|The Coolin||Samuel Barber|
|I Do Not Love Thee||Rami Levin|
|Mon cuer me fait tous dis penser||
Guillaume Du Fay (c. 1399-1474)
|Donna, se vaga sei||Orazio Vecchi (1550-1605)|
|Blaison du beau tétin||Clément Janequin (c. 1485- c. 1560)|
From Les Chansons des Roses:
Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)
|En une seule fleur|
|Contre qui, rose|
|De ton reve trop plein|
|It was a lover and his lass||John Rutter (b. 1945)|
Vox dilecti mei
G.P. da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594)
|Matona, mia cara||Orlando di Lasso (c. 1532-1594)|
Take me back, O hills I love
John Blow, arr. G. Furse
|Shendendoah||Trad., arr. James Erb|
Music, when soft voices die
C. Hubert H. Parry (1848-1918)
|Sweet and Low||Joseph Barnby (1838-1896)|
Mother, I will have a husband
Thomas Vautor (c. 1580- ?)
|She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife||Lyle Lovett, arr. Jonathan Miller|
NOTES ON THE MUSIC by Jonathan Miller
Samuel Barber: The Coolin (The Fair Haired One)
This is the third and final work in Reincarnations, a collection of poems by James Stephens which Barber set to music as his Op. 13. (The other two, less well known, are Mary Hynes and Anthony O Daly.) The text, lusty without being overly so, deliciously describes the progression of a passionate encounter, when words quickly become inadequate.
Jonatha Brooke: Over Oceans
You may not have heard of Jonatha Brooke yet, Trained initially as a modern dancer, she is also a gifted songwriter, lyricist, arranger, pianist, singer, and guitarist, based in Boston. Until recently, she was half of the folk duo call “The Story.” Brooke is known for her adverturesome approach to vocal harmony, which she and singer Jennifer Kimball explored intensively during their thirteen-year collaboration. Brooke’s selection as “harmony consultant” on Patty Larkin’s latest album reflects the esteem in which she is held in the folk world.
The Story’s debut album, Grace in Gravity (first released on Green Linnet, and then by Elektra in 1991), included this absolutely amazing a cappella duet. Of their unusual, angular, style, always full of surprises, Brooke has said, “It may have been the hard way, but what we’ve achieved is our own: the singing style and the writing and the harmonies, the attraction to dissonance. We choose the notes no one else would choose.” Watch for a new solo recording by Jonatha Brooke late this summer.
Rami Levin: I Do Not Love Thee
Rami Levin received her B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. in composition from the University of California, San Diego, and a Ph.D. in composition from the University of Chicago, where she studied with John Eaton and Shulamit Ran. Ms. Levin has received commissions from the Connecticut Arts Council, the Morley Wind Group in London, American String Teachers Association, Chicago Symphony Orchestra clarinetist John Bruce Yeh, His Majestie’s Clerkes, Chicago Pro Musica, and the University of Chicago Motet Choir. Ms. Levin’s works include pieces for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensemble and solo instruments and have been performed in the U.S., England, Canada, Spain, and Norway. In the fall of 1992 Ms. Levin was composer and music director for a production of Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall” at the Blackstone Theater in Chicago. A former president of American Women Composers Midwest, Ms. Levin has taught at Barat College, the Newberry Library, and the University of Chicago Continuing Education program. Ms. Levin is currently Assistant Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Music of Lake Forest College.
She writes: “In choosing a text to set, I look for words which move me and also have a somewhat universal message. The poem ‘I Do Not Love Thee’ fulfills both of these criteria.” The piece was written in November 1992 and given its first performance by the James Chorale in March 1994.
Guillaume Du Fay: Mon cuer me fait tous dis penser
Du Fay provides the earliest piece on today’s program. David Fallows, the eminent scholar of 15th-century music, is confident that this piece predates 1440. The text forms an acrostic, or words that you get by reading down the first letter of each line of text. Its meaning remains a mystery, spelling the name “Maria Andreas Q,” which may some day yield some biographical clues. For now, it is loving, touching poetry, set somewhat unusually in four parts.
This piece has held me in its thrall since I first sang it with Musique de Joye in the early 1980s. It shares with the early three-voice songs an intimacy and ease of manner; yet this song has a sound-world all its own, full of incredible overlapping lines and shifting textures, surpassing in my view all other of his secular works. The music at “Rose odourans” in particular blossoms exquisitely, with passing dissonances that move upward like opening petals.
Orazio Vecchi: Donna, se vaga sei
Vecchi is best known for two pieces, one little and one big: the conzonetta “Fa una canzona senza note nere,” which is a sneer at courtly affectations, and the commedia dell’arte madrigal cycle, L’Amfiparnaso, a hilarious hodgepodge of dramatic characters and musical styles. Vecchi mostly worked at cathedrals in northern Italy, notably Modena, and in the last seven years of his life was maestro di musica at the court of duke Cesare d’Este. Vecchi published six books of canzonettas, which met with unprecedented commercial success in Italy and the North. They were widely imitated, and even “contrafacted” into sacred and secular German verse, as well as English and Latin! This selection comes from his third book; he wrote the words as well as the music and must have enjoyed the work.
Clément Janequin: Blaison du beau tétin (Ode to a Beautiful Breast)
The author of this text is Clémont Marot, the brilliant Jesuit who translated the Genevan Psalter from the Latin. He also wrote a companion poem, the “ode to an ugly breast,” which was set to music by the relatively tame Jacobus Clemens non Papa. I sang both pieces with Musique de Joye under Tim McTaggart’s direction at Church of the Ascension about ten years ago and I have never forgotten them!
This poem was a runaway favorite at court and was immediately imitated by others. It is a tour-de-force of wit, always teasing at explicit suggestion and then backing off to more abstract thoughts, until the breast once again stirs baser or more specific instincts and descriptions. In fact, the opening description of a “swelling breast” has obvious connotations, but not until the final stanza does the poet reveal it to be a strategic double swell: it swells now, and will again on the wedding-bed, and will swell yet again to nourish a baby. (For these insights, and for the skillful translation, I thank Professor Clayton Lein of the English Department at Purdue University.) The music itself is quite perky, mostly bouncing along between duple and triple meter.
Morten Johannes Lauridsen: from Les Chansons des Roses
Morten Lauridsen is a native of the Pacific Northwest and studied at the University of Southern California School of Music, where he currently is Professor and Chair of the Department of Composition. Among his grants, prizes, and commissions are awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and Chorus America. His vocal works include five cycles, of which Les Chansons des Roses is most recent. Today we are singing the first three of the cycle’s five movements (the fifth is scored to include piano).
The texts are by Rainer Maria Rilke. Lauridsen writes: “In addition to his vast output of German poetry, Rilke wrote nearly four hundred poems in French. His poems on roses struck me as especially charming, filled with gorgeous lyricism, deftly crafted, and elegant in their imagery. I knew immediately upon reading the poems that I must set them to music…I wanted this cycle to be completely accessible, elegant, charming, and delightful to perform and to hear.” We have certainly been charmed already in rehearsal; sit back and enjoy this exquisite music.
John Rutter: It was a lover and his lass
British musician John Rutter is known throughout the world for his skill at composing, arranging, and conducting. Rutter’s command of musical style runs the gamut from hymn arrangements to large-scale choral works, such as his Requeim. Many of his sacred works and folksong arrangements have been recorded by The Cambridge Singers, a successful mixed choir which he directs.
Historical note: “It was a lover and his lass” takes words from William Shakespeare and sets them in a style which, it is very certain, would not have been known at all in 16th-century England.
Palestrina: Vox dilecti mei, from Motets from the Song of Songs (Cantico Canticorum)
The composer, famous in his own time as well as ours, came from the town of Palestrina, in the Sabine Hills near Rome. Lewis Lockwood writes that “his career exhibits not only enormous artistic power and fecundity, exercised with great restraint, but also a strong religious feeling coupled with a sense of worldly purpose.” This happy combination of sacred and secular matters is perhaps nowhere more fully expressed in his music than in the motets to texts from the Song of Songs, a collection of twenty-nine luscious five-voice works published in 1584. Palestrina dedicated this book to Pope Gregory XIII, confessing his shame at having composed music to worldly texts in former times, which seems a little odd given the passion of these bible verses! This song doesn’t dwell on a lover’s neck or eyes or brow, as many in the collection; it’s simply a jubilant shout at seeing one’s lover arrive.
Orlando di Lasso: Matona, mia cara
I have to express some disapproval at the most widely-used English edition of this piece, found in the class book The A Cappella Singer. The dippy, bowdlerized translation found there completely distorts the raucous, lusty buffoonery of this text. For decades, countless English-speaking madrigal groups have performed this piece as if it were a nice little ditty, innocently ignorant of the thrusting, relentless boor who leaves no doubts to his intentions. (I thank John Nygro for helping me rethink this piece.) I have provided two translations of my own: one from the foreigner’s bad Italian into Tuscan, and thence into English. There is a lot of nautical imagery in the text, which leads me to believe that the protagonist is a sailor. I’ll bet he’s supposed to be German; clearly, he’s ready for a good time.
John Blow, arr. George Furse: Take me back, O hills I love
I learned this haunting piece from the terrific duo album, Crossing the Distance, by Midwestern folksingers Claudia Schmidt and Sally Rogers, who hail from Milwaukee and Lansing, Michigan, respectively. The text here is not original to Blow’s musical version, which dates from England around 1700; in oral transmission, rather, the tune came down to four elderly sisters who sang it without any text at all. George Furse learned it from them and added these words on his own. We ”line it out” and then sing it as a round.
Traditional, arr. James Erb: Shenandoah
It is a wonderful thing when a well-known folksong finds a skillful arranger who keeps the character of the original, while making a whole new piece out of it. Such is the case here: Erb keeps the rocking interval of a third spinning through the upper voices while the men hold pedal points in the bright key of E major. As the piece progresses, the texture opens to eight parts that simply shimmer with overtones. Enjoy!
C. Hubert H. Parry: Muisc, when soft voices die
Parry is probably best known for his church music, which includes some of the most hugely ebullient pieces in the Episcopal high-church repertory: if you know I was glad or Jerusalem, you have the idea. However, this is not the whole picture of Parry. His part-music can be subtle, stirring, and intimate, as in the case of this piece, on words by Shelley. I am taking the tempo marking lento espressive quite literally.
Joseph Barnby: Sweet and low
This and the Parry piece just heard are from Paul Hillier’s collection of English Romantic Partsongs (Oxford, 1986). Hillier writes that in works such as Sweet and low “we find the epitome of what is understood by the term ‘Victorian partsong.’ Opinion seems divided as to their true musical worth, but of their genre they are both typical and perfect examples. Tennyson’s cradle song could not be imagined in a more sympathetic setting.” Gentle half-step inflections sprinkled in each of the voice parts help make Barnby’s song sweet, tender, and soothing.
Thomas Vautor: Mother, I will have a husband
We don’t know much about Vautor, who was active at the turn of the seventeenth century. His first book of madrigals was published in 1619 by Thomas Este (alias Snodham), who seems to have cornered the market on English madrigal-music engraving for a few decades. This piece is told specifically from a woman’s point of view; it is not clear who composed the text. In any event, this woman is determined to make her point directly! John a Dun missed his chance, poor blighter.
Lyle Lovett, arr. Jonathan Miller: She’s no Lady, She’s My Wife
It’s unfortunate that Lyle Lovett had to wait until marrying Julia Roberts to become a household name, because his work has been brilliant for many years. He constantly challenges musical and thematic conventions in many genres, from country to gospel to rhythm-and-blues. Examples are his rendition of Stand by your Man from a male point of view, which really makes you rethink it, and his twisted gospel song Church, about a preacher who keeps on preachin’ so long that the choir interrupts, “To the Lord let praises be/it’s time for dinner, now let’s go eat.