George Bridgetower (1778-1860)

soprano Zyda Culpepper

fortepianist Sylvia Berry

This emotional and energetic song is one of only two confirmed extant works by George Bridgetower, the other being a set of piano exercises. It consists of three melodically strophic verses, and a through-composed keyboard accompaniment, filled with colorfully ambitious flourishes. This was published shortly after earning his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Cambridge. It was dedicated to “Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales,” who was 16 year old Charlotte Augusta at the time. This appears to be the first recording of the piece, as well as the first recording of any Bridgetower composition, at least that is digitally documented and available.

George Bridgetower, originally baptised Hieronimo Hyppolito de Augusto in Poland, was a composer, pianist, polyglot and acclaimed violinist of Afro-Caribbean heritage. He moved to London as a child, where he spent most of his life and career – by the age of ten he appears in documents as a violinist employed at the Drury Lane Theatre. He concertized on violin all around Europe and was a favorite of the upper-class and royalty. Visiting Vienna at the age of 25 he was introduced to and became friendly with Beethoven, who wrote what is now known as the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata for him, and the two premiered the work together in 1803. They fell out, however, and Beethoven changed the dedication for publication. Though he led a distinguished career, by the end of his long life, Bridgetower faced obscurity and poverty. The journal Le Mercure de France wrote of him: “His talent is one of the best replies one can give to philosophers who wish to deprive people of his nation and color of the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the arts.”

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

soprano Theodora Nestorova

pianist Eunmi Ko

Karol Szymanowski set this wonder-filled cycle of 6 Songs (Op. 20) for voice and piano from texts by his longtime collaborator and friend, poet Tadeusz Miciński, in 1909. They were eventually published in Poland in 1925 and the texts were derived from the collection W mroku gwiazd [In the gloom of the stars]. In a surrealist and expressionist fashion true to the genus of poets to which Miciński belonged, Szymanowski excerpted various fragments and selected verses from Miciński’s poetic works and patched them together in each song. From this synthesis emerged the song cycle’s narrative hero – a symbolic bard figure with a “shattered harp of dreams” journeying through life and death among the scenery of fantastic visions and imaginings. This character deeply connects to nature throughout the progression of the songs yet questions his existence. Miciński’s text is rife with evocative themes, images, and metaphors which highlight the romantic modernity of Szymanowski’s compositional texture. While categorized as contemporary in style, Szymanowski was famously heavily influenced by Romantic composers Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Alexander Scriabin, and impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

Even early in his career, musical opportunities in Warsaw became limiting to Szymanowski, so he sought advancement in Berlin, where he formed the Young Polish Composers’ Publishing Co. (1905–12) to propagate new works by Polish artists. Szymanowski traveled extensively and enthusiastically during this period. In doing so, he found confirmation and validation of his burgeoning homosexual identity, leading him to a compose highly expressive poetry and prose in aesthetic celebration. Isolated from the European musical community during World War I, Szymanowski used the accounts he kept from his travels to delve deep into study of Arabic art, Islamic culture, and ancient Greek drama and philosophy. As Poland became an independent state in 1918, Szymanowski steeped himself further in the Polish folk idiom with the purpose of creating a Polish national style, akin to Chopin. His compositional techniques in this time became more conservative, abandoning his previous atonal musical vocabulary. In 1927, Szymanowski was offered the rectorships of the Cairo, Egypt and Warsaw Conservatories; he chose Warsaw. In the following years, he struggled greatly with pulmonary tuberculosis as his health declined. During this period, however, Szymanowski delivered prolific compositional output; the versatile composer wrote works ranging from operas to ballets to chamber works.


Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Stephanie Wurmbrand-Stuppach (1849-1919)

pianist Nicholas Phillips

This beautiful and evocative movement comes from a larger set entitled 'Die schöne Melusine' (The Beautiful Melusina). These 'musical illustrations' depict scenes of the legendary water nymph, but the more romantic and less frightening version that was particularly popular in Romantic-era Europe. This early movement reads:

Die Wasserfee ruht einsam und traumversunken in ihrem Quell, der aus liefdunkler Felsgrotte hervorbricht

The water nymph, alone and lost in dreams, rests at her spring, which bubbles up from a dark stone grotto

Stephanie Wurmbrand-Stuppach, aka Stephanie Brand-Vrabély, led an accomplished life, widely recognized as a composer, touring virtuoso pianist, and cultural writer. She ran in circles with Liszt and Brahms among others, and supported the early efforts of Bartok, in solidarity with her Hungarian roots.