And there was Music……

VOICES’ final 25th Anniversary season concert at the St. Paul R.C. Church in Princeton, NJ on Saturday, May 18, 2013 reflects on Time Passing, Time Standing Still, and Times to Come, and features both classic works and premieres of new works with the Princeton Area Homeschool Choir. VOICES’ Music Librarian Barbara Siuta again shares her series of essays and observations that we hope will encourage you to hear this music in live performance at our concerts, and will enhance your enjoyment of our musical program.

Music takes one’s soul on a journey into the deep recesses of self and being.  The study of music is the travel of the mind into the realm of the unknown, but as in any learning process, that which was seen dimly soon becomes clear, and the clarity then allows us as practitioners to become the guides into those deep recesses that hopefully have become our own well-traveled roads.

For all musicians, there was a moment which could be defined as a musical epiphany: an experience like none other, when music spoke to us in a language that perhaps we did not know at the time but yet we completely understood. For this writer, it was at about the age of 5 (not quite yet reading) and attended a performance of the Bach St. Matthew Passion. At the moment the final chorus began (“Here Yet Awhile”), I was entranced, fascinated by this sound that was the most beautiful thing I had ever (in all of my years…) heard.

For the composers from whom we have commissioned works for this concert, there have been similar experiences. Sheena Phillips, composer of “Music for Awhile” which is premiered on this concert, relates her experience:

My hunch is that I was fascinated with music from an early age, and it was tunes that grabbed me at first. How fresh, catchy, impudent, grand, sombre, or plain beautiful they could be! I remember borrowing books of folk tunes from the local public library, just to play them through at the piano. I also remember the puzzlement of loving part of, say, a piece of music that I was learning, yet not liking the whole piece. This again spoke to the “snatchiness” of music – just a little wisp of it can grab you and give you joy. My choral epiphany came … with a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I was lucky enough to be part of a group of London schoolgirls assigned the ripieno parts in a performance by the Bach Choir. We were sternly coached, and my whole attention was on getting everything right. But nothing prepared me for the emotional experience of singing this marvelous work, surrounded by other singers, in a musical offering to a packed concert hall. “Spine tingling” does not express it. It flooded my soul!

Robert McMahan’s experience had a bit more personal touch:

My musical epiphanies involved a movie, a meeting, a knock, a record, and a need to play an instrument. When I was seven there was talk from my parents about my taking piano lessons soon, the idea of which excited me. But before that happened I saw the movie “Stars and Stripes Forever”, depicting the life of John Phillip Sousa (Hollywood style, of course). Since, like Sousa, I was a DC native, I was intrigued by the movie and thrilled by his wonderful marches. To encourage my newfound musical interest my parents took me one Sunday after church to the Congressional Cemetery where Sousa is interred. When we arrived, we discovered an old couple at the grave. The gentleman turned out to be Sousa’s nephew. I was totally blown away. Imagine the very flesh and blood of my new idol and hero! I knew then that fate determined, for better or worse, that I must pursue music for my life’s work. Around that time another fateful event took place: Every Thursday was payday for Dad and we normally went downtown to eat dinner out that evening. Just before we were to leave, though, a knock came on the door and we allowed a representative of a large accordion studio in the city to come in and demonstrate his “product”. I was immediately enthralled by this curious, multi-voiced, breathing object and the notion of studying piano was instantly dispatched from my plan and replaced by the accordion. I began lessons the next week and have never stopped playing the accordion since. (To think, had we left for downtown a few minutes earlier I would have probably taken up piano soon and had a “normal” life!).

My next major musical epiphany happened when I was in high school. While browsing through a favorite downtown record store I came across an LP on sale of Richter and the Boston Symphony performing Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. After hearing about sixteen bars of the first movement I was totally overwhelmed by this very strange and obviously eccentric genius (the music says it all!), and could listen to no one else for the next three years. Yes, I became a teenage Schroeder! This led to another revelation to me a bit later that determined much of my path in music in my later professional life. I was dismayed that the accordion, on which I had advanced quite far, had very little original music literature. For classical music it relied mostly on transcriptions of violin concerti, piano and organ works, and the like. Its original contemporary classical repertoire was starting to grow in the early 60s, though, and now is quite vast. But at the time I began to see that for it to be accepted as a valid instrument in the “serious” music world, it’s virtuosi had to put greater emphasis on playing, commissioning, and composing music of our time specifically for or including it, and such music would have to feature its special sounds and idiomatic characteristics. (Other recently invented instruments, such as the saxophone and percussion ensemble have had to go down a similar road.) This, in fact, has been the core of my professional career down to the present and it was largely the reason I pursued degrees in music composition in college (at the Peabody Institute). Thus my life is evenly divided between performing and composing (between the necessary hours of teaching, of course).

Ken Guilmartin

My travels with music began in 1956 with a 33 rpm recording of the soundtrack from the movie “The Benny Goodman Story”. The tracks of Gene Krupa (big band and jazz drummer) got me hooked, and I played the record until the grooves were worn through. A boy and drums – perfect together; far better than the string bass that everyone wanted me to play as I was a tall child, and the beat kept with me through college in the mid-60’s (playing in a band kept edging me closer to my calling). My first real composition (all 11 minutes of it) as a young adult centered me and made me aware that composition was the path that was to be mine, and performing was a joyful accessory. Then the hand of Bach touched my soul through the St. Matthew Passion and the fugue in the opening chorus. Shortly after, I composed “Blues for Matthew,” a quasi-jazz piece for piano, drums, and a Zuckerman harpsichord that had been “modified” with guitar pickups, so it was now a hybrid. This was the age of fusion experimentation with the music of Ward Swingle and the Swingle Singers, Walter Carlos, and Robert Moog’s theremins and synthesizers, so we were right on track. A decade or so later I had my next major revelation: music and theater go hand in hand. Since I was doing musical coaching, now I had to learn to sing….and I am still working on that part.

Dale Warland

From the Dale Warland Singers website-

Born April 14, 1932 in Badger, Iowa, Dale Warland maintains that it was a small series of musical manifestations that brought him into the musical fold. His personal history is rich in activity: with music degrees from St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, a two year term of military service in the Air Force (where he founded the Scott Male Chorus at Illinois’ Scott Air Force base), then on to the University of Minnesota and University of Southern California School of Music for Masters’ and Doctoral degrees, he then began to work.  First at California’s Humboldt State College, then Keuka College (NY), and then he settled at Macalester College (Minnesota). The next two decades must have been exhausting and energizing at the same time. He worked with musical luminaries Robert Shaw, David Willcocks, and Norman Luboff. Choral inspiration must have been at high tide during these years, as Warland founded the acclaimed Dale Warland Singers, who not only sang existing choral literature very well, but thanks to major grants, he was able to initiate the Dale Warland Singers’ New Choral Music Program for Emerging Composers. While the Dale Warland Singers disbanded in 2004, Warland’s choral activities have continued in his own compositions and guest conducting engagements. Fortunately for everyone, his achievements have been recognized during his lifetime, and we are fortunate to be singing the premier of his choral work “The Voices” on this next program.

Copyright ©2013 Barbara Siuta and VOICES, Inc.

Four Pieces Premiere at Saturday’s Concert

Time marches forward and there will always be new music to learn, and if we take our hands off our ears and open our minds, we find that it can be quite engaging, as we have found with the pieces that have been commissioned for the twenty-fifth anniversary of VOICES. All four pieces are wonderful, different, engaging, and fascinating in their own right.

Kenneth K. Guilmartin’s “Love Song” uses the William Blake text “Eternity is in love with the productions of time,” which seems perfect for the theme of this 25th Anniversary concert. The quartet dramatizes relationship, by turns meditative, lyrical, passionate, or in conflict, and features the Halo drum, a 21st century invention with primal/eternal resonance. In Guilmartin’s setting of Blake’s poem “The Tyger,” we experience through imagination an amazing “production of time,” and the composer’s setting focuses on the pointed questions put forth in a sinuously feline, almost exotic wrapping. The softly undulating accompaniment serves as a jungle floor over which the choral parts step carefully, first stalkingly seductive, rising to a full cry and at the end returning to the quiet elusive style of the beginning, in carefully crafted syncopation which emboldens the text and sets the dramatic stage for posing the eternal questions of creation.

Sheena Phillips, composer of “Music for a While,” chose a melodic motive from a song of Henry Purcell, a text from Shelley, a native Swahili proverb, and new melodies to create a delightful piece that keeps the inner pulse beating while these melodies are used in a creative partnering of all styles, all while issuing an invitation to join us in song. The term quodlibet could be used here. The origins of the quodlibet can be traced to the 15th century, when the practice of combining folk tunes was popular. Some other well-known tunes that may be sung in quodlibet style are “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” sung with “Frere Jacques” and “Three Blind Mice.” Ms. Phillips skillfully combines four melodies to wonderful effect.

Dale Warland, composer, conductor, founder of the Dale Warland Singers, and eminent choral music mentor and clinician, has crafted a piece entitled “The Voices” as part of a project for the programs and services of Chorus America. Based on a poem by the English poet Michael Dennis Browne, the text speaks of what is in the heart of all who love choral music. The text painting of “the song” ranges from spare to lush as the voices relate its journey. As you listen to the choral parts as they interplay with the obbligato cello, hear the text as it is carefully unwrapped.

“Time,” by Robert McMahan has dissonant moments, but cannot entirely be thought of as atonal.  Described by the composer as rhythmically more of a “centrist” piece, with at least one foot in the neoclassical camp, it could possibly be perceived as atonal (or “pantonal”, as Schoenberg preferred it).  All the while it works deliciously to focus attention on the text, wonderfully crafted on a poem by London Poet Valerie Bloom. We may add “bird” to our list of words that we love to sing (accompanying such wonderful words as “languish” and “extirpate”). This piece offers text painting in a 21st century wrapping. Challenging, thought provoking, interesting and creative are all descriptors that apply to this piece.

Copyright ©2013 VOICES, Inc.

“Timely” Notes

VOICES’ final 25th Anniversary season concert at the St. Paul R.C. Church in Princeton, NJ on Saturday, May 18, 2013 reflects on Time Passing, Time Standing Still, and Times to Come, and features both classic works and premieres of new works with the Princeton Area Homeschool Choir. VOICES’ Music Librarian Barbara Siuta again shares her series of essays and observations that we hope will encourage you to hear this music in live performance at our concerts, and will enhance your enjoyment of our musical program.

Excerpt from Gottes Zeit is die Allerbeste Zeit, B.W.V. 106                         J.S. Bach

Sometimes we forget that JS Bach was at one time a young man with skills that would carry him very far in time. In January 1703, at age 17, Bach learned of an organ under construction at St. Boniface in nearby Arnstadt, Thuringia. Organ building does take time, so during the wait for its completion, he was offered, and accepted the post of violinist in the small chamber orchestra at the court of Weimar. In July 1703 the organ was completed, and Bach was offered the post of organist at St. Boniface following a successful inaugural recital. Perhaps a little youthfully headstrong, he ran into some difficulties in this job. He was dissatisfied with the ability of singers in the choir (yes, even Bach wanted a better choir!), he had disagreements with some of the instrumentalists (this was the incident  in 1705 where he told Herr Geyersbach that he sounded like a nanny goat when he played the bassoon), a modest salary (after all, he was young and inexperienced in the working world, but his 80 florins, which was  about $1,422 in today’s dollars  did include his housing and food),  but the real problems occurred in 1705 when he told the town council he was going to  be away for one month to visit Lübeck to visit organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. No problem, one month is fine. However he stayed for four months without advising the town council. Bach had some motive for this journey of 250 miles each way on foot. Knowing that Buxtehude was intending to retire within a short period of time, Bach wanted to become the assistant and successor to Buxtehude; however the one of the conditions for the job (unbeknownst to him) was that he would be obligated to marry Buxtehude’s daughter. Thankfully, Bach was already betrothed to Maria Barbara Bach, his second cousin, so he could easily refuse (Handel and his close friend, music theorist Johann Mattheson had each been offered the same package deal in 1703, and they both left Lübeck in haste). Upon Bach’s return to Arnstadt in February 1706, he was brought before the Town Council. The charges against him were going AWOL, not paying enough attention to the choirboys, and making music in the choir loft with a woman (his betrothed Maria Barbara)……his cantatas were too long, and his organ accompaniments of the chorales too elaborate.  It sounds as if it could be wrong, it was wrong.  Fortunately, in June, 1707, Bach was offered a post as organist at St. Blasius’s in Mühlhausen, which included significantly higher salary, and a better choir. Four months later, Bach married Maria Barbara Bach.  The cantata Gottes Zeit is die Allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 (God’s Time is the Best Time) was presumably written in 1707 for an unknown occasion, but as the original manuscript is lost, so its date of composition is not precise.  Nevertheless, stylistically it is an early work and was not composed for a specific Sunday in the church year.  Bach also uses different musical styles to illustrate the difference between the “Old Law” – the Old Testament – which says that man must die, and its presentation is slow and somber, and the “New Law” – the New Testament – which says that he who dies will have eternal life, always presented in a more joyous vein. This text painting is very easy to hear: just listen for the contrast.

Dravidian Dithyramb                                                                                       Victor Paranjoti

Dravidian is a term used to refer to the diverse groups of people who natively speak languages belonging to the Dravidian language family. Found mostly in Southern India, other Dravidian people are found in parts of central India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The dithyramb was an ancient Greek hymn sung and danced in honor of Dionysus and Bacchus, the gods of fertility and wine.  The Dravidian Dithyramb utilizes traditional ragas (rules for building a melody similar to scales in Western music) which originated in South India, and the tarana – a form of Hindustani classical music which uses Persian and Arabic phonemes as nonsense syllables. Tarana was invented by Amir Khusrow (1253-1325) an Indian musician, scholar and poet. A Sufi mystic, a notable poet, and also a prolific musician, who was associated with the royal courts of seven Delhi sultans, he is regarded as the father of Sufi devotional music. While it may sound exotic, if you look carefully at the notes, it is built upon the “a” harmonic minor scale, which presents the raised seventh step of the scale and gives the “exotic” sound.

Sicut Cervus                                                                                             Giovanni da Palestrina

Palestrina, the great Renaissance composer, served in Rome as maestro de capella at St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major. In the polyphonic motet for four voices, Sicut Cervus, the text is taken from Psalm 42: “As the deer longs for flowing waters, so longs my soul for you, O God”. The choral parts show Palestrina’s artistry in text painting as we hear the flowing of the water in the moving notes and the longing of the soul in the long notes.

Laudate Dominum, from the Vespers, K. 339                                   W.A. Mozart

Mozart’s Solemn Vespers of 1780 sound exquisite to our ears today, but Mozart himself felt restricted in these works. They were written for performance in Salzburg where his employer, the Prince-Archbishop Colloredo, insisted on a very conservative style of music compared with the popular Italianate style of the time. Mozart’s feelings of restriction were not to last much longer, as in May, 1781, Mozart requested to resign from the Prince-Archbishop’s employ. His request was refused. The next month Mozart submitted his request again. This time it was granted – the Prince-Archbishop’s Chamberlain Count Arco delivering the message by applying the bottom of his foot to the seat of Mozart’s pants.

Slava v vïshnikh Bogu from the All Night Vigil, Op. 37                        Sergei Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff composed the All-Night Vigil in less than two weeks in January and February 1915. The All-night vigil is a liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Church consisting of  the three canonical hours of Vespers (sunset evening prayer), Matins (the early morning hours, ending at dawn), and the First Hour (at dawn or 6 AM). The vigil is celebrated on the eves of Sundays and of major liturgical feasts. Movement No. 7, “Glory to God in the Highest”, begins the Matins portion of the All Night Vigil.  An expansive sounding movement, at times the choir is divided into eleven parts. Listen for the bell-like sounds from the women’s parts.

Shenandoah                                                                                                 James Erb

“Shenandoah” embodies the wistful words of a Virginian who joined the great Westward migration in the 19th century.  In an expression of his homesickness, we hear his longing for the water as he traverses the landlocked center of the country. Arranger James Erb paints a marvelous picture of this great river as it ebbs and flows in its course.

Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal                                                                  arr. Alice Parker

HarpsEternalShapeNote

Originally a shape-note hymn, the above tune, names “Invitation New” (most hymn tunes have names) is from William Walker’s The Southern Harmony, 1854 edition, it is found in William Hauser’s The Olive Leaf, 1878 edition. Above is the shape note version in 3 parts. The melody can also be found in the Sacred Harp shape note hymnal  in almost the same form but there it  is known by the tune name Return Again (335: “Savior, visit Thy plantation”). This piece, arranged by Alice Parker, was originally created for the Robert Shaw Chorale in 1967.

Copyright ©2013 Barbara Siuta and Voices, Inc.

New Music: Shall All Your Cares Beguile

VOICES’ final 25th Anniversary season concert at the St. Paul R.C. Church in Princeton, NJ on Saturday, May 18, 2013 reflects on Time Passing, Time Standing Still, and Times to Come, and features both classic works and premieres of new works with the Princeton Area Homeschool Choir. VOICES’ Music Librarian Barbara Siuta again shares her series of essays and observations that we hope will encourage you to hear this music in live performance at our concerts, and will enhance your enjoyment of our musical program.

New Music….. 

Just those two small words can strike fear into the minds of musicians, but only if it is allowed to do so. Let your imagination loose and fly back to Leipzig, circa 1740, to a rehearsal at St. Thomas’ Church. Present would be Johann Sebastian Bach and his choir boys (who were also his students at the school, and some of them undoubtedly residents in his home). “Boys, we have a new cantata to learn for Sunday. We also have to perform for the town council at the Spring Festival – just some new songs of joy.  Do not forget your homework, which we can work on that tonight at the house after dinner.”  While Bach never uttered these words, we do know that he presented new music to his choir regularly, and some of the pieces probably were challenging for them.

Time marches forward and there will always be new music to learn, and if we take our hands off our ears and open our minds, we find that it can be quite engaging, as we have found with the pieces that have been commissioned for the 25th Anniversary of Voices Chorale. All four pieces are wonderful, different, engaging and fascinating in their own right.

Kenneth Guilmartin, composer of “Tyger, Tyger”, based on the poem of the same name by William Blake, takes a poetic text that has been the subject of intense study in the literary community for its obvious and hidden meanings both religious and political in nature.  Mr. Guilmartin has chosen to focus on the pointed questions put forth in the text in a sinuously feline, almost exotic wrapping. The softly undulating accompaniment serves as a jungle floor over which the choral parts step carefully, first stalkingly seductive, rising to a full cry and at the end returning to the quiet elusive style of the beginning, in carefully crafted syncopation which emboldens the text and sets the dramatic stage for posing the questions of creation.

Sheena Phillips, composer of “Music for a While”, chose a melodic motive from a song of Henry Purcell, a text from Shelley, a native Swahili proverb, and new melodies to create a delightful piece that keeps the inner pulse beating while these melodies are used in a creative partnering of all styles, all while issuing an invitation to join us in song. The term quodlibet could be used here. The origins of the quodlibet can be traced to the 15th century, when the practice of combining folk tunes was popular. Some of us may remember from grade school “The Instrument Song”- a quodlibet describing the sound of orchestral instruments. Some other well-known tunes that may be sung in quodlibet style are “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” sung with “Frere Jacques” and “Three Blind Mice”.  For Christmas “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” could be paired with Pachelbel’s Canon sung in scat style.  Ms. Phillips skillfully combines four melodies to wonderful effect. You must be there to experience this with us.

Dale Warland, composer, conductor, founder of the Dale Warland Singers, and eminent choral music mentor and clinician, has crafted a piece entitled “The Voices” as part of a project for the programs and services of Chorus America, and will be performed by the chamber group Sotto Voce. Based on a poem by the English poet Michael Dennis Browne, the text speaks of what is in the heart of all who love choral music. In text painting of “the song” that ranges from spare to lush as the voices relate the journey of “the song”. As you listen to the choral parts as they interplay with the obbligato cello, hear the text as it is carefully unwrapped.

Our fourth piece by Robert McMahon has dissonant moments, but cannot be entirely thought of as atonal.  Described by the composer as rhythmically it is more of a “centrist” piece, with at least one foot in the neoclassical camp, it could possibly be perceived as atonal (or “pantonal”, as Schoenberg preferred it).  All the while it works deliciously to focus attention on the text, wonderfully crafted on a poem by London Poetess Valerie Bloom. We may add “bird” to our list of words that we love to sing (accompanying such wonderful words as “languish” and “extirpate”). This piece offers text painting in a 21st century wrapping. Challenging, thought provoking, interesting and creative are all descriptors that apply to this piece.  Robert McMahan is Professor of Music Theory at The College Of New Jersey, and member of the Board of Directors of Voices Chorale

[Updated 5/1/2013]

Copyright ©2013 Barbara Siuta and VOICES, Inc.

Time is on Our Side

VOICES’ final 25th Anniversary season concert at the St. Paul R.C. Church in Princeton, NJ on Saturday, May 18, 2013 reflects on Time Passing, Time Standing Still, and Times to Come, and features both classic works and premieres of new works with the Princeton Homeschool Choir. VOICES’ Music Librarian Barbara Siuta again shares her series of essays and observations that we hope will encourage you to hear this music in live performance at our concerts, and will enhance your enjoyment of our musical program.

Tempus fugit. (Time flies-Latin)

Time and tide wait for no man. (early English idiom from 14th century)

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away. (Psalm 90: 4, paraphrased by Isaac Watts)

“Get me to the church on time.” (My Fair Lady, a 1956 Lerner & Loewe Broadway show, and  a 1964 musical film the original stage play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.)

Time is on my side. (A song written by Jerry Ragovoy, recorded by the Rolling Stones in 1964)

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. (The Book of Ecclesiastes, set to music by Pete Seeger in 1959, recorded by him in 1962, and then it became an international hit in 1965 when it was recorded by The Byrds).

 

Time is part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events move forward in sequence (according to Sir Isaac Newton, 18th century English mathematician and physicist). It is also an intellectual concept that enables humans to sequence and compare events (according to the German 18th century Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant). The religious perspective of time as held by ancient cultures, such as the Incas, Native American Tribes, the Babylonians, ancient Greeks and others, is the concept of a wheel of time, which consists of repeating ages that happen to every being of the Universe between birth and extinction.  The more modern Judeo-Christian concept, based on the Bible, is that time is linear, beginning with the act of creation by God, and moving forward from that point.

Musicians embrace both the linear and circular aspects of time, in that when we create music either in composition or performance, it is a forward motion from the start to an end point, therefore linear. However we use the circular method in creating the tonalities of our compositions by utilizing the circular relationships of tonality as laid out in the theory of music, along with the knowledge that there are “just so many notes,” so the possibility of repeating a figure or phrase that has been used before is exquisitely possible.

As we regard the history of music, it encompasses both the philosophies described, as composition is evolutionary (linear) and ever changing, but again it can be circular as we revisit older music and rework it to make something new. Handel and Bach did this prodigiously with their own music, as have many since then. Newly composed music, if we look through history with 20-20 vision, has sometimes been difficult and /or perplexing for the listening audience of the day to hear: Bach (yes, his Musical Offering was quite radical for the day and stirred up a few wigs), Mozart Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” (Mozart and a fugue? “Tut-tut-tut, Bach he’s not” was the response!), Beethoven (now come on, a choral movement in a symphony?), Bruckner (caught between the conservatives such as Brahms and the radical innovators Wagner and Liszt, he was repeatedly skewered by the critics but he kept on developing his own harmonic language in his orchestral and choral music), Mahler (it was asked if he really needed an orchestra THAT big to perform his works), Copland (it was not easy to create a following in the Great Depression with some of his modernist musical language ), Prokofiev (anyone remember the Rite of Spring riots at its premiere in 1913?),  Cage (even though he did not conceive of the idea, he implemented the “prepared piano,” the concept of which was novel and outrageous at the same time), Tavener (remember that he composed “The Lamb” using seven notes), and even Arvo Pärt (let’s all listen to more of his music!). All those aforementioned composers whom we hold in high esteem today did not have an easy time with some audiences at the first hearing of their new ideas. So, before we summarily dismiss a new work as we run from the room, hands over our ears screaming “I can’t stand it!”, let’s take a minute, admit perhaps that we may not understand it, and perhaps after we educate our ears and minds, we can have a better perspective of it. Remember that Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt was a spectacular flop at its first performances…my, how times, ears, minds and perceptions have changed!

In our program of “time” pieces, we hear of time passing, time standing still, and the time to come, as represented in the text, the movement of the notes, the spaciousness of the pieces as a whole, and in new music commissioned for this concert, which commemorates the 25th anniversary of VOICES Chorale. Let’s revel in the old, celebrate the new, and try out some new tastes for our musical palate.

Copyright (c)2013 by Barbara Siuta and VOICES, Inc.

O Morgenstern from the Seven Magnificat Antiphons, Arvo Pärt

VOICES’ next concerts on March 9 and 10, 2013 celebrate four hundred years of music through pieces written in 1687, 1787, 1887, and 1987, the year VOICES was founded 25 years ago. VOICES’ Music Librarian Barbara Siuta offers her second series of essays and observations that we hope will encourage you to hear this music in live performance at our concerts, and will enhance your enjoyment of our musical program.

From the Seven “O” Antiphons, the antiphon for December 21 (the day of the Winter Solstice):

Latin:  O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

English:  O Morning Star, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; light has dawned upon them, dwellers in a land as dark as death.”   Isaiah 9:2 (New English Bible)

Light is tricky. For those who are photographers, it has to be just right. For readers it must be adequate, for sleepers it needs to be not present. Presence, absence, availability and/or paucity of the same is the state in question. On the shortest day of the year we are mindful of the abundant darkness and shadows that ensue, and that the days which follow will reverse the situation. It is not curious at all that for this day the antiphon deals with light.

For some, the Arvo Pärt setting of the Magnificat antiphon “O Morgenstern” has been difficult on many levels. It is minimalist, polytonal (being composed in two different yet concurrent key signatures), it is sparse in notes, it is in the German translation of the original Latin antiphons, all of these combining to produce a small package of intellectual challenge. However, if we look at the piece outside the box, it offers eloquence that exceeds the imaginable.

For those who know of the Lunar Rainbow at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, or the “firefall” at Horsetail Falls in Yosemite (read the New York Times for more info), we see how photographers react to and capture light as it interacts with water and air to produce spectacular visual effects.  As musicians, we use different media to produce aural effects portraying perhaps more subtle interplay. Text painting figures in this work as we see the soprano and tenor parts (in E Major) work with the alto and bass parts (in C Major): the sharp key against the “neutral” key of C which is all white notes on the keyboard. Within this pairing we see disjunctive motion, where the soprano and tenor (as are the alto and bass) always moving either towards or away from each other. Light has the quality and characteristic of reflectivity, either specular (mirror-like) or diffuse (multiple reflections). Our eyes see diffuse reflections and our brains do the work of assembling the image. When we look at the printed music for this piece we see complexity on a technical level. But if we listen and look at it outside the theoretical level, there is:

  1. The two Bass lines holding firm in three sections with the same pedal tones as anchor for the text of “O Morningstar, Sun of Righteousness, those who sit in darkness and (in reprise) O Morningstar.” This gives a sense of the “soundness” of terra firma in the key of C Major with a bit of a Trinitarian flavor.
  2. The Baritone and Alto parts are moving in mostly stepwise motion, albeit disjunctively, to form a tonal center rooted in C Major. We must remember that the most closely related minor to C is its relative A minor, which offers the tonality link to E Major.
  3. Tenor and Soprano move in intervals of thirds or fourths or even sixths (still in disjunctive motion) in the key of E Major. The movement of these parts is illusory text painting, as the light of the morning star is descending and being reflected back up at the same time.

While our eyes are seeing the specular, mirror image movement or the parts on the paper, our ears are hearing a more diffuse movement, and it is up to our brains to reconcile the two.

When we listen for consonant intervals, they are not where we expect them to be, but then it can be said that the light surprises….Listen for the first syllable of Mor-genstern (Morningstar), and O Komm (O come), and die da sitzten (those who sit)  as these are always consonant intervals. Reflect on the text: the light coming down to those who sit (in darkness). It is a reaching out, a beckoning to come out of the darkness into the light of the Morningstar and the hope of the new day filled with light (springtime) when the earth once again brings forth the abundance of new life. Remember our collective European roots are steeped in pagan ritual and religion, where light and life are both dynamically linked to the forces of darkness and death and its endless cycle. We’ve come a long way since the time of those ancient religions, but the sun and the moon continue to revolve in their endless ellipse. May our ears continue to work with the sounds presented to us.

Copyright (c)2013 by Barbara Siuta and VOICES, Inc.

’87 Concert Program Notes – 1887

VOICES’ next concerts on March 9 and 10, 2013 celebrate four hundred years of music through pieces written in 1687, 1787, 1887, and 1987, the year VOICES was founded 25 years ago. VOICES’ Music Librarian Barbara Siuta offers her second in a series of essays and observations that we hope will encourage you to hear this music in live performance at our concerts, and will enhance your enjoyment of our musical program.

What a year! Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show opens in London, Britain celebrates golden jubilee of Queen Victoria, Emile Berliner patents the Gramophone (which was to become the Victor Talking Machine, and eventually RCA Victor, as well as a side venture, Deutsche Gramophone Recordings), and Stanley was still exploring the jungles of Africa.

Faure Pavane Op. 50 is an exquisitely flexible piece; as a piano solo, as a piano piece with chorus, as an orchestral piece, orchestral piece with chorus, or even as a ballet version. With a melody line that is unforgettable, it is a hauntingly beautiful piece which takes its form from the 16th century Spanish court dance of the same name. Fauré composed the orchestral version in the summer of 1887, dedicating the work to his patron, Elisabeth, Comtesse Greffulhe. At her suggestion he added choral lyrics which had been written the Countess’s cousin, Robert de Montesquieu.  In 1917 a ballet version entered the repertoire of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, where it was known as Las Mininas or Les Jardins d’Aranjuez.

Debussy Trois Chansons is a set of three poems by Charles De Valois, Duke of Orléans (1394 – 1465). These pieces are unique in that they are the only pieces of unaccompanied choral music in Debussy’s oeuvre. After hearing these pieces, one has to wonder why he did not compose more in this form.

Tchaikovsky in this year was embarking on what might be the most exciting decade of his life. While having been an ardent promoter and conductor of Russian music for years, he finally received an invitation as a short notice substitute at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow one of his own operas. Within a year, he found himself to be in considerable demand throughout Europe and Russia. Conducting brought him to America in 1891, where he led the New York Music Society’s orchestra at several of the inaugural concerts of the new performance venue, Carnegie Hall. It was in this decade that Tchaikovsky took inspiration from a poem by Lermontov (The Rock, 1841), a text which was first set by Dargomyzhskii  in 1856 for soprano, tenor, baritone and piano accompaniment, and in  1887 Tchaikovsky made his own choral setting of the same text.

Today the term “Gypsy” brings to mind the exotic, foreign and mysterious. In the more recent times we associate the term with a very negative stereotype and overlook the rich heritage of gypsy music which originated in India/Pakistan-the ethnic home of the Roma “Gypsy” peoples where they made their music in the Hindu temples. As the trading routes moved west, so did the Roma and their music. Texts of the Brahms Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103, are by Hugo Conrat, a wealthy Viennese businessman whose passion for music brought Brahms as a frequent dinner guest at the Conrat house. Conrat adapted into prose Hungarian folk poems related to him by a Fräulein Witzl, who was an employee of the household.

Gilbert & Sullivan, also known as “G & S,” refers to the dynamic partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900), whose music enlivened Victorian England.  The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas composed between 1871 and 1896.  Politics, monarchy, naïveté and stupidity were all fair game in their sometimes not-so-make-believe settings. Endurance is the mark of a good melody, and since their works are still being performed on a worldwide basis today, need we say more?

Copyright (c)2013 by Barbara Siuta and VOICES, Inc.