Debut Concerts

September 1993

Program Notes

It was a lover and his lass John Rutter (b. 1945)
Re-Narrow Your Eyes John Linnell/John Flansburgh,
arr. Todd Merrell (b. 1967)
Miraculous love’s wounding Thomas Morley (1558-1603)
Tu piangi Cipriano de Rore (c. 1515-1565)

Thule, the period of cosmography
       Part 2:  The Andalusian merchant

Thomas Weelkes (c. 1575-1565)
Agnus Dei (from Missa L’homme arme) Mathurin Forestier
(fl. 1500-1525)
Sing joyfully William Byrd (1543-1623)
They Are Falling All Around Me Bernice Johnson Reagon
Steal Away spiritual, arr. Joseph Jennings
Bright Morning Stars traditional, arr. Emmylou Harris/
Jonathan Miller
Ubi caritas Maurice Durufle (1902-1986)
My spirit sang all day Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
Secrets Meryn Cadell, arr. Jonathan Miller
Embraceable You George Gerswhin, arr. Steve Zegree
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square Maschwitz/Sherwin,
arr. Gene Puerling

From the Artistic Director

During my years as a professional chorister and conductor, I’ve performed in hundreds of early-music concerts, with some of the finest musicians that this city and country have to offer.  At the same time, I have wanted increasingly to return to doing a very wide range of music; in my Chicago Children’s Choir experience as a boy, all sorts of kids sang all sorts of music, from Palestrina to gospel to Bernstein, and I have missed that.  It has been my experience and assumption that gifted singers, with open minds and good skills, can learn, perform, share, and revel in music from the whole spectrum of genres that make up our collective musical culture.  A year ago I decided that it was my turn to try to make it happen.

I auditioned 14 singers for what I thought were seven openings.  As it turned out, both Bob Heitzinger and Matt Greenberg were so well suited to what I wanted that I asked them both to join the ensemble, giving us the slightly unusual configuration of SSAATTBBB.  This enables us to do some Renaissance pieces that are rarely heard, as well as the terrific new piece by Todd Merrill which is scored for five low parts.

I was amazed by the sounds we created at our very first rehearsal.  Since then, I have challenged myself to sing and interpret creatively, and to inspire the other singers to do the same.  Each of them brings all sorts of gifts (and good humor) to our work.  They are wonderful people, both as musicians and as human beings, and I thank them here for making these concerts happen.

I dedicate these debut concerts to the memory of Rev. Christopher Moore, the founding director of the Chicago Children’s Choir, a man who inspired both children and adults to continually go beyond what they thought they could do, in order that the joy of choral singing, and the community-building that goes with it, might touch thousands of lives.

So, with gratitude for all the people and music I’ve had the good fortune to encounter, I welcome you to the first of what I hope will be hundreds of concerts by Chicago a cappella.  Thank you for coming and showing your support.  Please come talk with us after the concert, and feel free to call or write me with any suggestions or questions you might have.

--Jonathan Miller

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

By Jonathan Miller
 

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.  Many of his sacred words and folksong arrangements have been recorded by The Cambridge Singers, a group which he directs.

“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.

Re-Narrow Your Eyes

Todd Merrell studied music at Berklee College in Boston and has been active in the Hartt School of Music, where he was a composer-in-residence at the Electronic Music Studios from October 1990 to December 1991.  His works have been broadcast in Anchorage and Pittsburgh, and he has been very active as a performer in Chicago and Connecticut.

I have found that Todd has an extraordinary grasp of the aesthetic and philosophical issues facing all people concerned with art; he seems to be immersed in post-modernism as a context for continuous questioning, open-mindedness, and experimentation, all while trying to make good music – a very refreshing perspective.  He writes:  “It is my hope that we have finally entered an age when the ‘law of the art’ no longer exists, the male/power dominating ‘art as religion’ cults are over at last, and we can rejoice in an art that is different for each person, and as difficult as it may be to evaluate, understand and write about art in these terms, we can at least begin to do it.”

John Linnell and John Flansburgh are better known as the duo “They Might Be Giants,” a highly goofy East Coast group that records for Elektra.  Their style combines whiny garage band with a keen sense of orchestration; imagine the B-52’s crossed with a polka band, plus a little Dr. Demento thrown in, and you have roughly the right idea.  Todd approached me earlier this year with his reworking of “Narrow Your Eyes,” one of the cuts from TMBG’s 1992 album, Apollo 18.  Todd refers to it as a “post-madrigal”; scored for five vocal parts a cappella, it takes on a much lighter character than the original.  We also indulge in a little solfege during what was originally the guitar break.

From the first time we sang it, the singers of Chicago a cappella have loved this piece.  We thank Todd for sharing his music with us so that we might sing it for you.

Miraculous love’s wounding

Morley published this piece in 1595 in The first booke of Canzonets to Two Voices.  The dedication to the Lady Periam asks her to entertain them, “these Canzonets of mine like two wayting maydes desiring to attend upon you: … having no other thing to commend to you for, but this that they are Virgins never yet having once been out at doors, nor seene the fashions of the world abroad.”  Though the canzonets have been out of doors for four centuries now, their utter beauty remains, stunning in their simplicity.

Tu piangi

“Tu piangi” comes from the collection Madrigale a cinque voci, a set of pieces in a low, dense, serious style, published in 1542.  This is a very different sort of Italian madrigal from either the simpler declamation of Arcadelt or the overt drama of Monteverdi – likely the least familiar style on our program.

Rore’s patrons were Venetian literati, devotees of Petrarch and lovers of word-sound.  Rore lines up similar vowels and consonants from different words or syllables, much like other composers do with a single word.  The effect is one of constantly shifting shades and textures, with a tiny cadence here and there to let everyone know that it’s time for the next phrase.  To me, this piece sounds like a polyphonic poetry reading, where each voice reads at its own pace.

Thule, the period of cosmography

This piece celebrates the strange, foreign, and wild – all to prove that “these things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous.  I,/Whose heart with fear doth freeze, with love doth fry.”  From the lonely opening to cochineal and China dishes, from Mount Aetna to burning Fogo, the madrigal is a challenge to your geography skills – and to anyone who would get in the way of a fiery passion.

Agnus Dei (from Missa L’homme arme)

A motet by Pierre Moulu names 24 “more or less celebrated musicians” to praise the king and queen of France.  Of these, Forestier is the only one who is totally unknown; no documentary evidence on him survives, apart from the music which bears his name.  Forestier is possibly the same man as Mathurin Dubuysson, active at the Sainte-Chapelle on and off between 1489 and 1513.

The style of Forestier’s sacred music, using canon and other techniques, places him among the generation of Josquin Desprez and Jean Mouton.  All three Forestier Masses are modeled on compositions by Josquin.  (Thanks to Thomas G. MacCracken, co-editor of the upcoming Forestier edition, for supplying me with the few details that are available about this composer.)

Sing joyfully

William Byrd’s career encompassed all that was happening in English art music of the High Renaissance.  He composed keyboard pieces, madrigals, motets, and the well-known Masses for three, four, and five voices.

This anthem was one of the most popular in the period, to judge from the roughly 100 sources from the early 17th century that contain it.  The setting of Psalm 81 is scored SSAATB and shows Byrd at his expressive best.

They Are Falling All Around Me

Bernice Johnson Reagon is perhaps best known as the founder of Sweet Honey in the rock, an African-American women’s vocal group, which she began in 1973.  Presently she serves as the director of the program in Black American culture of the Smithsonian Institution.  Her research encompasses oral history, Black women’s cultural history, and the protest song tradition.  This song is for “all the musicians who lived to make their music and died singing.”

Steal Away

Joseph Jennings, the tremendously talented Music Director of Chanticleer, a San Francisco-based men’s choir, has arranged this spiritual so skillfully that I have nothing to say but “Listen carefully.  We’re only going to do it once.”

Bright Morning Stars

I learned this song from Emmylou Harris’s Angel Band album, and gave it some of my own harmony.  The melody has been a folk favorite for decades.

Ubi caritas

Maurice Durufle studied with Paul Dukas and taught at the Paris Conservatoire beginning in 1944.  Durufle’s Requiem is probably his best-known work.  The Quatre Motets sur des themes gregoriennes, from which “Ubi caritas” is taken, employ haunting, flowing treatments of the chant melody (usually in the top voice here), and lush, tightly layered harmonies.

My spirit sang all day

Gerald Finzi is one of the most skillful art-song composers in the English language, I dare say of any age.  His choral music is getting increasing exposure with such groups as The Finzi Singers in Britain.  This light, lovely work is the third in a choral cycle dated 1937, with poetry by Robert Bridges.

Secrets

Meryn Cadell is a Canadian performance artist.  Her work is funny, sad, disturbing, irreverent, jarring, and beautiful all at the same time.  This piece is on the tamer end of her spectrum.  “Secrets” was originally created from overdubbing four parts; I have re-created it for four-voice women’s ensemble.