By Peter Rutenberg
The Farewell Concert
Maestro Paul Salamunovich's extensive and exemplary career has been first and foremost a Labor of Love, and so it is altogether fitting that he should end his tenure as Music Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale amidst all those dearest to him, who - under the spell of Orpheus' mighty song - are assembled to hear a program of his personal favorites and the tender proclamation of that very word Love which concludes this concert.
The Chorale's sound embraces us with its familiar warmth even as we embrace you, dear Maestro, in fondest farewell ... with the aggregate memories of this grand, gilded hall, witness to 37 seasons of choral excellence you helped inaugurate and later so admirably led ... with a flood of gratitude for all the musical monuments you've unsealed for our eager hearts ... indeed, with the recognition that our bountiful brushes with the divine were catalyzed by the luminous torch of your genuine love for this Art. Bravo and thank you!
About Giuseppe Verdi, Biographer Andrew Porter writes, "From the start, he had the opera composer's most necessary gift, the ability to write melodies that communicate a character's emotions and stir emotion in those who listen." After Falstaff, when he by his wife Giuseppina's admonition was "too old, too tired" to tackle another opera, Verdi recalled a pair of sacred choral pieces he had written in 1880 - an Ave Maria and a Pater Noster. It was enough to inspire an amusement for the composer's well-honed craft, which he set in the form of an "enigmatic scale," writing a second setting of the Ave Maria. This, together with the Loudi alle Vergine Maria composed between Otello and Falstaff, and new settings of two ancient church hymns - a Te Deum and a Stabat Mater written between 1895-97- gave the composer his swan song, the Quattro Pezzi Sacri or Four Sacred Pieces. They were published in 1898 and premiered the same year in Paris, under the composer's keen and attentive direction.
The Stabat Mater was Verdi's final creation. The simplicity of the Latin text's rhythm and rhyme scheme, and the naturally somber tone of its depiction of the Crucifixion, inspired in him a wellspring of concise, intense gestures, that would lead Porter to suggest that the work "contained in small space the essence of a Passion, a 'Dies irae', a 'Libera me' and an 'In paradisum' (i.e., three parts of a Requiem Mass). Scored for full chorus and orchestra, the Stabat Mater draws on one of the composer's most enduring and potent techniques - that of the unison chorus - to define several moods including the initial solitude and anguish of Mary's grief, and the unity of spirit in the later proclamation of victory. This performance commemorates the centenary of the composer's death in 1901.
In his preface to the published choral score, Composer-in- Residence Morten Lauridsen writes, "Lux Aeterna for chorus and chamber orchestra was composed for and is dedicated to the Los Angeles Master Chorale and its superb conductor, Paul Salamunovich, who gave the world premiere in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center on April 13, 1997. The work is in five movements played without pause. Its texts are drawn from sacred Latin sources, each containing references to Light. The piece opens and closes with the beginning and ending of the Requiem Mass, with the three central movements drawn, respectively, from the Te Deum (including a line from the Beatus Vir), O Nata Lux, and Veni, Sancte Spiritus.
"The instrumental introduction to the Introitus softly recalls motivic fragments from two pieces especially close to my heart (my settings of Rilke's Contre Qui, Rose and O Magnum Mysterium) which recur throughout the work in various forms. Several new themes in the Introitus are then introduced by the chorus, including an extended canon on et lux perpetua. In Te, Domine, Speravi contains, among other musical elements, the cantus firmus Herzliebster Jesu (from the Nuremberg Songbook, 1677) and a lengthy inverted canon on fiat misericordia. O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus are paired songs - the former the central a cappella motet, and the latter a spirited, jubilant canticle. A quiet setting of the Agnus Dei precedes the final Lux Aeterna, which reprises the opening section of the Introitus and concludes with a joyful Alleluia."
No one who was in the audience that April evening in 1997, or at a subsequent performance in October 1999, will forget the instantaneous and vociferously enthusiastic acclaim accorded the Lux Aeterna. The magic of this work has continued to inspire, through performances the world over, and through the critically-praised, Grammy-nominated recording by Maestro Salamunovich and the Chorale.
Gustav Holst was slight and a bit sickly throughout his life, but he was also fiercely idiosyncratic and ultimately a wonderfully original path-cutter for the generations that followed. He studied with Stanford at the Royal College of Music where he befriended Ralph Vaughan Williams who became a lifelong friend and colleague. He solved problems in unconventional ways and wrote music that was direct and to the point, with few frills or unnecessary digressions. He had no patience with the academic approach and taught by providing opportunities for students to actually "do" what they were studying. When fame came, he was mystified. The larger the fuss of adulation, the quicker the detachment. Holst was caught off guard by The Planets' success. Soon after, when The Hymn of Jesus was called a masterpiece, he wrote to a friend, "It made me realize the truth of 'Woe to you when all men speak well of you,"' and thereafter, he often vocalized the belief that an artist should work for the art's sake alone, and that any success because of it was disruptive and distracting to the point of sabotage.
His daughter and biographer, Imogen, wrote: "The Hymn of Jesus (1917), Holst's most strikingly original work, has nothing in common with 19th-century English oratorio. He was as unconventional about religion as about anything else. He chose for his text the 'dancing' hymn in the apocryphal Acts of St. John, and with the help of a pupil he learnt enough Greek to make his own translation. To audiences of the 1920s the music was a revelation, with its leaping rhythms and piercing discords ... It still gives its listeners and its performers a sense of overwhelming religious exultation."
The full title of the work is "The Hymn of Jesus/ From the 'Acts of St. John' I Translated and Set to Music/ For Two Choruses, Semi-chorus and Orchestra/ by/ Gustav Holst/ (Op. 37)."The composer gives several instructions about staging the work, including, to place the choirs at a distance, to support the semi-chorus with a "harmonium" if it is too far from the orchestra, and, (oddly, considering the composer was himself a trombonist) to dispense with all three trombones and certain other instruments if the director so desired.
Carl August Nielsen is the principal figure in Danish music after the Romantic era. Like Parry in England, Nielsen's prominence and strong personality were the catalysts in Scandinavia for a decisive influence on both the musical and theoretical fronts. Contrary to late- and post-Romantic tendencies, as biographer Torben Schousboe tells us, Nielsen's early style was "founded on Classicism as regards thematic formation, structure, cadential harmony and harmonic rhythm, with melody and rhythm as the primary elements, but nevertheless used [current] developments in chromaticism and tonecolor."
From this period comes the Hymnus Amoris, Op. 12, written between 1896-97. Nielsen's "Hymn of Love" was "composed after thorough studies in counterpoint ... using a Latin text in order to permit more textual repetition and avoid excessively lyrical or personal sentiments. (Schousboe)"The score calls for a number of choral colors, including a children's choir, a women's choir ("The Mothers"), soloists of varying characterizations, a men's choir ("The Elders"), a choir of angels, and lastly, the full choir ("The Human Race"). The combined forces intone the word "Amor" on a sustained, regal, A major chord - a key often associated with the color red - the color of Love.