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Austin Peay State University music professor Jeffery Williams’ new CD sheds light on deserving 19th century German composer

 

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – Several years ago, when Dr. Jeffrey Williams was a graduate student at the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University, one of his professors ended the semester by playing representative recordings of composers he wished they had more time to cover in class.

Dr. Jeffrey Williams

Dr. Jeffrey Williams

One of the recordings he played was a choral work for male voices.

The charm of the work caught Williams off guard.

“He was playing recordings of composers we didn’t get to cover in the class, and he played a choral piece by Heinrich Marschner,” he said. “I just thought it was so beautiful.”

The following summer while house-sitting for one of the stage directors at the Conservatory, he found himself browsing through the director’s many shelves of CDs. As his finger traced the plastic cases, he suddenly stopped at that same composer – Heinrich Marschner.

“He had this recording of Marschner’s opera, Der Vampyr, and when I played it, I thought it was just the coolest music,” he said. “Then I got annoyed and thought, ‘Why don’t I know more about this composer?’”

Williams ended up writing his doctoral dissertation on Marschner, and now the Austin Peay State University associate professor of music is bringing the 19th-century German composer’s music to a larger audience with the release of his new CD, “Heinrich Marschner: Songs for Baritone.”

The album, which also features pianist Jennifer McGuire and soprano Sangeetha Ekambaram, was made possible through an APSU Research Support Grant and funding by the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts. The CD, released by Centaur Records, is available for purchase on amazon.com and music sites such as Naxos Direct.

Songs for baritone

Heinrich Marschner: Songs for Baritone

Heinrich Marschner: Songs for Baritone

Throughout his professional career, Williams has steadily earned a reputation as a “commanding” and “manly baritone,” according to reviews from the Miami Herald and the Baltimore Sun. Williams believes some of that success comes from discovering Marschner when he did.

“When I was preparing for auditions and determining my aria package, I found it difficult to find the right aria in German,” Williams said. “When I found Marschner, it just fit my voice and temperament like a glove. I would offer the Vampyr aria for auditions and panels wanted to hear it because it wasn’t something they regularly heard.  I felt it was something distinctive and set me apart from other baritones.”

 


 

Years later, Williams delivered a presentation on the composer’s operatic baritones for the National Opera Association and an attendee stopped him afterward to talk more about Marschner.

“This teacher said, ‘We really don’t hear Marschner enough. Have you ever looked into his songs?” Williams recalled.

He hadn’t. That question prompted him to look into the composer’s art songs, and he discovered Marschner wrote more than 420 lieder. 

“I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of them, and there really are fantastic ones we simply don’t hear,” Williams said. “The more I delved into his songs, the more interested I got.”

Williams pared down that large list to 20 songs for his new CD (17 solo songs and 3 duets for baritone and soprano), and each piece on the album represents that work’s world premiere on disc.

“This album came out of the frustration I believed this music deserved to be heard and recorded. I wanted people to listen and give it a fair chance.” he said. 

A pandemic project

Early into the project, Williams toyed with the idea of a new edition of the songs he recorded. He knew it would be valuable but also time-consuming. Then last spring, the COVID-19 Coornavirus pandemic hit. All his scheduled summer engagements were canceled, leaving him time with Marschner’s music.

“The music is difficult to come by,” he said. “Marschner’s music doesn’t get included in readily available Lieder anthologies and the sheet music I used when we were making the recordings was the original editions from the 1830s, 40s, and 50s. Some of them were incredibly challenging to read and hard to decipher what was going on.

“I have been in contact with the National libraries in Germany and Austria, and as far as I know, I currently have a physical or digital copy of every published song by Marschner. Since many of the songs we recorded were not available anywhere other than these European libraries, I thought a new edition of these songs was warranted, but likely wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic.”

The sheet music companion he edited was published last December by Classical Vocal Reprints. It is available for purchase here. Williams hopes the release of the CD and sheet music publication will lead to an appreciation for the oft-overlooked composer.

“If you like Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn, I promise you will like these songs,” he said. “Marschner writes well for the voice and his music can provide a worthy alternative to those composers we perpetually perform.”


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