The marriage of genres
Death kindly stopped for her in 1886, but on Saturday, March 19, the poetry of Emily Dickinson will be brought vibrantly to life. Though it’s unknown if the notoriously reclusive poet ever thought her poetry would be set to music, her sparse lyricism has proven to be very adaptable for composers, many of whom have risen to the unique challenge of illustrating her irregular meters and metaphors.
For half of her upcoming recital, soprano Jennifer Tibben-Lembke will be singing arrangements of Dickinson’s poetry by American composers.
The musical settings, by composers like Andre Previn, John Duke, Michael Hennigan, Lee Hoiby and Robert Baksa, are diverse, ranging in tempo from allegro to adagio and in disposition from sunny to melancholy. A few poems appear in different settings; “Heart, we will forget him!” is woeful in Hennigan’s setting, brusque in Duke’s.
Part of the fun of a recital like this is hearing the connections between the music and text; having multiple interpretations only deepens this enjoyment. As composer Baksa says, “The most important issue for me is that the settings somehow enhance what the text is saying. … Of course, every composer feels he has captured the poetry he sets, so it is up to others to comment on how successful he has been.”
For the other half of her recital, Tibben-Lembke will be performing lieder (German art songs) by Romantic-era composer Johannes Brahms. Brahms was a figure of some intrigue with possible romantic entanglements with Clara Schumann, the wife of fellow Romantic composer Robert Schumann.
One of the songs Tibben-Lembke will perform, “Meine Leibe ist Grun,” is a setting of a lyric by the Schumanns’ son Felix.
“The marriage of text and music can move you like nothing else,” says Tibben-Lembke. To properly wed the two requires great care on the part of the vocalist—clean diction, tasteful emoting and smooth, precise legato. This challenge is compounded when the music is sung in a nonnative language, but as Tibben-Lembke says, “There’s glorious music in every language.” Unlike the operatic arias, lieder are independent, two- or three-minute entities, brief, dramatic situations. She describes them as “pictures painted vocally.”
Tibben-Lembke teaches voice both privately and on the faculty at UNR. She also conducts Bella Voce, an elite women’s choral ensemble that has an upcoming performance, March 13 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 200 Island Ave., 329-4279. “Choral music and solo performance are related, but different animals, kissing cousins,” says Tibben-Lembke.
She has a great love for solo performance and says, “It’s like any sport; you’ve got to do it to stay fit.”
One distinctive quality of lieder is the elevated role of the pianist beyond straightforward accompaniment. Tibben-Lembke’s "collaborative pianist" will be Susan Olenwine. It promises to be a partnership as perfect as the marriage of text and music. The only partnership that might leave room for doubt is the unusual pairing of Dickinson and Brahms. Tibben-Lembke admits that the connection is tenuous at best: "Really, the only connection is that I just love all the music."