"Music to Uplift the Soul" Program Notes, 7 April 2006
Our Concert of "Music to Uplift the Soul" tonight could also be titled "The Colours of Lent". We have chosen intensely colourful and dramatic pieces from the modern English and American Lenten and Easter repertoire, as well as older works which act as a foil to them and anchor the program to its roots.
The program is centred on a 20th century work, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs, which set the 17th century poems of George Herbert.
From the modern end of the repertoire, we have the 1961 work by the American Phillip Dieterich, "Wilt thou not turn again, O Lord, and quicken us", which recalls the dramatic, atavistic – almost primitive - colours of the music of the early middle ages. As a comparison, we have the 17th century American and German composers Billings (listen for the falling tears) and Crüger (the sense of guilt and naked grief is very clear), who set their simple texts with dramatic immediacy, asking of us an instant and open reaction to the music.
The drama of the late Victorian "Go to Dark Gethsemane" reflects the influences of the Anglo/Catholic Oxford Movement and the Gothic Revival of the late 19th Century. In the descriptive sections you can almost hear the hammer blows on the cross; these are interspersed with strict homophonic sections in which the quite morbid sentimentality of the text is unmissably laid out.
The late 20th century piece, "He is Risen," by Eugene Englert uses a very finely written vocalism to represent the hastening footsteps of the Marys to the tomb and their confidence in declaring "He is not here". This piece is a favourite of women singers as it is extremely sympathetically written for the voice.
We are contributing to the world-wide celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by performing the last full choral piece that he, nearly, completed with his own hand, the "Lacrimosa" from the Requiem. The subsequent movements of the Requiem exist in sketch form and were completed by students and other Mozart scholars. Descriptive of guilty man’s pleading, almost begging for redemption at the mournful time of judgement, the ""Lacrimosa" packs an astounding world of colour and drama into a short piece.
As an example of a modern Requiem, we have a movement from the Requiem of the English composer John Rutter. In "Out of the Deep" (Psalm 130) man’s despair and pleadings for redemption are illustrated by the very fine solo writing for the cello, played tonight by Frank Westphal.
The second Mozart work on our program tonight is one of the most well-known of all his short works: "Ave Verum Corpus". This, and the poem which precedes it, commemorate the Feast of Corpus Christi.
This anonymous, Middle English poem, "The Knight of the Grail" is full of mystical allusions: the bed hung around with curtains represents the altar; the wounded knight, the Eucharistic sacrifice; the thorn, a symbol of the Crucifixion and so on. Appropriately one of the Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs – "Love bade me welcome" – also has Corpus Christi symbolism: the composer interweaves into it a quotation from the plainsong, "O Sacrum Convivium", sung by wordless chorus, just in case the listener misses the poet’s allusion.