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Musica Sacra Warms to Minimalism – Lyric Say

Danish modernist, visitor conductor Heinrich Christensen, put collectively a really well-engineered and really effectively sung Pilgrim’s Progress final night time at First Church in Cambridge. The hour-long journey departed within the realm of the austere, because the 25 usually belcanto Musica Sacra singers embraced the nasally, form notey, homespun Americana of (William Walker’s ((1809-1875)) Holy Manna earlier than journeying by means of vistas of accelerating complexity up by means of easy Glass. Alongside the best way they diverted by means of numerous pre-, post-, and temporal- minimalism of pentatonic, diatonic, dodecaphonic modes till arriving at Christensen’s personal awe-struck melodiousness.

William Duckworth (1943-2012) fractured Holy Manna into fa-so-la shards which the 25 correct, virtuosic and, engaged singers mirrored to us in good gentle.

Duckworth’s The Mouldering Vine expanded the vocabulary to mi-fa-so-la. In fact this additional superior on the simplicity of Walker, but it surely nonetheless got here throughout as percussive and considerably appropriately strident.

Solfeggio, Arvo Pärt’s meditation on the diatonic scale, moved slowly and meditatively with many fantastically supported pianissimos, pungent minor-second intervals, drones, and different results to attain a passing-strange cosmic consciousness.

Equal components stadium cheer and Thirties choral recitation, Ernst Toch’s (1887-1964) Geographical Fugue counterpointed “Trinidad! And the big Mississippi…” in a number of iterations with a few dozen different place names. The singers encored with an up to date model substituting “Framingham and the foul Boston Hahbah…Raveaah…” to broad smiles. It’s not straightforward to get all of the consonants to line up and to agree on inflections…however the re-labeled Musica Profana definitely did…twice. Christensen’s clear beat and suave pulling of sounds out of the air helped tremendously.

The singers swaggered and swayed sonically and visually in Scott Anthony Shell’s (b. 1966) I Am the Dance, in fiery name and response of boom-chukkas till they collectively achieved nirvana as the Dance.

The preliminary assertion of Come Candy Demise, one in every of Bach’s most intense chorales, in Immortal Bach by Knut Nystedt (1915-2014), left no doubts as to the unique, however because it progressed by means of fractured harmonies and prolonged traces, at occasions with out ministrations of a conductor, it shattered all sense of time and place. Within the final portion, Bach saved attempting to emerge from Glassian scrapings, by no means fairly getting the final phrase on this wondrously evocative sendup of the grasp.

Alice Parker’s (1925-2023) comparatively acquainted tackle Wondrous Love introduced us again to the realm of Sacred Concord with enhancements. She expanded the unique’s sonic palette broadened the sense of marvel and awe by means of longer traces and extra developed harmonies. The closing stanza, “And through eternity I’ll sing on,” almost slayed us.

Duckworth’s tackle Wondrous Love started as alto Mackenzie Stratton, in emphatically straight tones, painted the texts with Duckworth’s bizarre intervals earlier than the refrain answered her cantillations.

Then got here Philip Glass’s Three Songs, the primary two of which, regardless of their strophic character handled the wonderful poetry with affection, remained lyrical, and prevented the anticipated motoric ostinatos (ma ma ma ma ma) which we suffered within the third quantity.

Sounding at occasions like a business church anthem Hilary Tann’s (1947-2023) Paradise, maybe the busiest work within the live performance, saved us very occupied with its harmonic and melodic surprises within the English parts whereas additionally taking us to some really scary holy locations with its Latin textual content.

Coming to us as extra Duckworthian programmatic glue, Turtle Dove sang wistfully and freshly of “redeeming love,” completely establishing the closing set, Christensen’s (Six) Very Brief Songs to texts by Dorothy Parker. Starting with Anecdote, (So silent I when Love was by) the six songs refreshed like a nice dream. Tuneful, with an ear to poetry and line as eager as Randall Thompson’s, this Very Brief Set ought to have very lengthy legs.

Duckworth’s Southern Concord (1981) could also be one of the crucial vital choral works you’ve by no means heard of. Curious readers might wish to delve right into a current dissertation on it [HERE].

We append with pleasure (and permission) Christensen’s essay on the present. The most effective I’ve ever learn.

Lee Eiseman is the writer of the Intelligencer

Final winter throughout Mary Beekman’s sabbatical, Terry Halco had requested me to fill in and accompany one fateful Wednesday night time. As we have been working by means of Lorraine Fitzmaurice’s great program of Josquin and form word impressed works, it made me consider different works I’ve carried out over time in that very same vein. Particularly, William Duckworth’s monumental Southern Concord, 20 items primarily based on tunes from William Walker’s 1854 assortment. Duckworth describes his work: “When I decided to write a choral work based on this material, I wanted, first, to maintain the integrity of the hymns—their strength, vitality and emotion. In using each hymn tune, I focused on only one aspect of it; sometimes it was the harmony or the rhythm—less frequently, the words. Although the actual hymn tunes themselves are present in some form in every piece, they break through to the surface only occasionally. Most of the time they are submerged in the texture, subtly affecting the form and content of the musical surface. But they are always present. Always.”

You’ll hear 4 alternatives from Southern Concord tonight, scattered all through this system. We open with Holy Manna, first, within the curiosity of context (and as a reminder for these of you who have been right here a yr in the past and heard Lorraine’s program), in Walker’s unique model, immediately adopted by Duckworth.

Duckworth’s minimalist strategy of deconstructing form word tunes in flip led my ideas to different acts of musical deconstruction, and thus was born the opposite leitmotif for tonight. Because the night progresses, we are going to check out, if you’ll, the weather of favor, or the constructing blocks (Legos?) of music. Because the night progresses, we are going to sing a succession of works that is perhaps thought-about Music Minus One, within the sense that every of them has one important side of music making eliminated.

Holy Manna is predicated on a pentatonic scale, so initially the sensory deprivation we’re exposing you to is the dearth of the remaining steps within the diatonic scale. With The Mouldering Vine, we add one further step, by the way maybe the proper illustration of the fa-sol-la approach employed in form word singing as you get two sequences of fa-sol-la on high of one another to create the hexachord. On this piece, Duckworth has the refrain begin out in unison, then employs delicate suspensions and canons so as to add delicate layers because the piece continues.

Which brings us to Arvo Pärt’s Solfeggio, the place you in the end get to listen to the total main scale all the best way from backside to high. Pärt is a family identify to Musica Sacra regulars, so wants no additional introduction, however right here is one other instance of a piece that units out to do one (and just one) very particular factor to create its personal minimal musical universe.

Now that now we have come full circle, we are going to instantly yank maybe essentially the most essential aspect of choral music away from you, specifically pitch. Ernst Toch’s Geographical Fugue in all probability sounds fairly quaint/cute to our 2024 ears, but it surely has an fascinating historic context. The Fugue was premiered because the final motion of a set entitled Gesprochene Musik (Spoken Music) in 1930 on the Berlin Competition of Modern Music. Each the recording and performer scores have been subsequently misplaced or destroyed. However fortunately the manuscript survived. In that context, the piece calls to thoughts the theatrical works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

Pitch makes a comeback in I Am The Dance, nonetheless sparingly. This piece calls to thoughts that exact sort of trendy music making the place brief snippets are placed on a repeating loop and you retain including one other “track” to the loop. With a aspect of beatboxing for good measure (these puns simply write themselves).

Immortal Bach could be the most radical of the items you’ll hear tonight. Not solely does it dare to take that almost all sacred of beasts, a chorale by J.S. Bach himself, and utterly tear it aside, it additionally (intermittently) removes maybe essentially the most essential aspect of music making: rhythmic coordination. The genesis of the piece comes from an thought conceived by composer Edwin London. He was instructing a university class for choral conductors and supplied this idea as a means of remodeling any of Bach’s 371 chorales. The concept was tailored by CA choral conductor Frank Pooler, and Norwegian Knut Nystedt subsequently printed his personal model with extraordinarily detailed directions. Even anarchy apparently requires surprisingly strict group.

We come again collectively to mourn the Christmas Eve 2023 passing of Massachusetts native and nationwide treasure Alice Parker. Her Wondrous Love is one other instance of the immense adaptability of form word hymns into many alternative musical settings.

Duckworth in flip makes use of each a unique textual content and tune for his personal reinvention of Wondrous Love.

Should you search for minimalism in your musical dictionary, you’ll probably see an image of its poster youngster Philip Glass. In 1984, Glass was commissioned by the Québec 1534-1984 Competition to jot down these Three Songs, set to texts by Leonard Cohen, Raymond Lévesque, and Octavio Paz. Glass selected to jot down slightly easy strophic melodies and use minimalist textures to accompany them in a means that’s fairly uncommon for choral music, with virtually disembodied motifs.

We’ve lastly reached the top of the highway to deconstruction and are able to put the items again collectively once more. Hilary Tann handed away all of a sudden simply over one yr in the past. In her Paradise, she juxtaposes a verse from the Latin Psalter with George Herbert’s extraordinary poem about progress. The piece employs three tiny musical kernels, the primary one heard within the opening Adorate with a attribute so-called “scotch snap” rhythmical determine, a signature thought utilized in lots of Hilary’s works. The second motif happens with every successive assertion of the stanzas of Herbert’s poem, and at last you get a lilting bell-like motif in a 5/8 measure. The three concepts interweave and develop like branches on a tree towards the heavens.

For our closing little bit of Duckworth, you’ll have seen that form word hymns are usually considerably obsessive about mortality and the top of occasions. Turtle Dove begins out innocently sufficient with ideas of spring because the title would indicate, however Duckworth dives additional down within the textual content of the following verses, and positive sufficient, the rapture is at hand. It’s good to know that all of us can have the hosannas to stay up for after we come to the top of the highway.

I wrote Very Brief Songs for a program again in 2016, principally to fulfill my very long time obsession with the poetry of Dorothy Parker, mistress of brevity in wit, or inside brevity, as you like. Fact be informed, this set is barely minimalist in that the songs are, as marketed, very brief.

William Walker/William Duckworth: Holy Manna
William Duckworth: The Mouldering Vine
Arvo Pärt: Solfeggio
Ernst Toch: Geographical Fugue
Scott Anthony Shell: I Am the Dance
Knut Nystedt: Immortal Bach
Alice Parker: Wondrous Love
William Duckworth: Wondrous Love
Philip Glass: Three Songs
Hilary Tann: Paradise
William Duckworth: Turtle Dove
Heinrich Christensen: Very Brief Songs

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