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  • William Bolcom - Songs of Innocence and of Experience (William Blake) / Slatkin, University of Michigan School of Music
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William Bolcom - Songs of Innocence and of Experience (William Blake) / Slatkin, University of Michigan School of Music Box set


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Audio CD, Box set, October 19, 2004
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Bolcom's dream of setting Blake's poems to music began when he fell under their spell as a teenager; he worked on the composition of Songs of Innocence and of Experience on and off for 25 years, completing it in 1982. This live recording celebrates the 20th anniversary of the work's American premiere. Following an early edition of the poems that assigns them a different order from the customary one, he created nine movements to form "a series of arches." Blake's own principle of "contraries" and his use of many poetic traditions is a perfect counterfoil for Bolcom's eclecticism, which encompasses styles ranging from solemn chorales, lush romanticism, abrasive, dissonant modernism, to jazz, folk, country, and rock. His interpretation of the poems, which he calls "A Musical Illumination," is sometimes startling, but always interesting, highly personal, and unquestionably sincere. Some of the settings enhance and heighten the poems, entering deeply into their spirit and mood. Others seem at variance with them: "The Lilly," a peaceful, serene poem, set to crashing, aggressive music, is an extreme example, and some stratospheric, jagged soprano lines seem to add nothing to the text. For some of the most arresting, convincing settings, Bolcom uses his well-known and beloved cabaret style, sung to perfection by his wife and partner, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. Indeed, the entire performance is beyond praise. The work calls for a whole army of participants: several choruses, including a children's choir, a dozen vocal soloists, a speaker, a harmonica player, a fiddler, and a huge symphony orchestra augmented by electronic instruments and extra brass and percussion. The last produce a large number of terrifying explosions, both between and within the songs, as well as fascinating sound effects, like imitations of running water, delicate tinkles, and ominous roars and rumbles. The singers are superb; the women contribute incredible coloratura leaps, melting lyricism, caressing warmth, while the men include a heroic tenor, a commanding baritone, and sometimes sung, sometimes spoken scatting. Leonard Slatkin holds his enormous forces together with total control and authority. --Edith Eisler

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         


Disc 1:

Samples
Song Title Time Price
  1. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: Introduction 3:06$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: The Ecchoing Green 2:32$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: The Lamb 3:19$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: The Shepherd 2:13$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: Infant Joy 1:58$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: The Little Black Boy 4:06$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Laughing Song0:33$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Spring 1:45$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: A Cradle Song 4:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Nurse's Song 1:35$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Holy Thursday 1:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: The Blossom0:40$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Interlude0:25$0.99  Buy MP3 
14. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: The Chimney Sweeper 3:14$0.99  Buy MP3 
15. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: The Divine Image 3:49$0.99  Buy MP3 
16. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: Nocturne 2:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
17. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: Night 5:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
18. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: A Dream 1:41$0.99  Buy MP3 
19. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: On Another's Sorrow 1:52$0.99  Buy MP3 
20. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: The Little Boy Lost 2:48$0.99  Buy MP3 
21. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: The Little Boy Found 1:56$0.99  Buy MP3 
22. Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: Coda 1:34$0.99  Buy MP3 


Disc 2:

Samples
Song Title Time Price
  1. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 1: Introduction 2:17$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 1: Hear the Voice of the Bard 2:54$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 1: Interlude0:51$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 1: Earth's Answer 4:53$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: Nurse's Song 1:09$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: The Fly 1:43$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: The Tyger 1:49$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: The Little Girl Lost 1:09$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: In the Southern Clime 2:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: The Little Girl Found 4:46$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: The Clod and the Pebble 1:47$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: The Little Vagabond 2:30$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: Holy Thursday 2:44$0.99  Buy MP3 
14. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: A Poison Tree 2:09$0.99  Buy MP3 
15. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: The Angel 3:15$0.99  Buy MP3 
16. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: The Sick Rose 3:13$0.99  Buy MP3 
17. Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: To Tirzah 3:34$0.99  Buy MP3 


Disc 3:

Samples
Song Title Time Price
  1. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 4: The Voice of the Ancient Bard 2:24$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 4: My Pretty Rose Tree 1:44$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 4: Ah! Sun-Flower 2:30$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 4: The Lilly 1:35$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 5: Introduction0:50$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 5: The Garden of Love 2:03$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 5: A Little Boy Lost 2:27$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 5: A Little Girl Lost 4:43$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 5: Infant Sorrow 2:23$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 5: Vocalise 2:58$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 6: London 3:52$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 6: The School-Boy 3:22$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 6: The Chimney Sweeper 1:20$0.99  Buy MP3 
14. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 6: The Human Abstract 3:21$0.99  Buy MP3 
15. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 6: Interlude - Voces Clamandae 1:32$0.99  Buy MP3 
16. Songs of Experience, Volume II: Part 6: A Divine Image 5:31$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Performer: William Bolcom, Christine Brewer, Ilana Davidson, Nathan Lee Graham, Leonard Slatkin, et al.
  • Audio CD (October 19, 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • ASIN: B000641YZK
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,840 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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116 of 118 people found the following review helpful By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 19, 2004
Format: Audio CD
When William Bolcom (b. 1938) was a teenager he read and was moved by William Blake's set of 46 poems, 'Songs of Innocence and of Experience,' and vowed that one day he would set them all to music. Indeed, he began the task in the mid-1950s but set it aside until he arrived at the University of Michigan where he has been on the faculty since the early 1970s. He had remembered the utter joy of participating in the chorus in a performance of Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion' while a student at the University of Washington, a performance that called on many of the resources of that university and its community. He says that he wanted the same sort of experience for those who participate in his orchestral Blake song cycle, and indeed this recording comes from just such a production. It uses many of the resources of the wonderful School of Music at the University of Michigan (its orchestras and choruses) as well as musicians from outside the School and community musicians as well, all under the direction of conductor Leonard Slatkin. Add to this the use of professional soloists from all across the musical spectrum (opera singers, a Broadway actor/musician, a folk/blues musician) and you get a mix that includes almost everything but the kitchen sink. This is Bolcom's 'Symphony of (almost) a Thousand,' as it were, as it takes upwards of 500 people to perform. Ann Arbor's Hill Auditorium was filled to the max when this performance took place on April 8, 2004.

There has been an buzz about this piece among music-lovers ever since its première in Germany under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies in 1984. In spite of the huge number of performers required (not to speak of the need for a stage director) it has since been mounted a dozen times.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 12, 2005
Format: Audio CD
William Bolcom has created the impossible musical work: a wholly apropos setting to the strange William Blake collection 'Songs of Innocence and Experience'. Bolcom seems to be familiar with about every aspect of music making from every culture and has melded these variegated influences with his fine classical compositional technique into a huge work for large orchestra, solo instrumentalists, percussion, multiple choruses, and ten soloists - clearly monumental forces. Fortunately this 3 CD set (55 tracks!) is taken from a live performance in Michigan in October 2004 and is rendered in a superlative fashion by Leonard Slatkin conducting the University of Michigan School of Music Symphony Orchestra, University Musical Society, and exceptional soloists Joan Morris, Carmen Pelton, Christine Brewer, Ilana Davidson, Measha Brueggergosman, Linda Hohenfeld, Nmon Ford, Thomas Young, and Nathan Lee Graham.

Blake's poems are rich in imagery and plead for the type of outlandish variation in interpretation that Bolcom achieves. The music is essentially tonal with riffs into atonality at the right moments, and incorporates speakers, spoken choruses, hymns, cabaret songs, jazz, rock, country - name it and it is included. But does the disparity of musical types make the work fragmented? Absolutlely not! The various sections fall into place in the pace of the poems and the nervous energy found in some portions are balanced by moments of childlike serenity. This is indeed a masterwork and one that deserves wide performances. The size of the forces required hampers most orchestras from programming the piece, but until funds and programming contingencies allow that to happen, this recording is as fine a performance as one could want. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, November 05
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By G P Padillo VINE VOICE on January 21, 2005
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I have heard various descriptions of this magnificent work but the best to date is "An American Gurrelieder"

Bolcolm's musical language encompasses nearly every style of music - even some seemingly jarring genres one would never expect to coexist - yet they are seamlessly blended into what sounds like a natural whole. This is a remarkable achievement and it is a shame that so massive and important a work remains somewhat neglected. Kudos to Naxos for helping remedy "Songs" neglect by releasing this live and glorious performance out on their American Classics series.

With hundreds of musicians involved, all under the watchful and loving baton of Leonard Slatkin the combined forces deliver a performance for the ages. It is "okay" to listen to the discs (or portions of the work) individually, but to experience the entire thing in a single sitting - well the experience is an overwhelming one. This should definitely get a nod for "Record of the Year" as it is one of the most remarkable achievements in modern American music history.

Highest recommendation.
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Format: Audio CD
This is an amazing and wonderful work. It is not only a great listen for the casual music lover, but it is a staggering achievement for those who realize all the compositional problems William Bolcom has taken on and solved so beautifully in this work. If you believe all the interesting art music was written more than a century ago, I encourage you to give this work from the 1980s an open hearted listen and see if you can be won over. I believe you will find more to love on each hearing.

What are the challenges in setting the most popular of Blake's works to music? First of all, there are forty-six songs (poems) to set. Many of them have been set to music by other composers as individual songs or as a collection of a few of them. The idea of performing all of them as a single work in a single evening is near madness. How do you keep the audience from becoming weary? Even Romantic Era large orchestral settings of poems usually limit themselves to no more than a few poems.

There is also the larger structure to think of. The composer has to provide enough variety to keep the audience involved, but enough restraint to build a sense of coherence. So, what does Bolcom do? He uses every musical resource and genre available to him. He has traditional art music forms from chamber singing to grand opera. He also has folk music, sacred hymn, Southern hymnody, grand ole opry, rock elements (not a rock and roll song), reggae (sounds more like calypso to me), cabaret (Bolcom's specialty), movie and theater music (one not unlike something from "Les Miserables"), a dramatic speaking voice over music, tin pan alley, Broadway, and more.
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William Bolcom - Songs of Innocence and of Experience (William Blake) / Slatkin, University of Michigan School of Music
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