Arie Antiche—old songs newly Re-Composed
by Tony Schemmer

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“Arie Antiche” is a collection of songs, with the melodies of old Italian arias ("airs") reset over new, original accompaniments. Intended as chamber music, the work as a whole is a bravura vehicle for singer/piano duo, replete with dramatic nuance, contrapuntal and harmonic invention, and musical wit.

After numerous previews in the Boston area, the entire set was premiered on April 30, 2006 at the Harvard Musical Association in a private concert with tenors Richard Simpson and Daniel Mutlu, and featuring Mr. Finehouse at the piano. A February 2007 performance for the Circolo Italiano di Boston was covered by RAI (Italian television).

Source material

Properly speaking, Arie Antiche ("old songs") are a body of Italian vocal music dating roughly from 1600 to 1800. Derived mostly, but not exclusively, from opera, they are, simply put, the "hits" of those days. They remain very much alive by dint of irresistible charm. Thanks to their supreme lyricism and elegant simplicity, they have been conserved through copies, rote repetition, adaptation, and printed compilation down to the present. They still serve beginning students as the foundation for classical vocal technique. Yet they provide a gold standard against which every generation's "greats" take their own measure. The Carusos, Giglis, Corellis, Pavarottis all performed and recorded them. Cecilia Bartoli's recently released "Italian Love Songs," is nothing but a selection of these delightful tunes.

Resetting the old melodies over new accompaniments results essentially in a new vocal work.  However, there is nothing novel about this technique. Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite, the Ancient Airs and Dances of Respighi or works by Dallapiccola come to mind.

Versatility of the material

The set of ten songs invite a variety of programming options. While there are two entirely original numbers, the rest are directly derived from the old arias. Thus, singers may program a few in "binary" format, coupling the new with the old. Or, a number can be selected and performed without reference to the old.  A knowledgeable audience (as for example in a conservatory setting) will readily recognize the sources.

Further permutations are possible. For example, Mr. Schemmer has fashioned the material into an “entertainment” or “divertimento,”pairing each "original" with his version—a variation, if you will, on the theme of theme and variation. He adds illustrated commentary interspersing the musical selections with anecdotes about the sources, insights into their style, and observations on contemporaneous performance practice. Tailored to the occasion, performances have been standard concert length or abbreviated to one hour’s duration. Often, several singers have performed, with student singers presenting the old versions and with some of the Schemmer versions recast as tenor duets.

Performance Demands

A large range with equal resonance and projection throughout is ideal. Within one selection there can be dramatic changes of register. For example, “Star Vicino,” as specially arranged for tenor Daniel Mutlu, starts in a low baritone tessitura and ends in a spinto tenor tessitura with a final high countertenor note. The accompaniments are quite orchestral and, at full bore, their complex sonorities support the most robustly operatic interpretation. While strong vocal projection is necessary throughout, the accompaniments can be nuanced to accommodate a lighter, more lyrical voice.

 The entire work offers the pianist, as well as the singer, a tour de force opportunity. The pianoforte part requires the technique of a concert pianist with the sensibility of a chamber performer. In this respect, his virtuoso renditions have established Finehouse as the first authoritative pianist exponent of these pieces.

In the future

Initially conceived as music for tenor, Schemmer believes that a mezzo or contralto tessitura would show to particular advantage in this work. Arrangements for ranges other than the original tenor can be obtained through Mr. Finehouse.

In addition, Schemmer envisions a second edition of the Arie for chamber orchestra. This will most certainly include a piano part for Constantine.

From Tony Schemmer's Arie Antiche

Music samples are copyright © 2006-2007 Tony Schemmer. All rights reserved.

Photograph ofcomposer Tony Schemmer

Tony Schemmer

Tony was graduated from Yale College, with honors in Theory and Composition of Music. He subsequently studied jazz with George Russell and conducting with Richard Pittman at New England Conservatory, and pop music at the Berklee School of Music.

His pop opera Phaust premiered at Sander’s Theater, Harvard University, in 1980 under conductor Philip Morehead. 

His incidental, chamber and choral music has been presented around New England, including performances at the University of Maine’s Composers’ Festival at Rockport, and the Women’s Choral Festival at U. Mass., Boston. His work has been reviewed or covered in the Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, Opera News, New England Entertainment Digest, and the Tab and Citizen publications. 

Tony wrote ’Bus, a play with music for kids, for the 1992 Columbus quincentennial.  It was produced by the noted children's music and theater group PALS (Performing Arts at Lincoln School), for the Brookline Public Schools.  His settings of Poems Pennyeach by James Joyce for flute and harp were premiered by noted flautist Mimi Stillman, in 1995 at the Boston University Concert Hall and at the Katherine Cornell Theater, Vineyard Haven.

Tony collaborates with Constantine Finehouse on a number of projects, including a piano-vocal program entitled "Arie Antiche," and with cellist Sebastian Bäverstam.  On March 16, 2007, Finehouse and Bäverstam premiered his Romanza for cello and pianoforte at the Harvard Musical Association in Boston. 
Tony is a member of the St. Paul’s Archdiocesan Choir School Advisory Board, serves on the New England Conservatory Board of Visitors and is a Director of the Harvard Musical Association. He was awarded his Medicinae Doctor by Harvard. 

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