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2007 Fall Concert Program Notes

 

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NSCS Program Notes for November 11th, 2007
By Donald Draganski

            The celebrated hymn Te Deum Laudamus (“We praise Thee, O Lord”) dates back to the sixth century.  The hymn was traditionally attributed to Saint Ambrose, although recent scholarship now credits its composition to Nicetius (d.568), Bishop of Remesiana (Now Nish in southern Serbia).  Normally sung only on Sundays and Festal days, the hymn’s text has also become a favorite choice of composers for appropriately celebratory occasions.

            Mozart’s setting of the Te Deum was long assumed to have been written in 1774; a more careful dating now places its composition five years earlier, when the composer was only thirteen years old.  Although already a seasoned traveler and a composer with no less than three operas under his belt, Mozart was still very much part of the musical life in his native city of Salzburg. In that year of 1769 he was assigned the honorary post of Konzertmeister – without pay – in the Archbishop’s Court.  Among his colleagues was Michael Haydn (Joseph’s younger brother) whose music Mozart much admired.  In fact, Mozart’s setting of the Te Deum is modeled almost measure for measure on Michael Haydn’s setting of the same text.  However, there are significant differences that show an already independent musical mind at work.  Mozart’s growing technical mastery is already evident in the several fugal passages that permeate the work.  Despite his age at the time of its writing, the Te Deum should not be dismissed as a piece of juvenilia, but rather the work of a nascent master who already knows his business.       

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            Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Flos Campi is not a concerto, despite the prominence of a solo viola; nor is it a sacred work, even though passages from the Latin Bible appear as mottos before each movement in the printed score.   The composer called it a “Suite,” a non-committal title that neatly avoids the issue.  Michael Kennedy, the composer’s biographer, suggests that “Six Images” might be nearer the mark.  In any case, it is one of Vaughan Williams’ loveliest works, very much in keeping with the sensuality of the texts from the Song of Songs that inspired it.  The work was first performed in London in 1923. The composer subsequently provided the following comments:

            “When this work was first produced two years ago, the composer discovered that most people were not well enough acquainted with the Vulgate (or perhaps even its English equivalent) to enable them to complete for themselves the quotations from the Canticum Canticorum. Even the title and the source of the quotations gave rise to misunderstanding.  The title Flos Campi was taken by some to connote an atmosphere of buttercups and daisies, whereas in reality flos campi is the Vulgate equivalent of the Rose of Sharon (Ego flos campi, et lilium convallium: “I am the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys.”) The Biblical source of the quotations also gave rise to the idea that the music had an ecclesiastical basis. This was not the intention of the composer.”

            The six movements, with their Biblical mottos in English, are as follows:

1.         Lento. (“As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I languish for love.”)
2.         Andante con moto. (“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”)
3.         Lento, senza misura. (“I sought him whom my soul loveth, but I found him not.  I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, tell him that I am sick from love. Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women?  Whither is thy beloved turned aside?  That we may seek him with thee.”)
4.         Moderato alla Marcia. (“Behold his bed which is Solomon’s, three score valiant men are about it.  They all hold swords, being expert in war.”)
5.         Andante quasi lento. (“Return, Shulamite! Return, return that we may look upon thee.  How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O Prince’s daughter.”)
6.         Moderato tranquillo. (“Set me as a seal upon thine heart.”)

Flos Campi calls for a solo viola, a small wordless mixed chorus, and a chamber orchestra. It was last performed by the North Shore Choral Society in May, 1994.

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            Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger was born 1839 in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, the son of the treasurer of the reigning Prince.  He began his music lessons at the age of five; by the time he was seven, he was already playing organ during services and had composed a setting of the Mass. Upon reaching his twelfth birthday, he went for further studies to Munich which became his permanent home.  By the time he was twenty he had joined the faculty of the Munich Conservatory, was playing organ at several churches, and was touring as a concert pianist.  In that same year of 1859 he published his Op. 1 piano pieces, having destroyed most of his earlier student works.  In 1867 he assumed the post of full professor at the Conservatory where he remained until his death in 1901.  The Grove Dictionary quotes Hans von Bülow who describes Rheinberger as “a truly ideal teacher of composition, unrivalled in the whole of Germany and beyond in skill, refinement and devotion to his subject; in short, one of the worthiest musicians and human beings in the world.”  Among Rheinberger’s students we find the names of such notables as Engelbert Humperdinck, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Wilhelm Furtwängler, as well as two prominent American composers of the 19th century, Horatio Parker and George Chadwick.

            Rheinbergers’s Der Stern von Bethlehem (“The Star of Bethlehem” composed in 1890, is set to a text by the composer’s wife, Franziska (“Fanny”) von Hoffnaass (1832-1892), whom he married in 1867.  A highly cultured woman, she was a prominent poetess and painter who provided the text for many of his vocal works. The oratorio recounts the Biblical story of the birth of Christ and the subsequent visit of the shepherds and the three Magi to the stable.  The cantata is scored for two soloists (soprano and baritone), chorus, organ and orchestra.   Several of the movements have over the years entered into the solo recital repertoire. Today’s presentation marks the work’s first performance by the North Shore Choral Society. 

Copyright © by Donald Draganski

 

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