- January 26, 2019
- 8:00 pm
- Lassiter Concert Hall
PLEASE NOTE THE FOLLOWING VENUE CHANGE
Due to flooding at the Bailey Center, this performance has been moved to the Lassiter Concert Hall.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
The sacred sounds of two composers resonate in a mixed program of old and new music.
Arguably the most well known living composer, Arvo Pärt developed a unique and appealing style of composition often referred to as mystic or sacred minimalism. Aside from his popularity in the concert hall, his works have also been featured in film and documentaries.
One of the most prolific composers in terms of the sheer volume of his compositional output, Franz Schubert had an uncanny knack of creating appealing melodies. His works traverse multiple genres and include symphonic, chamber, lieder, operas, and incidental music.
This performance features the GSO string section, GSO Chorus, GSO Chorus Director Bryan Black conducting Schubert's Mass No. 2, and the return of GSO favorite Helen Kim performing Schubert's Rondo for Violin and String Orchestra and Pärt's Fratres.
Saturday, January 26, 2019, 8:00 pm
Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) is an Estonian composer whose music reflects his religious and political circumstances: his marriage to a Jewish woman prompted moves to Vienna, Berlin, and then back to Estonia. There Pärt annoyed the Soviets with Credo, a work which quoted the “decadent” J. S. Bach, and which incorporates atonality and unconventional vocal techniques into an overtly religious message. Upon his conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church, Pärt developed a style called “tintinnabuli,” based on a three-note chord structure associated with bells. This style, combined with his interest in Medieval and Renaissance chant and sacred choral music, resulted in minimalist music, music which uses a minimum of structural material. “Tintinnabulation,” said Pärt, “is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers - in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity....I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements - with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials - with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”
Franz Schubert (1797-1828), born to a schoolmaster in Vienna, grew up immersed in music-making, but was never formally trained. Educated to follow in his father’s footsteps, Schubert instead devoted himself to composition and became literally the starving artist: ill, destitute, and unknown. “His pitifully short life,” writes Donald Jay Grout, “illustrates the tragedy of genius overwhelmed by the petty necessities and annoyances of everyday existence.” Yet in this short life, Schubert managed to write nine symphonies, 22 piano sonatas, several short piano pieces, 35 chamber compositions, six Masses, 17 operatic works, and over 600 lieder, 144 of these in the year before he died. Would that lives twice as long could claim half his accomplishment!
Arvo Pärt’s Da pacem Domine was commissioned for a peace concert in Barcelona. The text is a 6th or 7th-century hymn based on biblical verses 2 Kings 20:19, 2 Chronicles 20:12,15 and Psalms 72:6-7. Pärt began to set this ninth-century Gregorian antiphon two days after the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004, as a tribute to the victims of that terrorist attack. Since then, Da pacem Domine has been performed in their memory every year in Spain. Of the work, Allan Kozinn and Vivien Schweitzer write: “‘Da Pacem Domine’….is cast in sustained tones with little harmonic growth and hardly any momentum, yet a listener is drawn inexorably into its hypnotic four-part unaccompanied vocal texture.”
Encouraged by the festival Le Voci dell’Anima in Bari, Italy, Pärt wrote Alleluia-Tropus (2008), a setting of a Christian text dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra, an ancient Greek city which now exists as Demre, Turkey. Nicholas’ habit of secret gift-giving inspired the traditional model of Santa Claus; it is from Bari that the popularity of St. Nicholas spread and Bari is where the Saint’s relics lie. In Alleluia-Tropus, Pärt uses a text, sung in Church Slavonic, from the Christian liturgy dedicated to St Nicholas.
Written in 1816, Schubert’s Rondo for Violin and String Orchestra (D. 438) is a virtuosic concertante, or display piece, designed to show off the skills of the soloist. This single-movement work is divided it two sections: an Introduction (Adagio) and the Rondo (Allegro guisto), in which the opening theme typically alternates with themes contrasting in key, tempo and character. Schubert’s Rondo has three themes: a cheerful dance-like opening theme, a second folk-like theme, and a dramatic closing theme. Though well-liked by audiences, the Rondo was not published until 1897.
The opening of Schubert’s Overture in C minor (D. 8), written when he was thirteen or fourteen, is described by reviewer Ralph Moore as “immediately redolent of the ambivalent, bitter-sweet melancholy characteristic of Schubert’s œuvre.” Written for string quintet with two violas in 1811, it is performed on this concert in an arrangement for string ensemble edited by Ernst Hess. The work was dedicated to Ferdinand Schubert, Franz’s older brother and a fellow composer. Conservative in structure, the work’s solemn introduction leads to an Allegro, its first theme announced by the first violin. A second lyrical theme follows, then a development section featuring a repeated figure in the accompaniment. First and second themes are recapitulated and the work ends with a dramatic closing.
One of the first compositions to fully utilize “tintinabulation” was Pärt’s Cantus in memorium Benjamin Britten (1977). Though Pärt admired Britten’s music, the two composers never met. Cantus is described by a BBC annotator as “a heartfelt, elegiac tribute, subtly creating the impression of a passing funeral cortège via descending scales in the strings, enhanced by the sound of a tolling bell.” Writes Robert Layton, “Individual instrumental strands entwine around each other and seem to enfold the listener in a tonal shroud.”
Of Fratres (1977, at least 16 versions since), Linus Akesson writes, “The analytical meets the aesthetical as Pärt takes us on a meditative, harmonical journey, built up from a simple set of mathematical rules.” Akesson describes its overall structure as follows: The piece is divided into two drones sustained throughout, three moving voices (low, middle and high) and a percussive motif, in the original version performed on claves and bass drum. Ten “refuges” separate nine “segments,” each segment consisting of a series of chords. Between each pair of segments, the refuge, in the form of the recurring percussive motif, offers a moment of contemplation. Thus does the complexity of Fratres (Latin for “brothers”) evolve from simplicity, Pärt’s search for unity fulfilled.
Schubert’s Mass No. 2 in G Major (D. 167), intended to be performed in the composer’s parish church, is the simplest of his Masses. A conservative work, with lyrical passages, a homophonic texture, and smooth harmonies, it also looks to the future with passages of soaring lyricism and fluid harmonies characteristic of the later Romantic era. The rhythmically agile “Kyrie” is a traditional three-part structure. The central “Christe,” darker than the “Kyrie” and a more personal plea for mercy, supposedly was written for singer Therese Grob, to whom Schubert had unsuccessfully proposed marriage. The initially jubilant “Gloria” turns plaintive as soprano and bass soloists enter on the words “Domine Deus,” supported by choral declamations of “miserere nobis.” The hypnotic “Credo,” with its detached bass line, recalls Baroque ostinati, and twice Schubert uses in the strings a descending chromatic line, widely used since the Renaissance as a musical expression of lamentation. The “Sanctus” begins majestically, accompanied by dotted rhythms suggestive of the French Overture style. In the “Benedictus” is another allusion to the Baroque, where the soprano melodic figure is taken up by tenor and bass, the movement concluding with a rousing four-part fugue for chorus. A tranquil “Agnus Dei” concludes the Mass.
- Michaelene Gorney
The Concise Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Music, Nicolas Slonimsky, ed., Schirmer Books, New York, New York, 1994.
The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, Dom Michael Randel, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England, 1996.
History of Western Music by Donald Jay Grout, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1973.
Linus Akesson, “Fratres,” http://www.linusakesson.net/music/fratres/index.php.
Sinfini Music, “Arvo Pärt,” http://www.sinfinimusic.com/uk/learn/composers/arvo-paert .
Universal Edition Music Publisher, Arvo Pärt: Da pacem Domine and Arvo Pärt: Alleluia Tropus, notes by Wolfgang Sandner, https://www.universaledition.com/composers-and-works/arvo-part-534/works/.
Hymnary.org, Da pacem Domine, in diebus nostris, excerpted from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, 1907, https://hymnary.org/text/da_pacem_domine_in_diebus_nostris.
Allan Kozinn and Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, “Elusive Preaching, and a Beatle’s Conservative Classicism,” Arvo Pärt: “Da pacem,’ https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/08/arts/music/08kozi.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0.
Hyperion Records Unlimited, Alleluia-Tropus, notes by Meurig Bowen, 2014, https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W15700_GBAJY1405611.
Franz Schubert - Rondo for Violin & Orchestra D.438, http://www.franzpeterschubert.com/rondo_d438.html.
Arvo Pärt Centre, Vox Clamantis – 20, http://www.arvopart.ee/en/2016/12/vox-clamantis-20/.
San Francisco Symphony, Program Notes by James M. Keller, http://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Program-Notes/PART-Fratres-for-Strings-and-Percussion.aspx .
BBC Music Magazine Collection, Arvo Pärt: A Celebration, Vol. 23, No. 12, liner notes unaccredited, CD BBCMM387, 2015.
BBC Music Magazine Collection, Baltic Voyage: Heroic Symphonie from Estonia, linter notes by Robert Layton, CD BBCMM210, 2001.
Schubert: Deutsche Messe, D. 872, Chor & Sinfonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, liner notes by Arthur Scherle and Walther Dürr, EMI DC CDC 7474072, 1981-83.
Music Web International, Franz Schubert: Complete String Quartets, notes by Ralph Moore, HÄNSSLER CLASSIC HC17069, http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2018/Mar/Schubert_quartets_HC17069.htm.
NAXOS Records, Schubert: String Quartets (Complete) Vol. 7, notes by Keith Anderson, 8.55716, https://www.naxos.com/mainsite/blurbs_reviews.asp?item_code=8.557126&catNum=557126&filetype=About%20this%20 Recording&language=English
Columbia Pro Cantare, March 2007 Program Notes by Melissa Mann. http://www.procantare.org/images/Schubert%20and%20Grieg.pdf.