NOTES BY JEANNINE WAGNER
Messe "Cum jubilo," Op. 11
Maurice Duruflé (b. 1902)
The Chorale first had the pleasure of meeting Maurice Duruflé on the occasion of the performance of his Requiem at Salle Gaveau in Paris in 1966 (this concert was one of a series featuring the Chorale in Europe and the Middle East under the sponsorship of the United States Department of State). Madame Duruflé was scheduled to play the organ part, but an electricians' strike eliminated the possibility; there was enough electricity for dim lighting in the hall, but not enough to power the organ. Fortunately, the organ part was cued in small notes in the instrumental parts, so the concert went on as scheduled with Roger Wagner on the podium and Mr. and Mrs. Duruflé members of the enthusiastic audience.
The Messe "Cum ]ubilo" is scored for men's chorus in unison (choeur de barytons), orchestra, and organ. As in the Requiem, Duruflé derives the thematic material from the traditional Gregorian Mass IX (subtitled For Feasts of the Blessed Virgin, with jubilation), embellishing the melody, adding a judicious mixture of modal and romantic harmonies, and developing polyphonic interplay between the voices and the orchestra.
The Hymn of Jesus, Op. 37
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
Gustav Holst's The Hymn of Jesus, completed in 1917, closely followed the composition of his enormously successful work, The Planets. Still a popular piece, The Planets has been performed twice in the Hollywood Bowl during the last two seasons and was recently recorded by Zubin Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale. The text for The Hymn of Jesus is derived from the apocryphal acts of St. John and was painstakingly translated from the Greek by the composer himself. The piece begins with a Prelude based on two traditional chant hymns from the Lenten season: Vexilla Regis, a Vespers Hymn for Passion Sunday, and Pange Lingua Gloriosi from the Good Friday Service. From the quiet fluid monody of the Prelude, the Hymn erupts suddenly with the choirs' outburst, "Glory to Thee, Father!" The work is scored for two full choruses, a semi-chorus of treble voices, and orchestra. The full choruses alternate, complementing each other in dualities:
Fain would I be saved:
And fain would I save.
Fain would I be released:
And fain would I release …
Fain would I hearken:
Fain would I be heard …
I am Mind of All!
Fain would I be known.
The treble chorus floats transcendent over all. With a change of meter (to 5/4 time) and tempo, the Hymn becomes a dance, and cosmic images abound.
Divine Grace is dancing:
Fain would I pipe for you.
Dance ye all!
The Heavenly Spheres make
music for us;
Ye who dance not,
Know not what we are knowing ...
I have no home,
In all am dwelling.
I have no resting place,
I have the earth.
I have no temple;
And I have Heav'n.
In a slow version of the same meter the choirs continue with a series of dissonant harmonic collages (of the type usually associated with Charles lves):
To you who gaze, a lamp am I:
To you that know, a mirror.
To you who knock, a door am I:
To you who fare, the way.
After a brief interlude which brightly recalls the chant from the Prelude, the piece returns to the noble and ultimately serene maestoso which began the Hymn.
William Walton (b. 1902)
Belshazzar's Feast by William Walton was commissioned for a first performance at the Leeds Festival in 1931. The text by Sir Osbert Sitwell is taken from Biblical verses describing the fall of Babylon. Sir Osbert chose lines from Psalms 81 and 137 to dramatize more effectively the story as told in the fifth book of Daniel. This fine work shows the great promise of the young composer, for Walton was only twenty-nine when the work was first performed. Scored for double mixed chorus, baritone solo, large orchestra, and two brass choirs, the work is basically comprised of three sections. A fanfare by the brass introduces the first section with the dire prophecy intoned by the male chorus: "Thus spake Isaiah: ... " Then follows the lament of the Jews in captivity, "By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down: yea, we wept And hanged our harps upon the willows." The solo baritone recalls the admonition of the psalmist David to remember Jerusalem "above my chief joy." The second section begins with the baritone soloist reciting:
Babylon was a great city,
Her merchandise was of gold and silver,
Of precious stones, of pearls, of fine linen,
Of purple, silk and scarlet,
All manner vessels of ivory,
All manner vessels of most precious wood,
Of brass, iron and marble,
Cinnamon, odours and ointments,
Of frankincense, wine and oil,
Fine flour, wheat and beasts,
Sheep, horses, chariots, slaves,
And the souls of men.
Then follows the vivid, brilliantly orchestrated description of Belshazzar's sumptuous feast. Here Walton uses the double chorus for cumulative dramatic effect, as praises are heaped upon praises to the pagan gods:
The God of Gold
The God of Silver
The God of Iron
The God of Wood
The God of Stone
The God of Brass
Praise ye the Gods!
The description of the feast is repeated, but this time with biting sarcasm:
After they had praised their strange gods,
The idols and the devils,
False gods who can neither see nor hear ...”
This section climaxes with the ironic choral declamation: "O King, live forever." Abruptly the mood changes. Accompanied by lugubrious instrumentation, the soloist tells of the handwriting on the wall. "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting." He then proclaims, "In that night was Belshazzar the King slain, and his kingdom divided." The third section begins with a jubilant prayer of thanksgiving to the God of Israel for the fall of his people's captor: "Then sing aloud to God our strength: Make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob .... Blow up the trumpet in Zion.... " The middle of this part is a mournful madrigal, sung by a semichorus, telling with awe and sorrow of the vanquished city:
While the Kings of the Earth lament
And the merchants of the Earth
Weep, wail and rend their raiment,
They cry, Alas, that great city,
In one hour is her judgment come.
The full forces return for the exultant finale:
For Babylon the Great is fallen.