NOTES BY THE COMPOSER
With A Record Of Our Time I have tried to write a kind of "protest piece" which sums up my feelings about some aspects of the twentieth century which put in doubt, so it seems to me - to many of us - the values of contemporary Western civilization: the Jewish Holocaust, our lack of concern about social injustices in America, our tragic involvement in Vietnam, the cancerous racism - witness Boston in this, our Bicentennial year - which helps to tear this country apart.
Now, of course, America and the West represent much more than that summation, that indictment. Kansas State University and its President, James McCain, which commissioned Record (1970) had the courage to support with tax money the premiere performance (and handsomely, too: the Minnesota Symphony, a beautifully trained 180-voice choir, Ray Milland in the important role of Narrator) of a score which pictured an America quite different from that delineated six weeks earlier, and on the same campus, by President Richard Nixon. That willingness, even insistence, on the part of a great mid-western university that this country be viewed - and judged - by its defeats and failures as well as by its moral and ethical victories - i is the greatness of our nation. Just as that greatness is demonstrated tonight by the decision of an important American music publisher to print, of a distinguished conductor to program and of a public-spirited cultural institution to support this programming of a work like Record. No, America does have a memory, America does have a conscience.
But, the faults are there and the insanity and horror represented by the murder of six million Jews, the suicide of two teen-agers in protest against Vietnam, the lynching of a black American, not in the South but in a small Pennsylvania town two hours from Philadelphia, (John Jay Chapman: "I shall forget it, we all shall forget it. But it will be there. I have seen death in the heart of this people."), the black moment in American justice when "a good shoemaker and a poor fish-peddler" were legally murdered in Massachusetts: these things need to be remembered. If three thousand years ago, the prophet Isaiah could berate the Israelites for their social injustices, ("What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces and grind the faces of the poor?"), cannot we in the West have the courage also to ask ourselves now, "What is the record of our time?"
In assembling the omnibus text, I had the inspired collaboration of the American novelist and essayist, Harvey Swados. Textural sources include the Book of Isaiah, The War Prayer of Mark Twain, war and political slogans from the past and present, William Butler Yeats' The Second Coming, then Vanzetti's Statement After Sentence, the Negro Spiritual Slavery Chain, John Jay Chapman's Coatsville, and again from the Old Testament, Psalm 10 and First Corinthians. A Record Of Our Time was completed on August 2, 1970, at Venasque, France. It is dedicated to Mary Kubik.
NOTES BY ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Rhapsody, Op. 53
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Fragment from Winter Journey in the Harz Mountains (Harzreise im Winter) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for alto soloist, male chorus and orchestra.
In 1777 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) wrote the ode Harzreise im Winter to state the case against despair as depicted in The Sufferings of Young Werther (1774). Deborah Hayes (The Choral Journal, Nov. 1973, p. 23) skillfully analyzes the poem in which "Goethe describes a hunting expedition through the Harz Mountains. Most of the hunting party - for this, read 'mankind'- follows easily the path marked by 'Fortune.' But the poet notices one who has become ' lost' in the 'wilderness.' The lost one has turned inward, away from mankind, or away from the hunting party on the marked path. He does not see the trail right beside him. Or (final stanza), he is 'a thirsty man in the desert,' who does not see the nearby 'well-springs' or oasis. The poet implores God, the 'Father of love,' to show him the way, to 'open his eyes,' to 'quicken his heart.'" Brahms became acquainted with Harzreise im Winter in 1868 when he found an earlier setting of the text by Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752-1814). He took 22 lines from the 88 line poem, and wrote a tripartite cantata. The "first and most rhapsodic of the three stanzas, with the prominence of the orchestra and the recitative-like solo, provides the necessary introduction to the second, which takes the form of an aria in three sections. These first two stanzas find their solution and fulfillment in the profound emotion of the third, where the chorus supports the solo voice for the first time. Logically and lucidly the little drama is unfolded until love is invoked in the transfigured and genuinely Brahmsian close ... Here we encounter for the first time, in a choral work by Brahms, that Hellenic spirit which was to appear so clearly in the artist's later compositions." (Geiringer: Brahms: p. 315) The Rhapsody is scored for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns in pairs, strings, alto solo and male chorus.
Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
The choral masterpieces of Brahms - his German Requiem, Op. 45, Rinaldo with tenor solo, Op. 50, the Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53, the Song of Destiny, Op. 54, up through the Song of the Fates, Op. 89 - are all middle-period works written after his settlement at Vienna in 1861. Critical opinion has uniformly favored the Song of Destiny.
Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967)
In 1923, Zoltan Kodály, Ernst von Dohnanyi (1877-1960), and Bela Bartók (1881-1945) were commissioned to compose works celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Buda and Pest. Kodály, having heard that Bartók was planning a Dance Suite, put aside his own purely instrumental plans and decided to use a sixteenth century version of Psalm LV (by Mihaly Wgh of Kecskemet).
Psalmus Hungaricus is scored for solo tenor, chorus, 3 flutes, pairs of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, cymbals, harp and strings.
The archaic flavor of the text is reflected by the music, especially in the opening lines of the chorus, modeled on the melodic idiom of the sixteenth century Hungarian minstrels. The horizontal and vertical elements of Kodály's style are consummately balanced in this work. Its architecture shows a freely treated rondo pattern: variations on the melody and (more often) the rhythm of the main theme.
The texture varies from chant-like monody to a complex polyphonic cloud of sound supporting the anguished psalmist; from the cataclysmic eruption of the full orchestra to an exquisite adagio in which the strings are divided into twenty-five parts layering sordini upon flageolets (harmonics) upon pizzicato upon arco upon which are superimposed the sonorities of woodwinds and harp.