Saturday, March 12, 2011


Death is an experience that all humans have. Each culture, each individual has its own way of dealing with this reality. Our own long heritage of music and poetry has a rich and varied response to the issue of death.

From our culture’s music for piano, voice and oboe, we’ve chosen pieces that explore various aspects of death: the pain of loss, mourning, various ideas and images on what we think might happen after death; some images of the horrific and macabre; and even some religious imagery.

Our religious heritage has some very definite ideas about death and afterlife, which we have represented with a selection from a Bach Cantata. However, most of this recital’s music comes from a more individual perspective. The pain of loss is expressed in Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano and Oboe, which is an elegy for Poulenc’s friend Serge Prokofieff. The song “Befreit” is addressed to a dying spouse.

There are also lighter ways to consider death. The “danse macabre” was once a terror-inspiring art form, but in the hands of Saint-Saens, it becomes a semi-comic ragged dance of clattering bones and blowing shrouds. The composer uses the medieval chant “Dies Irae” from the requiem mass, which was originally solemn and awe-inspiring, but in this Danse Macabre it is transformed into snippets of remembered horror.

Death has been used as a metaphor, too. Consider the so-called “little death” of sexual climax, which is often the meaning of the word death used in love songs. In Le Colibri, the hummingbird drinks so much nectar that he “dies”. Other concepts used as metaphors for death include sleep, night, and darkness.

A curious legend linking death and music is the notion of the “swansong”. The swan is, supposedly, silent throughout its life. Then, at the end of life, the swan sings and dies. In “Ein Schwan”, Grieg uses the legend itself as a poignant eulogy for a loved one.

All of these images, and more, can be found in art where the artist is exploring this basic condition of our lives. There are no answers, only the thoughts and feelings of those who have struggled with this reality. The dialogue is rich. We believe that some of our tradition’s most beautiful music and poetry comes from the struggle to come to terms with death, in all its forms.

The sense of transformation is strong in much of this music. We are not as we shall become. Although we don’t know what that will be, it is a belief as universal as it is varied. Beliefs include everything from a physical life after death to a wave disappearing into the ocean. We will be different. It is also the nature of music to transform. After we have heard a compelling piece of music, we are different. So, what better way to explore the nature of death than its expression in music?

A Brief History of PianoVoce

Nancy Correll and Annette Gurnée Hull created PianoVoce, a group that performs art songs and piano duets, in the fall of 2001. They both have B.A.'s in music from HSU where they studied piano with Charles Fulkerson. As the senior accompanist in the HSU music department, Nancy allowed Annette to share her office until they retired in the Spring of 2001. Three months later, on the first day of the fall semester, they giggled their way through their first piano duets together. Annette was introduced to piano duets as a young girl when her father, also a student of Fulkerson, played rousing renditions of Mozart with her. “Charlie” was an avid duettist; and after his death, his daughter Julie invited Annette and Nancy into his music library to take whatever music they wanted. They wanted duets.

Sue Mullen was the original voce of PianoVoce. She passed away in September 2010, but we still hear her voice. Their first concert, "Voyage à Paris," was a benefit for the Humboldt Community Breast Health Project, and as Nancy is a breast cancer survivor, many of their concerts have been benefits for the project. Kevin Sharkey, owner of Threadbare Dancewear in Arcata, joined the group when they performed Leonard Bernstein's "Arias and Barcarolles" for two singers and piano duet. He refused to leave.

"Pagine di Guerra" explored music in times of war, and the next year's "Friendship" concert added HSU woodwind professor Virginia Ryder to their entourage. Annette and Nancy’s trip to France for the duo piano conference, Musique à Beaumont, inspired "PianoVoce Goes to France." They returned to France last summer to perform Bach’s Duo Piano Concerto BWV 1062 which they reprised in Fulkerson Recital Hall in January. Richard Duning, Nancy's husband, is an integral part of the group reading the poetic translations of the songs and offering insightful thoughts on the music being performed. Soprano Kamala Stroup Calderoni joins us this year from Montpellier, France to celebrate the spirit of life. Newlywed Calderoni is a graduate of Humboldt State University and has performed in Paris, London, and the San Francisco Bay area. In addition to solo performances, she has sung various opera roles with San Francisco Lyric Opera, Golden Gate Opera, Oakland Lyric Opera and other ensembles.

The concert will also be performed at the following locations:
Sunday, March 6, 4 pm at The Unitarian Fellowship, Ashland, Oregon;
Old City Hall, Redding, California, on Friday, March 11, 7:30 pm

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