
Richard Hundley says his objective is to crystallize emotion. He succeeds amazingly well. Some of his pieces are heart-stoppingly beautiful. His melodies stay in the mind. In his harmonies and open spacings, he sounds American. He understands both the voice and piano perfectly....He writes every kind of song: slow, fast, wet, dry, funny, moving, waltzes, fox-trots, major statements, little bonbons." (Sperry, p. 24, 1996)
His songs are performed around the world, and they continue to grow in popularity with singers and audiences alike.
The major sources of influence on Hundley's compositional style can be found in his musical training, his own singing experience, as studio accompanist for Zinka Milanov for more than a decade with the foremost singers of the day, and his close relationships, both personal and professional, with his composer colleagues.
His early training as a pianist has been discussed, and the influence of this can be found in accompaniments idiomatic to the piano. The writing for the piano is demanding, often comprised of non-traditional chords, intricate rhythms and accompaniments that are often beautiful enough to stand alone. Like the great Lied composers of the 19th century, Hundley uses the piano as a full partner with the voice. It is often brilliantly partnered with the vocal line in a manner that elucidates the inner emotions of the text and provides both singer and listener with added insight into the depth of feelings. He uses the entire range of the piano keyboard and a variety of textures to bring clarity to the text. Hundley's piano training and improvisations have led to a highly individual pianistic language and use of the instrument's potential for colors and expressive range.
Hundley's own singing experience is an important element whose effect on his style cannot be underestimated. The influence can be found in his vocal lines that are always lyrical and grateful to sing. "He is an impassioned lyricist, who loves to caress the words with beguiling melody. Singers clearly love to sing these songs...though tricky, they're a balm for weary throats and weary ears." (Eckert, p. 19, 1987). Hundley writes for the voice with a sensitivity that comes from an expertise developed over years of singing himself and being with singers. Though he writes gratefully for the voice, he says that his main concern is to write expressively. (Hundley, personal communication, September 10, 1996) Virgil Thomson warned him "Never listen to a singer--they'll always throw you a wrong curve" (Hundley, personal communication, October 20, 1996). Hundley is receptive to singers' thoughts when composing. In a letter to the composer, American operatic soprano Anna Moffo wrote that his songs are "vocally rewarding," and she "found him to have a truly great gift of melody and a way with setting words to these melodies..."(Moffo, personal communication, March 11, 1982).
Hundley's style is also influenced by his talent and fondness
for improvising with his singing voice and on the piano. This inclination towards spontaneous creation was evident in his childhood. From his earliest memories, he was always singing and making up melodies. When he had a piano, he began to compose accompaniments for these melodies. The added dimension is his love of poetry and his inclusion of the text into this process. Hundley memorizes the text before setting it to music, then begins to combine it with a melodic shape that reflects his feelings about the text. The melodic shape and rhythm are worked until a balance between the emotional meaning and textual clarity is reached.
Throughout his life, Hundley has had close relationships with many of America's great composers. In the 1950's and 1960's, in addition to his teachers Thomson, Citkowitz, and Flanagan, he was in contact with Noel Farrand, Stanley Hollingsworth, John Brodkin Kelley, Lee Hoiby, David del Tredici, and John Corigliano. He also met and socialized with Marc Blitzstein, Henry Cowell, Vittorio Giannini, Gian Carlo Menotti, Leonard Bernstein, Alec Wilder and Samuel Barber.
All...art song composers revealed themselves in their choices of poets and poetry, selecting poetry that touched their spirit and inspired musical kinship with the poet (Correll, p. 21, 1993)
Like other art song composers before him, Hundley has expressed that his primary goal is to musically reveal "how I feel about the words." (Hundley, personal communication, July 26, 1996) Hundley has focused on texts by 20th century American writers (with the exception of John Greenleaf Whittier) and British texts by Elizabethan and 20th century poets. An inventory of his published works reveals that seven of the texts are written by British poets: William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Joyce and two Elizabethan verses by unknown authors. Ten songs use texts by American poets: six authored by James Purdy, and individual songs with texts by e.e. cummings, Gertrude Stein, Jose Garcia Villa, Kenneth Patchen. The remaining songs use poetry written by Hundley and anonymous authors.
What I am interested in...is the crystallization of emotion. I memorize a text and live with it, then set it according to how I feel about the poem. A song is like a short story, and from the first notes played by the piano I am telling the listener how I feel about the text. (Hundley, personal communication, October 3, 1996)
Friedberg (1981) states, "American poets of this century seem to welcome song composers rather than to resent them" and this is certainly true of Hundley. His close personal relationship with the American writer James Purdy has been a major influence in his life. Their friendship of 34 years has produced some of Hundley's most memorable and popular songs, as well as choral works and cantatas. In 1962 Hundley read Purdy's novel Malcolm which he thought "brilliant, funny and disturbing" (Hundley, personal communication, September 25, 1996). Soon after, Harold Knapik introduced the composer to the author at a dinner party. "We immediately took each other up with great enthusiasm." (Hundley, personal communication, October 31, 1996) By 1964 their friendship was sealed. Carl van Vechten wrote Hundley a note on the back of a photograph, in which he quotes Purdy as saying, "I am now much satisfied with Richard Hundley and we have decided to go on 'til death." (Van Vechten, personal communication to composer, May, 1964) Purdy wrote (1984) "it was Richard Hundley who encouraged me to go on with writing poetry in the first place, and without his insistence that my verse was in its own way as important as my fiction and plays, I might have given up writing it." (p. 304) Many of the poems Hundley set to music were written for him by Purdy. Purdy's first collection of poetry, The Running Sun (1971), and Collected Poems (1990) are dedicated to Hundley. Both Purdy and Hundley come from Ohio and share a common middle-American background.
Hundley says that what speaks to him in Purdy's poetry is its imagination and freshness.
Simple lines like 'We have continued to fish in troubled waves/and the sun has always gone down' are for me magical. While they say exactly what it is they say, they imply so much more. My songs too are full hidden and other meanings. James is an artist totally in touch with his inner feelings. His adjectives not only describe but make you feel. (Hundley, personal communication, November 3, 1996)
James Purdy was born in 1923 in Fremont, Ohio. He studied at the University of Chicago in 1941 and 1946, as well as the University of Puebla in Mexico. He worked as an interpreter in Latin America, France, and Spain and taught for four years at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin from 1949 to 1953. Since 1953, Purdy has lived in Brooklyn, New York writing full time.
Purdy's writing was first recognized by Dame Edith Sitwell, who proclaimed his novella 64: A Dream Palace "a masterpiece" and saw to its publication along with a collection of short stories, Color of Darkness, in 1957 (Murphy, 1996) Murphy (1996) states that Purdy is a controversial figure whose "black allegorical parodies depict a world of twisted or negated morals in which people are incapable of communication." (p. 842)
James Purdy has received many major awards and prizes, among them: a National Institute of Arts and Letters Grant-1958; Guggenheim Fellowship, 1958 and 1962; Ford Fellowship for Drama-1961. His novel, On Glory's Course, was nominated for a William Faulkner Pen award. He is considered "a contemporary master of the short story genre." (Friedberg, 1987). Gore Vidal (1992) called him "an authentic American genius." Edward Albee adapted Purdy's novel Malcolm for the Broadway stage. Purdy is the author of 17 novels, many short stories and plays, and five books of poetry.
The influence of Virgil Thomson on Hundley goes beyond the realm of musical issues and can be seen in some of the texts Hundley has chosen to set. About Thomson, Hundley states, "among the things he taught me was the setting of abstract texts. Virgil said, 'Set the words for clarity and let the meaning take care of itself.'" (Hundley, personal communication, October 3, 1996) Hundley first did this in his setting of Gertrude Stein's text Some Sheep are Loving (1964). In a 1980 review in The New York Times, Joseph Horowitz wrote, "Mr. Hundley's Lesson VI From the First Reader sets Gertrude Stein's doggerel to a scrambled waltz with tuneful ingenuity." (May 14, 1980)
Thomson's influence was noted by music critic Robert Carl in a review of a recording of Hundley's songs by mezzo soprano D'Anna Fortuna. "[Thomson's] emphasis on lean, plainspoken, unsentimental text-setting obviously registered on the student." (Carl, 1994 review) And in a review of Hundley's choral song cycle, The Sea is Swimming Tonight, Robert Finn recognized Hundley's gift for text setting. He stated, "It showed a sensitivity to words and a concern for prosody that were very refreshing." (Finn, 1983) An examination of the texts of Hundley's songs shows an affinity with fine literature and an innate lyrical nature. He chooses simple, straightforward texts that deal with unrequited love like James Purdy's Evening Hours, manifestations of music in nature and human love portrayed in James Joyce's Strings in the Earth and Air, eternal life in the epitaphs The Astronomers and Isaac Greentree and the poignancy of lost love as in Purdy's Come Ready and See Me. Hundley does not ignore lighter topics and is attracted to the zany, as in Purdy's Bartholomew Green, the humorous Epitaph on a Wife, and the abstract, pop-art poetry like José Garcia Villa's Moonlight's Watermelon. In all cases, Hundley chooses poetry that is evocative of deep emotion and feeling and have a lucidity and directness of communication.
Melody is the most important element of song. From the beginning of his public career, Hundley has been recognized for his crafting of beautiful melody. Philadelphia Evening Bulletin music critic, Max de Schauensee praised his "gift for melody and writing for the voice." (de Schauensee, March 15, 1963) In a review of the first concert consisting solely of Hundley songs, Elwell (1964), a leading music critic and distinguished composer who had studied with Boulanger, wrote this in a review for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Hundley's writing is melodious, in the best sense. Obviously he has a wide knowledge of how to employ the voice to its best advantage....His music has charm and fluency." (Elwell, April 24, 1964) In an article in the July 19, 1964 edition of the Chicago American, Roger Dettmer discusses Hundley's influences, compositional style and talent.
Hundley is a natural-born melodist, with a keen instinct for poetic quality.... [Hundley] has learned the problems of the human voice wholly-its potential and its natural limitations.... He composes with extreme care, altho ideas come abundantly....His music has mood, and sequence, textual substance, and rhythmic grace. (p. A-17)
As a young child Hundley was constantly improvising melodies and would sing them without words throughout the day. He used those melodies as the foundation for improvised pieces until his early teens when he began writing them down in song form. An excellent example of this melodic improvisation is Softly the Summer that began as piano piece, and to which Hundley wrote the words in 1956. The melody is poignant, tender and evokes a calm mood. Hundley wrote an evocative text about the yearning and nostalgia of summer's disappearance into fall.
As a developing composer, it was the music of Samuel Barber that offered him inspiration. Both trained and experienced singers, Barber and Hundley compose with elements of romantic song that incorporate lyric, flowing vocal lines equally expressive of emotion and text. Hundley has said that he was greatly influenced by an early encounter with Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Barber's most "completely representative work" (Mellers, p. 202, 1967). This exposure to the expressive, evocative vocal writing of Barber reinforced what was for Hundley a natural medium of expression.
Richard Hundley's composes his melodies based on his emotional reaction to the chosen text and this is the pivot upon which the rest of the composition balances. He sets the words for clarity and singability. Paul Sperry writes "[Hundley's] melodies stay in the memory" and quotes Virgil Thomson as stating "Hundley's songs could stand on their vocal lines alone." (Sperry, liner notes, 1990) This attention to vocal lines is reminiscent of bel canto melodies in 19th century Italian song and opera. Indeed, Hundley feels that his concept of writing vocal music is strongly related to the bel canto influence from his four years with the Met Chorus and by the years he served as Madame Milanov's studio accompanist. (Hundley, personal communication, July 23, 1996)
Harmony vis à vis Accompaniment
In a review of Hundley's work Ball, Robert Finn wrote Hundley's "pieces have had wide circulation because singers find them grateful to sing, and audiences enjoy their traditional harmonic orientation." (Finn, 1984) Hundley had studied harmony with American composer William Flanagan, from whom he learned to intertwine lyric and expressive vocal lines with lightly textured accompaniments that "give the impression of independence, whereas in actuality, they closely interact with the voice." (Villamil, p. 165, 1993) Almost without exception, Richard Hundley's music is tonal, but he incorporates many compositional devices characteristic of 20th century music. The rhythms and style found in ragtime make up the foundation for the accompaniment of I Do, and Hundley uses quotations of American patriotic songs in Birds, U.S.A. Elements of American folk music compositional techniques of the 1960 and 1970's are evident in the simple guitar-like accompaniment for Come Ready and See Me, reminiscent of songs sung by singers such as Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. Neo-classic harmonies and open-spaced chords favored by American composers in the 1940's and 1950's are heard in Isaac Greentree.
Hundley's chord progressions are not always classically oriented and he often uses ornamented chords with 2nd, 6th and 9ths added. In Ballad on Queen Anne's Death Hundley uses a Neapolitan chord to highlight the text, but rather that using the traditional harmonic movement of the Neapolitan in first inversion and moving to the dominant. Hundley incorporates aspects of the traditional movement, but infuses it with new harmonic elements. He uses the Neapolitan chord in root position and approaches from a III chord and moves to a I6/4. Some of the elements of traditional harmony are present, but they are incorporated into a new harmonic language. Several of his songs end with chords that contain suspended tones, are in an inverted position or non-tonic chords. Strings in the Earth and Air is written in Db major, yet the final chord is a bb minor chord. Come Ready and See Me ends on a Gb major chord in 2nd inversion. Isaac Greentree ends with an open Ab major chord with an unresolved Bb in the soprano voice. Hundley uses these unresolved chords to reflect some aspect of conflict, uncertainty or eternity in the text. Friedberg (1987) quotes Hundley as saying he uses "conventional harmonic and melodic material but rethinks it so that it comes across freshly in the contemporary spirit." (p. 249)