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Oriana and Art Song

The opening date (November 14) for Oriana’s concert series of songs by American composers, “Come To The Woods”, is fast approaching. It’s a beautiful programme, with a fascinating mix of styles and genres spread across a century of music-making.


One genre which features quite prominently in the programme is that species of song commonly referred to as ‘Art Song’. In fact there are half a dozen of these little gems in the evening’s set list.


And what, exactly, is art song? A common misconception is the image of a high-brow, lofty, serious sort of thing, restricted to performance in private drawing rooms, and attended by people dressed in formal attire, sitting with backs ramrod straight and nodding appreciatively, trying to stay awake while listening to music they don’t really understand. In other words, that art song is boring. But, if they’re delivered with passion, love and great musicality, art songs are anything but boring.


Wikipedia defines art song as ‘a vocal music composition, (usually) written for one voice with piano accompaniment, and usually in the classical art music tradition... most often a musical setting of an independent poem or text.’ The definition is neither inclusive nor exclusive. Some poems set to music are more folk song than art song. Some can be considered as either, for example many of the folk songs put to music by Vaughan Williams could be accepted as art song. And, of course, art song is often written for more than one voice.


All the art song pieces in “Come To The Woods” were composed in the 1990s, the 2000s and the 2010s. So you can see that art song is far from being a dead or dying genre. And Oriana is certainly no stranger to the art song, having performed many of them over the past sixteen years. Indeed, two of the composers represented in this programme have been featured in past Oriana performances. Joseph Martin’s “The Awakening” was an Eisteddfod winner for the gentlemen of Oriana; and they have also performed a piece by Z. Randall Stroope, whose exquisitely beautiful “Dance For Love” is part of “Come To The Woods”.



Also in the programme is a beautiful piece sung by the ladies of Oriana, “The Dawn Is Not Distant” by young composer Christine Donkin. It’s a lovely, languid, almost dream-like meditation on the thought that hope is never far away. Morten Lauridsen’s “Dirait-on”, a musical setting of words by Austrian poet Rainer Rilke, and James Q. Mulholland’s “If Love Should Count You Worthy” are equally delightful. And, although strictly speaking it falls outside the ‘formal’ definition of art song, Paul Gross and David Keele’s “After the War”, from the film “Passchendaele”, is a heart-rending and achingly beautiful piece.


In “Come To The Woods”, you will hear show songs, folk songs, madrigals, art songs and more. The songs all have a story to tell, and the magic is in telling the story well. And that is what we always aim to do. Oriana has always been dedicated to bringing you music performed with passion, love and great musicality. If you’re a lover of art song, you will be delighted. If you haven’t been till now, you will be surprised and delighted.


Secure your seats for “Come To The Woods” now, by visiting oriana.org.au


Ian Rix, November 2021


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