Featuring John Rutter's Requiem
Also, a medley from West Side Story, in recognition of Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday - and more!
Friday, June 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 9 at 4 p.m.
2017 MCC Holiday Concerts
Friday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m
Saturday, December 9 at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets available in early November.
2017 Spring Concerts
Familiar Melodies and a few Surprises
Directed by John Stroud
June 2, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 3, 4:00 p.m.
available at the door - $18 for adults, $15 for seniors 62+ and students; $2
discount if purchased in advance. Call 610-329-0176 to have tickets held
at the door.
2016 Spring Concerts
Featuring the Faure Requiem
Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. at
Wallingford Presbyterian Church
Saturday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m., St.
Matthews Lutheran Church, Springfield, PA
-- Featuring the Philadelphia Mandolin Ensemble
Friday, December 4, 2015 7:30 pm at Wallingford Presbyterian Church
Media Chamber Chorale’s Spring Concert—
Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 31, 2015 at 3:00 p.m.
THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Today’s program takes us on a musical journey—a travelogue in sound, if you will—where we visit several parts of the world and sample their distinctive musical flavors before returning home to the USA. Once back home, we have several more pieces to hear: very different in character, but all unmistakably American.
The journey begins in Austria with one of the liturgical masterpieces of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): the Vesperae Solennes de Confessore (K. 339), probably the last of his works for Salzburg Cathedral. It was written in 1780. Mozart formally entered the paid employment of the Court and Cathedral of Salzburg in August of 1772, though he had served in an honorary capacity for at least three years before that. (His father Leopold had been part of the musical establishment there since 1743, when he was appointed as a violinist in the court orchestra.) The younger Mozart’s years of service began early in the tenure of Hieronymus Colloredo, who was elected Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in March of 1772. By all accounts, Colloredo was a difficult man, and his reforms of court and cathedral music were widely unpopular.
Mozart’s position at Salzburg did not preclude fairly extensive travels to other parts of Europe and the fulfilling of commissions for instrumental music and operas. Colloredo complained that Mozart was not writing as much music as he ought to for the use of the cathedral, even though the amount he was expected to compose was not specified in his contract. Meanwhile, the Mozarts were constantly on the lookout for a more congenial court appointment than the one at Salzburg, but without success. Finally, in June of 1781, Mozart obtained his discharge from Salzburg, leaving behind the relative security of his income from the court and cathedral in favor of the precarious existence of a freelance musician in Vienna.
To set Mozart’s Confessor Vespers in its liturgical context, it is worth noting that the formal liturgy of the Catholic Church can be divided into two broad categories: the Mass and the Daily Office (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours). The Mass is the principal act of Catholic worship, and obligatory for all. In contrast, the Daily Office is designed primarily for those living in religious communities such as convents and monasteries, where the members of the community gather several times through the day and night for formal prayer. At the heart of each Office is the singing of specified psalms and canticles. Of the Daily Offices, the one most likely to be observed as a public liturgy is Vespers, as it is sung in the early evening, a relatively convenient time for the laity. Consequently, its texts are the most likely to be set to elaborate music.
Where the texts of the Ordinary of the Mass remain constant throughout the year (apart from the omission of the Gloria in penitential seasons) the selection of psalms for Vespers varies according to the occasion. Consequently, the Vesper psalms are most often set individually, and settings are assembled for a specific occasion. In addition to Mozart’s two sets of Vespers, the most familiar exception to this rule is the Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610) by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). Both of the Mozart sets contain the same five psalms and the Magnificat canticle, each with the shorter doxology (“Gloria Patri...”). In the Vulgate numbering the psalms are 109, 110, 111, 112, and 116. (Each is one number higher in the more standard psalm numbering.) The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) is the canticle sung at Vespers.
Judging from the title, one might expect that Mozart’s work was intended to be sung on the feast day of a confessor, a saint who witnessed heroically to the Faith, but was not put to death as a martyr. The title, however, is not Mozart’s, and the occasion for which the work was intended is unknown. The settings themselves are extraordinarily concise, a reflection of Archbishop Colloredo’s requirements that the cathedral liturgies not be excessively prolonged. For example, he required that a fully choral Mass (including all the musical and spoken content) last no longer than three quarters of an hour. This explains the brevity of Mozart’s Salzburg Masses. By the same token, the Vesper psalms are not set verse-by-verse as a series of loosely joined sections, as was the customary procedure in most of the 17th and 18th centuries. Instead Mozart sets each psalm as a tightly structured movement incorporating such symphonic procedures as development and recapitulation. Even so, he is able to indulge in some delicious word painting. For example, in the doxology of “Confitebor”, he saves the thematic recapitulation for the words “Sicut erat in principio” (as it was in the beginning). In the Magnificat, when he comes to the words “Et divites dimisit inanes” (And the rich he hath sent empty away), the lower voices drop out one by one leaving only the soprano to complete the phrase.
Most of Mozart’s writing in the Vespers is in an exuberant symphonic/operatic style. At the outset of “Laudate pueri”, however, he signals an exercise in the older style of learned counterpoint with a standard fugue subject whose most conspicuous feature is the downward leap of a diminished seventh. (Probably the most familiar instance of this subject is “And with his stripes we are healed” from Handel’s Messiah. Mozart would return to it for the Kyrie of his Requiem.) The next movement, “Laudate Dominum”, could hardly be more different in character with its meltingly serene lyricism. The exuberant style returns with the concluding Magnificat.
Our next destination is the British Isles for the partsong “The Blue Bird” (1910) by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). A native of Dublin, Stanford was an imposing figure in English music as Professor of Music at Cambridge University and Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music in London. “The Blue Bird” (Op. 119, no. 3) is one of eight settings of poems by Mary Coleridge (1861-1907). She was a notable poet and novelist, great grandniece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and daughter of Arthur Duke Coleridge, who was a co-founder with Jenny Lind of the London Bach Choir in 1875. Mary Coleridge was personally acquainted with many of the leading literary and artistic figures of her time. Poet Laureate Robert Bridges described her poetry as “wondrously beautiful...but mystical and enigmatic.” That description certainly fits “The Blue Bird”, a serene meditation on the flight of a bird over the surface of a quiet lake. Stanford’s setting perfectly captures the hushed atmosphere of the poem, producing the impression of time standing still.
We cross the English Channel for an early work by Claude Debussy (1862-1918): Salut Printemps (Spring’s Greeting). It was written in 1882 for women’s chorus and orchestra, but published posthumously in 1928, and then with a piano reduction by Marius François Gaillard (1900-1973), a composer and pianist particularly noted for his film music. The orchestral score was not published until 1956. Most performances are given with piano. As a pianist, Gaillard was celebrated for his performances of Debussy, and his reduction of Salut Printemps is so idiomatic that it could pass for the work of the composer himself. The poem by the French nobleman Anatole-Henri-Philippe (Marquis) de Ségur (1823-1902) is a lively description of nature awakening with the coming of spring. The atmosphere of the poem is beautifully captured in Debussy’s sparkling music.
The work that concludes the first part of our concert is possibly the most exotic on the program. Christopher Tin (b. 1976) is an American composer of Chinese descent. A native of California, he attended Stanford University and was an exchange student at Oxford. He received the degree of MMus. from the Royal College of Music in London. His music has been described as “primarily classical with a world music influence.” In 2005, Soren Johnson, Tin’s former Stanford roommate and video game designer, approached him to write music for the game Civilization IV. The result was “Baba Yetu”, a setting of Chris Kiagiri’s Swahili version of The Lord’s Prayer. It has become Tin’s best-known composition.
Before returning home to the USA, we make a stop in Russia for brief excerpts from operas by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) and Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tale of Tsar Saltan (1900) is a fairy-tale opera based on a poem by Pushkin and written in honor of the poet’s centenary. The best-known excerpt from the work is the “Flight of the Bumble Bee”, an interlude between the scenes of Act III. It is well known as a purely instrumental piece, but it does have a voice part: the incantation of the Swan, who has magical powers, and transforms the Prince Gvidon into a bumble bee so that he can stow away unknown on the ship of his father, the Tsar Saltan, from whom he has been separated. Christa Basilevsky sings the Swan’s incantation.
Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades) was first performed in 1890 and is also based on a story by Pushkin. Unlike Tsar Saltan, however, it is a tragic story that involves obsessive love, gambling, moral ruin, and two suicides. None of this pertains directly to the duet sung by the characters Lisa and Pauline in the second scene of Act I: a lyrical and idyllic description of evening twilight. It is sung by Ann Seidman and Christa.
The Statue of Liberty was the first sight of our country that greeted thousands of immigrants who arrived by way of New York Harbor. The statue, a gift from France to the people of the United States, was dedicated in 1886. Thousands of Americans contributed to the fund to erect the building that serves as the statue’s pedestal. In 1883, the noted American writer Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) wrote a sonnet “The New Colossus” for an auction to raise funds for the building of the pedestal. Years later, in 1903, a bronze plaque inscribed with the text of the sonnet was affixed to the pedestal. We arrive home in our musical travelogue with the setting by Irving Berlin (1888-1989), himself an immigrant from Russia at the age of five, of the concluding lines of the sonnet: “Give me your tired, your poor...”. He wrote the song for Miss Liberty (1949), a musical show by Robert E. Sherwood about the building of the Statue of Liberty. The first performances took place in Philadelphia, coincidentally (?) in the year that marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Emma Lazarus.
We continue without pause with the Irving Berlin song that forms a natural companion to “Give me your tired, your poor”, namely “God bless America”. The familiar chorus of the song was written as early as 1918, then set aside. Berlin returned to it in 1938, made several revisions to the chorus and supplied a verse that does not appear in the choral arrangement we sing today. We sing both songs in arrangements by Roy Ringwald (1910-1995), who was engaged in 1935 as a singer and arranger for Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, and served for many years as a principal arranger for that ensemble.
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) is a familiar figure to lovers of concert music. From 1892 to 1895 he was artistic director and professor of composition at the National Conservatory in New York. He strongly believed that American composers should look to their folk and traditional music as a basis for their art, much as he had done as a Czech nationalist composer. He took a keen interest in American music. Among his American students was Henry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) who, at Dvořák’s request, sang to him spirituals and plantation songs of the American South. The American flavor is present in many of Dvořák’s compositions, and nowhere more so than in his Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, subtitled “From the New World”. The main theme of the slow movement is entirely original, but so thoroughly had Dvořák assimilated the idiom that it has often been taken to be the quotation of a traditional spiritual melody. In 1922, another of the composer’s former students, William Arms Fisher (1861-1948), wrote the lyric “Goin’ Home” to fit Dvořák’s music. We sing his choral arrangement.
From the poignant tenderness of “Goin’ Home”, we turn to a rather zany arrangement of the spiritual “Dry Bones” (1946) produced for Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians by Livingston Gearhart (1916-1996). He was a graduate of the Curtis Institute and continued his studies in France where his teachers included Nadia Boulanger, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, and Robert Casadesus. He had a distinguished career as a pianist, composer, arranger, and educator, but he will probably be best remembered as the arranger of “Dry Bones”. (Might one detect the influence of Spike Jones?)
Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930) is a dominant figure in the musical theater of the second half of the 20th century, with more than a dozen Broadway shows to his credit. As Alfred Grant Goodman says of him in New Grove, “He challenges audiences too much to be as popular as his Broadway predecessors.” Goodman goes on to say that “Sondheim’s musical language, in which melody and harmony are closely argued, retains strong affinities with Ravel and Copland, while making sophisticated use of jazz and dance idioms.” We conclude our concert with a medley of songs from Sondheim’s Into the Woods, a show that had its debut performance in San Diego in 1986 and opened on Broadway the following year. The book is by James Lapine with music and lyrics by Sondheim. The story intertwines the plots of several familiar fairy tales (“Little Red Riding Hood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Cinderella”, “Rapunzel”) with the story of a childless baker and his wife who long to have a family. The show could be seen as a parable of human aspiration and adversity. Our performance is drawn mainly from the edition by noted choral arranger Ed Lojeski.
--notes by William J. B. Gatens
Brightest and Best of the Holidays
Including Rutter's Gloria, a medley from Home Alone by John Williams, and A Star in the East by Malcolm Dalglish, featuring hammer dulcimer player John Lionarons
Saturday, December 13 at 3:00 p.m. at Swarthmore United Methodist Church
Sunday, December 14 at 3:00 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County,
Advance tickets will be available for $10-$15 in mid-November.
A CEREMONY OF CAROLS
featuring Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols and a variety of other holiday music
AN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
featuring Bernstein's Chichester Psalms as well as a medley from Porgy and Bess, spirituals, and other music from the American choral tradition
under the direction of John B. Stroud, proudly presented the incomparable
O God, Beyond All Praising…………. Gustav Holst, (arr. Dietterick)
It would be hard to name a work in the standard western classical repertoire with greater mystique than Mozart’s Requiem. It is not simply because he left it unfinished at the time of his death. Offenbach died before finishing The Tales of Hoffmann. Puccini died before finishing Turandot. But Offenbach (1819-1880) was 61, and Puccini (1858-1924) was just a month shy of his 66th birthday when he died. Mozart (1756-1791) was only 35, and the work that occupied his last creative efforts was, after all, a Requiem Mass whose commission was itself shrouded in mystery, though perhaps not as much mystery as the more romantic accounts would have us believe.
It was most likely in July of 1791 that Mozart received an anonymous commission to write a Requiem. The commission was from Count Walsegg-Stuppach in memory of his wife who had died in February of that year. More fanciful accounts hold that Walsegg wanted to pass off the work as his own. Even more fanciful accounts hold that the commission came from Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), Kapellmeister to the Imperial Court, who wanted to pass off the work as his own. Despite the secrecy involved, the reality was far more mundane. Indeed, Mozart was probably (though perhaps unofficially) aware that the commission was from Walsegg through his friend Puchberg, who was then residing in the count’s villa in Vienna.
In the middle of 1791, Mozart was busy finishing his operas La Clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte, and in September he was in Prague for the first performances of the former. Work on the Requiem probably did not begin until October. The romantic accounts hold that Mozart undertook the work reluctantly and with great difficulty, haunted by premonitions of his own death. This does not square with letters from October that show him in high spirits. His widow Constanze claimed some years later that he was eager to exercise his genius in a liturgical composition of this sort.
When Mozart died on December 5, 1791, the only completely finished part of the Requiem was the Introit (“Requiem aeternam”). From the Kyrie fugue to “ Confutatis” (fifth movement of the Sequence), the voice parts and continuo bass were fully written out by Mozart. In “ Lacrimosa” (the sixth and final movement of the Sequence), Mozart wrote the first eight measures of the voice parts and the first two measures of the violins and violas. There are also some sketches of characteristic instrumental ideas in these movements as, for instance, the trombone part of “Tuba Mirum” (second movement of the Sequence). It is possible that there were sketches for the remaining movements, but these are mostly lost.
Several musicians were involved in the completion of the Requiem. These included Joseph Eybler and Maximilian Stadler, but the greater part of the work was undertaken by Franx Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803), who studied composition with Mozart beginning in 1790 or 1791 and almost certainly wrote some of the secco recitatives in La Clemenza di Tito. Although his music is entirely forgotten today, Süssmayr was in his day a respected composer of music for the theater, including Italian operas, German Singspiels, and ballets. In the movements of the Requiem following the “ Lacrimosa” it is nearly impossible to determine with any assurance what is by Mozart and what is entirely the work of Süssmayr. Arguments will continue to swirl over the internal evidence of the score, and several modern scholars have produced their own editions of the Requiem with the claim that they have come closer to Mozart’s intentions. The fact remains that no one was professionally closer to Mozart in his last year than was Süssmayr, who was involved in readings of portions of the work and discussions with Mozart about compositional details and instrumentation. For better or worse, his completion of the Requiem has become standard, and it is the version presented here.
Perhaps no other composition by Mozart gives us such tantalizing glimpses of how his work as a composer might have developed had he lived into his 50s or 60s. On the one hand, he draws strength from the musical past. In 1789 he gave concerts in Leipzig, and at that time renewed his acquaintance with works of J. S. Bach. Between 1788 and 1790, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an enthusiast for baroque choral music, engaged Mozart to produce newly reorchestrated performing editions of Handel’s Acis and Galatea, Messiah, Alexander’s Feast, and Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day. The contrapuntal, and particularly the fugal writing in the Requiem (and, for that matter, the overture to Die Zauberflöte) seems to show the influence of this mature exposure to the work of Bach and Handel. Nowhere is this more the case than in the Kyrie fugue, which is repeated at the end of the work to the text “Cum sanctis tuis”. The first of the fugue’s two subjects is actually a standard one used by a host of baroque composers and immediately recognizable from its downward leap of a diminished seventh. Handel’s “And with his stripes we are healed” from Messiah is probably the most familiar instance of it. I am persuaded that the intensity and contrapuntal intricacy of the Kyrie fugue could only have been derived from the example of Bach.
On the other hand, there are many forward-looking features in the Requiem. Conspicuous among them is the dramatic force Mozart brings to much of the text setting in marked contrast with his early mass settings for Salzburg Cathedral which, for all their sparkle and musical imagination, are rather lightweight. No one could say that of the Requiem. The very introduction to the Introit arrests the listener with its somber walking bass and poignant harmonies and suspensions. Mozart’s “Dies Irae” remains terrifying even to listeners familiar with Verdi and Britten, while the extreme chromatic modulations of the penitential conclusion to “ Confutatis” seem to illustrate that, as sinners, we have no solid ground of our own on which to stand. It is the perfect preparation for the sighing figures of the “ Lacrimosa”. Finally, the vocal and instrumental writing in the “Tuba Mirum” seems to have a lyrical quality I associate more with Rossini (born in the year after Mozart’s death) than with composers of the 18th century.
It is perhaps ironic that Gustav Holst (1874-1934)—a thoroughly English composer despite his Swedish name—is best known for The Planets (1917), a lavish suite for large orchestra. At his more characteristic, Holst is notable for spare, even austere textures and economy of means. Of the movements of The Planets, undoubtedly the most familiar is “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.” (Remember that the other Roman name for Jupiter is Jove, from which we get the word “jovial”.) At the heart of “Jupiter” is a characteristically English “big tune” that just cries out for lyrics. Much as the trio theme of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1 became “ Land of Hope and Glory”, so Holst, “against his better judgment” according to his daughter Imogen, fitted his tune to the patriotic hymn “I vow thee my country” by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice. For many years that association of words and tune remained unshaken.
The second half of today’s concert opens with “O God, Beyond All Praising”, a hymn-anthem for choir and organ based on Holst’s tune by Wayne Dietterick, a graduate of Susquehanna University, as is our director John Stroud. The anthem is dedicated to Cyril Stretansky, the director of the University Choir, and was written for the choir’s 1999-2000 tour, in which John Stroud took part. Dietterick is currently director of music at Our Lady of the Mount Catholic Church in Warren, New Jersey, and he is composer in residence for the Caritas Chamber Chorale. In 2008 “O God Beyond All Praising” was performed by the Susquehanna University Masterworks Chorus and Orchestra to conclude their concert at Carnegie Hall in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the university’s founding.
As usual, we include a group of African-American spirituals as part of our June concert. The first is “Soon Ah Will Be Done”, a classic arrangement by William L. Dawson (1899-1990) first published in 1934. Dawson was a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute in his native Alabama. After further study, teaching, and a career as a jazz musician in Kansas City and Chicago, he returned to Tuskegee in 1931, where he taught until 1956. Under his direction the Tuskegee Choir became world famous, and his arrangements have earned a permanent place in the choral repertoire. One of the great challenges in arranging spirituals lies in achieving that elusive balance between the essential simplicity of the material and the artifice required for concert performance. Dawson’s arrangements succeed in this respect as few others do. His touch is so sure that the listener is apt to be unaware of the careful polishing and meticulous attention to detail.
William Grant Still (1895-1978) was determined from an early age to become a serious composer of concert music and opera. Early in his career, after leaving Wilberforce University ( Ohio) without taking a degree, he made a precarious living playing in bands in Dayton and Columbus. He entered Oberlin College, and after serving in World War I, he was offered a position in New York by W. C. Handy, where he achieved considerable success as an arranger for theater and radio. His most important teacher was Edgard Varèse (1883-1965). In 1934 he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in film and television, but also wrote the first of his eight operas. His best-known concert work is the Afro-American Symphony (1930).
As a source for his musical idiom, Still preferred blues to spirituals, so it seems almost ironic that we should be performing a spiritual arrangement by him. “The Blind Man” takes its theme from a miraculous healing recounted in various places in the Gospels (e.g.: Luke 18:35-43). Most classic spiritual arrangements are a cappella, but this one was originally written for treble voices with piano accompaniment. We sing an adaptation for mixed voices, but retain the piano accompaniment, which looks almost dull on the page, but in performance it proves to be profound and moving in its simplicity, with not a note wasted.
Norman Luboff (1917-1987) was a native of Chicago, where his principal teacher was Leo Sowerby. He moved to New York in the mid-1940s, but the defining event of his career came when he was offered the position as choral director for the radio program The Railroad Hour in Hollywood. He founded the Norman Luboff Choir and was prolific as an arranger. His arrangement of the spiritual “Wade in the Water” (1970) seems much indebted to the example of William Dawson.
Our program concludes with a medley from the musical Camelot (1960), the last Broadway collaboration of librettist Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) and composer Frederick Loewe (1901-1988). The show is based on The Once and Future King (1958), a retelling of the legends of King Arthur by T. H. White (1906-1964). Lerner and Loewe met in 1942. Their first two collaborations were not commercially successful, but their third, Brigadoon (1947), established their reputation. This was followed by Paint Your Wagon (1951), and their most successful show, My Fair Lady (1956). Although plagued by personal tensions, the health problems of director Moss Hart, and some poor reviews, Camelot had a highly respectable Broadway run and was made into a successful motion picture. Loewe retired in 1960, but came out of retirement to collaborate with Lerner on the stage version of Gigi (1973), which they had first written as a film in 1958, and a final film The Little Prince (1974).
--notes by William J. Gatens
Spring 2012 Cabaret
Oh, The Places You'll Go!
Solo, ensemble, and choral pieces from
Saturday, April 14, 2012, 7:30 pm
Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County
The Media Chamber Chorale, under the direction of John B. Stroud, Jr., performed Handel’s Dixit Dominus with String Quintet. The concert featured gospel songs and arrangements by Fitzmartin, Rutter, and Joel.
Friday, June 10th, 2011 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 11th, 2011 7:30 p.m.
Media Chamber Chorale’s very successful December 2010 Concert was well received by full audiences at St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Malvern and at Trinity Episcopal Church in Swarthmore. The highlight of the concert was the premiere of William J. Gatens’ Missa “Resonet in Laudibus” for choir, harp and organ. The concert also included Poulenc’s Four Christmas Motets, selections for Christmas and Hanukkah, and an audience carol-sing.
2010 Holiday Concert
under the direction of John B. Stroud
Missa "Resonet in Laudibus"
Poulenc's Four Christmas Motets
Friday, December 10 at 7:30pm
Saturday, December 11 at 2:30pm
2010 Spring Concert
The Fauré Requiem
also featuring Fitzmartin’s Prayer for the Planet,
2009 Winter Concert
The Bach Manificat
with strings, brass, and winds
Fantasy of Carols by Joseph Fitzmartin
Media Chamber Chorale
2009 Spring Concert
A Burst of Bernstein!
featuring selections from
Mass and West Side Story
Seasonal Sounds,Featuring Vivaldi's Gloria
Saturday, December 13th,
2008, 7:30 pm at
The performances will take place on Saturday, December 8, 2007 at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church
Including selections from
Handel's Messiah, Rutter's Gloria, and other seasonal favorites.
Saturday June 2nd and Sunday June 3rd 2007 4:00pm at the Unitarian Church
Featuring selections from Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem, Randol Alan Bass' Gloria, a selection of traditional spirituals, and more......
SING ME TO HEAVEN
The choral works on today’s program explore many flavors of spirituality as only music is capable of doing, starting with the song that gives this program its title, “Sing me to heaven” (1999). The text by contemporary sacred poet Jane Griner demands a musical setting, since its very point is that music’s transcendence succeeds where mere words fail. The composer is Daniel E. Gawthrop (b. 1949), a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who has served as composer-in-residence to the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra in the Virginia suburb of DC, and has been the recipient of many commissions and grants for choral and organ works, including the piece on today’s program.
The German Requiem (Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) is indisputably one of the towering masterpieces of the choral repertoire. Its composition was prompted by the death of the composer’s mother in 1865. It has been widely believed that the death of Robert Schumann in 1856 was the initial impulse that led to the work, but there is no hard evidence to support this claim. Brahms had completed six of the work’s seven movements by the end of the summer of 1866. The first three were performed in Vienna in 1867, but the first performance of the original six movements took place on Good Friday 1868 in Bremen. Sometime after that performance, Brahms added the present fifth movement, completing the work as we know it. It was first performed in that form at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in February of 1869. While Brahms is generally known to have been an agnostic, he was not without a depth of spiritual feeling that we find evident in the German Requiem. It is not, of course, a liturgical Requiem, but a series of meditations on death and what may lie beyond death, using texts compiled by the composer from Holy Scripture. In an essay of 1921, English writer and musician Ernest Walker insisted on the intensely personal nature of Brahms’s statement, appealing “straight from personal vision to personal intelligence” without reference to any official orthodoxy. At the same time, Brahms’s outlook was at least as far removed from the facile, ideological atheism we find in some present-day writers. Brahms knew the Bible intimately, and evidently he took it seriously.
Today’s program includes the first and last movements of the German Requiem along with the fourth movement, which is easily the best known and most often performed separately. It is familiar in English as “How lovely is thy dwelling place” (text from Psalm 84). The first movement begins with a dark and haunting introduction to usher in words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Brahms then links this with the beautiful image from Psalm 126: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joy.” The theme of blessedness is taken up again in the final movement, but this time from the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord ... for they rest from their labors.” The first and last movements end with the same musical material. The entire work seems to come full circle, as if the mourners and those who are mourned become linked in a mystical fellowship.
Randol Alan Bass (b. 1953) has his roots in Texas. A native of Fort Worth, he grew up in Midland and attended the University of Texas at Austin with subsequent graduate work in Ohio at the Cincinnati Conservatory. He is currently director of the Metropolitan Winds of Dallas and often sings with the Dallas Symphony Chorus. Perhaps it should not be surprising that his Gloria (1991) is a work of bold statements and big gestures. The fanfare-like opening leads to a rhythmically vibrant, Spanish-flavored section in irregular meter. These alternate with broadly lyrical passages supported by lush and flowing accompaniment.
René Clausen (b. 1953) has been director of the Concordia Choir at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota since 1986. He is celebrated as a choral conductor, composer, arranger, and clinician, and is the founder of the René Clausen Choral School. He held previous choral appointments at West Texas State University and Wichita State University, for whom he wrote the piece on today’s program. “All that hath life and breath” (1981) is an exuberant work that takes its title and point of departure from the final verse of Psalm 150. The rest of the text is adapted from Psalms 22 and 96. Listen for the aleatoric passage towards the end, where the sopranos have a series of thematic fragments which are repeated freely by the individual singers over a sustained chord in the lower voices.
Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) hails from the Pacific Northwest. He is professor of composition at the University of Southern California, and from 1994 to 2001 he was composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Master Chorale. He has been the recipient of numerous important awards, grants, and commissions. Perhaps his most celebrated work is Lux Aeterna (1997) for chorus and orchestra. Today’s program includes his wistfully introspective “Dirait-on” (1993). While often performed separately, it is the fifth and final item in a cycle entitled Les Chansons des Roses, consisting of settings of French poems by the noted German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).
“Flower of beauty” (1960) by English composer John Clements (1910-1986) is a delicate setting of a tender love lyric by Sydney Bell. It seems to hark back to the tradition of the Victorian and Edwardian English choral part song, and is reminiscent of similar pieces by composers like Parry, Stanford, and Elgar.
The tradition of the African American spiritual presents a very distinctive and unmistakable flavor of spirituality. Today’s program includes a group of three arrangements of traditional spirituals. Two are by American choral legends Robert Shaw (1916-1999) and Alice Parker (b. 1925). It is worth pointing out that the Shaw/Parker arrangement of “I got shoes” (1953) uses only the natural degrees of the diatonic major scale, with no chromatic alterations for color or modulations to other keys. This simplicity of tonal diction, coupled with sophistication in the handling of choral textures, admirably suits the endearingly child-like vision of heaven embodied in the spiritual’s lyrics. The third of the group, “I’m gonna sing ‘til the Spirit moves in my heart” (1995) is one of many spiritual arrangements by the late Moses Hogan (1957-2003), whose devotion to this art form brilliantly continued the tradition so ably pursued by such African American composer-arrangers as Henry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) and William Dawson (1899-1990).
The text of “I have had singing” (1993) comes from Ronald Blythe’s book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village. The vocal score is headed with the following note:
In 1961, Ronald Blythe visited the village of Akenfield (population 298) in order to record tales of the lives of English country laborers – farmers, pigmen, grave diggers, fruit pickers and the like – vanishing breeds in the face of progress. He was startled by the harshness and beauty of their lives.
The words are quoted from Fred Mitchel, then aged 85, who was a horseman from the village. He gives an eloquently simple and valedictory reminiscence of the singing that was so much a part of nearly every facet of village life. His words are set to music by Steven Sametz, who is on the faculty of Lehigh University and director of the Princeton Singers.
How better to end this program than with an exuberant romp in the form of John Rutter’s arrangement of the spiritual “When the saints go marching in” (1990)? There may be shared subject matter between this song and “The trumpet shall sound” from Messiah, but there the similarity ends. In contrast with the tonal simplicity of the Shaw/Parker “I got shoes”, Rutter’s arrangement has blue notes, chromatic coloration, and wild changes of key lurking around every corner.
Enjoy!--notes by William J. Gatens
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