The Red Carpet of Sound:
Musical Pairings, a cappella and with Piano

February 2011

Program Notes

Bound for Mt. Zion!

a cappella

African-American religious song,
arr. Robert L. Morris (b. 1941)

Hallelujah! I’m goin’ to praise His name!

with piano

Gospel song, arr. Robert L. Morris

 

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Alleluia

a cappella

Randall Thompson (1899-1984)

Last Words of David

with piano

Randall Thompson

 

* * * * * * *

 

To Be Sung of A Summer Night on the Water

a cappella

Frederick Delius (1862-1934)

Two Songs for Children

with piano

Frederick Delius

 

* * * * * * *

 

Gott ist mein Hirt (Psalm 23)

with piano

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Zum Rundetanz (Op. 17, No. 3

a cappella

Franz Schubert

 

* * * * * * *

 

T’filat N’ilah L’Yom Kippur
Reader’s Kaddish from the N’eilah (concluding) service for Yom Kippur

a cappella

trad. Hebrew liturgy,
arr. Max Janowski (1912-1991)

Vayachalom (Jacob’s Dream)

with piano

Max Janowski

 

* * * * * * *

 

White Horses

with piano

Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947)

This Train

a cappella

spiritual, arr. Gwyneth Walker

 

INTERMISSION

 

B’kori aneyni (Psalm 4)

a cappella

Jonathan Miller (b. 1962)

the preacher:  ruminates behind the sermon  (from Gwendolyn Brooks Suite)

with piano

Jonathan Miller

 

* * * * * * *

 

Les chansons des roses

 

Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)

1.        En une seule fleur

a cappella

 

2.        Contre qui,rose

a cappella

 

3.        De ton rêve trop plein

a cappella

 

4.        La rose complête

a cappella

 

5.        Dirait-on

with piano

 

 

* * * * * * *

 

Make Our Garden Grow (from Candide)

with piano

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

encore: Almighty Father (from Mass) a cappella Bernstein

INTRODUCTION

If this is your first Chicago a cappella concert, we wish you a hearty welcome.  If you’ve joined us before, you already know that we are in the business of putting together gloriously sung, really cool, unusual programs that are created to stimulate you to think as well as feel.  This program is no exception. 

We have made it our business for 18 years to bring you the niftiest stuff imaginable for voices singing without instruments.  You will still get a great deal of that tonight, along with something else. For the first time in our 18 years of existence, we are adding the wonderful element of a piano to our program, so that you can hear two sides of nine different composers—their a cappella side and their accompanied side.  We have affectionately called this process “pairings,” sort of like what people like to do with wine and food. 

A big reason for doing this concert is the fortunate presence on our staff of Patrick Sinozich, now in his fourth year as our music director.  (See his bio.) Patrick is a wonderfully gifted pianist, conductor, composer, arranger, vocal coach, and producer, who has been involved with Chicago a cappella since he accompanied our very first auditions.  I still remember him playing the spiritual “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel” for Matt Greenberg in 1993.  He hears our a cappella singing from a pianist’s perspective, and his experience beautifully complements the other strengths of our musical team.

For this program, we have had the joy of exploring repertoire that much of the wider choral world has been singing as a matter of course but which, by choice, we have kept out of our repertoire.  The more we realized how promising the “pairings” idea was, the more fun it became.  Patrick suggested “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide.  Ben Rivera suggested the Schubert Psalm 23 for women’s voices. At some point I remembered that my very first paid commission as a composer was to write a suite of three songs to the tremendously musical poetry of the late Gwendolyn Brooks, songs which just happened to have piano.

While accompanied repertoire obviously has not been my specialty with Chicago a cappella, many terrific accompanied works have made their impression in my other roles as a singer and conductor.  These roles include church jobs, demo sessions, choral clinics, and so on, not to mention my formative decade in the Chicago Children’s Choir, where I first fell in love with Randall Thompson’s Last Words of David. Therefore, I found myself in an unusual position during the programming process for this concert: from time to time, I would have a thought something like, “Oh, we could finally do that piece!  Yippee!”

*   *   *   *   *   *

I usually find that my program research for CAC confirms a few hunches and turns at least one major assumption on its ear.  I had enough graduate-school training in music history to expect that “common-practice” repertoire (basically, music from Bach through Mahler, or roughly 1725 to 1900) was the place to start for finding our “pairings.”  I assumed in particular that we’d be drowning in scores for Chor mit Klavier as soon as we opened the great catalogues of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and so on. 

But it was not to be.  Despite these composers being titans of lieder forpiano and solo voice, the choir-plus-piano combination didn’t figure much in their output.  As it turned out, mostly they were writing for slightly different combinations:  choruses were usually combined with soloists and orchestra, or left to their a cappella selves.  This was a letdown, since those were the very composers I had first targeted in my early program planning. 

“Whence the happy pairings, then?”, you may ask, in lofty 19th-century turn of phrase.  “From our own time” is the answer. It has been left to more recent decades to bring the choir, accompanied by keyboard, into its own as a fully-flowered subgenre of choral music.  With the exception of the Schubert pieces, everything that you’ll hear today comes from the 20th or 21st century.  Composers and publishers are now offering thousands of such new works every year, perhaps fueled by the ready combination of choir and piano in every high school in America, not to mention middle-school, college, children’s, and community adult choruses.  In fact, probably 80 percent of new choral works are for choral forces with piano; of the remaining 20 percent, at least half are a cappella.

There has also been a sort of natural swinging of the pendulum as a result of this program’s reach.  If you think of a cappella music as occupying one side of the pendulum swing of repertoire, this concert has brought us a little closer to the center.  It has been a little strange for us, for example, to have been early champions of Morten Lauridsen’s cycle Les chansons des roses—we gave them one of the earliest performances in the area—without ever having sung the final movement, which is the most iconic of them all!  Now, finally, we get to sing the whole cycle in all its glory. 

Thank you for being here and for bringing your friends.  We always appreciate your comments, so please don’t hesitate to write your impressions on the audience survey, or drop me an e-mail or a comment on our Facebook page if you feel like it.  Enjoy the show.

—Jonathan Miller

PROGAM NOTES

Robert L. Morris

Robert L. Morris is one of the finest arrangers of spirituals and early gospel music active today. A resident of the Twin Cities, he most recently served as director of choral activities at Macalester College, where he is now professor emeritus. He spent much of his early career in Chicago, where he absorbed a wide variety of musical styles, and he was an arranger for Duke Ellington.

His publisher accurately notes:  “Without sacrificing sincerity of intent, Morris updates spirituals in a way that subtly reflects the inevitable changes and diverse genre infusions that only living in northern urban areas could cause.”  Morris has a keen ear for the small differences between forms of the spiritual, gospel music, and their respective characteristics (including the form called a “characteristic”!). An awareness of these differences is crucial for approaching a performing interpretation with the appropriate style and sensibility. 

a cappella:  Bound for Mt. Zion!

This song may be a spiritual or a gospel song;  as Morris notes, “it has characteristics of both.” In his usual wonderful manner born of deep experience, he notes that there is “a body of songs that were congregational songs or other ‘church house’ songs which seems to be squarely on the line between the spiritual and the early gospel hymn/song. . . . The style of this setting is strongly influenced by jubilee and early gospel male quartet singing. The ‘ol’-fashioned’ sound belies the mild dissonances and slightly intricate, engaging rhythms.”

accompanied:  Hallelujah!  I’m goin’ to praise His name!

This jubilant song has a distinct gospel feel, partly because of the written-out piano part, and partly because the lyrics are more in keeping with the sentiments of the urban church following the Great Migration:  “every day he walks by my side” and “I know I’m in his care.” Morris brings consistent energy to the arrangement. He also leaves possible repeats of several sections up to the discretion of the director.  Thus one performance of this piece may be quite different from another, though hopefully in all cases the requisite joy is there.

For the record:  Two arrangements by Robert L. Morris appear on Chicago a cappella’s CD Holidays a cappella Live: “Glory to the Newborn King” and “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.”

*   *   *   *   *   *

Randall Thompson

Ira Randall Thompson was born in New York City. The son of an English teacher, Randall never strayed far from the academic environment. His early musical pursuits began at an old reed organ on the family summer farm in Vienna, Maine. His first attempts at composition began around 1915 with a piano sonata and a Christmas partsong. In 1916 he entered Harvard University; he auditioned for the chorus but was turned down by its conductor, Archibald T. Davison, who eventually became his mentor. Thompson later mused, "My life has been an attempt to strike back."

In 1922 Thompson began studies at the American Academy in Rome where, inspired by the master composers of the Renaissance, he developed the musical style which led him to the forefront of American choral composers. Though he composed symphonies, songs, operas and instrumental works, he is best known for his choral compositions.

In addition to finely-wrought vocal lines grounded in the counterpoint he studied in Rome, Thompson also brought to his music a keen sensibility about poetic text.  His care with choice and setting of words has doubtless contributed to his success.  In setting lyrics from the Old Testament to Horace to Robert Frost, he espoused a vigorously ecumenical spirit.

a cappella:  Alleluia

Thompson wrote this piece during the first five days of July 1940, at the request of Serge Koussevitsky, for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. The renowned Harvard conductor, G. Wallace Woodworth, led the premiere on July 8th.  Thompson surprised Koussevitsky, who had asked for a “fanfare”; Thompson was saddened by the war in Europe and especially by the fall of France.  Rather than being jubilant, the introspective Alleluia is, in the composer’s own words,

a very sad piece. The word “Alleluia” has so many possible interpretations. The music in my particular Alleluia cannot be made to sound joyous. It is a slow, sad piece, and ... here it is comparable to the Book of Job, where it is written, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

The work is Thompson’s best-loved and most popular composition.

accompanied:  The Last Words of David

Upon hearing a concert of Thompson’s works conducted by the composer, a writer for the Harvard Crimson wrote in 1965:  “What texts! Thompson chooses his texts with the care of a sculptor choosing his stone, a calligrapher his nib.”  The Last Words of David, a choral work, was on that program, in its orchestral version. The text does make its own impression, illuminated further by the remarkable skill of Thompson’s vocal lines.

The unusual text seems to have been set nowhere else in the choral world.  It comes from the second book of Samuel (23:3-4), in which it is said that these are indeed the last words ever spoken by King David.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Frederick Delius

Born in England to German parents, Delius was the son of a wealthy wool merchant who made his fortune in Yorkshire. He showed an early aptitude for music but was steered into his father’s business; frustrated there, he made the rather unusual step of persuading his father to let him go to Florida in 1884 to grow oranges. The formative experience of Delius’s life happened there:  in addition to studying music theory with a local organist, he heard the singing of the “Negro” plantation workers, which was an experience of sublime life-affirming energy that he strove to capture in all his music thereafter.  His early works from the 1890s included a few early songs and several instrumental and symphonic scores, all with eclectic influences ranging from Northern European music and mythology to his American immersion. In 1901 Delius hit his stride as a composer, writing effectively in a number of genres with a powerful and distinctive stamp that has stood the test of time.  His music on today’s program comes from that fertile period, before illness curbed his activities.

a cappella:  To Be Sung Of A Summer Night on the Water

These two short, meditative, impressionistic words for a cappella chorus are miniature tone-poems in the best Delius style.  They are intense, compact, lyrical, and harmonically clear. The first one is an aethereal meditation that indeed evokes both summer and water.  The second is more vigorous, almost a gentle sea-chantey.  Both works were later to be rescored for a chamber ensemble of strings and recorded by Neville Mariner on an iconic recording, English Music for Strings. We sing them as an unbroken set. 

accompanied:  Two Songs for Children

These are the only choral pieces Delius ever composed with piano. In 1912, the influential American composer Horatio Parker contacted Delius with a proposed commission to write music to be published by Silver-Burdett in its Progressive Music Series. The series was an ambitious program aiming to teach basic music skills to children using tunes by important contemporary musicians. By the time he sat down with Delius in Grez-sur-Loing, France on January 21st, 1913, Parker had already been in contact with Debussy, Elgar, Stanford, Richard Strauss and others.  The two resulting songs from Delius are on texts by Tennyson and May Morgan.  Only the first, Little Birdie, was published in the collection, evidently because the second was more difficult than the publisher wanted; Oxford published both in 1924.

The scholar J. Bennett Tyre notes that the two poems set by Delius, while seemingly naïve, “present a memory of childhood to the grown-up, but their expression of a desire to preserve this childhood against the onslaught of the future resonates in a distinctly Delian manner. . . . developing irony, longing and bittersweet remembrance among adult listeners.”  Tyre rightly notes that it is sometimes difficult for the listener to awake from the dreamlike state induced by these remarkable, short, rarely-heard works.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Franz Schubert

Quintessentially Romantic in his musical sensibilities and in his tragically short lifespan, Schubert wrote lieder, partsongs, symphonies, chamber music, and more. A product of Vienna, he had his first huge success at age 18, when his song “Erlkönig” made waves in the entire German-speaking world.  His reputation spread rapidly through word of mouth, live concerts, and publishing; his rise to fame, using the best technology of the time, might be considered the 19th-century equivalent of a viral YouTube video. His solo songs are the cornerstone of his output, and his talent for vocal writing extends to his partsongs. 

accompanied:  Psalm 23:  Gott ist mein Hirt, D 706

Some writers say that Psalm 23 rivals Schubert’s Ave Maria as a virtually perfect piece of religious music. Yet this work was written in December 1820 under circumstances that were not especially lofty, having been created as a test piece for the vocal pupils of Schubert’s friend Anna Frolich.  It was originally composed for exactly the performing forces we employ here—one singer on each voice part, two sopranos and two altos, with piano. The German translation of the psalm was made by Moses Mendelssohn, the great German-Jewish philosopher whose son Abraham was the father of composer Felix Mendelssohn, so one may assume that Mendelssohn made a direct translation to German from Hebrew (or at least consulted the original Hebrew if he was translating from a Latin source).  The German poetic lines are of uneven length, which means that he wasn’t trying to fit the words’ meaning into a metrical straitjacket;  perhaps this is one of the reasons that Schubert’s music takes wing in the special way that it does.  Listen for the contrasts in mood, especially for the change from more florid writing at the beginning to longer-held notes about halfway through at “Dein Stab und Deine Stütze” (“Thy rod and thy staff”), a form of word-painting which beautifully conveys a sense of solid stability amid the difficulties of life.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Max Janowski

Born to a musical family in Berlin in 1912, Max Janowski had a mother who was an opera singer, a father who conducted choirs and coached cantors, an uncle who was a cantor, and singers all around him.  He started playing piano at age four and won a piano competition at age twelve;  he enrolled in the prestigious Schwarenka Conservatory and soon was appointed assistant organist at one of Berlin’s largest synagogues.  Aware of anti-Semitic developments at home, he made it to Tokyo by winning a competition whose prize was the head piano-faculty position at the Mosashino Academy of Music. In 1937 he emigrated to New York and mostly wrote torch songs for a year, until he won yet another competition. This, the one that would set the course of the rest of his life, was a composing competition for K.A.M. Temple on Chicago’s South Side.  As the winner, he was given the post of music director, which he held until his death in 1991.  Max Janowski was probably the most prolific composer of classical liturgical music for Reform and Conservative synagogues in America, publishing more than 150 works himself and leaving dozens more in manuscript.  From his home base at K.A.M. (later KAM Isaiah Israel after a successful merger), Janowski conducted concerts of Yiddish and Hebrew songs, directed no fewer than six high-holiday choirs (each rehearsed on a different day of the week in the summer), and transformed the landscape of synagogue music in the Midwest.  He coached and directed young singers of exceptional talent, including Sherrill Milnes and Isola Jones.  A man of liberal, ecumenical spirit, he also served as music director at All Souls Universalist in South Shore for more than three decades, where he arranged folk songs, pop songs, and spirituals for an enthusiastic mixed-race choir. 

a cappella:  T’filat N’ilah L’Yom Kippur:  Reader’s Kaddish from the Ne’ilah service for Yom Kippur

Using the traditional nussach (c­antorial chant) as his melodic basis, Janowski created this simple yet completely effective prayer for cantor and choir to begin the final service of Yom Kippur. This setting is found in the a cappella liturgy for the Conservative service, such as is currently in practice at Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Hyde Park.  The chant tone is found nowhere else in the liturgical year and appears in a number of prayers during N’ilah.  Rather than being the complete Kaddish said in mourning, this shorter “Reader’s Kaddish” prayer is instead used as a marker of sorts to indicate major divisions in the service.

accompanied:  Vayachalom (Jacob’s Dream)

This telling of the verse from Genesis about Jacob’s dream is one of Janowski’s most distinctive and beautiful works. Using musical language more like Debussy’s than like that of the traditional synagogue, Janowski wrote this setting in 1970 as a commission for Congregation Etz Chayim in the western suburbs of Chicago.  The soaring soprano solo conveys the sense of a ladder extended upward infinitely up to heaven, and the choir’s response in eighth notes moving up and down the scale provide word-painting of the angels ascending and descending on the ladder in a way that recalls the great Italian madrigalists.  The piano part showcases the virtuosity that Janowski himself displayed regularly, with expression both tender and majestic.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Gwyneth Walker

After her training as a composer and teaching at Oberlin Conservatory, Gwyneth Walker retired from academia and has been a full-time composer for almost thirty years. With a strong theatrical sense, she has been writing solo vocal, choral, and instrumental works that bring texts to life in unusual and striking ways. She employs unexpected and effective elements to create maximum emotional effect.  Chicago a cappella most recently performed music by Walker on the “Abundance” program (February 2009).

accompanied: White Horses

Based on a text by E. E. Cummings, Walker treats the tender poem as a sort of troubadour lyric.  The piano part is an especially effective counterpart to the vocal lines, with a low bass line in the left hand and quicker notes in the right hand to fill in the soundspace created by the voices’ longer-held notes.

a cappella:  This Train

This work was composed for the 1998 All-OMEA (Oklahoma Music Educators’ Association) high-school chorus.  Walker takes on with vigor the challenge of setting this spiritual in a way that brings images in the text to life. In addition to playing with the “ssssss” sound at the end of the word “this,” she uses words like “stop,” “joker,” and “weary” as springboards for word-painting. The composer has also added a few new verses, noting: 

Additional lyrics have been added for contemporary relevance ("This train will stop at the ghetto...and at the factory door"). And new musical sections ("If you reach up, reach up to the sky...") have been inserted to broaden the formal structure.

Unusual musical devices used here include borrowings from traditional spirituals and the flashier-sounding settings by arrangers like Dawson and Hogan. 

For the record:  Gwyneth Walker’s “The Christ-child’s Lullaby” appears on Chicago a cappella’s CD Christmas a cappella.

INTERMISSION

Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller has been writing music for choirs since 1998, when, as music director at Unity Temple in Oak Park, he ran out of repertoire in the congregation’s music library that he felt was the right fit for the volunteer choir with the sermons and the service. As with his concert programming, his choral music is eclectic, drawing on a wide range of musical and poetic influences. His choice of texts run from biblical Hebrew and Latin to the work of poets such as Rumi, Gwendolyn Brooks, Peter Watson Jenkins, and Mark Jarman. He has composed a number of choral cycles, including Journey to Bethlehem (seven movements) and Capital City (three) as well as incidental music for Chicago a cappella’s more theatrical productions of The Nordic Wolf and Go Down, Moses.  His music has been performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and at the Pentagon; he conducted a performance of his work The Lincoln Memorial at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate Lincoln’s 200th birthday. 

a cappella:  Psalm 4:  B’kori aneyni (world premiere)

The composer writes:  “This setting of Psalm 4 came to me last fall, after I had served for the first time as High Holiday cantor at Rodfei Zedek.  It was a huge honor and a privilege to sing in that capacity, and I had great Hebrew coaching from both Cantor Julius Solomon and Rabbi Elliot Gertel. Although I’ve sung Hebrew since I was ten, I emerged from that experience with a new-found love for the language; I set myself to reading the first 23 Psalms to see if any of them would strike me as material for writing new choral music.  Psalm 4 is the first one that grabbed me. I found myself desiring a beautiful melody most of all, and I was pleased with the result, especially after I found myself humming it and almost nothing else for about two months after I finished the piece.”

accompanied: the preacher:  ruminates behind the sermon

The composer writes: “In 2001, I was at a party in Oak Park given by my dear friend, composer Glenn Meade.  At the party was Linda Crabtree Powell, who at the time was the choir director at Emerson Junior High School, also in Oak Park.  We got to talking; I mentioned to her that I had recently purchased a collection of poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and was reading through them, and that a few poems from A Street in Bronzeville were starting to suggest music to me.  Linda replied that her school was going to be renamed for Brooks in the fall of 2002, and we cooked up the idea of setting three poems for her choir to be sung at the dedication.  With support from the Oak Park Area Arts Council, the Gwendolyn Brooks Suite came into being, scored for three-part junior-high-school choir plus piano.  Nora Brooks Blakely, the poet’s daughter and a talented artist in her own right, attended the dedication ceremony, and Linda Powell conducted the premiere.  Nora told me afterward that I had really captured the essence of ‘the preacher: ruminates,’ which made me feel like the heavens had just opened in a blessing. The poem is indeed lonely, and I started hearing a combination of Satie-like chords in the piano and a gospel wail from the soloist.  The section where God has a good friend slapping him on the back is the most fun, though.”

For the record:  Chicago a cappella has recorded two works by Jonathan Miller, “Shehecheyanu” (on the CD Holidays a cappella Live) and “The Fall” (on the CD Eclectric).

Morten Lauridsen

Morten Johannes Lauridsen received the 2007 National Medal of Arts.  He has been composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1994–2001 and professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than thirty years.  His work occupies a permanent place in the standard vocal repertoire of the 20th century. His seven vocal cycles, including the one we perform this evening, are among the best-selling choral works ever. In addition to Les Chansons des Roses, he is perhaps best known for the extended work Lux Aeterna—a Requiem in its form—and his sacred a cappella motets (O Magnum Mysterium, Ave Maria, O Nata Lux, Ubi Caritas et Amor and Ave Dulcissima Maria)

Writing of Lauridsen’s sacred works in his book, Choral Music in the Twentieth Century, musicologist and conductor Nick Strimple describes Lauridsen as “the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic, (whose) probing, serene work contains an elusive and indefinable ingredient which leaves the impression that all the questions have been answered.”  In this sense Lauridsen is a spiritual peer to Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose works leave a similar impression.

a cappella AND accompanied:  Les chansons des roses

In 1993 Lauridsen’s publisher released this extraordinary cycle of five settings of French poems by Rainer Maria Rilke.  While Rilke is known mostly for German verse, these French poems made a strong impression on Lauridsen. It is in this cycle that the chord voicing now associated with Lauridsen (which, in technical terms, is a 2nd-inversion or “6/4” chord) first made its powerful stamp. 

There is some musical material shared between a few movements.  In the second movement, “Contre qui, rose,” what starts out sounding like a melody in the sopranos with harmonic support from the lower lines then becomes more and more contrapuntal, with each voice part having something distinctive to say.  (Listeners familiar with the composer’s O magnum mysterium may recognize its musical roots here, sung in D-flat to Rilke’s text instead of O magnum’s brighter key of D.)  The fourth movement, “La rose complête,” borrows markedly from “Contre qui, rose” and features an unbroken segue into the accompanied final movement, “Dirait-on.” Lauridsen says that he wrote the last movement first and then went back to complete the cycle. 

For the record:  “Contre qui, rose,” from Morten Lauridsen’s Les Chansons des Roses appears on Chicago a cappella’s CD Ecletric.  Mr. Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” appears on Chicago a cappella’s CD Holidays a cappella Live.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Leonard Bernstein

One of the first American orchestral conductors to receive worldwide acclaim, Leonard Bernstein was the longtime music director of the New York Philharmonic. In addition to his achievements as a conductor, he led an active life as a composer, pianist, and public spokesperson for the arts.  His more classical side was balanced by his work on West Side Story, his most famous composition, which was premiered in 1957 after almost a decade of work.  He embraced both recording and television as media for getting the word out about the music he loved. 

accompanied:  “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide

Bernstein wrote in several theatrical genres, from musical theatre to “straight” opera to operetta.  Candide falls in the last of these categories. Based on Voltaire’s French novella, it was originally set to a libretto by Lillian Hellman and premiered in that version in 1956.  The abridged “Chelsea version” ran on Broadway for almost two years in a revision with a new book by Hugh Wheeler with lyrics primarily by Richard Wilbur. The full two-act version, first staged by Harold Prince in 1982, is a staple of opera companies.  The shorter work is popular with music schools and is performed regularly. 

Hellman’s inspiration for Candide was fueled in part by the parallels she perceived between Voltaire’s time and her own.  On one hand, Voltaire satirized the Catholic Church’s Inquisition-fueled acts of torture and murder of “heretics.” On the other, Hellman was incensed at the similarly hyper-conformist attitudes of the House Un-American Activities Committee; as she observed in the 1950s, the HUAC baited dissenting political views and vilified the left through “Washington Witch Trials,” all in the name of protecting America from Communism.

“Make Our Garden Grow” is the finale of the show. Beginning with Candide proposing to his beloved Cunegonda, it sums up the action with a sentiment that tells us not to be too lofty or rigid in our ideals of perfection, but to live a more grounded, practical life.