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CD Review

American Song

  • John Cage: Five Songs for Contralto (1938)
  • Elliott Carter:
  • Three Poems of Robert Frost (1943)
  • Voyage (1943)
  • Aaron Copland:
  • Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (1950. Nine included)
  • Poet's Song (1927)
  • In Evening Air (1966)
  • Night Thoughts (Homage to Ives) (1972)
  • George Gershwin:
  • I Got Rhythm (1930)
  • A Foggy Day (1937)
  • They All Danced (1937)
  • Virgil Thomson:
  • Two by Marianne Moore (1963)
  • Portrait of F.B. (Frances Blood) (1929)
Meriel Dickinson, mezzo soprano
Peter Dickinson, piano
Heritage HTGCD231 65:20
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These are not recent recordings but they are very much worth having because of the beautiful voice and performances of the celebrated English mezzo Meriel Dickinson, as accompanied by her distinguished brother Peter Dickinson, whose compositions and playing I have reviewed previously at Both have had an extensive commitment to American music over the years. The Copland Poems of Emily Dickinson (regrettably not all twelve) were recorded in recital at Keele University in 1975 and the other works were recorded in 1977 in All Saints Church in Surrey.

Meriel Dickinson was trained in Manchester and Vienna. She had a successful leading role in Kurt Weill's Happy End – in both Berlin and London – and the recording of that was awarded a Grand Prix du Disque. Several composers, including Lennox Berkeley, Andrzej Panufnik and John McCabe, wrote for her voice. She has also worked with Britten, Cage, Copland, and other composers.

The extensive and authoritative notes by Peter Dickinson accompanying this 1911 release discuss the composers and individual songs offered here, including the sources of the texts. Texts themselves are given for the Dickinson poems and Hart Crane's Voyages, (the third of a set of six poems). There is biographical information about the performers and some comments by Meriel Dickinson as well.

The texts are all by major American poets: Carter used text by Hart Crane; Copland by e. e. cummings; and Thomson by Gertrude Stein. The settings are inventive but straightforward. The Cage and Carter songs were written early in their careers. Carter was actually a neoclassicist in 1943. The other composers are all known for their popular classical styles.

Tributes to the present recordings, as originally released, were made by: Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, and Virgil Thomson, as well as William Schuman; Vivian Perlis, who headed Yale's Oral History of American Music archive, and who co-authored the two volumes of Copland's memoirs; and John Kirkpatrick, who credits his linguist wife with attesting to the accuracy of Meriel's pronunciation of American English. Any further praise by me would be superfluous!

Copyright © 2012, R. James Tobin