Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was the principal architect of the classical style of music. Haydn’s most celebrated pupil was Ludwig van Beethoven, and his musical influence on composers such as Schubert, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Brahms is immense.
Missa Brevis No. 7 in B flat (Missa Brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo), by Franz Joseph Haydn, is our first “Something Old” tonight. Missa Brevis was written sometime in the mid-1770’s and was named after the patron saint of The Brothers Hospitallers, Saint John of God. It was written to be sung in the Brother’s church (little more than a tiny chapel) in Eisenstadt. The small organ and loft could accommodate only a handful of instrumentalists – therefore, the Mass earned its nickname, the “Little Organ Mass.” Given the space constraints, Haydn scored this Mass for organ, string quartet (two violins, cello and double bass – no viola) and a chorus probably not exceeding twelve singers.
In spite of the brevity of the Mass, it is rich in its variety of musical textures and inventive musical ideas. Haydn shortens the lengthy Gloria and Credo sections by setting different lines of texts simultaneously. In the Benedictus the rhapsodic aria for solo soprano is accompanied by strings and obbligato (essential, but subordinate instrumental part) organ. In the Agnus Dei Haydn foregoes the traditional reuse of music from the Kyrie and ends the work in the same contemplative mood in which it began.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1896), though influenced by Haydn, became one of the leading musicians of the Romantic era. He was considered one of the leading musicians of the 19th century. He began playing piano at the age of seven. Brahms’ Geistliches Lied, Op. 30 is his earliest accompanied choral work which he composed at the age of 23. It began life as an exercise in counterpoint. Brahms exchanged these exercises with Joseph Joachim and they often became very complex.
The Geistliches Lied turned out to be his greatest tour de force that combines a mastery of counterpoint with a sense of delicacy to remarkable effect. It consists of an organ accompaniment to four-part double canon (round) in which the tenor follows the soprano, and the bass follows the alto. The first and third sections of the lied, Brahms uses the same music to illustrate different verses of Paul Fleming’s poem. For the ‘Amen’ which ends the piece, Brahms reverses the canon with alto following the bass and the tenor following the soprano. With only one movement that is only 67 measures long, Op. 30 is the smallest of the numbered works of Brahms in terms of musical content.
Robert Frost is a four-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet who depicted realistic New England life through language and situations familiar to the common man. The Pasture was originally published as the introductory poem in Frost’s first American collection, North of Boston and Frost himself often chose it to lead off his readings, using it as a way of introducing himself and inviting the audience to join him on his journey for which the poem is perfectly suited.
The Pasture is a brief colloquial speech written in the voice of a farmer who is thinking out loud about what he is going to do: “… clean the pasture spring … rake the leaves away.” Then he discovers another parenthetical possibility: “(And wait to watch the water clear, I may)” and delivers an invitation almost as an afterthought, “I sha’n’t be gone long — You come too.”
The second verse expands the farmer’s interaction with the farm’s natural elements to include the livestock: “… the little calf That’s standing by the mother.” Frost then has the farmer issue the same invitation again.
The Pasture is part of Z. Randall Stroope’s suite “Where the Earth Meets the Sky”, which employs the poetry of different cultures to enhance “feelings of respect for the splendor of nature and earth’s gifts.”
Z. Randall Stroope (b. 1953), whose musical setting of Frost’s poem we will perform tonight as our first “Something New,” grew up on a ranch in New Mexico. He started writing music at a summer music camp in Dallas, Texas but had no choral experience until his junior year of high school when his choral teacher talked him into coming to chorus during his free period. He fell in love with choral music.
Dr. Stroope also wrote a beautiful setting of O Notte which is a combination of two texts, one by Michelangelo (yes, that one!) and the other by literary scholar Friedrich Rückert. It is not generally known that Michelangelo penned over 300 sonnets and madrigals, and was a leading literary scholar in Florence. It is amazing that he was able to dominate so many artistic disciplines in one lifetime – sculpture, architecture, engineering, painting and literature!
Friedrich Rückert has had more that 120 of his poems set to music by such notable composers as Schubert, Brahms, Bartok and Hindemith. He was not merely fluent in, but was a master of thirty languages. He had an uncanny memory and sense of the flow of words combined with unparalleled rhythmic skill and metrical genius.1
Robert Burns worked for the last ten years of his life on projects to preserve traditional Scottish songs for the future. He intended to publish My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose in George Thompson’s five-volume “A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice,” but Burns and Thompson disagreed about whether the song was worthy to include in the collection. Instead, Burns gave the song to Scottish singer Pietro Urbani who published it in his “Scots Songs.” The song describes a love that is both fresh and long lasting.
Rene Clausen set tonight’s version of Red, Red Rose. Clausen is an American composer, conductor of The Concordia Choir, and professor of music at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Among his many accolades is his recording, “Life & Breath: Choral Works by Rene Clausen,” which received three Grammy Awards at the 55th Grammy Awards in 2013.
Dana Gioia’s beautiful poem, Prayer, was written in memory of his infant son, whose brief life was tragically ended by SIDS. Mr. Gioia served as Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003-2010. Lauridsen says, “The Choral setting of Prayer was designed as a companion piece to my Sure On This Shining Night, and both works display my esteem for the great songs and songwriters from the American Musical Theatre. The finest works from this genre are timeless and display songwriting at its best in both lyrics and music.” 2
Lauridsen explained his Lux Aeterna as follows:
The Lux Aeterna for chorus and chamber orchestra or organ was composed for the Los Angeles Master Chorale and its Maestro Paul Salamunovich, who premiered the work at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on April 13, 1997. Each of the five connected movements in this choral cycle contains references to ‘Light’ assembled from various sacred Latin texts. I composed Lux Aeterna in response to my Mother’s final illness and found great personal comfort and solace in setting to music these timeless and wondrous words about Light, a universal symbol of illumination at all levels – spiritual, artistic and intellectual.
For the Lux Aeterna I chose as my point of departure the sacred music of the late Renaissance, especially that of Josquin des Prez, to create a quiet direct and introspective meditation on Light, using primarily the consonant harmonies, intricate counterpoint, formal prodedures and chant-like melodic lines of that era.
The work opens and closes with the beginning and ending of the Requiem Mass, with the central three movements drawn respectively from the Te Deum, O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus. The opening Introitus introduces several themes that recur later in the work and includes an extended canon on “et lux perpetua.” In Te, Domine, Speravi contains, among other musical elements, the cantus firmus “Herzliebster Jesu” (Dearest Jesus from the Nuremburg Songbook, 1677) and a lengthy inverted canon on “fiat Misericordia.” O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus are paired songs, the former an a cappella motet at the center of the work and the latter a spirited, jubilant canticle. A quiet setting of the Agnus Dei precedes the final Lux Aeterna, which reprises the opening section of the Introitus and concludes with a joyful and celebratory Alleluia.3
1 Taken from notes written by Z. Randall Stroope on the inside front cover of the octavo
2 Taken from notes written in the Summer of 2012 from Crum’s Castle, Waldron Island, by Morten Lauridsen on the inside front cover of the octavo of “Prayer”
3Taken from notes written by Morten Lauridsen from Walden Island, Summer, 2008 on the inside front cover of the octavo.
Telephone interview with Z. Randall Stroope on 10/25/2015 by Mary Jane Matecki
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