Last month I began the process of transcribing the works of composer James Simon. A couple of weeks ago I started work on one of his art songs, titled “Venus Fantasia!” with words by German poet Richard Dehmel. At the top of Simon’s autograph (in musicology, an autograph is a manuscript written by the composer), there is a dedication to German opera singer Wilhelm Guttmann. The dedication is dated August 20, 1935. The piece was written only a few days earlier. As near as I can tell, “Venus Fantasia!” hasn’t been performed since it was written, a tragedy given how beautiful and joyous the song is.
When I finished the transcription at 2:00 in the morning (there’s a theme here…), I played it back. The piano synthesis software and the vocal “ah” track were terrible. Nonetheless, I cried. The realization that I’m potentially the first person to hear this piece in 85 years stunned me. That shouldn’t be true. Everyone should know James Simon and his work. I shouldn’t be the only living person to hear this song.
I’m eternally grateful now to Dr. Nico Schüler at Texas State University, who took time out of his day to help me finalize my transcription. He translated Dehmel’s poem, which has never been translated before. He also translated Simon’s dedication. Finally, he kindly pointed out several of my errors in transcription (I’m by no means an expert, and any remaining mistakes are entirely my own).
I’m working in collaboration with a pianist friend of mine, who will record the piano part, and while in quarantine I will record the vocal part and create the first ever recording of this masterpiece. I look forward to the day it is finished, and the world can finally hear this music that’s been missing for so long.