The Diary of Robert and Clara Schumann

(June 2015)Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.44.31 PM

The union of Robert and Clara Schumann was long awaited, hotly opposed, and celebrated by generations since. The two kept a joint diary for the first four years of their marriage, a weekly exchanged collection of their thoughts, business of the past week, and beyond. On the first day of their marriage, September 13, 1840, they signed a statute to keep this co-journal:

If you agree with all this, wife of my heart, then sign your name underneath mine….

I am truly your sincerely loving husband Robert, and you?

I too, your wife, Clara, who is devoted to you with her entire soul.

This program presents songs from Robert Schumann’s Myrthen, Op. 25, as well as their one cooperative compositional effort – Robert’s Op. 37 and Clara’s Op. 12. In Myrthen we find inside jokes and gems, some composed while his future with Clara was yet uncertain. Robert had this “bouquet of songs” beautifully bound and gave it to Clara as a wedding present. The act of gifting one another music became a tradition in the Schumann household, and prompted Robert’s desire that they should do something together. The result is the intertwining Op. 37/Op. 12, all which use the poems of Friedrich Rückert.

The diary provides an intimate portrait into the lives of these artists: “our wishes, our hopes shall be recorded therein…it should also be a little book of requests that we direct toward one another whenever words are insufficient”. These songs reach this same mark, where words are insufficient. Happy 175th Anniversary, dear Schumanns.

Mon, June 1st @ 7:30 p.m.

The Concert Space at Beethoven Pianos

211 W 58th Street (betw Broadway and 7th Ave)

Tickets @ door: $20 regular admission/$10 students (cash only)

Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano; Magnus Billström, baritone; and Suna Chung, piano


Voices of World War I

(Nov 2014)
Gunner Wilfred Cove's daughters, Marjorie and Betty (Liddle Collection, Leeds University Library)
Gunner Wilfred Cove’s daughters, Marjorie and Betty (Liddle Collection, Leeds University Library)


This Veterans Day, NYPS marks the 100 year anniversary of the start of The Great War. Voices of World War I presents songs and solo piano music from composers & poets of this time, as well as first-hand accounts of the war in the form of letters, poetry, and other writings from people trapped in this conflict.

Tues, November 11th @ 7:30 p.m.
Klavierhaus Concert Hall
119 West 56th Street (ground floor), betw 6th Ave & 7th Ave
$20 regular admission/ $10 students cash only

with Michael Kelly (baritone) and Suna Chung (pianist)

Readers: Rebekka Kehlenbrink, Stefan Stankovic, and Kelly Strandemo

Brahms, Brahms, Brahms

(May 2014)

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Brahms once responded to a singer, who planned on presenting Brahms’ entire Magelone Romanzen in a single concert (a set of 15 songs lasting some 90 mins), that “the only thing allowed to fill an entire evening’s Lieder programme by one and the same composer was Die schöne Müllerin”.  This assortment of songs and chamber music circumvents the composer’s humble injunction while upholding his taste for coherent programs.  Moreover, in his last song bouquets – groups of songs published together – Brahms favoured grouping by tessitura.  (The line that furrows its way through all of the pieces here, of course, is that extraordinary, earthy colour of the mezzo-soprano and viola.)  Thus, it is our hope that Herr Brahms would not be displeased by the collection of works presented.

Tues, May 20th, 2014 @7:30 p.m.

The Unity Center of New York City

213 West 58th Street, 10019 

Tickets at door (cash only): $20 general; $10 students

A program of songs and chamber music by Johannes Brahms.

Jazimina MacNeil, mezzo-soprano; Will Frampton, viola; Nathan Vickery, cello; Suna Chung, piano



(March 2013)
Les Peupliers (1891), Claude Monet
Les Peupliers (1891), Claude Monet

Claude Monet was known to have painted the same scene many times over, whether the poplars or grainstacks of his series paintings, or the garden at Giverny, which occupied much of his later life.  Composers throughout history have also looped back and re-imagined their writing.  J.S. Bach lifted some of his own music from one work and put it into another: the B minor mass and Christmas oratorio have repurposed sections from earlier cantatas.  (He would have had a bank of cantatas to draw from as the first years of his Leipzig post required a new cantata almost every week.)  Beethoven, too, found a second life for a cantilena from his Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, in his opera Fidelio.  More than this, Beethoven considered changing the glorious, history-altering choral movement of his final symphony into a regular old instrumental movement.  (Not all edits are good ones.  Consider the loss.)

The circumstances of reframing for these composers varied.  Britten took pieces written in his youth and shared them as portraits of his past, including minor touch-ups, “…when the fumblings were too obvious [and] the experienced middle-aged composer [came] to the aid of the beginner” (Britten).  The virtuoso Rachmaninoff transmogrified his own vocal music into solo piano songs, a natural consequence of his skill.  A thwarted commission disappointed Ravel, but did not ultimately rob us of these flavourful songs (intended to be part of a larger group), which would be the last he would compose.  And Berg, is it truly possible that these Sieben frühe Lieder came from the pen of a man in his early twenties, though they remained unpublished for decades?  Whether possible or not, Berg gives us two versions of these wondrous pieces – the earlier paired the voice with a humble piano, while the 1928 publication underpins it with an orchestra, following the pattern of Mahler and Strauss.

So, if the road diverges, choose the path less travelled.  But if time and occasion allow you to retrace your steps, the other path has its own joys, to be sure.

Saturday, March 9th @ 7 p.m.

Greenwich House Music

46 Barrow Street

Tickets at door (cash only): $15 general, $10 students/seniors

A program of songs and solo piano music by Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Alban Berg.

Katherine Whyte, soprano; Sung Chung, baritone; Suna Chung, piano

Isolation, Creation, Transcendence

(Jan 2013)
La nuit étoilée (1889), Vincent van Gogh

Edvard Grieg was the musical champion of Norway, but he had few competitors. Arnold Schönberg sought to find a new aesthetic and artistic impulse, so deliberately broke away from the late-Romantic syntax of rich harmonies and flowing melodies. The poetry of Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs uses the musings of Irish medieval monks – from the odd to the profound, they bear the marks of those whose sentiment was not guided by the goal of comprehensibility. The language of Barber’s Nuvoletta which sets slivers of James Joyce’s final work Finnegans Wake (1938) is also inward-facing, written in the slippery language of the unconscious. Ludwig van Beethoven’s deafness was a misfortune made greater by the resulting crisis of identity as a musician and his withdrawal from society.

Whether by circumstance or by choice, whether separated or severed, these men performed the very human act of creating in an environment of limited human intervention. For some, this quieting of outside influences resulted in work that reached beyond their own world into another. As Friedrich Schiller’s An die Freude – used as the text in Beethoven’s last symphony – entreats us to look up and hope in something outside of our scope, perhaps it was this fading of a present light that allowed their discovery of another: Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt! Über Sternen muß er wohnen. (Seek him above the starry canopy!  He must be dwelling above the stars.)

Saturday, January 12th, 2013 @ 7 p.m.

Greenwich House Music

46 Barrow Street

Tickets @ door (cash only): $15 general, $10 students/seniors

A program of songs and solo piano music from Edvard Grieg, Arnold Schönberg, Samuel Barber, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Adrienne Pardee, soprano; Suna Chung, piano

Women and Children First: Songs for the Imagination

(Oct 2012)
Two of the focal points of this program are Francis Poulenc’s La courte paille (The Short Straw) and Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (Scenes from Childhood).  Despite their whimsical titles, these are not intended to be performed by children.  (Poulenc was asked this question in an interview, to which he replied: “Ah, non! … [les] mélodies sont très difficile!”)  Why, then, these pieces that conjure and capture the thoughts and activities of children?

When viewed from particular angles, children appear rather simple.  Certainly, some people treat them as such, speaking in falsely high voices and adding the letter Y to the end of their words.  Spending a lot of time talking at them, instead of listening.

However, through the lens of these works, children inhabit a different world.  What guides these funny creatures that take such pleasure in nonsense; that react without the filter of propriety; that glow with the innocence of angels as they sleep (however they may have behaved when awake); that imagine in technicolor?  What intrigues us so that such pieces should be inspired by them?  Perhaps it is the simple magic of this: for children, everything is possible.

Saturday, October 20th, 2012 @ 6:30 p.m.

Greenwich House Music

46 Barrow Street

Tickets @ door (cash only): $15 general, $10 students/seniors

A program of songs and solo piano music from Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Francis Poulenc, Robert Schumann, and Richard Strauss.

Jee-Eun Hong, soprano; Suna Chung, piano

Cover Art: Angel B. Lee

Songs of Travel and Distant Loves

(May 2012)

An evening of beautiful melodies: The song tradition of the British Isles is rich in folk melodies and folk-inspired songs.  Benjamin Britten’s arrangements of folk tunes are paired with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, which set the words of Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson.  Crossing the North Sea to the Scandinavian peninsula, we visit the melodies of Sweden.  The folk like songs of Petterson Berger are rounded out by those of Allan Pettersson and Wilhelm Stenhammar, who was an admirer of the German tradition.  The idea of folk song inspiring art song is not new.  It was indeed sparked by the rise of Nationalism in 19th century Europe.  In Ludwig van Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, the music upholds the simplicity of folk melody though dressed with the obsessive nature that is unquestionably Beethoven.

Swedish baritone, Magnus Billström, was trained at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.  He has appeared on tour with the Swedish Radio Choir and Eric Ericsson Chamber Choir.  An active performer in opera, oratorio, and concert repertoire, Mr. Billström’s recent appearances include Gothenburg Opera’s production of Verdi’s Don Carlodie Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Drottningholm Court Theatre, and the Royal Swedish Opera’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin.

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 @ 8 p.m.

Greenwich House Music (Renee Weiler Hall)

46 Barrow Street (near 1 train Christopher Street stop)

Tickets @ door (cash only): $15 general, $10 students/seniors

The Storm (1890) William McTaggart at the Scottish National Gallery