WCUSO, CONCERT CHOIR, and MASTERSINGErS
The 20th century defies a simple statement that would describe its musical language. A broad array of -isms—expressionism, primitivism, impressionism, futurism, minimalism, neo-classicism, neo-romanticism, etc.—is tapped to help organize the century’s unprecedented diversity of artistic expression. So many encounters were daunting (consider the two World Wars for starters), and much was discovered (consider the advances in psychology, literature, science, industry, technology, and the arts). Processing this enormity of experience requires expressive tools of equal substantiality. This environment presents a worthy challenge and a refreshing ease.
In music, one of the foremost challenges is to acquaint oneself with myriad expressive tools or languages, known as musical sound. Just as scientific thoughts, like quantum physics and string theory, are naturally complex responses to complicated issues, so musical languages can be complex in proportion to their context. The endeavor to engage such complexity, be it scientific or artistic, is wholesomely worthwhile; it freshens and expands our perspectives, helping us to see with new eyes.
If effort is required to understand the complexity of the 20thcentury, a counterbalance of ease is offered through the century’s variety. Like a tasty buffet, there is something in the 20thcentury palette for everyone. This evening’s concert demonstrates this breadth of appeal. Sibelius’s Andante Festivo represents a thoroughly Romantic language that is melody-driven, and rich in familiar harmony. Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances combine a similar Romantic language with an expanded harmonic palette; Rachmaninoff said that he sought to tap Stravinsky’s rhythmic innovations in these dances. Hindemith’s Apparebit repentina dies may well sound like a more remote language than the Sibelius and Rachmaninoff. It pulls further away from traditional harmonies, embracing dissonance and a more exploratory harmonic progression.
The concert closes with two pieces by Stravinsky. The first, The Dove Descending Breaks the Air, is a late work, written in 1962. It sets a selection from Part IV of T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding from the “Four Quartets”, using the harmonic innovation of Arnold Schoenberg, known as 12-tone technique. Here again, the piece may well sound complex, but it beautifully challenges us to process Eliot’s poetry with fresh understanding. The monumental Symphony of Psalms, while less dissonant, offers another universe of sound unique to Stravinsky, not the least of which is a highly unusual instrumentation (two pianos substitute for violins and violas, and the woodwind sections are expanded).
Musical art seeks to understand its context. It is not surprising that with the change of culture come new tools of expression. This evening’s concert was knit together in part to afford a sample of the 20thcentury’s multifaceted history, and the musical languages that help us process it.
~Notes by Joseph Caminiti
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Andante Festivo is a single-movement composition by Jean Sibelius, originally scored for string quartet in 1922. In 1938, the composer rescored the piece for string orchestra and timpani. On 1, January, 1939, Sibelius conducted his composition in a live worldwide broadcast, making it the only sound document of him interpreting his own music.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Symphonic Dances No. 1 and 3
The Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, is an orchestral suite in three movements. Completed in 1940, it is Sergei Rachmaninoff's last composition. The work summarizes Rachmaninoff's compositional output.
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Apparebit repentina dies, Mvts. 3 and 4
Paul Hindemith (English pronunciation: /ˌˈhɪndəmɪt/) (16 November 1895 – 28 December 1963) was a prolific German composer, violist, violinist, teacher and conductor. Notable compositions include his song cycle Das Marienleben (1923), Der Schwanendreher for viola and orchestra (1935), and opera Mathis der Maler (1938). Hindemith's most popular work, both on record and in the concert hall, is likely the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, written in 1943.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
The dove descending breaks the air
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (sometimes spelled Strawinski, Strawinsky, or Stravinskii; Russian: И́горь Фёдорович Страви́нский, tr. Igorʹ Fëdorovič Stravinskij; IPA: [ˈiɡərʲ ˈfʲɵdərəvʲɪtɕ strɐˈvʲinskʲɪj]; 17 June [O.S. 5 June] 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.
Symphony of Psalms
The Symphony of Psalms is a three-movement choral symphony composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1930 during his neoclassical period. The work was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The symphony derives its name from the use of Psalm texts in the choral parts.
TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS
Hindemith, “Apparebit repentina dies”
Retro ruent tunc injusti ignes in perpetuos,
vermis quorum no moritur, ignis nec restringuitur,
Satan atro cum ministris quo tenetur caracere,
fletus ubi mugitusque, strident omens dentibus.
Tunc fideles ad caelestum sustollentur patriam,
choros inter angelorum regni petent gaudia.
Urbis summae Jerusalem introibunt gloriam,
vera luctis atque pacis in qua fulget visio,
Xristum regem jam paterna claritate splendidum
ubi celsa beatorum contemplantur agmina.
Ydri frauds ergo cave, infirmantes subleva,
aurum temne, fuge luxus, si vis asstra petere.
Zona clara castitatis lumbos nunc praecingere,
in occursum magni regis fer ardentes lampades.
~Anonymous, before 700. From The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse (trans. J. P. Elder)
Stravinsky, “The dove descending breaks the air”
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
~T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” (Four Quartets)
Stravinsky, “Symphony of Psalms”
Movement I (Psalm 38, verses 13 and 14)
Then back to everlasting fires shall rush the unjust whose vermin dies not,
neither is the fire put out,
in the black prison in which Satan and his attendants are held,
where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Then the faithful will be lifted up to their heavenly land;
then will they see the joys of the kingdom amid choirs of angels.
They will enter into Jerusalem, into the glory of the city most high
in which shines clear the vision of light and peace,
where lofty bands of the blessed look upon the king Christ
shining in the gleaming radiance of his father.
Therefore beware of the wiles of the serpent, lift up the weak,
scorn gold, shun pomp, if you wish to seek the stars.
Now gird your loins with the radiant belt of chastity;
bear blazing torches into the presence of the great king.
Exaudi orationem meam, Domine, et deprecationem meam. Auribus percipe lacrimas meas. Ne sileas, ne sileas.
Quoniam advena ego sum apud te et peregrinus, sicut omnes patres mei.
Remitte mihi, prius quam abeam et amplius non ero.
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and with Thine ears consider my calling: hold not Thy peace at my tears.
For I am a stranger with Thee: and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
O spare me a little that I may recover my strength: before I go hence and be no more seen.
Movement II (Psalm 39, verses 2, 3, and 4)
Expectans expectavi Dominum, et intendit mihi.
Et exaudivit preces meas; et exudit me da lacu miseriae, et de lato faecis.
Et statuit super petram pedes meos: et direxis gressus meos.
Et immisit in os meum canticum novrum, carmen Deo nostro.
Videbunt multi, videbunt et timabunt: et aperabunt in Domino.
I waited patiently for the Lord: and He inclined unto me, and heard my calling.
He brought me also out of the horrible pit, out of the mire and clay:
and set my feet upon the rock, and ordered my goings.
And He hath put a new song in my mouth: even a thanksgiving unto our God.
Many shall see it and fear: and shall put their trust in the Lord.
Movement III (Psalm 150)
Laudate Dominum in sanctis Ejus.
Laudate Erum firmamentis virtutis Ejus.
Laudate Eum in virtutibus Ejus
Laudate Eum secundum multitudinem magnitudinis Ejus.
Laudate Eum in sono tubae.
Laudate Eum. Alleluia. Laudate Dominum. Laudate Eum.
Laudate Eum in timpano et choro,
Laudate Eum in cordis et organo;
Laudate Eum in cymbalis bene jubilantionibus.
Laudate Eum, omnis spiritus laudate Dominum.
O praise God in His holiness:
praise Him in the firmament of His power.
Praise Him in His noble acts:
praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
Praise Him in the sound of the trumpet:
praise Him upon the lute and harp.
Praise Him upon the strings and pipe.
Praise Him upon the well-tuned cymbals.
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.