Spring 23 Program Notes

Type of post: Choir Documentation
Sub-type: No sub-type
Posted By: Iain Fisher
Status: Archived
Date Posted: Sat, Mar 18 2023

Welcome from the Artistic Director

“Critical Mass.” Our concert program centers around this term—one normally associated with the study of physics. As I began to conceptualize our season, and my first concert cycle as Artistic Director, it was vital to craft a concert program that embodied BOTH a value of high-quality, high-impact choral artistry (the music itself) and also the context in which we are able to create this music (our chorale and our community). “Critical Mass” proved to be the perfect vehicle for this philosophical endeavor—embodied in two parallel strands.

First—the music itself. For centuries, composers have set religious texts to music in innumerable ways for use in worship. Over time, certain choral genres have emerged; the mass is one such genre. In this concert, we feature four highly contrasting settings of the traditional mass text, each one “critical,” powerful, and transformative in its own right. The first mass setting, from the classical era, was written by noted composer Joseph Haydn. His settings of the mass, and his musical output in general, have been critically influential to the evolution and development of western and European musical traditions. The second mass featured on this program, the Mariachi Mass, is dramatically contrasting in style and instrumentation. Featuring a small mariachi ensemble, this work is a critical demonstration of how the message of love, hope, and mercy embedded deeply in the text transcends musical styles, voicings, and genre. The third mass featured is Fauré’s Messe Basse. Written earlier than his famous Requiem, this Messe Basse is a foreshadowing of the composer’s philosophy developed more fully in the Requiem. The Messe Basse is critical as it clearly demonstrates the harmonic and aesthetic language so important to his compositional output. Lastly, it is critical that every individual be able to internalize the ideologies, principles, morals, and philosophies of the world around them. Process them. Scrutinize them. It is then our responsibility to morally and ethically embody these ideals in our daily lives. As such, we developed our own personal “composite mass”—constructed with choral octavos. We used the mass movement structure as a scaffolding for personalization. This structure also allowed us to “plug and play” various smaller-scale choral works of a greater variety of genres, styles, and composers. Most importantly, this mass structure was critical in allowing us, as the Chorale, to create a unique experience with the mass and the message embedded within it.

Second—the choir and community. It was important for me to clearly identify just how important our various stakeholders are to the organization’s success—director, staff, choristers, organizational board, volunteers, community partners, sponsors, and audience members. Simply put, any stakeholder, by themselves, cannot make this organization operate. Each and every facet of the Chorale is critical to the success of the overall group, and every single stakeholder is equally important. This synergy, this “better together” approach, truly is critical mass. Together (and only together) can we—director and choir, board and community, volunteer and audience, donor and sponsor—truly reach the critical mass necessary to live out our mandate to change the lives of those in both our chorale and in our community through the powerful medium of the choral art.

Program Notes

When In Our Music God Is Glorified by Stanford/Arr. Ziegenhals (1925-2016)

This hymn is unique in the way it deals with the act of making music itself as a means to express religious doctrine—paraphrasing scripture, exhorting listeners to belief or commitment, and addressing a social concern. Bert Bolman stated that this hymn is the “the only hymn text in Christendom that explains the reasons for church music while simultaneously offering ‘alleluias’ to God.” Raymond Glover explained the void: “History suggests that it is very difficult to write a real hymn on the subject of congregational music-making. Usually there is insufficient weight and development to support the effusiveness that this theme seems to generate. Here, however, we have an honest hymn of substance and scope that is never self-congratulatory or platitudinous and is always grateful and worthy.”

The hymn was built around the meter—a meter for which few texts existed at the time. This meter easily lends itself to a three-part text stanza. In a textual analysis, Vernon Wicker noted, “Commitment to the rhyme scheme, AAA, could easily force a poet toward awkward technical solutions, but in this case the hymn writer utilizes the metrical restriction to create a stronger sense of unity and strength of expression.”

Charles V. Stanford composed ENGELBERG—the tune used for our text. The tune was published in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern with no less than six different settings. It is a fine congregational hymn but also a stunning choral anthem. ENGELBERG is an attractive, energetic melody with many ascending motives, designed for unison singing with no pauses between stanzas. 

No. 7 in B-flat major: ‘Missa brevis Sancti Johannis de Deo’ (H. 22/7) by Haydn (1732–1809)

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) was an Austrian composer of the Classical period. Instrumental to the development of the string quartet and the piano trio, his contributions to musical form led him to be dubbed the “Father of the Symphony,” having composed 107. He spent most of his career as a court musician and composer for the Esterházy family. He was known also for his humor, weaving musical jokes into his music. He was a friend and mentor to Mozart, a tutor to Beethoven, and the elder brother to composer Michael Haydn.

Haydn composed eight settings of the mass. His Mass No. 7 in B-flat major: ‘Missa brevis Sancti Johannis de Deo’ (H. 22/7) was composed during the winter of 1777–78 during his stay in Eisenstadt. It is commonly referred to as the “Keline Orgelmesse” or “Little Organ Mass” due to the extended organ solo in the Benedictus movement. This missa brevis was composed for the order of the Barmherzige Brüder (Brothers of Mercy), whose chapel in Eisenstadt had a fine small organ, featured in the mass.  He dedicated the work to the patron saint of their order, St. John of God (Sancti Joannis de Deo). The music calls for the limited forces that would have been available to him at the chapel: small chorus, strings without violas, and organ. The Benedictus features one soprano soloist accompanied by obbligato organ, probably first played by Haydn himself. A surviving set of parts suggests that the mass was later adapted to add several wind parts, but it is normally played in its original more intimate scoring.

The work is classified as a missa brevis (short mass) in which the lengthier texts, particularly in the Gloria and Credo, are telescoped (four choral voices sing different words of the text simultaneously). This compositional technique was common. Despite obscuring the intelligibility of the text, this technique does make the movements more concise. This small, intimate mass has always been popular, particularly in central Europe. It conjures imagery of the small country church of the Brothers of Mercy and the quiet, devotional character of their worship. As the work concludes, it turns inward, gradually fading to the words dona nobis pacem (grant us peace).

Mariachi Mass by A. Avalos (1919–1999)

Mariachi Mass, a work in five movements, was published in 1970. The work’s composer (listed as A. Avalos) is actually a pseudonym for Theron Kirk (1919–1999) who composed more than 1,000 published works. Kirk served on the music faculty at San Antonio College from 1955–1986 and as president of the American Choral Director’s Association. A modest and accessible work for flexible voicing with mass text in English, this work features an accompaniment scored for traditional mariachi ensemble (paired trumpets, guitar, guitarrón, and ad. lib. percussion). The work is intended to be performed in the spirit of mariachi style—informally and with much “gusto.” This engaging and accessible piece is rarely performed today. Chorale CdA’s performance of this work is, to the best of our research efforts, only the third time this work has been performed in the US in approximately the last 25 years.

Messe Basse by Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924)

Fauré’s Messe Basse is a prime example of the missa brevis (shortened mass). Fauré rejected the bombastic 19th-century settings of the Mass, particularly that of Berlioz, whose grandiose spectacle emphasized the wrath and judgments of God. Conversely, Fauré felt that the mass should be all about mercy and forgiveness. The Messe Basse reflects this attitude in its gentle voicing and scoring, anticipating the same effect more fully Gabriel Fauré achieved in his more famous Requiem.

According to liner notes by Jeremy Cull for a Lammas recording (2001), “The Messe Basse dates from about 1880, although not published until 1907, and is scored for treble voices and organ. Fauré omits the Gloria and Credo–sections of the Mass that give most scope for dramatic writing–concentrating instead on the Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei, imbuing them with a quiet lyricism that is also to be found in his songs and some of his quieter piano works. In this respect, the writing in the Messe Basse anticipates his approach to the Requiem. In the Kyrie and Benedictus, Fauré sets a solo voice against the rest of the choir, whilst in the other two movements, the treble voices are divided equally in two.”

Old Hundredth Hymn Tune arr. by R. Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)

More of the “public” music of Vaughan Williams, this work was arranged for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. This is of course one of the greatest chorale tunes in the world as well as one of the best known. During the coronation, Vaughan Williams wanted the congregation of peers to join in to the musical experience, revealing his spirit of idealism. During the singing of this work, it was recorded that “the noble lords predictably made harsh of their unison part, but who cares?”

Old Hundredth is a hymn tune in long meter from the second edition of the Genevan Psalter, and is one of the best-known melodies in many Christian musical traditions. The tune is usually attributed to the French composer Louis Bourgeois (c. 1510–c. 1560). Although the tune was first associated with Psalm 134 in the Genevan Psalter, the melody takes its name from the Psalm 100, in a translation titled “All People that on Earth do Dwell.” It is this text Vaughan Williams employs for the current setting.

For This Joy by Susan LaBarr (b. 1981)

Written in memory of choral singers and clarinetist George Olin, this work is a modern arrangement of the LOBE DEN HERREN hymn tune. This tune is most commonly associated with the text “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” This tune was first seen in 1665 printed in the Stralsund Gesangbuch. The composer is unknown. With a meter of, this tune is generally considered to have an irregular meter, hence its close association with only a small number of hymn texts. This new ecumenical text was written for this arrangement by Charles Anthony Silvestri. The text focuses on the richness of life and creation and the joy that is found in all aspects of life. The musical arrangement is simple yet effective. The consistent eighth note alternating pattern between the treble and bass clef in the piano provide a consistent yet unassuming rhythmic drive. The texture and dynamic range of the choral writing slowly develops, moving from a soft humble unison melody to a thicker fuller homophonic declaration of the final verse.

Praise His Holy Name by Keith Hampton (b 1957)

Praise His Holy Name is one of Keith Hampton’s most popular gospel arrangements. Originally scored for mixed voice ensemble for the 30th anniversary of the Voices of Melody, the beginning section of the piece is a homophonic declamation in three parts. The middle section recalls the lyrics of Amazing Grace in highly rhythmic figures. The final section is intensified by the addition of layering the vocal textures and repeating the text multiple times. This work features complex rhythmic figures, stacked harmonies, and a powerful piano part.

I Believe by Mark Miller (b. 1967)

The background of this text, at this point, is a part of folklore. As such, the background story of this text has evolved and grown over time, leaving us (and this particular choral work) with a slightly different text than what might be most historically accurate. However, the powerful message of love, hope, and perseverance remains. On June 26, 1945, the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Nachrichten published published a “special correspondence” from an unnamed reporter writing from Cologne. The article is about Catholic resistance to the Nazis in Cologne. The author speaks of the underground bomb shelters used by the Catholic community and of abandoned underground passages in old buildings that the Catholic resistance used as refuges from the Gestapo. Here is a translation of this passage, provided by Nicholas Kontje:

Catholic scouts had discovered underground passageways which had been unused for many years under old buildings, and these could now serve as refuges from the Gestapo. At one point, nine Jewish fugitives hid here for four months without ever being caught. When I visited the shelter, I had the opportunity to see the emergency housing, fully equipped with a kitchen, bedroom, living room, radio, a small library, and oil lamps—evidence of a stunning experience. Meals could only be prepared at night so as not to attract the Gestapo’s attention, who would have noticed the smoke during the day. Food had to be supplied by friends who willingly gave up a portion of their rations to help those unfortunate people living for weeks in utter darkness. The following inscription is written on the wall of one of these underground rooms, which in some ways resemble the Roman catacombs: ‘I believe in the sun, though it be dark; I believe in God, though He be silent; I believe in neighborly love, though it be unable to reveal itself.’”

These words have come to symbolize hope in the face of the despairing circumstances of the Holocaust. Mark says: “I composed this as a testament to the power of love over institutionalized hate, whether it comes from government or religion. Several years ago, I came upon this poem (I had sung the text years before to an anthem by Jane Marshall) at a difficult time in my life when I was searching for words to embody the pain I was feeling and the hope I was needing. There are rare moments when composing is more like an uncovering of something that was already there- this piece emerged within a few minutes and became a solace and an antidote for my world weariness. My hope is for this sacred gift of lyrics and song to be ‘medicine for the soul’ for all who hear it.”

Festival Sanctus by John Leavitt (b. 1956)

John Leavitt was born in 1956 in Leavenworth, Kansas. He is a composer, conductor, teacher, and church musician. He received the Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from The Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His music has been performed in 30 countries across the globe and his recordings have been featured nationally on many public radio stations.

Commonly performed by large festival choirs, this well-known choral work is full of energy and vitality. Leavitt employs a combination of brisk spritely tempo, active piano accompaniment, syncopated rhythms, and consistent meter change to keep both the listener and chorister engaged. The musical themes of the work are relatively accessible, but Leavitt’s clever and engaging treatment of the main melodic components provides a continual sense of variety within a familiar form.

Pie Jesu” from Requiem by John Rutter (b. 1945)

John Rutter is a composer of primarily choral works, including Christmas carols, anthems, and extended works such as the Gloria, the Requiem, and the Magnificat. Rutter’s style is influenced by 20th century English and French choral compositions as well as American songwriting. His compositions are most popular in the United States and the UK, with the London Evening Standard writing, “For the infectiousness of his melodic invention and consummate craftsmanship, Rutter has few peers.”

The Requiem was first performed in its entirety on October 13, 1985 at the United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, conducted by the composer. It was written “in memoriam L. F. R.” and dedicated to Rutter’s late father. In his own words:

The Requiem was written in 1985 and dedicated to the memory of my father, who had died the previous year. In writing it, I was influenced and inspired by the example of Faure. I doubt whether any specific musical resemblances can be traced, but I am sure that Faure’s Requiem crystallized my thoughts about the kind of Requiem I wanted to write: intimate rather than grandiose, contemplative and lyric rather than dramatic, and ultimately moving towards light rather than darkness….”

As with the Requiems of both Fauré and Duruflé, the Pie Jesu features a soprano soloist, though in this case with the addition of a subdued choral commentary. With this compositional choice, Rutter pays homage to the masterworks so influential to the choral art.

The Ground by Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978)

Ola Gjeilo was born in Norway in 1978 and moved to the US in 2001 to begin his composition studies at the Julliard School in NYC. His concert works are performed all over the world. The Ground is based on a chorale from the last movement of his Sunrise Mass (2008) for choir and string orchestra. The work is called “The Ground” because he wanted to convey a sense of having ‘arrived’ at the end of the Mass—to have reached a kind of peace and grounded strength after the long journey of the Mass having gone through a lot of different emotional landscapes. On creating a standalone version of this work, the composer states that he, “wanted to make a version that could be performed independent of the Mass and one that was also more accessible in terms of instrumentation, with a piano & optional string quartet accompaniment.”

He Never Failed Me Yet by Robert Ray (1946–2022)

This well-known work, in the choral gospel style, was composed by Robert Ray, the founder of the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus. Passing in late 2022, Dr. Ray will be remembered as a skilled pianist, teacher, director, and composer. He mentored many young composers and leaves a legacy as a “serious, but kind-hearted musician.” His students remembered him as “thorough and respectful, maintaining high standards for musicality.” This piece is frequently performed and “packs a serious punch” of emotion. Note the use of homophonic choral writing for maximum textual clarity accented by vocal solo. In this musical style it is encouraged, and even expected, that featured vocal leaders/soloists incorporate elements of improvisation into their performance.