A Fresh Take on Forgotten French Composer

On Monday, September 23, the Hope College Department of Music hosted its first guest artist: soprano MeeAe Nam. A current Professor of Voice at Eastern Michigan University, Dr. Nam has worked throughout America, Europe, and Asia. She has been a guest artist and clinician at schools such as Korean National University of Arts in Seoul, the University of Colorado in Boulder and Hochschile für Musik Hanns Eisler in Berlin, just to name a few. She has also performed at countless music festivals in the United States, Austria and Luxembourg. Aside from her vast array of performance experience, Dr. Nam is a scholar of the relatively rare French song literature of Théodore Gouvy (1819-1898), having studied his works for nearly a decade. The concert started with a brief lecture from Dr. Nam to provide the audience with background information so that they could more fully appreciate the music that was to follow.

Théodore Gouvy, a 19th century composer, was born in Goffontaine. The small village was initially considered French land; however, just before his birth, the region fell under Prussian control. Unlike his parents and older siblings who were French citizens, Théodore was legally a German citizen and could not obtain his rightful French citizenship until he was 32 years old. From an early age, Théodore showed talent in both music and language. His parents wanted him to become a lawyer so he attended law school, but much to his pleasure, and to his parents’ chagrin, he failed all of his exams. Théodore took this as his opportunity to pursue his true passion: music. However, he was rejected from la Conservatoire de Paris. Still determined to pursue music, Théodore saved enough money to afford private lessons from many of the school’s instructors including names such as Chopin, Sason, Liszt, and DuBois. From there, Théodore launched himself fully into his work, splitting his time between Leipzig and Berlin, Germany during the winter and Hombourg-Haut, France during the summer. Dr. Nam stated that Gouvy left behind a legacy of nine symphonies, two operas, seventeen large choral works and an estimated forty pieces of chamber music. Despite having created an expansive repertoire of work, Gouvy remains an unfamiliar name within the world of music. Dr. Nam, who feels strongly that Gouvy’s work should experience far more recognition, has recorded a CD, Songs of Gouvy, in which the compositions are performed in their original keys.

After her lecture, Dr. Nam performed a selection of Gouvy pieces that she felt embodied the various emotions and tones he used while composing. She divided her selections of songs by the mood and subject of each. Before the piano even started to play, Dr. Nam was completely in-character. Her entire stature and attitude shifted into the embodiment of a character in love as she sang Prends cette Rose (Take this Rose). The performance was as much for the eyes as it was for the ears. While her sweet soprano voice easily floated through the difficult passages, her eyes glittered with passion for the composition of which she was singing. In an interview following the performance, Dr. Nam said that “[Gouvy’s] music just grabs my soul.” 

After the concert, which ended in thunderous applause, student Katharine Zuiderveen commented on the unique quality of the concert as “conversational” and the opportunity to “experience and learn in the highest quality.”

 



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