NOTES BY ROBERT STEVENSON
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Winter in F minor is the last season in Vivaldi's popular set of four Seasons Concertos. Initially published around 1725 at Amsterdam, as part of his Opus VIII, this ten-minute concerto like the rest in the opus consists of three movements. These are headed by the tempi I. Allegro non molto II. Largo III. Allegro-Lento. Each movement is sprinkled with phrases that tell the meaning of individual sections: I. While I was shivering in the snow an icy blast made me continually stamp my feet. Wind and excessive cold caused my teeth to chatter. II. Passing by a fire I was for a while able to rest during a shower that wet others. III. Walking gingerly on the ice, every moment afraid of a misstep, I slipped and fell, pulled myself up and then ran on until I reached a break in the ice. Next I felt a south wind blowing, a north wind, and finally all the winds churning against each other. Such is winter, but even so, what joy it brings.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Handel was only 22 when he composed his forty-minute setting of Vulgate Psalm 109 (110 in King James version). Yet despite his youth he here created a masterpiece that ranks with his most mature triumphs. His completed autographed score is dated at Rome April 11, 1707. Already three months earlier he had stunned the Roman public with his virtuosity when he played the organ January 14, 1707, at St. John Lateran. His Dixit Dominus written for Easter of that year combines (Verses 1, 4-7, and the concluding Gloria Patri) opulent five-part string writing (two violins, two violas, string bass) with massive five-part choral writing (two sopranos, alto, tenor, bass). For contrast, he sets Verse 2 for alto with continuo and Verse 3 for soprano with the full complement of strings.
Verse 1 and the final Gloria contain a borrowed ancient melody highlighted by being sung in notes of greater length than the notes in surrounding parts. This traditional melody, identified by Leichtentritt as an Easter intonation (also familiar as a hymn melody in German sources since at least 1.372L reappears in two later works by Handel-the final Amen of his setting of Psalm 27 (The Lord is my light) and in the Chorus of Israelites near the beginning of Act II in his 1733 oratorio Deborah ("Plead thy just cause")-always in the key of G minor. Interestingly, this is also the prevailing key of the Dixit Dominus. Handel's inserting this ancient melody as a cantus firmus in both the first and last choruses of the Dixit Dominus endows the whole work with an arch-like unity.
He reserves his boldest harmonies for the beginning of Verse 4 ("The Lord has sworn and he will not repent"). At the close of this verse he outdoes even the most romantic orchestrator with these instructions to the string players: piano, piu piano, pianiss ., pianississ. Here Handel seems to anticipate Tchaikovsky's ppppp just before the development in the Pathetique, first movement. On the other hand, Handel emphasizes "he will crush heads all over the earth" by requiring the choral singers to shout the last "a" in conquassabit numerous times, each time with sledgehammer force.
The Latin text of this vesper psalm is printed below for comparison with Coverdale's translation: 1. Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis Donec ponam inimicos tuos, scabellum pedum tuorum. 2. Virgam virtutis tuae emittet Dominus ex Sion: dominare in media inimicorum tuorum. 3. Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae in splendoribus sanctorum: ex utero ante luciferum genui te. 4. Juravit Dominus, et non paenitebit eum: Tu es sacerdos in aeternum secundum ordinem Malchisedech. 5.6. Dominus a dextris tuis, confregit in die irae suae reges. Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas: conquassabit capita in terra multorum. 7. De torrente in via bibet: propterea exaltabit caput. 8.9. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spirtui. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. 1. The Lord said unto my Lord: sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. 2. The Lord shall send the rod of thy power out of Sion: be thou ruler even in the midst of thine enemies. 3. In the day of thy power shall thy people offer thee free will offerings with a holy worship: the dew of thy birth is of the womb of the morning. 4. The Lord sware and will not repent: thou are a priest forever, after the order of Melchisedech. 5.6. The Lord upon thy right hand shall wound even kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies: and smite in sunder the heads over diverse countries. 7. He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up his head.
Favorite Choral Excerpts
The Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy has recorded several albums with such titles as "Greatest Hits/' "More Greatest Hits/' "That Philadelphia Sound/' and "Spectacular Choruses" (the latter with choir). In the same vein, the second half of this evening's program contains what might be called "Greatest 'Hits' from Choral Masterpieces."
Brahms composed all but one of the seven movements in his superb Ein deutsches Requiem ("A German Requiem"), opus 45, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra, in stages between 1857 and August 1866. In May 1868, a month after the triumphant premiere April 10, 1868, of the other movements under his own baton in Bremen Cathedral, he added the movement now numbered as the fifth. This is the movement in which he pays most direct tribute to his mother who had died three years earlier. Throughout all seven movements, he stressed consolation for the living, not the terror of death. For texts, he chose nothing from the traditional Latin Requiem familiarized in setting by Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, and Faure, but instead relied exclusively on the German Bible. Impartially he selected passages from the Old Testament, the Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus and the New Testament. In accord with this evenhandedness, he nowhere set a text subject to sectarian interpretation. The irenic charm and ineffable beauty of the music for the fourth movement aptly capture the mood of Psalm 84, Verses 1, 2, and 4: "How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts. My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Blessed are those who dwell in thy house ever singing thy praise." For musical unity, he returns to Verse 1 between 2 and 4, and again in the coda. The key of the movement is E flat, the same as that of his thrice familiar Lullaby. The orchestration calls only for paired woodwinds, horns, strings, and (optionally) organ at a few discreet moments.
Like "How lovely,' the text of "The heavens are telling"-this being the chorus that concludes Part I of Haydn's three-part Creation (1798)-takes its inspiration from verses of a psalm (Psalm 19, Verses 1, 2}. So far as overall plan is concerned, Part I deals with inanimate creation, II with animate creation, and III with the beauties that surround Adam and Eve in the Garden. The three angels who sing interspersed trios in "The Heavens are telling" are Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. The libretto for Haydn's Creation was handed him during his second London visit in 1795 by the impresario Salomon who hoped 63-year-old Haydn would compose it for a third London visit. Instead Haydn allowed the prefect of the Imperial library at Vienna, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, to translate the libretto into German. The sources of the libretto are the biblical account of creation and Milton's Paradise Lost.
"Rest well" is the concluding chorus of Bach's Passion According to St. John first produced in Leipzig on Good Friday of 1723 or 1724. The ineffably beautiful drooping motive with which the orchestra begins (paired flutes, oboes, and strings) suggests the humility of the believer bowing before the tomb in which Jesus's body has been laid.
Mendelssohn's two great masterpieces, Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826) and Elijah (1846), came at the beginning and end of one of the most fruitful two decades of composing in music history. He first considered Elijah as the subject for an oratorio as early as 1836, only three months after the premiere of his first oratorio St. Paul. In 1837 he tried getting his friend Klingemann to write the libretto as a wedding gift for his young bride. But not until the Music Festival Committee at Birmingham commissioned his writing "a new oratorio, or other music" for the festival of August 1846 did he finally prevail on Julius Schubring, rector of St. George's Church, Dessau, to compile the libretto. The English translation used at the first performance Wednesday morning, August 26, was the quick and unerring work of William Bartholomew, who in addition to all his other abilities was a "chemist, violin player, hymn-writer, and excellent flower painter." At the premiere the orchestra and chorus numbered 396 performers, 125 instrumentalists plus 271 choristers. The solo soprano Mme. Maria Caradori-AIIan received 200 guineas, the bass who sang Elijah's part 150, and others much less. Mendelssohn himself received for composing as well as conducting the work only 200 guineas the same as the soprano. Despite the unprecedented success of the premiere, Mendelssohn immediately began revising, so extensively indeed that only five numbers (2, 11, 18, 20, 32) among a total of 43 in the two parts escaped alteration. In some instances, as in 28, "lift thine eyes," he even dropped the original duet for soprano and contralto with accompaniment of paired flutes, clarinets, horns, and strings that was heard at the first performance. In its stead, he substituted the trio for women's voices that is heard tonight-composing it after taking "the prettiest walk in Birmingham" with the critic H. F. Chorley. Not until 1958 was his original setting of "lift thine eyes" at last published, proving once again how unerringly right he was in making the changes that were his custom with all his major works. The text for “lift thine eyes" is adapted from Psalm 121, 1-3. The text of the extremely lovely chorus that follows, "He watching over Israel," combines Psalm 121, 4 and 128, 7. Certain phrases recall Gluck's famous aria Che faro senza Euridice from Orfeo. So far as the overall plot is concerned, these two numbers occur after Elijah has sought safety in the wilderness from Queen Jezebel. In his despair he is comforted by angels and their promise that the God who watches over Israel slumbers not, nor sleeps.
Mozart composed his Requiem Mass in D minor (K. 626) at Vienna just before his own death December 5, 1791. He received his commission for the work sometime during August, 1791, from a servant of Count Franz von Walsegg, an amateur musician who wished to palm it off as his own composition. Unable to finish it, Mozart left the Requiem aeternam and Kyrie fully written, the first five movements of the Dies irae and Offertorium partially written, the rest missing or only sketched. Franz Xaver Sussmayr, his intimate pupil, completed the Lacrimosa for which Mozart had written nine bars. Discussing Sussmayr's contribution, Burk wrote that Mozart's "few bars of the Lacrimosa provided the two principal thematic elements and their combination; Sussmayr carried them through skillfully, and with good taste attempted no development of his own."
Dona nobis pacem ("Grant us peace"), the chorus with which Bach's B minor Mass ends, rounds out the magnificent total scheme of this sublime work by repeating the music heard earlier as number 6, Gratias agimus ("We give Thee thanks"). According to Karl Geiringer, "This connection is of more than musical significance. Bach felt that he did not have to implore his maker for peace, and instead thanked Him for granting it to the true believer."
The Halleluiah Chorus concluding Part II of Handel's three-part Messiah (1741) stands unrivalled 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 from 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.