Our Masterworks concert includes shorter works by Mozart and Haydn’s brilliant MASS IN TIME OF WAR (Paukenmesse). We are joined on the stage by the Clayton State University Chorale, under the direction of Dr. Michael Fuchs.
Welcome to the third concert in this milestone, tenth-anniversary season of Griffin Choral Arts. Building upon the first two concerts’ celebratory titles–Well Done! and Cheers!—all involved in presenting these Masterworks by Mozart, Haydn, and Lang are hopeful of earning the Bravo! of tonight’s title.
In addition to welcoming our orchestra and guest soloists we happily greet the Clayton State University Chorale, directed by Dr. Michael Fuchs, in a fruitful collaboration that began with Dr. Fuchs’ consultation on the March 2015 presentation of the Mozart Requiem and continued with his inviting the GCA Chamber Choir to join with the Clayton State Community Chorus in presenting a concert at Spivey Hall in November 2016, in a festival observing the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.
As with previous concerts in this tenth-anniversary season, tonight’s program includes works reprising prior performances important to GCA’s history, including masterworks by Mozart and Haydn: the Mozart Laudate Dominum was first sung by GCA in October 2010 and Haydn’s Mass in Time of War, returning from the very first Masterworks concert given in March 2008. But this homage to music history makes it even more important that our CSU friends introduce all of us to a contemporary candidate for masterwork status, as a reminder that (in the words of the motto of the American Composers Forum) “All music was once new.”
Ave Verum Corpus is one of most beloved and frequently performed choral works composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Mozart composed this motet in the summer of 1791, the last year of his life. His wife Constanze, who was ill and pregnant, was recovering in the spa town of Baden, just outside Vienna. During a visit to see her, Mozart wrote this masterpiece and dedicated it to the music director of the Baden parish church, Anton Stoll, who had often looked after Constanze. Mozart composed specifically for the limited resources of the Baden church, calling for only chorus, strings, and organ. Although this famous motet is modest in size and scope, Mozart uses the complete depth of his mature compositional abilities to craft an exquisite piece full of beauty, classical balance, and spiritual intensity.
Mozart’s setting of Laudate Dominum (Psalm 117) contains arguably the most beautiful and lyrical melody Mozart wrote throughout his short life. This movement is excerpted from a larger work, the Vesperae solennes de confessore K339, a work intended to be performed at vespers, a daily prayer service held at sunset featuring the singing of several psalms. Mozart composed the Vesperae solennes de confessore when he was twenty-four years old, and it was the last sacred piece of music he wrote for Salzburg and its archbishop, Hieronymus Colleredo. The Laudate Dominum begins with a string introduction, followed by a soprano solo that displays Mozart’s unparalleled ability as a vocal and operatic composer. The chorus takes over for the doxology before the soprano rejoins the ensemble for the final “amen.”
Written by Los-Angeles-born but now New-York-City-based composer David Lang in 2007, the little match girl passion won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for music composition. Originally written for four solo singers but later arranged for small chorus, Lang’s innovative composition has quickly become one of the most-performed major choral works written in the past decade.
Lang’s inspiration for the little match girl passion comes from two primary sources. The first is the original story of “The Little Match Girl” by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Lang writes, “The original is ostensibly for children, and it has that shocking combination of danger and morality that many famous children’s stories do. A poor young girl, whose father beats her, tries unsuccessfully to sell matches on the street, is ignored, and freezes to death. Through it all she somehow retains her Christian purity of spirit, but it is not a pretty story.” Lang is drawn to this story primarily due to the juxtaposition of horror/beauty and suffering/hope that is found throughout Andersen’s text.
The other source of inspiration is the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, by Johann Sebastian Bach. A passion in Christian tradition is the story of the suffering and death of Jesus. Composers throughout music history have set that story and the accompanying gospel texts to music, of which Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is arguably the most famous and powerful. In his St. Matthew Passion, Bach uses several different compositional elements, including choruses, chorales, and arias, with the purpose of commenting upon and drawing the audience into the story, or, as Lang writes, “placing us in the middle of the action.”
While choosing to tell the story of the little match girl in the form of a Bach passion, Lang wrote the libretto himself, after texts by H.C. Andersen, H.P. Paull (the first translator of The Little Match Girl into English), Picander (the librettist for Bach’s St. Matthew Passion), and the Gospel writer St. Matthew. The opening chorus invites the audience into the story with the words “Come, daughter,” a direct reference to the opening chorus of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The following movements alternate between a musical setting of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” and responses to the story. The narrative movements utilize complex and overlapping rhythms that propel the story forward in a pace that is sometimes frantic and at other times subdued. The responses feature various musical textures ranging from static homophonic chords to repeated melodic and rhythmic patterns, producing a period of uncomfortable meditation. These responses help guide the audience through a range of emotions, including shock, sorrow, despair, and remorse.
Through it all, David Lang’s uncompromising and emotionally direct musical style provides intensity to this story that is at once both wonderful and horrifying. Lang writes, “The word ‘passion’ comes from the Latin word for suffering. There is no Bach in my piece and there is no Jesus – rather the suffering of the Little Match Girl has been substituted for Jesus’, (I hope) elevating her sorrow to a higher plane.”
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) spent the vast majority of his life employed as Kapellmeister by the wealthy Esterházy family. After more than thirty years of loyal service, Haydn enjoyed a privileged position of semi-retirement. He was considered to be the greatest living composer in Europe and was offered the comforts of one with such fame. After 1795, the only major requirement placed upon Haydn by the Esterházy family was the composition of a new mass each year for the name-day celebration of Princess Maria Hermienegild Esterházy. To this end, Haydn composed six masses, each of them a unique masterpiece of the choral-orchestral repertoire.
Missa in tempore belli (Mass in Time of War) was written in the fall of 1796 and first performed on December 26 of the same year. The title, Missa in tempore belli, was applied by Haydn himself and represented the pervasive fear of French invasion throughout Austria. Napoleon had just defeated the Austrian armies in Italy and seemed destined to invade the Austrian homeland.
The Kyrie begins with a slow introduction establishing C major as the dominant tonality of the entire piece. The chorus enters with a unison fanfare, whose militaristic quality is obscured by a piano dynamic and lyrical instrumental writing. The opening quickly becomes ominous and ends with trumpets, timpani, and the choir once again singing in unison, although this time in a menacing C minor. The brightness of C major quickly returns as the soprano soloist delivers the main theme of the movement, and the ominous beginning quickly fades into the past.
The Gloria opens with a similar fanfare as the Kyrie. This movement exemplifies much of Haydn’s compositional brilliance: seamless integration of soloists and chorus, polyphonic complexity juxtaposed with beautiful and simple melodies, and unending harmonic creativity. The Gloria is divided into three sections. After the opening vivace, Haydn writes a captivating and lyrical adagio duet for solo cello and the bass soloist. The concluding allegro returns with another fanfare and concludes with a complex polyphonic “Amen.”
Composers of masses have long struggled with setting the lengthy Credo text in a musically satisfying and timely manner. In this mass, Haydn uses a compositional technique known as “telescoping.” Each voice part sings a different text at the same time. The result may lack in textual clarity, but it is quite charming and allows Haydn to move through a great deal of text relatively quickly. The Credo is broken up much like the Gloria. After the opening allegro, the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ are presented in a slow adagio in the key of C minor. C major once again bursts through with the exclamation “et resurrexit,” and the movement propels itself to its end with a final fugue.
The Sanctus begins with a lyrical violin melody before being joined by the alto soloist and full chorus. The “time of war” is felt briefly in the middle of this movement, but it is quickly displaced by a more traditional and joyful “hosanna” refrain.
Haydn moves away noticeably from compositional norms in the Benedictus. While this movement is traditionally set with indulgent and lyrical vocal lines, Haydn instead creates an atmosphere of anxiety and nervousness with an opening C minor tonality and short phrase lengths, especially in the lower three solo voices. This movement concludes in C major with a reprise of the “hosanna” refrain.
It is in the final movement that we feel most strongly the apprehension surrounding the imminent Napoleonic invasion. Although beginning in a warm and peaceful F major, we soon hear the ominous role of the timpani and a harmonic turn once again to C minor. Haydn is known to have said that the timpani should sound as though it is the enemy at the gates. It is from the ingenious use of the timpani in this section that the Missa in tempori belli received its nickname Paukenmesse. (Pauken is the German word for timpani.) The final section of the mass returns to C major for the text “dona nobis pacem” (grant us peace). Although joyful and exuberant, there is an unmistakable element of militaristic fanfare. Haydn transforms the prayer for peace into a final vision of victory, peace, and jubilation.
Program notes by Dr. Michael Fuchs, Director of Choral Activities, Clayton State University, Morrow, Georgia. GCA expresses deep gratitude to Dr. Fuchs for this contribution.
Valerie Gill, soprano
Holly McCarren, mezzo
Jonathan Pilkington, tenor
Steohen Ozcomert, bass
As the premier vocal ensemble at Clayton State, the Chorale is an auditioned ensemble comprised primarily of Performing Arts Majors with concentrations in Music and Music Education. This ensemble provides intensive and thorough per-professional training for the next generation of vocal performers, music educators, and choral enthusiasts. Last season featured the Chorale performing at the annual Harvest Home in downtown Atlanta and a performance of the Mozart Requiem. This year, the Chorale will be featured at several concerts at Spivey Hall as well as a performances of the Pulitzer Prize winning composition, the little match girl by David Lang. The rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule of the Chorale requires the utmost commitment and dedication from its members.
Michael Fuchs has enjoyed an active career as a conductor, educator, and singer. He is the Director of Choral Activities at Clayton State University in Morrow, GA where he conducts the Chorale, the Clayton State Community Chorus, and teaches courses in conducting, choral methods, aural skills, and music history. He is also the Director of Music Ministries at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church. He graduated with a doctoral degree in choral conducting from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where he conducted the University of Cincinnati Women’s Chorus and was Co-Director of the Collegium Vocale. Choirs under his direction have performed across the United States and internationally while receiving numerous honors and awards. He has prepared choruses for performances with Joe Miller, Annunziata Tomaro, Mark Gibson, and Joseph Flummerfelt. Previous positions include Artistic Director of Musica, the premier chamber choir of Dayton, Ohio, Founder and Artistic Director of the Westminster Bach Consort, and the Graduate Assistant Conductor for the Westminster Choir. Dr. Fuchs has held public school teaching positions in Fairfax County, Virginia and church music positions in Ohio, North Dakota, Virginia, New Jersey, and Georgia. Dr. Fuchs holds additional degrees from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Kerren Berz, concert master
Jessica Robinson Stinson
Alexandra Rice Haines
Lyn De Raemus
Diana Dunn Owens