Sullivan: The Lost Chord

1 09 2010

Pipe organ in the Cathedral at Beziers, by quinet (CC)

Over the summer, I performed with the Utah Festival Opera. Despite my best intentions, I didn’t have the time to devote to this blog. Now that it’s a new month and a new academic year, I’m back on the bandwagon.

I can’t really comment on the perfect marriage of text to music in this song, except to say it isn’t quite as effective when the accompaniment is played on the piano. There are many ways in which a piano can substitute for a full orchestra, but in a piece requiring powerful, sustained harmonies like an organ, it just doesn’t do justice.

Seated one day at the organ,
I was weary and ill-at-ease;
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys.

I know not what I was playing
Or what I was dreaming then,
But I struck one chord of music
Like the sound of a great Amen.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the organ
And entered into mine.





Julius Benedict: I mourn as a dove, from St. Peter

23 05 2010

by hour of the wolf (CC)

When a student came to me with the Spicker Oratorio Anthology for Soprano, I must admit, I had never used it before. The usual suspects like Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn were represented, but so were a number of composers I’d never heard of before. When I recognized this aria from another anthology I own, I assigned it, and was quite surprised and pleased with how attractive it was.

Julius Benedict worked hard to create a cohesive oratorio about the life of St. Peter. The work premiered in 1870 and received critical acclaim. I believe the work was too broad in scope, though, to enter the canon. After all, to boil the life of Peter down to five sections while using quotes from both Old and New Testaments is no small feat! Benedict settled on the following skeleton for his oratorio:

  1. The Divine Call – While Peter fishes, Jesus comes to him.
  2. Faith – Jesus walks on water, and calls Peter to him. Peter’s faith wavers
  3. Denial – When asked if he knows Jesus, Peter answers, “No.”
  4. Repentance – Peter realizes what he has done and repents before Jesus is crucified.
  5. Deliverance – After being thrown into prison by Herod, Peter’s convictions strengthen.

This aria is taken from the “Repentance” section. Jesus is handed over by Pontias Pilate, and the disciples sing of the “day of clouds and thick darkness.” Mary sings this aria before Jesus is marched away. One interesting element is that this aria is not in a minor key, a typical device for expressing sadness in music. The major key allows for greater breadth of emotion, and makes the aria seem somehow more reflective and more fateful, rather than self-pitying.

I mourn as a dove, I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul. (Is 38:14-15)
Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction. (Ps. 88:9)
Labour not to comfort me, for I will weep bitterly. (Is 22:4)





Sir Hubert Parry: Jerusalem; Under the Greenwood Tree

21 09 2009

It’s a two-for-one day!

by Scott St. George (used under Creative Commons)

picture by Scott St. George (used under Creative Commons)

And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England’s mountains green?

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (referred to as C.H.H. Parry or Sir Hubert Parry) does not have the same name recognition, perhaps, as some of his contemporaries or successors (Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Finzi, or Quilter, to name a few) despite his distinguished positions at the Royal College of Music and Oxford University. Regardless, his noble, stately setting of William Blake’s poem, Jerusalem,  has become something of an unofficial English national anthem.

Dame Felicity Lott was one of the first lyric sopranos I ever heard who grasped me with not just her beautiful voice, but also with herability to really communicate a text; I still remember her vividly as Pamina in the video of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and as Anne Truelove in the recording of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. So when I came across her 2004 CD of English Song, entitled “My Own Country,” I knew I had to feature it, especially when combined with a discovery of a vast public domain treasure trove of songs by Parry.

Under the Greenwood Tree is another great example of Parry’s ability to create a sound-world in music that echoes the mood of the text. The music is playful throughout, but the enemies of “winter and rough weather” sound stark, though not particularly threatening.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?




Gabriel Fauré: Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen)

2 05 2009

Our life, our sweetness, and our hope

"Our life, our sweetness, and our hope"

May is Mary’s month in the Catholic Church. Fauré’s setting of the Marian anthem Salve Regina is sweet, with a simple, fluid melody. It is reminiscent of both Fauré’s Requiem and Franck’s Panis Angelicus. Though Fauré originally wrote this piece for choir (and both recordings linked below are choral performances), I think it would work just as effectively as a solo, so in keeping with the theme of this blog, that’s the score that appears below.





Ralph Vaughan Williams: Easter

12 04 2009
a

The cross taught all wood to resound his name

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, Just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied,
And multiplied;
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

–George Herbert





H.T. Burleigh: Deep River

25 03 2009

Red River Flooding #1, by Cobber99 (CC)

The Red River flooding is on my mind today. I recently sang with Fargo-Moorhead opera. I have friends in Fargo. My parents are from Bismarck/Mandan, where the Missouri is flooding, too.

I woke up with this song in my head this morning and found it comforting. “Oh, don’t you want to go…?” Yes, I do. But I must stay home and work on finishing my doctoral thesis. My thoughts and prayers go out in support of those living and helping in these communities.

Deep river, my home is over Jordan.
Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into camp ground.
Oh, don’t you want to go to that gospel feast?
That promised land, where all is peace?





Franz Schubert: Ave Maria

15 03 2009

"O Mother, hear a suppliant child!"

This piece is, quite simply, a classic. The stillness and peace of this prayer to the mother of God are lovely and touching.

Though known primarily in its Latin version, that was not Schubert’s original, and in fact, he never added the latin text; it is an adaption. Schubert took the text from a translation of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake. The text is just as prayerful and meaningful, though, as the Latin, in my humble opinion, and needs to be heard and studied.

For those still fond of the Latin version, I won’t withhold the information 🙂

And for those that prefer the Bach-Gounod version — I hear you and will feature that work soon enough