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MIT Chamber Chorus
THREE APPARENT MIRACLES
Tonight's program brings together three rarely-heard choral masterpieces of the twentieth century. The two
cantatas featured in the first half, written twenty years apart, are affectionate settings of poets that each of
the composers greatly valued, while the mass represents its composer's struggle, over the course of
decades, to reconcile an intense, personal spirituality with the need to express his faith through music.
THREE APPARENT MIRACLES
Tonight's program brings together three rarely-heard choral masterpieces of the twentieth century. The two cantatas featured in the first half, written twenty years apart, are affectionate settings of poets that each of the composers greatly valued, while the mass represents its composer's struggle, over the course of decades, to reconcile an intense, personal spirituality with the need to express his faith through music.
The Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974) was a largely self-taught musician: he had only one formal teacher, Joseph Lauber, who provided instruction in piano, harmony, and composition, but not counterpoint. Composition was a laborious practice for Martin, who spent many years developing his own personal musical language, which integrated serialist techniques with concepts of extended tonality, with tonal centers indicated in the bass. Fully developed only in the 1940's, his unique sound-world, with unusual arrays of instruments and unorthodox approach to choral writing, can be heard in multiple choral works, as early as the short Biblical oratorio In terra pax and Golgotha, the first important Passion since Bach's time, and as late as 1972's Requiem and his final work, the 1974 cantata Et la vie l'emporta. Martin's Ode à la musique represents a musical meeting of the minds across six centuries, as it sets a text by Guillaume de Machaut, the foremost poet and composer of the fourteenth century. Late in his life, he added an extensive Prologue to his complete works, outlining his musical philosophy, based on a hierarchy of "meaning," "rhetoric," and "music." His all-encompassing definition of music is outlined in "Et musique est une science" ("[So] music is a science"). In 1961, Martin created his setting of this text, for baritone solo, chorus, brass, double bass, and piano, for the thirtieth congress of the French-Swiss Pedagogical Society. Similar to Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, the Ode is in three contrasting sections, with a predominantly fast-slow-fast pattern. Also like Rejoice, the Ode begins with a unison melody in the choir. However, Martin quickly settles into a polyphonic treatment of the text, until we arrive at a Bach-like chorale at "Elle fait toutes les caroles" ("It creates all the carols"). A contemplation on the Virgin Mary completes the first section. The second section, for baritone solo and a cappella chorus, is once more a meditation on the music of heaven. The baritone begins with a recitative, telling us of the singing of "the angels, all the saints, and the archangels." Then, "as from afar," the altos intone "Gloria," to be followed in imitation by the other voices. Realizing that the heavenly choir sings "only when the music sings to them," the baritone informs us that "such is Music in paradise," as the heavenly Gloria slowly fades away. Our return to earth is led by the piano, with its arpeggios suggesting the harp of David, as the sopranos and altos narrate how David appeased the wrath of God by "singing so devotedly." A sinister brass chorale segues into a brief recitation of the exploits of Orpheus, the ultimate mythological songster and a central figure in the works of Machaut. The chorus explains that he led his beloved Eurydice out of the underworld "with his harp and with his sweet song," and could make rivers change their course to listen to his music. [And while Machaut's text leaves out Orpheus's rather tragic demise, Martin's accompaniment makes it clear that a happy ending is not in the cards for Orpheus.] The work ends with a short summary, exhorting us to believe in these "apparent miracles that music has made," with brass fanfares bringing the work to an abrupt close.
Martin's Calvinist upbringing, and his veneration of the music of Bach proved to be double-edged swords: while they were sources of inspiration for many of his works, they also were obstacles in his artistic development. His family's deeply-held religious beliefs made him believe that public expressions of personal faith were unacceptable, and the doubt that his own music could ever withstand comparison with the cantatas and masses of his idol prevented him from publishing any works on sacred themes until 1944's In terra pax, a setting of Biblical texts to commemorate the end of World War II in Europe. Worse still, these sentiments meant that his Mass for unaccompanied double chorus, written in the 1920's, remained unperformed until 1963, the year of its publication. As a result, compared to Vaughan Williams's contemporary Mass in G minor, also for unaccompanied double chorus, Martin's equally accomplished creation has unfairly languished in obscurity. As in all of the movements in this work, the second chorus begins the Kyrie, with a slow, plainchant-like melody, echoed first by the altos in chorus I, and then the two soprano sections, with the tenors and basses in the background. The lower voices come to the fore in the following section, marked "avec mouvement" (with movement), which leads to the first fortissimo outburst, with tenors and sopranos on a high B, just before the "Christe eleison." This section similarly builds in intensity, until another fortissimo climax, and the return of the "Kyrie," ending on a quiet E major. The tenors in chorus II start the Gloria on a pedal, with the other voices entering on increasingly higher pitches and after shorter intervals until both choruses unite for "in excelsis"; this process is immediately repeated, starting with the low basses. The movement quickly picks up pace, until halfway through, when the second chorus drones the "Domine Deus," while the first chorus sings "Agnus Dei." Both choirs share in the "Quoniam tu solus sanctus," where Martin breaks with tradition by eschewing both a fugal episode on the concluding "Amen," and the usual forte ending of this movement. Although the Credo has by far the longest text of any movement of the ordinary Mass, Martin's concentrated setting is just fifteen bars longer than the Gloria. That is not to say that Martin's Credo lacks the drama of other composers': he retained a special fondness for the "Et incarnatus est" section, with its wrenching "Crucifixus." The "Et resurrexit" is a graceful dance, with sopranos and altos in each chorus in imitation, as are the two tenor sections. The first sopranos and second tenors lead the "Et in spiritum sanctum," repeating the same melody for each new line of text. The movement is brought to a vigorous conclusion with a homophonic statement of "Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum." The Sanctus begins with the lower voices repeating a slow-moving figure which imitates the tolling of bells. As the movement progresses, the voices become increasingly animated, until we reach the "Hosanna in excelsis," with a prominent part for the tenors in both choruses singing in unison. From here, we segue immediately into the "Benedictus": with the three lower voices in chorus II chanting against the exotic close harmonies of their chorus I counterparts, while the sopranos, divided in each chorus, exchange the undulating primary melody. The "Hosanna" which concludes this movement is one of the most virtuosic moments in the entire choral literature: with all of the voices soaring into their highest registers, until the final chord, where chorus I drops out, leaving chorus II "pealing" once more, on the dominant chord of E major. It was here in 1922 that Martin stopped working on the Mass. Four years later, Martin returned to this work, and added one of the greatest afterthoughts in all of music: the Agnus Dei. The music sounds effortless and timeless, artfully concealing its difficulties: the meter oscillates between 5/4 and 4/4, interspersed with an occasional 3/4 bar. Against the steady pulse of the second chorus's slowly-changing harmonies, the first chorus sings its ethereal melody in unison. The basic melody is repeated six times, with the pitch gradually increasing, and with ever more insistent repetitions of miserere ("have mercy") through the first four variations. After the climax of the fourth variation, with the first chorus in two parts for the only time in the movement, the mood calms down through the remaining two variations, until all voices unite for the lone dona nobis pacem. The final chord is G major, and for the first and only time in this work, we end a movement on the tonic, and we sense that at long last, our spiritual journey has come to an end.
TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS
Rejoice in the Lamb
Nations, and languages, and every Creature in which is the breath of Life.
Let man and beast appear before him, and magnify his name together. Let Nimrod, the mighty hunter, bind a leopard to the altar and consecrate his spear to the Lord.
Let Ishmail dedicate a tyger, and give praise for the liberty in which the Lord has let him at large.
Let Balaam appear with an ass, and bless the Lord his people and his creatures for a reward eternal.
Let Daniel come forth with a lion, and praise God with all his might through faith in Christ Jesus.
Let Ithamar minister with a chamois, and bless the name of Him that cloatheth the naked.
Let Jakim with the satyr bless God in the dance.
Let David bless with the bear the beginning of victory to the Lord--to the Lord the perfection of excellence. Hallelujah for the heart of God, and from the hand of the artist inimitable, and from the echo of the heavenly harp in sweetness magnifical and mighty. SOPRANO SOLO For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For he knows that God is his saviour.
For God has bless'd him in the variety of his movements.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty,
From whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God. ALTO SOLO For the Mouse is a creature of great personal valour.
For this is a true case-cat takes female mouse, male mouse will not depart, but stands threat'ning and daring. . . . If you will let her go, I will engage you, as prodigious a creature as you are.
For the Mouse is a creature of great personal valour.
For the Mouse is of an hospitable disposition. TENOR SOLO For the flowers are great blessings.
For the flowers have their angels, even the words of God's creation.
For the flower glorifies God and the root parries the adversary.
For there is a language of flowers.
For the flowers are peculiarly the poetry of Christ. CHORUS For I am under the same accusation with my Savior,
For they said, he is besides himself.
For the officers of the peace are at variance with me, and the watchman smites me with his staff.
For the silly fellow, silly fellow, is against me, and belongeth neither to me nor to my family.
For I am in twelve hardships, but he that was born of a virgin shall deliver me out of all. BASS SOLO For H is a spirit, and therefore he is God.
For K is king, and therefore he is God.
For L is love, and therefore he is God.
For M is musick, and therefore he is God. CHORUS For the instruments are by their rhimes,
For the shawm rhimes are lawn fawn and the like.
For the harp rhimes are sing ring and the like.
For the cymbal rhimes are bell well and the like.
For the flute rhimes are tooth youth and the like.
For the bassoon rhimes are pass class and the like.
For the dulcimer rhimes are grace place and the like.
For the clarinet rhimes are clean seen and the like.
For the trumpet rhimes are sound bound and the like.
For the trumpet of God is a blessed intelligence and so are all the instruments in Heav'n.
For God the Father Almighty plays upon the harp of stupendous magnitude and melody.
For at that time malignity ceases and the devils themselves are at peace.
For this time is perceptible to man by a remarkable stillness and serenity of soul. Hallelujah for the heart of God, and from the hand of the artist inimitable, and from the echo of the heavenly harp in sweetness magnifical and mighty. --adapted from Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart (1758-1763)
Ode à la Musique
Mass for double chorus a cappella
KyrieLord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Gloria Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.
We praise You, we bless You, we worship You, we glorify You, we thank You for Your great glory: O Lord God, King of Heaven, God the Father Almighty.
O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father: who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; who takes away the sins of the world, give ear to our prayer; who sits at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For You alone are holy, You alone are the Lord, You alone are high above all: Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Credo I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God of God, light of light, true God of true God. Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.
And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. He was crucified also for us: under Pontius Pilate He suffered and was buried.
And the third day He rose again, according to the scriptures. And He ascended into heaven: he sits at the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead: of His kingdom there shall be no end.
And in the Holy spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified: who spoke by the prophets. And in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
I confess one baptism for the remission of sins and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen. Sanctus-Benedictus Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts: heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
Agnus Dei Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.