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Love Notes: Music that Embodies the Rich Emotions of Romance
February 12 – February 14
The Fort Collins Symphony presents Love Notes, a virtual on-demand streaming concert on February 12, 13, and 14, 2021. The performance features four 19th Century composers whose Classical/Romantic crossover music yielded compositions with incredible emotional breadth. This rich array of works for string orchestra and voice highlights the spectrum of affection from the bright hues of ethereal joy to dark shades of turbulence–and everything in between.
Austro-Hungarian pianist Gustav Mahler wrote compositions with astonishing emotional effectiveness. The Adagietto, from the fourth movement of his Symphony No. 5, demonstrates both anguish and ecstasy in this love letter to his wife, Alma.
British composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s Noveletten for string orchestra ranges from light and lyrical to wistful and hopeful.
German composer Johannes Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes are a loosely bound wreath of songs. The imagery is lilting, lively, expressive, and pastoral with texts touching on birds, stars, the moon, and nature. Given the name, which translates to “Love Songs,” it also encompasses matters of the heart, both happy and sad. Guest artists are Soprano Tiffany Blake, Mezzo-Soprano Nicole Asel, Tenor John Lindsey, and Baritone John Seesholtz.
Finally, Finish composer Jean Sibelius’ 1903 Romance, is a charming miniature work. As the name implies, this little crowd-pleaser depicts a tender quality through the use of lyrical melody lines.
Learn More about the Music on this concert:
Program notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes
Novelletten, nos. 2, 3, 4, op. 52 for string orchestra
Date of Composition: 1903
Duration: 9 minutes each
They say that good things come in small packages. A handwritten note, a sampler of Belgian chocolates, or a carefully selected piece of fine jewelry, each makes a lasting impression. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Novelletten for strings, a brilliantly crafted set of short movements for strings, tambourine, and triangle, fits into this category as well. Written in 1901 and 1902, the work’s title may have been inspired by Robert Schumann’s Novelletten, op. 21, a set of piano miniatures composed in 1838. Coleridge-Taylor, a gifted violinist, wrote his four Novelletten for strings, infusing romantic sentimentality with a coloristic exploration of the modern string orchestra. Novelletten no. 2 contrasts two dance-like sections, one duple and one triple in an overall ABA form. No. 3, labeled “Andante con moto,” features a solo violin, revealing an emotional virtuosity and speaking to the composer’s love for his instrument. The fourth Novelletten, though intended as the finale of the set, works equally well as an opening number—its excitement preparing an audience for an evening of special music. The work was first dedicated to Miss Ethel Barns, a composer and virtuoso violinist who performed and premiered many of Coleridge-Taylor’s works, including the subsequent violin-piano arrangement of Novelletten. The orchestral version must have been a favorite of the composer, for even though his publisher Novello lost money printing the piece, Coleridge-Taylor programmed the set repeatedly on concerts he conducted throughout his career.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912) was the son of a white, English mother and a Sierra Leonean medical student who met in London. Young Samuel, raised in his grandfather’s household by his single mother, picked up the violin quickly, showing musical talent at a young age. A scholarship at age fifteen led him to the Royal College of Music, where he eventually changed his major to composition. He studied with the great Charles Stanford Villiers, at times receiving more attention from his teacher than fellow students Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan-Williams. The young composer finished college with a publisher in place and a number of compositions in print. In the late 1890s, Coleridge-Taylor became increasingly interested in his own heritage and the concept of Pan-Africanism, which led him to study the history of Africans in America. He later noted that one of his lifetime highlights was meeting W. E. B. DuBois at the first Pan-African Conference in London in 1900. In 1898, he composed a cantata titled Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast that found instant international success. A group of African-American singers in Washington, DC founded the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society, finding inspiration in the black composer’s music. They invited him to the United States, where he made three tours in 1904, 1906, and 1910. On the first trip, he conducted his own works with the Marine Band, and was invited to meet Theodore Roosevelt in the White House. Being forewarned of the discrimination he might face in U.S., Samuel wrote to his sponsor: “I can assure you that no one will be able to stop me from paying you my long deferred visit. As for prejudice, I am well prepared for it. Surely that which you and many others have lived in for so many years will not quite kill me… I am a great believer in my race, and I never lose an opportunity of letting my white friends here know it.”
Back in Britain, Coleridge-Taylor carved an artistic niche for himself. He led the London Handel Society from 1904 through 1912 and served as composition professor at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Trinity College of Music. Throughout his career, he received constant support from his wife, Jessie Sarah Fleetwood Walmisley. The two met while studying at the Royal College of Music and were later married in 1899, despite her family’s objections. Although publicly she remained in the background while her husband pursued his career, Jessie certainly had a voice in many of his artistic decisions. Upon the composer’s untimely death due to pneumonia at age 37, Jessie directed that the love letters she and Samuel had written to each other many years earlier be “scattered into his coffin.”
Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
Date of Composition: 1902
Duration: 9 minutes
“This Adagietto was Gustav Mahler’s declaration of love to Alma! … both of them told me this!”
~ Wilhelm Mengelberg, conductor’s score
What could be more romantic than a love note disguised as a musical manuscript? Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto, the fourth movement of his Fifth Symphony, served just that purpose when received by his future wife Alma during the winter of 1901–1902. These years were pivotal in life of Mahler (1850–1911), both psychologically and artistically. In the early months of 1901, the composer experienced an intestinal hemorrhage that almost cost him his life. That summer, he recuperated at his new villa, overlooking the south Austrian Wörthersee. The time away from his duties at the Vienna Court Opera and Vienna Philharmonic was productive. In his solitude, Mahler composed numerous songs, as well as initial drafts of the early movements of his Fifth Symphony. Although he did not know it yet, an even more life-altering experience loomed near. In November, Gustav attended a party at the home of Sophie Clemenceau. There he met a striking young socialite, some twenty years younger than he. Her name was Alma Schindler, the daughter of a highly acclaimed landscape artist. She was well educated and musically talented in her own right and she must have made quite the impression, for by the end of December, the two were engaged. They married in early March.
The Adagietto takes up just five pages in the symphony’s score of almost 250, but when performed, it carries an undeniable weight. In fact, the movement has become one of Mahler’s most popularly programmed orchestral works, often presented apart from its Fifth Symphony setting. Mahler used the movement as somewhat of a respite within the larger symphony, allowing the audience a time of reflection between the gripping, and sometimes foreboding, opening three movements and a triumphant finale. The Adagietto’s sustained sonic beauty reveals its character as a poignant love song, evoking feelings so strong and longing that, at times, the music seems to imply emotional pain mixed with bliss.
Alma’s attachment to Mahler was not without cost. She was a strong, determined woman, but also affected by expectations of her time. In one of their courtship letters, Gustav asked if Alma was willing to “give up your music entirely in order to possess and also be mine instead.” Alma apparently was. Although she had already composed many lieder and piano compositions, she stopped composing completely for many years once married, devoting herself to her domestic role and to helping Gustav with his career. Their almost decade-long union was at times happy and at others difficult, but Alma remained a foremost champion of her husband’s works and reputation beyond his 1911 death, even as she moved forward with her own life.
Romance in C, op. 42
Date of Composition: 1904
Duration: 4:35 minutes
In 1904, the same year that Mahler’s Fifth Symphony premiered and Coleridge-Taylor made his first tour of the United States, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) completed a little piece for string orchestra called the Romance in C. Like Mahler’s pivotal year between 1901 and 1902, 1904 most certainly marked a significant turning point in Sibelius’s life, though for quite different reasons. Sibelius, living with his wife Aino in Helsinki, had reached a dangerous state in which his excessive drinking and extravagant socializing had put the family into a precarious position. Aino and a family friend staged somewhat of an intervention, presenting a plan to leave the city for some place where Sibelius could compose without the temptations that had plagued him. The couple purchased land near Lake Tuusula on which they would build a cottage on an estate they named Ainola. Jean’s brother Christian, a doctor in Berlin, sent medicinal powders to help curb his brother’s alcoholic cravings. A series of concerts was arranged to help fund the construction of the new house. Among these was a concert in Turku, by the orchestra that premiered the Romance. Dedicated to artistic director José Eibenschütz, Sibelius himself conducted. The five-minute work conjures a whirlwind of emotions, ranging from tenderness and angst to longing and serenity, words that might also describe the lifelong journey of Jean and Aino.
Sibelius met Aino Järnefelt in 1888 when her brother, a Helsinki Music Institute classmate, brought Jean home to meet his family. Aino later said that she was instantly taken by Jean’s “passionate gaze.” The romance was cut short, however, when Sibelius left to study in Berlin. Two years later, the couple found each other again when Jean returned to Finland for a summer vacation. By September, they were engaged, but marriage would have to wait until the composer achieved a more solid financial footing. Jean and Aino Sibelius wed on June 10, 1892. The first of six daughters arrived soon afterward. The marriage had many ups and downs, fueled by Sibelius’s drinking, health, and financial issues. Their lives were further complicated by Russian oppression of Finland and difficulties imposed by two World Wars. Yet the relationship remained steadfast. Aino later stated, “I am happy that I have been able to live by his side. I feel that I have not lived for nothing. I do not say that it has always been easy—one has had to repress and control one’s own wishes—but I am very happy. I bless my destiny and see it as a gift from heaven.” Fourth daughter Katrina recalled how, on her mother’s eighty-fifth birthday, her ninety-year-old father climbed the stairs to the second floor of Ainola with great difficulty, in order to present his wife with a special bouquet of birthday flowers. The following year, after sixty-five years of marriage, Aino arranged for her husband’s burial on the grounds of their lovingly attended estate, where she lived out the remaining twelve years of her life, surrounded by memories of their life together.
Liebeslieder Walzer, op. 52
Date of Composition: 1868-1869
Duration: 25 minutes
German composer Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) may have achieved great professional success, but, personally, he remained unlucky in love. Although involved in a number of romantic relationships throughout his lifetime, many were unrequited, and he remained unmarried, never settling down with someone he could call the love of his life. Brahms’s most intriguing relationship was with Clara Schumann. When Brahms visited Düsseldorf in 1853, the twenty-year-old soon made contact with Clara and her husband Robert. Robert Schumann assumed the role of mentor and in his newspaper, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, he even heralded the young artist as the next great German musical master. The following year, when Robert entered an asylum after a failed suicide attempt, Brahms moved to Düsseldorf to help Clara and her children with financial, business, and personal matters. Over the years, many have speculated on the depth of Clara and Johannes’s relationship. There is, however, no clear evidence that the two ever had anything more than an especially meaningful, lifelong friendship, despite Johannes’s early infatuation. Clara wrote in her journal: “He came as a true friend, to share with me all my sorrow; he strengthened my heart as it was about to break, he lifted my thoughts, lightened, when it was possible, my spirits. In short, he was my friend in the fullest sense of the word.” In the 1860s, Brahms experienced several amorous letdowns. In 1863, he was on the verge of proposing to singer Ottilie Hauer, only to be surprised by her engagement to another. Soon after, when overwhelmed by romantic feelings, he called a halt to the piano lessons he was providing the already-engaged Elisabet Stockhausen. A number of years later, he developed feelings for Robert and Clara Schumann’s daughter Julie. Though he never officially proclaimed his feelings for her, he was distraught by Julie’s 1869 engagement, announced the same year he completed his Liebeslieder Walzer, op. 52.
Translated as “love song waltzes,” the composition is a set of eighteen songs originally set for four vocal soloists (SATB) and two pianos. The work premiered in Vienna in 1870. For lyrics, Brahms chose verses from Georg Friedrich Daumer’s Polydora, an 1855 German anthology of folk songs texts from many countries. Each poem that Brahms set to music comments on an aspect of love. Selected songs have longer, more serious texts, and others read like pithy proverbs. Mirroring true love, the emotions put forth are quite varied, some touching, some funny, and some remorseful. Brahms set Daumer’s words with immaculate sensitivity and sophistication, highlighting the meaning found within each text. Musically, the composer likely took inspiration from his mentor Robert Schumann. In 1864 and again in 1869, he edited sets of Schumann’s piano ländler for publication. These works stylized the ländler, a traditional Austrian folk dance often hailed as the precursor to the waltz, and Brahms tellingly marked the first song of the set, “Im Ländler-Tempo.” The work was also composed when “waltz king” Johann Strauss II, director of Royal Court balls in Vienna, was reaching his height of popularity. With these things in mind, it is not hard to envision these songs as love notes, not only to the important women in Brahms’s life—most of whom became lifelong friends, but also to his cherished mentor and to his newly adopted city. The composer revisited the work several times, resetting it for piano-four hands alone and in a shortened version for voices and full orchestra. Regardless of its instrumentation, Liebeslieder Walzer, with its emotional content and musical variety, speaks to Brahms’s legacy of creating beloved, enduring works, in this case a perfect set of musical “Love Notes.”
Tiffany Blake, Soprano
Praised by Opera News Online for her “…truly virtuoso performance…immaculate tone, good support and breath to spare.”, soprano Dr. Tiffany Blake, received her D.M.A. in Vocal Performance with a minor in Opera Stage Direction from the Eastman School of Music, where she also earned her M.M. and was awarded the prestigious Performer’s Certificate.
Dr. Blake’s operatic roles include Desdemona in Otello, Marguerite in Faust, the title role in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, and Mercedes in Carmen among others. Solo engagements have included appearances with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Missouri Symphony Orchestra, and Opera Fort Collins. Blake has a special interest in song literature, and has given several recitals in Scotland, France, Salzburg, and across the U.S., appearances with Chicago’s Arts at Large and the Odyssey Chamber Music concert series in Columbia, Missouri, and a vocal chamber music recital with Salzburg International Chamber Music Concerts.
Blake’s students have been accepted at major conservatories and music programs across the United States, including the Eastman School of Music, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and the University of North Texas. She has served on the faculties of the University of Missouri-Columbia, Syracuse University, Alfred University, and Sonoma State University.
She currently serves as associate professor of voice and director of the Charles and Reta Ralph Opera Program at Colorado State University.
Nicole Asel, Mezzo-Soprano
Mezzo-soprano Nicole Asel serves as Assistant Professor of Voice at Colorado State University where she teaches Voice and Vocal Pedagogy. A finalist in the 2010 Rocky Mountain Regional Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions, Ms. Asel is a devoted operatic performer and recitalist who has a passion for new American opera and art song. She has been active in creating and promoting new works and has collaborated with some of today’s most accomplished living composers including Mark Adamo, Kirke Meachem, Robert Livingston Aldridge, Hershel Garfein, Daniel Kellogg, and Robert Spillman. Her recording of Robert Livingston Aldridge’s LoveSongs is available on the Centaur label with pianist Robert Spillman.
Ms. Asel’s recent performances include Les nuits d’été with the Sam Houston State University Symphony Orchestra, Rufus Wainwright’s Songs for Lulu at the College Music Society National Conference in Vancouver, BC, and the Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors with Music On Site Opera. Favorite operatic and musical theatre roles include Jo March (Little Women), Carmen (Carmen), Dorabella (Cosi fan Tutte), Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro), Desiree Armfeldt (A Little Night Music), Nettie Fowler (Carousel), and Florence Pike (Albert Herring). She has performed with Opera Carolina, Central City Opera, Opera San Antonio, Opera Fort Collins, Greensboro Opera, Long Leaf Opera, The Martina Arroyo Foundation, and Colorado Light Opera Company.
John Lindsey, Tenor
John Lindsey, whose voice has been described as “a blazing tenor” praised for his “clarion tone” and “Helden (tenor) possibilities” by Opera News and has gained a reputation for specializing in German, English, and Slavic repertoire.
Prior to the 2020 corona virus pandemic, Mr. Lindsey performed the role of Bill in the Canadian premier of Jonathan Dove’s Flight with Pacific Opera Victoria, and was slated to perform in The Magic Flute with Opera de Montreal as well as Ours by John Estacio with Opera on the Avalon.
Recent engagements include the Prince in Rusalka with Madison Opera, Froh in Das Rheingold with Arizona Opera, Steva in Jenufa with Pacific Opera Victoria, Narraboth in Salome with the Minnesota Orchestra, Jonathan Dale in Silent Night with Austin Opera and Michigan Opera Theater, Ben Marco in The Manchurian Candidate with Austin Opera, Lloyd in the world premiere of Paul Moravec’s The Shining, and Don José in Carmen with Opera San Jose. On the concert and recital stage, he has recently performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Verdi’s Requiem, and Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder.
Mr. Lindsey was an Apprentice Artist with Des Moines Metro Opera in 2015, a Resident Artist with Minnesota Opera from 2011-2014, and a studio artist with Central City Opera in 2011. He received his Master of Music in Voice Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and his Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from Colorado State University in his hometown of Fort Collins. In 2015, he was invited to participate in the International Competition for Wagnerian Voices at Bayreuth. He currently resides in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife and daughter.
John Seesholtz, Baritone
Dr. John Seesholtz, dramatic baritone, is currently the director of vocal pedagogy at CU Boulder, president of the COWY National Association of Teachers of Singing (Colorado Governor), resident artist with Denver Art Song Project, and instructor at two young artist programs: La Musica Lirica and Up North Vocal Institute.
His most recent operatic performances include “Madama Butterfly” (Sharpless) “Florencia en el Amazonas” (Alvaro), Verdi’s “Otello” (Iago), “Faust” (Valentin), “Candide” (Pangloss), “Così fan tutte” (Guglielmo), “Pagliacci” (Sylvio), Verdi’s “Falstaff” (Ford) and “Gianni Schicchi” (title role). He has been contracted to perform Verdi’s “Macbeth” (title role) and “Dolores Claiborne” (Joe) in the coming year.
Some of his solo concert performances include “Carmina Burana,” Brahm’s “Requiem,” Faure’s “Requiem,” Mozart’s “Requiem,” Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, “The Seven Last Words of Christ,” Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3, “The Five Mystical Songs,” “Sea Symphony,” and “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Dr. Seesholtz is currently a resident artist with the Denver Art Song Project. Since February 2017, he has performed on over nine recitals with the project including the song cycles, “Let Us Garlands Bring” by Finzi and “The Songs of Travel” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. He has performed art song throughout the country including the west coast debut of Jake Heggie’s “A Question of Light,” numerous performances and lectures on the AIDS Quilt Songbook and its uncollected works, and, in 2014, debuted new arrangements of the Old American Songs for Baritone and Chamber Wind Ensemble by Copland in five countries: Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and the U.S.
Seesholtz has traveled Europe performing both opera and art song: In 2006, he made his Italian debut in Venice performing Guglielmo in “Così fan tutte” as part of the Goldoni Teatro Festival Italia. Some of his awards include finalist for the Merola San Francisco Opera Program and the Irwin Bushman Award as NATSAA finalist.
Seesholtz travels the country lecturing and giving master classes. He has given presentations at TMEA, ACDA, NATS and CMS.
Seesholtz has published two articles with the Journal of Singing, “The Origin of the Verdi Baritone,” which was recently featured and quoted on the MET Opera Podcast, and “The AIDS Quilt Songbook and It’s Uncollected Works.” Seesholtz holds vocal performance and pedagogy degrees from University of Michigan (MM), University of Texas at San Antonio (BM) and the University of North Texas (DMA). While working on his doctorate, Seesholtz was awarded the Graduate Music Student of the Year award from University of North Texas.
Seesholtz came to the College of Music as director of pedagogy and associate professor of music in Fall 2018.