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2006-2007 Winter Concert

 

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THE NORTH SHORE CHORAL SOCIETY

PROGRAM NOTES FOR THE MARCH 4, 2007, CONCERT

 

by Donald Draganski

 

          The eldest child of a schoolmaster and organist, Anton Bruckner was born in 1824 in Ansfelden, a small village near Linz in Austria.  He received his early musical training from his parents, and by the age of ten he was already able to fill in for his father at church services.  During his father’s final illness, Anton was obliged to take up the older Bruckner’s duties, in both the classroom and in the choir loft.  Upon his father’s death, the thirteen-year-old boy was sent to the Augustinian monastery of St. Florian to join the choir and to continue his education, including studies in organ, violin and music theory.

         

          Suffering the same fate that Haydn had endured ninety years earlier, Bruckner was dismissed when his voice broke, and he was no longer able to sing in the choir. He spent the next five years as a schoolteacher in various small villages near his hometown.  The extremely modest salary obliged Bruckner to supplement his meager income by working as a farm laborer. In 1845 he returned to St. Florian, where he remained for the next ten years as a teacher.  His musical career advanced another step when he was appointed cathedral organist in Linz, a position he held for thirteen years.  Finally, after a brief stay in a sanatorium owing to a physical and mental breakdown, Bruckner assumed the dual post of professor of harmony and organ at the Vienna Conservatory, and organist at the Imperial Chapel.  His subsequent fame rested largely on his orchestral compositions, most notably his nine numbered symphonies. Bruckner never married, but he continued to support his four siblings and their families for the remainder of his life.  He continued to live in Vienna, composing and teaching, until his death in 1896.

 

          Bruckner’s output of sacred music comprises nine masses and well over forty settings on various other liturgical texts.  During the nineteenth century the Catholic Church, reacting against the large symphonic masses of the day, initiated a movement to foster a return to more modest settings that would enhance, rather than distract from, the service.  Of the three major masses that Bruckner composed in his maturity, the D minor and F minor Masses fall into the grandiose category.  His E minor Mass, presented today, is a much more modest setting that evidently satisfied the Church’s newly enforced standards.  It is, in fact, a very successful synthesis of sixteenth-century counterpoint with nineteenth-century harmonic practices – a musical marriage, as it were, of Renaissance and Romantic sensibilities.  The Sanctus movement pays homage to Palestrina by quoting a theme from one of that master’s Masses.  Bruckner composed his E minor Mass in 1866 and scored it for an eight-part chorus with an accompaniment of fifteen wind instruments.

 

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          Randall Thompson has been called the Dean of American Choral Composers, not merely owing to his patriarchal life span – he died in 1984 in his eighty-fifth year – but in recognition of the consistently high quality of his compositions.  Gracefully shaped melodic lines combined with the great care he took in preserving the natural rhythm of the text are the distinguishing marks in all his vocal writing.  A graduate of Harvard University, Thompson had, during his long career as teacher, held faculty positions at the University of California at Berkeley, the Curtis Institute, the University of Virginia, Princeton University, and finally at Harvard University, where he taught until his retirement from teaching in 1965.

 

          Thompson’s Frostiana, subtitled “Seven Country Songs,” was commissioned by the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, on the occasion of the two-hundredth anniversary of its founding.  The entire set was first performed in Amherst in 1959 by a chorus consisting of singers of all denominations drawn from churches throughout the township.  The composer conducted, and the poet, Robert Frost, was present for the occasion.

 

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          Ron Nelson, born in Joliet, Illinois, in 1929, was already composing by the age of six.  He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers.  Subsequent post-graduate studies took him to L’Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris.  He joined the faculty of Brown University in 1956, where he taught until his retirement in 1993.  He currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.

 

          Wind bands owe a considerable debt to Nelson for the many fine compositions he has contributed to their repertoire. His many awards include a Fulbright Award, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, NEA grants, and several ASCAP awards.  He has composed and published well over ninety works for orchestra, chorus, and band, as well as several film scores.        

 

          Three Settings of the Moon, set to the poetry of Thomas E. Ahlburn, was commissioned by the Classic Children’s Chorale of Evanston for its 1983 tour of England and Wales.  The three sections –  “The Moon Does Not Sleep,” “Autumn Lullaby for the Moon,” and “Ask the Moon” – are scored for treble voices, accompanied by, as Mr. Nelson describes them, “relatively inexpensive (or easily borrowed) instruments, most of which may be played by members of the chorus.”

            

 

 

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