We begin our “Standing Ovation!” Tenth Anniversary Season with a concert that includes Faure: REQUIEM, Lauridsen: Chansons de les Roses, and a set of pieces with Shakespearean texts. The Griffin Choral Arts Chamber Choir performs for the first time in a regular season project.
Welcome to the celebration of the tenth anniversary season of Griffin Choral Arts. For this milestone year, Founding Artistic Director Dr. Stephen Mulder has chosen the overall theme of “Standing Ovation,” with each individual concert title bearing its own laudatory exclamation (“Well Done!” “Cheers!” “Bravo!” and “Encore!”). All those involved in GCA–its staff musicians, its singers, its Board of Directors, and everyone else who has helped make possible a decade of performances of “the best in choral music” in this region–are filled with hopeful confidence that these plaudits are well-earned! And none of this can happen without you, the audience. Thank you!
Tonight’s season-opening concert title is “Well Done!”–both fitting the overall theme for the season and looking ahead to the major work on the program: the magnificent Requiem by Gabriel Fauré, with its echo of the Biblical text often quoted in Christian funerals and memorial services “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23).
While centering on the Fauré Requiem, the concert features other significant subthemes. The opening section consists of a group of songs commemorating the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, sung by the GCA Chamber Choir, previewing the ensemble’s appearance at Spivey Hall on November 5 as invited guest performers in a weekend-long Shakespeare festival sponsored by the Clayton State University Department of Visual and Performing Arts.
Then, also anticipating the Fauré Requiem, the Chamber Choir adds a selection from the French-text-based Les Chansons des Roses (Songs of Roses) by important contemporary composer Morten Lauridsen. In an appropriate denouement following the Fauré Requiem, the concert closes with two other spiritually hopeful numbers by the full chorus.
A final aspect of the celebration of this milestone season is a retrospective of the performance history of the chorus, reprising works from the past (Lauridsen and Jenkins) alongside the new.
Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day? Z. Randall Stroope (b. 1953)
This setting adapted from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 opens both tonight’s concert and the “Shakespeare Set” sung by the GCA Chamber Choir, which following its establishment in 2014 has sung two concerts in Griffin as well as at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
The somber tone and wide, yearning intervals in the melody appropriately reflect the Shakespeare text, which like many of his sonnets offers enigmatic meanings, in this case the question whether the longing for the absent love partner might even extend across the boundary of death.
Z. Randall Stroope is Director of Vocal and Choral Studies at Oklahoma State University, where he conducts the Concert Chorale and Chamber Choir as well as directs the undergraduate and graduate choral conducting programs. The work sung tonight (published in 2002) was a commission for a Stetson University Choral Festival.
I Know a Bank Where the Wild Thyme Blows Sarah Quartel (b. 1982)
The setting effectively translates into music one of the most magical scenes in all of Shakespeare: that near the beginning of the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which fairy King Oberon sends his messenger sprite Puck on his mission to spread the vision-altering potions that will both complicate and eventually happily resolve the many characters’ problems in love.
Canadian composer and music educator Sarah Quartel composed this work by commission from the Agincourt Singers in celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Agincourt Collegiate Institute in Toronto. The piece was published in 2015 by the prestigious Oxford University Press.
Three Shakespeare Songs Roger Quilter; arr. Linda Spevacek-Avery
Sung tonight are the first two of three works from a 1999 arrangement of the Five Shakespeare Songs (Op. 23, No. 2) published in 1921 by leading British art-song composer Roger Quilter (1877-1953). The arranger is Nebraska-born composer Linda Spevacek-Avery (b. 1945).
I. “Under the Greenwood Tree” (number two of Quilter’s original five) is a lighthearted treatment of a text
from one of the best of Shakespeare’s comedies, As You Like It. In Act Two, the character Amiens (whose name may mean “having friends” or “having love”) sings this song inviting his fellow travelers in the Forest of Arden to lie with him “under the greenwood tree,” where there are no enemies but “winter and rough weather.” (Worth at least a passing historical note is that the arranger changes Quilter’s use of the phrase “lie with me” to “sit with me,” perhaps demurring the possible suggestion of homosexuality, both in certain of Shakespeare’s male characters in the play and in the British composer’s situation.) Amiens’ friend Jaques (usually pronounced JAY-qweez), the major misanthrope of the play, invites him to continue the song, but Amiens warns that the song will only make Jaques melancholy. Jaques characteristically brags, however, that he can “suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs.” Amiens leads the group in finishing the song, but Jaques adds his own new verse to the same tune, in which he rebukes those foolish enough to leave their wealth and leisure for imaginative life in the forest.
II. “Take, O Take Those Lips Away” (number four of Quilter’s original five) is a beautiful, slower contrast to its sprightly predecessor, also remarkable for Quilter’s sensitivity to the complexities of the text from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, one of his darkest “problem plays,” especially among those classified as comedies. The tentativeness of Shakespeare’s play is reflected in the piano introduction, which changes key surprisingly when the voices enter. The tenderness of the homophonic choral writing fittingly reflects the mood at the beginning of Act One when a character named merely “Boy” sings this love song, which only reminds the main character Mariana of the sadness of the troubled love relationships in her life and in the society in which she lives.
Double Trouble John Williams; arr. Teena Chinn
From master film-score composer John Williams (b. 1932) comes this arrangement of the famous Witches’ Song from the beginning of Act Four of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Members of Shakespeare’s audience likely would have found this scene ominous and frightening, with true “comic relief” coming from the Porter (gatekeeper) scene in Act Two. Far less surprising in more modern times, however, are comic treatments of the Witches’ theme, such as the “Frog Choir” scene using this music by Williams in the 2004 Harry Potter film The Prisoner of Azkaban (the third film in the famous series).
Although best known for his many film scores, versatile John Williams remains one of the most distinguished American musicians and composers. Arranger Teena Chinn currently serves as Minister of Music at Fenton United Methodist Church in Fenton, Michigan.
And Will A’ Not Come Again? (from Shakespeare Songs Book IV) Matthew Harris (b. 1956)
Hardly a better musical setting can be imagined for the deep emotional distress of the character Ophelia in the play Hamlet in her famous “mad scenes” in Act Four, when she reappears on stage after learning of her father’s death at Hamlet’s hand, compounding her grief over Hamlet’s seeming rejection of her love. Both passacaglia and funeral march, the music further depicts the hollowing-out of Ophelia’s being with repetitions of open-fourth and open-fifth chords and wrenching accidental pitches near the end, before some measure of peace arrives on the very last word (“soul”) on a D major chord.
Matthew Harris studied at The Juilliard School, the New England Conservatory, and Harvard University, and has taught at Fordham University and Kingsborough College, CUNY. He currently teaches at Brooklyn College, CUNY and at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY.
If Music Be the Food of Love David C. Dickau (b. 1953)
The title would seem to reflect Count Orsino’s paean to music at the beginning of Shakespeare’s great comedy Twelfth Night. Instead, however, the text is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous lines by a later British poet, Henry Heveningham (1651-1700). Heveningham’s text was previously and most notably set by his contemporary Henry Purcell (1659-1695), but David Dickau’s modern, romantic treatment successfully adds to that tradition. Published in 2001, the work was commissioned by the Minnesota Music Educators Association and the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota.
Dr. David Dickau is a choral conductor and composer residing in Mankato, Minnesota, where he has served as Director of Choral Activities at Minnesota State University, Mankato, since 1991. He also conducts the Concert Choir and Chamber Singers and teaches conducting and composition.
Les Chanson des Roses (selections) Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” From Shakespeare’s famous love tragedy Romeo and Juliet comes Juliet’s flirtatious dismissal of Romeo’s enemy family history. Coincidentally, Juliet’s words also provide a segue from tonight’s “Shakespeare Set” into another choral masterwork, which GCA had introduced to its local audience back in the very first season.
From Thomas May, program annotator for the “home” chorus of Morten Lauridsen, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, comes authoritative background on “the complicated genesis of Les Chansons des Roses”:
It began as a brief commission for the Portland-based ensemble Choral Cross-Ties that [Lauridsen had] only learned about second hand. When his mother congratulated him on the upcoming premiere of a new piece – publicized in the group’s season announcement – Lauridsen was baffled, as he had not even received (let alone accepted) a commission from Choral Cross-Ties. Just what was he expected to write? The composer’s longstanding habit of prowling bookstores on the lookout for potential poetic sources had recently yielded a new publication by Graywolf Press of the complete French poems by [Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria] Rilke. Free associating with Portland – where he had grown up and attended high school – as the “City of Roses,” Lauridsen decided to set “Dirait-on” in the style of a French chanson populaire or folk song (with guitar-like piano accompaniment) as if the music had always been there. He completed his charming piano-choral score and sent it off as a stand-alone song that could be used as an encore piece. . . . But soon Lauridsen discovered he was irresistibly captivated by the exquisite fragrance of Rilke’s rose poems. He kept coming back, adding one after another until he had crafted a complete cycle, all unified by thematic material generated from what was now the concluding song. (http://www.lamc.org/performances/program-notes/2014-03-16-tribute-to-lauridsen)
In a preface to the music Lauridsen himself adds other insights: “In addition to his vast output of German poetry, Rilke . . . wrote nearly 400 poems in French. His poems on roses struck me as especially charming, filled with gorgeous lyricism, deftly crafted and elegant in their imagery. These exquisite poems are primarily light, joyous and playful, and the musical settings are designed to enhance those characteristics and capture their delicate beauty and sensuousness. Distinct melodic and harmonic materials recur throughout the cycle, especially between Rilke’s poignant Contre Qui, Rose (set as a wistful nocturne) and his moving La Rose Complète. The final piece, Dirait-on, . . . weaves together two melodic ideas first heard in fragmentary form in preceding movements.”
Premiered in Portland, Oregon, on April 23, 1993, by the aforementioned professional chamber chorus Choral Cross-Ties, the collection of rose-songs contains five movements, three of which (the second, fourth, and fifth) are sung tonight (the three mentioned by Lauridsen in his introduction quoted above).
Morten Lauridsen has been Distinguished Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for over forty years. He was named “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2005 and was awarded the 2007 National Medal of Arts, the highest artistic award in the United States. In the latter ceremony at the White House he was lauded “for his radiant choral works combining musical beauty, power, and spiritual depth.”
Requiem Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Well known to both church and secular choirs and their audiences is the motet Cantique de Jean Racine (performed by GCA in March 2013) by French composer Gabriel Fauré (sometimes confused with the composer of the popular anthem The Palms by Fauré’s contemporary countryman Jean-Baptiste Faure [no accent mark]). Even more famous is tonight’s longer masterwork, Fauré’s Requiem, among the most unassuming and beautifully restrained masterworks in all of music.
Born in Pamiers in southern France, Fauré was recognized early for his musical gifts, spending his high school years studying organ, piano, and choral music at the prestigious Niedermeyer School in Paris, where his teachers included the great composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Upon graduation he worked at organist and choirmaster posts of increasing prestige, until in 1877 he succeeded his teacher Saint-Saëns as choirmaster at the important Church of the Madeleine in Paris, where he served for nearly twenty years. At the same time he taught composition at the Paris Conservatory (becoming director in 1905), his students including Maurice Ravel, Nadia Boulanger, and Georges Enescu.
Very likely reflecting his own modest, gentle personality, Fauré’s compositional inclinations led him to a more spare style, certainly less grandiose and dramatic than many of the popular trends in German, French, and Italian Romanticism of the time. What was to become his Requiem, for example, is an intentional contrast to the more outsized versions of the form as found in Berlioz and Verdi.
In a sense Fauré began what would become his Requiem in 1887, when he composed a stand-alone setting of a Libera me (“Deliver Me, [O Lord]”). At the first performance of the full-form Requiem in January 1888 the work consisted of five movements, though not yet the Libera me, which Fauré added in 1889, along with the Offertoire. Further expansions of the work premiered in 1893 and in 1900 (the latter with the full orchestration). What began in Fauré’s vision as a petit (“little”) Requiem became expanded to what at least on one occasion was a performance that included as many as 250 musicians.
The musical form of the Requiem Mass has existed since the late fifteenth century, and over two thousand have been composed since then. No two settings are exactly alike, of course, though many follow a standard order of liturgical elements and employ standard versions of biblical and other liturgical texts. Fauré’s version of the Requiem, however, is perhaps more unusual than most musical Requiems prior to the twentieth century. In spirit and in structure, the Fauré Requiem is often compared with the great German Requiem of Johannes Brahms (completed in 1868), which GCA performed in an historically-accurate two-piano version in October 2009. (Aaron Copland once referred to Fauré as “the Brahms of France,” another musicologist suggesting that Fauré represented the link connecting the late German Romanticism of Brahms with the French Impressionism of Debussy.) Emphatic in both Brahms and Fauré are their freedom in choosing non-standard texts and—perhaps most important—their emphasis on the peaceful release of death and on the possibility of comfort for the living. It is in the latter spirit that the two works following the Fauré Requiem on tonight’s program are also chosen.
The edition of the Fauré Requiem performed tonight is that by John Rutter, following Fauré’s 1888 version and published in 1984.
I. Introit and Kyrie
Like Brahms, Fauré opens the first movement (all the movements being types of prayers) quietly, the voices entering over minimally accompanied chords. Fauré’s introduction is much shorter—only one measure, giving only open D octaves, leading to the home key of D Minor (coincidentally [?] the relative minor to the F major of Brahms). Pianissimo soon gives way to a fortissimo (this loudness being rare in the Fauré Requiem), but with the composer’s great sensitivity to the text throughout the work—in this case the loudest volume accentuating the word perpetua, in the phrase “and light perpetual forever.”
Normally, the Requiem Mass would move next to the Gloria, the Gradual (with Alleluia), and the Creed (or in other versions to a season-specific Sequence), but Fauré moves directly to the Offertory, again very quietly and slowly. He also makes some edits to the traditional text, reflecting his own unassuming theology: perhaps most significantly, praying for the liberation of the souls of all of the dead, not just the faithful dead.
Next in the traditional order would come the Sanctus movement. Fauré adheres to this tradition, depicting the serenity of Heaven with harp and strings playing undulating arpeggios and higher voices of sopranos and tenors singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” in canon, as if in a call-and-response dialog among the choirs of angels. Eventually the “angelic” canon adds a stately, march-like series of “hosannas,” but quickly returns to a pianissimo ending, perhaps suggesting the distance at which we have heard this angelic song. While the traditional Sanctus includes the Benedictus, Fauré omits this, perhaps, in his understated elegance, reminding us that the angels are indeed already among the blessed.
IV. Pie Jesu
Yet another example of Fauré’s free and unique arrangement of the elements of traditional Requiem structure is this beautiful soprano solo (in Fauré’s time required to be sung by a boy for church performances of the Requiem). Instead of including the Pie Jesu text at the end of the traditional Dies irae (Day of Wrath) as part of the Sequence in Movement Two, Fauré highlights the Pie Jesu, giving it further emphasis by making it a stand-alone part of the Requiem proper. Still, however, this separate standing is consistent with the common practice of reserving the Pie Jesu for the burial rite at the graveside, after and apart from the Requiem itself. Fauré eventually includes a Dies irae, but in Movement Six, and even then in an abbreviated and relatively restrained form.
V. Agnus Dei
In its customary place in the Requiem structure is the Agnus Dei, to which Fauré adds remarkable textual and musical surprises. After the tenors open and close the traditional Agnus Dei (with four-part chorus in between),
Fauré re-emphasizes the plea for the granting of perpetual light in communion with the saints, this emphasis conveyed by perhaps the most startling of all choral elements in the work: downward chromatic chord progressions in two-measure intervals in six voice parts, resulting in one of the richest-sounding harmonic sequences in all choral literature. The movement ends in a quiet reprise of the opening chords from Movement One, perhaps a vestige of the fact that in the cumulative development of the entire work the movement that will follow—the Libera me—was the first movement Fauré drafted, even before he saw it as a part of the eventual Requiem. Thus, the “coming full circle” represented by the reprise of the opening that concludes the Agnus Dei might be seen as an ending-within-an-ending in Fauré’s structure.
VI. Libera Me
Instead of the traditional Communion movement Fauré next adds what might often have been a choral motet to come after the Requiem Mass. With increasing drama in both voices and instruments the music pleads for being spared the terrors of Judgment, climaxing in the traditional Dies irae we have come to expect (perhaps with some guilty pleasure?) in a Requiem. We think most likely here of the gigantic, shattering outbursts of the Verdi Requiem, but Fauré’s musical vision of these emotional horrors is so restrained as almost to be disappointing. That restraint is intentional, however, for Fauré wrote his Requiem at least a decade after Verdi’s version. That restraint continues to the end of the movement, with its diminuendo to pianissimo D Minor—in preparation for the happy G major of the ethereal In Paradisum that will conclude the Requiem.
VII. In Paradisum
Fauré closes with sublime serenity with a second vision of heaven. The In Paradisum is not normally part of the Mass itself, but instead a separate prayer often said (or sung) at the committal at the graveside. But in making this statement to close his Requiem Fauré re-asserts his hopeful view of the blessed release of death—and even more so his reassurance to the living communicated through the beauty of this musical depiction of the angels welcoming the procession of departed souls into Paradise.
God Shall Wipe Away All Tears (from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace) Karl Jenkins (b. 1944)
A high-water mark in the history of Griffin Choral Arts was its collaboration with the Griffin Ballet Theatre in the spring of 2010 in staging a ballet-enhanced version of Karl Jenkins’s oratorio The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, still—insofar as we know—the world premiere of such an ambitious staging (although several have been done elsewhere since 2013). Tonight we partly re-live that achievement, and in a way appropriate to tonight’s unique program, by presenting the ending of the final movement from Jenkins’s oratorio as a further “benediction” upon the spirit of the just-concluded Fauré Requiem.
Like the four-part chorale that concludes the typical Bach cantata, Jenkins’s chorale summarizes and adds reassuring commentary on everything that musically preceded it. The text is biblical, from Revelation 21:4, to which Jenkins appends a closing “Praise the Lord.”
The son of an organist/choirmaster in a seaside village in southern Wales, Karl Jenkins studied classical music at the University of Wales at Cardiff and as a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music in London. His musically eclectic spirit also led him into the fields of jazz and even rock, as a member of the well-known 1970’s band “Soft Machine” and eventually to be guiding force in the crossover world-music/new-age/pop Adiemus album-recording project. His credits include important successes in commercial music and film-scoring. He holds a Doctor of Music from the University of Wales and was awarded an additional honorary doctorate from the University of Leicester. In 2005 he was made Sir Karl Jenkins, appointed by Queen Elizabeth II to the Order of the British Empire.
Walk Together, Children Moses Hogan (1957-2003)
This is one of the most popular arrangements of traditional African-American spirituals by a preeminent interpreter of the form. Although in a very different context from the slave origins of the original spiritual, the text’s exhortation to “sing and never tire” might even be taken as encouragement for Griffin Choral Arts to continue its mission even farther into the future.
Born in New Orleans, Moses George Hogan began his musical education early in life, first enrolling in the Xavier University Junior School of Music. In his sophomore year of high school he was accepted into the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts High School and was in its first graduating class of 1975. Awarded a full scholarship to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, there he studied piano and graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Music. Immediately after graduation, he began graduate studies at The Juilliard School in New York and later went to study classical music in Vienna, Austria. During his piano performance years, Hogan won several competitions, including first place at the 28th Annual Kosciuszko Foundation Chopin Competition in New York.
Program notes by Bill Pasch, with thanks to Steve Mulder.