Bristow & Daniel

George Frederick Bristow and the Oratorio Tradition

George Frederick Bristow was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1825 to a musical family. His father, William, was a conductor and clarinettist in the New York area, and the son was given lessons in piano, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and violin. Grove’s Dictionary has this to say about Bristow:

“Although historically important as a composer, George Bristow in his lifetime was known equally as a performer, conductor, and teacher. He began his professional career as a violinist at the age of 13… He joined the New Philharmonic Society in 1843 (at not quite 18) and remained a member until 1879… His versatility as a performer was reflected in occasional public piano performances and in positions as church organist.

“As a conductor, Bristow led such choral groups as the New York Harmonic Society and the Mendelssohn Society in performances of large choral and orchestral works…. As a public school teacher from 1854 and author of several pedagogical works, Bristow contributed significantly to music education in New York.

“…Bristow attempted to establish a native style in American art music. However, although Bristow’s works were often American in subject matter (e.g., his opera Rip Van Winkle, his Niagara Symphony, the cantata Pioneer, and The Great Republic: Ode to the American Union), his music was typically European, in the style of Mendelssohn. Among more than twelve compositions, the symphonies are the best works…. The chamber works, written during his early years, are unique and creditable representatives of a medium rarely explored by American composers in the 19th century.”

It is fitting that George Bristow conducted a group called the Mendelssohn Society, for to choral musicians of the second half of the 19th century, Mendelssohn was the “father figure”. It is no exaggeration to state that Mendelssohn almost single-handedly revived the oratorio tradition in Europe, England and America. The years after Handel’s great English oratorios were empty of these grand spectacles, until Mendelssohn’s own St. Paul and Elijah which remain today the only true European successors to Handel’s works. In addition, Mendelssohn revived the oratorios of J.S. Bach, which lay unnoticed and unperformed since C.P.E. Bach lost interest in them. Mendelssohn’s revival of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829, a hundred years after its writing, ranks as one of the most important historical revivals in the history of music; without Mendelssohn’s interest and energies, the great works of Bach may never have been brought back to light.

Mendelssohn’s influence was so strong in America that numerous choral societies were named after him and his choral music more than anyone’s became the staple of choral societies and church choirs. The great American composers in this style – Bristow, John Knowles Paine, Amy Beech and Horatio Parker – all were influenced by Mendelssohn and essentially wrote in his style. A less important, but still distinct influence, was the male quartet part-song, of which Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn wrote many. This style is heard clearly in the quartet movements in Daniel.

Due to a particularly “churchy” influence during Victorian times, and especially during the first half of our century, it became common for presentations of these great dramatic works to receive a more staid and “pious” reading. Works like Elijah, which were conceived dramatically, were rendered in a less passionate, more sermonizing manner. The result was the falling out of favor of Mendelssohn and his successors, for the drama had disappeared, and what was left was missing its essential element. Only recently have we seen a return to the dramatic oratorio performed in a dramatic way, and a renewed interest in Bristow, Paine, et al.

The Oratorio of Daniel

The decade between 1865 and 1874 was exceptional for choral music. Brahms wrote his A German Requiemat the beginning of that period, and Verdi wrote his Requiem at the end of it. George Bristow was already well-known and respected as a composer when he wrote Daniel in 1866, and first performed it at Steinway Hall in New York City on December 28, 1867. The oratorio was performed again on January 30, 1878. Despite critical acclaim, it was never performed again, as far as can be ascertained, nor was it ever published. Unfortunately for this work, it was the practice of the time to discard works after a few years in favor of newer pieces, and rarely was a composer fortunate enough to have his work published “for future generations”.

Daniel was already recognized at its premiere as an important American work, and compared favorably with Mendelssohn’s oratorios; it is especially reminiscent of Elijah. Thurston Dox, in his major reference work American Oratorios and Cantatas, calls it

“…the greatest American oratorio written to that time, and probably since. It brought American composition up to the artistic level of the great European composers.”

At the composer’s death in 1898, the American Art Journal wrote about Daniel:

“Bristow’s oratorio Daniel is unquestionably one of the most important compositions in this form yet produced by an American composer.”

This comment is especially revealing given that several oratorios of great popularity had been written just prior to Bristow’s death, including Horatio Parker’s Hora Novissima (1892). The obituary continues

“The Oratorio … added to Bristow’s previous successes in the highest walks of musical art, placed him on a level with the first composers of the day…. From the production of this great work dates a new era in our musical history.”

The Story

In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, the kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the empire of the Babylonians, c. 586 BC. Many thousands of people were taken as prisoners into Babylon (referred to historically as the Babylonian Captivity) where they were called “Jews” for the first time (as derived from “Judah”). These people were destined to remain together for two hundred years, even without a country of their own. But their unfortunate neighbors, the Israelites, vanished completely.

In Babylon, which lay many miles to the east of Canaan, the Jews were strangers. Fortunately they were treated with kindness by their masters, and often they rose to positions of wealth and dignity. In spite of this, they kept away from other people because they worshipped the “one true God” and their Babylonian and their Babylonian captors worshipped idols. The Jews missed their homeland, and by the waters of Babylon, they often wept: “if I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth….” It is with this setting, and this thought, that the oratorio begins.

The Book of Daniel opens, about the 6th century BC. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, one of the most powerful men in the world, instructs his chief eunuch to select a number of boys from noble Jewish families and put them through a three-year course of instruction for service at the court. Nebuchadnezzar was willing to educate these young men and to give them positions of wealth and power if they proved qualified. The boys were to be physically fit and mentally bright. The four selected were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azadah. Three were given Babylonian names of Meshak, Shadrach and Abednego (though Bristow refers to Shadrach still as Azariah). The fourth refused his new name, insisting upon keeping Daniel. There are several Daniel/Nebuchadnezzar stories.

danielPart I of the oratorio, after setting the historical stage, begins with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue with a head of gold, arms of silver, thighs of bronze and feet of clay, which is destroyed by a stone. The next morning he could only remember that he had had a disturbing dream, but could not remember the details. His wise men could not help him, and in his anger he ordered that all wise men of Babylon be slain. Daniel, however, could not only tell the king his dream, but he could interpret it as well: the great kingdom of Babylon would be destroyed, and only the kingdom of the One True God would remain. Nebuchadnezzar was so astounded and thankful that he made Daniel chief of all wise men and governor of the province of Babylon.

One day, Nebuchadnezzar ordered a statue to be built of himself: ninety feet tall and covered with gold. All were required to prostrate themselves before it “at the sound of the comet, flute, harp, sackbut … and all kinds of music” (Daniel 3:5), and whoever did not do so would be thrown “into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” Meshak, Azariah and Abednego, who would not worship idols, refused to do so. The angry king ordered them bound and thrown into the furnace, which was made “seven times hotter” – so hot that the servants who thrust them in were burned to death.

Daniel was out of the country at the time, and it appeared no one could save the men. Yet the three walked about in the furnace unharmed, and with them was seen a fourth figure, an angel of the Lord, and “the form of the fourth [was] like the Son of God.” Overwhelmed by this miracle, the king issued a decree that the mighty God of the Hebrews was to be respected throughout his realm, and that they be allowed to worship as they pleased.

Part II of the oratorio tells another Daniel story. Nebuchadnezzar has another ominous dream, in which he sees a tall tree which has its branches cut off and its fruit scattered. Daniel tells the King that he is that tree, and must humble himself before God or his kingdom will be scattered, he will be turned into an animal and “driven from men” and be forced to eat grass like an ox for seven years. Nebuchadnezzar was alarmed at first, but soon became prideful and boastful again. An angel tells him he has lost his kingdom, until he acknowledges that all power comes from the Most High, and turns him into a raving beast.

The work ends with Nebuchadnezzar regaining his sanity and extolling the God of the Jews and the King of Heaven, and in a rousing finale, the chorus echoes that sentiment. The librettist, Hardenbrook, had given the composer a third part to the story which included the tale of Belshazzar’ Feast and the famous “handwriting on the wall”, but the composer chose not to set that to music.

Notes by David Griggs-Janower.

György Orbán

Hungarian composer György Orbán was born in Transylvania, Romania, in 1947. He studied composition at the music academy of Cluj Napoca/Kolozsvár/Clausenburg, a par excellence multicultural centre of Transylvania. After graduating in 1973 as a student of Prof. Sigismund Toduta and Prof. János Jagamas, he taught music theory at the same institute.

Since 1979 Orban has lived in Hungary, teaching composition and music theory at the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy in Budapest. Up until now his oeuvre has been dominated by oratorical compositions and choral works. His varied instrumental compositions include symphonic pieces, instrumental-vocal combination (songs withaccompaniment of one or more instruments),  brass music and chamber music.

Orbán’s international début was in 1996 at the 4th World Symposium on Choral Music in Sydney, Australia, when John Rutter introduced Orbán’s music in the framework of a highly successful reading session.  The Hungarian is often commissioned to compose choral pieces as well as film- and theatre-music in his home country and also in the United States and Japan.  His works are published by Hinshaw Music Inc. Chapel Hill, NC (United States), Editio Musica Budapest, (Hungary), Editio Ferrimontana Frankfurt am Main (Germany), sub-published by Kawai, Japan.

Mass #2 is one of nine Mass settings by Orban, each with a variety of voicings and accompaniments.   Mass #2 is an eclectic sounding work.  Original Plainsong chant, as in the Credo, contrasts with the rhythmic exuberance and syncopation of the Sanctus.  Harmonically Orbán is always tonal, often with full rich romantic harmonies; at other times dissonance and polytonality enter when required by the spirit of the text.

About Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten was born on November 22, 1913 in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England.   He died at Aldeburg in 1976.  His musical gifts were recognized early, and by age 21 he was a self-supporting composer writing music for film scores and radio plays.  In his twenties Britten became involved in a group which focused on the works of W.H. Auden.  The group’s views were based on a belief that the ‘ideal state,’ one in which everyone would be well cared-for and happy, was imminent.  Britten’s ideals were brutally shattered by the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Nazism.  In 1939 he fled to the US and then moved back to the Suffolk coast, where he preferred isolation to public fame.  His opera Peter Grimes was a product of these years and brought his name to the forefront of world-renowned composers.  His War Requiem is also one of the major 20th century choral masterworks.

Britten also had a strong love of poetry and an exceptional ability to express and color text with simple but unique musical fragments.  His Rejoice in the Lamb is a classic example of this skill.  His Festival Te Deum was composed in 1944.  Its changing meter, 5/8, 7/8, 4/4, 3/8, etc. perfectly matches the word stress in the chant sung by the choir, while the organ maintains a steady 3/4 meter.  The middle section is a lively and rhythmic call and response section between voices and organ.  A solo prayer for salvation followed by the choral prayer for mercy concludes this choral gem.

About Chichester Psalms

Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1991) was a pianist, conductor, educator, and composer.  He became one of the nation’s foremost musical personalities, due to his success as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic (1958-1969), the popularity of his “Young People’s Concerts,” and the greatly divergent nature of his compositions, ranging from the musical comedies On The Town  and  West Side Story to the Kaddish Symphony  and his  Mass.

Chichester Psalms was commissioned for the 1965 Three Choir Festivals held in Chichester, England.  Although the composition retains the eclecticism, drama, and intensity characteristic of the dramatic and flamboyant Bernstein, it is a very affirmative and straightforward expression of the text. The most dissonant passages, a triad with one added tone, occur in the opening of the first and third movements.  The first movement begins with a dramatic declamation of text from Psalm 108 (Awake, Psaltery and Harp!). This is immediately contrasted with the complete Psalm 100 (Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord), which springs and bounds with joy through its irregular rhythms.  The second movement contrasts a simple but unsentimental setting of Psalm 23 with a driving canon from Psalm 2 by the male voices (Why do the nations rage?)  The opening melody was originally written as the song “Spring Will Come Again” for The Skin of Our Teeth.  The middle section was originally intended to be the “Prologue” of West Side Story, but it is actually less dissonant and metrically more regular than that “Prologue.”  The final movement makes a more consonant reference to the opening of the first movement and continues with one of the most sublime melodies Bernstein ever wrote.

ELIJAH – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Felix Mendelssohn has often been described as a wealthy, cheerful, handsome, contented man with all the refined social graces expected of the upper class.   This apparent lack of “romantic suffering,” dramatic intensity, and eroticism (his greatest love was for his sister) has provided much fuel for his detractors.  Nonetheless, Mendelssohn was successful and during his lifetime the most famous musician in Europe.  He seemed ambitiously compelled to hurry about the continent and back and forth to England—composing, conducting, performing, and organizing.  He was prone to fits of depression and would isolate himself from others, especially following the deaths of each of his parents.  Tragically, Felix Mendelssohn died at age 38, following a series of strokes and only months after the death of his beloved sister Fanny.

Elijah was composed for the Birmingham Music Festival in 1846, and the score for the final movement was delivered only days before the performance.  Although Elijah is ranked in popularity with Messiah and A German Requiem, it is seldom performed in concert in full.  Mendelssohn himself made numerous changes after the first performance, including a completely different ending.  Not only is the work long, but there are several other flaws:  some repetitive and pedantic choruses; some scenes that do not advance the story; and occasional movements that interrupt the dramatic flow.

Many of the problems lie with the text itself, as the librettist Schubring was interested in advancing theological concepts rather than the historical story or drama.   He made suggestions such as having Christ appear to Elijah and wanting to include a trio sung by Peter, John, and Paul.  Mendelssohn resisted many of these digressions, but he also found it difficult to find a balance between Elijah the powerful prophet and Elijah the forerunner of Christ.   Wanting to avoid the operatic, the composer thus dispensed with much of the narrative recitative that might make the plot somewhat less difficult to follow.  In addition, Mendelssohn used an English translation of the German Bible, creating wording which some find lacking by today’s standards.   Despite its flaws Elijah is considered by many to be dramatically and musically one of the greatest oratorios of all time, perhaps second only to Handel’s Messiah.

The Story of Elijah the Prophet

The Biblical books of I and II Kings relate the long period of turmoil and strife between inept and evil kings of the divided kingdom of Israel.  Especially misguided was King Ahab, who had married a Phoenician princess, Jezebel—a worshipper of a god of fertility, farms, and weather (Baal).  Under her influence, Ahab had built a temple and altar for Baal worship.  Queen Jezebel had campaigned to kill all possible prophets of Jahweh, but Obadiah (King Ahab’s chief of staff) had surreptitiously and bravely saved and hidden one hundred of them.

The prophet Elijah, whose name means “The Lord is my God,” was thrust onto this scene in dramatic fashion to remind the Israelites of their promise to serve the one true God.  Elijah prophesied a drought and famine to last at least three years.  He was guided to the home of a poor widow in Zarephath, in pagan territory near Queen Jezebel’s birthplace—an audacious place to escape notice!  He saved the widow from starvation and begged God to heal her son.

Jezebel had been frantically seeking Elijah to kill him, so he summoned Ahab, huge crowds of people, and the 450 priests of Baal to Mt. Carmel for a dramatic showdown.  Although archeological artifacts depict Baal as a weather god holding an axe and thunderbolt, his lightning to start the sacrificial fire was not forthcoming—despite the pleading cries of the people.  Nor was he able later to bring rain to end the long drought.

Elijah and the one true God were clearly the winners, but Jezebel remained a danger.  Elijah must escape “forty days and forty nights…to Horeb, the mount of God.”   175 (?) miles away.  God’s appearance there was not in the tempest, the earthquake, or the fire, but “in a still, small voice.”  Elijah felt renewed and continued as spokesman for God, ultimately earning his reward ascending in a whirlwind to Heaven.

Intimations of Immortality-Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)

for Tenor, Chorus and Orchestra

Gerald Finzi’s choice of William Wordsworth’s ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood was a consequence of Finzi’s experiences during his formative years.  His childhood was mostly unhappy, for he felt alienated from others due to his artistic instincts and the lack of understanding and support from his family.  He retreated to extensive reading of English literature and poetry.  In addition, by the time Gerald was seventeen, all his brothers and his father had died, as well as his mentor and composition teacher Ernest Farrar.  The result was a man with a tremendous literary repertoire, an acute awareness of the frailty of human existence, and a conviction that the realities of life often dim the intuitive freshness of childhood.

 Intimations of Immortality is an exhortation to all “to keep his or her vision alive and fresh at all costs.”  He commented in a 1953 lecture, “We all know that a dead poet lives in many a live stockbroker.  Many of these people before they fade into the light of common day, have had an intuitive glimpse which neither age, nor experience, nor knowledge, can ever give them.”  Intimations of Immortality was begun about 1925, interrupted by World War II, and completed in 1950 only four months before a commissioned performance.  The final scoring and copying became a nightmare with all-night sessions and two copyists struggling to complete the work.  When Vaughan Williams attended the rehearsal, he became convulsed with laughter upon reading the title page of the printed scores:  “Intimations of Immorality. That discovery meant that a team of volunteers had to paste labels over the incorrect titles before the scores could be sold.  (One present-day web site has the CD listed as “Imitations of Immortality.”)

After the British premiere of his musical ode, Gerald Finzi told a friend that “It is too much to think that it will become part of our choral repertoire… but a few friendly souls in a century or two may find something likable [ in it ] and that is pleasant enough to think about.”  Finzi was wrong in thinking it would take so long.  Critics seemed affronted that Finzi (with his very un-English name) had the audacity to set Wordsworth’s great poem to music.  In the next thirty years there were only 26 registered performances of Intimations in the United Kingdom, but in 1981 alone it was heard on six occasions.  Today Intimations of Immortality is an increasingly popular addition to the repertoire of choral societies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Gerald Finzi, his immune system compromised by treatments for Hodgkin’s Disease, contracted Chicken Pox and died in 1956.  With the friendship and encouragement of Vaughan Williams he had written over forty works, mostly for voice or chorus and orchestra.  The Mastersingers have previously presented Lo, the Full Final Sacrifice,For St. Cecilia, Farewell to Arms, and the American premier of Requiem daCamera.

Assabet Valley Mastersingers is grateful for the assistance of Pamela Blevins of The Finzi Society of America in providing some biographical material.

Poetry in Song

The marriage of poetry and song has a history that goes to the very origin of poetry, when traveling entertainers recited epic poems in song and often set the news and tales of events of the day to music. Although melody originally was meant to assist in memorization and the enhancement of details of an event, there are many poets since that time who have confided that their words have lived only “half a life” until set to music. Some types of poetry demonstrate especially well a lyrical and musical quality to the sound and rhythm of particular words, and many poets strive for an over-arching melodic cadence to their literary endeavors. Such efforts are thus natural sources for musical settings.

During the 19 th century the focus of musical treatment of poetry was to help delve into the psychological implications of the text and to provide another dimension to aid understanding of that text. Then in the late 20 th and now 21 st centuries many composers began to represent in music not only the literal meaning of the word, but also the flow and feel of the word’s sound in addition to its meaning. There has developed an increased awareness that music is able to express far more than is possible through speech and text alone.

This evening’s “Poetry in Song” program presents several different approaches to the wedding of poetry and song. In Randall Thompson’s Frostiana Suite we have the very simple and straightforward text of Robert Frost, one of America’s leading poets, set in a likewise simple and straightforward musical manner by one of America’s leading composers of choral music. In juxtaposition to that example we have the poetry of Dylan Thomas, rich in imagery and musical qualities, set by the more harmonically adventuresome composer John Corigliano.

Frostiana is a suite of Seven Country Songs on poems of Robert Frost and was first performed in 1958 for the 200 th Anniversary of the incorporation of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Randall Thompson (1896-1984)took an academic and eclectic approach to his composition. Born in New York City, he studied at Harvard University and the American Academy in Rome. He held numerous university teaching positions, including Princeton, Wellesley College, Curtis Institute, Harvard, and University of Virginia. His style is deliberate and straightforward. All his major works are very different from one another, but most do incorporate American idioms. Thompson’s success as a choral writer resulted in many commissions from schools, churches, and communities. Perhaps his most familiar works are Symphony #2, Frostiana Suite, and The Peaceable Kingdom.

Fern Hill‘s composer, John Corigliano, was winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Symphony No. 2and continues to be internationally celebrated as one of the leading composers of his generation. He was born into a musical family in New York on 16 February, 1938. His father was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic from 1943 to 1966 and his mother an accomplished pianist. John Corigliano presently holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College, City University of New York, and in 1991 was named to the faculty of the Juilliard School. Also in 1991 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, an organization of 250 of America’s most prominent artists, sculptors, architects, writers, and composers. In 1992 Musical America named him their first “Composer of the Year.”

In 1959 Corigliano was introduced to the poems of Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet whose mastery of imagery in both meaning and sound of the word is unchallenged. The musical qualities of Dylan’s poetry are readily apparent, and Thomas’ own words reinforce this fact:

“What the words stood for, symbolized, or meant was of very secondary importance;

what matters was the sound of them…and these words,,,were as the notes of bells, the

sounds of musical instruments.”

Corigliano was irresistibly drawn to try to translate Thomas’ words into the musician’s composition. He was captivated by Fern Hill, about the poet’s “young and easy” summers at his family’s farm of the same name.

Corigliano writes: “Fern Hill is a blithe poem, yet touched by darkness; time rules over

all, finally holding the poet ‘green and dying.’ But the poem itself, formally just an

ABA song extended into a wide arch, sings of the joy of youth and its keen perceptions.

I set it for mezzo-soprano solo, chorus, and orchestra, aiming in the music to match the

forthright lyricism of the text. (The direction ‘with simplicity’ is often to be found in the

printed score.) This was the first time that I set a poem of Dylan Thomas’ when I was,

emotionally at least, the same age as its creator.”

The Shakespeare selections demonstrate the wit, satire, and romance of the poet in varied musical settings ranging from the Romanian Gyorgy Orban and his contemporary, Swedish composer Nils Lindberg to the well-known Briton John Rutter. It is intriguing to consider how such a disparate group of composers with varied cultural backgrounds and harmonic styles all approach the works of the ‘immortal bard’ with similar purpose. For example, the two selections from Twelfth Night—the 1964 setting by the American Arthur Frackenpohl and the treatment in 2002 by the Romanian Gyorgy Orban—both focus on rhythmic interaction and frivolity to reflect the text.

Contemporary Settings, the final musical selections to be heard tonight, present some of America’s composers whose music is in greatest demand by choirs throughout the world today. The compositions of Z. Randall Stroope, Eric Whitacre, and David Brunner are sought after both for commissioning and for performance. Their works and others included this evening demonstrate a new and highly developed sensitivity to the marriage of word and sound with great beauty and subtlety in harmonic language and vocal color. The words of one of these last songs echo the passion and commitment of the vocalists on stage: “I Am In Need of Music”—and in “Awakening”: LET MUSIC LIVE!

Russian Choral Treasures

Symphony of Psalms

Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms is considered one of the monumental works of the twentieth century and one of his most mature compositions. According to musicologist, Joseph Machlis:

“For sheer grandeur of conception there is little in the output in the first half of the [twentieth] century to rival the closing pages of the Symphony of Psalms.”

The Symphony of Psalms was commissioned for the Boston Symphony’s fiftieth anniversary in 1930 and dedicated to the BSO. According to Stravinsky:

“My idea was that my symphony should be a work with great contrapuntal development… I finally decided on a choral and instrumental ensemble in which the two elements should be on an even footing, neither outweighing the other.”

The work has an unusual scoring using a large wind section but omitting the violins and violas thus establishing the particularly dark timbre for which Stravinsky was searching. He selected verses from the Psalms and directed them to be sung in Latin. The first two movements are taken from Psalms 39 and 40. The final and longest movement is a setting of Psalm 150 and concludes, after moving through a complex harmonic structure, with a wonderful C major chord.


A Cappella Russian Treasures

This brief segment of tonight’s program provides a scintillating sampler of the great wealth of Russian choral music. The first three works, sung in Church Slavonic, represent the Romantic choral literature of the Orthodox Church. Although each work is based upon ancient unison chant, all carry these Russian trademarks: rich harmonies; dark colors created by extended ranges (especially for the basses); frequent doubling of vocal parts with the men singing an octave or two lower the same notes as the women; homophonic and syllabic structure with all parts moving together rather than in the more familiar Western sacred counterpoint of individual melodic lines; and extreme contrasts of dynamics enhanced by voice pairings of two or four parts with full 8 part chorus.

“Kvalite” ??????? ??? ???????? by Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944) is taken from All-Night Vigil Op. 44. It is sung at one of the high points of the Vigil service when all the clergy process forward to stand in the middle of the church with the people to begin the full censing of the church and the reading of the Gospel. All-Night Vigil services are celebrated every Saturday night and on the eve of feast-days.

“Cherubic Hymn” ??????????? ????? by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) begins the Eucharistic portion of the Divine Liturgy and is sung during the great entrance, at which time the bread and wine are placed upon the altar.

“Bogoroditse” ??????????, ???? ??????? by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) is perhaps the best known of this evening’s works. It is taken from his All-Night Vigil published in 1915 and is an angelic and awe inspiring homage to the Virgin Mary.

We enter the world of Russian secular choral music with “Sacred Love” ?????? ?????? by one of Russia’s most popular contemporary composers, Georgy Sviridov (b. 1915). The long slow extended harmonies sung by a choir singing wordlessly represent the soul, the seat of love. The soaring soprano voice, pointing to the heavens, sings of a love that has been cleansed by suffering and now is free from pain and fear, a serene and sacred love.

“Kalinka” ??????? arr. by Vadim Prokhorov is a popular folksong known throughout the world. In Russian folklore kalinka and malinka both represent a beautiful maiden who is the object of passionate love. The rousing refrain and growing enthusiasm as the work progresses to the final line of the third verse, “Will you give your love to me?” leaves everyone energized and in high spirits.



The prolific composer and pianist Alexandr Tikhonovich Grechaninov (also spelled Alexandre Gretchaninoff) was born in Moscow, Russia in 1864 and died in New York in 1956. He began his piano studies at the age of 14 and three years later attended the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with several notable Russian musicians,

including Arensky in theory and counterpoint, and Taneyev in musical form. From 1890-1893 he studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory under Rimsky-Korsakov, who conducted Gretchaninov’s First Symphony in 1895. He enjoyed early public success as a composer, and composed in a variety of genres, including large symphonic works, piano music, chamber and instrumental music, liturgical music, and works for children, including several children’s operas.

In his earlier years, Grechaninov taught piano in St, Petersburg and then in Moscow, where he also worked in the Moscow University ethnographic society, arranging songs drawn from across the Russian empire. He also taught at several schools in Moscow, for which much of his music for children was written. Starting in 1910 he received an annual pension of 2,000 rubles for his liturgical music. After the revolution and the loss of his pension, he traveled to western Europe, eventually settling in Paris in 1925, where continued to compose and work as a pianist. In 1939 he came to America, moved to New York city in 1940, and become an American citizen in 1946.

A deeply religious man, Gretchaninoff was nevertheless liberal in his outlook, and came to feel that he had exhausted the technical resources of unaccompanied choral music in the traditional Russian Orthodox Church. His subsequent use of instruments barred his more adventurous settings of religious texts from use in Russian churches. The Cantata Hvalite Boga! began as a setting of Psalm 150 in 1914, written in a spirit of impatience with the barring of liturgical music with instruments by the church, a prohibition made more galling to the composer by the exhortation of the psalmist to praise the Lord with all musical instruments. He later prefaced this work with two additional Psalm settings, and added a treble chorus for the second movement. Hvalite Boga! was premiered on March 9, 1915 in Moscow by Serge Koussevitsky, who later became an important conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In his setting of old Russian melodies, Grechaninov had forged a new style already evident in his earlier liturgical works. In Hvalite Boga!, he continued this use of a Russian choral declamation, based on a 19 th century “St. Petersburg” style of chordal harmonization of traditional chant, and interspersed with some occasional contrapuntal writing, and spatial effects achieved through antiphonal use of the orchestral and choral forces, as well as the placement of the treble chorus. Though harmonically more modern, and showing a kinship with more contemporary composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Debussy, this cantata does not stray from the composer’s innate conservatism, never violating the sense of timelessness and overarching spirituality of traditional Russian church music. Grechaninov’s score calls upon a large orchestra with a wide range of orchestral timbres, including a large number of brass and winds, and other colorful instruments such as gong, celeste, harp and organ. The setting of the text is expansive and unhurried, almost leisurely in spots, creating a sublime spaciousness and grandeur worthy of the greatest cathedral. (Notes written by Malcom Halliday, with information about the composer derived from an article about Grechaninov in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and information about Hvalite Boga! from CD notes written by Eric Roseberry, on the Chandos recording, #9698)

Symphony of Psalms ???????? ???????. – Igor Stravinsky
Dr. Douglas Weeks, Director of Worcester Polytechnic Institute Orchestra

I. Exaudi oratiionem meam (Hear my prayer)- Psalm 38:13-14
II. Expectans expectavi Dominum (I waited patiently for the Lord)- Psalm 39:2-4
III. Alleluia, Laudate Dominum (Praise God in His holiness)- Psalm 150

A Cappella Russian Treasures 
Dr. Robert Eaton, Artistic Director, Assabet Valley Mastersingers

“Kvalite” ??????? ??? ???????? from All Night Vigil- Pavel Chesnokov
“Cherubic Hymn” ??????????? ????? – Mikhail Glinka
“Bogoroditse” ??????????, ???? ??????? – Sergei Rachmaninoff
“Sacred Love” ?????? ?????? – Gerogy Sviridov

Zhannna Alkhazova- soloist
“Kalinka” ??????? – arr. Vadim Prokhorov


Kvalite Boga! (Praise God!) ??????? “??????? ????”, op. 65 –Alexandre Gretchaninoff 
Malcolm Halliday, Artistic Director, Master Singers of Worcester

I. Blagoslovi dushe moya Ghospoda (Bless the Lord, O My Soul)
II. Se zhertva taynaya (Now the Powers of Heaven)

Alden Voices of WPI- Treble Choir 
III. Hvalite Boga vo svyatil (Praise the Lord)
Zhannna Alkhazova- soloist

Ye Shall Have a Song

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” –Lewis Carroll

We all know the fun, frustration, angst, and confusion that can be created with a “play on words.” Puns, double entendre, twisting of meaning, taking words out of context are a few of the games that one can play. Even the inflection of a word either solely or in context can vastly change its meaning. We color and shade the meaning of words through the timbre and quality of our voices. When words are associated with emotions, with ideas, with issues of faith and ideology, their interpretations and interpolations are endless.

Our program is designed to demonstrate how composers from different eras have treated similar topics. In some cases identical text has been set by composers centuries apart, as in Victoria and Lauridsen. The different approaches to love songs as set by Brahms in the Romantic style in contrast to the intimacy of the present-day love songs of Whitacre are particularly striking. The intensely moving and personal “I Am In Need of Music” is paired with the theme of this concert “Ye Shall Have a Song”.

The expression of text through music is boundless, and we offer you but a sample of the endless variety of musical interpretations.

“My songs lead but half a life, a paper existence of black-and-white, until music breathes life into them…” –Wilhelm Müller, author of the text for the poems to Schubert’s Wintereisse.