Harmonium, A Classical Choral Society
June 3 and 4, 2000
Calme des Nuits, and
I am Come into My Garden
William Billings (1746-1800)
PROGRAM NOTES: Choral music, as much as any other pursuit, demonstrates community, interdependence and our need for one another, as in the quote form Chief Seattles Prayer All things are connected. Tonights music cherishes the earth and our connection to her, whether as home and resting place (as in the student pieces), or a celebration of the beauties of nature, the gift of most this amazing day. Two of the pieces are cautionary (The Blue Eye of God and The Earth is Tired.) Many of the composers/publishers have provided their own program notes which will be quoted here.
Listen more often to things than to beings
Those who have died have never never left
Listen more often to things than to beings...etc.
The Blue Eye of God was commissioned by "Les Choristes," the award-winning women's choir at the University of Western Ontario. Nancy Telfer is a Canadian composer who received her formal education at the University of Western Ontario where she concentrated on music education, composition, piano and voice. She now works full-time as a composer. Since 1979, she has composed over 180 works ranging from short pieces for beginning students to full extended works for virtuoso musicians, works for soloists, chamber ensembles, orchestras, choirs, and bands. She has had works commissioned by many fine performers and her music has been performed and broadcast around the world. In addition to her work as a composer, she frequently presents workshops in Canada and the United States. Barbara Powis was a Canadian poet from British Columbia who died from cancer while in her forties. All her poems present a vivid image of the outdoors: movement, color and a strong sense of life. The music incorporates this sense of movement in vivid text painting depicting the cries of the whales, and leaping and dipping of dolphins and birds.
The animals, the winged and swimming creatures.
Dolphins, butchered on beaches,
Ducks and long-limbed herons
The humpback whales,
Shen khar venakhi, a 13th century wedding song from the Georgian Republic, appears in a collection entitled Gruzinski.e narodnye pesni, (Georgian folksongs) compiled by Chidzhavadze and Tsarareishvili (Moscow Music, 1964). Conceived as an introduction to the rich history of Georgian vocal music, the collection reveals a highly diverse picture of the musical, poetic, linguistic, and stylistic characteristics of Georgian folk literature. The collection is organized into various genres: work songs, calendar songs, lullabies, wedding songs, humorous songs, dance songs, lyric songs, epic and historic songs. Shen khar venakhi appears among the wedding songs as No.15 of the 60 songs, all but two of which are set for male chorus.
The texts of the folk songs appear in Georgian Cyrillic and in singable Russian translations. The editor has chosen the latter for this edition. We are most grateful to Eva Shraiman for her translation of the Russian introduction to the collection and the transliteration and translation of the text of this song. The AAB form of Shen khar venakhi consists of two verses and a refrain which draw parallels between nature and love, blending images of the beauty of a vineyard and the beauty of the beloved:
My vineyard is luxuriantly in blossom;
Zakhary Paliashvili (1871-1933), a Georgian composer, teacher, and ethnomusicologist,
has harmonized most of the Georgian folk songs in this collection according
to the principles of 13th century Georgian improvisatory style. The original
melody appears in the second tenor part, supported strongly by the burdon
or bass (which should be the strong point of all songs), while the first
tenor improvises with slow notes or parallel harmonizing notes above
The other mens chorus piece is a simple yet
profound chorale-like setting of This We Know (Chief Seattles Prayer)
by Earthsongs publisher and composer Ron Jeffers.
Elizabeth Alexanders music has been performed
by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra,
the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and the Wooster Symphony Orchestra; by
new music ensembles such as The Music Fix and Sounds New; and by soloists
and chamber musicians at universities, theatres and music festivals across
the country. The many choirs which have performed her works include the
Gregg Smith Singers, the American Master Chorale and the Cayuga Vocal Ensemble.
She has completed over a dozen commissions for orchestras, choirs, chamber
ensembles and~ solo musicians.
Program Notes by Elizabeth Alexander: In the gentle April Rain Song the soprano solo has the sustained, lyrical quality of a remembered sleepsong. The chorus creates background textures from the word lullaby, at first suggesting a gentle rain, and later shifting waves of sleep.
In the second song, I took my cue from cummings images of floating and flying, shaping melodies which seem sometimes to hang in midair, sometimes to soar. The whimsical repeating phrase, the mountains are dancing is sung first in unison, later as a duet, and finally as a four-part canon.
When 7 year old Erica learned to play Camptown Races, she danced gleefully into my studio, singing, doodah, doodah. So when I resumed work on Spring Grass the following day, I threw in some doodahs and fiddledeedees for her, along with a rhythm that can only suggest skipping. Unlike my 1982 setting of this same poem, which was sprightly throughout, this piece contains an earnest plea for the longawaited grass.
Spring Revels was written for The Festival Choir of Madison,
Wisconsin, with the generous support of the Wisconsin Arts Board.
April Rain Song
Let the rain kiss you.
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
Spring grass, there is a dance to be danced for you.
Smell of the young spring grass,
Young spring grass just after the winter,
when faces called flowers float out of the ground
when faces called flowers float out of the ground and breathing is wishing
and wishing is havingbut keeping is downward and doubting and never
when every leaf opens without any sound and wishing is having and having
is givingbut keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
when more than was lost has been found has been found and having is
giving and giving is living
Camille Saint-Saens, most prolific of the late French romantic composers, wrote in virtually every medium, foreshadowing the neoclassic revivalism of Faure and Ravel. His best known choral work, the Christmas Oratorio, is beloved of large choruses, while chamber choruses have discovered the madrigalian op. 68. They celebrate nature as perceived by the artist and as comfort to the sorrowful. The two offer a nice contrast, between the slow, careful layering of harmonies in the first, and the frenetic motion of the second.
Calme des Nuits
Calm of nights, coolness of evenings,
The burst of sun, gaiety,
Les Fleurs et les Arbres
Flowers and trees
Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) was born into a family of distinguished musical heritage. Her paternal grandmother Marie Julie Boulanger was an opera singer, her Russian mother Raissa was a singer who came to Paris to study with her father Ernest Boulanger (1815-1900), who was himself an opera composer, violinist and singing teacher at the Paris Conservatoire and had won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1835. Her older sister Nadia (1887-1979), a student of Louis Vierne and Gabriel Fauré and winner of the second prize in the 1908 Prix de Rome competition, was to become one of the foremost teachers of composition in the twentieth century. A visiting musician once described the two sisters:
Nadia [was] tall and dark with, large, penetrating eyes illuminated by a finely disciplined intelligence; Lili, slight, fair, and frail, looked like the lost princess of a Maeterlinck play next to Nadia's healthy vitality. It was evident even then that the flame of Lilis talent was likely to overtax her meager physical resources.
Indeed, a bout with bronchial pneumonia had left Lilis immune system permanently damaged and she was only able to compose sporadically the rest of her life due to recurring episodes of Crohns disease. In 1909, sensing the possibility of her early death, Lili decided to devote herself to becoming a composer, studied with Georges Caussade and Paul Vidal of the Paris Conservatoire, and entered the Prix de Rome competition in the spring of 1912. Illness forced her to withdraw from the rigorous competition, but she resolved to continue her preparation by composing several works for orchestra and chorus. Hymne au Soleil, completed in July of 1912, was the first of these pieces. It was first performed in February, 1913, by the Société Chorale dAmateurs Paris and was later dedicated to the Count de San Martino e Valperga, a friend of the Boulangers in Paris whose salon in Rome was a gathering place for Lili and many other artists. The text is an extract from the play Le Pariah (1833) by Casimir Delavigne (17831849), a French playright who also wrote dramatic and lyric poems in a semi-Romantic style. The choice of this play, which is set in India and depicts a Hindu religious rite, is typical of the late nineteenth century French interest in exoticism, familiar to us in the works of Debussy and Ravel and less so in other works of Lili Boulanger. The God mentioned in stanza two is Helios, the God of the Sun (see the story of Phaeton from Ovid's Metamorphoses in Edith Hamilton's Mythology). Wordpainting also appears frequently, most notably in the dramatic resurgence of the sun rising into full splendor at il sélance! and in the contrapuntal independence of the seven spirited steeds.
Hymne au Soleil, an optimistic work with its powerful Debussylike parallel chords and assertive motion, is somewhat atypical of Lili Boulangers twenty-nine extant complete works which are usually more indirect and full of subtle nuances. (notes by Collette Ripley)
HYMNE AU SOLEIL
Sept coursiers, quÿen partant le Dieu contient à peine,
Avec ses champs en fleurs, ses monts, ses bois épais,
Let us bless the power of the resurging sun.
Seven steeds, which the God can scarcely keep in check,
With its fields in flower, its mountains, its dense woods,
Joshua Flores is a senior at High Point Regional High School. He plays the trumpet, guitar, piano, and sings. He has been composing music for the past three years, beginning in theory class. He enjoys a multitude of extracurricular activities, soccer, international club, Chamber Singers, Sussex County Youth Orchestra, and High Point Harmonizers. He also participates in many school activities as well including Jazz band, Concert Band, and Concert Chorus. Joshua plans to continue his study of music in the field of music education in college.
Song of the Sea
I dream of tides that hold me
The Waves of time take me away.
The little bird that calls me,
Oh where is home to those who find our home in the blue sky
The grains of sand my home
Edward Elgar, Englands great late nineteenth century composer is remembered chiefly for his orchestral works and Pomp and Circumstance Marches, but he also wrote a variety of choral music from the huge cantata The Dream of Gerontius, to smaller anthems and large cathedral-scale psalm settings such as Give Unto the Lord, a setting of Psalm 29. This psalm ascribes to the Lord the glory due his name that is, the earth, nature, the sea are all from the Lord. This grand work for orchestra or organ and chorus was written for the Sons of the Clergy Festival at St. Pauls Cathedral, April 30, 1914. It contains a certain amount of joyful bombast (especially in the bass section) in the depiction of the mighty voice of the Lord which breaketh the cedars and shaketh the wilderness. It ends with a musical depiction of the peace of the Lords temple, in the elegiac contempletiveness associated with Elgar. (to top)
Larry Bennett provides the following notes for Billings I Am Come Into My Garden: This is one of three Billings anthems based upon texts from the Song of Solomon. Together with I Charge You, O ye Daughters of Jerusalem and I am the Rose of Sharon, it forms an extraordinary group of Biblical love songs. I Am Come into My Garden consists of selected verses from the Song of Solomon (5:1,2,6; 2:5 and 8:14) which develop in dramatic form three images: a sensual garden, an absent lover, and a gathering of friends to celebrate. The song begins with a direct address to the absent lover. Within this frame are two addresses to assembled friends (Eat, O friends, and Stay me with flagons). At the center of the song is a dream-vision recounting an unfulfilled meeting with the lover (I sleep but my heart waketh). This anthem appears to be unique to Billings last published collection, The Continental Harmony (Boston, 1794). One of his most sumptuous and evocative text settings, it contains most of the characteristics of his style--a penchant for melodic writing in each of the parts, sensitivity to the text, and an abundant sprinkling of unorthodox harmonies, including a direct cross relation (F# and F natural simultaneously), open fifth cadences , and frequent sets of parallel fifths and octaves. (to top)
Ecco mormorar londe is an early madrigal for Claudio Monteverdi, from his Second Book of Madrigals (of 9) (1590). Although not yet as dramatic as the later continuo madrigals, the soprano parts are rather florid, showing knowledge of the Ferrara school of composition and the ensemble of virtuoso women singers who influenced them. The musical description of dawn is quite programmatic; beginning low and soft and gradually building, as well as including a lot of text-painting, such as the melismas on cantar (sing). The text by Tasso makes a play on words between dawn laura and the beloved Laura.
Hark! Low murmurs the water
Shes Like the Swallow is a lovely arrangement of a Newfoundland Folksong, arranged by Edward T. Chapman. The beloved is compared to the swallow that flies so high, the river that never runs dry, the sunshine on the lee shore, for in her heartbreak shes lain down to die on a bed of roses. In death she returns to nature, as in several of the other works tonight (Breaths and E Kounia). (to top)
Mata del Anima Sola (Tree of the Lonely Soul) continues the personification of nature. These notes are provided by Maria Guinand, editor of the Musica de Latinoamerica series for Earthsongs publisher: From Antonio Estevez we present Mata del Anima Sola, a work inspired by a poem of Alberto Arvelo Torrealba. The piece has two distinct sections: one slow and meditative, and the other very quick and rhythmic based on a combined 3/4 and 6/8 meter which is characteristic of a dance called joropo. The music depicts the solitude and mystery of the llanos, the high plains of Venezuela, while the tenor solo represents the llanero, or man of the plains whose songs are improvised. In the joropo section, the choir imitates the instruments that are traditionally used to play the dance. The altos and tenors have the rhythm of the cuatro (a small guitar with only four strings), the sopranos imitate the diatonic harp, and the basses sing the guitar bordones, all of which combine to provide the instrumental accompaniment to the tenor soloist.
The composer Antonio Estevez (1916-1971) was one of the second generation of important Venezuelan composers in this century. A choral and orchestral conductor, his most important work, Cantata Criolla, a choral symphonic work based on words by Alberto Torrealba which depict a duel between the man of the plains and the devil.. The poetry of Alberto Arvelo Torrealba (1903-1971) is always related to life and traditions in the Venezuelan plains, his motherland. (to top)
Celtic Mouth Music (notes by Joseph Byrd), sometimes called lilting, diddling, or port-a-beul (tunes form the mouth), is music straight form the heart - and the mouth. Its tantalizing rhythms and its driving melodic lines reveal the unique partnership of song and dance in the folk music traditions of the Celts and the Gaels: neither exists without the other. Sung during weddings, dances, chore times, or just for sport, mouth music combines astonishing verbal acrobatics with direct, heartfelt harmonies to create an irresistible musical experience. From its inception, Celtic mouth music was meant to fill the gaps created by poverty, religious expression, and/or lack of good instrumentalists, but mostly the later. Its vocal music meant for dancing in which the singers imitate the music of fiddles, bagpipes, and jews harps, delighting in lyrics that are often bawdy, and always bold and full of the word-wizardry that creates their complex rhythms.
Most couldnt play (the violin) steadily enough for dancin so they diddl't. Gordon Easton
This particular tune hails from the Hebrides, a chain of islands off the west coast of Scotland. This rendering is a direct transcription of the version sung for many years by the famous Irish musicians Dolores Keane and John Faulkner. (to top)
Africa came from the rock group Toto in 1982: David Paich was the keyboard/vocals guy, and Jeff Porcaro the drummer. As in the other madrigal pieces, relationship with the earth (here, the rains down in Africa) and love relationships become synonymous. Randy Crenshaw is an in-demand Los Angeles studio singer and arranger with credits ranging from The Simpsons and The Hunt for Red October to commercials for MacDonalds and AT&T. His vocal jazz originals and arrangements are written for the a cappella group Terra Nova. (to top)
Elliot Levine has been the baritone for the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble since its inception in 1969. He received his M.M. From the Manhattan School of Music and his B.A. From Queens College. He also studied music at the Orff School in Salzburg and composition with Robert Starer at Brooklyn College. He is composer-in-residence at the Church of St. Thomas More in New York City and has been awarded five Meet-the Composer grants. His longest work, The Cantata of the Animals (1996) was commissioned and premiered by Harmonium Choral Society, and has since been performed by excellent choruses across the East Coast and in Tokyo, Japan.
El progreso Honduras was written in 1989 for the Mark Twain Junior High School Chorus and the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, to provide a unique opportunity to combine an advanced madrigal group with a young SAB chorus. The text, written by Sheila Maldanado when she was an eighth-grader at Mark Twain, describes her native village of Progreso in a rainstorm:
Above the mountains far ahead
Then the showers came
We played barefoot
i thank you Gad for most this amazing
(i who have died am alive again today,
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
(now the ears of my ears awake and
Eeremee tora yia panta,
The Cradle of God
Resting now forever,
Stefan Swanson was born in Morristown, NJ on October 21, 1981.
He is an 18 year old senior at Madison High School. He is the principal
trumpet in every ensemble at the high school and also serves as the president
of the musical activities. He enjoys fishing and golfing as
well as ice hockey and baseball. Next to music, his first love is
film (cinematography in particular). His favorite composers are John
Williams, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Danny Elfman.
Stefan provides the following notes: This piece is a prayer from a soul
whose body has died. He is praying from his grave in the earth, which
is why the earth is referred to as Gods cradle. I used Greek because
it is and under-used language in choral compositions, rich in vowels which
make it very singable. (to top)
For an internaitonal mobilization to save THE EARTH
Composer, director and teacher Alberto Grau (b. 1937) is one of
the leading musical personalities in the history of contemporary Venezuelan
music. In 1967 he founded the Schola Cantorum de Caracas, a prestigious
choral group which was awarded first prize at the Concurso Internacional
Guido D'Arezzo in Italy, in 1974. He has participated in many international
choral events as a performer, a guest conductor and as an adjudicator at
festival competitions in Europe, North America and Latin America.
The Alma Llanera of Pedro Elias Gutierrez (1870-1954) is one of the most popular of Venezuelan songs. Gutierrez was mainly a composer of light music, particularly waltzes and zarzuelas. The Alma Llanera, which belongs to a zarzuela of the same name, became so popular that it is considered a second national anthem by the Venezuelan people. It is a joropo, a typical Venezuelan dance rhythm based on the simultaneous combination of 3/4 and 6/8 meter. Because of its joyous character, it is usually performed during celebrations accompanied by the cuatro, a diatonic harp, and maracas. This choral arrangement by Angel Sauce, one of the most important Venezuelan conductors and composers of the 50's and 60's, contains the rhythmic elements in the tenor and bass.
Yo naci en una ribera
Soul of the Plains
I was born on a bank