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Classical 101

Introducing The Music Of Lola Williams


"In 1925, when twelve year old Lola Marler Rogers wished she had received a bicycle instead of a grand piano...”

So begin the notes to a new recording of songs by Lola Williams. 

"Where Should This Music Be?"  (New World Records, # 80812-2) features twenty songs written by music educator and Shakespeare devotee Lola Williams, from the 1960s up until her death at the age of 99 in 2013.

Who is Lola Williams? I’d never heard of her.

Last year I decided to subscribe to Fanfare, “The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors.” Library shelves groan under these soft cover books--hardly a magazine in format--that come out six times a year. I subscribed back in the 1980s, and recently would pick up the latest copy for a browse whenever I visited the OSU Music Library.  I guess I’ve become too lazy to make a regular schlep over to campus (too bad, it’s a magnificent library) and decided to have Fanfare sent home for armchair reading.

One of my favorite parts of Fanfare are the letters from readers. Opinionated, vituperative, nasty and informative, these letters are in response to the superb critical writing of a large cadre of contributors.

There are no softballs contributing to Fanfare. Not only is the writing superb, music lovers learn quickly that there’s a lot of music we don’t yet know, but should.

When the new Lola Williams recording drew rave reviews from five, count ‘em five, of Fanfare's contributors, I paid attention.  I ordered the CD and I’m glad I did.

Born in Durham, North Carolina, Mrs. Williams had a long career as an educator--in music and English. In her seventies, she began traveling to England to soak up the works of Shakespeare she so loved. I’d say that Shakespeare was more her life’s work than was music.

After her death, boxes (and boxes…and boxes) of her effects were stored in her son’s attic. He knew there were some pieces of music there. His mother had been a pianist, and a devotee of music clubs and amateur concerts. What he found was a treasure house of original songs written by Lola Williams, all unknown. Even by her own son.

With the help of soprano Sarah Moulton Faux,  we can hear some of these treasures.

Let it be said that you won’t forget Schubert, Brahms or Faure. This is not King Tut’s tomb, spilling out limitless wealth. What we have here are songs that exquisitely set off the words by Shakespeare and others that Lola Williams clearly loved so much. The music is beautiful and is here to serve the words.

Sarah Moulton Faux has the type of clear, lovely soprano voice perfect for the art song repertoire. Often there can be “too much voice” where the very sound gets in the way of the subtleties of music and text inherent in the best art songs. There’s a reason Callas and Sutherland stayed away from Schubert and Brahms.

“Some of the most interesting and emotionally compelling aspects of the songs are the piano writing,” says Faux. Ted Taylor is not an accompanist here. He is a collaborative artist, and the balance between piano and voices (Sarah Moulton Faux, Heather Johnson, Laura Krumm and Nicholas Tamanga) is seamless. These are true, organic Performances. Capital P.

Fanfare’s critics can tell you better that I can:

“The music is delightful, and the more I hear it the more I appreciate it.”- Henry Fogel

“You feel a genuine connection between the composer and the literary genius she adored.” -Huntley Dent

“I wonder if there is any more musically fragrant invocation of Shakespearean nature than in Williams’s Plot of the Fairy King, a setting of Oberon’s “I know a bank” from Midsummer Night’s Dream. It nearly had me in tears”-Colin Clarke

“I encourage young American sopranos to examine these songs and to consider whether some of them would work in their recital programs. I think they would delight audiences, and they would demonstrate how an American woman who lived life largely adherent to traditional gender roles could become, if not a great composer, then at least a composer who was great within the relatively narrow niche in which she operated.”—Raymond Tuttle.

""Where Should This Music Be? Songs of Lola Willams" is on my wish list, too. I know of several fine young singers in Columbus who would sing these graceful songs beautifully. You know who you are. (I’ll be calling you)

Classical 101 Lola Williams
Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.