Recommended Listening - Welcome to all the pleasures!

Welcome to All the Pleasures - Program Notes

Henry Purcell, 1659-1695

Welcome to All the Pleasures, Z339

Henry Purcell was born near the end of a tumultuous period of English history.  The country had been torn apart by a Civil War that resulted in the beheading of Charles I in 1649, followed by the founding of the Commonwealth headed by Oliver Cromwell.  Many musicians fled to the Continent during the Civil War, and the Puritan Cromwell dissolved the cathedral choirs and banned public entertainments. When Charles II came to the throne in 1660 ushering in the Restoration, he took steps to bring music back. He was influenced by the way artists, writers, and musicians were encouraged in the French court where he spent much of his exile; the string orchestra in Louis XIV’s court was emulated by Charles II at court and cathedral.  Italian music and musicians were also influential in English culture, going all the way back to the sixteenth century. A significant result of the effort to revive music in Restoration England was the reconstitution of the cathedral choirs at Westminster Abbey and elsewhere. While adult choristers could easily resume their duties in the choir, it was necessary to rebuild the boys’ section of the choir from scratch. In addition to the talent available in London, promising boy choristers from provincial churches were ‘pressed’ into service at the Chapel Royal and a choir school was reinstated for their training.  

Henry Purcell was the beneficiary of this system.  His father was a professional musician who secured a place as a tenor in the newly reconstituted choir of the Chapel Royal at Whitehall.  At the age of seven or eight young Henry became a member of the Chapel Royal choir and remained there until his voice broke in 1673. Thereafter he assumed various duties at the Chapel Royal and studied composition with John Blow, who held the combined posts of choirmaster and organist at Westminster Abbey.  In 1679 he succeeded Blow as organist at the Abbey, and proceeded to write numerous compositions from the 1680s until his death. His music varied from songs for solo voice, anthems for the Chapel Royal and Abbey, instrumental music for the court, to odes celebrating various events such as the King’s annual return to London after his summer stay in Windsor and, later, birthday odes to Queen Mary from 1689 until her death in 1694.  He also wrote several operas beginning with his most famous, Dido and Aeneas.

In 1683 Purcell, with a group of professional and amateur musicians, formed a Musical Society to honor Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, on her feast day of November 22.   Welcome to All the Pleasures was Purcell’s contribution as the inaugural ode that year.  The text is by Christopher Fishburn, an amateur poet and composer who was the nephew of architect Sir Christopher Wren.  The multi-movement work contains a mixture of short solos, choruses, and instrumental interludes. It begins with an orchestral overture in the French style of slow and fast sections (such as Handel’s overture to Messiah).  Notable is the alto solo, “Here the deities approve,” which is constructed over a bass ground (a three-measure melodic pattern repeated throughout the movement).  The chorus is often treated contrapuntally, especially in the last movement where at the end the voices drop out one by one until only the basses are left to conclude the work.

Many notable composers contributed to this annual Cecilian festival, which included another contribution from Purcell in 1692, Hail, Bright Cecilia.  John Blow contributed an ode and Te Deum in 1695, but the festival was dampened by Purcell’s death the day before on November 21, 1695.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey near the organ he had played for over fifteen years. His tombstone bears an eloquent epitaph: “He is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded.”

George Frideric Handel, 1685-1759

Let God Arise, Chandos Anthem #11, HWV 256a

Handel was born in Halle, a town in central-eastern Germany not too far from Leipzig, where Bach spent the last 27 years of his life.  His father, a successful barber-surgeon, wished his son to pursue a career in law. When young Handel showed exceptional musical talent, his father relented and allowed him to study with Friedrich Zachow, the local organist, who gave him an excellent musical education.  Handel excelled at playing the harpsichord, organ, and violin, as well as at composition. Zachow allowed him to study musical scores in his library, and Handel learned the styles of German and Italian composers. At the age of eighteen he moved to Hamburg to perform in its opera house, first as a violinist and then at the harpsichord from which he would direct the orchestra.  He also composed his first three operas there. Hamburg, as a port city, was very cosmopolitan, attracting foreign visitors, including those from London and Italy. After a few years in Hamburg and intrigued by Italian opera, he travelled to Italy to learn, compose, and perform for several years. While there he absorbed the Italian style, as exemplified by his Dixit Dominus, completed in Rome in 1707.  Handel stayed in Italy until 1710, when he was appointed Kapellmeister at the court of Hanover in Germany. However, he soon took a leave of absence for London, attracted by the prospect of producing operas there. He would make frequent visits there until he settled in England permanently when Elector George of Hanover became King of England as George I in 1714.

In July 1717 Handel joined the household of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon (who in 1719 became the First Duke of Chandos), at his country estate of Cannons, nine miles from London.  Handel’s official title was composer-in-residence. Brydges was in the process of converting the Elizabethan manor house into a stately example of Palladian style architecture. In 1717-18 Handel wrote twelve sacred works for Brydges: a Te Deum and eleven anthems setting various Psalms.  The anthems have been commonly referred to as Chandos Anthems, although since Brydges did not become the Duke of Chandos until after Handel left, they are often called Cannons Anthems.   The musicologist Graydon Beeks notes that the anthems show the influence of the cantatas of Handel’s early teacher, Zachow, but are more closely related to Handel’s own Italian psalm settings and to the English verse settings of followers of Purcell.

Let God Arise, Chandos Anthem #11, is a multi-movement work setting verses from Psalms 68 and 78.  It uses a mixture of solos, duets, and choruses with an instrumental introduction. The scoring reflects the small forces at Handel’s disposal, consisting of violins (but no violas), oboe, and basso continuo (cello and organ), SATB soloists and chorus.  It exhibits Handel’s growing mastery in setting the English language. The many contrapuntal moments for chorus and orchestra show Handel’s interest in fugal composition in this period. Handel employs some notable text painting, such as on the word “scattered” in the opening chorus (ending with a quote from Dixit Dominus) as the voices literally scatter.  Another example is the setting of “fallen” in the penultimate chorus, “At thy rebuke, O God.” The work ends with a double fugue on the text “Blessed be God, Alleluja.”

Antonio Vivaldi, 1678-1741

Gloria, D major, RV 589

Antonio Vivaldi is best known for his concertos, the most popular of which is the Four Seasons.  He wrote over 550 compositions in this genre.  Lesser known is his output of operas and sacred choral works; there are only about 50 known works in the latter genre, of which this Gloria is the most well-known and beloved.  The reason for this disparity is the circumstances of his employment at Venice’s Ospedale Pietà.  There were four ospedali (charitable orphanages associated with hospitals) in Venice at this time; they all specialized in musical training of young abandoned or orphaned girls.  Unless they married or entered a convent, many of the women in the ospedali stayed there for the rest of their lives. The excellence of music-making attracted visitors to Venice and served as a fund-raising enterprise for the ospedali. The Pietà was the largest ospedale in population and thus had the most girls and women to draw upon for its orchestra and singers.  Vivaldi was initially hired there in 1703 as maestro di violini (violin master) and was later promoted to maestro di concertanti (concert master), whose responsibilities included composition of instrumental music.  He remained there for most of his career except for brief visits to other European cities to produce operas he had written.  Responsibility for choral works at the Pietà fell to the maestro di coro (choral master); Vivaldi was only able to write choral music during vacancies of this position.  The period 1713-1719 was one such time, when it is believed that he wrote most of his sacred vocal works including the Gloria.

The Gloria is one of at least three that Vivaldi wrote, and is thought by scholars to have taken the place of a complete mass setting, “the representative composition for a festive mass,” as the musicologist Helmut Hucke termed it; the rest of the mass would have been read by the priest.  This particular Gloria sets the text in twelve separate movements (so-called cantata-style) which alternate between choral settings and solo arias or duets. Each movement manages to convey the meaning of the text, such as the exuberant opening movement, the pensive, imitative setting of “Et in terra pax,” and the more operatic, penitential nature of “Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,” set for alto soloist and chorus. The work is scored for SATB chorus, SSA soloists, oboe, trumpet, strings, and organ.  The inclusion of a trumpet in the first and last movements lends a celebratory air to the work. The Gloria concludes with a return to the opening music in “Quoniam tu solus sanctus” followed by a fugue on “Cum sancto spiritu”, a reworking and simplification of a fugue by the Venetian opera composer Giovanni Maria Ruggieri, active in the years 1685-1715.

Vivaldi’s music fell out of favor after his death, and was only revived in the twentieth century.  In the 1920s a major discovery of several manuscripts in a Turin library included that of this Gloria and other choral works.   The Gloria received its first modern performance in 1939 and has been popular ever since. It has been utilized in six movies since the 1980s including Shine and Nixon.

Program Notes by Robert Acker and Alison Bleick. Used by permission.

Tudor Splendor - Program & Roster

Run time, including 15-minute intermission, is about 80 minutes

If ye love me Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585)

O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit Tallis

O sacrum convivium Tallis

Edinburgh Mass Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962)



Sanctus & Benedictus

Agnus Dei


Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas John Taverner (c. 1490–1545)





Agnus Dei


Taverner | Jackson {parts are listed first for Taverner Mass, then Jackson Mass}

Triplex: Soprano 1: Cynthia Spiegel, Hannah De Priest, Sarah Fisk

Soprano 2: Patty Kennedy, Carling FitzSimmons

Medius: Alto 1: Nora Engonopoulos, Amanda Koopman

Alto 2: Anna VanDeKerchove, Orna Arania

Contratenor: Tenor 1: Matt Dean, Micah Dingler, Garrett Johannsen

Sextus: Tenor 2: Keith Murphy, Frank Villella, Matthew Schlesinger

Tenor:Bass 1: Michael Hawes, Eric Miranda, Stephen Richardson

Bassus: Bass 2: Mark Haddad, Mark Winston, Dominic German

Tudor Splendour - Program Notes

The cathedral tradition of England has produced some of the most extraordinarily beautiful choral music ever written. This is, in part, because English choirs have been considered the best-trained in the world by many observers for centuries. The system of educating boys and, increasingly in our own day, girls, in the art of choral singing through the churches, colleges, and cathedrals of Great Britain is the backbone of that achievement.

Turmoil in England: Thomas Tallis and John Taverner

The Tudor era was a time of extreme political and religious turmoil. The moment Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England, the church and the state became one. Any offense to the church could also be construed as an offense to the state. “Lex orandi, lex credendi”—how people worship reflects, even determines, what they believe—was a theological commonplace of the era. Therefore, any Catholic could be subjected to sanction, even prison. Every time thereafter that a new monarch came to power, the rules of the game changed. The reforms instituted in the Book of Common Prayer, of course, brought about a sea change in musical life in England. Claude Palisca writes in his A History of Western Music, “In 1548, Edward VI admonished the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Minster that henceforth they must sing only in English, ‘settyng thereunto a playn and distincte note, for every sillable one’—in other words, a plain, syllabic, homophonic style. Such a drastic change from the highly ornate, florid, massive Catholic music of the early part of the century must have struck English composers as catastrophic.” Of course, these restrictions were gradually loosened. Nevertheless, the Catholic Rite had to be replaced almost over night.

Among those who rose to the occasion was Thomas Tallis, widely regarded as the most fluent and stylistically diverse and assured composer of his era, a time now regarded as the height of the English cultivation of church music. Performance standards, as well, must have been particularly high as many foreign observers have commented in writing of their astonishment at hearing English cathedral choirs. There is another curious factor which may have helped to establish Tallis as the pre-eminent composer of his time. He and his student William Byrd (who was a target of Francis Walsingham, the queen’s puritanical Secretary of State and spymaster who brought down Mary, Queen of Scots, in the so-called Babington Plot) were given a 21-year monopoly on publishing polyphonic music by Elizabeth I. The fact that both men were unreformed Catholics with special permission from the queen to continue practicing their faith must have rankled some of their Protestant colleagues and points to Elizabeth I’s recognition of genius and a strong work ethic when she saw it. The three motets by Tallis on our program illustrate the varying degrees of complexity of music for the Anglican Rite from the most simple and syllabic, If ye love me, to the slightly more complex O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit, to the rich and ornate 5-voice Latin motet for the Catholic Rite, O sacrum convivium.

John Taverner is undoubtedly the most important musical figure of the generation before Thomas Tallis. Taverner’s 6-voice festal masses, of which the Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas is one, are supreme examples of the lush, highly ornate style of the pre-Reformation period in England. He was born in either Boston or Tatershall, south Lincolnshire, around 1490 and his first post seems to be at the Collegiate Church of Tatershall, where he was a clerk. But he was soon to move to Cardinal College, Oxford (now Christ Church):

“Taverner’s reputation in 1526 must have been considerable, because in September of that year Cardinal Wolsey wrote to the Bishop of Lincoln to try and secure him a good choirmaster ‘for my college at Oxford,’ hinting that Taverner would be acceptable. On October 17, John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln, replied to Wolsey’s letter to the effect that he had sent for ‘Taverner, a singing man, to be Informator of the Children of Wolsey’s Chapel in his college at Oxford, but cannot induce him to give up his living at Tatershall and the prospect of a good marriage he would lose by removal.”

After some negotiation Taverner accepted the post. Only a few years later he got mixed up with some Lutheran zealots, also at Cardinal College, who were thrown in prison. But Wolsey let Taverner off the hook, “saying that he was but a musician, and so he escaped.” Nevertheless, in 1530, Taverner resigned his post, possibly because of the trouble he had gotten into but also perhaps because his religious convictions were sincere. It is widely believed that after 1530 Taverner ceased composition altogether. A few years later he went to work for Thomas Cromwell dissolving monasteries.

The foregoing shows that we live in an age wherein it is possible to have a comprehensive view of musical history, the ability and inclination to look back over vast stretches of time, which would have been foreign to the average person living in the English Renaissance. Sure, traditions were entrenched in the minds of kings and scholars and time passed more slowly than today’s pace of progress, but the very thought of performing music from farther back than a generation earlier would have seemed backward and pointless. Not today. Emerging from the political cataclysm known as the 20th-century has, in my opinion, forced us to reevaluate artistic principles and come to a more humanistic approach to producing art. The maddening complexity of serial music – music that oftentimes forcefully rejected even the very notion of being understood except by the minutest group of cognoscenti – has all but dissipated in favor of music that we all can approach without fear of being humiliated. Looking backward helps remind us that human beings are astonishingly creative and seek connection. We’re social beings, after all. The concert experience should help to connect the dots of our own artistic heritage. Gabriel Jackson’s music achieves this while still saying something new.

Born in Bermuda in 1962 to an Anglican clergyman and trained at Canterbury Cathedral and the Royal School of Music, Gabriel Jackson is one of today’s leading composers, especially for choral music. Jackson has won numerous awards, most recently two British Composer Awards, and his music is now being performed and recorded by many of the world’s leading choirs.

I am especially pleased to perform Jackson’s music again because he fits snugly into Bella Voce’s core aesthetic: presenting new music with direct connection to the ancient. Jackson’s ties to the Tudor-era composers go back to his days as a treble in the Canterbury Cathedral Choir, where he sang the music of those masters daily. His affinity and connection to this music, as I see it, are twofold: Jackson uses and manipulates the compositional techniques and language of modality, isorhythm, and voice-leading of the Tudor era; and he strives for a clarity of expression that is both sonically rich but straightforward.

The result upon hearing Jackson’s music is the sense that if functional harmony and monody were never introduced by the likes of Caccini and Monteverdi (as in the Vespers of 1610), the tradition of a particularly Tudor counterpoint might have eventually arrived in something like Jackson’s music. This is not to say that his music is purely derivative. After all, music did change fundamentally at the dawn of the 17th century and then experienced other such fundamental changes through the likes of Beethoven, Mahler, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and John Adams. Instead, what we have is a kind of post-Postmodernism. Jackson can quote the techniques of his compositional forebears with no trace of irony; in fact, it is deeply earnest. It is organic in its unfolding, connected to tradition, yet unmistakably of the present.

Bella Voce commissioned “in the half-light of dusk” from Gabriel Jackson in 2013 for the occasion of our 30th anniversary. The work is now published by Oxford University Press.

According to the vocal score, published by Oxford University Press, the Edinburgh Mass was commissioned by “The Very Revd Graham Forbes, Provost of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, with additional funds provided by the Leche Trust and the Kenneth Leighton Trust. First performed by the choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral choir, directed by Matthew Owens, on St Cecilia’s Day 2001.”

WMFT Broadcast of A Ceremony of Carols - 12:00 noon on 12/21/2018

Broadcast Info

Friday, December 21, 2018 12 noon (Central) on WFMT’s Music in Chicago program

Tune in to WMFT 98.7 at noon in Chicago on Friday.

If listening outside of radio broadcast area, you can stream the broadcast online via the WFMT 98.7 website.


Andrew Lewis, conductor

Alison Attar, harp

Soprano 1: Patty Kennedy, Carling FitzSimmons, Henriët Fourie Thompson

Soprano 2: Cynthia Spiegel, Gina Hilse, Nora Engonopoulos

Alto: Natalie Holz, Magda Krance, Makenzie Matthews

Program (with soloists)

A Ceremony of Carols Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

1. Procession ("Hodie Christus natus est", Gregorian antiphon to the Magnificat at Second Vespers of Christmas)

2. Wolcum Yole!

3. There is no Rose (Trinity College MS 0.3.58, early 15c)

4a. That yongë child

solo: Henriët Fourie Thompson

4b. Balulalow (The brothers Wedderburn, fl. 1548)

solo: Carling FitzSimmons

5. As dew in Aprille (Sloane 2593, first quarter 15c)

6. This little Babe (from Robert Southwell's "Newe Heaven, Newe Warre", 1595)

7. Interlude (harp solo)

8. In Freezing Winter Night (Southwell)

solo I: Henriët Fourie Thompson; solo II: Nora Engonopoulos

9. Spring Carol (16c., also set by William Cornysh)

solo I: Patty Kennedy; solo II: Cynthia Spiegel

10. Deo Gracias (Sloane 2593)

11. Recession ("Hodie")

A Ceremony of Carols - December 2018 - Program Notes

Adam Lay Ybounden

Boris Ord was organist and choirmaster at King’s College, Cambridge, from 1929 to 1957. He has written this one published piece of music, which was a fixture of the Lessons and Carols Service at King’s. There is a wonderful digitally re-mastered film of a 1954 BBC broadcast of Lessons and Carols at King’s available on YouTube, wherein one can observe the very restrained Mr. Ord barely conducting at all. Barry Rose is a well known organist/choirmaster, having served such illustrious institutions as St. Paul’s and St. Alban’s Cathedrals. He got his start, however, as the organist/choirmaster at the newly created Guildford Cathedral at the age of 25.

As I Outrode this Enderes Night

Gerald Hendrie is an active organist and harpsichordist as well as a composer. This work was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge, for Lessons and Carols.

O magnum mysterium

Cristóbal de Morales is universally considered to be the most important Spanish composer before Victoria. His work, which consists entirely of vocal music (and nearly all of it sacred), was widely distributed throughout Europe and the New World. Morales’ style is based always on a concern for careful expression of the text. His music strikes the listener as mysterious, emotional, yet transcendent. The clear, utterly perfect polyphonic style of Palestrina is mixed with this almost exotic emotionalism – a characteristic on which many have commented in the music of the Iberian peninsula.

Pueri concinite

Jacob Handl mostly used the Latin form of his name all his adult life: Jacobus Gallus, and often appended the adjective form of the name of his hometown in Slovenia, Carniola. Jacobus Gallus Carniolus became a monk, traveled across Eastern Europe, became a member of the Viennese Court Chapel, then later Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Olomouc. He left behind a sizable body of motets, masses, and secular songs. He was called the “Bohemian Palestrina” because of his beautiful counterpoint. I found an interesting tidbit on Wikipedia: apparently an image of Gallus appears on the Slovenian 200 Tolar bill along with an excerpt of one of his mass settings.

The Blessed Virgin's Cradle Song

Sir Edward Cuthbert Bairstow worked most of his life in Yorkshire, holding the post of organist at York Minster from 1913 until his death in 1946. When offered the position at Westminster Abbey he refused and instead recommended his pupil, Ernest Bullock, who then quickly received the appointment. Francis Jackson, also a former pupil and successor to Bairstow at York, quotes Bairstow in an address to the Church Music Society in July of 1986:

I was born in the West Riding, and I know the Yorkshire-man with his fearlessness, his energy, his rather material outlook, and his straightness which sometimes develops into rudeness. That is the main reason why I stayed —because I believe I am more useful here than in London. But, naturally, there was also the pull of the Minster and the beautiful City of York. Usefulness and a life amidst beautiful surroundings are of far more importance to one’s happiness than notoriety and a large income.

Ave Maria

Several years ago when Bella Voce last performed this work, I wrote:

It seems that very little information can be found regarding Jean Collot. I have researched the databases of Grove Music and Oxford Music Online to no avail. From the website of his publisher, Schott Music, I was able to determine his birth and death years and that he was born in Belgium, but nothing else. I came across this little motet in the library of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and found it utterly charming. So, we have a little mystery! If you can help I would love to hear from you.

Thankfully I did indeed hear from an audience member, Gaylord Brynolfson, who was able to track down some additional information: Collot was born in 1907 in Florée, Belgium, studied with Flor Peeters and Charles Hens, was organist at St-Pierre-de-Jette, Brussels, and titular organist of the Saint Michael College Church organ in Brussels until 1978.

O regem coeli / Natus est nobis

Tomás Luis de Victoria wrote sacred music exclusively. Born in Àvila, Spain, he traveled to Rome, joined St. Ignatius Loyola’s monastery in the struggle against a surging Lutheranism, and probably studied with Palestrina. At the time, Victoria was considered the second best composer in Europe, after only Palestrina, the undisputed benchmark of quality and stylistic wholeness. But of course, these judgments and rankings are subjective and need not restrain us as we listen to the music of Victoria. Many listeners and singers of Victoria’s music experience a more direct and immediate emotional stimulation, as well as sensing a mystical quality – much like his fellow Spaniard, Morales.

I Sing of a Maiden

In the waning days of World War I, Patrick Hadley suffered an injury that led to the amputation of his right leg below the knee. Though he never quite recovered emotionally from this injury, he was nevertheless able to study composition with Charles Wood and Ralph Vaughan Williams and conducting with Adrian Boult and Malcolm Sargent. His compositional output is quite small but marked with brilliance. We perform what is considered his most famous piece.

Andrew Lewis

A Ceremony of Carols, op. 28

On a return voyage to England following a stay in North America from 1939 to 1942, Britten composed seven of these carols.   At a stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia he purchased a copy of The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems.  Five of the anonymous medieval poems (numbers 3, 5, 6, 8, and 10) in this collection were set to music on this voyage.  The use of harp accompaniment was the result of his having studied two harp manuals on the voyage. Upon arrival in England, he completed the cycle with settings of texts from the sixteenth century and added the plainsong chant which serves as the Procession and Recession (Numbers 1 & 11).

There is some confusion over whether the work was composed for boys’ voices, probably due to the fact that in correspondence as early as September 1942 Britten referred to the work as being written for “children’s voices.” In fact, it was conceived for women’s voices and harp and was premiered in Norwich Castle in December,1942 by the Fleet Street Choir and soprano Margaret Ritchie, and dedicated to the singing teacher Ursula Nettleship. Only later did he seem to become enamored by boys’ voices when Britten wrote:

[the carols] have had a series of thrilling shows by a choir of little Welsh boys (from a school in the poorest part of Swansea) and a great Russian harpist, Maria Korchinska. This has meant many journeys to Wales to rehearse, & then they all (35!) came up to town & sang the piece many times, & to record it […] People seem to love the piece, & altho’ it has been only printed about a month, the 1st edition is just on sold out.

The popularity of the work prompted the publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, to commission the composer Julius Harrison, with Britten’s blessing, to make an SATB arrangement.  Of course we perform it this evening in its original guise.

Melodies alternate between modal, major, and minor tonalities. Vocal textures are mainly homophonic or chordal, with the exception of some counterpoint in movements five, six, eight, and nine. “Wolcom Yole” (Number 2) is a good example of this chordal technique, with harp ostinato chords forming the accompaniment.  The medieval practice of using more than one language at the same time is utilized in a few movements, particularly Numbers 3 and 10. “Balulalow” (Number 4b) is a lullaby and the rhythm of the voices invokes a gentle rocking of a cradle. “As Dew in Aprille” (Number 5) is in three sections; the first and third sections are chordal while the middle section uses a 2-part canon split between all of the voice parts.  “This little Babe” (Number 6) begins with a unison melody but subsequent verses utilize canons first with two voices and then with three in close succession to create excitement; in the climax of this movement the melody is augmented and rhythmic tension is created by the use of hemiola (duple voice patterns against the underlying triple meter). The interlude for harp (Number 7) provides contrast and uses the plainsong melody of the opening Procession floating over an ostinato pattern.  “In Freezing Winter Night” (Number 8) utilizes imitative writing while the “shivering” harp ostinato accompaniment suggests the response to extreme and pitiless cold. “Spring Carol” (Number 9) is set for two solo voices which provides a contrast to the four-part texture of the previous movement. “Deo Gracias,” as the penultimate number of the work, provides rhythmic excitement as the ending invokes the sound of bells. The work concludes with the repetition of the plainsong chant ‘Hodie Christus natus est” which began the work.

—Robert Acker and Alison Bleick, with additional notes by Andrew Lewis.
Courtesy of the Elgin Master Chorale,  

Mass in B Minor: Program Notes

“The greatest musical artwork of all times and all people.”

So wrote Swiss publisher Hans Georg Nägeli in 1818, who bought the original manuscript from Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s heirs and wished to publish it. Unfortunately for him it took 27 years to complete and an additional 41 years later for it to receive its first performance.

The genesis of the B Minor Mass begins with the composition of the Kyrie and Gloria, written in 1733 as part of a petition to the newly installed Elector of Saxony, Friedrich August II. Bach was seeking a title of “Your Highness’s Court Capella” -- one of the most revered musical ensembles in all of Europe. (Bach did indeed eventually receive the title of Hofcompositeur but not until 1736, a full three years later and only after a 2nd petition and assistance from Count Hermann von Keyserlingk.) Bach was seeking a title from the court because he was deeply frustrated with the authorities in Leipzig and he wished to gain leverage over them during a protracted dispute between factions on the town council. One faction wished to have something more like a town kapellmeister -- which is how Bach viewed himself -- and the other wished for a more traditional, school teacher type. The latter group actually tried to have Bach removed but did not prevail.

By writing a so-called missa brevis, Bach composed a work that would have general appeal to the Catholic Elector but also could work just as well in a Lutheran context, especially in the Lutheran churches of Dresden and Leipzig. (Though the Elector was Catholic, his father having converted to gain the crown of Poland, the Saxon citizenry remained Lutheran.) In Leipzig, a conservative Lutheran bastion, the church authorities held onto Luther’s exhortation to not abandon the Latin mass. During Bach’s tenure as Kantor, Renaissance motets of Palestrina and others were regularly performed for the Hauptgottesdienst and concerted settings of the Latin Mass and the Magnificat were performed for feast days. Additionally, it seems that both out of gratitude and obligation to provide the Dresden Court with music “for the church as well as the orchestra” Bach composed four mass settings, called by the Neue Bach-Ausgabe the “Lutheran Masses,” in 1738. Ever the pragmatist, as pointed to earlier, these missa consist only of the Kyrie and Gloria and would be suitable for performance in Leipzig.

Before we dive straight into the Credo let’s examine briefly the technique of parody. Parody is the process wherein a composer refashions older works to a new text and/or purpose, a common practice in the Baroque era. At first blush it may seem merely a shortcut. This was, of course, sometimes the case. But combined with Verbesserung -- the German idea of improvement -- parody becomes an end in and of itself. Some of Bach’s parody works are so extensively recast that it might have been easier to just compose afresh. Parody was a practice greatly admired at the time as part of a composer’s musical art. “For the aging Bach, parody became a central part of the creative process, enabling him to be increasingly self-critical. The supreme refinement of the B Minor Mass is due in large part to the parody process.”

Though the genesis of the Mass in B Minor begins with the Kyrie and Gloria of 1733, the oldest music of the Mass, found in the Credo, is the “Crucifixus,” taken from the chorus of the 1714 Weimar cantata, “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,” (which, incidentally, will be performed on March 16th by the Trebles of St. Luke’s, members of Bella Voce, and the Bella Voce Sinfonia.) The “Patrem omnipotentem” section is parodied from the cantata, “Gott, wie dein Name,” BWV 171. The amorous duet, “Et in unum Dominum” is parodied from a duet Bach originally considered for the secular cantata, Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen,” BWV 213.

Space will not permit an in-depth discussion of the entire Credo but I do want to point out two remarkable things. The opening is just one example of what Bach has achieved stylistically with the Mass. George Stauffer points out:

The seven upper parts--the five voices of the chorus and violins 1 and 2--represent a Renaissance a cappella motet. The allabreve meter, the abundance of white notes, the chant-like melodic lines, the mixolydian harmony (signified by a key signature one sharp “short”), the dense web of vocal counterpoint, and the absence of affective figures point to the classic church style of Palestrina. The motet is supported, however, by a quasi-ostinato, walking-bass continuo line that is purely Baroque. The continuo provides a tonal framework, yet at the same time preserves the modal character of the upper material by avoiding clear cadences. By joining motet and ostinato, Bach merged the vocal tradition of the sixteenth century with the instrumental tradition of the eighteenth.

The second thing is that this is not the only place Bach works this kind of comprehensive, systematic synthesis of styles. The entire Mass shows Bach mastering sixteenth century counterpoint all the way up to, as with the “Et resurrexit,” the latest in galant style. Bach is clearly making a statement for posterity.

The Sanctus, which comes next, was an independent movement written in 1724 for Christmas Day very early in Bach’s tenure as Kantor of St. Thomas’s. The Sanctus appears largely unchanged in the Mass in B Minor. But this presented a particular problem for Bach: it is composed for 6 voices as opposed to 5, which is the prevailing texture of the mass. Bach decided to include this independent Sanctus without alteration because he knew he was nearing the end of his productive life. Blindness was setting in and his handwriting was becoming increasingly wobbly. It’s probable that Bach chose the expedient route of including it as is rather than re-working it for 5 voices.

The intimate, pleading aria for the Agnus Dei has an interesting history in that it is a parody of a parody. The model is the aria “Ach bleibe doch” from his Ascension Oratorio, BWV 11, which itself was taken from an earlier, lost cantata Auf! süss entzückende Gewalt of 1725. Or it may also be that Bach returned to the original aria as the one from BWV 11 is more ornate. So in fact they may be “sister parodies” as Stauffer describes them. Moving on from the aria, Bach follows a well-established tradition of setting the “dona nobis pacem” as an independent chorus. And, in a further nod to tradition and established practice in Dresden, he “recapitulates the music of the “‘Gratias agimus tibi.’” This borrowing therefore constitutes a kind of intra-parody and serves to help bind together the Mass’s architecture.

So we can see from this extensive use of parody and Verbesserung that, during the last decade of his life, Bach turned his focus from composing music for church services and the Collegium Musicum (the university student group that he directed beginning in 1729) toward more personal projects such as the publication of selected keyboard works, the study of Latin church music, the sorting of earlier compositions, and the compilation of encyclopedic compendia. He traveled more frequently to Berlin and Dresden, even when duty or family called back home. “During the very last years of his life, Bach appears as an almost Beethoven-like figure, working independently on projects destined--it would seem--only for himself or posterity. The most ambitious of these projects was the B Minor Mass.”

Could the Mass have been performed in Bach’s lifetime? It’s quite possible that Bach traveled to Dresden sometime in the summer of 1733 with his manuscript in hand but no set of parts, implying that he was not expecting a performance to take place. But parts do exist and they were written on manuscript paper that was produced in Dresden. They are mostly in Bach’s hand -- which was not his practice in Leipzig -- and carry markings that imply a rush job. If a performance took place then, there are two possible venues. The first is the Hofkirche, the court chapel. Bach was friendly with nearly all of the musical luminaries at court: Jan Dismas Zelenka, Silvius Weiss, Johann Georg Pisendel, and Johann Adolf Hasse. And of course it was this illustrious ensemble Bach had in mind when composing the work. But there is a second possibility. Bach’s son, Wilhelm Friedemann, was just awarded the post of organist at the Sophienkirche (the Lutheran Church in Dresden) -- something for which Bach himself vigorously pursued for his son, inserting himself into the process in several different ways. It’s conceivable that the Kyrie and Gloria were performed at the Sophienkirche with at least some of the members of the Capella taking part. What’s more it seems that Wilhelm Friedemann may have directed from the keyboard as the part contains vocal cues his father would not have needed. Both performance circumstances are possible but there is not sufficient evidence to prove either. Nevertheless, it’s almost certain that a performance did take place otherwise Bach would not have worked so feverishly to produce a set of parts with performance instructions.

Bach clearly had a systematic mind. When first arriving in Leipzig he labored industriously to produce a 5-year cycle of cantatas for his own use there. These years can be separated into groups, such as one devoted exclusively to chorale cantatas. In 1722, right before coming to Leipzig, he composed his first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, 24 preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys. He then wrote another book 20 years later. He assimilated the national styles of the Italians, French, and English, most notably perhaps in his transcriptions of Vivaldi concerti. Regarding another late-life work, Christoph Wolff writes of The Art of Fugue as “an exploration in depth of the contrapuntal possibilities inherent in a single musical subject. The carefully constructed subject would generate many movements, each demonstrating one or more contrapuntal principles and each, therefore, resulting in a self-contained fugal form.” Other examples abound of Bach’s scientific mind, his desire to save for posterity what he must have increasingly understood as his legacy, but none quite achieve the majesty and personal, artistic summation as the Mass in B Minor.

Andrew Lewis

Recollection: Some Recommended Listening

Here are a few selections of recommended listening to help prepare for what's in store in the Recollection concert.  These clips have been selected by Anne Heider, our Artistic Director Emerita who has curated the program and will be conducting.  


Vigilia   Vespers, Psalm of Invocation, by Einojuhani Rautavaara


Gloria from Mass for Double Choir, by Frank Martin


Cantiones Sacrae, by Heinrich Schütz

Recollection: Program Notes


by Anne Heider


Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621):  Rendez à Dieu  (1604)    

This motet is based on the rhymed, metrical verses and melody for Psalm 118 in the Genevan Psalter (1562), a best seller not only in Geneva but also in France and the Netherlands. Sweelinck was a Dutch organist of international renown, and the bass line of this psalm setting certainly sounds at times like an organ pedal line.


Juan de Lienas (fl. c. 1640):  Salve Regina        

16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century choral music from the New World was a repertoire His Majestie’s Clerkes did much to introduce to Chicago audiences. This setting of a Marian antiphon comes from a late 16th-century Mexican manuscript source, the Convento del Carmen Codex. It alternates chant, which even the greenest choirboys could sing, and polyphony, the province of experienced adult singers. Later in the program you’ll hear other kinds of alternatim techniques as translated into 20th-century musical language.


John Tavener (1944-2013):  Funeral Ikos (1984)         

Many of Tavener’s greatest works draw on liturgical traditions from Orthodox rites. This one has always appealed to me for the frankness and simplicity with which the poet asks staggering questions: what’s death? what’s it like to be dead? do the dead remember us? We were introduced to Tavener’s powerful compositional style by Paul Hillier, who twice appeared as guest conductor of His Majestie’s Clerkes.


Frank Martin (1890-1974):  Gloria from Messe pour double chœur a cappella    

Martin’s mass for double choir was written between 1922 and 1926, a period when he was experimenting not only with modal counterpoint and triadic harmonies but also with Indian and Bulgarian rhythms. The mass was neither performed nor published until the 1960s because of Martin’s deep ambivalence about the suitability of religious music for concert presentation. Hmm. His Majestie’s Clerkes first performed the complete Mass setting with guest ensemble Chicago a cappella, a highly successful vocal group whose founder, Jonathan Miller, is one of my oldest friends in Chicago.


C. Hubert H. Parry (1848-1918): “My soul, there is a country,” from Songs of Farewell (1916)

Parry was an eminent music educator and oft-commissioned composer. His most inspired, most personal music is contained in the six Songs of Farewell, which he worked and reworked intensively. They were premiered in somewhat piecemeal fashion in 1916 and 1917, but Parry did not live to hear them sung as a complete set. His choice of texts reveals a crisis of faith (he was deeply disillusioned by World War I); his musical settings, introspective and even tragic, open for us the universality of those emotional depths. His Majestie’s Clerkes performed the entire set in 1997 and recorded it for Cedille Records the same year.


Anne Heider (b. 1942):  Pleasure Tunes my Tongue (2011)

When David Hunt, past president of North Shore Choral Society, suggested I write a piece for the NSCS’s 75th anniversary, the text that sprang immediately to my mind was this stanza by Isaac Watts, because it captures both the spiritual and the earthly delights of singing. William Billings of Boston (1746-1800) wrote a tune for these verses and published it in The New England Psalm Singer (1770). Each phrase of his tune provided me with the seed for a short choral fantasia. Like the four movements of an 18th-century sonata or suite, these sections have contrasting tempos and distinct characters.


Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016):  excerpts from Vigilia (1971)

    from Vespers:

    First Katisma, Invocation

    Avuksihuutopsalmi, Psalm of Invocation

   from Matins:

    Katabasis, Hymn of Thanksgiving to the Mother of God

Rautavaara’s setting of the Orthodox All-Night Vigil is a glorious and monumental work requiring at least five soloists including a basso profundo and a choir that sings in eight parts much of the time and twelve parts in one movement. There are avant garde techniques—cluster chords, whispers, glissandi—which heighten the music’s expressivity, within an overall texture that is predominantly consonant and richly harmonious. Bella Voce’s 2002 performances of the complete Vigil earned us national acclaim through the Chorus America/ASCAP Alice Parker Award for “adventurous programming that is a stretch for singers and audiences alike.” The Katabasis is a modern example of a kind of alternatim technique: the chant-like verses, sung by soloists in a virtuosic style, alternate with a refrain sung by the entire choir.


C. Hubert H. Parry:  “Never, weather-beaten sail,” from Songs of Farewell

[Please see notes on “My soul, there is a country,” above.]


Frank Ferko (b. 1950):  “O ignis Spiritus Paracliti,” No. 5 from Hildegard Motets

Though it is the middle movement in a set of nine motets, “O ignis” was actually the first to be written. His Majestie’s Clerkes performed it on a concert program of newly-composed choral works presented by Chicago Composers’ Consortium in 1991. Frank told me at the time that he hoped to write more settings of Hildegard’s poetry, and asked, “If I write them, will you perform them?” Indeed, we would! and did! The set of nine was subsequently published as “commissioned in celebration of the tenth anniversary season of His Majestie’s Clerkes and dedicated to His Majestie’s Clerkes and Anne Heider, Artistic Director.” Here’s a different kind of alternatim writing: verses for two voices in free-flowing declamation alternate with slow-moving, monumental verses for the full choir.


William Byrd (1543-1623):  Ave Regina (1605)

Sir David Willcocks twice appeared with His Majestie’s Clerkes as guest conductor. It was on his second visit, in 1990, that he introduced us to this lovely, lively setting of a Marian antiphon by the 16th-century English master William Byrd. Byrd composed in every genre of his time except opera; he was a virtuoso at the keyboard and a master at writing choral music for both English and Latin texts.


Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958):  Silence and Music (1953)    

I included this gem in today’s program not only to acknowledge one of the 20th century’s great choral composers, but also to indicate that HMC/BV’s programming has always encompassed secular as well as sacred music. Silence and Music was one of ten songs by ten different British composers written “to mark the occasion of the coronation of H. M. Queen Elizabeth II.” We sang it first in 1989.


Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672):  Cantate Domino  SWV 81 (1625)

Schütz is honored as the composer who brought the novel Italian Baroque style to the German-speaking parts of Europe. He twice sojourned in Italy to study with Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi, and this Latin motet is one of the happy results. HMC/BV has performed it on numerous occasions; it celebrates the joy of singing and provides a virtuosic finale to the concert.


Reich's Proverb In Dialogue with Medieval Masters

Bella Voce has for decades presented programs that contrast ancient music with the music of our own time, going back to the days of His Majestie’s Clerkes (our former name) and our artistic director emerita, Anne Heider. It is in our DNA. More recently, with the founding of the Bella Voce Camerata in 2014, we renewed and expanded upon that idea by pairing David Lang’s The Little Matchgirl Passion with the Membra Jesu nostri by Dietrich Buxtehude. Our programming now includes music for one-voice-per-part ensemble that hitherto was unavailable to us. One such work that would not have been performed by the larger choral ensemble that is Bella Voce but can be performed by the Camerata is Proverb by Steve Reich.

Proverb perfectly encapsulates the Camerata’s aesthetic and raison d’être: an acknowledged masterpiece by a living composer written for vocal and instrumental chamber ensemble that self-consciously looks to ancient music for inspiration and connection. Proverb is the linchpin for this program, which has been lovingly and meticulously curated by Kirsten Hedegaard, our music director for this project. It includes the music by Magister Perotinus that Reich studied, other works of Reich’s, a work by the living composer Richard Reed Parry, and works by Arvo Pärt, a composer that Bella Voce has championed for years.

We are delighted to welcome into the Camerata musicians who are experts in the field of new music. Please read about them in the program at the concert.


Perotin the Great

The Medieval era, at least where music history is concerned, lasted about 1000 years. 1000 years! That’s a long stretch of stability. Consider that for 450 years or so the sole music of the church was Gregorian chant (most likely named after Pope Gregory II, who was in power from 715 to 731, for ordering the cataloguing and standardization of notation for what has become one of the greatest bodies of music in the Western canon). Now imagine that monophonic chant being stretched and elongated and a newly composed voice written above it. Now you have two voices! It may seem comical to us to think how mind-bending this was but when it first occurred people were astonished by its sensuality. For such a thing to work a new way of measuring rhythm would need to be developed. Leonin (fl. ca. 1163-1190) the first master of what came to be called the Notre Dame School, developed this system, called mensural notation. Perotin (fl. ca. 1190-1225), Leonin’s successor and the composer represented on this program, added to the complexity by adding a 3rd and even 4th voice to the texture. All of a sudden one can hear, instead of just one voice or—magically—two voices happening simultaneously, now someone has accomplished the feat of composing for 3 and 4 voices. It really must have been a stunning development to those people at that time. Afterall, very little changed over vast expanses of time. Indeed, John of Salisbury, a teacher at the University of Paris during Leonin’s time wrote:

“When you hear the soft harmonies of the various singers, some taking high and others low parts, some singing in advance, some following in the rear, others with pauses and interludes, you would think yourself listening to a concert of sirens rather than men, and wonder at the powers of voices … whatever is most tuneful among birds, could not equal. Such is the facility of running up and down the scale; so wonderful the shortening or multiplying of notes, the repetition of the phrases, or their emphatic utterance: the treble and shrill notes are so mingled with tenor and bass, that the ears lost their power of judging. When this goes to excess it is more fitted to excite lust than devotion; but if it is kept in the limits of moderation, it drives away care from the soul and the solicitudes of life, confers joy and peace and exultation in God, and transports the soul to the society of angels.”(Hayburn, Robert F. (1979). Papal Legislation on Sacred Music 95 AD to 1977 AD. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. Accessed from Wikipedia on 2/13/2018.


Steve Reich, Proverb

Influenced heavily by Perotin’s music, Steve Reich composed Proverb in 1995 for Paul Hillier’s Theater of Voices ensemble.  Paul Hillier was a founding member of the Hilliard Ensemble, has gone on to a brilliant conducting career, has recorded works with Bella Voce (under the name His Majestie’s Clerkes) for Harmonia Mundi, and, incidentally, is Kirsten Hedegaard’s teacher and mentor. Here Steve Reich describes the origin of Proverb and the way the piece unfolds:

“The idea for Proverb was originally suggested to me by the singer and conductor Paul Hillier who thought of a primarily vocal piece with six voices and two percussion. What resulted was a piece for three sopranos, two tenors, two vibraphones and two electric organs, with a short text from Ludwig Wittgenstein. Since Paul Hillier is well known as a conductor and singer of early music and since I share an interest in this period of Western music, I looked once again at the works of Perotin (Scholl of Notre Dame – 12th century) for guidance and inspiration.”

The three sopranos sing the original melody of the test in canons that gradually augment or get longer. The two tenors sing duets in shorter rhythmic values against held tones from the sopranos. The two electric organs double the singers throughout (except at the very beginning when they sing a cappella) and fill in the harmonics. The piece is in constantly changing meter groupings of twos and threes giving a rhythmically free quality to the voices. After about three minutes of voices and organ only, the vibraphones enter enunciating these interlocking shifting groups of two and three beats.

The original theme in the voices is then inverted and moves from B minor to E-flat minor. In this contrasting section the original descending melodic line becomes a rising one. The last part of the piece is one large augmentation canon for the sopranos returning to the original key of B minor wit the tenors singing their melismatic duets continuously as the canon slowly unfolds around them. This is concluded by a short coda which ends, as the piece began, with a single soprano. 

Though the sopranos sing syllabically with one note for each word, (and every word of the text is monosyllabic) the tenors sing long melismas on a single syllable. Perotin’s influence may be heard most clearly in these tenor duets against soprano, which clearly resemble three part Organum. That same influence plays a more indirect role in the soprano augmentation canons which are suggested by the augmentation of held tenor notes in Perotin’s Organum.

The short text, "How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life!" comes from a collection of Wittgenstein’s writing entitled Culture and Value. Much of Wittgenstein’s work is ‘proverbial’ in tone and in its brevity. This particular text was written in 1946. In the same paragraph from which it was taken Wittgenstein continues, "If you want to go down deep you do not need to travel far".            Credit: Steve Reich. Used by permission.

We are honored that you are here with us on our journey together to “the society of angels.”

Andrew Lewis

Recommended Listening: Brahms Requiem

Here are some recommended recordings related to Brahms' German Requiem, curated and with comments by our Artistic Director Andrew Lewis.


A German Requiem (London version)


1.  Accentus, dir. Laurence Equilbey | Sung in German


Laurence Equilbey and Accentus have made a series of recordings that are exquisite and powerful. This recording dates from 2013.


2.   Choir King’s College, Cambridge, dir. Stephen Cleobury, Hanno Müller-Brachmann, bass | Sung in German


Very different take from the Equilbey recording, this one features the boy trebles of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. The 2nd movement, particularly, has a surprising amount of power, verging on the vicious, while the 4th movement is sweet and tender.




Related music by Heinrich Schütz

Brahms had a fascination with Schütz and was one of the first conductors to revive his works for public performance. As music director of the Wiener Singakadamie he programmed a concert including works by J.S. Bach and Schütz. The Singakadamie have put their programming archives online. You can view Brahms’ program, from the 1863-64 season, here:


1.  Selig sind die Toten, SWV 391


Both Brahms and Robert Schumann almost certainly knew of Heinrich Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien of 1636, a kind of German Protestant funeral mass coming from the tradition of Begräbnisfeiermusik, music for the burial service. Indeed, Brahms chose to set for the closing of his Requiem the same text that Schütz set, “Selig sind die Toten,” -- “Blessed are the dead.”


2.  Das ist je gewisslich wahr, SWV 277


This was on Brahms’ 1863 program he conducted with the Wiener Singakademie.



3.  Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, SWV 29

Westminster Cathedral Choir, dir. Martin Baker


It is uncertain whether Brahms was familiar with this work but nevertheless quite interesting to compare the two settings.

Re-Creating Brahms' German Requiem: The 1871 London Version

Program Notes
by Andrew Lewis, Artistic Director

In 1853, Robert Schumann returned to the magazine for which he was once the editor, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, to write an article proclaiming a messianic-like figure “called to give expression to his times in ideal fashion: a musician who would reveal his mastery not in gradual stages but like Minerva would spring fully armed from Kronos’s head. And he has come; a young man over whose cradle Graces and Heroes have stood watch. His name is Johannes Brahms…” (translation from A Brahms Reader, by Michael Musgrave). Brahms was a mere 20 years old. While this certainly was a boon to the young man it was nevertheless a tremendous burden. He had not produced much yet and it was not until the 2nd performance (the first being a disaster) of his Ein deutsches Requiem in Bremen Cathedral in front of an international audience of musicians and public luminaries, in 1868 (i.e. 15 years later) that Schumann’s prophecy finally came true.

The 20-year-old Johannes Brahms appears in a photograph circa 1853, the year of Schumann's praise for him in the  Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

The 20-year-old Johannes Brahms appears in a photograph circa 1853, the year of Schumann's praise for him in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

The death of Schumann seems to have inspired the idea of a German Requiem in Brahms.   He discovered, in what may have felt like a direct message from the beyond, a brief outline for “A German Requiem” in his mentor’s notes and manuscripts when he was helping Schumann’s widow Clara deal with the administrative aftermath of Robert’s death. And there is evidence that Brahms began sketching notes for the second movement in particular during this time. What’s more, both men almost certainly knew of Heinrich Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien of 1636, a kind of German Protestant funeral mass coming from the tradition of Begräbnisfeiermusik, music for the burial service. Indeed, Brahms chose to set for the closing of his Requiem the same text that Schütz set, “Selig sind die Toten”—“Blessed are the dead”.

Schumann’s death greatly moved and disturbed Brahms. He wrote in a letter, “I shall probably never again experience anything so moving as the meeting between Robert and Clara. He lay for some time with closed eyes, and she knelt before him with greater calmness than one would think possible . . . he recognized her but was past being able to talk any more.” And a few days later: “We should have breathed with relief at his deliverance . . . what a blessing! . . . how sad, how beautiful, how touching this death was. Joachim, Clara, and I have put in order the papers Schumann left behind . . . with every day one thus spends with him one comes to love and admire the man more and more.” (Quoted from the Afterword of the 3rd Edition of our performing score, edited by Lara Hoggard, published by Hinshaw Music.)

If Robert Schumann’s death was the impetus for Brahms beginning his own German Requiem, the death of his beloved mother, Christiane Brahms, inspired him to complete it. He received news from his brother in 1865 that “If you want to see our mother once again, come immediately.”  Though he undoubtedly dropped everything, the journey from Vienna to Hamburg proved too long for him to make it in time. She had died by the time he arrived. The following year he had completed the original form of his masterpiece.

As alluded to earlier, the first performance of the Requiem was a disaster. The musicians were poorly prepared and the conservative, Catholic Viennese public was not predisposed to Brahms’ Protestant and unorthodox outlook. For instance, nowhere is the word ‘Christ’ uttered.  But six months later, on Good Friday, Brahms mounted a performance of the complete work (that is, six movements: the now Fifth Movement, “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit,” had not yet been composed nor even conceived) in Bremen Cathedral. Brahms was on the podium and his friend Julius Stockhausen was the baritone soloist. A few weeks later Brahms added the soprano solo as an “afterthought” commemorating his mother.

The final form of Ein deutsches Requiem—all seven movements—received its premiere at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1869.

In 1866 Brahms devised a piano four hands arrangement that is not a reduction of the work but rather a creative new look at the musical material of Ein deutsches Requiem. In 1871, this version of the work travelled to England for its British debut at a private residence in London, presented in English and without the Fifth Movement. Brahms’ friend, Julius Stockhausen, who was the baritone soloist in the performance in Bremen (and who also, by the way, was appointed music director of the Hamburg Philharmonic over Brahms) led 30 singers and two pianists in the performance, himself singing the baritone solo again. The English translation used at this performance has been lost.

Brahms’ manuscript of the choral entrance of the First Movement.

Brahms’ manuscript of the choral entrance of the First Movement.

The central question I have asked myself in deciding to perform this work in the manner that we are about to do for you is, 'Why should Bella Voce do this?' There is so much music out there for us to perform. The answer is that we approach music—even new music—from the standpoint of historical performance practice. We make connections between music of our own time to that of the Renaissance and Baroque. It gives us the opportunity to revisit great masterworks well-known to the public as well as those that have fallen into obscurity. It is ironic that this work, which is second only to Handel’s Messiah in the frequency of performance, is little understood outside of what I now realize is an ideologically driven quest for purity to perform only the orchestral version and in German. This, despite Brahms’ insistence that he could have just as easily called this “ein menschliches Requiem.”  A truly 'human' Requiem - especially one of the Romantic mold - would not set up but rather tear down barriers to immediate comprehension. What follows shows that Brahms expected performances in England to be in English. Additionally, the piano four hands accompaniment is not a reduction of the work but rather a creative re-interpretation done by Brahms himself; its Fourth Movement loosely resembles the Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52.  Moreover, it was common practice in the 19th century to disseminate orchestral works through piano four hand versions. What arises from this version is intimacy and clarity, but also a lean, muscular power, especially since Brahms himself, a virtuoso pianist, re-wrote the work, a task normally left to arrangers working directly for the publisher, not the composer. That world, where highly-skilled amateur musicians craved and paid for a steady flow of new music, is almost entirely lost in our time. Electricity and the phonograph have done great wonders for our society, but we have ceded much of the work of music to other people and technology. It used to be that, if you wanted to hear music, you either had to make it yourself or be in the same room with another human being performing it for you. Alas, a direct connection with the musicians is no longer the common experience. Now we put on our headphones, purposefully tuning out other people, and escape into our manicured tonal reverie created almost entirely by machines. That is, except for you, our dear, intrepid, and valued concert-goers!

We have the opportunity here to recreate and connect with the spirit of a bygone age.

Additionally, by performing in English, we erase the barrier to immediate comprehension for those listeners whose German is not advanced enough to understand the text as it flies by them. They will not need to split their focus between having their eyes in the program and their ears attuned to the performers. Shakespeare was beloved by the Romantics all across Europe. What language were the plays performed in throughout Europe?  Almost always in the local vernacular. In the tradition of German Lieder, of which Brahms was a proponent, Shakespeare’s texts were always set in German. This is something that seemed to be critically important to not only Brahms but the entire ethos of Romanticism: directness, immediacy, connection, and the awakening of the senses.

Finally, Brahms’ own words:
[Excerpted from Leonard Van Camp's  A Practical Guide for Performing, Teaching, and Singing the Brahms "Requiem"]
In a letter to his publisher, which was trying to get the Requiem translated into Latin, Brahms replied, "why then is it called a German Requiem? Who needs the Latin text, and where do you plan to get it from? For it cannot simply be translated at will, fits with difficulty under the same notes, etc. etc. The English, on the other hand, fits easily." [Styra Avins, Johannes Brahms, p. 360.]

Also, Brahms went on to make the argument that the Requiem should be performed in whatever language the singers and audience are most accustomed to hearing (again, quoted from Van Camp): "’In Holland everything is sung in German. France is not under consideration. [Brahms did not like the French, and the war with France was only two years away.] That leaves only England and an English text, which would do quite well, certainly, and in any case already fits of its own.’ Here is Brahms himself suggesting an English translation for performances in England!”

To be sure I am not arguing that all performances of this work be performed in English when presented to an English-speaking audience. I have performed this work twice as conductor with the Elgin Symphony and Elgin Master Chorale and will be performing it with them again at the end of April. I also sang it under Robert Shaw's direction at Eastman—all in German. But our performance is entirely different—it’s almost even a different work, as it was performed in London for its UK premiere. We are recreating that experience, summoning up the lost practices of Brahms' time, while also improving it: the text in this version is a thoroughly researched, much revised and edited version by Lara Hoggard that fits the notes, declamation, and prosodic underlay of the original German while maintaining a King James and Spenserian/Elizabethan idiom, itself contemporaneous with Luther's translation of the Bible. Brahms would definitely approve. Do you?

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Johannes Brahms & his friend Julius Stockhausen circa 1870.   Stockhausen performed as the baritone soloist in both the successful 1868 performance of  Ein deutchses Requiem  in Bremen (in German) and in the 1871 London performance (in English).   Stockhausen also was appointed music director of the Hamburg Philharmonic over Brahms.  

Johannes Brahms & his friend Julius Stockhausen circa 1870.   Stockhausen performed as the baritone soloist in both the successful 1868 performance of Ein deutchses Requiem in Bremen (in German) and in the 1871 London performance (in English).   Stockhausen also was appointed music director of the Hamburg Philharmonic over Brahms.  

Bach: The ‘Wedding Meal’ Cantata and The ‘Refugee’ Cantata

Essay and recommending listening by Andrew Lewis, Artistic Director


Feeding the hungry, detail from Caritas, The Seven Acts of Mercy, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559

The two cantatas on this program address the idea of and need for radical hospitality. BWV 180, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (“Adorn yourself, O dear Soul”), encapsulates the Christian reality of the achieved state of grace through the radical hospitality of Christ, received by the believer without her agency. BWV 39, Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot (“Break your bread with the hungry”) exhorts the listener to then act upon this achieved state of grace in the same way as Christ would: “When you see one who is naked, clothe that person even though it may mean you yourself will go naked.” [My paraphrase.] When I programmed these two cantatas I could not have guessed the turmoil our society would face with a new presidential administration. Perhaps this is one of the fundamental lessons any of us can learn about our earthly existence: justice is always timely.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Cantata BWV 39: Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot (23 June 1726) Part I. 1. Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot (Chorus) 2. Der reiche Gott (Recitative: B) 07:46 3. Seinem Schöpfer noch auf Erden (Aria: A) 09:13 Part II. 4. Wohlzutun und mitzuteilen vergesset nicht (Aria: B) 13:21 5. Performed by Philippe Herreweghe and the Chorus & Orchestra of Collegium Vocale Gent (1993).

The ‘Wedding Meal’ Cantata

BWV 180 is part of Bach’s second yearly cycle of cantatas written for his new position as Thomaskantor in Leipzig and is of a genre called “chorale cantata,” for it is based on the chorale tune, in this case the eucharistic hymn, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele. The gospel reading for the day was Matthew 22:1-14, the “Parable of the Great Banquet” (or, using Martin Luther’s term, Hochzeitsmahl – ‘wedding meal’) in which, among other things, Jesus correlates the invitation to attend the wedding feast of a king’s son to that of the invitation to the heavenly glory of God’s kingdom. Those invited, presumably the elite of society, seem to cavalierly reject the invitation, which leads the king to invite strangers to the feast. (Please read the text itself. My summary does not offer a complete understanding.) The extension of hospitality to those who would otherwise be excluded, and the joy at the invitation, shapes this entire cantata.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Cantata BWV 180: Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (22 October 1724) 1. Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (Chorus) 2. Ermuntre dich, dein Heiland klopft (Aria: T) 05:05 3. Wie teuer sind des heilgen Mahles Gaben! -- Ach, wie hungert mein Gemüte (Recitative, Chorale: S) 09:56 4. Performed by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort & Players.

The ‘Refugee’ Cantata

“Break your bread with the hungry, and those who are in misery into your house!”

Before the chronology of Bach’s cantatas was thoroughly known it was believed that this cantata was written in 1732 in response to the banishment of Protestants from Salzburg, hence the ‘Refugee’ title. Alas, though an “agreeable legend” (Alfred Dürr), this cantata was written for the third yearly cycle of cantatas Bach wrote for Leipzig, which was in 1726. Bach makes expressive use of the Blockflöte, also known as the alto recorder. This was the final cantata in which Bach employed the instrument. According to Charles Sanford Terry, in his seminal 1932 work, Bachs Orchestra, published by Oxford, “Of no other instrument is Bach's characterisation so clear and consistent as the Blockflöte ... No other instrument identifies itself so closely with the simple piety of Bach. It voices his tenderness for his Saviour, his serene contemplation of death as the portal to the eternal ... it is the vehicle of mysticism so deep-rooted in Bach's nature... for in its clear tones he could utter the ponderings of his devout mind.” If Terry is to be believed, one can add a layer of meaning to the text of the cantata, namely, the giving of oneself is the vehicle for a profound acceptance of and gratitude for the gifts of life and death. The sharing of the grace that the individual has received is a simple and straightforward act, uncluttered by rationalization and justification.

The Sermon on the Mount, woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1582

While we don’t wish to promote a specific Christian ideology through this concert, it is impossible to escape the central tenets of this music, especially given our present state of national anxiety: give gratitude for your privilege, share your good fortune without jealousy or envy even to the point of your own deprivation, and extend mercy and welcome to the stranger in your midst.

© Andrew Lewis, 2017