April 12, 2003

Shadle, Three Songs of Innocence and a Song of Experience
Bliss, Ballads of the Four Seasons (Stuart Stanton, tenor)
Cutter, Then movement comes in sound (Ole Mattis Nielsen, flute)
Vaughan Williams, from Songs of Travel (Ahmed Ismail, baritone)
Thompson, Four Songs from Frostiana
Brahms, Neue Liebesliederwalzen, Op. 65

Listen to excerpts from this concert

Thompson, "Choose something like a star" from Frostiana (MP3 excerpt, 2.5 MB)
Brahms, "Weicher Gräser im Revier" from Neue Liebesliederwalzen (MP3, 2.6 MB)

Read program notes
Download program notes in PDF format

Members

Sopranos

Ana Margarita Albir
Tracy A. Hammond
Eileen Huang
Sonali Mukherjee
Amy L. Schonsheck

Tenors

Brian J. Anderson
Ahmed E. Ismail
Stuart Stanton
Mike Stevens
Taylor Strickling
Brian M. Wong

Altos

Stefanie Alki Delichatsios
Christine Edwards
Catherine Howell
Tam Nguyen

Basses

Jared A. Casper
Corey M. Gerritsen
David Karger
Bertrand Renard
Michael J. Walsh
Jonathan Wolfe

 

Program Notes

Charles Shadle (b. 1960)
Three Songs of Innocence and a Song of Experience (1999)

In the autumn of 1999 Anand Sarwate, a student who was a mainstay in both the Theater and Music sections at MIT asked me to compose some new madrigal-style pieces for the MIT Chamber Music Society. Like the Renaissance madrigal, they were to be short, a cappella pieces in which vivid text painting and imitative counterpoint were featured. I wrote four short settings of familiar poems by William Blake (1757-1827), for six solo voices. Two of the songs, "Spring" and "The Shepherd" were performed by Anand's group of singers under the extraordinary guidance of John Harbison. While conceived for solo voices, these works are also well suited to choral performance by lithe and highly skilled singers. Tonight's performance is the first of the complete work in its choral version.

The great and endlessly inventive draftsman and poet William Blake presented his "Songs of Innocence and Experience" to the world in the guise of children's literature. However, the poems are usually regarded as highly sophisticated explorations of the growth of consciousness. Blake seems to suggest that the loss of innocence is of fundamental importance to the psychic and spiritual maturation of the individual. Traditional images of purity, often with religious overtones, are revealed as laden with erotically charged meaning. In the poems of the first three of my songs this is implicit; in the final one it is extremely explicit.

The first song, "Spring," follows the stanza structure of the poem closely. Stanzas one, two and four employ similar music, suggesting the piping of the flute and the merry chatter of the birds, while the more sustained third verse reflects the curiously sensual description of the lamb.. "The Shepherd" evokes the eighteenth-century Pifa, a gentle pastoral dance in 6/8 meter. Here the drone of the bagpipes is omnipresent, and the use of Mixolydian mode and the "scotch snap" further suggest a rural atmosphere. In "The Blossom" a guileless text painting is again paramount, though darker images of longing also come to the fore. The very brief final song "The Sick Rose" is strikingly different from its companions. The harmony is extreme---barely tonal. A chromatic wedge figure pervades this movement, and suggests both the unfolding of the rose, and its "deflowering" by the worm. The piece concludes ambiguously with bare octaves. Does the experience of the rose represent loss or growth?

--Charles Shadle

Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)
The Ballads of the Four Seasons (1923)

The British composer Arthur Bliss was born in 1891 and was educated at Rugby and Pembroke College in Cambridge. He also studied at the Royal College of Music from 1913 to 1914. During World War I, he served in the Royal Rusiliers and the Granadier Guards. In 1919, though, he won recognition as an able composer, showing influence by Stravinsky, Ravel, and Les Six. He wrote for theatre productions early, later writing ballets, film scores, and one full-length opera. He also experimented with instrumental-vocal music, using the voice to sing wordless syllables as if another instrument. Influenced by both World Wars, he also wrote tributes like his choral symphony, Morning Symphony.

Bliss sets English translations of classic Chinese poetry by Li Po in "The Ballads of the Four Seasons." The poem loosely tells a tale of Lo-foh, a heroine from a popular ballad in Chinese tradition. In the Spring and the Summer, she plucks mulberry leaves and gathers lotus lilies. But in the Autumn, she waits as her beloved fights in the battles against a barbarian foe. "From ten thousand houses comes the sound of cloth-pounding," refers to the Chinese laundering process that produced a metallic sound like swords clashing. In the Winter, our heroine sews a soldier's jacket to be taken to her beloved on the battlefield.

--Stuart Stanton

William Cutter (b. 1956)
Then movement comes in sound (1987)

Then movement comes in sound was written while I was a graduate student in composition at Boston University's School for the Arts. I had been interested in exploring new methods of text painting through the use of unusual doublings, spacings of harmonies, and in general, effects that were normally thought of in terms of instrumental orchestration. I found the perfect opportunity to employ some of these ideas in texts by Hildegard Jone and Stefan Georg, which I found incredibly rich in imagery and in English translations that I felt were beautiful and true to the original German.

The work begins with the "sound" visually and aurally traveling across the chorus from low to high (bass to soprano) with each of the voice parts dovetailing one another creating one melodic line stretching over three octaves. The flute joins in as the nightingale which is rather abruptly transformed into violent figurations depicting a sudden storm, albeit metaphorical. The middle section of the work "dissolves in peace" in a bittersweet chorale-like setting of the heartbreaking text of Stefan Georg.

--William Cutter

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Songs of Travel (1901-1904)

Along with Sir Edward Elgar and Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams was one of the composers most responsible for the reemergence of British classical music in the twentieth century. A notable contributor in virtually every field of composition, his Songs of Travel, written between 1901 and 1904, represent his first major foray into song-writing. Drawn from a volume of Robert Louis Stevenson poems of the same name, the cycle offers a rather different take on the "wayfarer cycle." A world-weary yet resolute individual, Stevenson's traveler shows neither the naivety of Schubert's miller in Die Schöne Müllerin nor the destructive impulses of the heroes of Schubert's Winterreise and Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.

The three songs drawn from this cycle form the core of the narrative. "The Vagabond" introduces the traveler, heavy chords in the piano depicting a rough journey through the English countryside. "Youth and Love" shows a determined youth leaving his beloved as he ventures into the world; particularly notable is the exotic accompaniment of the second stanza, revealing bird songs, waterfalls, and trumpet fanfares. Finally, "Bright is the ring of words" offers the true climax of the piece: a reminder that while all wanderers (and artists) must eventually die, the beauty of their work shall remain as a testament to those who remain.

--Ahmed Ismail

Randall Thompson (1899-1984)
Frostiana (1958)

Commissioned in 1958 for the two-hundredth anniversary of the incorporation of the Town of Amherst, Massachusetts, Frostiana, a setting of seven poems by Robert Frost, was composed between June 15 and July 7, 1959 in Gstaad, Switzerland. This lovely set of choral pieces with piano accompaniment demonstrates Thompson's lyrical and simple style with a kind of New England directness and charm. The work was first performed as part of the Bicentennial Commemoration at an Inter-Faith Convocation in the Amherst Regional High School on October 18, 1959. The composer conducted and the poet was present.

Randall Thompson was educated at Harvard and counted among his teachers Archibald T. Davidson and Ernest Bloch. He twice won a Guggenheim Fellowship and held a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. His early works, including several songs, varied considerably in style. But in 1922 he began studies at the American Academy where, inspired by the masters of the Renaissance, he developed the musical style which led him to the forefront of American choral composers. During his career he intermingled both teaching and composing, having been director of the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music as well as a professor at his alma mater, Harvard University. Though he composed symphonies, songs, operas and instrumental works, he is best known for his choral compositions.

--William Cutter

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Neue Liebesliederwalzen, Op. 65

Johannes Brahms was well known for his works for both large and small forces. While his piano concertos rival Beethoven's, Tchaikovsky's, and Rachmaninov's for popularity, his contributions to the realm of song were no less than those of Beethoven and Schubert. However, unlike all of the aforementioned composers, his reputation is also based on his numerous choral works, in particular 1868's Ein Deutsches Requiem. Just following that work, Brahms had what some have called his "year of song," much like Schumann in 1840: of the next twenty works he published after the Requiem, all but four were written for voices--the exceptions being three string quartets and the Variations on a theme of Haydn.

Brahms wrote the Neue Liebesliederwalzen ("New Love-song Waltzes") between 1869 and 1874. The texts are from an eclectic collection of love-poems from many lands, including Turkey, Poland, Latvia, and Sicily, translated into German by Georg Friedrich Daumer. Like the Liebeslieder songs of 1868, the Neue Liebeslieder are written for a vocal quartet and four-hand piano duo. Unlike the earlier piece, however, the ensemble numbers are separated by two groups of songs for the individual members of the quartet. And while the work is intended for six performers, it loses little when performed by soloists and chorus, so long as it is performed in the spirit of chamber music. [To that end, we are performing the work without a conductor.]

Unlike the ensemble numbers, the solo songs depict a dizzying array of characters--bass as enraptured paramour, alto as jilted lover, tenor as Lothario, and soprano as a woman repeatedly unlucky in love. In addition, the piano accompaniment of the Neue Liebeslieder are just as important as the vocal lines to the overall fabric of the piece. The two pianists, playing a single piano with four hands must work as if they were a single pianist, even when the two parts seem to be in direct opposition to one another. Fortunately, throughout most of the work, each of the pianists play one "hand"; only in No. 13, a tender duet for soprano and alto voices, do the two pianists have to "cross over."

The seven quartets are naturally the main attraction of the work. Rather than being constrained by the limited resources, we find an amazing example of the economy of small means. The score brims with brilliant choral effects: the craggy shores of the first song, depicted by harsh cries of "zertrümmert" (wrecked); octave leaps on "Well auf Well" representing "wave upon wave" in No. 7; the half-sung, half-whispered sighs "Weiche Gräser im Revier" of No. 8, over which the sopranos and tenors have a soaring line; and the hushed references to the gloomy shade of the dark forest in No. 12, to name but a few.

Brahms ends the cycle "Zum Schluß" ("In conclusion"), turning his attentions away from the lovers and addressing himself to the Muses which have inspired countless artists, musicians, and poets. The changes run much deeper, though, than just the "audience": the meter broadens from the standard 3/4 to a more expansive 9/8, and the vocal writing becomes truly contrapuntal for the only time in the cycle, climaxing in an a cappella transition from C major to F major. Perhaps the most significant change is the poet: for this last song, Brahms turns to the words of Goethe. Of Brahms's hundreds of vocal works, only a handful set texts by the doyen of German poetry--indeed, Brahms was always reluctant to set the great poet's works, feeling there was usually nothing he could add! However, those rare cases where he felt differently produced some of his greatest work, notably the Alto Rhapsody. Here, just as in the Rhapsody, words and music unite to offer us the hope of consolation and peace which the despairing lovers Daumer depicts will never achieve.

--Ahmed Ismail

Text and Translations

Three Songs of Experience and a Song of Innocence

I. Spring

Sound the Flute!
Now it's mute.
Birds delight
Day and Night;
Nightingale
In the dale,
Lark in Sky,
Merrily,
Merrily, Merrily, to welcome in the Year.

Little Boy,
Full of joy;
Little Girl,
Sweet and small;
Cock does crow,
So do you;
Merry voice,
Infant noise,
Merrily, Merrily, to welcome in the Year.

Little Lamb,
Here I am;
Come and lick
My white neck;
Let me pull
Your soft Wool;
Let me kiss
Your soft face:
Merrily, Merrily, we welcome in the Year.

II. The Shepherd

How sweet is the Shepherd's sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lamb's innocent call,
And he hears the ewe's tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.

III. The Blossom

Merry, Merry Sparrow!
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
See you swift as arrow
Seek your cradle narrow
Near my Bosom.

Pretty, Pretty Robin!
Under leaves so green
A happy Blossom
Hears you sobbing, sobbing
Pretty, Pretty Robin,
Near my Bosom.

IV. The Sick Rose

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
--William Blake

The Ballads of the Four Seasons

1. Spring

The lovely Lo-foh of the land of Chin,
Is plucking mulberry leaves by the blue water.
On the green boughs her white arms gleam,
And the bright sun shines upon her scarlet dress.
"My silkworms' says she, 'are hungry, I must go,
Tarry not with your five horses, Prince, I pray!'

2. Summer

On the Mirror Lake three hundred li around
Gaily the lotus lilies bloom.
She gathers them-Queen His-shih, in Maytime!
A multitude jostles on the bank, watching.
Her boat turns back without waiting the moonrise,
And glides away to the house of the amorous Yueh King.

3. Autumn

The moon is above the city of Chang-an,
From ten thousand houses comes the sound of cloth-pounding;
The sad Autumn wind blows, and there is no end
To her thought of him beyond the Jewel Gate Pass-
When will the barbarian foe be vanquished,
And he, her beloved, return from the far battlefield?

4. Winter

The courier will depart on the morrow for the front.
All night she sews a soldier's jacket.
Her fingers, plying the needle, are numb with cold;
Scarce can she hold the icy scissors.
At last the work is done; she sends it a long, long way,
Oh! how many days before it reaches him in Lin-tao?
--Li Po

Then movement comes in sound

1. Though it is still

Though it is still, the world has all its colour
when falls the sunlight's kiss.
The nightingale at night when shades are duller
and lightless, weeps for bliss.
Then hear those notes when eyes flee from their prison,
the brilliance fills the ear.
But if it fades, the fleeting coloured vision,
then movement comes in sound, in notes draws near.

2. Cantata

Lightning, the kindler of Being, struck,
flashed from the word in the storm cloud.
Thunder, the heart beat, follows,
at last dissolving in peace.
--Hildegard Jone

3. Litanei

Deep is the sadness that surroungs me
as I enter again Lord, into Thy house.
Long was the journey, weary are
flesh and bone,
empty the coffers,
full only the agony.
From the depths of my heart
arises a cry: kill
the longing, close up the wounds,
relieve me of love and
grant me Thy peace.
--Stefan Georg

 

 

 

 

 

Songs of Travel

1. The Vagabond

Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above,
And the byway nigh me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river--
There's the life for a man like me,
There's the life for ever.
Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above,
And the road below me.
Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger.
White as meal the frosty field--
Warm the fireside haven--
Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!
Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above,
And the road below me.

4. Youth and Love

To the heart of youth the world is a highwayside.
Passing for ever, he fares; and on either hand,
Deep in the gardens golden pavilions hide,
Nestle in orchard bloom, and far on the level land
Call him with lighted lamp in the eventide.

Thick as stars at night when the moon is down,
Pleasures assail him. He to his nobler fate
Fares; and but waves a hand as he passes on,
Cries but a wayside word to her at the garden gate,
Sings but a boyish stave and his face is gone.

8. Bright is the ring of words

Bright is the ring of words
When the right man rings them,
Fair the fall of songs
When the singer sings them,
Still they are carolled and said--
On wings they are carried--
After the singer is dead
And the maker buried.

Low as the singer lies
In the field of heather,
Songs of his fashion bring
The swains together.
And when the west is red
With the sunset embers,
The lover lingers and sings
And the maid remembers.
--Robert Louis Stevenson

Neue Liebesliederwalzen, Op. 65 (New Love-Song Waltzes)

1. Chorus

Verzicht, o Herz, auf Rettung,
dich wagend in der Liebe Meer!
Denn tausend Nachen schwimmen
zertrümmert am Gestad umher!

2. Chorus

Finstere Schatten der Nacht,
Wogen- und Wirbelgefahr!
Sind wohl, die da gelind
rasten auf sicherem Lande,
euch zu begreifen im Stande?
Das ist der nur allein,
welcher auf wilder See
stürmischer Öde treibt,
Meilen entfernt vom Strande.

3. Soprano solo (Sonali Mukherjee, soprano)

An jeder Hand die Finger
hatt' ich bedeckt mit Ringen,
die mir geschenkt mein Bruder
in seinem Liebessinn.
Und einen nach dem andern
gab ich dem schönen,
aber unwürdigen Jüngling hin.

4. Bass solo (Ahmed Ismail, baritone)

Ihr schwarzen Augen, ihr dürft nur winken;
Paläste fallen und Städte sinken.
Wie sollte steh'n in solchem Strauß
mein Herz, von Karten das schwache Haus?

5. Alto solo (Tam Nguyen, alto)

Wahre, wahre deinen Sohn,
Nachbarin, vor Wehe,
weil ich ihn mit schwarzem Aug'
zu bezaubern gehe.

O wie brennt das Auge mir,
das zu Zünden fordert!
Flammet ihm die Seele nicht --
deine Hütte lodert.

6. Soprano solo (Ana Albir, soprano)

Rosen steckt mir an die Mutter,
weil ich gar so trübe bin.
Sie hat recht, die Rose sinket,
so wie ich, entblättert hin.

7. Chorus

Vom Gebirge Well auf Well
kommen Regengüsse,
und ich gäbe dir so gern
hunderttausend Küsse.

8. Chorus

Weiche Gräser im Revier,
schöne, stille Plätzchen!
O, wie linde ruht es hier
sich mit einem Schätzchen!

9. Soprano solo (Ana Albir, soprano)

Nagen am Herzen fühl ich ein Gift mir.
Kann sich ein Mädchen,
ohne zu fröhnen zärtlichem Hang,
fassen ein ganzes wonneberaubtes Leben entlang?

10. Tenor solo (Brian Anderson, tenor)

Ich kose süß mit der und der
und werde still und kranke,
denn ewig, ewig kehrt zu dir,
o Nonna, mein Gedanke!

11. Soprano solo (Sonali Mukherjee, soprano)

Alles, alles in den Wind
sagst du mir, du Schmeichler!
Alle samt verloren sind
deine Müh'n, du Heuchler!

Einem andern Fang' zu lieb
stelle deine Falle!
Denn du bist ein loser Dieb,
denn du bist um alle!

12. Chorus

Schwarzer Wald, dein Schatten ist so düster!
Armes Herz, dein Leiden ist so drückend!
Was dir einzig wert, es steht vor Augen;
ewig untersagt ist Huldvereinung.

13. Sopranos and altos

Nein, Geliebter, setze dich
mir so nahe nicht!
Starre nicht so brünstiglich
mir ins Angesicht!

Wie es auch im Busen brennt,
dämpfe deinen Trieb,
daß es nicht die Welt erkennt,
wie wir uns so lieb.

14. Chorus

Flammenauge, dunkles Haar,
Knabe wonnig und verwogen,
Kummer ist durch dich hinein
in mein armes Herz gezogen!

Kann in Eis der Sonne Brand,
sich in Nacht der Tag verkehren?
Kann die heisse Menschenbrust
atmen ohne Glutbegehren?

Ist die Flur so voller Licht,
daß die Blum' im Dunkel stehe?
Ist die Welt so voller Lust,
daß das Herz in Qual vergehe?
--Georg Friedrich Daumer

15. Chorus: Zum Schluß

Nun, ihr Musen, genug!
Vergebens strebt ihr zu schildern,
wie sich Jammer und Glück
wechseln in liebender Brust.
Heilen könnet die Wunden
ihr nicht, die Amor geschlagen,
aber Linderung kommt einzig,
ihr Guten, von euch.
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

1.

Relinquish, o heart, the hope of rescue
as you venture out into the sea of love!
For a thousand boats float
wrecked about its shores!

2.

Dark shades of night,
dangers of waves and whirlpools!
Are those who rest there so mildly
on firm ground
capable of comprehending you?
No: only one who
is tossed about on the wild sea's
stormy desolation,
miles from the shore.

3.

On each hand were my fingers
bedecked with rings
that my brother had bestowed on me
with love.
And one after another
did I give to that handsome
but unworthy lad.

4.

You black eyes, you need only beckon,
and palaces fall and cities sink.
How should then my heart withstand
such strife, inside its weak house of cards?

5.

Protect, protect your son,
my neighbor, from woe;
for I go with my black eyes
to enchant him.

O how my eyes burn
to inflame his passion!
If his soul will not ignite,
your hut will catch fire.

6.

Mother gave me roses
because I am so troubled.
She is right: roses droop
just as I do, wilting away.

7.

From the mountains, wave upon wave,
come gushing rain;
and I would gladly give you
a hundred thousand kisses.

8.

Soft grass in my favorite haunts,
fair, quiet spots!
O how pleasant it is to linger here
with one's darling!

9.

I feel a poison gnawing at my heart.
Is it possible for a maiden
not to give in to her tender inclinations
and live her entire life robbed of bliss?

10.

I sweetly fondle this girl and that,
and grow quiet and sick at heart,
for always, always, toward you
my thoughts turn, o Nonna!

11.

All, all is lost to the wind
of what you say to me, you flatterer!
Altogether, all your efforts
are lost, you pretender!

Be so good as to set your trap
for another!
For you are a loose thief,
for you have been with them all!

12.

Dark forest, your shade is so gloomy!
Poor heart, your sorrow presses so heavily!
The only thing valuable to you stands before your eyes;
eternally forbidden is that union with love.

13.

No, my love, don't sit
so near me!
Do not stare so ardently
at my face!

However much your heart may burn,
suppress your urges,
so that the world will not see
how much we love each other.

14.

Flaming eyes, dark hair,
sweet and audacious boy,
because of you my poor heart
toils with sorrow!

Is the field so full of light
that the flowers stand in darkness?
Is the world so full of joy
that the heart is abandoned to torment?

Can the sun's fire make ice,
or turn day into night?
Can the ardent breast of a man
breathe without glowing desire?

15. (In conclusion)

Now, you Muses, enough!
In vain you strive to describe
how misery and happiness
alternate in a loving breast.
You cannot heal the wounds
that Cupid has caused,
but solace can come
only from you, Kindly Ones.
--English translations by Emily Ezust