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Pirates of Penzance Program Cover (1881)
Pirates of Penzance Program (1881) (Wikimedia Commons)

NOTE: This In Performance broadcast (10 June 2012) will begin at 3pm, one half hour earlier than usual.

HISTORY

W S Gilbert began writing plays when he was still in school, but after he graduated, he set his sights on a military career. As it turned out, though, the military didn’t need him. So he tried civil service as an assistant clerk.

He despised the job. When a bit of an inheritance came his way in 1863, he decided to try his hand at legal work. His career as a barrister was more satisfying, but not very successful. Gilbert averaged five clients per year.

Gilbert soon realized that such niceties as food and shelter were going to require a bit more income than law was bringing him, so he turned back to writing. Initially he used it as a supplement to his legal income, penning (often scathing) theatre reviews, magazine stories, and poems.

Gilbert’s Bab Ballads were named for his childhood moniker. He illustrated them himself. It was here that Gilbert developed the topsy-turvy style that would serve him so well in the theatre – taking an utterly absurd premise and following it faithfully to its logical conclusion. These publications would later provide feedstock for Gilbert’s plays and operettas.

At a rehearsal for his 1869 play Ages Ago, Gilbert was introduced to a young composer.

There was never any doubt that Arthur Sullivan would become a musician – he was composing for band when he was eight years old! His father tried to divert the hurtling freight train, thinking that a music career wasn’t apt to produce a son who could support him in his old age. It was all to no avail. Sullivan became a choir boy and soon was composing anthems. A scholarship cleared his way to the Royal Academy of Music and eventually to the Leipzig Conservatory.

After his 1861 graduation and a return from Leipzig, Sullivan dug into composing in earnest. His father’s warning quickly returned to haunt him, though. He found that composing music – even when it was amply salted with briskly-selling parlor songs and hymns – wasn’t much of a living. Fortunately, steady work and a stable income came with a gig as a church organist. Over the next decade Sullivan composed a good-sized catalog of moderately successful works, including a cello concerto, a symphony, an oratorio, overtures, ballet, and opera.

In 1869, Sullivan’s fellow composer Frederic Clay was working with a poet and author on a musical, Ages Ago, and introduced Sullivan to the librettist.

Two years later, Arthur Sullivan and W S Gilbert joined forces for the first time to create Thespis. It was a parody of grand opera in general, and of the then-popular Offenbach comic operas such as Orpheus in the Underworld in particular. I’d like to say that they immediately hit it off – but that didn’t happen. In fact, it was another 4 years before Gilbert and Sullivan teamed up again.

In 1875 producer Richard d’Oyly Carte was managing the Royalty Theater, and was about to produce Jacques Offenbach’s La Perichole. He needed a companion piece, and brought Gilbert and Sullivan together to create Trial By Jury.

The filler piece became the hit, far outdrawing – and outlasting – the Offenbach. The stage was set.

It took d’Oyly Carte another two years to raise the cash, but his next collaboration with Gilbert and Sullivan, The Sorcerer, did rather well, thank you very much. Encouraged by that modest success, the team launched the H M S Pinafore barely half a year later. Pinafore became a huge hit – and the trio were off and running.

When Gilbert had begun writing plays, English theatre’s reputation hadn’t been any too good. One of his objectives had been to improve its image, and to make theatre more "family-friendly."

d’Oyly Carte agreed – he wanted to produce comic opera for families. Not for him the risque reputation of Vaudeville. The plays he produced with Gilbert and Sullivan were thoroughly entertaining – and utterly innocent. With these three men at the helm, never would evil gain so much as an inch of dramatic traction.

Gilbert and d’Oyly Carte’s reputation management extended from the characters to the people playing them. They rigorously corraled the performers to forestall any hint of scandal. They forbade such temptations to perdition as cursing, loitering, flirting, and gossip. Men’s and women’s dressing rooms were on opposite sides of the theatre; as the players left the stage they were summarily shooed to their strictly segregated warrens.

With the Savoy Theatre, newly built for Gilbert and Sullivan in 1881, they and d’Oyly Carte gave us theatrical traditions that persist today, from free programs to numbered seating. The Savoy was also the first theatre to be lit entirely by electricity.

There was one thing that Gilbert, Sullivan, and d’Oyly Carte had trouble managing, though: performance rights. Not in England, mind you; between their trademark "natural" acting style and their youthful performers’ energy, they effectively owned the market. And when they didn’t, they successfully worked England’s legal system to their advantage.

But America had a more freewheeling attitude and far less aggressive copyright laws (things have changed appreciably since then). HMS Pinafore was a huge international hit, and G, S & C found it nearly impossible to rein in the hundreds of unauthorized American performances.

Thus Pirates of Penzance became the first – and only – G&S opera to have its official premiere in New York, opening on New Year’s Eve in 1879. They were hoping to establish theirs as the official production. They did succeed in making a tidy profit on it, but in the end, they still couldn’t prevent a plethora of pirates pirating Pirates. (Sorry.)

SYNOPSIS

Act 1 finds us with a rollicking band of brigands on the rocky Cornish coast of Britain. They’re drinking to Frederic, who is celebrating the completion of his pirate apprenticeship. At noon, just half an hour away, he will turn 21.

But Frederic has a secret. As his nurse Ruth explains, his apprenticeship is all a careless mistake. When Frederic was just a boy, his father sent Ruth with him to apprentice him to a sea pilot. But she misunderstood the boy’s father, and here he is with a band of sea pirates. Afraid to face up to her error, Ruth too signed on with the lawbreakers.

Frederic, ever the dutiful one, has faithfully served out the terms of his agreement. In 30 minutes, he’ll be free – and then it’ll be his obligation as a British citizen to betray the pirate band!

For this, the Pirate King compliments Frederic. After all, he’s only acting on his convictions when he resolves to exterminate his colleagues. But, the Pirate King points out, for the moment Frederic is still a pirate – and come to that, why haven’t they been successful pirates, anyway?

Frederic points out the problem: they’re just too nice. As orphans themselves, they feel a duty to release all the orphans they capture. And, somehow, curiously, these days every ship they capture is full of orphans.

The time comes and Frederic takes leave of his pirate friends, but not before trying to leave the long-suffering Ruth behind ("… yours is the only woman’s face I have seen … What a terrible thing it would be if I were to marry this innocent person and then find out that she is, on the whole, plain!"). Frederic even goes so far as to ask Ruth if she considers herself fair. Then he points out her advanced age and thoughtlessly renounces his companion of many years. In despair, she leaves him.

Just then Frederic spots a bevy of comely maidens. Their response is about what you’d expect: "A pirate! Horror!" Only one of them, Mabel, seems willing to accept Frederic as he is: "It’s true that he’s gone astray, but … why should you all be deaf to pity’s name?"

The young women soon find themselves surrounded by Frederic’s former pirate band. Just as the pirates are about to claim the maidens as their wives, the women reveal their identity. All are daughters of major-general Stanley – and here he is, "the very model of the modern major-general." Stanley knows the pirates’ secret, so he lies, claiming to be an orphan. Duty-bound, the pirates set the major-general and his daughters free.

Act 2 opens in a derelict chapel on major-general Stanley’s estate. Stanley, surrounded by his daughters, is racked with guilt for his falsehood. He has betrayed his ancestors’ honor – even if they aren’t really his ancestors. A crew of nervous policemen arrive. Frederic’s duty will be to lead them to the pirates’ lair.

Ruth and the Pirate King find Frederic alone in the chapel. They bring news – he’s still a pirate after all! It seems that his contract says he’ll be released on his 21st birthday. But Frederic was born on the 29th of February in leap year. So he’s celebrated only 5 birthdays, not 21. He still has another 16 "years" to serve in his pirate apprenticeship.

Duty calls yet again. Frederic will have to leave his beloved Mabel and return to the pirate life.

If there’s one thing Frederic knows, it’s duty. His duty now is to the Pirate King, so he reveals that major-general Stanley lied when he claimed to be an orphan. The Pirate King is livid. He vows "swift and terrible" revenge that very night.

Mabel, alone with Frederic, swears she will remain faithful to him until he has served out his full 21-leap-year term. The pirate band approaches and the fearful pirate-hunting policemen hide. Major-general Stanley appears with his daughters, and the pirates seize him. Despite all of Mabel’s entreaties, Frederic is powerless to help him – his duty is to the pirates, after all. The police try to save Stanley, but the pirates quickly repel the attack – "Don’t say you are orphans, for we know that game."

The police seargent, desperate, tries one last move: "We charge you yield, in Queen Victoria’s name!"

The words have a striking effect. Moments before, the pirates were standing over policemen with drawn swords. Now they are on their knees.

What is this? Ruth steps forward to explain. The pirates aren’t really orphans, she says. They’re "noblemen who have gone wrong."

Well then! "Peers will be peers," in major-general Stanley’s world. All is forgiven. Frederic and Mabel can wed. The pirates will return to their official duties in the House of Lords. And as a bonus, they’ll have the hands of Stanley’s daughters in marriage.

CAST
 
Frederic Stephen Faulk
Ruth Jacquely Kress
Pirate King Gary Moss
Mabel Karla Hughes
Major-general Stanley Nicholas Wuehrmann
Edith Lori Birrer
Kate Sarah Best
Isabel Natalie Ballenger
Sergeant Ted Christopher
Samuel David Kelleher-Flight
 
OHIO LIGHT OPERA
 
Artistic Director Steven Daigle
Conductor J Lynn Thompson
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Poster for the Broadway Premiere
Poster for a 1905 performance
(Wikimedia Commons; PD in USA)

NOTE: This In Performance broadcast (for 3 June 2012) will begin at 3pm, one half hour earlier than usual.

HISTORY

Victor Herbert was born in Dublin, but after his father died, he and his mother went to London to live with his grandfather. When he was 27, his mother married a German physician, and Herbert landed in Stuttgart.

There he expected to become a doctor like his stepfather, but that was not to be. His family fell on hard times. Then as now, the cost of a medical education was daunting. So music it was, and Victor entered the Stuttgart Conservatory, where he studied cello.

A gig as a cellist in Eduard Strauss’s orchestra took Herbert to Vienna, where he met soprano Therese Foerster. In 1886 they were married. Her career was on an upward trajectory that soon took her to New York and the Met. There she was offered the lead in Goldmark’s The Queen of Sheba for the 1886-87 season opener. She accepted, on the condition that her husband would be hired to play in the Met orchestra. He signed on as principal cellist.

Herbert threw himself into New York’s musical life, playing cello and composing, and eventually adopting America as his permanent home. For the first several years, he composed only instrumental music, but in 1894 he created his first operetta, Prince Ananias.

Except for a few years as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, the theatre would be Herbert’s principal musical home for the rest of his life, with such major operetta successes as 1903′s Babes in Toyland, 1905′s Mlle Modiste, 1906′s The Red Mill, 1910′s Naughty Marietta, and 1913′s Sweethearts. He also composed operas; in later years, ballet music for musical theatre; and the score for the 1916 film, The Fall of a Nation.

Herbert’s first real success in operetta came in 1897 with The Serenade. This was thanks partly to his music, and partly to the impressive star power of soprano Alice Nielsen. The following season, Herbert composed The Fortune Teller for Nielsen and her opera company, giving her no fewer than three roles. His librettist was Harry B. Smith.

After a brief engagement in Toronto, The Fortune Teller premiered on Broadway on 26 September 1898. It ran for 40 performances. That may not seem like a long run, but at the beginning of the 20th century a Broadway premiere was just the beginning of a show’s life on the road.

SYNOPSIS

Act 1 opens at the Budapest Opera’s ballet school. Penurious Count Berezowski has learned that one of the ballet students is to inherit an imposing estate. The count has found the solution to his poverty: a wedding!

There are, however, two small catches. One is ballet master Fresco, who wants his cut of the fortune – a "finder’s fee," if you will. The other is a bit more daunting: the would-be heiress, Irma, doesn’t much like the count. Besides, she already loves another, Captain Ladislas. Not for her this wedding: she must escape before it’s too late!

As luck (and reports from Ladislas) would have it, Irma’s twin brother Fedor has just deserted his military post to elope with a French singer. Desertion is a capital crime. So Irma has a chance not only to escape the count, but also to save her brother’s life. All she has to do is dress up in Fedor’s uniform and take his place. With that, she’s off, leaving behind a bogus suicide note for ballet master Fresco.

Fresco is beside himself – not at Irma’s alleged death, but at the loss of the cash it represents! Just then a solution presents itself in the form of Musette, a fortune teller with a band of Romanies who have just arrived. Musette bears an uncanny resemblance to Irma. (The two roles are always played by the same singer.) Aha! Fresco will simply marry Musette to the count.

Not surprisingly, this idea doesn’t sit well with Musette’s real lover from the Romany band, Sandor. But not to worry, he says – they’ll just run off after the wedding, leaving Count Berezowski in the lurch.

Act 2 takes place at Count Berezowski’s chateau. The wedding is imminent, but the bride, Musette, is nowhere to be found. However, Irma has returned, wearing her brother’s uniform. Fresco persuades her to trade her uniform for the wedding gown.

Following all this so far? Good. Now, take a deep breath: Sandor takes Irma for Musette, his sweetheart. Captain Ladislas takes her for his love, Irma. Count Berezowski takes her for his bride-to-be. And the count is determined to take her for his bride.

The three men are about to come to blows, so Irma reveals her "true identity." She is, she says, Fedor, her brother. This ruse is threatened when Fedor’s fiancee, the French singer Pompom, appears. But just then a messenger arrives with the news that war has broken out. All head for the front.

Act 3 finds us at the Hungarian forces’ camp. Fedor is still missing, and Irma is still taking his place. Pompom arrives, and accuses "Fedor" of deserting her.

Just as the situation seems hopeless, an officer arrives with the resolution. Fedor hasn’t deserted either Pompom or the army. He’s been sent on a top secret mission, and he’s about to return a hero!

The subterfuge is undone and all is forgiven. Now Irma can marry her true love Ladislas, Musette can marry Sandor, and Fedor can tie the knot with Pompom. Count Berezowski and Fresco? They’re left with their just reward for their conniving and duplicity – nothing.

CAST
 
Irma / Musette / Fedor Amy Maples
Count Berezowski Logan Walsh
Fresco Gary Moss
Captain Ladislas Stephen Faulk
Sandor David Kelleher-Flight
Pompom Elisa Matthews
Boris Max Nolin
Vaninka Sarah Best
Rafael Lori Birrer
General Korbay Geoffrey Penar
Lieutenant Geoffrey Kannenberg
Wanda Natalie Ballenger
Vera Madeline Piscetta
Matosin Jacob Allen
 
OHIO LIGHT OPERA
 
Artistic Director Steven Daigle
Conductor Steven Byess
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remenyi

Johannes Brahms and Eduard Remény (seated)

 

“My father was a dear old man, very simple-minded, and most unsophisticated.” Those words are from Johannes Brahms. They help to explain why, while studying not just music, but also Latin and classics in school, Brahms had to help pay the family’s bills by playing the piano. In dirty Hamburg, the places that paid were the bars and brothels in his neighborhood.

Playing mood or dance music, mostly ignoring the activities around him, he was paid in coins dropped in a stein on the piano (and given as much beer as he wanted). He was only 12 years old. The ‘ladies’ would hang around waiting for business, teasing the cute little boy, but staying clear of improprieties.

Within a couple of years, Brahms was finding work elsewhere in town – not just as a pianist, but also as an arranger for small ensembles in which he was often participating.

By the age of 15, Brahms was able make his official premiere as a concert pianist. That was 1848 and Hamburg was experiencing the overflow of Hungarian refugees trying to get to the United States. During the summer, the Austrian and Russian governments had crushed a revolution in Hungary. Those trying to get out of the mess were passing through the port of Hamburg.

While waiting, Hungarians (including gypsies from the area) would entertain themselves and passers-by with their songs, quite ready to accept cash for these impromptu performances. Young Johannes made his way to the docks for this wonderful music.

About two years later, a violinist born Eduard Hoffmann changed his name to Reményi – essentially a Hungarian translation of his name – out of love for his homeland. He was among those Hungarian refugees in Hamburg. Brahms heard this young phenom, and before long the two were performing around Hamburg.

A rumor started circulating that there was an arrest warrant out for Reményi, so the fun was over for the time being. Reményi was off the U.S. for two years, only to return with bigger plans in mind. The two would tour Europe. It would be a chance of a lifetime for the young unknown Brahms. He would be touring with a true Hungarian violinist at a time when the popularity of that country’s music was peaking. They were a hit.

But the young Brahms was so good that the more famous Reményi became jealous. Their friendship soured. When Brahms published his Hungarian Dances, Reményi claimed that Brahms had stolen pieces that the violinist had actually originated. Brahms responded that they were indeed folk tunes and therefore basically ‘public domain.’

But I’m getting ahead of myself. While the two were on one of their tours, they met other famous musicians. One of them was the Jewish-Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim. Reményi and Joachim were close friends and both had that feeling for the music of their people.

Let me stop for a moment and take us to another place and time. You are in the back of a bar in New York City – maybe the Village Vanguard. The year is 1959. The Dave Brubeck Quartet or Miles Davis are playing the latest take on this heavily styled genre of music. You can hear it better than you can see it, thanks to the grey haze of smoke – smoke that over the years has glazed the place with a light shade of ochre-brown. Your beer is warm, but your company is cool, as you are completely mesmerized by what you hear.

That’s what it was like in many of Europe’s hip taverns in the mid-nineteenth century. The Jazz of the day was variations on Hungarian or Gypsy music. Even when Brahms wasn’t playing it with Reményi, he could certainly hear it close by.

About five years later, this time on his own and better known, Brahms would find himself at the piano at the center of a small crowd waiting for his next tune. He’d play these ‘out-there’ gypsy-style pieces. Before long, these ideas ended up on paper, one Hungarian dance at a time, until his friend Clara Schumann started adding them to her concerts.

By 1868, Brahms had penned ten of these Hungarian dances in a scoring for two pianos. He and Clara performed them in a concert. The he gave them to his publisher, Fritz Simrock. They proved to be very popular.

Four years later, another publication – this time for single piano – sold even better. Brahms then orchestrated three of the dances. Simrock made a ton of money from these dances. Before long, he had the brilliant idea of asking Brahms to come up with more. Brahms obliged.

In time, other versions appeared, and Brahms’s good friend Antonín Dvořák orchestrated the last four Hungarian Dances of Book Four. He may have done this partly as thanks to Brahms for hooking him up with the publisher Simrock. (Simrock’s first request to Dvořák was a set of Slavonic Dances – which made Simrock even more money).

The 21 Hungarian Dances brought in cash for Brahms too, not just for his publisher. But what was more important to Brahms was that now he had leverage with Simrock. Now Brahms could ask Simrock to publish his more ‘serious’ music, which both knew would be less profitable.

Brahms’ Hungarian Dances may not have been his greatest work. But by helping to bring his other works to light, they may have been some of the most important pieces of music he ever composed.

 

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Oberlin College Conservatory has one of the best music school websites I’ve seen. For instance, the faculty section has a video presentation on pianist Peter Takács, where he shares a little about himself. Here, he talks about his recently released CD set – a complete recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas.

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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
(sowash.com)

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
(durufle.org)

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
(bach-cantatas.com)

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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