By Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
Loyola Marymount University
When one considers how early in his life Mozart achieved compositional expertise and accomplishment, one might consider his life-long admirer Dominick Argento to have commenced his musical career at a ripe old age. In 1941, at the age of 14, Argento found stimulation in a biography of George Gershwin to become a composer. Until his entrance in 1947, at the age of twenty, into the Peabody Conservatory, he was largely self-taught. His subsequent breadth of instruction may be assessed when after studying under such recognized men as Alan Hovhaness, Howard Hanson, Henry Cowell, Bernard Rogers, and Luigi Dallapiccola, he achieved his doctorate in 1957 at the Eastman School of Music and joined in 1958 the faculty of the University of Minnesota. Here he has continually exercised great influence on the musical and operatic life of the University, the Twin Cities, and the United States. His Fulbright Award of 1951, two Guggenheim grants in 1957 and 1963, the ASCAP award of 1973, and the Pulitzer Prize in Music of 1975 for his song cycle From The Diary of Virginia Woolf testify to his ever increasing facility and depth as a composer. As David Ewin in his book American Composers remarks: "Argento has demonstrated an exceptional gift in writing for the voice and a Verdian respect for the demands of good theater in writing opera:' Most successful of his works in these areas are the operas The Boor (1957) Postcard from Morocco (1971), and the Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe (1975-76), among several others. His song cycles also include besides the one noted above, Six Elizabethan Songs (1961), The Revelation of St. John the Divine for tenor, male chorus brass and percussion (1966) and his recent I Hate and I Love (1982).
I Hate and I Love is a virtuoso work for mixed chorus and percussion, based on poems of the Verona-born Roman, Catullus (84- ca. 54 B.C.). The title of the work comes from Poem 85 Odi and Amo, one of a series of love poems in which in his inimitably cryptic and lyric fashion this First Century manipulator of Latin gives vent to all facets of ardent love, infatuation, passion, and remorse through structural brilliance and sureness of taste. These poems are grouped together under the designation of The Lesbia poems. Although various women appear to have been designated by Catullus's name Lesbia, the woman who inspired most of them was Clodia, daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher and wife of Metellus Celer, Governor of Cisalpine Gaul. Catullus's relationship with her endured between 59 B.C. when Metellus died- perhaps poisoned by Clodia- and 54 B.C. when Catullus disappears from history.
I Hate and I Love. You ask perhaps the Reason?
I don't know. But I feel it happen and am tortured.
In his treatment of the Roman's poetry Argento clearly demonstrates his musical objectives: "I want my work to have emotional impact; I want it to communicate, not obfuscate. I am always thinking of my audience, how they will hear it, and what it will mean to them.” David Ewen succinctly summarizes Argento's style: “Though he has used such advanced techniques as serialism, Argento often turns to past methods and procedures in his search for well-sounding melodies, dramatic strength, and communicability with audiences:'
Two cities exercised significant impact on the early course of Johannes Brahms' life. The success in 1858 of his First Piano Concerto in D (Op. 15), performed in his native Hamburg, marked his definitive appearance as a recognized composer/performer. This success led him to anticipate his appointment as director of his city's Philharmonic concerts. He was, however, passed over twice in 1863 and again in 1867 for the post. In his disappointment and chagrin he left Hamburg for good and settled in Vienna in 1868, no longer touring except to perform and conduct his own works.
The Liebeslieder Waltzes (Op. 52) evolved as a loosely bound wreath of love songs composed between 1868 and 1869 for vocal quartet and piano duet on texts selected from G.F. Daumer's Polydora. They provide startling evidence of how rapidly Brahms had assimilated the old Viennese dance-song or laendler in Franz Schubert's tradition. In them he appealed directly to popular taste exhibiting his most genial and charming moods. These waltzes received their first performance in Vienna on January 5, 1870.
The paramount importance of the four-hand accompaniment their publisher highlighted rather cavalierly when he indicated in order to increase their sale that they could be played without vocal performance. Indeed Brahms himself later orchestrated nine of the Liebeslieder Waltzes into an ingratiating suite in which he displayed the greatest economy in the use of the small orchestra. In this orchestral suite he indicated the ad lib character of the vocal parts. Nevertheless, they have seldom been performed except in their vocal setting, more often than not by chorus rather than by quartet.
In these eighteen romantic love poems Brahms presents us with a fitting musical Valentine bouquet.
Two factors converged in Brahms' life around 1880 to bring into existence Nänie. He had on his two journeys there been entranced by the classical beauty of Italy and by the neo-classical paintings of his friend, Anselm Feuerbach. Feuerbach died prematurely in January, 1880. After Brahms had heard Herman Goetz's setting of Schiller's poem Nänie performed by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde on February 14, 1880, he created a work deserving a place among the master's most characteristic and poetic creations. He further expressed his affection for Anselm by dedicating this work of serenity, tranquility, and resignation to Anselm's stepmother, Henrietta.
Nänie may be seen in its sentiments as an extension of those expressed by Brahms through selected Scripture texts in the German Requiem. Here while Biblical images are replaced by those of Greek classical mythology, the same consoling view of death prevails wherein love heals all loss.
The work is in ABA structure, the three movements composed in a major key. The orchestral Prelude ushers in the themes with the exquisite oboe melody to be taken up in fugal fashion by the chorus. Its serenity rises to a more dramatic aspect in the center section as the name of Achilles is hailed. Even goddesses cannot soften the decrees of Hades, and the work subsides in resignation.
The thoughts of the poem which inspired Brahms to this mature and lovely choral work may be paraphrased thus: Even Beauty must die and nothing which men or gods can do move the ruler of Hades. Venus could not save the wounded Adonis, nor could the pleas of Achilles' mother Thetis and her Nereads preserve him for all their weeping. For the perfect must die, beauty must fade, but an elegy for them on the lips of the loved ones is glorious.
Carl Nielsen is generally regarded as Denmark's most important modern composer, a writer of six famed symphonies and an autobiographer of note. The Hymnus Amoris was first contemplated by Nielsen as early as 1891 and written between the First and Second Symphonies. It was inspired by a painting of Titian he and his sculptress wife observed in Italy on their honeymoon, depicting a man jealously killing his loved one.
Neilsen in his Preface to the published score of the Hymnus Amoris of 1897 states: "Even though I consider it best that works of art, both in plastic and in painting and music speak for themselves in their own medium, nevertheless I find it necessary to provide some few remarks especially with respect to the use of the Latin language in the text, since a number of my friends have expressed their wonder at this use.
"My idea was to let the power of love be praised for all centuries, its perfection and transcendence to be seen as the reflection of the supernatural. I am in debt to Dr. Axel Olric who gave to my loose contours particularly strong form and color. I am also indebted to Professor J.L. Heiberg who knew how to embody the poetry in a Latin translation (from the Danish).
"I am responsible for the selection of the Latin language for as a monumental language it lifts us high above mere subjective and personal feelings and more fittingly embodies the universal power of love delineated through a polyphonic choir. Besides Latin can more easily than either Danish or German bear with repetitions of the text. In presentations of the work, therefore, I suggest that the Latin text be furnished with a translation.”
The Hymnus Amaris marks Nielsen's emergence into maturity. It is in fact his first extensive choral work, the product of his prolonged study of Palestrina and other masters of vocal polyphony. His specification of "polyphonic choir" thus reflects this study and mastery of choral counterpoint.
Hymnus Amaris falls into four movements and a coda. The score requires a four-part mixed chorus, a children's and angelic choir here sung by the women of the St. Charles Choir, six solo voices, and orchestra.
Hugh Ottaway in 1977 provided an apt summary of the work's segments. The first section is concerned with childhood. "Love gave me life" sing the children's choir, and the mothers (SSAA) respond "Love gave you life/It clothes you as you grow up.” The second section begins with the tenor and soprano soloists: "Love is my hope and my desire.” The chorus carries this to a bigger, broader climax, expressing youthful love. When the music sinks to pp the third section begins with a fugato for men's voices: "Love is my spring of water, Goodness flowers on its banks.” The soprano enters to express "Love is my grief” but the women's voices of the chorus take up the men's words, and another weighty climax is reached in the music. The slower, more tranquil fourth section represents the Aged "Love is my peace.” The coda involves all the voices beginning with the angelic choirs in a final paean to love.
Love in all its dimensions finds apt treatment in Nielsen's music, life-giving love, life-receiving love, love of young man and woman, enduring love, fulfilling love, tranquil love, peace-bringing love, angelic love, and finally love as the reflection of the heavenly order of God's love.