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Sunday Quarantine Deep-dive June 21, 2020

June 21, 2020

Tonight’s deep-dive is into art song in honor of the piece “Moonlight’s Watermelon” by Richard Hundley (1931 – 2018). Hundley is especially known for his American Art Songs, performed by such greats as Renee Fleming and William Warfield.

Tonight’s meeting of Harmonium will feature guest soprano Elena Bird who was our soprano soloist for the St. Matthew Passion and sang with us for several years – also soloist in Andrea Clearfield’s Farlorn Aleman. Elena received her Master of Music degree in Voice Performance from Florida State University and her Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She maintains a private studio in Morristown, New Jersey, including several Harmonium students, and where she resides with her husband, two daughters (one a newborn!), and dog. Elena’s 7:30 program will be an introduction to art song and will help inform your performance of this piece as well as well as next week’s Partial Lunar Eclipse by Lori Laitman.

Image result for richard hundley

Richard Hundley was born in Cincinnati, but from the age of 7, lived with his supportive and influential grandmother in Covington Kentucky (which is right across a bridge from Cincinnati.) In High School, he studied piano at the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, (which is where I got my MM and DMA), thriving under his strict Hungarian teacher enough to perform with the Kentucky and Cincinnati Symphony.

Song of America explains “During high school, Richard was introduced to the mother of a classmate, Mary Rodgers Fossit. The resulting friendship would profoundly and permanently influence him.  Mary Rodgers Fossit was a poet and introduced Richard to the works of Gertrude Stein, Baudelaire, Kathryn Mansfield, D. H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden, and the biographies of Frederic Chopin and Peter Illytch Tchaikovsky by Herbert Weinstock. She also introduced him to the music of Jean Sibelius and Sergei Rachmaninov. She provided a sympathetic environment where he could express his innermost thoughts and feelings and his lifelong, deep love of the arts was nurtured through this warm relationship.”

(In quarantine I have been cleaning out an office/music room and feeling particular nostalgia for the adults that influenced my young musical self…lucky it was for Hundley to have these strong women in his life, grandmother, piano teacher and literary mentor).

In 1950 Hundley moved to New York to study piano at Manhattan School of Music, but ran out of money after a year, and left the school. For several years, he vacillated between New York and Kentucky, but in 1957, settled permanently in New York City.  In 1960 he won a position in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus which gave him an opportunity to begin showing great singers his works. His composition teachers in New York included Israel Cirkowitz, William Flanigan and Virgil Thomson.

In 1967, Hundley began to accompany the vocal studio of the great soprano, Zinka Milanov.  He said, “My relationship with this great singer gave me one of the deepest inspirations of my life.”  Between his own singing, piano study and intimate knowledge of other singers, especially in the bel canto style, he became a master of graceful, singable, lines, full of varied textures in both piano and voice.

During the late 1960’s, Hundley was invited and participated two summers at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.  In 1987 the Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition, designated Richard Hundley as one of only twelve standard American composers for vocalists. He continued to live and compose in New York City until his death in 2018. 

Hundley was commissioned by Whitman College Chamber Singers (Walla, Walla, Washington), Robert Bode, director, to re-set the solo song for chorus and piano. (Robert Bode also got his DMA at Cincinnati with me). The original song was part of the composer’s “Octaves and Sweet Sounds,” a group of songs to contemporary poets. Hundley said, “I was immediately attracted to the poem ‘Moonlight’s Watermelon’ by the magic sounds of the poet’s words. My first consideration in setting this abstract poem to music was to set the words for clarity. For me the poem recalls my childhood living with my grandmother in Kentucky when we ate watermelon, fresh from the garden, on summer evenings.”

“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.” -Richard Hundley

The text by Jose Garcia Villa (1908 – 1997) is all about the sound of words and the feel of them in the mouth. It reminds me of what the judges say to our student composers “live in the poem—let it roll over your tongue.” Villa was a Filipino poet, literary critic, short story writer, and painter. He was known for the extensive use of punctuation marks—especially commas, which you can see in this poem.

Moonlight’s, watermelon, mellows, light,

Mellowly. Water, mellows, moon, lightly.

Water, mellows, melons, brightly.

Moonlight’s mellow, to, water’s, sight.

Yes, and, water, mellows, soon,

Quick, as, mellows, the, mellow, moon.

Water, mellows, as, mellows, melody,

Moon, has, its, mellow, secrecy.

Moonlight’s, moon, has, the, mellow,

Secrecy, of, mellowing, water’s water-

Melons, mellowly. Moonlight’s, a, mellow,

Mellower, being, moon’s, mellow, daughter.

Moonlight’s, melody, alone, has, secrecy,

To, make, watermelons, sweet, and, juicy.

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