Our soloists!

I’m so happy to announce our soloists for the Haydn Missa in tempore belli on January 27, 2018:

Soprano Deborah Selig’s voice has been described by the press as “radiant,” “beautifully rich,” “capable of any emotional nuance,” and “impressively nimble.” Recent operatic highlights include Micaela in Carmen with Dayton Opera, Pamina in The Magic Flute with Boston Lyric Opera, Musetta in La Boheme with Central City Opera, Rose in Street Scene with Chautauqua Opera, and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni with Kentucky Opera. This season includes Regina Isabella in Donizetti’s L’assedio di Calais with Odyssey Opera.

A striking and versatile artist on the concert stage, Ms. Selig has performed many song recitals and soloed with orchestras across the United States. Highlights include Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Asheville Symphony, Brahms’ Requiem with Dayton Philharmonic, Bach Cantatas 37, 92 and 97 with Handel and Haydn Society, Orff’s Carmina Burana with Fairbanks Symphony (AK), Haydn’s Creation with Harvard University Choirs, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Masterworks Chorale, Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Nashoba Valley Chorale, and Handel’s Messiah with Rhode Island Philharmonic. This season includes Mozart’s Requiem with Brown University Chorus, Brahms’ Requiem with Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, Haydn’s Paukenmesse with Nashoba Valley Chorale, orchestrated Strauss songs with Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, and song recitals in Vermont, Connecticut, Providence and Washington, DC.

Currently on voice faculty at Brown University and Boston University Tanglewood Institute, Ms. Selig earned an Artist Diploma and MM degrees from Cincinnati College- Conservatory of Music and a summa cum laude BM/BA in Voice and English from the University of Michigan. Apprenticeships included Chautauqua Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Ravinia Festival Steans Insitute and Tanglewood Music Center. www.deborahselig.com

Hailed by Classical Voice of New England as “thoroughly delightful” and a “consummate storyteller, musician and artist,” Emily Jaworski is earning a reputation for excellence and constantly surprising audiences with her versatility. From the oratorios of Bach to the art songs of Brahms and Copland, to jazz, pop and musical theatre; on the opera stage or in professional ensembles, Emily is committed to forging a deep emotional connection with every piece she sings.

In recent seasons, Ms. Jaworski has been honored to debut mezzo-soprano solos in three world premieres by Jonathan Santore – Solstices (2014), Battle-Pieces (2015) and Requiem: Learning to Fall (2016), the performance of which is now available on There Are Many Other Legends, a compilation of Santore’s works released by Navona Records. In the fall of 2016, Emily collaborated with colleagues in multiple disciplines to co-create Brilliant Being, which combined improvised dance and vocal music with interactive projections and new electronic music by Santore.

Recent opera roles include Carmen with Longwood Opera, Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana with the Pioneer Valley Symphony, and the Old Lady in Candide with the Manchester Choral Society. Other recent appearances include Bach’s Magnificat and Mass in B Minor, the Durufle Requiem, Handel’s Messiah and Dixit Dominus and the Dvořak Stabat Mater; Sharon in Master Class and Abby in The Musical of Musicals! The Musical; as Italian Renaissance poet Gaspara Stampa in the New England premiere of John Ratledge’s cantata The Divine Siren, and on the recital stage in venues throughout New Hampshire and Boston. She is a member of the New Hampshire Master Chorale and the chamber choir Voices 21c. Ms. Jaworski’s love of research, dedication to musical details and commitment to text have led to honors from the Joy in Singing Foundation, the Friday Morning Music Club, and the American Traditions Competion.

Emily is a two-time participant in Ann Baltz’s groundbreaking OperaWorks training program and has also participated in the Bassi Brugnatelli Singing and Conducting Symposium in Robbiate, Italy, Bay View Music Festival, Opera Academy of California, and New York Opera Studio. She holds a Master of Music degree from Boston University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Susquehanna University, and is currently pursuing her doctorate at Boston University in the studio of Dr. Lynn Eustis.

Ms. Jaworski is a frequent adjudicator, masterclass teacher and clinician, and has presented at Susquehanna University, Keene State College, The All New England Choral Festival, Connecticut Music Educators’ Association, and the Unitarian Universalist Musicians’ Network. In the summer of 2015, she was a teaching artist at the Härnosänds Summer Opera Festival in Sweden. Emily maintains a full voice studio at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.

 

Praised for his fine musicality, “glowing intensity,” and “clarion tone,” Gregory Zavracky maintains an active performance schedule on concert and opera stages alike. Recent engagements include the Officer in The Barber of Seville with Boston Lyric Opera, Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville with Townsend Opera, Tamino in Boston Lyric Opera’s family production of The Magic Flute, Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost with Lake George Opera, Ferrando in Così Fan Tutte and Camille in The Merry Widow with Cape Cod Opera, Ernesto in Don Pasquale with Opera in the Heights in Houston, Lechmere in Owen Wingrave with Boston University Opera Institute, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni with Metrowest Opera, Face on the Barroom Floor with Charleston Chamber Opera, Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola with Capitol Heights Lyric Opera, and Prince Dauntless in Once Upon a Mattress and Schmidt in Werther with Chautauqua Opera, where he also covered Nemorino in the Elixir of Love.

Gregory has recently sung in the world premieres of Matthew Aucoin’s Crossing with the American Repertory Theater, the Five Borough Songbook with Five Boroughs Music
Festival, David Wolfson’s Faith Operas with Hartford Opera Theater, Steven Sametz’s A Child’s Requiem with the University of Connecticut Orchestra, Ketty Nez’s The Fiddler and the Old Woman of Rumelia with the Xanthos Ensemble and James Yannatos’ Rocket’s Red Blare with Intermezzo Opera, and Three American Songs by Anthony DeRitis (soon to be released on CD).

A 2009 Gerda Lissner Foundation Encouragement Award recipient, a 2010 Liederkranz Competition finalist in the art song divison, and a 2011 finalist in the Connecticut Opera Guild Competition, Gregory’s concert experience includes opera and pops concerts with both the Chautauqua and Utah Symphony, Handel’s Messiah with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and Mozart’s Vespers with the Providence Singers, Schubert’s Mass in G with Coro Allegro; Britten’s Les Illuminations with the Aurea Ensemble; the Bach Magnificat and Cantata 191 with Back Bay Chorale, Janácek’s Otcenás and Respighi’s Lauda per la Natività with Chorus Pro Musica, Carmina Burana with Masterworks Chorale; Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Haydn’s Creation with Nashoba Valley Chorale; Mozart’s Mass in C minor with Quincy Choral Society, and Bach’s B Minor Mass with the Connecticut Virtuosi.

Gregory received his Doctorate of Musical Arts from Boston University. Previous degrees include a Bachelor of Arts in music from Emory University, followed by two Master of Music degrees from New England Conservatory in voice performance and opera studies as a student of Edward Zambara. He currently teaches voice at the University of Connecticut, Brown University, Eastern Connecticut State University, and Boston University Tanglewood Institute.

 

 

 

Highly praised for his “rich voice and comic timing(St. Louis Post Dispatch), Andy Papas has been well lauded in performances across the country. Born and raised in Boston, Andy makes his principal debut with Boston Lyric Opera in 2018 in The Threepenny Opera, and returns to Boston Opera Collaborative for La Bohème in April. He joined Opera Saratoga for their recent summer festival, covering the title role in Falstaff, singing Bugs/Gent in The Cradle Will Rock, and performing in 2017 Season Concerts. After Saratoga, he sang his fourth Magnifico, this time for Berks Opera’s production of La Cenerentola in Reading, PA. This fall he is in Seattle for Les Contes d’Hoffman with Pacific Northwest Opera.

Andy made coast-to-coast debuts during 2015-16 season, broadening his growing crossover repertoire. With Fiddlehead Theater Company in December, Andy sang the hilariously flamboyant French gourmand Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid, where ArtsImpulse applauded his “unexpectedly brilliant performance [that] brought the crowd nearly to its feet. Andy was in Los Angeles in April ’16 in a comic double-bill of Mozart’s The Impresario and Salieri’s Prima la Musica e Poi le Parole with Pacific Opera Project, singing leading roles in each. In March 2016, he was the comically stuttering Hans Wagner in Evangeline – The Belle of Acadia, with The Longfellow Chorus of Portland, Maine. For Winter 2016, he recorded the role of President Nixon in Roger Rudenstein’s Faustus, and sang The Herald in Verdi’s Otello with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Fall 2015 marked Andy’s Actor’s Equity debut with The Lyric Stage of Boston in their “hit” production of My Fair Lady. He also returned to Saint Louis in his debut with Winter Opera St. Louis, as the heartbroken jester Jack Point in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard. Of his performance as Point, The St. Louis Post Dispatch said, “Papas caught the role’s mixture of humor and pathos, and sang with a beautiful baritone.”

Andy spent the 2014-15 season singing the evil stepfather Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola from Coast to Coast, with performances in Seattle, Milwaukee, and Maine. After singing Magnifico for Skylight Music Theatre in September, he followed up with his west coast debut as Magnifico for Skagit Opera of Seattle in March, and in July for The Bar Harbor Music Festival. In April 2015, he added to his list of World Premieres, performing Stephano in Joseph Summers’ The Tempest, with The Shakespeare Concerts of Boston. Andy made his debut under the baton of Gil Role as Peter Simple in Vaughn-Williams’ Falstaff tale, Sir John in Love, with Odyssey Opera in May. He returned to the Pacific Northwest in early June for the iconic baritone solo in Beethoven’s 9th Symphonyfor The Mid-Columbia Symphony. Finally, he was in St. Louis in August for a third season with Union Avenue Opera, performing Count Ceprano in Rigoletto.

In 2013-14, Andy expanded his New England footprint in his first performance in Vermont. With The Opera Company of Middlebury, Andy was Haly in L’Italiana in Algeri, where The Rutland Heraldlauded his “rich voice” and called his performance “a riot”. With The Reagle Music Theatre of Boston, Andy made his professional Musical Theatre debut as Avram in Fiddler on the Roof. Late in 2014, he performed his signature Gilbert & Sullivan roles, The Major General in The Pirates of Penzance and Ko-Ko in The Mikado, both for Opera Providence. Additionally, he toured throughout the Great Lakes as Dr. Bartolo in The Barber of Seville with Opera for the Young.

2012-2013 included performances in both the Midwest and New England. Andy was the Tsar in the world premiere of Polina Nazaykinskaya’s The Magic Mirror with Juventas New Music Ensemble and also for The New York Fringe Festival. In 2012, in his hometown debut, Andy was Schaunard in La Bohème with Boston Opera Collaborative. In February 2013, Andy sang a concert of Opera and Musical Theater favorites as part of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation’s Concert Series. Prior to that, he performed the role of the Father (Pandolfe) in Cinderella (Cendrillon) with Opera for the Young. With Cinderella, Andy toured to 65 schools in four states in the debut season of the show. In November 2012, Andy charmed New Hampshire audiences as Ko-Ko in The Mikado with Raylynmor Opera. Also in November, Andy returned to St. Louis to perform in the 2012 Benefit Gala with Union Avenue Opera. He was last seen at Union Avenue Opera in 2011 in the role of Pong in Turandot, under the baton of Maestro Scott Schoonover. Praised by the St. Louis press for a delightfully comedic performance, Andy also sang with Union Avenue as the Major General in The Pirates of Penzance in 2010.

In the spring of 2011, Andy joined Opera for the Young as both the Major General & The Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, touring to over 50 venues throughout the Midwest. Opera for the Young is a unique opera company that incorporates children into the performance at each school. The cast of Opera for the Young teaches a new group of children at each school to be the onstage chorus, encouraging appreciation for opera in a truly hands-on approach. Andy also performed both the Father & Witch in OFY’s original adaptation of Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel in 2012.

Andy was a 2011 Emerging Artist with the St. Petersburg Opera, performing Marullo in Rigoletto, Schaunard in scenes from La Bohème, and Uncle Yakusíde in Madama Butterfly. Additionally, he covered the role of Sharpless in Madama Butterfly and performed the role in several performances throughout the Tampa Bay Area. While at SPO, Andy coached with acclaimed Soprano Stella Zambalis, and Maestro Mark Sforzini.

In the summer of 2009, Andy was a young artist at Opera New Jersey, covering the role of Ko-Ko in The Mikado. He was seen in concerts throughout Princeton, NJ, performing opera and musical theater scenes as well as his original rendition of “I’ve got a little list”.

Andy completed his Master of Music degree in Voice Performance at the University of Houston in 2009. While at UH, Andy was seen as Uncle John in the Houston premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, Le Mari in Les Mamelles de Tiresias, Jupiter in Orpheus in the Underworld and Snooks Brenner (Father of the Bride) in William Bolcom’s A Wedding, all under the direction of Buck Ross. In Houston, he was also seen as the title role in Gianni Schicchi, as soloist with the Houston Ballet II, and in outreach performances of The Refuge with Houston Grand Opera. In addition, Andy collaborated with celebrated musicologist Howard Pollack, singing Junior Mister in Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle will Rock.

Prior to attending UH, Andy made his professional debut as an Apprentice Artist with Lyric Opera Cleveland in 2006. He performed the role of Redwood Son in the World Premiere of Randall Eng’s Florida, and Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance.

Andy received his Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from the University of Michigan in 2007, performing in both Musical Theater and Opera. Musical Theater role credits at UM include Charlemagne (Pippin), Old Man Strong (Urinetown), and Smokey (Damn Yankees). He studied with Freda Herseth, and coached with acclaimed composer & performer duo William Bolcom and Joan Morris.

Andy was born and raised in the Boston area, and started playing both piano and trumpet at the age of 8. He performed leading roles in musicals and plays, and was Drum Major of the Winchester HS Marching Band. In his free time, Andy enjoys skiing, traveling, and the foodie life, and owes thanks to his family, friends, and partner Chris for their love and support.

Our new season is beginning

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 10.26.34 AMThese are the famous opening bars to the Agnus Dei of Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli. At this point in the Mass, the listeners have been entertained, moved, and enraptured by the beauty of this late work (1796). But at this moment we hear the somber choir and the timpani, “an ominous reminder of the threat of war.” (Wolfgang Hochstein) And while we often call this great work the “Paukenmesse” because of the prominent role of the kettledrums, once the Agnus Dei begins we realize how deliberate Haydn was in calling it a “Mass in time of war.” Trumpet fanfares transition us from the threat of war to a dancing, light-filled call for peace (“dona nobis pacem”).

cover-large_file-1Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna will conclude our program on January 27 – it is an extended meditation on light, drawing imagery from several sources. The central movement is the transcendent “O nata lux et lumine” (“O born light of light”), sung a capella. You can hear it here: O nata lux

 

Dvorak Te Deum on May 21

WYOWe’re looking forward to singing the Dvorak Te Deum with the Worcester Youth Symphony Orchestra on Sunday May 21, 4pm in Mechanics Hall, Worcester. As Chorale member Tony Simollardes notes, “Mechanics Hall is a great Civil War-era concert hall that had fallen on hard times and was to be demolished 40-50 years ago, urban renewal 1970s style, until the paper’s publisher at the time led a community-wide effort to save and restore it. The acoustics are amazing…we’ll be standing on the same stage that luminaries such as Twain, Dickens, Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony, and several presidents, most recently Bill Clinton, have stood and where some of the world’s great symphonies have performed (Vienna, London, etc.), along with soloists such as Rachmaninoff, Caruso, Yo Yo Ma, Ella Fitzgerald and Leontyne Price.”

Tickets available here: http://www.worcesteryouthorchestras.org

Program Notes for Ein Deutsches Requiem

Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der heiligen Schrift (A German Requiem, after words of the Holy Scriptures).

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 7, 1833, and died in Vienna on April 3, 1897. He completed all but what is now the fifth movement of “Ein deutsches Requiem” in August 1866. Johannes Herbeck conducted the first three movements on December 1, 1867, in Vienna; the first performance of the six then-existing movements was given on Good Friday of 1868 in the Bremen cathedral; Brahms conducted, with Julius Stockhausen as baritone soloist. Brahms added the fifth movement (“Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit,” which calls for solo soprano) in May 1868, that movement first being sung on September 17 that year in Zurich. The first performance of the complete seven-movement work took place in Leipzig on February 18, 1869; Carl Reinecke conducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus. (Jan Swafford)

 

Ein Deutsches Requiem is a constant presence in the choral season every year, because it speaks to all of us about life, death and mourning. It’s a transformative and wonderful work to sing. While researching for these notes I ran across much concert artwork, and I was surprised to see angels – lots of posters with angels. I find this puzzling – there are no angels in the Requiem, and in fact it is not a work about mystical heavenly beings, or the hellish lions’ mouths of the Latin Requiem Mass – it is a work centered on earth, for and about humans on earth dealing with emotions around loss and joy. And yes, there is the promise of the world to come after death, the “joys of heaven” (Pascall)…but no help is needed from extra-terrestrial beings – these are texts and music about us: “…they rest from their labors, and their works shall follow them.” Brahms said,

I confess that I would gladly omit even the word ‘German’ and instead use ‘Human.’ Also…I would dispense with places like John 3:16. On the other hand, I’ve chosen one thing or another because…I needed it, and because with my venerable authors I can’t delete or dispute anything.”
The biblical verse Brahms would dispense with is perhaps the central one in the Christian faith: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If Brahms was a North German Protestant by upbringing and temperament, he was also a skeptic and agnostic—in the terms of our day, a “secular humanist.” (Jan Swafford)

 

Brahms chose his texts carefully. Using his childhood Lutheran Bible, of which he had a comprehensive knowledge, he was able to pair different texts together beautifully. “[Brahms] read the Bible as literature, not rejecting, rather rationalizing and universalizing its import….a sustained message of hope. The movement from the trouble, sorrow and pointlessness of earthly life to the security, peace, rejoicing and fulfillment of the next offers not only comfort for the bereaved but solace for all those contemplating mortality, not just Protestants, not just Christians, but mankind.” (Robert Pascall)

 

Movement 1 (Matthew 5:4 and Psalm 126: 5,6)

Ein Deutsches Requiem begins with emphasis on those that mourn, not on those who have died (“Selig sind, die da Leid tragen”). The orchestration is dark, with no violins, two mournful horns, and spare use of the woodwinds. The choral opening establishes the “Selig” motive, which Brahms will manipulate throughout the Requiem: a rising third resolving up a half step (Listen for its inversion at the third choral phrase.) At the words “Die mit Tränen säen” (“They that sow in tears”) Brahms changes the key to the flatted VI chord, a characteristic progression for him, and we hear the harp for the first time. The orchestration increases and the “Freude” (“joy”) theme appears. After much activity, the voices fall to a stop (“getröstet werden”) as the harp arpeggios ascend – earth and heaven.

 

 

Movement 2 (1 Peter 1:24, James 5:7, 1 Peter 1:25 and Isaiah 35:10)

This movement is marked “Langsam, marschmässig” – slow, marching. The image is one of mourners following the casket. It had its genesis in 1854, when Brahms’ mentor, the composer Robert Schumann, threw himself into the Rhine in an abortive attempt to kill himself (Schumann was subsequently hospitalized until his death in 1856). Brahms began a major two-piano work that morphed into a symphony, never completed, of which this was the scherzo (usually the third movement, in triple meter). The first movement of it became the opening movement of the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and this music became “Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras” – “for all flesh is as grass” in the Requiem. The form of a scherzo movement, similar to a minuet, includes a contrasting trio section (here “So seid nun geduldig” – “be patient”), and then returns to the opening music, which is doubly poignant in its repetition.

 

The mood changes abruptly, with, appropriately, the word “Aber” (“But”) – and the choir launches into joy: “the word of the Lord endures for ever…and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy” The eminent conductor, Robert Shaw, said,

I have a feeling that when Brahms even becomes joyful about Die Erlöseten – “The saved of the world will come rejoicing as I am” –  I think he was making a march that included God too, you know? You see he wasn’t seeking security for himself and trying to convince himself by being loud, but I think he was describing that sort of security of righteousness which is its own condition, and God and manhood, which are their own dignity. (robertshaw.website)

 

Movement 3 (Psalm 39:4-7 and Wisdom of Solomon 3:1) This is perhaps the most difficult movement in the Requiem, in its musical demands and its emotional commitment. The baritone soloist opens with the words “Lord, let me know mine end” (the first personal “I” statement of the Requiem) and the choir echoes him. The music becomes steadily more agitated and rhythmically complex through the metrical change at “Ach, wie gar nichts sind alle Menschen” (“Surely every man walketh in a vain show”), leading to the orchestra essentially abandoning the voices after “wess soll ich mich trösten?” (“how shall I comfort myself?”). As the choir lifts itself up with the text “Ich hoffe auf dich” (“I hope in thee”) the orchestra re-joins the texture and the combined forces launch into the “Der Gerechten Seelen” fugue.

 

This highly complicated fugue is made more difficult by Brahms’ decision to anchor the entire section with a pedal point (a kind of drone) on the pitch D. “Brahms felt wedded to this effect as an expression of the assurance in the text: ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God and no torment shall touch them.’” (Swafford) Clara Schumann said of it, “The only really troublesome thing in [the Requiem] is the fugue with the pedal note.” After the 1867 performance of the first three movements, the critic Eduard Hanslick wrote,” During the concluding fugue of the third movement, surging above a pedal-point on D, [one] experience the sensations of a passenger rattling through a tunnel in an express train.” Part of the problem was that the timpanist at that performance played very loudly throughout –Brahms’ remedy for this was the marking he added: piano ma ben marcato (soft but well marked). The composer also lightened the orchestral texture a bit, making the interplay between voices and orchestra easier to hear. Then in the final six measures: Brahms gives the upper strings triplet rhythms; the woodwinds continue their duple eighth notes which morph into a highly syncopated figure; he brings in all the brass; and the choir goes somewhat nuts as the fugue rolls into the cadence – an express train indeed.

 

 

Movement 4 (Psalm 84:1,2,4). “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” is the center of the work, an oasis of seemingly-uncomplicated melodies that turn the work toward life after death: “My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.” The opening descending orchestral introduction is an inversion of the “Selig sind” motive from the first movement.

In April 1865 he sent Clara Schumann a draft toward a new piece, observing, “It’s probably the least offensive part of some kind of German Requiem. But since it may have vanished into thin air before you come to Baden, at least have a look at the beautiful words it begins with.” The chorus he is impugning, “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts,” of course did not vanish from Ein deutsches Requiem. In fact, it is one of the most limpidly beautiful and beloved works in the entire choral repertoire.
In later years Brahms said, “I don’t like to hear that I wrote the Requiem for my mother.” By the law of Brahmsian obliqueness, that is a tacit admission that the death of his beloved mother in 1865 was part of the inspiration. He just didn’t like people talking about it. (Jan Swafford)

 

Movement 5 (John 16:22, Ecclesiasticus 51:27 and Isaiah 66:13). The original version of Ein Deutsches Requiem, as premiered in 1868 in Bremen, did not include this movement. The idea of having a soprano solo in the work came from Brahms’ teacher Eduard Marxsen, and was probably helped by fact that at the premier in 1868, the program included the soprano Amalie Joachim singing Handel’s “I know that my redeemer liveth” (a nod to those who felt the Requiem was remiss in not mentioning Christ anywhere in its text). Hearing this transcendent music, one can only believe that Brahms was writing of his mother, Christiane, who died in 1865, but the composer always just huffed and snorted at the suggestion.

 

Here the relationship between soloist and chorus is completely different from the 3rd movement. The choir murmurs, underneath the soloist, one text: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” The soprano never sings those words; rather, she sings of the world to come: “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.”

 

Movement 6 (Hebrews 13:14, 1 Corinthians 15:51,52,54,55 and Revelation 4:11). In this massive movement we get a taste of a more traditional Requiem setting – the mention of the “last trumpet”, the idea that “Death is swallowed up in victory” – here the work skirts as close to traditional Christian belief as it gets.

 

Interestingly, the relationship of the baritone and the choir is the same as in the 3rd movement: he intones “Wir werden nichat alle entschlafen” and they repeat. The music is quiet, somewhat wandering, and then the intensity increases at the text “at the last trumpet” and all the forces of orchestra and chorus erupt with “for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” There’s a manic waltz at “Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?” – “Grave, where is thy victory?” – and an amazing metrical shift to a grand, Handelian fugue (“Lord, thou art worthy to receive glory and honor”). This is a fugue that begins as a fugue and ends as a completely Brahmsian, Romantic anthem of praise, with dramatic dynamic and registral shifts.

 

Movement 7 (Revelations 14:13) We come to the close, the final movement symmetrical with the first, but now the text is “Selig sind die Toten”, “blessed are the dead”. We come at last to the place most requiems begin, and it feels like the right end to the journey. Brahms takes the music of the opening movement’s “they shall be comforted” and uses it for “blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.” Full circle.

 

Brahms’s Requiem has no trace of incense, no bowing to the altar. It reaches beyond the walls of churches to touch the eternal sources of grief and hope. It is a spiritual work in the universal language of music, addressed to all humanity, which is to say, to those that mourn and need comfort. “ Freude,” “joy,” is the word heard most often in Ein deutsches Requiem. Brahms meant “Freude” in the same sense Beethoven did in the Ninth Symphony. For a humanist, joy is the summit of life, and it is the rebirth of joy that all people hope for on the other side of mourning. (Jan Swafford)

 

–Anne Watson Born

 

Sources:

  • Jan Swafford, program notes for BSO Ein Deutsches Requiem performances, fall 2016
  • Jan Swaffod, Brahms: A Biography
  • Robert Pascall, liner notes to Norrington recording

 

 

“Think about it. Then do something”

 

“A single offense looms above 200 concerted voices like a buzzard in a flea market. There is no escaping personal responsibility.  Perhaps that is what makes choral singing so great: the grandest of common endeavors — achieved with the utmost of individual effort.  Think about it. Then do something.  R” (Robert Shaw, from robertshaw.website)

 

I ran across this quotation from Robert Shaw shortly after a conversation with my husband. He was recalling a performance of Mahler 2 he sang in long ago, in which a lone, errant tenor came in early, forte, at the final “zu Gott, wird es dich tragen!” And while that is not the only or even the main thing he remembers about that performance, moments like that do, er, stick in one’s mind.

 

But what is difficult about Shaw’s quote and my anecdote is the message they send about making a mistake. None of us should approach a performance timidly, in fear of being “that guy” – the one that enters early, or as Garrick Ohlsson did when playing the 3rd movement of Mozart’s K. 330 as an encore: “about 1 minute in, he had a memory lapse, turned to the audience, and said “Mind if I start that again”. And started again!” (forum.pianoworld.com) We are all human, we all make mistakes (those of you who have sung with me for the last 10 years or so have certainly witnessed plenty from me!).

 

What I want to emphasize in Shaw’s statement is that we are all individually responsible to put in the effort to learn the music we will perform as best we possibly can. When we all put in the time to not only learn our part but to see how that part fits into the whole; when we read the score from beginning to end, learning the structure of the whole work; when we study the text and see how the composer sets it – when we all do these things, then we have a chance to really make music.

 

We are well on our way to making beautiful, expressive music on April 29. “Think about it. Then do something.”

 

 

 

Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand

The Requiem was finished (except for the 5th movement, which was added after the premiere) in the fall of 1866. Brahms showed it to Clara Schumann, and she said of it, “It has given me unspeakable joy.” But she also pointed out a problem: “The only really troublesome thing in it is the fugue with the pedal note.” And indeed, the fugue at the end of the 3rd movement is a source of much anxiety for every performer of the work.

The first three movements of the Requiem were performed in Vienna in December of 1867 (before the premiere of the entire work in April 1868). Eduard Hanslick wrote in his review: “While the first two movements of the Requiem, in spite of their somber gravity, were received with unanimous applause, the fate of the third movement was very doubtful…During the concluding fugue of the third movement, surging above a pedal-point on D, [one] experienced the sensations of a passenger rattling through a tunnel in an express train.”

Brahms would not consider changing the fugue; he felt the pedal was “an expression of the assurance in the text: ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God and no torment shall touch them.’” (Jan Swafford Johannes Brahms)

“…you can imagine what goes on at the Hamburg Choral Society”

From Nick Strimple. Choral Music in the Nineteenth Century:

Ein deutsches Requiem became popular immediately. Most of Brahms’s close friends and family were present at one or another of the first performances, and many of them wrote to the composer poser expressing their deep sense of emotional fulfillment. The work was obviously close to Brahms’s heart, too, and he was not above expressing his ire when told of a performance planned by an inadequate choir in Hamburg:

My very esteemed sir: Permit these few hasty lines which surely seem permissible about a poor concert of your friend. You write: the perform[ance] of the Requiem is to “take place with the participation of the Bach-Society.”

Maybe that is just inadvertence, a slip of the pen!?

The planned perf makes sense only if it is an especially good one; heading the list for that is the choral group and we have every reason to be cautious.

The choral group for participation I found and still find most desirable is the Cecilia-Society. It did perform the R. less than a year ago and I am surely able to completely rely upon its choirmaster master Spengel. If that society either is unwilling or unable, then I would take a chance doing the thing with the combined theatre choruses of Hbg. and Schwerin-but it is really quite a lot to ask of these people for them, in addition to their daily chores, also to practice so difficult a piece, etc!

The Hbg. Bach-Society on the other hand never sang my R.-I need not describe to you at length how utterly impossible that outfit fit is!

I lack the time and this pointed steelpen makes writing almost impossible for me. But you can imagine what goes on at the Hamb. Choral Society: the Cecilian Society is the only one where they practice, etc.

I just hope you merely made a mistake as you were writing!!

 

Congratulations! and…Brahms

The Nashoba Valley Chorale concert on November 19 was just beautiful. We sang the Bach 3rd Motet with verve and attention to detail (and with an occasional but never fatal derailment). The Gjeilo Sunrise Mass was simply gorgeous – swept the audience away. Beautiful work – thank you!!

And now on to Ein Deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms. Jan Swafford writes,

Brahms’s Requiem has no trace of incense, no bowing to the altar. It reaches beyond the walls of churches to touch the eternal sources of grief and hope. It is a spiritual work in the universal language of music, addressed to all humanity, which is to say, to those that mourn and need comfort. “ Freude,” “joy,” is the word heard most often in Ein deutsches Requiem. Brahms meant “Freude” in the same sense Beethoven did in the Ninth Symphony. For a humanist, joy is the summit of life, and it is the rebirth of joy that all people hope for on the other side of mourning.

Program Notes

I was driving home after rehearsal one night and heard a Bach piece, unfamiliar to me (turned out to be the Overture in French Style in B minor). Listening to it I had both a feeling of comfortable understanding (“okay, that’s what he’s doing, that’s where it’s going; I got this”) and a sense of confusion (“geez there are a lot of notes, what the heck?!”). About ten minutes in I stopped thinking and just gave in to beauty. We include program notes to give markers of what’s happening so that you can “follow” it; we include historical information for “context” – but really what we want is to communicate, in some small, ineffectual way, what it’s like to be inside of this music. We have lived with this music for 10 weeks, and in addition to our common goals as a choral ensemble, each of us has a particular relationship with these works. I hope some of that will be communicated tonight – and meanwhile, here are some very cool facts for your edification.

J.S. Bach Motet No. 3

In all likelihood, this motet (in Margaret Bent’s pithy definition, “a piece of music in several parts with words”) was composed for the funeral of the postmaster’s wife in 1723 in Leipzig.

It was traditional in Leipzig that the passing of every citizen was formally observed in one of the city’s churches. Students from the Thomas School were required to be among the official mourners at those civic events, but their number and the elaborateness of the music they performed were determined by the contribution that the deceased’s family or estate made to the proceedings. (Bach earned considerable income from this source and lamented the paucity of deaths among the townspeople during one extended healthy period.) (Richard E. Rodda).

 

I imagine the postmaster was not ungenerous, as this is the longest and most monumental of all of Bach’s motets. Whether it would have been performed with instruments as we are tonight, or a capella, is an open question.
The heart of BWV 227, Jesu, meine Freude, is the chorale melody. The text was written by Johann Franck, the tune by Johann Crüger. I am reminded of some of my favorite cooking shows, where the chef somewhat smugly announces that he has prepared “Salmon, three ways” – in this masterful motet, Bach sets the chorale melody 5 different ways in 6 of the 11 movements. Bach did not compose the chorale melodies that he included in his compositions throughout his life. Most of the hymn tunes in Bach’s cantatas, organ works, Passions and motets were composed earlier:

Literally thousands of these melodies were written by hymnodists (mainly German, in Bach’s case) in the century or two before Bach. Some were adapted from popular songs, even love songs. Martin (“There’s no reason why the Devil should have all the good tunes”) Luther wrote thirty six himself. (Bernard S. Greenberg)

The chorale has six stanzas, in “fruitful dramatic alternation” (John Eliot Gardiner) with verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 8. The musical settings of these texts have as well a beautiful symmetry: movements 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 are the chorale stanzas, and the Romans texts are set as follows: the 2nd and 10th sections share the same music, with no. 10 being half the length; the 4th and 8th settings are both trio textures (SSA in no. 4 and ATB in no. 8); and the 6th movement, the center of the work, is a glorious fugue.

 

The work begins with a straightforward setting of the chorale tune, reminding one why Bach’s chorale settings have been studied for generations of music students. The second movement illustrates the text beautifully with dramatic pauses, dynamic shifts, and its walking rhythms (“wandeln”) disrupted by syncopated, lurching rhythms (when you’re not following the way of the spirit).

 

After another masterful exercise in voice leading in the 2nd chorale stanza – with an added voice (Soprano II) – we hear the women’s voices: “Denn das Gesetz des Geistes”; the text is about the spirit, the third part of the holy Trinity, so Bach uses higher voices in triple meter.

 

The most complex setting of a chorale verse follows. The chorale melody is outlined in the two soprano parts but is certainly not as obvious to the ear. I love what John Eliot Gardiner says about this section: “In the fifth movement Bach conjures the medieval image of ‘the old dragon’ with the graphic vividness of a Cranach or a Grünewald. Then he opposes it with the powerful image of Luther himself, fearless in his isolated rebellion (‘ich steh hier und singe’) and like the archangel Michael, brave and unmovable in his defiance (‘in gar sichrer Ruh’). We sense how Bach too ‘stands here and sings in confident tranquillity’, and exhorts us to do the same. If one wanted to pick a single example of how Bach chose to harness his compositional prowess and capacity for invention to articulate his zeal and faith, this would be it.”

 

Now we are at the center of the work, a wonderful fugue. The musical interval of a 4th is the main cell of the musical material (e.g., “so anders Gottes Geist”). The subject has two contrasting ideas: repeated eighth notes and a long “fleishlich” followed by sixteenth note runs on “geistlich” [Spirit].

 

The movement ends with the somber reminder “Wer aber Christi Geist nicht hat (Anyone, however, who does not have Christ’s Spirit, is not His)”.

 

In the next chorale stanza you’ll hear the choir swatting at flies (“Weg, weg mit allen Schätzen”) as they resolutely send temptation away. Listen for the beautiful tenor suspension at the cadence. This is followed by a low-voiced trio setting in a siciliana rhythm; the music becomes chromatic at “so ist der Leib zwar tot” and joyfully melismatic on “Geist.” The trio texture morphs into a higher-voiced, tender setting of verse 6 of the chorale, with the altos carrying the melody.

 

“So nun der Geist” is a mirror image of the second movement, “[which] speaks of those who are ‘in Christ’, whereas the next to last movement turns the idea around referring to the Spirit of Christ dwelling ‘in you’. Much of the same musical material is utilized in both verses.” (Michael Beattie)

 

The final chorale stanza setting is musically the same as the first movement, but, as with all great music, we feel different after the journey. Weicht, ihr Trauergeister,
denn mein Freudenmeister, Jesus, tritt herein.” (Hence, you spirits of sadness,
for my Master of joy, Jesus, comes here).
Cooman Shawkemo Dreaming

The title Shawkemo Dreaming (2009) refers to Shawkemo, a region of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. This work is one of a variety of pieces deeply connected to the landscape of Nantucket. Overlooking the harbor and conservation preserves, Shawkemo imparts a sense of peace, amidst gentle wind and sky. The work begins with bell-like tolling through which a freely lyrical melody is unfolded. This melodic material is developed, building to small climaxes, before the work settles into a reposed conclusion. (Notes by the composer)

 

Gjeilo Sunrise Mass

This work by Ola Gjeilo is what I call a ‘basking piece’ – you can just let its gorgeous waves wash over you. The composer’s text-setting process is pretty much the opposite of Bach’s in that the music doesn’t always express the mood or meaning of the text. The composer has said,

The reason I used English titles, seemingly unrelated to the (mostly) Latin texts, for the movements in this setting of the Mass has mainly to do with the initial idea behind Sunrise Mass. I wanted the musical development of the work to evolve from the most transparent and spacey, to something completely earthy and grounded; from nebulous and pristine to more emotional and dramatic, and eventually warm and solid – as a metaphor for human development from child to adult, or as a spiritual journey.

 

“Ola Gjeilo was born in Norway in 1978, and moved to the United States in 2001 to begin his composition studies at the Juilliard School in New York City. He is currently composer-in-residence with Voces8 and DCINY. A full-time concert music composer based in New York City, Gjeilo (pronounced Yay-lo) is also very interested in film, and his music often draws inspiration from movies and cinematic music.” (olagjeilo.com)

The Spheres

The floating, ethereal chords heard at the beginning of the work present a harmonic and melodic progression that will be heard throughout the Sunrise Mass:

 

The overlapping entrances by the different voices create shimmering dissonances which dissolve and then reform; the music is indeed “transparent and spacey.” It becomes more metered as the composer lays out the iconic “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison” text over the same chord progression.

 

Sunrise

 

This movement opens with active, soft string writing and the angelic violin theme, later sung by the sopranos. As the piece gradually opens up into the full choral texture, the pace picks up for the joyful “Laudamus te” theme. At the text “Domine Deus, Rex coelestis” (“Lord God, King of heaven”) the texture changes:

 

I wanted a change of texture. I wanted the choir to have a chance to shine. It’s also a little reminiscent of the repeated notes of the Brahms’ (1833-1897) Requiem and the third movement. It has a pedal forever and has that syncopated rhythm. That’s one of my favorite musical moments of all time. The Brahms’ Requiem was unbelievable. This is the most regal, obviously, part of the movement. It’s about a king, Rex. It’s in one key center, and I wanted it to be very bombastic, strong, and unshakable. (quoted in Posada)

 

Following this is a return of the “Laudamus” theme and the movement comes to a close with a quiet “Quoniam” section and a capella “Amen” chords.

 

The City

 

The earthly bustle of urban life is evoked by the strings in the opening. The men present the Credo theme, which will recur throughout the movement. For the “Crucifixus” text Gjeilo brings back the Spheres/Kyrie theme, and later, as a transition back to the Credo motif, he again employs the Spheres theme, albeit in a unison texture with a forte dynamic.

 

The issue for a composer with the Credo text is that there are a lot of words. In the early Mass settings of Haydn and Mozart and their contemporaries, the choir is asked to sing through the text quite rapidly, and there is a similar passage here, with Gjeilo’s setting of the “Et in Spiritum Sanctum” section, a central statement of belief. The music builds as the voices pass a long, chant-like Amen up in pitch to the fortissimo close.

 

Identity and the Ground

 

The final movement of the Mass opens with a reprise of Spheres, with the addition of a solo violin. “According to Gjeilo, the solo violin symbolizes the individual and the emergence of a conscious ‘self’; thus this movement is called Identity.” (Rugen). There is a pause, then The Ground begins with Gjeilo’s homage to Bach, a chorale (“Pleni sunt coeli”). The movement builds through the Agnus Dei text and closes quietly with a reprise of the Amen chords from Sunrise, with the solo violin.

 

The music of the Sunrise Mass goes from dark and dream­like, to more emotional and dramatic, and eventually warm and grounded. It’s important to me that there is a positive evolution in artistic expressions, to move everything forward. That it has the capacity to help bring us deeper into ourselves rather than the other way. I really do think that’s the main point of art. I don’t know if I in any way am one of them, but I think true artists have the ability to share something very important; to express a deeper connection with something sacred; soul, or God, or nature, or whatever we perceive it as, through art. And I always believed that gift should be used to uplift and remind ourselves of who we really are and what’s truly important in our lives, whatever that may be. (Rugen)

 

 

Posada, Eric. Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass: a Conductor’s Guide. Texas Tech University, 2015

 

Rugen, Kira. About Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise: Symphonic Mass for Choir and String Orchestra. Arizona State University, 2010

 

Musicroom.com interview with Ola Gjeilo

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From a musicroom.com interview with the composer of “Sunrise Mass”:

OG: “My later music – even though I’m not that old! – has been increasingly influenced by cinematic music, which is a natural reflection of having always been very fond of film music from when I was very young. So it was just the realisation, “hey, I’m always listening to film music, why doesn’t my music sound more like that?” Especially after I turned 30, this influence started to show up a lot more clearly in my own music. And most of my favorite living composers are film composers; I think some of today’s greatest composers in general are involved in the movie industry…

 

“…John Williams is in many ways the godfather of today’s film music field, and for good reason: he’s the greatest melodic writer of the past century, for my money. But in my writing I’ve perhaps been even more influenced by composers like Thomas Newman, Dario Marianelli, Alexandre Desplat, James Newton Howard and Howard Shore.

 

 

“My father liked to play a lot of things at home; he had a jazz background, but he also loved playing choral music. So I grew up with a lot of that music in the house and I just loved listening to it. Additionally, my first classical composition teacher, Wolfgang Plagge, is a very good choral composer, so that was a natural avenue for me to follow. And I felt it was also a good place to start as it’s a great way to develop good voice leading and other foundational aspects of composition. The combination of choir and orchestra or string orchestra, sometimes with piano as well, is probably my favorite sound world to work with.

 

“I always think of myself as, and want to be, primarily a ‘populist’ composer. And I mean that in a good way, or I see it as a good thing. I’ve always wanted my music to reach as many people as possible and to hopefully touch as many people as possible. I think that for a few decades that didn’t really seem to be the goal in a lot of classical music. So that’s also part of the reason I think that, for example with the music of [Eric] Whitacre, so many people connect to it: the actual goal is for people to connect to it deeply, in an uplifting, earnest way, without being superficial or sentimental.”

 

http://www.musicroom.com/blog/an-exclusive-interview-with-ola-gjeilo-19828

 

Singing Bach

So, I Googled “singing Bach” just for fun. I got lots of these:

Sebastian Bach performing at The Palladium in Worcester, MA on F

….and lots of these:

calendar-events-boys-choir-singing

….and a wonderful article about Kurt Elling, the great jazz singer:

ANNA WEBBER STUDIO ©2012

by  :

Though Kurt Elling is one of the most well-loved and highly praised jazz singers of our time, he first developed his chops singing Bach motets. As Elling returned to his native Chicago for performances at City Winery, he spoke about how classical music has influenced him throughout his life.

Though Elling confessed, “I never thought of a professional career in music,” becoming a musician was perhaps inevitable. His father was the music director of a Lutheran church in the Chicago suburbs, and music was always a part of his childhood. He began singing in his church choir, “starting with soprano, then alto, then tenor, and finally all the way to the bass. I was so happy to finally sing bass because that’s where the root is, that’s where the power is,” he said. He also sang with the Rockford Choral Union, and later, as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College, with the Gustavus Choir.

From singing in several choral groups, Elling was exposed to a broad range of repertoire including “12th century plainsong, crazy Norwegian composers, Duruflé, and Mozart, of course.” But as the son of a Lutheran music director, naturally, one of his favorite composers is the great Lutheran music director J.S. Bach. Elling has a particular fondness for Bach’s motets….

…Elling says that singing classical music can help any singer “develop your technique because it insists that you sing in tune and requires a lot of agility. The basic mechanisms of good singing are always going to be in play: good breath support, being able to move from very forceful and loud passages to very subdued and restrained and quiet passages, the ability to maneuver with dexterity among challenging intervals. Beyond pure technique, singing classical music teaches you about the structure of music, too. I learn so much about the structure of a piece by singing it.”…

… Though today jazz is Elling’s bread and butter, classical music has remained an important part of his life. “There’s nothing that compares to the emotional thrill and uplift that one receives from the greatest possible music. It doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. But there are few more powerful experiences or feelings of being fully alive, focused, and engaged than when I have been making music with a choir and orchestra.”

(http://blogs.wfmt.com/offmic/2016/05/16/how-grammy-award-winning-jazz-singer-kurt-elling-developed-his-chops-singing-motets-by-j-s-bach/)

 

The Heart of Motet No. 3

The heart of BWV 227, Jesu, meine Freude, is the chorale melody. The text was written by Johann Franck, the tune by Johann Crüger (below is some general information about both men). I am reminded of some of my favorite cooking shows, where the chef somewhat smugly announces that he has prepared “Salmon, three ways” – in this masterful motet, Bach sets the chorale melody 5 different ways in 6 of the 11 movements of the motet. You can hear the 1st and 3rd settings here, surrounding the magnificent 2nd movement, a setting of Romans 8: 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVa3nR-2bVc

 

 

Johann Fran(c)k (June 1, 1618 – June 18, 1677) was a German politician, mayor of Königsberg and a member of the Landtag of Lower Lusatia, a lyric poet and hymnist. Under the influence of the Silesian School and of Simon Dach of Königsberg, he produced a series of poems and hymns, collected and edited by himself in two volumes (Guben, 1674), entitled: Teutsche Gedichte, enthaltend geistliches Zion samt Vaterunserharfe nebst irdischem Helicon oder Lob-, Lieb-, Leidgedichte, etc.. His secular poems are forgotten; about forty of his religious songs, hymns, and psalms have been kept in the hymals of the German Protestant Church. Some of these are the hymn for Communion Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness), which Bach used as the base for his chorale cantata Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 180, the Advent hymn Komm, Heidenheiland, Lösegeld (Come, Ransom of our captive race, a translation into German of Veni redemptor gentium), and a hymn to Jesus, “Jesu, meine Freude” (Jesus, my joy), which was the base for Bach‘s funeral motet Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227. Bach also used single stanzas in his cantatas. [Wikipedia]

Crüger, Johann, was born April 9, 1598, at Gross-Breese, near Guben, Brandenburg. After passing through the schools at Guben, Sorau and Breslau, the Jesuit College at Olmütz, and the Poets’ school at Regensburg, he made a tour in Austria, and, in 1615, settled at Berlin. There, save for a short residence at the University of Wittenberg, in 1620, he employed himself as a private tutor till 1622. In 1622 he was appointed Cantor of St. Nicholas’s Church at Berlin, and also one of the masters of the Greyfriars Gymnasium. He died at Berlin Feb. 23, 1662. Crüger wrote no hymns, although in some American hymnals he appears as “Johann Krüger, 1610,” as the author of the supposed original of C. Wesley’s “Hearts of stone relent, relent” (q.v.). He was one of the most distinguished musicians of his time. Of his hymn tunes, which are generally noble and simple in style, some 20 are still in use, the best known probably being that to “Nun danket alle Gott” (q.v.), which is set to No. 379 in Hymns Ancient & Modern, ed. 1875. [hymnary.org]

Verdi Requiem program notes

Giuseppe Verdi conducted the first performance of the Messa da Requiem on May 22, 1874, at the church of San Marco in Milan. “Like Brahms’s A German Requiem completed five years earlier, Verdi’s Requiem Mass is a deeply religious work written by a great skeptic.” (Phillip Huscher, CSO)

In the past, a less secular age, there were ongoing arguments over whether Verdi’s massive Messa da Requiem was a religious work or, as the conductor and critic Hans von Bülow put it, “Verdi’s latest opera, though in ecclesiastical robes.” The discussion is interesting, because it leads us simultaneously to two truths: one, that Verdi was not by any means a religious man. He had little use for organized religion – his wife Giuseppina said he was “not an outright atheist, but a very doubtful believer.” He was a man of the world, a man of the theatre, and until 1874, hadn’t written any sacred music since his youth. The other truth is that Verdi essentially worshiped Alessandro Manzoni, the great Italian writer whose novels helped promote the Italian nationalist movement.

Even after his wife was introduced to Manzoni through a mutual friend, Verdi was satisfied with the autographed photograph she brought home, inscribed “to Giuseppe Verdi, a glory of Italy, from a decrepit Lombard writer.” Verdi hung the picture in his bedroom and sent Manzoni his photo, writing across the bottom, “I esteem and admire you as much as one can esteem and admire anyone on this earth, both as man and a true honor of our country so continually troubled. You are a saint, Don Alessandro!” (Huscher)

Upon news of the writer’s death, the composer immediately proposed to his publisher and the city of Milan that a Requiem Mass be performed on the anniversary of the death.

So in this work we have both Verdis – the agnostic operatic composer, and the man who wanted, deeply, to honor the memory of another great Italian artist. Verdi’s Requiem was driven by the latter impulse, which gives the work its depth of feeling.

Tonight’s version of the Messa da Requiem came about in stages. The final movement, the “Libera me”, was composed in 1868 for a Requiem Mass in honor of Gioacchino Rossini – a Mass with each movement set by a different composer. That project never saw the light of day (until 1988 when Helmuth Rilling conducted it). After Manzoni’s death, Verdi reworked the “Libera me” and set the remaining texts for the May 22, 1874 premiere. At that point the Liber scriptus was a choral fugue; Verdi re-wrote the movement as the glorious mezzo-soprano solo it is now for a performance on May 12, 1875.

Verdi was, of course, a supreme melodist and the Requiem has many tunes worthy of any opera. Here he also took the opportunity to develop material for the chorus, writing two magnificent fugues and, bookending the work, two very different a capella sections. The other choral material is operatic in character – picture the singers listening to and commenting on the soloists’ distinctive characters (the “Salva me”, “Liber scriptus”, and “Lacrymosa”). It is a sad truth that in very many sacred choral compositions, one finds text setting that is, at best, careless, and at worst, banal. Verdi’s approach to the various poems and prayers of the Requiem is unwaveringly meticulous and thought out; he pays attention and honors the material.

Requiem & Kyrie

The composer Ildebrando Pizzetti wrote, in his preface to the published facsimile:

… In that Requiem aeternam murmured by an invisible crowd over the slow swaying of a few simple chords you straightaway sense the fear and sadness of a vast multitude before the mystery of death. In the change that follows into the “et lux perpetuam” the melody spreads its wings up to an F sharp before falling back upon itself and coming to rest on an E more than an octave below, you hear a sigh for consolation and eternal peace. You see first a shadow, then a general radiance. In the darkness are human beings bowed down by fear and sorrow, and in the light they reach out their arms towards Heaven to invoke mercy and forgiveness. Far from being merely lyrical the music portrays sadness and hope. (from Verdi (Master Musicians Series) by Julian Budden)

Sequentia

The long poem beginning with “Dies irae, dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla: Teste David cum Sibylla” is commonly thought to be by Thomas of Celano, a 13th century friar; it probably is actually from the 12th century. 17 of its stanzas are three lines in trochaic meter with two-syllable rhymes. David Rosen, in his excellent book on the Requiem, notes that the chorus acts a narrator, while the sections sung by the soloists are more character-driven, more individual. There are too many astounding moments to describe – the ‘last trump’ that will wake the dead, the bass soloist’s faltering, terrified “Mors”, the Aida-like “Ingemisco”, and throughout, the constant, terrified “Dies irae” shout. The “Lacrymosa” is two stanzas of two lines and the “Pie Jesu” is poetically completely different, and Verdi solves the problem of this abrupt metrical change by introducing the text with the soloists singing a capella before they are joined by the chorus and orchestra in a sublime close – listen for the choral “Amen” on a gorgeous G major chord before the orchestra ends the movement in B-flat.

Offertorio and Sanctus

The “Domine Jesu Christe” opens with the mezzo, tenor and bass soloists, singing about the lion’s mouth and the bottomless pit, albeit in a more restrained manner than one might expect. As the text turns from darkness to light, the soprano enters on a floating high E; Michael Steinberg calls this “a momentary glimpse of transcendence.” The movement continues with a traditional contrapuntal setting of “quam olim Abrahae”, followed by the tenor’s magical “Hostias”. The text “face as, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam” closes the movement quietly, and then the brass and choir burst into the Sanctus. Verdi combines the “Sanctus” and “Hosanna” texts in a completely joyful fugue for double chorus.

Agnus Dei

This movement is utterly simple, chant-like and still – an oasis of calm in the Requiem. The scoring of the soprano-mezzo duet and the woodwinds is magical.

Lux aeterna

The mezzo soprano opens this section with a rhythmically-free chant by, the strings accompanying her in what Rosen calls “the most extreme example of harmonic mystification in the entire Requiem.” The bass enters with an entirely Verdian melody and the movement picks up in energy, then ends mezza voce with the reiterated text from the beginning. “Instruments of light (divided violins and violas, flute, clarinet) and darkness (bassoons, trombones, timpani, bass drum) illustrate the twin texts of the Lux aeterna, which serves as a valedictory for the mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass soloists.” (John Maclay)

Libera me

This movement for soprano and chorus has some “mad scene” soprano singing, angelically soaring high notes, and a fugue that the English music critic John Francis Toye described as “the clamor of a multitude intent on achieving salvation by violence.”

It could only have been composed by someone steeped in opera, yet it’s unlike anything else in Verdi’s output. The music moves freely from dramatic recitative to soaring arioso, reprising both the “Dies irae,” in all its concentrated terror, and the opening Requiem aeternam, here magically rescored for soprano and unaccompanied chorus. The last stretch, climaxed by the urgent pleas of the soprano, and finally dissipating into hushed and desperate prayer, is as compelling as anything Verdi ever put on the stage. (Huscher)

 

In 1875 Ernest Reyer described the final measures as: la dernière lueur de la lampe qui s’éteint sous les arceaux d’une cathédrale – “the last light of the lamp which is extinguished under the arches of a cathedral.” Francis Toye wrote, “Force has failed; only the appeal to mercy remains, now so abject that it is spoken rather than sung.”

—Anne Watson Born

Death on a Pale Horse

Some commentary on our artwork:

“Although possibly incomplete, the subject can be identified as Death, the last of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who announce the Day of Judgement (Book of Revelation). The choice may have been in response to the death of Turner’s father in 1829, suggested by the unusual treatment which is both tender and menacing. Death appears, not as a triumphant, upright figure astride his horse, but as a phantom emerging from a turbulent mist: his skeletal form, arms outstretched, and draped submissively over the horse’s pale back. Such disturbing visions were considered to embody the very concept of the Sublime.”

(http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-death-on-a-pale-horse-n05504)

Dies Irae

 

Robert Shaw on the Verdi

from the archives of the Atlanta Symphony Chorus:

(from May 5, 1977)

More, perhaps, than with any other composer or oratorio the Verdi Requiem depends upon vocal splendor and authority. The soloists and chorus must soar over the orchestra. Every bit of text must be inflected and fashioned. No tone left unsternum’d as to color, accentuation and dynamics.

Beauty in music is not always quintessential. But Verdi unadorned and unadorned is green without gold. His is not a paste-on beauty. No house-pet, quick-change, easy-on-easy- off. No skin-deep.

Think Michelangelo, da Vinci and Donatello. Think St. Peters, San Marco, La Scala and Pizza Hut. Think Otello, Falstaff and Marlon Brando. Think sunshine, cannelloni, Alps and olive oil. Think Sophia Loren, Arturo Toscanini and Two Ton Tony Galento. Think beauty. And think sub-cutaneously.

Sing same. R

estremamente italiano

In addition to learning the musical language of Verdi, this late Romantic period gorgeousness, we are learning as well the profound text of the Requiem Mass. The Latin Requiem Mass has been set to music by many composers (we have sung settings by Mozart, Fauré, Cherubini, Rutter), and each composer decides which “extra” movements to include. So in the Verdi we have, in addition to the Introit, Kyrie, Sequence, Offertory, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, the Lux Aeterna and the Libera me. The translation of Verdi’s work is found on our website – search for Translations and it pops up.

The other language we’re learning is a boatload of Italian. Verdi was meticulous about marking not only his tempi (Allegro, Adagio, etc) and metronome markings, but he also peppered his scores with expressive phrases to guide the performers to the exact emotion of each moment. Here are a few glorious and evocative phrases:

con voce cupa e tristissima – “with a hollow voice and the utmost sadness”

sempre ppp e sotto voce – “always ppp and in an undertone” (sotto = below)

animando – “becoming more lively”, quickening

estremamente piano – “extremely soft”

piangente – “weeping”

dolciss. (abbreviation of dolcissimo) – “as sweet as possible”

senza misura – “without time”, in free time

ancora più piano – “still more softly”

tutta forza – “all accented” (forza = force; forzando = strongly accented)

And of course…

morendo – “dying away”

E allora cominciamo

After a gorgeous performance of Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor, the Chorale is beginning to rehearse another work which has been often criticized for being too operatic: Verdi’s magnificent Messa da Requiem. We are excited to present this on Saturday April 23, 8pm – save the date!

 

“WHETHER AFFECTING indignation or simply delighting in the outrageous comparison, pundits have long gibed at Verdi’s Requiem as one of the composer’s greatest operas. Yet it is a bit unfair to focus pious criticism on Verdi’s setting of the Mass for the Dead, splendorous as it is. Spectacle seems an intrinsic element, or at least an invariable dramatic byproduct, of any musical requiem.

The dread and terror of eternal damnation, and the fervent supplication for divine protection from such a fate, cry out (quite literally) for extreme expressive resources. And the composers who have answered that spiritual and musical challenge in the most compelling terms — Mozart, Berlioz and Verdi — all used quasi-operatic means just as surely as they adopted the traditional Latin text.

But…the experience of a requiem has something else in common with opera: It is better seen than merely heard. Irrespective of whether one believes in the religious precept, the profound urgency of the requiem’s message, especially as it is heightened by music, bears a specifically communal weight.

To experience a choral requiem as it was meant to be, one should be able to look into the faces of the singing hosts, behold the assembled orchestra — the very trumpets of the Tuba Mirum — and sense the solemnity of the occasion, the place and the fellow travelers gathered there.” (Lawrence B. Johnson, nytimes.com)

Program notes for January 16 2016

It is much easier to write program notes for concerts presenting works by a variety of composers, or works by lesser-known composers. With the former one can use a lot of ink explaining who everyone was (or is); with the latter there is some room for individual explication (aka ‘guessing’) as the annotator’s work comes down to describing the music, with little fear of being caught out by a musicologist. Tonight, though, we have two works by one of the most revered, most listened-to, and most-written-about composers, Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (Amadè was the composer’s favored replacement for Theophilus). There is no lack of scholarship to be found – I have re-waded through books from my college years and read from more recent books and articles in an effort to distill bits of information about these pieces in order to: a) pass along interesting facts, b) explain what you’re about to hear, and c) express why we are so passionately eager to sing and play these pieces for you.

 

The Piano Concerto No. 25 (K. 503) and the Great Mass in C Minor (K. 427) are both works that take the listener in two or more directions and back again. The concerto (1786) oscillates between a “military style” grandeur and the light, dancing Mozart that we adore. We hear a typically-Classical theme – symmetrical, repetitive, balanced – and then a storm breaks loose with a series of rapid figures and military brass. And often the music begins in a melodic, graceful major key only to have it shift to the minor, upsetting any comfortable dozing we may have been contemplating.

 

The Mass, composed in 1782, spends a great deal of time as well surprising us with its tonalities and harmonies, but its fundamental contrast is between two compositional styles, one derived from the Baroque, and the other being the composer’s budding operatic style. So we are presented with a work in which the outer sections of the Kyrie are reminiscent of Bach’s B Minor Mass in their serious tone while the “Christe” section of the Kyrie is warm, lyrical and operatic; similarly, the Baroque French Overture that is the “Qui tollis” is followed by the “Quoniam” trio, which sounds like an ensemble piece from Don Giovanni (1787).

Piano Concerto No. 25, K.503

K 503 was composed in 1786, the year that brought us The Marriage of Figaro, two other piano concerti, a lot of chamber music, and, two days after Concerto No. 25, the “Prague”Symphony. The opening movement contains several melodic themes heard throughout the piece:

  • Grandiose chords, and energetic scale passages;
  • The dominant motif – short short short long, used with variety and inventiveness;
  • The second theme, a little marching melody – think “La Marseillaise”. This is instantly lifted out of the routine by Mozart’s presenting it in the minor and then (in the winds) in the major.

The solo piano entrance is delicate, almost tentative, until it takes charge with the scale passages. As the piano embarks upon the first of its many long decorative passages, the harmonies move from major to minor and the strings return to the dominant motif. And eventually we hear a new, completely Mozartean theme, graceful and symmetrical, answered by the oboe, bassoon, and flute.

The development contains more traveling harmonies, more shifting from major to minor, the return of the dominant motif, virtuosic decoration by the soloist, themes combining and recombining. Then a cadenza (in tonight’s performance Shawn will play a cadenza by the pianist Andreas Schiff), and the triumphant end.

The second movement is a beautiful, spare slow movement filled with murmuring strings and tender woodwinds responding to the feather-light piano melodies. This is followed by a concluding movement which is a rondo (a form where one melody returns again and again in the midst of other melodies). Often a rondo is merely jolly; here Mozart takes it into a more serious realm. A wonderful description of this section is by Michael Steinberg:

“For the finale, Mozart goes back to adapt a gavotte from his then five-year-old opera Idomeneo. In its courtly and witty measures, there is nothing to prepare us for the epiphany of the episode in which the piano, accompanied by cellos and basses alone (a sound that occurs nowhere else in Mozart), begins a smiling and melancholy song that is continued by the oboe, the flute, the bassoon, and in which the cellos cannot resist joining. Lovely in itself, the melody grows into a music whose richness of texture and whose poignancy and passion astonish us even in the context of the mature Mozart. From that joy and pain Mozart redeems us by leading us back to his gavotte and from there into an exuberantly inventive, brilliant ending.”

 

Great Mass in C Minor, K. 427

What we will sing tonight is a complete setting of two movements of the Ordinary of the Mass (the Kyrie and the Gloria), along with a chunk of the Credo – one of the jolliest settings of “Credo in unum Deum” I have heard, followed by an Italianate “Et incarnatus est”, written for Mozart’s wife Constanze. Helmut Eder has reconstructed and completed Mozart’s Credo sections, along with the Sanctus and Benedictus and the fantastic Hosanna fugue.

The Mass was begun late in 1782, after Mozart’s marriage (in August, in Vienna) to Constanze Weber. A big influence in the work was the music of Bach and Handel, and the work contains two long fugues (the “Cum Sancto Spiritu” at the end of the Gloria, and at the end of the Sanctus, the “Hosanna”, which returns at the end). Regarding his forays into composing fugues, Mozart wrote to his father, Leopold:

My dear Constanze is really the cause of this fugue’s coming into the world.
Baron van Swieten, to whom I go every Sunday, gave me all the works of Handel and Sebastian Bach to take home with me (after I had played them to him). When Constanze heard the fugues, she absolutely fell in love with them. Now she will listen to nothing but fugues, and particularly (in this kind of composition) the works of Handel and Bach. Well, as she has often heard me play fugues out of my head, she asked me if I had ever written any down, and when I said I had not, she scolded me roundly for not recording some of my compositions in this most artistically beautiful of all musical forms and never ceased to entreat me until I wrote down a fugue for her.

Such a wonderful quote, and if true, one of the few hints we have as to Constanze’s character. But Leopold disapproved of his son’s marriage, and it is quite likely that Mozart was trying to pave the way for a cordial visit by the couple to visit Leopold in Salzburg. Mozart may have exaggerated Constanze’s love of counterpoint with the aim of placating his father, who was himself an accomplished composer.

 

There is certainly a sense that Mozart, after working out the technical details of writing counterpoint, felt no need to complete the Mass – he had no commission to write it, no planned concert. He may have begun it as a wedding present to Constanze; he may have wanted to have a piece to present to Leopold as a kind of apology for his marriage; he may have wanted to write something as monumental as the B Minor Mass. A version of the work was sung in Salzburg in October 1783, though it is unclear whether other Mass settings by the composer were used to fill in the missing parts. Over the years many editors and composers have “finished” the Mass by adding the rest of the text to the Credo movement and adding an Agnus Dei, using other Mass movements by Mozart. I have not found any of these versions particularly satisfying, though it is true that it feels a little odd to end the work with the reprise of the “Hosanna” fugue. The sublime solo sections – the exuberant “Laudamus Te”, the pastoral siciliana that is the “Et incarnatus” and the operatic ensemble pieces – the “Quoniam” and the serious and gorgeous “Benedictus” – give the piece an intimate, sensual feeling balanced against the quasi-Baroque splendor. The Mass reveals the delight Mozart felt in exploring the works of Bach and Handel as well as his genius in writing for the solo voice in the operatic language of his day.

For the Chorale, it is simply a blast to sing. The brilliantly majestic choruses are filled with grandeur (“Qui tollis”), tender moments (“suscipe, suscipe”) and finally, with jubilant cadences tossed back and forth between our two choirs (“Hosanna in excelsis”). What Mozart left us in the Great Mass in C Minor is music that is profound, joyful and exciting – enjoy!