NOTES BY ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Roger Wagner achieved his first recognition, locally and internationally, as an interpreter of Renaissance choral music. The tour programs of the Roger Wagner Chorale have always commenced with a representative group from this period. The treasury of sacred polyphony is typified by the luminous spirituality of Victoria, the triumphal clarity of Palestrina, and the dramatic intensity of lngegneri. This group is followed by a series of secular vignettes m the more innovative madrigal style: the saucy village maiden, the ardent lover, the satisfied peasant housewife, and Monteverdi's early evocation of the beauties of nature at dawn. ·
Chorale, "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" (from Cantata 147)
Motet, "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" (S. 225)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, KK 147, is not often performed. It is a double cantata in length, designed to precede and follow the sermon in the Lutheran service. Each section concludes with the Chorale that has become one of the most famous and beloved of all of Bach's many compositions. The chorale melody, originally set to the words Werde munter, mein Gemüthe, floats, phrase by phrase, on a flowing obbligato, utilizing a form derived from the organ chorale preludes.
Bach composed no Latin motets, since he was not obliged to by his duties in Leipzig. He did, however, write six German motets for special occasions. Werner Neumann joins Arnold Schering in assuming that Singet dem Herrn was written as a song of praise for a New Year's service on January 1, 1746, in which the signing of the Dresden Peace Treaty (December 25, 1745) was celebrated. Geiringer (The Bach Family, p. 223) concurs in the assumption. However, Geiringer (Johann Sebastian Bach, p. 179) has since had second thoughts about the matter and now considers it probable that it was first "performed on May 12, 1727, as birthday celebration for the Elector Friedrich August, 'the Strong' of Saxony." In any case, it definitely is not a funeral motet.
Although most of Bach's vocal works were forgotten for generations after his death, the motets never disappeared entirely from the repertoire at the ThomasSchule. In 1789 the then Cantor, Doles, led the choir in a performance of Singet dem Herrn for the visiting Mozart. "Hardly had the choir sung a few measures when Mozart sat up, startled; a few measures more and he called out: 'What is this?' And now his whole soul seemed to be in his ears. When the singing was finished he cried out, full of joy: 'Now, there is something one can learn from!' He was told that this School, in which Sebastian Bach had been Cantor, possessed the complete collection of his motets and preserved them as a sort of sacred relic. 'That's the spirit! That's fine!' he cried. 'let's see them!' There was, however, no score of these songs; so he had the parts given to him; and then it was for the silent observer a joy to see how eagerly Mozart sat himself down, with the parts all around him- in both hands, on his knees, and on the chairs next to him- and, forgetting everything else, did not get up again until he had looked through everything of Sebastian Bach's that there was there." (Friedrich Rochlitz).
The motet (in B flat) is in four movements. The first movement follows the pattern of a majestic bipartite prelude and fugue. After an antiphonal development of the opening words, the fugue is introduced in Chorus I as Chorus II continues with the original material. "The saints of God, as an assembly or community, continue to praise God in chorus while individual sons of Zion, though they too are members of the assembly, employ a rollicking fugue to praise and extol God with the dance, the timbrel, and the harp. One is hardly aware that the number of real parts gradually decreases as the end of the movement approaches, since, at the same time, the music becomes increasingly dramatic and climatic." (Buszin).
The second movement is in the form of a chorale prelude, in which the phrases of the third verse of Gramann's hymn Nun lob' mein Seel are separated by original material to contemplative words by an unknown author.
The third movement (in E flat) is again antiphonal and triumphant. In listening to it one is reminded of Goethe's words to Zeiter regarding Bach's music: “.. . It is as if the eternal harmony were conversing with itself . . . " This movement returns to the original key and proceeds without pause to the jubilant unichoral fugue which closes the work. "Based on an unusually long theme in lively 3/8 time this piece bears a certain affinity to the Pleni sunt coeli of the B-minor Mass composed a few years earlier. One cannot admire enough Bach's art of achieving utmost clarity even in polyphonic numbers while putting the gigantic tonal masses into motion. The fugue is clearly divided into 32 + 4 + 40 + 4 + 32 measures thus creating the symmetrical construction A-B-C-B-A." (Geiringer: J. S. Bach, p. 181)
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
French music, like French cuisine, is unique. From the time of Charlemagne, who imported musicians from Rome and proceeded to transform the Roman liturgy, France has played an important, if occasionally insular, role in the development of Western music.
In her periods of greatest influence (particularly during the middle Baroque and the early years of this century) France has produced a highly stylized, extremely cultured, sometimes artificial body of music. Spontaneity has seldom (except in folk-songs and provincial cuisine) been considered a desirable trait. Haut cuisine and musique dassique tend to improve upon nature. Unskilled efforts produce a desiccated, stylized vapidity, but in the right hands the result is exquisite perfection.
Poulenc wrote Sept Chansons, three of which have been selected by Dr. Wagner for tonight's program. The poetry of the French symbolist school dealt with sometimes vague impressions and elaborate metaphors. The writer is not sure whether the texts of these chansons will enlighten or bewilder. In hopes of the former, here is an English translation:
La blanche neige
The angels in heaven. One is dressed like an officer, one is dressed like a cook, and the others sing.
Good looking officer, color of the sky
The sweet springtime long after Christmas
Will give you a medal of beautiful sunlight
The cook plucks the geese
The snow falls.
May I but have my beloved in my arms.
A peine defiguree
Goodbye to sadness, Hello to sadness
You are written between the lines of the skylight (ceiling)
You are written in the eyes I love.
You really aren't misery because the poorest lips belie you with a smile.
Hello sadness, love of friendly bodies
Power of love from which friendliness emerges as a bodiless monster
Disappointed head- sad, lovely visage.
The irreproachable cultivated earth
Honey of the dawn
Sunlight in flowers
Runner still fastened by a thread to a sleeper
A knot by intelligences and throwing it on his back
It has never been newer
It has never been so heavy
It will be lighter
Clear sunshine of summer with its heat,
its sweetness, its tranquility and rapidly the carrier of flowers in the air touch the earth.
Irreproachable cultivated earth, ... etc.
Fragments from Shelley
George Antheil (1900-1959)
These fragments selected from a group of eight were written by Mr. Antheil specifically with the Chorale in mind. As a matter of fact, the soprano solo in To the Moon was written to take advantage of the quality and stratospheric range of Marni Nixon, who was then a member of the Chorale.
Mr. Antheil wrote these choral art songs, ''With a ... fervently romantic [quality] – yet all modern in harmony, counterpoint, melodic conception and architecture.
"An interesting fact about the choruses is, I think, their part leading. Years ago my master, Ernest Bloch, made me study Palestrina a good deal, much to my bewilderment at the time. However, this study taught me one thing, to make the inner voices interesting, and to give due attention from every standpoint to the medium of the human voices singing together."
Modern American Composers and Arrangers
Edmund Najera, who has appeared as soloist and pianist during his association with the Chorale, is becoming increasingly noted as a composer and arranger.
Wilbur Chenoweth, patriarch of Southland choral arrangers, is represented by his delightful Vocalise, which represents an encore from the Chorale's Anniversary Concert of two years ago.
The excerpts from Aaron Copland's The Tender Land capture a quality of authentic Americana unique to this gifted composer.
Maurice Goldman has had a distinguished career as composer, conductor, and educator. Formerly head of the choral and opera departments of both the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Cleveland Music School Settlement, he now resides in Southern California. As a composer arranger he is best known for his numerous sacred and secular choral and vocal compositions based on Hebraic themes. The Roger Wagner Chorale has been performing his choral works since 1965.