Music for Midwinter

January 28, 1990, 07:00 PM
John Currie, Conductor
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Magnificat Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Cynthia Westphal Johnson , Soprano
Paula Rasmussen , Mezzo Soprano
Bruce Johnson , Tenor
Peter Van Derick , Baritone
Mid-Winter Songs (piano version) Morten Lauridsen
Missa in Tempore Belli (Mass in Time of War) Franz Joseph Haydn
Cynthia Westphal Johnson , Soprano
Paula Rasmussen , Mezzo Soprano
Bruce Johnson , Tenor
Peter Van Derick , Baritone


The Magnificat of Pergolesi, like all the works in his short, brilliant life, cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to this Neapolitan master. However, most scholars and conductors, on internal evidence feel sure that the Magnificat is Pergolesi's own work. Its Italian melodiousness, the brief, exhilarating choruses, and the skilled use of the "cantus firmus" melody are the work of a master. It remains one of the most delightful settings in the Baroque sacred repertoire.
The later Masses of Haydn, with Creation and the last symphonies, are the peaks of Viennese Classicism. Composed in 1796, in the final decade of his long life, Paukenmesse (literally "drum-mass), sometimes called Mass in Time of War has all the qualities of courage and optimism which Haydn bequeathed to his pupil Beethoven.
A short, solemn Largo leads to the buoyant Kyrie. The festive Gloria includes the slow "qui tollis" for solo bass with cello solo, but its overall mood is symbolized in the bubbling, happy 'amens' at the end. The Credo respects tradition in the tragic 'et incarnatus est' and in a momentary thought on death (or, rather, the dead ones) after the Resurrection, but is generally spirited and fresh. The Sanctus and Benedictus follow a regular classical pattern, except that the 'hosanna' music does not return: those words return, beautifully, at the end of the Benedictus. It is from the Agnus Dei that the "drum" nickname comes. An ominous drum threatens the prayer, the trumpets of war burst forth and, in a desperate moment, the drum is suddenly joined by jubilant trumpets in a 'dona nobis pacem' which is a song of victory. Throughout the work this idea is given constant expression in the fast, brilliant writing for the violins.
The version used tonight features the clarinets as later added by Haydn, and not only in the Credo.
The Magnificat in B flat presents the music historian with somewhat of a dilemma.  The edition of the work performed this evening and edited by Virginia Stroh and Buryl Red attributed it to Giovanni Batista Pergolesi (1710-36).  Publishing in 1963 these editors assert: ‘Since no holograph exists, it is impossible to determine positively the composer of this Magnificat.  However the editors after comprehensive research over a period of years feel that the evidence is sufficient to conclude that the Magnificat is the work of Pergolesi.’  In pursuing their research the editors consulted prestigious libraries in New York, Washington, London, Bergamo, Naples, and Munich, where older editions or manuscripts exist.
Subsequently, however, musicologists do not appear convinced of Pergolesi’s authorship.  In the 1980 edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Hanns Bertold Dietzat tributes the work to Pergolesi’s teacher in Naples, Francesco Durante (1684-1755), it having been composed in 1746 at the same time he had produced an eight-part Requiem for Rome.
Indeed the highly respected Karl Gustav Fellerer in his History of Catholic Church Music (1961) quotes a musical example from this Magnificat which he attributes to Durante and uses to illustrate his views on the prevalent style of Neapolitans who ‘produced a purely musical type of expression in church music on the basis of personal interpretation of the sense and sound of the text, but to the neglect (in this stile modern) of its grammatical and accentual formation.  Contrast and expressiveness in both melody and harmony characterized this art.  It was used for choral settings and for solo works, but in both the emotional factor was foremost.’ Neapolitan composers were often then derided as ‘sentimental’, a word used in those days to contrast them with the composers of the older school who adhered to the strict rules of harmony and counterpoint.
It must likewise be noted that Helmut Hucke and Marvine Payner in the New Grove article on Pergolesi clearly consider our Magnificat to be by Durante.
How explain the attribution to Pergolesi? So popular had his works become as a result of the reputation he enjoyed from his intermezzo La Serva Padrona and the Sequence Stabat Mater that after his death at the age of 26 in numerable works were ascribed to him.  Some have wryly remarked that if all such attributions were authentic Pergolesi would have had to be more productive and longer-lived than Mozart.
Durante spent most of his career as head of two great Neapolitan conservatories.  He was an exceedingly successful teacher, some of his pupils being Pergolesi, Jomelli, Piccini, and Paisiello, to name the more celebrated.  Along with Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1721) and Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) Durante ranks as one of the founders and chief representatives of the Neapolitan school.  Nicolas Slonimsky characterizes Durante’s music as possessed of breadth, vigor and resourcefulness of style, more than by marked originality.
Pergolesi spent the larger portion of his tragically brief life in the service of the Neapolitan nobility.  In 1734 he conducted in the Church of San Lorenzo at Rome a Mass he had produced as a votive offering for the victims of a severe earthquake at Naples in 1733.  This performance served greatly to enhance Pergolesi’s reputation since it was sung before a huge audience who had little opportunity to hear a Neapolitan ‘number’ or cantata type Mass.  It was, however, derisively described by the Roman critic Ghezzi as ‘musica spaventosa’ dreadful music.
Pergolesi enjoyed only limited success in his lifetime, his posthumous reputation marking a new phenomenon in music history.  The Magnificat in B flat is scored for solo quartet, four-part choir with violins, cellos, basses, and keyboard continuo.  It comprises six movements.  All employ the Chorus with the soloists except the brief fourth movement ‘Suscepit Israel’ for tenor and bass duet.
During 1794-95 London lionized Joseph Haydn.  Here the performance of those culminating works of his symphonic art in the second set of the Solomon Symphonies (Nos 93-104) clearly manifested him as Europe’s greatest living composer. Oxford University awarded him a Doctorate in Music.
London’s elite urged him to make the city his home.  Haydn would gladly have done so had it not been for the obligation he felt toward his Esterhazy patrons.  In 1794 Prince Anton died.  Haydn then requested of his successor, Prince Nicholas II, leave to remain in London for a year to fulfill his obligations to the impresario Solomon and other patrons.  Reluctantly he now in 1795 felt obliged to return to Vienna.  To return, indeed to the services of a debauched Prince who openly condemned Haydn’s music and showed him disrespect.  Shortly after his return Haydn had reacted to the Prince’s criticisms at a rehearsal with the remark, ‘Your Highness, it is my job to decide this.’ Perhaps Beethoven may have absorbed some of his vaunted attitudes of independence from mentor Haydn.  The recipient of an Oxford doctorate likewise resented being hailed as ‘Haydn’ by servants and a prince half his age.  Fortunately Princess Marie Hermenegild, who had the highest regard for Haydn’s achievements, insisted on the distinguished composer’s receiving the proper ‘Herr Doctor’ from husband and servants alike.
It is thus to Prince Nicholas II and his wife Marie Hermenegild that we owe that magnificent set of six Masses dating from 1796 to 1802.  For they were all composed to celebrate annually the Princess’s birthday.  Haydn conducted these Masses on the recurring September 8 in the Berg Church of the Esterhazy castle at Eisenstadt some 30 miles distance from Vienna.  
From before 1749 up until 1782 Haydn had already composed eight of his 14 Masses.  The St. Cecelia Mass of 1766 was a huge Cantata-style Baroque creation a la the Bach B Minor Mass.  The Mariazeller Mass of 1782 clearly foreshadowed the art of the last six Masses.
The fourteen year hiatus between 1782 and 1796 occurred both because of the inhibiting liturgical reforms decreed by the ‘enlightened’ ‘sacristan’ Emperor Joseph II (personal rule 1780-90) and the exigencies of Haydn’s creative life.
It is uncertain and disputed whether the Mass in Time of War (the Paukenmesse) or the Heiligmesse dedicated to the recently canonized Capuchin Brother, Saint Bernard of Offida, was the first composed of the famed six.  While the original instrumentation of the first four of these six Masses reflect the orchestral and vocal forces available then to him in Eisenstadt, the Mass in Time of War is more elaborately scored and features more solo voice work. The reason for this may have been the Mass that Haydn had conducted on St. Stephen's day, 1796, in the Church of the Piarist Fathers in Vienna. Here he would have had access to fuller orchestral forces and vocal talent. Similarly Haydn by 1797 appears to have secured a better knowledge of the Eisenstadt forces since in his Heiligmesse he exercised caution with respect to instrumentation and vocal forces, providing very little solo work in it. It would seem, then, that the Mass in Time of War was sung at Eisenstadt in 1797, the Heiligmesse being the first sung. However, there is no unanimity on the matter.
Why is this Mass in C given its commonly known title in Time of War? Napoleon and the French Revolutionary armies after their striking victories of 1796-97 over the Austrian forces in Italy were on the march in 1797. They had advanced into Styria, a southern province of the Empire, aiming toward the conquest of Vienna.
Haydn gave singular expression to the tense apprehension this approach engendered, building his Mass toward that extraordinary setting of the concluding Agnus Dei. Contemporary Georg Griesinger described this climax. “In this Mass the words, ‘Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi’ are played in a curious fashion with the kettledrums [he quotes Haydn himself] as if one heard the enemy approaching in the distance. At the closing words 'dona nobis pacem' Haydn has all the instruments enter in a very striking way.” One notes, too, how strikingly the trumpets sound, especially in that plea 'give us peace.'
Haydn's unusual music here was not lost on Beethoven who utilized the idea in an even more grandiose fashion in the same movement of his Missa Solemnis.
After 1795 Haydn had adamantly refused to compose any more symphonies. The twelve great London or Solomon symphonies (No.'s 93-104) he viewed as marking the culmination of his art in that genre. In the six great Masses of 1796-1802 he applied to their composition with consummate skill the integrative principles of classic sonata and symphonic form. Thus, larger portions of the Mass text become a series of symphonies, so to speak, while their melodic characteristics approximate symphonic motif-like themes. Some of these Masses are furnished like a symphony with a solemn slow introduction. A further high degree of integration Haydn established between the chorus and soloists and between voices and orchestra, so that in a real sense the singers constitute one of the 'choirs' in the makeup of the whole ensemble.
The eminent Haydn scholar, H.C. Robbins Landon at the end of his book The Symphonies of Haydn (1958) concludes his whole study by stating: 'We must ... acknowledge that the six Masses often reach spiritual heights which even the finest of his symphonies do not attain ... [he furnishes some examples from the various Masses] such as the unearthly beauty of the 'Incarnatus' from the Mass in Time of War. The late Masses, in their steadfast unity of purpose and greatness of expression, are indeed a transfiguration of his style, and it is fitting that these works, Haydn's true symphonic legacy, should close the long half-century of his artistic life.'
The original scoring of the Mass called for a flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in C and B flat, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, alternating with 2 horns in C and A, timpani in C-G, strings, organ soli and choir. The flute, clarinets and horns he added as supplemental instrumentation.
Described by Los Angeles Times critic John Henken as 'an evocative cycle, pungently scored, rhythmically varied, and highly flattering to a good chorus . . . accessible in the best sense,' by Daily Breeze critic Cynthia Netzer as 'glorious ... , poetry in motion,' and by the press at its Australian premiere as 'a remarkable cycle . . . Morten Lauridsen is among the cream of the American contemporary crop of choral composers', the Mid-Winter Songs on Poems by Robert Graves is quickly becoming a standard work in the contemporary choral literature.
Commissioned by the University of Southern California to celebrate its Centennial in 1980 and premiered by the USC Chamber Singers conducted by Rodney Eichenberger, the piano/vocal setting of the work has had numerous performances throughout the United States and abroad during the past decade. The orchestral version was commissioned and premiered by the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra and Chorus directed by Robert Duerr at the Ambassador Auditorium in 1983, and presented again by Roger Wagner and the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1985.
Composer Morten Lauridsen provides the following commentary regarding the Mid-Winter Songs.
'In the summer of 1979, after receiving the USC commission to compose a piece for the Chamber Singers, I took volumes of poetry to my Waldron Island home in a search for possible texts, including the complete works by the English poet, Robert Graves. In reading Graves, I became very much taken with the richness, elegance and extraordinary beauty of his poetry and his insights regarding the human condition. Six diverse poems with a common 'Winter' motif (a particular favorite of mine) suggested a cohesive musical setting and led to the composition of the Mid-Winter Songs. The principal musical materials for the entire cycle, especially the intervals of an ascending major ninth and a descending major second, are derived from the opening choral setting of 'Dying sun' and recur throughout the work, which is cast in an overall arch form within a flexible tonal framework.
The six movements of the piano/vocal version are reduced to five in the recently refashioned orchestral version containing an expanded setting of 'Intercession in Late October' presented this evening for the first time. I am deeply grateful to Maestros Eichenberger, Duerr, Wagner and Currie and the Los Angeles Master Chorale for their championing of the Mid-Winter Songs and to Chorus America for its generous grant assisting tonight's performance.'
The Mid-Winter Songs is recorded by the USC Chamber Singers, conducted by Rodney Eichenberger, on their two-record album, Musica Sacra et Profana on the Opus label, and is published by Opus Music Publishers, Inc., Evanston, Illinois. The composition was awarded the Phi Kappa Phi Creative Writing Prize in 1984.

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