Become Part of the Journey

2013|14 LRMC Program Notes

Messiah

George Frideric Handel's (1685-1757) oratorio, Messiah (HWV 56), is indisputably one of the most popular and most frequently performed works in the choral repertoire. Composed in 1741, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens (1700-1773) from the King James Bible and from the Psalms included within the Book of Common Prayer, it was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742 and received its London premiere the following year.

Although the piece is often performed in a grand manner with full orchestra and large choir, Handel originally wrote Messiah for modest vocal and instrumental forces, and this performance by êkō honors those intentions, using a choir of forty voices accompanied by organ and continuo. The soloists are drawn from the ranks of the choir. The movements being presented are drawn from all three of the oratorio's sections: The text begins in Part I with prophecies by Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds. Part II concentrates on the Passion and Part III the resurrection of the dead and Christ's glorification in Heaven.

Handel was born in Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg, in 1685, and received his musical training in Halle, Hamburg, and Italy before settling in London in 1712. He became a naturalized British subject in 1727. Handel founded three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with opera, but later shifted his attention to middle class audiences and began composing the oratorios for which he is still celebrated, including Samson, Judas Maccabaeus, and, of course, Messiah. The prolific musician also composed some forty operas and enduring instrumental works, including Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Handel died in 1759, almost blind, but respected and rich. He is buried in London's Westminster Abbey.
  – Robert Weibezahl

Holiday Treasures

Brad Printz (1955-2005) was a Kansas City-based music educator and highly respected composer and arranger of choral music. His exhilarating arrangement of Sing With Joy, Sing Noel! (Personent Hodie), a fourteenth century German tune, adds a new English text to the traditional Latin and incorporates handbell accompaniment.

L'dor Vador, composed by Meir Finkelstein (b. 1951), is one of the most popular tunes heard in Jewish synagogues throughout the world. Born in Israel, the son of a cantor, Finkelstein went to London and received his degree from the Royal College of Music in singing, piano and composition. In 1982, he immigrated to the US and was appointed cantor at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, where he served for 18 years. He composed over 100 liturgical settings while also composing music for such television shows as Falcon Crest and Dynasty.

The prolific composer/arranger Moses Hogan (1957-2003) based Glory, Glory, Glory to the Newborn King on the spiritual Go Tell it on the Mountain. As with all of Hogan's choral settings, it showcases the remarkable compositional skills of this great arranger, who died tragically young of a brain tumor at age 45.

Perhaps one of the most popular Christmas songs from the last fifty years, Christmas Time is Here was written by Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) and Lee Mendelson (b. 1933) for the 1965 television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. It has been covered by a wide array of performers, including Diana Krall, Mel Tormé, Toni Braxton, Kenny Loggins, Take 6, Tony Bennett, Shawn Colvin, Chicago, and John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. This choral arrangement is by Steve Zegree, a professor of music at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and one of the most respected vocal jazz conductors and educators working today.

Alice Parker's (b. 1925) arrangements of Seven Carols for Christmas were commissioned by Robert Shaw (1916-1999) for his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses, and were first performed by them in December 1972. A national treasure, revered in the choral community, Parker was born in Boston and began composing early, writing her first orchestral score while still in high school. After graduating from Smith College with a degree in music performance and composition, she received her master's degree at Juilliard, where she studied conducting with Shaw and forged a long-term professional bond with the great conductor. Her arrangements with Shaw of folksongs, hymns, and spirituals form an enduring repertoire for choruses around the world. At 88, she continues to compose, as well as conduct and teach throughout the United States and Canada. Of these arrangements, Parker has written, "the tune and text of the carol are its foundation and glory: they must always be heard. These settings are essentially linear, rather than chordal; therefore the utmost effort should be made to sing and play melodies, rather than block harmonies. Contrapuntal lines in the chorus and accompaniment must complement, not obscure the melody. Careful observation of legato-staccato phrase and dynamic markings will aid greatly in bringing these carols to life: nothing however can replace the joyous desire to communicate their timeless message."

Parker's arrangement of Adeste Fideles (O come, all ye faithful), from Six Latin Christmas Hymns, was also commissioned by Shaw, and was premiered by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses on December 18, 1973.

The men sing one of the most famous and performed Christmas songs of all time, Do You Hear What I Hear?, arranged by Harry Simeone (1911-2005). It is always a welcome addition to a holiday program, but the male chorus version is particularly exciting.

There have been many arrangements of Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, the English-language version of the German Marian hymn, Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen, which dates from the 15th century and was harmonized by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) in 1609. This lovely version, a gentle gospel retelling of the German carol, was written by Shawn Kirchner (b. 1970) in 2006 for Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The second half of the program opens with the modern-day carol, Christmastime, which debuted on the 1998 holiday album of the same name by contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Michael W. Smith (b. 1957), a Billboard top ten and multiple Grammy®-winning recording artist. This arrangement by Heather Sorenson features some members of the chorale lending their talents to handbells.

No holiday concert would seem complete without the music of beloved English composer John Rutter (b. 1945). The lyrical Love Came Down at Christmas sets the poem by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). It was written in the late 1960s at the request of Oxford University Press. "I seem to remember that Christmas was approaching," says Rutter, "and OUP got to thinking that there'd been no new carol from me that year — so duly commissioned one!" Rutter himself provided both words and music for I Wish You Christmas, a heartfelt carol that conveys a universal message of peace, joy, and love for every day of the year.

The most famous song by American composer Robert MacGimsey (1898-1979), Sweet Little Jesus Boy was published in 1934. Born in Pineville, Louisiana, MacGimsey was Caucasian, but spent much of his childhood in the company of African Americans who worked for his family, which proved a great influence on the style of his music, which borrows much from African American traditions. This arrangement was made by the legendary Roger Wagner (1914-1992) for his equally legendary Roger Wagner Chorale (f. 1946).

The African American spiritual Go Tell it on the Mountain dates back to at least 1865 and was collected by John Wesley Work, Jr. (1871-1925) and published in his New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro (1907). Work was director of the renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers. This much-loved choral arrangement, often sung at Christmastime, is by Paul Sjolund.

Irving Berlin's (1888-1989) White Christmas is a standard that is known the world over. Born Israel Isidore Baline in the Russian Empire, Berlin emigrated with his family to New York City where he lived until he died at the age of 101 in 1989. One of the of the greatest song writers of all time, Berlin penned White Christmas in 1942 for the film Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby. It won the Academy Award for Best Music in an Original Song. Crosby's subsequent recording of the song remained the best-selling single in any music category for more than fifty years. Nearly as popular as the Berlin classic, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) was written by Mel Tormé (1925-1999) and Robert Wells (1922-1998) in 1944. According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer in an effort to "stay cool by thinking cool." Nat King Cole (1919-1965) recorded the song four times between 1946 and 1961, with the last, stereophonic version, now considered the definitive recording, although countless other performers have recorded it as well. This choral version, arranged by Walter Ehret (1918-2009), exploits the pop melody with close, jazz-influenced harmonies.

An enduring melody by Franz Xaver Gruber known the world over, this version of Silent Night is from Roger Wagner's Christmas Story according to Saint Luke. Arranged by Wagner in 1963 for a television special starring Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) and featuring the Roger Wagner Chorale, the rich harmonies based in four-part male writing supporting the melody in the women's voices remind us why Wagner's choral arrangements are particularly satisfying.

Brightest and Best, arranged by Shawn Kirchner, is a Southern Harmony (1835) hymn using a text by Reginald Heber (1811). Kirchner's setting employs much spirit and solid four-part male singing from the choir, and a rather demanding part for the piano accompaniment. Like all of Kirchner's arrangements, this piece was written with the singer in mind, so it sings easily and with much beauty.

Another modern carol from Michael W. Smith, All is Well first appeared on Smith's 1989 album, Christmas. Smith has called it his favorite tune on the album. "It's got so much emotion in it for me," he has said. "I had it on the road with me before I had a lyric, and it just made me cry in my room.... It makes me happy, and it makes me cry — sort of bittersweet. Originally, I was going to put it on the record as an instrumental, but then I gave it to six writers to come up with a lyric. It was Wayne Kirkpatrick (b. 1961) who came up with these words that were so peaceful and simple, just what the song needed." With the a cappella All on a Starry Night, composer Joseph Graham sets the words of J. Paul Williams (1937-2010), creating a gentle Nativity portrait that is expressive and harmonic, each chord shimmering like the stars themselves. A quote of Silent Night floats like a memory at the conclusion of the piece.

One of the most often heard Christmas carols, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing was written by hymnist Charles Wesley in the 18th century. Robert Hunter (1929-2001) arranged the song in 1988 as a commission, celebrating 75 years of Jesuit higher education in Los Angeles, for Loyola Marymount University at the request of its beloved Fr. Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D. (1921-1998). The arrangement, which brings our program to a close, demonstrates clearly the virtuosity of Hunter in setting a song simply, yet effectively, always evoking the rawest of human emotions from both singers as well as listeners.
  – Robert Weibezahl

Holiday Presence

Canadian composer Healey Willan (1880-1968) is best known for his sacred compositions and demonstrates a unique understanding and love of both plainchant and Renaissance music. Although the opening of Hodie Christus natus est is reminiscent of the famous Sweelinck version, the harmonic structure is clearly modern, especially in the development section.

Writing the Mass for Double Choir in the Directory of Choral Music, John Bawden notes, "There are some composers who do not achieve significant recognition until well into their thirties or forties, or even later. In the case of the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974), whose work was little heard until he was over fifty, the reasons were complex. Unlike his French contemporary, Olivier Messiaen, whose sensual, flamboyant music sprang from the unshakeable certainties of his Catholic religion, Martin, similarly devout but brought up at the opposite end of the Christian spectrum in the Calvinist tradition, experienced faith as a private, inner struggle which found its musical expression in an intensely personal style. He was a meticulous and extremely self-critical composer, and would lock away his manuscripts for long periods until he was certain that what he had written was capable of standing up to his own rigorous critique of its musical and intellectual basis. It took him many years to find his own distinctive musical voice, and it wasn't until 1941, when his oratorio Le Vin Herbé was performed for the first time, that he felt he had at last developed a style with which he could be satisfied. It was also his belief that his own compositional efforts paled into insignificance in comparison with the supreme genius of his great idol, Bach. All these factors helped to limit the opportunities for performances of his music The 1941 concert seemed to act as a catalyst, and thereafter his music became much more widely known.

"Martin was born in Geneva, the son of a Calvinist pastor, and by the age of eight he had started composing. When he was twelve he heard a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, an experience which left an indelible impression on him. Following his father's wishes, he eventually entered the University of Geneva to study mathematics and physics, but soon decided instead that he was going to devote himself entirely to his music. His unique style draws on a wide variety of influences, including Renaissance music, French Impressionism and Schoenberg's twelve-note system, but above all, Bach.

"The first four movements of the Mass for Double Choir were completed in 1922, the Agnus Dei added four years later, but Martin did not allow the work to be performed until 1963. After its premiere he explained why it had remained unseen and unheard for all those years. 'I considered it to be a matter between God and myself,' he wrote. 'I felt that a personal expression of religious belief should remain secret and hidden from public opinion.'

"Martin's Mass is notable for its flowing rhythmic and melodic vitality — always at the service of the words — and the juxtaposition of austere, restrained music, often based around a pedal note, with rich harmonic writing of considerable passion and great beauty. Although there are no actual plainsong themes in the work, the influence of Gregorian plainsong is never far away, not least at the very opening, where a simple, flowing alto line gradually unfolds, soon to be taken up by the sopranos and then supported by the full choirs.

"Unusually, the Gloria begins calmly, with accumulating chords announcing 'Gloria in excelsis Deo.' This leads into the movement proper, which after an energetic 'Quoniam' ends with a quiet 'Cum sancto' — another original touch. In the Sanctus, gently undulating chords from the tenors and basses support an eloquent, falling phrase from the sopranos. The climax of the movement, and one of the most powerful moments in the whole work, is the section from 'Pleni sunt coeli' through to the final, ecstatic 'Osanna.'

"The separation between the two choirs is most marked in the eloquent Agnus Dei, which Martin added in 1926. The second choir provides a steady rhythmic foundation, over which the first choir, mostly in unison, sings a plainsonglike melodic line that echoes the music of the opening Kyrie. The work reaches its peaceful conclusion with the two choirs combining for the final, heartfelt 'Dona nobis pacem.'

"Since its first performance in 1963, the reputation of Martin's Mass has steadily grown, and it is now recognized as one of the great masterpieces of unaccompanied choral music."*

The second half of the program begins with One Sweet Little Baby, an original gospel Christmas song by Wes Kinneson & Glenn McClure, and the first of three arrangements by LRMC favorite Shawn Kirchner (b.1970) being performed tonight. "I like Christmas because it's the time of year when you get to do what I wish we could do year-round, and that's fill our hearts and actions with joy, beauty and light," Kirchner says. "No one looks at you funny at Christmastime when you talk about and do such things. The music, the decorations, the generosity, and the sharing at Christmas are uplifting experiences. Joy, friendship, peace, and good will are magnified at Christmastime and no one thinks you're strange for wanting these things for everyone."

No holiday concert would seem complete without the music of beloved English composer John Rutter (b.1945). Rutter himself provided both words and music for I Wish You Christmas, a heartfelt carol that conveys a universal message of peace, joy, and love for every day of the year.

The prolific composer/arranger Moses Hogan (1957-2003) based Glory, Glory, Glory to the Newborn King on the spiritual Go Tell it on the Mountain. As with all of Hogan's choral settings, it showcases the remarkable compositional skills of this great arranger, who died tragically young of a brain tumor at age 45.

Irving Berlin's (1888-1989) White Christmas is a standard that is known the world over. Born Israel Isidore Baline in the Russian Empire, Berlin emigrated with his family to New York City where he lived until he died at the age of 101 in 1989. One of the of the greatest song writers of all time, Berlin penned White Christmas in 1942 for the film Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby. It won the Academy Award for Best Music in an Original Song. Crosby's subsequent recording of the song remained the best-selling single in any music category for more than fifty years.

Perhaps one of the most popular Christmas songs from the last fifty years, Christmas Time is Here was written by Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) and Lee Mendelson (b.1933) for the 1965 television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. It has been covered by a wide array of performers, including Diana Krall, Mel Tormé, Toni Braxton, Kenny Loggins, Take 6, Tony Bennett, Shawn Colvin, Chicago, and John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. This choral arrangement is by Steve Zegree, a professor of music at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and one of the most respected vocal jazz conductors and educators working today.

A modern carol from Michael W. Smith (b.1957), All is Well first appeared on Smith's 1989 album, Christmas. Smith has called it his favorite tune on the album. "It's got so much emotion in it for me," he has said. "I had it on the road with me before I had a lyric, and it just made me cry in my room.... It makes me happy, and it makes me cry — sort of bittersweet. Originally, I was going to put it on the record as an instrumental, but then I gave it to six writers to come up with a lyric. It was Wayne Kirkpatrick (b.1961) who came up with these words that were so peaceful and simple, just what the song needed." With the a cappella All on a Starry Night, composer Joseph Graham sets the words of J. Paul Williams (1937-2010), creating a gentle Nativity portrait that is expressive and harmonic, each chord shimmering like the stars themselves. A quote of Silent Night floats like a memory at the conclusion of the piece.

The African American spiritual Go Tell it on the Mountain dates back to at least 1865 and was collected by John Wesley Work, Jr. (1871-1925) and published in his New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro (1907). Work was director of the renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers. This much-loved choral arrangement, often sung at Christmastime, is by Paul Sjolund.

Who am I, O child of wonder? is another contemporary carol arranged by Shawn Kirchner, with music by Michael J. Lewis and a text by Ryan Harrison.

The most famous song by American composer Robert MacGimsey (1898-1979), Sweet Little Jesus Boy was published in 1934. Born in Pineville, Louisiana, MacGimsey was Caucasian, but spent much of his childhood in the company of African Americans who worked for his family, which proved a great influence on the style of his music, which borrows much from African American traditions. This arrangement was made by the legendary Roger Wagner (1914-1992) for his equally legendary Roger Wagner Chorale (f.1946).

The men sing one of the most famous and performed Christmas songs of all time, Do You Hear What I Hear?, arranged by Harry Simeone (1911-2005). It is always a welcome addition to a holiday program, but the male chorus version is particularly exciting.

The chorale is proud to present the world premiere of The Christ Child, a new carol by 19-year-old Giorgio Navarini, the youngest-ever winner of Los Robles Master Chorale's Young Artist Choral Composer Competition. The carol sets a poem by English theologian, poet, and critic G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). Navarini says, "The piece is in G minor, retaining elements of parallel fifths (organum) and dissonance, two of my favorite harmonic structures. The chordal structure is intended to invoke the depth, mystery, and ethereal joy of the Nativity story." Among his influences as a composer, Navarini cites Gregorian chant, Palestrina, Eric Whitacre, John Rutter, and John Williams. The young composer continues to write carols and works of similar style. His recent compositions include an eight-part communion anthem, The Voice Divine, and a twelve-part arrangement of the hymn, How Great Thou Art.

There have been many arrangements of Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, the English-language version of the German Marian hymn, Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen, which dates from the 15th century and was harmonized by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) in 1609. This lovely version, a gentle gospel retelling of the German carol, was written by Shawn Kirchner in 2006 for Los Angeles Master Chorale.

One of the most often heard Christmas carols, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing! was written by hymnist Charles Wesley in the 18th century. Robert Hunter (1929-2001) arranged the song in 1988 as a commission, celebrating 75 years of Jesuit higher education in Los Angeles, for Loyola Marymount University at the request of its beloved Fr. Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D. 1921-1998). The arrangement, which brings our program to a close, demonstrates clearly the virtuosity of Hunter in setting a song simply, yet effectively, always evoking the rawest of human emotions from both singers as well as listeners.
  – Robert Weibezahl

*Notes on Frank Martin's Mass for Double Choir © John Bawden, reprinted by permission http://www.directoryofchoralmusic.co.uk

One In Song

Moses Hogan's (1957 - 2003) vigorous, percussive setting of the traditional spiritual The Battle of Jericho dates from 1996 and is a showcase for the remarkable compositional skills of this great choral arranger, who died tragically young of a brain tumor at age 45.

Io son la primavera, by American composer William Hawley (b. 1950), sets a poem by Torquato Tasso (1544 - 1595). A contemporary of Palestrina, Tasso was heralded as the most brilliant poet of his time, and his influence upon the world of writing in Italy lasted well into the 19th century. The words of Io son la primavera are from Tasso's most famous work, Rimario della Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), written in 1575. The epic work is a poem telling the fictional tale of the Christian knight, Rinaldo, and his part in the First Crusade. Over the centuries, the work has been adapted into operas and cantatas by such composers as Monteverdi, Handel, Vivaldi, Gluck, Rossini, Brahms, and Dvorak. Beginning his creative life primarily as an instrumental composer, William Hawley has gradually found his work assuming a deeper expression in the realm of vocal music. Through the illustration and illumination of poetry in sound, Hawley feels vocal music has through the ages borne the ability to elevate and enlighten the human mind and spirit.

The much-loved English madrigal, Weep O Mine Eyes, was published by John Bennet (c. 1575 - after 1614) in his first collection in 1599. A homage to John Dowland (1563 - 1626), it uses part of Dowland's Flow My Tears, also known in its pavane form as Lachrymae Antiquae.

Dirait-on is part of a cycle Les Chansons des Roses by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) on poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926). Lauridsen has written, "In addition to his vast output of German poetry, Rilke wrote nearly 400 poems in French. His French 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 these characteristics and capture their delicate beauty and sensuousness. Distinct melodic and harmonic materials recur throughout the cycle. The final piece, Dirait-on, is composed as a tuneful chanson populaire, or folksong, that weaves together two melodic ideas first heard in fragmentary form in preceding movements." Les Chansons des Roses was composed for the Portland, Oregon-based chamber chorus, Choral Cross-Ties, conducted by Bruce Browne, who gave the premiere on April 23, 1993.

Unclouded Day is a wonderfully reimagined setting by Shawn Kirchner (b. 1970) of the gospel favorite by the itinerant preacher Josiah Kelly Atwood (1828-1909). It is one of Kirchner's "bluegrass triptych" of choral arrangements of American gospel hymns collectively titled Heavenly Home. Kirchner explains that he added "Dolly Parton harmonies" for the women into the mix, along with a "bluegrass fugue" for the third verse.

Immortal Bach (1988), by Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt (b.1915), is modeled on Bach's chorale "Komm, süsser Tod" ("Come, Sweet Death"), and is a deconstruction of the piece for a cappella choir. The choir begins by singing the chorale as it was written by Bach; then, the choir is divided into five sections and each sings through each of the three phrases again. But this time, each vocal section moves at a different slow pace through the phrase, so that all of the parts move independently of the others. At the end of each phrase, all the parts come to rest on the final chord; there is a pause, and the next phrase begins. As the parts combine in different ways, new sonorities and dissonances are created.

Regarding the next piece on the program, Lesley Leighton has written, "Marcos Leite's (b.1953) remarkably interesting and entertaining Tres Cantos Nativos dos Indios Kraó, incorporates three separate songs. "Primeiro Canto" features rhythms, sounds and percussion that the composer envisioned as part of the Amazon rainforest, complete with animal calls supplied by the women of the choir.

The hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, was written by Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748), and published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707. Watts is generally recognized as the Father of English Hymnody, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross is considered by many to be his greatest hymn. The compositions in Hymns and Spiritual Songs were a daring departure because at the time it was the practice of the Church of England to sing only Old Testament psalms in public worship. In his preface, Watts defends his writing of this new kind of sacred music: "Many Ministers and many private Christians have long groaned under this Inconvenience, and have wished rather than attempted a Reformation: At their importunate and repeated Requests I have for some Years past devoted many Hours of leisure to this Service. Far be it from my Thoughts to lay aside the Psalms of David in public Worship; few can pretend so great a Value for them as my self…. But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand Lines in it which were not made for a Saint in our Day, to assume as his own; There are also many deficiencies of Light and Glory which our Lord Jesus and his Apostles have supplied in the Writings of the New Testament; and with this Advantage I have composed these spiritual Songs which are now presented to the World." Watts's giftedness for writing hymns, combined with his courage in publishing them, would eventually turn the tide against singing only psalms and set a new standard for Christian worship in the English language.
  – Robert Weibezahl

From the age of nine Gabriel Fauré (1845 - 1924) studied music at the École Niedermeyer, the "École de musique religieuse et classique" where Saint-Saëns was a member of staff. Saint-Saëns was regarded as a progressive teacher, introducing his pupils not only to the music of Bach and Mozart but also to controversial composers such as Wagner and Liszt. Unlike most major French composers, Fauré did not attend the Paris Conservatoire but continued his studies with Saint-Saëns, who greatly encouraged him by putting work his way and helping him to get his music published. The two became lifelong friends and Faurè later said that he owed everything to Saint-Saëns.

Fauré was a fine organist and in 1896 was appointed to the prestigious Madeleine church in Paris. He was also an excellent teacher, and perhaps because of his renowned expertise in these roles only slowly gained recognition as a composer. He eventually became professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire, and its Director from 1905 to 1920. Although he wrote several works involving a full orchestra, his particular talent lay within the more intimate musical forms — songs, piano music and chamber music. His somewhat austere style and highly individual, impressionistic harmonic language contrasts markedly with the music of the Austro-German tradition which dominated European music from the time of Beethoven until well into the twentieth century.

The subtlety of Fauré's music, and his concentration on the small-scale, led many to criticize him for lacking depth, a judgment based on the mistaken premise that the bigger and bolder a composer's music the more worthwhile it must be. Fauré deliberately avoided the grander kind of orchestral music that could easily have brought him fame and fortune. He preferred instead to embrace an elegant and subtle musical language that eventually won him increasing numbers of admirers, particularly as a composer of songs, a genre in which he is now recognized as a master.

The Requiem was composed in 1888, when Fauré was in his forties, quite probably in response to the recent death of his father. Shortly after its first performance, Fauré's mother also died, giving the work an added poignancy. In 1900, under some pressure from his publishers, he reluctantly agreed to the release of a revised version containing additional instrumental parts designed to broaden the work's appeal. Nowadays it is such a firm favorite that it comes as a surprise to learn that it did not gain widespread popularity until the 1950s.

In its sequence of movements the Requiem departs significantly from the standard liturgical text. Fauré included two new sections, the lyrical Pie Jesu and the transcendent In Paradisum, with its soaring vocal line and murmuring harp accompaniment. He also omitted the Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum – for most composers an opportunity to exploit to the full the dramatic possibilities of all the available choral and orchestral forces. Consequently the prevailing mood is one of peacefulness and serenity, and the work has often been described, quite justly, as a Requiem without the Last Judgment.

Of the many settings of the Requiem, this is probably the most widely loved. In comparison with the large-scale masterpieces of Verdi, Brahms and Berlioz, Fauré's setting seems gentle and unassuming, yet it is this very quality of understatement which contributes so eloquently to the work's universal appeal. Whether the Requiem is performed in one of its orchestral versions or simply with organ accompaniment, it is impossible not to be moved by the ethereal beauty of this humble masterpiece.

Though he is perhaps best known for his carols and other short pieces, John Rutter (b. 1945) also has a number of large-scale works for chorus and orchestra to his name. Most of these received their first performances in the United States, where Rutter is a frequent visitor, writing regularly for American choirs and conducting performances of his own music. The Mass of the Children received its premiere in Carnegie Hall, New York, in February 2003, and the first UK performance followed a month later in Guildford Cathedral, the composer conducting on both occasions. The work is scored for adult mixed choir, children's choir, soprano and baritone soloists and orchestra. The Mass is a Missa Brevis – a Latin Mass without a Credo – in five movements. Several additional English texts are also included, and these form a progression from waking to sleeping that runs through the work as a counterpart to the liturgy of the conventional Mass text.

The piece does not begin immediately with the Kyrie Eleison but, in keeping with the "waking to sleeping" theme, opens with the children's choir singing lines from Bishop Thomas Ken's fine morning hymn, Awake, my soul, and with the sun, written in about 1674 for the scholars of Winchester College. After the Kyrie comes an exuberant Gloria featuring energetic, unequal rhythms that are typical of Rutter at his liveliest, and then a complete change of mood is introduced with the gently lilting harmonies of the Sanctus and Benedictus. The Agnus Dei text is divided between the fourth and fifth movements, with the first part being followed by William Blake's moving poem, The Lamb, sung by the children's choir. The final movement begins with two prayers by John Rutter, for the baritone and soprano soloists, based on verses by Lancelot Andrewes and St. Patrick. The Mass now returns to the poetry of Bishop Ken. In one of Rutter's most inspired passages the beautiful evening hymn, Glory to thee, my God, this night is sung by the children to the sublime melody of Tallis's Canon while the adults chant 'Dona nobis pacem' (Grant us thy peace). Finally the choirs are joined by the soloists, and the combined voices gradually bring the work to its peaceful conclusion.

The idea of combining a children's choir with an adult one is of course nothing new, but most of these works tend to treat the young voices as a subsidiary musical resource. In his Mass of the Children, however, the composer has given the children's choir a central part to play. It is they, not the adults, who are heard at the very outset, and their role throughout is integral to the overall concept of the Mass. As always with Rutter, the music is beautifully written for the voices and superbly orchestrated. His skilful writing for soloists, choirs and orchestra and his sensitive interweaving of the various Latin and English texts has resulted in one of his finest and most moving works.
  – John Bawden, from A Directory of Choral Music
© John Bawden, reprinted by permission http://www.directoryofchoralmusic.co.uk

Imaginations Unleashed

The music of Russian composer Alexander Gretchaninov (1864-1956) has largely been neglected in the West, although he was highly regarded in his homeland during his lifetime He studied at the Moscow Conservatory, and later with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) in St. Petersburg. A prominent member of the early twentieth century movement known as the "New Russian Choral School," he arranged many songs of ethnic origin for children, producing several popular numbers and giving him great prominence among Russian composers. He was awarded a yearly stipend by the Tsar, but lost it after the Bolshevik Revolution. Feeling his religious and political convictions were at odds with those of the Communist regime, he emigrated to Paris in 1925 and to the United States in 1939. He became a United States citizen in 1949 at the age of 85.

The chorale will perform six movements from Gretchaninov's monumental thirteen-movement Passion Week, Op. 58. Composed in 1911-12, it premiered in November 1912 and was performed a few months later in St. Petersburg, but then received no further complete performances until the 1990s. It has remained virtually unknown in the United States and Europe. Setting Old Slavonic texts used during Holy Week services, Passion Week is not a liturgical work, per se, but rather a set of choruses in which Gretchaninov stretches his choral writing beyond the strictures of the Eastern Orthodox service. Gretchaninov's opulent use of color, texture and vocal range display why the composer himself referred to the piece as "exhausting all the technical means which the unaccompanied chorus can render."

Of his Los Robles Master Chorale commission, Jordan Nelson (b.1984) writes, "On This Hill is scored for choir (SSATB), piano, and percussion, and specifically features the vibraphone. Comprising three large sections, the piece's text comes from State of the Union addresses of three of our former presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. In choosing the texts, I sought phrases and messages that, despite being from political speeches, do not themselves express a political statement, but rather an emotional and/or universal human message. The final section, for instance, uses these words from Reagan's 1986 address: "We've come this far. Will you join me now…?"

On This Hill is the second world premiere of a Jordan Nelson piece by Los Robles Master Chorale. êkō gave the first performance of his song, Even in the barn's shade, a winner of LRMC's Young Artist Choral Composer Competition, in March 2013.

"When Lesley Leighton approached me about a possible commission for LRMC, there grew immediate apprehension in my mind," writes composer Jasper Randall (b.1974) about i love you much. "I'd never written anything to this degree chorally before, much less for any organization with such a prestigious heritage. My primary work up to this point has been scoring films, commercials, and similar multimedia – things behind the scenes – where one can hide (and avoid such things as writing notes explaining why one chose to write what one did.) Rarely does such musical accountability occur in the life of a film composer.

"Over the course of many months, Lesley and I discussed numerous possible projects, looking for ways to best bring what I do as a composer into this work. Some ideas were simple, some more complex, but it was when I mentioned my love for e e cummings's work in one conversation that we found the answer – a cycle of songs written to his poetry, each song themed with the most universal of all topics: love.

"I chose the poems i love you much (most beautiful darling), love is more thicker than forget, and i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) based on what I'm most drawn to in cummings's work: their simplicity, their honesty, and their absolute beauty of text. When I was first exposed to his poetry, I was taken aback by its brazen innocence and straightforwardness. The way in which he writes immediately drew me in – even the unconventional formatting and visual layout. Surely something so simple could not be so effective. But it was, and it is.

"In setting these poems to music, one of my main concerns was that I not overshadow in any way the simplicity with which cummings conveys his message. I certainly did not want to drown his gentle works with musical grandstanding, but instead to complement them in the truest and most sensitive way I knew possible. They deserved nothing less, yet nothing more.

"My overall goal has been to create warm sounds, inviting harmonies and simple melodies in order to complement the text and, ultimately, entice the listener. I wanted the music and text to flow over the listener, much like love itself, when it is truly felt. And my intention was not to write for the sake of intellectual stimulation, but instead to preserve the emotional connection and enjoyment of the beautiful words each poem contains. If there is any ‘wish', so to speak, it would be, more so than anything else, that by the conclusion of the cycle the listener's heart has been touched.

"Simply put, this is my interpretation of love, in musical form. And while the word itself can be quite subjective, my hope is that from within this interpretation comes familiarity and ultimately, peace, to you, the listener."


Make a contribution online now
Join our mailing list to be invited to donor events and benefits
Mailing address to contribute by check
EZ Fundraisers

Copyright © Los Robles Master Chorale