Baroque and Beatles

October 2009

Program Notes

P R O G R A M

Organ Fugue

J.S. Bach (1685-1750), arr. Ward Swingle

Ticket To Ride

Lennon/McCartney, arr. L'Estrange

* * * * * *

Hal'luyah, ashrei ish yarei et-Adonai

double-choir

Salamone Rossi
(c. 1570-c. 1630)

Penny Lane Lennon/McCartney, arr. Rathbone

* * * * * *

Resta di darmi noia

Plachy, Grizzell, Schober,
Brock, Streem

Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613)

Taxman

Hoss Brock, tenor

George Harrison, arr. Jim Hale
* * * * * *
Hear my prayer, O Lord  

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

Eleanor Rigby

Matt Greenberg, baritone

Lennon/McCartney,
arr. Paul Hart

* * * * * *

Komm, Jesu, komm

double-choir

J. S. Bach
Got To Get You Into My Life Lennon/McCartney, arr. Paul Crabtree

INTERMISSION

Ah, dolente partita

Kamp, Plachy, Grizzell,
Mitchell, Greenberg

Claudio Monteverdi
(1567-1643)

Within You Without You

George Harrison, arr. Eric Freeman

 

* * * * * *

 
Dido's Lament:  When I am laid in earth   

Kathryn Kamp, soprano

Henry Purcell
Blackbird

Trevor Mitchell, tenor

Lennon/McCartney,
arr. Daryl Runswick

* * * * * *

Si, ch'io vorrei morire

 

Claudio Monteverdi

Drive My Car

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Simon Lesley

encore: When I'm 64

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Ward Swingle

Please join us immediately after the Chicago and Oak Park performances for an informal question and answer session with Artistic Director Jonathan Miller and WXRT Radio’s Terri Hemmert.

BAROQUE and BEATLES:
opening thoughts from Jonathan Miller

Baroque and Beatles is back, by popular demand. We created this concert idea five seasons ago, and how the time has flown! This concert showcases the ways in which two phenomenal developments in our musical heritage have made our lives richer. The Baroque composers worked in the period roughly from 1600 to 1750. The Beatles were active in the compressed, intense decade of the 1960s. Both turned the music of the previous generation on its ear and gave us new ways of hearing, of singing about feeling, and of organizing sound.

Here’s a question for you: What is “baroque music,” anyway? Certainly nobody stood up in 1600 and said, “Okay, now the Baroque begins,” or declared in 1750, “The Baroque Period is now over.” In truth, the term baroque would have meant nothing to people then in terms of music’s history. Until rather recently, the word baroque wasn’t much of a compliment either and meant “excessively fussy” in the English language. Most people who used the term did so in reference to visual art or architecture, not music. “Baroque” connoted an overindulgent sense of ornament, where filigree-like details obscured the cleanliness of line, in a sense similar to the word “rococo.”

Where did the idea of calling art works “baroque” originate, anyway? If you’re looking to blame someone, you could start with art historians, who have sorted Western visual art into various time-blocks that embrace large trends in technique. In 1882, art historian Heinrich Wölfflin suggested that the basic principles of 17th-century visual art might also be applied to music. The renowned musicologist Curt Sachs took Wölfflin’s ideas to heart and argued forcefully in 1919 that Wölfflin’s conception really did work for music. A heated debate followed.

Before the debate was able to be resolved conclusively (and you may be wondering how many angels were dancing on the head of that pin), there were two writers here in America in the 1940s—Paul Henry Lang and Manfred Bukofzer—who simply gave the term “Baroque” a new meaning in English: what came after the “Renaissance.” By the 1960s, the term used in this way had taken root in America, perhaps because the recording industry could use it. As a result, we now talk about “Baroque” as a label for music composed roughly between 1600 and 1750.

So what does “music of the baroque” really mean? A few important characteristics of music in this period are, in brief, as follows:

• Music was written using a thoroughbass, meaning a harmony implied by two outer voices.
• The harmonic implications of the bass line are strong enough to allow for florid movement by the upper voice or voices.
• The bass’s harmonies allow for soloists or groups to alternate from the whole, which in turn gives possibilities for forms like concertos, accompanied solo song, and opera.

To build our concert, we have mostly paired a single Baroque work with a single Beatles song, where the pieces share a feeling or mood in the text or lyrics. Sometimes the mood is contemplative, as in the pairing of Purcell’s anguished “Hear my prayer, O Lord” and “Eleanor Rigby,” where the sense of loss is palpable. The final pairing of the concert evokes, no pun intended, rather a pedal-to-the-medal mood, where Monteverdi’s lustful outburst, “Si, ch’io vorrei morire” (“Yes, I wish to die”) meets the eager, almost panting momentum of “Drive My Car.”

This concert had two big programming challenges. One is that first-class a cappella arrangements of Beatles tunes are rare. The other challenge was this: because instruments were getting so popular in Monteverdi’s day, there wasn’t a lot of Baroque music that started out as a cappella except for works that are sacred, backward-looking, and/or designed to evoke an “old” feel. A concert of music like that wouldn’t be a Chicago a cappella concert! To make sure we had a good program, I have combined several pieces which were intended for all-vocal performance, such as the Gesualdo and Monteverdi madrigals and the Purcell motet, with pieces that work well in new a cappella arrangements.

For the Beatles arrangements, I would like to thank the Pacific Mozart Ensemble for “Taxman” and “Within You Without You”; the ever-inventive Paul Crabtree; the Swingle Singers and King’s Singers; and Don Gooding from Mainely A Cappella (in Maine) for helpful advice. Finally, thank you for coming to hear a live concert. In the days of iTunes and HD radio, there are so many entertainment and musical options available simply by staying home, but you are here, which gladdens our hearts! Enjoy the show.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director


NOTES ON THE MUSIC

J.S. Bach, arr. Ward Swingle: Organ Fugue, BWV 578
There are only a few composers out there whose instrumental music lends itself brilliantly well to arrangements for a cappella voices. Johann Sebastian Bach is one. The famous Swingle Singers were a group of eight classically-trained French vocalists, whom Ward Swingle taught to, well, swing. Their trademark sound was the one we’re evoking here: a cool, “studio” sound, made by taking Bach’s great counterpoint and having each voice deliver its musical material with “ba-da-ba-da-da-va-dam” syllables. Though Swingle’s original arrangement was for eight voices, the scoring is essentially a fugue in four parts.

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Alexander L’Estrange: Ticket to Ride
Music critic Tim Riley calls Ringo’s lopsided, somewhat agitated drum beat—almost a triplet, but not quite—the defining feature of Ticket to Ride. In Alexander L'Estrange's version, the mood is less agitated and more wistful, taking its cue from the opening words, "I think I'm gonna be sad." He softens that lopsided rhythm, breaking up the original guitar licks into the four women's voice parts, where they become gently rolled chords. The arranger also extends some of the phrase lengths, making the song's sense of yearning especially pronounced.

Salamone Rossi: Hal’luyah, ashrei ish yarei et-Adonai
This joyous double-choir piece by Rossi is one of the monuments of Baroque Jewish choral music. This setting of Psalm 112 is joyous, almost madrigalian in its aesthetic. The style is clearly indebted to the secular Italian madrigal and to the double-choir motets of the Gabrielis from Venice.

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Jonathan Rathbone: Penny Lane
Jonathan Rathbone was a member of the Swingle Singers for many years and was a key figure in their Bach Hits Back album. Here he steps out with a Beatles cover. The chart completely immerses itself in the cool, controlled world that Paul McCartney created in his reminiscence of Penny Lane. Rathbone substitutes a horn-section scat for the final verse, completely omitting the words “And though she feels as if she’s in a play/She is anyway.” It seems that he is counting on each of us to keep the original tune “Penny Lane” in our ears and in our eyes, as we hear the original words while hearing a new texture and harmony.

Gesualdo: Resta di darmi noia
Carlo Gesualdo, prince of Venosa, achieved his first notoriety by murdering his adulterous wife and her lover. The ensuing scandal exposed his musical interests. When he later married a noble lady from Ferrara, he was able to spend much of 1594 there, where he drank in the local scene, published new music, and met the brilliant composer Luzzaschi. A year later, Gesualdo took Ferrarese musicians back to his castle in an attempt to replicate a high-art court culture.

This piece comes from his sixth book of madrigals for five voices. In general, Gesualdo, following Luzzaschi, flamboyantly displays his cleverness and desire for complexity. Unlike Monteverdi, Gesualdo insists on discrete presentation of the poem; he rarely has two different poetic ideas overlap or be sung at the same time. Every new poetic image has a completely new musical dress, from the jarringly chromatic opening to the imitative middle section. While some musicologists have over-interpreted his harmonies as a harbinger of emerging tonality, Gesualdo was at his core a melancholy recluse, and his music primarily a reflection of his quirky personality and rejection of society.

George Harrison, arr. Jim Hale: Taxman
The opening cut on the Revolver album (August 1966), this song contained some of the Beatles’ most sneering social commentary to date. It’s a brilliant, edgy tune, one of George Harrison’s best. The relentless bass line (a lick which George doubled on guitar) gives the sense that taxation is never-ending and ruthless. The song’s F-chords contain both A-flat and A-natural, so it’s hard to tell if the piece is major or minor, and it’s mostly just disturbing. This arrangement was created in 2003 by Jim Hale for the Pacific Mozart Ensemble, an East Bay-area chorus. Of particular note are a few added luxury items to tax, as well as the mention of some political figures relevant to fiscal policy.

Henry Purcell: Hear my prayer, O Lord
Purcell, the towering figure of English Baroque music from the late 17th century, wrote this heart-wrenching anthem around 1682. The only surviving source containing the piece is Fitzwilliam Museum MS 88. A blank space is left there, suggesting that Purcell would extend the piece with further movements, but he never seems to have done so. The words resemble many of the Psalms (such as the opening of Psalm 5). Purcell treats each line with exquisite care, altering the pitch slightly to make each chord work both musically and dramatically. Here he demonstrates much of the intensity and technical control that make Dido’s lament, sung later in this concert, so successful.

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Paul Hart: Eleanor Rigby
The Beatles stopped touring in 1966 after their concert in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. With the Revolver album, including this tune, they made the decisive turn to thinking of themselves primarily as recording artists. New combinations of instruments in the studio made a piece like this possible, which featured a string octet in its original form.

This setting, created for the King’s Singers, masterfully weaves the cello line throughout the six voice parts, extending and overlapping phrases to give the song a more contemplative and somewhat less tragic tone than McCartney’s original. Hart also adds new minor seventh chords, taking the piece slightly in the direction of jazz. A deft turn from E minor to C-sharp minor combines with a low, dense texture at the end, concluding with a solemn unison on the final note.

J. S. Bach: Komm, Jesu, komm (BWV 229)
This stunning double-choir motet dates from around 1723-34, while Johann Sebastian Bach was music director at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The text is taken from a funeral poem by Paul Thymich (d. 1684), which not only mourns the death of a rector at the Thomaskirche but was also set to music by Johann Schelle, one of Bach’s predecessors on the church’s music staff. Bach’s word-painting is exquisite, especially at the phrase “Der saure Weg” (“the bitter way”), where he emphasizes life’s bitterness with the downward leap of a diminished seventh in every voice, perhaps implying that nobody is exempt from earthly trials.

While any of the Bach motets can be performed with basso continuo, this is the one that lends itself most successfully to a completely a cappella performance. Here, Bach uses a double choir (SATB + SATB), which gives him the same flexibility and sense of forward direction that might otherwise be achieved with instrumental forces. Each quartet of voice parts takes turns carrying the musical momentum in turn, and both come together for special verbal emphasis or at cadences.

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Paul Crabtree: Got to get you into my life
Another chart from Revolver, this tune combines the best influences on the Beatles to date: R&B, Motown, and straight-ahead pop. Paul Crabtree created this arrangement for Chicago a cappella. He perfectly captures the song’s urgency and its pulsing, tight brass chords.

I N T E R M I S S I O N

Monteverdi: Ah, dolente partita
Claudio Monteverdi’s music represents in many ways the first full flowering of the Baroque sensibility. He wrote four books of a cappella madrigals early in his career, later writing vocal works with basso continuo and others with instrumental obbligato. A master of opera, he also wrote stunning melodies for solo voice with continuo; his final opera, L’Incoronazione di Poppea, is the finest example of the genre in the early 17th century. Monteverdi’s expressive drive was strong—so much so that he annoyed conservative music theorists of his time, who complained that he did not properly prepare his dissonances. (Monteverdi seems to have had the last laugh, as he is much better remembered by history than the theorists who reviled him.)

Ah, dolente partita comes from the fourth book of madrigals for five voices. As was mentioned in the introductory notes, this style of piece allows the two high soprano lines to take each others’ melodies, spinning out lovely chained suspensions, while the overall downward direction of the melodies signifies the sadness of parting, all over the lowest voice which serves as a bass line (even if it’s not the bass voice). Monteverdi sets here the poetry of Guarini, whose Il Pastor Fido was the runaway hit of the late Renaissance in Italy. Musicologist Susan McClary rightly cautions that “it takes a leap of faith to accept a five-voice ensemble as reproducing the swooning of a single individual,” but Monteverdi layers the poem upon itself with skill and grace, allowing the poem to literally resonate, to re-sound, as the various voices sing Guarini’s poem in turn.

George Harrison, arr. Eric Freeman: Within You Without You
The Pacific Mozart Ensemble puts on a pops concert every spring. That show has been the occasion for its gifted troupe of arrangers to unveil brand-new arrangements of songs by the Beatles. The original tune comes from the Sgt. Pepper album, which incorporated in significant ways George Harrison’s devotion to the rhythms, instruments, and philosophies of India. The original version by the Beatles included sitar in the scoring, replaced here by “drones” in the voices which create their own version of overtone harmonics.

Purcell: “Dido’s Lament” from Dido and Aeneas
A recent critic has deemed this song “one of the greatest moments in all of Baroque music.” At the end of Purcell’s semi-opera Dido and Aeneas, the queen Dido sings to her handmaid Belinda. Although Dido’s death precipitated the fall of Carthage, a truly monumental event, she sings in more modest scope for now. The string parts and continuo are sung here by ensemble voices, under Dido’s dramatic soprano. The opera closes with the chorus returning to reflect on Dido’s death, and to offer comfort.

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Daryl Runswick: Blackbird
One of the best-loved Beatles songs, "Blackbird" comes from the White Album, released in November 1968. At the Coachella music festival in Indio, California in the spring of 2009, McCartney reminded the crowd that he had written this song in response to the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.

Monteverdi: Si, ch’io vorrei morire
Monteverdi shows us another side of his musical and poetical sensibilities here. This poem is more forward, more direct, and more eager in its passion than his madrigal from earlier on our program. In the poetry of the time, “dying” was a thinly veiled metaphor for sexual ecstasy. We don’t recommend suggesting that you try out “let’s go die together” as the opening line in a round of flirting, but you probably get the idea.

Lennon/McCartney, arr. Simon Lesley: Drive My Car
On the British version of the Rubber Soul album, this song was the first track on the first side. Even though Capitol Records in the USA robbed the tune of its leading position by moving the tracks around, it still jumps off the album, announcing that these young songwriters are a little more worldly than in "She Loves You" or even "Can’t Buy Me Love."

The arrangement by Simon Lesley highlights three things of note. First, Lesley adds a car-noise introduction, hinting through these rumblings of excitement that there is more to come. He then puts Ringo’s terrific drum fills into the intense baritone part. Finally, Lesley takes the line “and maybe I love you” and gives it to the women in four parts, in a seductive texture reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters. Music critic Tim Riley comments that the Beatles’ original “has the smooth bravado of a Jack Nicholson performance, grinning on the surface with wheels spinning like mad underneath.” This new a cappella chart encourages us to remember our beloved cars—powerful symbols of American culture in the 1960s—and all that they do, and don’t, accomplish for us.

* * * * * *