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2014|15 LRMC Program Notes


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

A Joyful Noise!

Hodie Christus natus est is the antiphon for Vespers of Christmas Day. It could be sung both preceding and following the Magnificat in the service. The chant is of the ancient church and can be found in its original form in the Liber Usualis (Common Book), the single volume which contains the prefaces, readings, chants, and hymns of the Latin Mass and the Offices.
  – Karen Listick

Gaudete is a sacred Christmas carol composed in the sixteenth century and fist published in 1582 in Piae Cantiones, a collection of Finnish/Swedish sacred songs. The Latin text is a typical medieval song of praise, which follows the standard pattern for the time: a uniform series of four-line stanzas, each preceded by a two-line refrain. No musical notation is given for the verses, but the standard tune comes from an older liturgical book.
  – Lesley Leighton and Robert Weibezahl

Based on an English folk song that some have dated as early as the 14th century, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day has been set by numerous composers, including Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky, and John Rutter. The most well-known version is John Gardner's (1917-2011), which has been so popular that it risks overshadowing his 300 other compositions. In the song, Christ speaks of his incarnation as His "dancing day," from the nativity to His baptism. Highly syncopated, the words flow as steps in a dance.
  – Daniel Ruth

The Magnificat, also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary, is a canticle frequently sung or spoken liturgically in Christian church services. The text of the canticle is taken directly from the Gospel of Luke where it is spoken by the Virgin Mary upon the occasion of her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. In the narrative, after Mary greets Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the future John the Baptist, the child moves within Elizabeth's womb. When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings what is now known as the Magnificat in response. René Clausen (b. 1953) was raised in California, and educated at St. Olaf's College in Minnesota and at the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana. For the past two and a half decades he has been the conductor of the Concordia Choir from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, which recorded several of Clausen's works, including the Magnificat, and received three Grammy® awards in 2013. Many of Clausen's compositions feature "tone clusters," typically three adjacent notes, creating dissonance that enriches the traditional chord progressions. It is a technique used by composers as varied as Scott Joplin and Charles Ives, and can be heard in Magnificat.
  – Karen Listick and Daniel Ruth

Written in 1963, the Nativity Carol was one of John Rutter's (b. 1945) earliest pieces. It was published in 1967 with organ accompaniment and later scored for strings by the composer. Considered by many to be the leading choral composer of his generation, Rutter was the son of an industrial chemist and grew up over a pub in London. He studied music at Clare College, Cambridge, and later became the College's Director of Music. There he formed the Cambridge Singers, which he has taken to prominence, recording principally under his own recording label. He is in great demand worldwide as a conductor, and his work, which is both choral and instrumental, includes the familiar All Things Bright and Beautiful. He was commissioned to write "This is the day which the Lord hath made", for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. His music is frequently performed by church choirs and chorales worldwide.
  – Karen Listick and Daniel Ruth

Like many other choral pieces, the origins of Paul Manz' (1919-2009) E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come are as dramatic as the work itself. The Advent motet was composed in 1953, based on a text from Revelations that Manz' wife, Ruth, suggested at a time when their three-year-old son was critically ill. The boy recovered, and the choral work went on to become Manz' most famous opus among numerous choral and organ compositions. A longtime composer, teacher, and cantor in Chicago and Minneapolis, Manz founded the Paul Manz Institute of Church Music, and was Professor Emeritus of Church Music at Christ Seminary Seminex at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.
  – Daniel Ruth

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 version was arranged by Don Crandall, a former tenor in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1963-65), who wrote the arrangement with Paul Salamunovich (1927-2014) in mind – at least according to Salamunovich. Don A. Crandall (1933-1971) was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona, and studied music at Brigham Young University in the 1950s, eventually heading back to Arizona to become a music teacher. He periodically visited Salamunovich and his St. Charles Church Choir in North Hollywood throughout the 1960s. Crandall was tragically killed in an automobile accident in San Diego, California in 1971 at the age of 37.
  – Lesley Leighton and Robert Weibezahl, with thanks to Judy
    O'Sullivan for helping piece together Crandall's background

Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) wrote the text to Stille Nacht, one of the most well-known Christmas carols of all time, in the form of a poem in 1816. Franz Gruber (1787-1863) composed the melody to fit the text in a schoolhouse in Arnsdorf, on Christmas eve, 1818. The carol premiered on Christmas Eve, 1818 in the St. Nicholas Church of Oberndorf near Salzburg, sung by Gruber and Mohr. Mohr wrote the words in response to the devastation he witnessed during the close of the Napoleonic wars (1792-1815), which split apart lands and families that had for centuries prospered and flourished. Randall's setting evokes the simplicity in the first verse of what must have been the first performance – unison statements of melody and a duet between two voices. He then fleshes out the idea using modern tonality, mostly set apart by major and minor seconds in the tonic, dominant and sub-dominant chords, creating a thick and satisfying texture for the entire chorus. Tonight marks the world premiere performance of Stille Nacht, by LRMC's Composer in Residence, Jasper Randall.
  – Lesley Leighton

A traditional carol derived from Greensleeves, I Saw Three Ships describes the three wise men visiting Bethlehem, even though the nearest body of water was 20 miles away. Earliest texts from the Middle Ages allude to the arrival in Cologne, Germany, of three ships carrying the relics of the wise men. The version performed this evening was written for the Brigham Young University Concert Choir by Mack Wilberg (b. 1955), current director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
  – Daniel Ruth

Swingle Bells VIII is a "scat" version of Deck the Halls combined with What Child is This? arranged by Ward Swingle (b. 1927). Strongly influenced by the jazz environment of New Orleans and his hometown Mobile, Swingle moved to Paris after graduating from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and created the Swingle Singers, an eight-member a cappella choral group that applied his unique harmonies and syncopation to everything from Bach and pop to Christmas carols. Formed fity years ago, Swingle's group won five Grammy® Awards, earning for their creator "Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" recognition from the French government. Swingle lives in France, where he continues to arrange and teach.
  – Daniel Ruth

Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head is a folk song written by John Jacob Niles (1892-1980) that Salli Terri arranged and sang for the Wagner Chorale in the 1950s, recorded in Studio A at Capitol® Records for the Joy to the World album. Grammy® Award winner Salli Terri (1922-1996) was a soloist and arranger for the Roger Wagner Chorale (f. 1946) beginning in 1953. She also recorded several solo albums, including the particularly memorable Conversations with Guitar with Laurindo Almeida (1917-1995), and was widely known for her renditions of folk songs.
  – Lesley Leighton and Robert Weibezahl

The First Nowell (from the Latin for "nativity") dates from as early as the 1700s. This 1981 arrangement was written by Stephen Paulus (1949-1992). Originally from Minnesota, Paulus was a prolifi composer, credited with 13 operas, 60 orchestral works, and over 400 choral works. This was one of several pieces he wrote for the Dale Warland Singers of St. Paul. Paulus tragically passed away this past October from complications of a stroke he suffered last year. He composed more than 500 works, many of them choral. We dedicate our performance of this work this evening to his memory.
  – Daniel Ruth

Sweet Little Jesus Boy, the most famous song by American composer Robert MacGimsey (1898-1979), 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 written by the legendary Roger Wagner (1914-1992) for his equally legendary Roger Wagner Chorale (f. 1946).
  – Robert Weibezahl

Riu, Riu, Chiu is a villancico, an Iberian form of Christmas carol dating from the late Middle Ages. The carol itself is said to have been the call of Basque shepherds to their flocks, hence the refrain, "Riu, riu, chiu, Shepherd at the river, guard us from the wolf, your people to deliver." The song suggests the Virgin Mary as the lamb, Satan as the wolf, and God the Father as the shepherd protecting the lamb.
  – Daniel Ruth

Roger Folstrom's (b. 1934) arrangement of A La Nanita Nana, a traditional Spanish carol, showcases the flowing melodic line by writing it in canon, as a duet, also with the lower voices acting as a guitar accompaniment. This version states the melody fist in Spanish and then in English, finally mixing the two in the end, creating a macaronic language.
  – Lesley Leighton

Perhaps one of the most popular Christmas songs from the last fity 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.
  – Robert Weibezahl

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 defiitive recording, although countless other performers have recorded it as well.
  – Robert Weibezahl

This arrangement of Merry Christmas, Darling was arranged by Mac Huff, a Los Angeles-based arranger and composer who has produced scores for a broad variety of venues, including television, theater (The Producers, Bye Bye Birdie, Hairspray), Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and corporate videos (his "The PCR Song" was nominated for best Viral Video at the Cannes International Advertising Festival). Richard Carpenter of the famed brother/sister duo, The Carpenters, wrote the original song, and Frank Pooler, who was choir director at California State University, Long Beach and who mentored Karen and Richard Carpenter when the siblings were students at the university, wrote the lyrics. It was recorded in 1970 and was the number one single on Billboard’s Christmas singles chart for three years.
  – Karen Listick and Daniel Ruth

He is Born is derived from the French traditional carol, Il Est Né, which was first published in 1862 by R. Grosjean, organist of the Cathedral of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, in a collection of carols entitled "Airs des noêl lorrains." The text of the carol was published for the fist time in a collection of ancient carols, published in either 1875 or 1876 by Dom G. Legeay. This arrangement is by Roger Wagner (1914-1992), who was born into a musical family in France in 1914. Wagner was a member of France's decathlon team in the 1936 Olympics while serving in the French Army. He later established himself in Los Angeles as one of our country's premier conductors and arrangers and creator of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Roger Wagner Chorale.
  – Karen Listick and Daniel Ruth

Essentially a traditional holiday drinking song, Wassail Song of Gloucestershire has deep roots in the Middle Ages in cider-producing countries, where it would be sung to toast to a good apple harvest the following year. By the 1600s in England, the ritual had evolved into singers going from door to door with a large, decorated bowl, usually filed with liquor, to offer good cheer ("waes hail") and hope for a donation. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed this piece in 1913 as part of Five English Folk Songs, possibly for a festival competition. Vaughan Williams previously created piano accompaniment for folk songs he had researched, but in these pieces he began to take more liberties with form and style to great effect.
  – Daniel Ruth

Adapted from a Spanish carol, The Gift Carol was written by Lloyd Pfautsch (1921-2003) and his daughter, Debby. The lyrics to the song ask, "What shall I bring to the Babe in the manger? What shall I give to the beautiful Boy?" As a graduate student, Pfautsch sang with the NBC radio chorus and with the Robert Shaw Chorale, where he met his wife, Edith, who also sang with Shaw. A long-time professor and dean at Southern Methodist University, where he founded the school's graduate program in choral conducting, Pfautsch was widely published and helped make Dallas, Texas, a national center of choral music. During the late 20th century his anthems were performed regularly in churches across the country, and his students provided choral direction in churches, colleges, and universities globally.
  – Daniel Ruth

One of the most often-heard Christmas carols, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing! was written by hymnist Charles Wesley in the 18th century, and appeared in 1739 in Hymns and Sacred Poems. Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) reset the text to the tune we all know in 1840 as part of a cantata commemorating Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. 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). This 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.
  – Lesley Leighton and Robert Weibezahl

Duruflé Requiem

Requiem  Maurice Duruflé (1902 - 1986)
Like his mentor, Dukas, Duruflé was incredibly self-effacing and spent considerable time re-working his compositions until they achieved what he felt was the correct level of perfection; in fact, there are only 14 published Opus numbers to his name. Duruflé's early musical training was at the cathedral in Rouen where there was a famous school of Gregorian chant. This repertory of liturgical song had become something of a French speciality in the 19th century, and among the scholars working on the chants were a group of Benedictines at the French monastery of Solesmes, who developed a theory of chant rhythm as a free succession of notes of mostly equal value in groups of two and three.

The Solesmes school of chant restoration and performance achieved widespread acceptance in the Catholic church and even some Protestant congregations. After a thorough steeping in this tradition, Duruflé came to Paris and studied at the Conservatoire, where he confronted the tradition of Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. When he came to write his Requiem in 1947, like the earliest composers of polyphonic Requiems, Duruflé took the Gregorian plainchant Mass for the Dead as his raw material. His declared intention was "to reconcile, as far as possible, Gregorian rhythm...with the exigencies of modern meter." That is, he did not transcribe literally the original melodies with their irregular alternation of twos and threes; he adjusted the rhythms subtly so that larger metric patterns emerge, but still he allowed the meter to shift frequently so that a sense of spontaneity is preserved. At the same time, he clothed the sometimes archaic-sounding melodies in sophisticated harmonies of the early modern school. Although he came from a different liturgical tradition, Duruflé used similar texts to those used by Fauré in his Requiem.

The piece is in the true tendresse style, leaving out the chilling full Dies Irae and accentuating the aspect of forgiveness through the inclusion of a separate Pie Jesu and through constant repetition of the phrase "Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine." Duruflé published the Requiem in three versions: for organ alone; for full orchestra; and for organ and string quintet with harp, trumpets, and timpani ad libitum.
  – Barry Creasy, Chairman, Collegium Musicum of London

Alleluia  Jasper Randall (b. 1974)
While discussing this commission with Artistic Director Lesley Leighton, it was not lost on me the immense responsibility of being programmed between two such well-known masterpieces of choral writing - Duruflé's Requiem and Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor. With that very much in mind, my idea then was not to in any way attempt to compete with them, but rather to create a "bridge" of sorts. And while I would not ever want to take the listener away from the mood so wonderfully created by these masterpieces, I did, however, want to create something that might compliment them and yet still remain within itself distinct - an aural "palette cleanser" of sorts, if you will.

I, too, wanted to remain sacred yet unobtrusive to the historical text of both the Requiem and Mass. For that reason, I felt best to focus on the one word I felt most relative between them - Alleluia. Sacred music is, after all, written for that very reason - to praise and honor the Creator - our creator. It seemed to be a just fit.

Alleluia is a picture of heaven. It is the sound of the "great multitude," welcoming the faithful home - to a place of beauty, wonder, and eternal peace.

You awake, as if from a dream, to a place of warmth and stillness. From the distance, a chorus sings. First softly, then slowly building both in volume and texture. As you begin to sense your surroundings, a world of light and beauty comes into view around you. In the distance is a city of immense size and grandeur. As you walk towards it - drawn towards it - the heavenly chorus multiplies and broadens.

As you enter through the gates of the city, the tone suddenly changes. Surrounding you are sights and wonders never seen before by the human eye. Angels and creatures yet imagined fly overhead. And in front of you are two immense doors - leading to the inner chamber - the holy of holies.

Suddenly, with loud exclamation, the inner doors open and you find yourself in the presence of God himself. There is a flood of light and glory as you enter the presence of the creator of life.

As you find yourself now standing in the presence of what was, and is, and is to come, an immense feeling of peace and warmth surrounds you. You are home.
  – Jasper Randall

Mass in G minor  Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1958)
Vaughan Williams was born in Gloucestershire, but always considered himself a Londoner. He grew up in an intellectually stimulating household (among his interesting relatives was great uncle Charles Darwin) and was given early solid musical training by an aunt. As a schoolboy, he was drawn to composition, and as his education expanded from Trinity College, Cambridge, the Royal College of Music, to studying with Bruch in Berlin, and Ravel in Paris. Vaughan Williams realized that his metier was for national music. Rather than imitate foreign models, he drew upon historical English sources: early hymnody, folksong, Elizabethan and Jacobean music. He developed a philosophy of English national music expressed in essays Who Wants the English Composer? and National Music. The esteem that he held for traditions allowed the composer, a professed atheist (later a content agnostic) total comfort in composing music for the church as well as editing the celebrated English Hymnal (1906).

The period following his military service during WWI was an intensely creative one for Vaughan Williams. Several religious works including the Mass in G minor come from this period. Indeed, composing choral music, particularly that for amateurs and for special occasions (such as Queen Elizabeth II's coronation service) held a place of great importance for him throughout his long compositional life. Vaughan Williams welcomed few official honors in his life, but after deep soul searching, did agree to accept the Order of Merit in 1935. In addition to his splendid compositions, his place of honor is assured in the placement of his tomb near those of Purcell and Stanford in Westminster Abbey.

It was the inspiration of two choirs and their conductors that led to the creation of the Mass in G minor. One was the Whitsuntide Singers, a student/amateur choir organized by the composer's great friend and colleague in the English music revival, Gustav Holst. The other was the magnificent choir of Westminster Cathedral (the Roman Catholic cathedral in London), that had revived works of Taverner, Tye, Tallis, and Byrd under the leadership of R.R. Terry. Although written for Holst and his singers, both choirs received and performed the work after its premiere by the City of Birmingham Choir, December 6, 1922. Written for liturgical use, and best experienced in the live acoustics of a church or cathedral, the mass received its first hearing in that setting in Westminster Cathedral, March 12, 1923, conducted by Terry. The work is set a cappella in Latin for double chorus with a quartet of soloists. Ever the pragmatist, Vaughan Williams supplied an organ part (specified for musical emergencies only) and an English version, Communion Service in G minor. The Kyrie begins with a single alto line, the other voices joining in turn to build a contrapuntal richness so characteristic of the composer as well as the Tudor masters he so admired. Listen for soaring melodies and the masterful use of antiphonal interplay between the choirs and the soloists. The opening theme of the Kyrie returns in the Agnus Dei leading to a peaceful close.
  – Linda Mack, Associate Professor of Library Science, Emerita
    St. Andrews University

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