Susannah Self tells us about the process of writing Arie Nuove from the unique perspective of a composer and world class opera singer.
“The only thing better than singing is more singing.”Ella Fitzgerald
‘Having had a career as an international opera singer alongside composing I have got to know a lot of singers and sung in many traditional and contemporary operas. Here I am with Phillip Glass (left of him) when I sang the mezzo solos in his Peace Symphony in Ghent and at The Ruhr Festival.
I have direct experience of how difficult it is to compose ergonomically for the voice and how uncomfortable some music can be to sing. However when music fits the voice like a glove, singers are extremely happy and this leads to wider appreciation for the music. Recently my idea to compose Arie Nuove came from a realisation that when singers create programmes of songs for concerts or diplomas they want to include modern works that are vocally enhancing. The 24 Arie Antiche are the mainstay of a conservatoire singer’s first year. The familiarity of text therefore lends itself to new settings. My brief was that the vocal line must provide a nourishing workout for the voice, be easy to learn and enjoyable to sing. I have designed the piano accompaniments to be playable by teacher or student for self-accompaniment. Crucially I have spent considerable time consulting how I composed and crafted these songs through dialogues with leading conservatoire teachers. Here follow some extracts of their feedback on the songs.
I am delighted with Arie Nuove. As a singer and voice teacher, I am very well acquainted with the original Arie Antiche which are the technical building blocks for any young voice student. These new settings of three beloved Arie are fresh, appealing and challenging for singers of varying levels. The accompaniments are not daunting and encourage both teacher and student to master them fairly easily. The medium/high and low key versions will easily suit any voice type.Adrianne Pieczonka O.C. Chair in Voice, Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto
I have sung and played through all the songs in both keys. All I can say is, congratulations. They are truly infused from the knowledge that can only be gained from years of experience- your experience as a singer shows in the shaping of the vocal lines, the setting of the text, the keys chosen—your experience as a composer shows itself in these beautifully fresh, approachable arrangements of very familiar texts, with very playable accompaniments— your experience of working with young people and the community shows itself in how transparent, attractive and practical these arrangements are. Everything about these songs asks for them to be sung and played.Marie Vassiliou teacher of singing at The Royal Academy of Music
I’ve spent today immersed in your beautiful songs and I LOVE them. I love the sound world you’ve created, the whole concept of reworking these beautiful arias and also the respect you’ve paid musically to the arie antiche. Just so clever. As with all of your work, you write with a singer’s complete understanding of how to spin beautiful vocal lines. These feel lovely to sing. For me as a low-set soprano, the medium high keys are perfect.I thought the word setting was excellent and felt very natural. Please let me know as soon as these are published because they are PERFECT for the students who all have to sing an Italian aria for their assessments – it will be so lovely to have new things and will mean we don’t have to ALL sing Caro mio Ben, lovely though it is. Thanks so much for the huge privilege of letting me discover your beautiful songs.Rachel Nicholls Head of Voice at University of Huddersfield
I love your songs. The soprano keys lie really well in the voice. I’m learning them myself, as this is how I get a really good feel for them. The line is flowing and very singable. One thing I do as a teacher, is I encourage singers not just to work on the things they find the hardest to do, but to spend time singing things that help them to put into practice good habits which they have acquired. These songs are perfect for this challenge. I really liked Per la Gloria and that you kept the opening rhythm similar to the Bononcini version. The lifts up to G5 are lovely and very expressive. They feel really comfortable in the voice and will encourage a nice open throat. I love the ending in this one, a nice degree of difficulty, and good breath flow required. I like the lifts in Sebben, Crudele and scrunchy tonality. I like the way the intensity builds in this with the repeated text, bars 9-12 and then again 15-20, with some nice chromaticism before the climax onto G5 & then F5. [In] Amarilli the opening section will encourage freedom of tone, and encourage the singer to find consistency of timbre over the repeated notes. There’s a lovely broad phrase 9-15, which will encourage a beautiful, unforced cres/decres over the phrase. Thank you so much for sharing these with me, I’m sure they will become a modern classic.Rebecca Moseley-Morgan Chair of Education, British Voice Association
To conclude I very much look forward to setting the further 21 texts in Arie Antique to complete the album of Arie Nuove. Also as a result of this initiative, Rebecca Moseley-Morgan has approached me to compose for her a song cycle about her life which could compliment Schumann’s Frauen Liebe und Leben.
And, here is a taster, recording I made of Sebben Crudele from Arie Nuove which I self-accompanied’.
Arie Nuove is proudly available for perusal and purchase through Composers Edition website as well as other works by Susannah Self for voice and diverse instrumental formations.