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Archive for September, 2011

Rescue worker, 11 Sept 2001 (US Navy)

Through the ages, very little has done as much as music to settle an unsteady world. Wherever and whenever people have mourned, it has soothed their grief and given them comfort. In this universal art form we find peace, consolation, and reconciliation.

Music is, at its core, organized sound. Like so many in past centuries, ours is an age of disorder, a world of violence. To bring order and peace to our world, we must begin with ourselves, and music’s order can help us stem the chaos of our own lives.

Many of these works we present today (Sunday, 11 September 2011) have a direct connection with the outcomes of violence between people: requiem, remembrance, reconciliation, and pleas for human unity and peace. I hope that, in some small way, they will help to heal some of the world’s wounds.

In memoriam: Baroque tombeaux

Sylvius Leopold Weiss: Tombeau sur la mort de Mr. Logy

Marin Marais: Tombeau pour Mr. de Saint-Colombe

The term tombeau means “tombstone.” It was first applied to poetry in the 16th century. Then, in the 17th century, musicians began using it for compositions written as memorials to persons of significance. That might be a public figure, but just as often the person was “of significance” mainly to the composer. In the late 17th century, the tombeau became common in the repertoire of lutenists, harpsichordists, and viol players. Today we present two tombeaux.

Sylvius Leopold Weiss

Sylvius Leopold Weiss was one of the 18th century’s most successful lutenists and composers, the highest-paid musician at the Dresden Court. He met the Bohemian lutenist Jan Anton Losy, Count of Losinthal, in 1717 in Prague. They became good friends. Weiss’s compositions may even have been influenced by the Count. When Losy died just four years later, Weiss composed the Tombeau sur la mort de Mr. Logy in his memory.

Today we remember Marin Marais as France’s master viol player and composer round the turn of the 18th century. Monsieur de Saint-Colombe (we think his first name was Jean, but we’re not positive) was his teacher. It’s said that Saint-Colombe tried to keep some of the secrets of his playing from Marais, but Marais hid nearby while Saint-Colombe was practicing.

The development of the viol owes a great deal to Saint-Colombe. He added a 7th string to the bass viol, adopted overspun bass strings (still used today on modern string instruments), and developed a new left hand technique. But somehow the story of his life has evaded the historians. If not for the heartfelt tombeau Marais composed for him in 1701, we wouldn’t even know the year of his death.

Ernest Bloch
(Ernest Bloch Foundation)

For reflection: Ernest Bloch: Suite Modale

Ernest Bloch arrived in the United States during the Great War. He expected to stay only long enough to conduct for a dance company’s tour, but when the company disintegrated, he stayed on, teaching, conducting, and composing. In 1920, Bloch was the founding director of the Cleveland Institute of Music. Four years later, he became an American citizen.

Although he spent much of the 1930s in Europe, the rise of anti-Semitic sentiment drove Bloch back to the United States in 1940.

In 1956, Bloch had only 3 more years to live, so it’s not surprising that his Suite Modale has an autumnal, pensive mood.

Bach at the Keyboard

In memoriam: J S Bach: Cantata No. 170 “Vergnuegte Ruh”

Though we know Bach for his big, powerful works, from 1726 he seems to have abandoned the chorus in favor of just one or two voices with instruments. This may have been a stylistic evolution. Or perhaps it’s simply that Bach, ever the pragmatic musician, found himself with a surfeit of fine soloists — or a shortage of choral singers.

Case in point: the Cantata “Vergnuegte Ruh.” Bach composed this warmly glowing image of heavenly rest for the sixth Sunday after Trinity, probably in 1732. The opening aria is a perfect example of Baroque tone-painting. The gentle, rocking rhythm feels like a reassuring cradle song.

Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust, dich kann man nicht bei Höllensünden, wohl aber Himmelseintracht finden; du stärkst allein die schwache Brust. Drum sollen lauter Tugendgaben in meinem Herzen Wohnung haben.

Pleasant rest, favored desire of the soul, one cannot find you through the sins of hell, but rather through heavenly harmony; you alone strengthen the weak breast. Therefore, pure gifts of virtue shall dwell in my heart.

Gabriel Faure
(Wikimedia Commons)

In memoriam: Gabriel Faure: Requiem: In Paradisum

Faure called it “a requiem as gentle as I am,” and Faure’s may indeed be the most comforting and affirmative of all. It has none of the storms and threats that usually darken the big Romantic-era requiem settings.

Like Brahms and his German Requiem, Faure composed his requiem after a personal loss – the death of his parents. Unlike Brahms, Faure didn’t discard the entire Latin Requiem Mass text, but in purging the requiem of its fire and brimstone he made it just as non-liturgical. The Faure Requiem is muted, but far from somber – its mood is more that of peaceful resignation.

Faure ends the work with a setting of the In Paradisum from the Burial Service. This movement is bathed in warmth and light. The voices float weightless on a soft summer breeze. The organ sways as the strings gently, graciously, lift us heavenward.

In paradisum deducant te angeli, in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels lead you to paradise; at your coming may the martyrs receive you, and guide you into the holy city of Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.

Rick Sowash

For reflection: Rick Sowash: An American Pavane

Their music could hardly be more different, but Ohio composer Rick Sowash is in one way similar to the earlier American composer, Charles Ives: he doesn’t make his living from his music. Sowash has been a radio broadcaster, a theater manager, an innkeeper, and a county commissioner. More recently he’s been earning his daily bread as an author, lecturer, and filmmaker.

After college, Sowash returned to North Central Ohio, lived in Gambier (near Mount Vernon) for some years, and now makes his home in Cincinnati. His works have a kind of folksy appeal that’s hard to categorize.

Of Une Pavane Americaine: Homage a Ravel, Sowash says: “It borrows the structure of [Ravel's] Pavane for a Dead Princess. But the piece remains very American in character: in it there are echoes of Gershwin and jazz. Ravel admired both.”

Johannes Brahms

In memoriam: Johannes Brahms: A German Requiem: “Selig sind die toten” (Blessed are the Dead).

Brahms was deeply saddened by the death of his friend Robert Schumann. It’s likely that the German Requiem was his way of coping with his grief.

Despite the name, Brahms’s requiem is not really a liturgical work. Instead of setting the usual texts of the Latin Requiem, Brahms chose his own texts – all in German. Although he took them from the Christian Bible, Brahms specifically was not writing a church service. He meant the German Requiem to be a source of comfort and hope in the face of death and loss.

Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herrn sterben, von nun an. Ja, der Geist spricht, dass sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit; denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach. (Revelation 14: 13)

Blessed [holy] are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. The Spirit says that they may rest from their labors, because their works follow them.

Ravel and Couperin
(Wikimedia Commons)

In memoriam: Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin

Ravel had a real fascination for French music of earlier times, so it was natural for him to pay homage to his Baroque counterpart, Francois Couperin, in Le Tombeau de Couperin. But this is really a triple homage. He’s also recalling the 17th century tombeau form, and paying tribute to six of his friends who had perished in First World War.

Ravel composed Le Tombeau de Couperin for solo piano in 1917. By the time he had orchestrated it, choosing four sections he felt were most suitable for the orchestra, the war was over.

Maurice Durufle

In memoriam: Maurice Durufle: Requiem: Introit and Kyrie

Maurice Durufle spent most of his life as organist at Saint-Etienne du Mont de Paris. He grew up with the sound of Gregorian Chant in his ears, and chant infused both his playing and his composition.

As a composer Durufle was an unremitting perfectionist. Thus he left us only a few works – but those he did give us are finely crafted and brilliantly polished. The most beloved of them is the Requiem.

Durufle modeled his requiem on Faure’s. Like Faure’s, his requiem is a peaceful work of rest and light: not for him the fury and darkness of the Judgment Day. Durufle even used Faure’s editorial revisions in the Latin text, including the inclusion of the In Paradisum from the Burial Service.

This similarity is a bit surprising,when you look at the two composers’ religious backgrounds. Faure was a church chorus master, but he thought of himself as a skeptic. Durufle had no such doubts. He was deeply dedicated to the Catholic Church.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis. Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem. Exaudi orationem meam; ad te omnis caro veniet. Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

Grant them eternal rest, Lord; may perpetual light shine on them. A hymn becomes You in Sion, Lord, and a vow paid to You in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer; to You all flesh shall come. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Henryk Gorecki
(Artur Gierwatowski)

In memoriam: Henryk Gorecki: “Sorrowful Songs” from Symphony #3

Polish composer Henryk Gorecki never sought a popular audience. Though with time he moderated his style, much of his music was craggy and challenging to listeners.

Late in 1973, working on his third symphony, Gorecki was searching for just the right texts to set. He found one in a cell in the Zakopane Gestapo headquarters.

The walls were covered with inscriptions from the victims of the Nazi regime, but one stood out. It was signed, "Helena Wanda Blazusiakowna, 18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944." Gorecki found Blazusiakowna’s inscription extraordinary for its courage, and for its quiet focus not on her own despair – but on her mother’s.

Gorecki finished the symphony in 1976. It was recorded two years later, but the work didn’t gain immediate traction even in Poland. Gradually, through the 1980s, performances spread into the US and Europe. But it wasn’t until soprano Dawn Upshaw recorded it with David Zinman and the London Sinfonietta in the early 1990s – in memory of the victims of the Holocaust – that the "Sorrowful Songs" symphony really began to pick up recognition worldwide.

And what recognition it was. Something in the Upshaw performance seemed to strike a chord in the hearts of listeners round the world. The recording became a million-seller – rare for classical music, and almost unheard-of for a disc of 20th century vocal music. "Perhaps people find something they need in this piece of music," Gorecki said.

O Mamo nie płacz nie. Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie.

Oh, mother, do not weep. Most pure Queen of Heaven, your support is with me always.

Gerald Finzi

For reflection: Gerald Finzi: Eclogue

The First World War left Finzi bereaved. He’d lost friends, a beloved mentor, and three brothers. Surely this colored his music. Though it has moments of celebration and joy, much of it is tinged with a gentle melancholy.

The word eclogue comes from Middle English. It’s a pastoral poem. But this musical eclogue could be called an elegy – at least for its composer.

Finzi composed his Eclogue in 1929, intending it as the middle movement of a piano concerto. He tinkered with ideas for the outer movements off and on until just a few years before his death in 1956. He reworked this one at least twice, but never finished the others. This is all we have, the composer’s final word.

Finzi didn’t hear this music played in concert. Nor did he publish it – in fact, he never even named it. After his death, his friends and relatives, along with his editors and executors, decided on the title. Eclogue was premiered at a memorial service for Finzi, four months after he’d died.

Alan Hovhaness & Rajah Hoyden c1948
(Frank Ferrante)
Click for more info

Toward unity: Alan Hovhaness: Symphony #11 “All Men are Brothers”: Finale

When Alan Hovhaness died in June of 2000, he left behind one of the 20th century’s largest catalogs of works – in spite of the fact that he’d burned many of his early pieces.

While he was studying with the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, Hovhaness discovered Eastern music. This led him to explore Eastern cultures and religions. His own heritage brought him into contact with musicians of the Armenian Church, who carried on the ancient traditions of Armenian music. All these influences found their way into his music.

Of his Symphony #11, Hovhaness wrote, “The symphony is an attempt to express a positive faith in universal cosmic love as the only possible ultimate goal for man and nature. Let all unite in peace on our tiny planet …” He says the finale “begins with a theme in praise of universal love.” Then he quotes a Buddhist sutra: “And the voice of the Lord Buddha was heard like the sound of a great gong hung in the skies, saying that though one met a thousand men on his way, they would all be one’s brothers.”

Leonard Bernstein
(Wikimedia Commons)

Toward unity: Leonard Bernstein: Chichester Psalms: Finale

The Chichester Psalms are an intriguing union of Bernstein’s religious and ethnic background with the source of the commission. The name “Chichester” points to the Anglican cathedral in Sussex. Every summer since 1903, the cathedrals of Chichester, Winchester and Salisbury join forces to put on a Southern Cathedrals Festival in Winchester.

As music director of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein never felt that he had enough time to compose, so in 1965 he took a sabbatical. Among the works he created that year, Bernstein said the one he was happiest with was the Chichester Psalms, created for the Southern Cathedrals Festival.

Bernstein drew his psalm texts from the Hebrew. He deliberately used instruments that evoke Biblical times — harp, trombone, and trumpet. His final text in the fourth and last section is the gentle Hineh mah tov.

Adonai, Adonai, lo gavah libi,v’lo ramu einai,v’lo hilachtiBig’dolot uv’niflaot mimeni. Im lo shiviti V’domam’I, naf’shi k’gamul alei imo, Kagamul alai naf’shi. Yahel Yis’rael el Adonai me’atah v’ad olam.

Hineh mah tov, umah nayim, shevet ahim gam yahad.

Lord, Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great matters or in things too wonderful for me to understand. Surely I have calmed and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother; my soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the Lord henceforth and forever.

Behold how good, and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity.

Samuel Barber

In memoriam: Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings

Barber composed his string quartet in 1936. He said later that the second movement, an adagio, was inspired by a passage from Virgil’s Georgics, describing how a stream becomes a river.

When Arturo Toscanini asked Barber to arrange that movement for string orchestra, he could hardly have known its future. Toscanini’s NBC Symphony first performed the arrangement in 1938. Less than seven years later, it was played for the funeral of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was also heard at President Kennedy’s funeral, and has since been used at other times of deepest public mourning.

The Adagio for Strings has become Samuel Barber’s most well known work. It is elegant, almost archaic, in its simplicity and strength.

Keith Jarrett
(Micael Engstroem/IBL)

Toward unity: Keith Jarrett: Bridge of Light

If you know of Jarrett, probably you think of him as a jazzman. However, his early training was classical. In fact, before he was even twenty, he found himself preparing for a trip to Paris and study with the famed composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. Almost on the eve of the trip, though, he abruptly cancelled. Instead, he went to New York to make a career in jazz.

Despite his success in jazz, Jarrett never lost his interest in classical music. Bridge of Light dates from 1990. Jarret writes, “This piece is a sort of multicultural hymn … born of a desire to praise and contemplate … I am trying to reveal a state I think is missing in today’s world: a certain state of surrender … to an ongoing harmony in the universe that exists with or without us.”

Ralph Vaughan Williams and friend

For reconciliation: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Dona nobis pacem: “Reconciliation”

In mid-1930s Europe, the talk was once again of war. Vaughan Williams was deeply fearful of the outcome. Against this grim backdrop, he created the Dona nobis pacem. It was premiered in 1936. Ironically, the third performance of the work, in 1939, had to be canceled after fighting broke out.

Vaughan Williams found a text to match his anguish and despair in Walt Whitman’s anti-war poem Beat! Beat! Drums!, inspired by Whitman’s own close-up view of the Civil War. He added more texts from other sources, including other Whitman writings. Over it all he suspended the words “Dona nobis pacem” – grant us peace – from the Latin Mass.

The third movement of Dona nobis pacem is titled “Reconciliation.” It takes its text from Whitman’s Drum Taps. The movement ends with the chorus bearing the image of Death and Night, which “incessantly, softly, wash again and ever again this soiled world,” as the soprano intones the invocation, “Grant us peace.” It is a plea that echoes from Whitman’s time to Vaughan Williams’s, and indeed to our own.

Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly, softly,
Wash again and ever again this soiled world.

For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin – I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly, softly,
Wash again and ever again this soiled world.

Dona nobis pacem.

Robert Moran
(courtesy of the composer)

In memoriam: Robert Moran: Trinity Requiem

When Trinity Youth Chorus director Robert Ridgell asked Denver-born composer Robert Moran to create a work in observance of the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center disaster, Moran wasn’t sure that young voices were right for such a serious event. But then he recalled that “a friend of mine in England, as a little child, was sent off to Wales during the Nazi bombing of London. He returned at the end of the war to find that both his parents had been killed.”

“I remember so many past stories of children who had lost their parents, their families and in fact lost everything to wars, famine, vicious governments, and natural catastrophes,” Moran says. “Trinity Requiem is a reflection upon those thousands of children throughout the world with no future and little if any hope.”

The official world premiere of the Trinity Requiem took place this past Wednesday (7 September 2011) in Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church.

The recording we hear today was made last November (2010) in Trinity. Listen carefully during the opening of the Offertory movement, the fourth. You’ll hear a quiet introduction built upon the bass of the famous Pachelbel Canon in D – and over it, a police car’s siren.

Such ambient noise intrusions are just another challenge when you’re recording in a real-world public space rather than a studio. Most producers would have declared the take a loss, stopped, and re-recorded. Composer Moran and and chorus director Robert Ridgell didn’t. They decided that the siren would be “a reminder that the World Trade Center, 10 years before, had been just behind Trinity.” The siren became part of the music, part of their remembrance.

1. Introit

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Ierusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam;
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
A hymn becomes you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall a vow be repaid in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer;
to you shall all flesh come.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

2. Kyrie

Kyrie eleison;
Christe eleison;
Kyrie eleison.

Lord have mercy;
Christ have mercy;
Lord have mercy.

3. Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He guideth me in straight paths for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

4. Offertory (Instrumental)
5. Sanctus

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth;
pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God of Hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

6. Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Lamb of God, who takes away the world’s sins, grant them rest,
Lamb of God, who takes away the world’s sins, grant them rest,
Lamb of God, who takes away the world’s sins, grant them eternal rest.

7. Pie Jesu

Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis sempiternam requiem.

Blessed Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Blessed Lord Jesus, grant them eternal rest.

8. In Paradisum

In paradisum deducant te angeli, in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem.

May the angels lead you to paradise; at your coming may the martyrs receive you, and guide you into the holy city of Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.

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Masques et bergamasques was one of the last pieces that Gabriel Fauré finished. The Prince of Monaco commissioned it, and it premiered in Monte Carlo in April of 1919.

He composed only a small part of it anew. Most of the rest was ideas that had been lying around, Fauré wondering what to do with them.

When the work was finished, Fauré is supposedly to have said that “It is like the impression you get from the paintings of Watteau.” Here are some of those paintings.

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