Bernstein, Getty, Mozart & Schubert

April 21, 1990, 08:00 PM
John Currie, Conductor
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Annabel Lee Gordon Getty
Vado, ma dove? K. 583 (I go, but to where? O God!) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Bella mia Fiamma, Addio! K. 528 (Goodbye, my Beloved) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ah Se in Ciel, Benigna Stella, la Pieta non e Smarrita K. 538 (Oh, Kind Start, if Pity has not left the Heavens) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Patrice Michaels Bedi , Soprano
Mass in E Flat Franz Peter Schubert
Patrice Michaels Bedi , Soprano
Catherine McCord Larsen , Soprano
Kyra Humphrey , Alto
Agostino Castagnola , Tenor
David Larson , Tenor
Burman Timberlake , Bass/Baritone
Jason Domantay , Boy Soprano


The program we present to you tonight is one of the richest of our season. After the intermission you will hear Schubert's greatest choral work, and the last he wrote, the Mass in E-flat. If we do not include Beethoven's extraordinary Missa Solemnis (with which we open next season) the Schubert work may be seen as the climax of the series of late Classical masses given by the Chorale and the Sinfonia over the last three years: two late Haydn masses and the Beethoven Mass in C.
And what a beautiful and mature work the Schubert is! Think first of the orchestra. Schubert, like Mendelssohn, was not caught up in the enlargement of the orchestra prophesied by Beethoven and the young Berlioz. Like Mozart and Haydn, he uses only two horns, and omits the flutes, giving the wood-winds the flavor of a Mozart wind serenade, alive with clarinet and oboe melodies and countermelodies. Where he does look forward to the Romantic orchestra, however, is in his use of the trombones. These three trombones are used as richer, deeper horns, giving an organ-like sonority to the orchestral sound. And, of course, Schubert's unique melodic voice is Romantic in every sense.
Similarly, in the writing, it is the Viennese tradition which is recalled, but from time to time unusual and "advanced" harmonies suddenly appear, with wonderful effect. Some scholars have criticized the antique-style vocal fugues which end the Gloria and Credo. This conductor is at a loss to understand that criticism. The sections are strong structurally and deeply moving in performance. Nor do they detract from those sections which are more popularly Schubertian: the gentle, glowing Kyrie, the hymn-like Benedictus of the soloists, the turbulent Agnus Dei, and the still, child-like Dona Nobis Pacem, which leads the work to its peaceful conclusion.
Chichester Psalms, Bernstein draws his inspiration from the Hebrew Psalms and an ancient religious tradition which did not exclude dance as an expression of joy and faith. Hence, after a short majestic opening, the choir sings a lively dance (seven-beats-in-the-bar) which even contains, at one point, the instruction "boisterously". The second movement, a setting of the most famous pastoral Psalm, complete with shepherd-boy solo, is repeatedly interrupted by the raging of the nations: the aggressors versus the shepherds. The shepherds win, and the warlike rhythms disappear in the distance at the last calm statement of "The Lord is my shepherd." The last movement is Bernstein at his most spacious in a slow finale which ends with a magical, distant blessing for unaccompanied voices. In the orchestra Bernstein uses brass, strings, harps, and a large array of percussion, but no woodwinds.
Chorale subscribers will remember that in our opening concert this season, we were unable to bring you the final version of Getty's Annabel Lee as planned. We now make good our promise to perform the work by including it this evening. It is a short work of magic and menace, and we are proud to be associated with its premiere.
Two factors appear to have generated concern in Leonard Bernstein's artistic life between late 1963 and mid-1965. He was just concluding the orchestration of the Kaddish Symphony #3 when the news of President John Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, reached him. Since he was a close friend of Kennedy, Bernstein suffered a turmoil of grief and loss. He felt it necessary to dedicate that Symphony to Kennedy's memory. The event likewise sparked him to consider "what music has to do with current affairs, with politics, with whatever, and it really has little if anything to do except to serve as a great time capsule . . . an artistic incarnation of a given period in history" to quote him directly. His recent refusal to accept from the President the National Medal of the Arts award would seem to highlight these expressed views respecting the independence of the Arts. The second factor influencing Bernstein's compositional efforts arose from the need he felt to grapple with the 12-tone system of composition, the "so-called conflict between tonality and nontonality." Prominent composers had followed Arnold Schoenberg's lead in this system he is generally considered to have invented.
Bernstein had essayed some non-tonality in the first movement of the Kaddish Symphony. However, in 1964 the need to confront the problem led him to secure a sabbatical leave from his conducting duties with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He dedicated this time intensively toward composition "and I wrote a lot of music, twelve-tone music and avant-garde music of various kinds, and a lot of it was very good, and I threw it all away. And what I came out with at the end of the year was a piece called the Chichester Psalms, which is simple and tonal and tuneful and pure B flat as any piece you can think of ... Because that was what I honestly wished to write."
Bernstein received the commission to compose the Chichester Psalms through the good offices of his physician, Charles Solomon, who was also a friend of the Very Reverend Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral in southern England. Ever since the days of Thomas Weekles (d. 1623) Chichester Cathedral had fostered music festivals, now currently in cooperation with Winchester and Salisbury.
Bernstein selected his text from Psalms 108, 100, 23, 2, 131, and 133. His biographer Joan Peyser sees in his selection of Hebrew as the work's language, "something of a slap in the face" to Dean Hussy. Why so is difficult to discern, since the work appears to find its musical technique strongly influenced by the linguistic exigencies of Hebrew.
The Chichester Psalms received their premiere performance with Bernstein conducting the Camerata Singers and the New York Philharmonic on July 15, 1965. These same forces quickly recorded the work for Columbia records. Los Angeles heard the work first on May 23, 1971 at Loyola Marymount University with Paul Salamunovich conducting the St. Charles Borromeo Choir.
The Chichester Psalms calls for strings, three trumpets, three trombones, two harps, a large percussion section, boy soloist, and chorus. Bernstein has likewise provided the work with reduced instrumentation. Whereas the Kaddish Symphony of 1963 expressed despair and anguished hope, the Chichester Psalms are a paean of serenity and childlike humility, as Jack Gottlieb wrote. After a majestic introit, Psalm 100 is sung to a joyful dancelike setting. The 23rd Psalm then receives a lyric, almost naive treatment sung by the soloist, the melody repeated with canonic treatment by the chorus. The pastoral mood is interrupted by the dramatic outburst of the men singing "Why do the nations rage." from Psalm 2. An instrumental reverie prepares for the warmth and peace of Psalm 133, while the a cappella coda expresses a yearning for peace, concluding with "Amen" as the solo trumpet gently recalls the first phrase of the chorale.
The concert aria in its "monumental form" reached perfection in the works of Alessandro Stradella (1642-1682) and Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725). It had emerged from the increasingly prevalent tendency within the opera seria to exploit and showcase a singer's virtuosity rather than to develop the opera's dramatic situations. Thus in as much as it was in conception a vocal concerto it antedated and influenced the subsequent development of the instrumental concerto.
The concert aria consequently exhibits generally on a smaller scale a three-movement ABA structure, characteristic of a three movement instrument concerto. It commences with an orchestral ritornello after which the singer enters after the fashion of a solo instrument and develops the musical and emotional material. There follows a shorter slow lyrical section. The singer, returning to the musical material of the opening section, sometimes to a different text, was expected to demonstrate acquired technique through further vocal embellishments.
Mozart, who developed the concert aria opera scene to its highest perfection, in a number of his more important creations furnished it with an introductory recitative which by and large exhibit richer accompaniments than those in his mature operas. These concert arias he intended to be inserted into established operas or simply to provide a concert opportunity for a singer-friend. The Koechel listings show that he composed during his career from 1765 to 1791 thirty eight concert arias for soprano, one for alto, eleven for tenor, and eight for bass.
Don Giovanni opened in Prague on October 29, 1787, where it was received with critical acclaim. Mozart resided with his good friends, the Duseks. Having promised to furnish Josepha Dusek with a display concert piece, Mozart on November 3 found himself locked up in a small garden cottage by Josepha who averred that she would not release him until he had completed the gift. Mozart, in turn, indicated that he would not surrender the aria until Josepha agreed, to sing it by sight, a really significant challenge which she surmounted.
Together with Ch'io mi scordi di te (K505) written the previous year for Nancy Storace, Bella mia fiamma (K528) marks Mozart's masterpiece in the genre. The protagonist of this aria is really a man, a hero about to undergo a sacrificial death. He takes leave of his beloved and of a friend to whom he entrusts her. The text is questionably attributed to Lorenzo da Ponte. The eminent Mozart biographer Alfred Einstein sees in this aria Mozart's utilizing "extreme means to represent an extreme situation ... This is no piece for the public, but rather what artists call a 'studio piece.' "
Vado ma dove? (K583) composed in October, 1789, sets a text of Mozart's best librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. This aria he inserted into 'Martin the Spaniard's" opera Il Burbero di buon cuore (The Good-hearted Churl). Mozart produced it for Louise Villenueve, the first soprano to sing Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte. Einstein sees in the Minuet section of the aria a work of the finest lyric singing characteristically fitting for the delightful coloratura of Villeneuve. In the aria the character, Madame Lucilla, voices her bewilderment at the uneven course her love seems to be taking.
Ah se in ciel, benigna stella (K538), composed on March 4, 1788, marks the last of numerous arias Mozart had composed for his sister-in-law Aloysia Weber. The text is from the opera L'eroe cinese (The Chinese Hero) of that prodigiously productive librettist Metastasio. A lovelorn girl invokes the stars to permit her to die or to bless her love. All three arias are scored basically for woodwinds, horns, and strings.
Appraisals of Schubert's religious compositions and particularly his Masses generally do not consider them to be among his best or more imaginative efforts. He appears in general to have approached the composition of his Masses with a somewhat perfunctory attitude engendered by his lack of conviction in orthodox Catholicism . It is no secret that the liturgical words of the Credo, especially those, for example, relating to the Persons of the Trinity, the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" and the resurrection of the dead he often omitted. His philosophical bend appears to have veered toward a vague pantheism.
However winsome and appealing the first four Masses are, the fifth in A Flat and the sixth in E Flat rise to considerable artistic prominence among his later compositions. Moreover, the contrast drawn between the more forward-looking less traditional A flat Mass finds the E flat Mass reverting to more traditional forms particularly in the reduction of the use of soloists and in the use of elaborate fugal writing in the customary classical places ending the Gloria, the Credo, and the Hosanna. These foster criticisms such as those of Roger Fiske who sees them as "characterless" and contributing to the failure of the E flat Mass.
Schubert seems, indeed, to have had some misgivings about the effectiveness of his contrapuntal skills. In October, 1828, his last full month of life, he commenced instructions in counterpoint from that long-lived and formidable academician Simon Sechter, also teacher of Lizst and Bruckner. These instructions appear to have fructified in his last larger work, the Offertory Intende voci orationis meae (Give Ear to the Voice of My Supplication). It exhibits a contrapuntal effectiveness and ease not previously encountered in Schubert's choral compositions. Critical judgement, however, of numerous Schubert biographers and musicologists offer no consistent view of either Mass, though we may consider the pendulum of appreciation swinging somewhat more favorably toward the E flat Mass.
Schubert commenced composing the E flat Mass on June 7, 1828, finishing it in July. The occasion which galvanized him into its composition cannot be ascertained with any degree of certainty. Some see him, after the precedent set by J. S. Bach and the B Minor Mass, writing it to secure some official musical appointment, hence its reversion to a more conservative approach.
In 1828 he had composed the chorus Glaude, Hoffnung, Liebe (Faith, Hope, Love) to celebrate the consecration of the re-founded bell of Holy Trinity Church in Alsergrund, a Viennese suburb, the site too of Beethoven's obsequies the previous year. Schubert may have intended the Mass in E flat for a dedication ceremony at the same Franciscan church. This church, some say, saw the premiere performance done at Schubert's request, on October 4, 1829, the year following his demise. Another view has the Mass "heard only once" through arrangements made by Schubert's brother Ferdinand at the Church of Mary the Comforter on November 15, 1829.
The Mass in E flat is one of a constellation of superb works Schubert produced in his final year and months of life. Among these works were the Great C Major Symphony #7, the String Quintet in C Major, Sonatas for piano in C Minor, A Major, and B flat Major. Apart from his final Lied, Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) his last major work was the Offertory Intende voci orationis meae written for tenor solo, mixed chorus, and an orchestra reflecting the lyric finesse and power of that of the C Major Symphony. We have referred also to its contrapuntal aspects above. Both this Offertory, and the E flat Mass exhibit similar characteristics of origin and weightiness.
By way of summary, let us sample some evaluations respecting the E flat Mass and Schubert's accomplishment. These will focus on the general esteem in which the Mass is held, its place in the history of music, together with some critical misgivings.
Robert Schauffer (1949): "The Sixth and best of the Masses is in E flat. Johannes Brahms loved this music so dearly that he actually took time from his own creative work to arrange the orchestra part for piano . . . The harmony is richer, more subtle, more passionate, the polyphony is on a higher plane. The orchestra ... now has things of far greater import to communicate."'
Karl Fellerer (1961): "Fugal work played a prominent role, with a delicate use of harmony and declamation. Although the liturgical text was often treated freely and at times without understanding, the masterful shaping of mood gave Schubert's church music a character that was truly meaningful. In his great A flat and E flat Masses, Schubert created works of profound expressiveness."
Roger Fiske (1963): "The characterless fugues do much to kill the E flat Mass and there are some glutinously 'Victorian' harmonic progressions ... The result is one of his golden dreams, ravishing to the senses with its melody and its endearing harmonic twists."
John Reed (1972): The E flat Mass "shows more revealingly perhaps than any other work the schizophrenic nature of Schubert's musical personality in this last year of his life. Conceived on traditional lines, with a conventional key scheme and fully-worked fugues in all the right places ... it lapses into sentimentality and into academicism, making it an indigestible work to bring off in the concert hall; yet its best moments show how nearly Schubert got to producing a great setting of the sacred text."
Homer Ulrich (1973): "Schubert's role as the harbinger of the Romantic period is revealed in his treatment of the text in his late Masses: in a highly non-liturgical manner, ... we may conclude that considerations of musical form and phrasing of expressive balance, and of melodic expansion lay uppermost in his mind. Thus his approach to the Mass text is a subjective and non-liturgical one, an approach that will be characteristic in the forthcoming Romantic period."
Percy Young (1962,81): "The main substance of this Mass lies in the orchestral texture and the words tend to have a commentatory function in respect of the unfolding of the imagination through instrumental scoring which is often unexpected and strangely beautiful. The most considerable quality is of warmth in which the comforting style of Bruckner is foreshadowed . . . There are many surprises in the general harmonic scheme; sometimes so many that they cease to surprise."
 Anthony Lewis (1982): "The Mass in Eflat shows much the same variation in quality as does the A flat according to the prevailing mood, but there is a more sensitive response to certain parts of the text that had hitherto failed to arouse any significant reaction ... The whole design is splendidly dignified and is executed with unmistakable conviction. Unequal though it may be, Schubert's Mass in Eflat is a noble tribute from one who was not primarily a choral, nor yet a religious, composer."
John Reed (1987): ". . . while the A flat Mass is lyrical, organic, innovative, and idiosyncratic, the E flat Mass reflects those tendencies which influenced both Schubert and Beethoven in their final phase: a reversion to traditional forms, a revival of interest in contrapuntal techniques, and above all, a Romantic concern for sublimity."
References: 1. Franz Schubert, the Ariel of Music. 2. A History of Catholic Church Music. 3. Choral Music, the Viennese Classical Period. 4. Schubert, The Final Years. 5. A Survey of Choral Music. 6. The Choral Tradition. 7. The New Oxford History of Music. 8. The Master Musicians, Franz Schubert.
Annabel Lee
By all accounts, Poe's marriage was as idyllic as his life outside it was desperate. But his wife-cousin bore the lung disease that had killed his mother when he was two. By the spring of 1846 her condition was dangerous. A neighbor at that time happened to see Poe in a cherry tree, tossing the fruit down to Virginia. She was laughing as she caught them in her lap. All at once blood came from her lips. Poe leapt down and carried her into the house.
In January 1847 Virginia Clemm Poe died of tuberculosis. Like Poe's mother, she was twenty-four. They had been married over ten years. She was buried near their home in Fordham. A friend reported that "Many times ... was he found at the dead hour of a winter night, sitting beside her tomb almost frozen in the snow . . . " Annabel Lee was finished by mid- 1849. Poe's own death at forty followed within a year.
The poem is a unique challenge. Critics will not need their spectacles to find its faults of taste. But they who are not moved by it might as well give up reading poetry, or at least romantic poetry. It invites us to re-examine our prejudices against sentimentality. It puts us through the wringer, like it or not. Mawkish and melodramatic, towering and harrowing, it will not leave us in peace.
Each of us recognizes the kingdom by the sea, where the angels cannot be trusted. We knew it before we knew any other world, the world of first helplessness, first beauty, a homeland older than memory. We cannot return without pain. And each of us recalls something of ourselves in the haunted innocent whom the God's, out of mercy, had made mad.

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