“Linton… responds to the poetry with music of an eclectic but coherent and distinctive style, contemporary but otherworldly…British baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer, a highly intelligent and versatile artist, sings with apparent full comprehension of the Latin texts, and pulls out a broad array of vocal colorings to illuminate the vivid moods of these unusual songs. He also has plenty of vocal power to unleash when called upon.” Joshua Rosenbaum, Opera News
“. . . Crossley-Mercer gives a performance that is delightfully theatrical. He can seemingly produce every vocal color, from dark, chesty bottom notes to a creamy and vaporous falsetto. He sings lyrical numbers such as the aforementioned “Nulli se decit mulier” with sweet sensitivity, and he tosses off Catullus’ insults (“Pedicabo ego uos er irrumabo”) with lots of vocal vitriol. His rendition of “Multas per gentes,” Catullus’ heartfelt elegy to his brother, is heartrending. Peterson, for his part, proves to be in complete command of the keyboard, playing from beginning to end with nuance, sensitivity and effortless virtuosity.” John Pitcher, Nashville Scene (8/28/14)
“… a contemporary masterpiece and this recording deserves the attention of every serious music lover” – Grady Harp – amazon
“…the piano accompaniment, scintillatingly executed by Jason Paul Peterson, delivers streaming cascades of notes suggestive of Ravel…Amid this gasping eroticism, the French-Irish baritone, Edwin Crossley-Mercer, acquits himself con brio. What a vocal palette is his! It ranges from the most suffocating sensuality expressed in « Nulla potest mulier », sung in a whisper, as is « Mellitos oculos tuos », to raging anger and a lover’s despair. The singer’s every vocal subtlety is explored, even up to falsetto.” – Laurent Bury, ForumOpera.com (o9/11/14) translated from the original French. To read the full translation, please click here.
Gaius Quintus Valerius Catullus was born in Verona around 84 BC and died in Rome thirty years later. His 116 Latin poems, or carmina,are regarded as some of the most formally elegant, psychologically probing, and sexually explicit poetry ever written and have been admired by poets from Martial (born in Rome roughly two generations after Catullus) to W.B. Yeats.
Linton’s Carmina Catulli grew out a set of four Catullus songs premiered by New York mezzo-soprano Kathleen Shimeta at the July 1995 meeting of the National Association of Teachers of Singing convention in Seattle. Those four songs were revised and the set expanded into the present collection in 2011 (Linton recast the set for baritone believing, perhaps quaintly, that the obscene nature of some of the additional songs were inappropriate for a lady singer). The new Carmina Catulli was premiered by Edwin Crossley-Mercer and Jason Paul Peterson at the Weill Recital Hall at New York’s Carnegie Hall on March 3, 2014.
The 18 poems and fragments Linton assembled into his Carmina Catulli are unlike the Heine poems Schumann assembled in hisDichterliebe in that they do not make up a chronological narrative. Instead they unfold the character of a Roman who is richly humane: overflowing with the passions of sex and anger, courageous in the face of slander, faithful to a brother, stoic before death, and tender in the arms of a lover yet ultimately racked by life’s vortices and helpless before them.
Linton grouped his selections into two parts, each beginning with an invocation. No. 1, “Dianae sumus in fide,” is a consecration to the chaste and icy Diana while No. 8, “Hunc lucum tibi,” is a paean to the equally unchaste and hot Pirapus. Their bell and drum-like accompaniments are oblique references to I Corinthians 13:1, where many scholars suspect that Paul’s “. . . . I am become as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal” is the apostle’s deprecatory reference to the sounds of pagan liturgies (although the fortissimo, hammer-chords in No 8 reference the spasms of male orgasm as well, which is the liturgy of Pirapus) . Both of these invocations are followed by two of Catullus’ most unabashedly erotic poems: No. 2, “Vivamus mea Lesbia”, and “Mellitos oculos tuos Iuenti.” “Mellitos” is a tender, post- coital reverie (addressed to a young man) while “Vivamus” finds the poet almost mad with desire (addressed to Lesbia, Catullus’ fickle yet intoxicating mistress).
No. 3, “Passier, deliciae meae puella” is one of Catullus’ most famous poems and the poet’s reference to the sparrow calls for Messiaenish figurations in the piano. While the text is full of sexual double meanings, the setting is light and flirtatious. “Quaeris quot mihi basiatonis”, No. 4, returns to the spirit of song No. 2 but without its animalistic, breathless insistence. Because songs Nos. 5 and 7 are tonal and strophic they provide musical respites from the largely through-composed and dissonant movements surrounding them. While ostensibly about spring, “Iam ver egelidos refert tepores” is really about the deep bonds of friendship while “Nulla potest mulier tantum” is a rumination upon a lover’s faithlessness.
Nos. 10 and 11 are paired opposites. “O rem ridiculam” is an obscene joke, coarse and vulgar while the following “Nulli se dicit” is elegant and nuanced. Linton takes its harmonic figuration from the final moments of the trezettino “Soave il vento” from the first act of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti. Like that trezettino’s final line, sung by the cynical Don Alfonso (and a melody quoted by the singer in the song’s final measures), Catullus’ poem speaks of the fickleness of women.
Many writers have commented on the depth of feeling in “Multas per gentes”, No. 12, where Catullus recounts his journey to honor his brother’s grave. Linton sets the text above a chaconne with the baritone’s line becoming increasingly florid and sorrowful with each repetition of the chaconne that, like fate and death itself, is inflexible and inviolate. The song culminates in a desperate scream of grief (“frater!”), which is answered by prolonged silence. Collecting himself, the singer offers his final, stoic respects in the face of the existential void. No 13 is made of two abutted fragments, “Nun te leanea montibus Libystinis” and “Huc est mens deducta tue mea,” two songs that are increasingly bitter
denunciations of both Lesbia’s coldness and the poet’s pathological obsession with her. They are followed immediately by the drinking song “Minister uetuli puer Falerni” (No. 14).
No 15, “Incumdum, mea vita” is a repetition of the music of No.7, but transposed down a step, darkening the sound. Erotic love can mature into friendship (what Aristotle calls “one mind, two bodies”), and the poet here hopes that his love can grow into that kind of “eternal” relationship. Yet the character of the setting is ironic, the hope is there but the reality isn’t.
No. 16, “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,” is infamous as perhaps the most obscene poem in any language yet instead of focusing on Catullus’ obscenities Linton’s setting emphasizes the ferocity of the poet’s defense of his life as an artist. It is an artist’s anthem of volcanic defiance before beastial detractors. The melody is one of the most memorial tunes in the Carmina, Linton echoing Catullus’ brutal invective by setting it to a tune that is seared on his hearers’ memories.
No. 17, “Odi et amo”, is one of the most famous poems in classical literature. Here it serves as a précis of the poet’s condition: deeply humane, passionate, seeking to fully taste all the pleasures and sorrows of life but utterly bifurcated, split, and broken. He loves, he hates, and his life (in A.Z. Foreman’s translation) a crucifixion. Linton’s song is more layered than the simple homophonic and lyric setting initially suggests. Its opening, both in melodic content and texture, references the central portion of his Second Cantata’s last movement (“Christmas”) where the melody carries the text by Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), “One born in a manager.” This in turn references the final movement of Messiaen’s 1941 “Quartet for the End of Time”, Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus. These cascading references act as a sibyllic commentary on the Carmina, suggesting a transcendence that hovers, waiting, outside of poet’s world.
The movements’ generic descriptions are Linton’s additions. They are mostly forms of the troubadours and trouvères and while certainly not directly related to Catullus’ poetry they both testify to the continuing nature of the Roman’s themes and illuminate some of the ways Linton sets them. A “sequidilla” (No. 3) is an ancient Castillian dance, typically in triple meter (perhaps the most famous is in Act I of Carmen, where Carmen sings it in an attempt to seduce Don Jose. Here it is a similar song of seduction). A “canso” (No.4) was the troubadour’s most popular form of love song and the “roundel” (or “rondeau”) one of the most important 12/13th Century forms (No. 5). A “salut d’amour” is an Occitan lyric poem in the form of a letter from one lover to another (No.15). A “serena” (No.2) is a the song of a lover waiting impatiently for the evening when he can consummate his love while an”alba” is a troubadour parting song, dealing with the arrival of the dawn and the painful separation it imposes upon lovers (No.9). A “maldid-comiat” is a troubadour or Catalan song complaining about a lady’s behavior and character (Nos. 7 & 13). A “tenso” is a troubadour song in the form of a debate (No.11). A “gap” (No.16) is a troubadour-boasting song, frequently presented as a challenge while a “planh” is a troubadour lament, usually on the death of an important figure (No. 12). An “envoi” is a troubadour short poem, usually just one stanza, that stands at the close of a longer work and comments on it (No.17).
The Carmina Catulli is dedicated to Cody Franchetti.