NOTES BY ROGER WAGNER
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634-1704)
Born in Paris, he studied under Carissimi in Italy. He cooperated with Molière in the performances of the Théâtre-Francais and was maître de musique at the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. Together with Lalande, he held a prominent position in France at the end of the 17th century. His Te Deum is only one of many sacred compositions in that style, including twelve masses, thirty psalms, motets, Magnificats etc.
Cantata No. 29
J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, composed for the church service marking the town council change on 27th August, 1731, appears to have been particularly dear to the heart of the Tomasschule cantor. The work is not only one of the few cantatas for which we have documentary evidence of its further performance, namely for 1739 and 1749, but over and above this, Bach reused the opening chorus in the B minor Mass, and on two occasions at that – above the text Gratias agimus tibi in the Gloria, and for the phrase Dona nobis pacem at the conclusion of the work.
Bach provided the composition with a splendid introduction. He uses for this purpose the Preludio form the E major Partita for solo violin and rearranges it as an organ concerto, or more correctly – since the entire violin part is taken over in the organ voice and the orchestra part was composed additionally to it – as an organ solo, typical of the baroque instrumental concerto, and marked only in sections under this distribution of parts.
Angelus ad pastores ait
(The angel said to the Shepherds)
Daniel Pinkham (b. 1923)
Daniel Pinkham, a Professor at the New England Conservatory, is well known for his compositions for brass and voices. Angelus ad pastores ait was written in 1959.
Peter Warlock (1894-1930)
Peter Warlock, English composer, is perhaps best known for his Capitol Suite for string orchestra. A highly imaginative and unique harmonic sense pervades his music, which at times mirrors in style the music of the Elizabethan period as well as such composers as Fauré and Delius. The Three Carols for chorus and orchestra, which include the pieces Balulalow, Tyrley Tyrlow, and The Sycamore Tree, were composed between 1920 and 1923. They are innocently charming as well as disarming. Preceding the Three Carols, the medieval chant Song of the Nuns of Chester is sung. Interspersed between Balulalow and Tyrley Tyrlow, the attractive and bouncy Gloucestershire carol Wassail, Wassail as arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams follows without pause.
“For Unto Us A Child Is Born”
G.F. Handel (1685-1759)
This chorus is taken from Isaiah IX:6 and is one of the most stunning choral sections of the Messiah.
The Christmas Story
The Scripture read in The Christmas Story is from the beloved second chapter of Luke’s Gospel (King James Version) interspersed with favorite seasonal music: We three kings, verses 1-5; What Child is This, verses 6-9; O little town of Bethlehem verses 10-12; Gesu Bambino (The Infant Jesus), verses 13-14; Angels we have heard on high, verses 15-16; The Virgin’s Slumber Song, verses 17-19; Joy to the World.
Both the words and tune of We three kings of Orient were composed by John Henry Hopkins Jr. (1820-1891) in 1857. Hopkins was born at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of pioneer parents from Dublin and Hamburg. He graduated from the University of Vermont in 1839, taught at Savanna, Georgia, 1942-1844, and returned to Vermont for his M.A. in 1845. From 1855 to 1857 he was the first instructor in church music at General Theological Seminary, New York. He was rector of Christ Church, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, from 1876 to 1887. His popular We three kings was first published in Carols, Hymns and Songs, 1863.
The tune of What Child is This is Greensleeves, a traditional English melody first mentioned in 1580 as “A new Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves.” That same year it was already fitted to sacred words in a ballad called “Green Sleves [sic] moralized in the Scripture, declaring the manifold benefits and blessings of God.” Shakespeare mentioned the tune twice in Merry Wives of Windsor. As a carol it first appeared in New Christmas Carols, 1642, to a text beginning, “The old year now is fled.” The text for What Child is This was written by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898), born at Bristol, educated there, and in adult life manager of a marine insurance firm.
Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) wrote the words for O little town of Bethlehem for his Sunday School in 1868 two years after visiting Bethlehem. Lewis Redner (1831-1908), organist at Holy Trinity Church, Philadelphia, of which Phillips was then rector, wrote the music.
Pietro Yon (1886-1943) published Gesù Bambino with the English text by Frederick H. Martens in 1917. Born near Turin, Italy, he studied at Turin Conservatory 1901-1904, and from 1906 was an assistant organist to Renzi at St. Peter’s Rome. In 1907 he emigrated to New York City where from 1907 he was organist at St. Francis Xavier and from 1926 to 1943 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In 1919-1921 he was again in Italy as second organist of the Cappella Giulia, but on returning to the United States became a citizen. He composed some 20 masses, of which six were published, a Concerto Gregoriano for organ and orchestra, three organ sonatas, and much else. His most ambitious work was an oratorio The Triumph of St. Patrick (1934) dedicated to Patrick Cardinal Hayes and premiered with great solemnity at Carnegie Hall.
Angels we have heard on high is an anonymous 18th-century French carol. First published in Nouveau recueil de cantiques, 1855, with eight strophes, it began thus in the original French: Les anges dans nos camagnes Ont entonné l’hymne des cieux, Et l’écho de nos montagnes Redit ce chant melodieux: Gloria in excelsis Deo.
The worlds for Joy to the World were published in 1719 as the second part of Isaac Watts’s imitation of Psalm 98. Watts (1674-1748) entitled his free paraphrase “The Messiah’s coming and Kingdom.” Lowell Mason (1792-1872) published the tune for Joy to the World in 1836 with the title Antioch. Since Watts claimed to be “imitating” an Old Testament Psalm, Mason followed Watts’s cue and claimed to have based Antioch on Handel. Actually, Handel’s part scarcely goes beyond the first notes (“Lift up your heads” from Messiah). The bounce of the last few bars has the distinct flavor of a New England fuguing tune by Billings, Holden or Read.
Mary Had a Baby
William Dawson (b. 1905)
William Dawson taught for many years at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. He is best known for his arrangements of Negro Spirituals. Among them, Mary Had a Baby, heard on this evening’s program.
Noel, Noel Bells Are Ringing
Wilbur Chenoweth (b. 1899)
Wilbur Chenoweth is a resident of Santa Monica, Calif. His compositions have been performed often by the Master Chorale. Among them are: Variations on “Lobe den Herren,” “Vocalise,” Of the Father Love Begotton, and many more.
Arr. By Robert De Cormier
Mr. De Cormier serves on the music faculty at Eastman School of Music in Rochester N.Y. He toured for many years as conductor of the Harry Belafonte Singers and is presently director of the New York Choral Society. He has published many folk songs and spirituals. Christmas Cheer comprises four Christmas carols of various origins, namely: Welcome Here – Shaker; Merry Christmas – Swedish; Dame Get Up and Bake Your Pies, and Christmas Is Coming – English.
The Hallelujah Chorus concluding Part II of Handel’s three-part Messiah (1741) stands unrivaled in popularity with the public, and at the same time as a touchstone of Handel’s art. As Larsen stated: Few, if any other choruses show the special features of his artistry so definitely: the immediately striking conception of motives and the unfailing design of the total construction despite continual variation.” Larsen also calls attention to Handel’s inimitable use of two incises form the melody of Philipp Nicolai’s Advent hymn, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, the first at “The kingdom of this world,” the second at “And he shall reign for ever and ever.” The English text is a compilation of Revelation 19, 6; 11, 15; and 19, 16.