Christmas Echoes Program notes
By ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Annotator, Los Angeles Master Chorale
The program begins with the simple monody of the chant Ave Maria, followed by the luminously spiritual setting of the same text by the Spanish Master, Victoria (1548-1611). The use of this motet has become a tradition with the Chorale - the writer has sung it over two hundred times under Dr. Wagner's direction, and it never ceases to be "a thing of beauty and a joy forever."
Psallite Unigenito is usually attributed to Michael Praetorius (1571- 162 1); however, the composer is unknown. It appeared in Praetorius' Musae Sioniae, VI, 1609. The text like that of the familiar In dulci jubilo' is bilingual, alternating between Latin and German. "Sing your psalms to the only-begotten One."
According to Anthony a Wood William Byrd (1543-1623) was "bred up to musick under Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585)." O magnum Mysterium (sic) was published as No. 8 of Gradulia, Book II in 1607. It is a contemplative motet, a 4 on the text: "O great Mystery that animals should see the Lord born and lying in a manger."
Jacob Handl (1550-1591) was a Cistercian monk who wrote many polychoral motets in the Venetian style. O admirabile commercium a 8 was published in 1586, while Handl was choirmaster at St. Johannes' Church in Vado in Prague. The translation is by Rev. Joseph Gilmore O. Carm. "O wonderful exchange! 'The Creator of the human race, taking a living body, has deigned to be born of a Virgin; and coming forth as a man without a human father, has bestowed upon us His own Divinity."
Laudate nomen Domini (Symphoniae Sacrae I, 1597) is a festive motet, a 8, for two choirs of contrasting textures. It is obviously designed to take advantage of the two organ lofts of St. Mark's in Venice, where Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) flourished as the spiritual heir and musical editor of his illustrious uncle, Andrea (1520-1586). The text exhorts us to "praise the name of the Lord."
Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) was born, lived and died in Halle. His only known journey was in 1605 when he studied with Sweelinck (1562-1611). Duo seraphim (published as No. 10 of Cantiones Sacrae Octo Vocem, 1620) makes use of a charming conceit: The opening words, two seraphim cry out one to the other, are sung by two parts. On the words, heaven and earth are filled with His glory, the entire ensemble is suddenly heard. The text, three there are who give testimony in heaven (Father, Word and Holy Spirit), is, of course, sung in three parts. This naturally becomes an instant unison on this Three is One. The balance of the motet is a paean to the Trinity.
Leonard Bernstein (b. 1918)
Chichester Cathedral has a musical tradition going back to its famed organist-composer, Thomas Weelkes (d. 1623). The Psalms were commissioned for the 1965 Festival at Chichester. The work consists of three movements, each using texts from two psalms, "to be sung in Hebrew."
The first movement consists of a maestoso ma energico on a verse from Psalm No. 108: Awake, psaltery and harp! This is followed •by Psalm 100, Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands, in its entirety. It is a dance, allegro molto, in the rocking rhythm of 7/4 (4+3).
The second movement is a dramatic juxtaposition of Psalm 23, the Lord is my shepherd, and the opening verses of Psalm 2, Why do the nations rage? A solo treble voice, andante con moto, ma tranquillo, intones the 23rd Psalm which is taken up by the other treble voices. This is interrupted, allegro feroce, by the men's voices. The tumult gradually subsides, leaving the undisturbed treble voices in unperturbed confidence.
The final movement is a quiet setting of Psalm 131, Lord, Lord, My heart is not haughty, in a flowing 10/4 rhythm (2+3+2+3). This is concluded by an a cappella setting of the Hineh Ma tov (9/2 - Iento possibile). The text is the first verse of Psalm 133 – Behold how good, and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity. The work is heard tonight in the version (scored by the composer) for organ, harp and percussion.
Cristóbal de Belsayaga (d. 1630)
The Chorale has been indebted many times to Dr. Robert Stevenson, not only for his awesome musicological talents, but also for his constant interest in the Chorale and its aims. Magnificat Sexti toni a 8 was brought to the Chorale's attention by Dr. Stevenson, who has been kind enough to furnish the writer with the following notes:
"The first music treatise written anywhere in the Americas (1559) flowed from the pen of a longtime resident at Cartagena - in what is now Colombia - who specialized in working with the thousands of blacks entering South America through the port in the sixteenth century. Also, Cartagena was a city made famous by St. Peter Claver (1580 - 1654 ), "Apostle of the Blacks." Here, around 1610, Cristobal de Belsayaga composed his splendid Magnificat Sexti toni a 8.
"In 1616, Belsayaga transferred to the ancient capital of the Incas, Cuzso. A few years later, he was invited to become the chief music director in Lima, Peru. An ardent disciplinarian, he took the indolent singers assigned to his care in Lima Cathedral so to task that they revolted against his authority. The fire rocket that landed on his skull during an outdoor musical celebration on May 30, 1630, causing his death the next day, may not have been set off purely by accident.
"Belsayaga's Magnificat exploits the constant antiphonal effects that distinguish Tomas Luis de Victoria's musical anthology printed at Madrid in 1600. However, his rhythms become on occasion livelier and more syncopated than was ever Victoria's norm."
Thomas Morley (1557 - 1603) was a pupil of William Byrd, by whose endeavor, says Anthony Wood, "the said Morley became not only excellent in musick, as well in the theoretical as practical part, but also well seen in the Mathematicks, in which Byrd was excellent." Hark! Jolly shepherds was published in 1594 as No. 17 of Madregalles to Faure Voyces.
El Noi da Ia Mare? is an ancient carol from Catalonia in Spain, presented in an arrangement by Walter F. Anderson. What shall we give to the Babe in the manger? Clusters of raisins and figs in a basket.
II est né is an old French carol learned by Roger Wagner as a child and later translated and arranged by him. Now is born the Divine Christ Child. Sing Noel!
Es ist das Heil, Op. 29, No. I
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Es ist das Heil was published in 1864. It presents a setting of the Chorale melody, followed by a Fuga a 5, in which the Chorale is sung in augmentation by the baritones against the fugue in the other 4 parts - a form made popular by many organists of the Baroque period.
Glory to God, Op. 124
Alan Hovhaness (b. 1911)
The music opens with alto saxophone and percussion playing in two simultaneous tempi. A fugato in trombones and vibraphone leads to an alto solo in free rhythm accompanied by measured percussion, telling of the shepherds in the field. A short soprano solo leads to a fugato in horns and percussion. The chorus continues the Christmas story. A soprano solo intones the message of the angel in free rhythm over measured bells. The chorus sings of the heavenly hosts and, after a climax, leads into a choral fugue. Then trumpets blaze up in a fiery 4-part canon into which the chorus injects exclamations of "Glory." Horns, trombones and trumpets then join in a 12-part double canon against which the chorus shouts "Glory to God."
The cantata is scored for soprano and alto soli, chorus, four each of horns, trumpets and trombones, alto saxophone, percussion (timpani, tam· tam, glockenspiel, cymbals, vibraphone) and organ.