And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This season is dedicated to night. In particular, to four nights in which music plays an important part in remembrance, healing and reconciliation. These four nights celebrate the contemporary human condition with music that runs the gamut of emotions, and invites you to reconsider death, birth, and poverty, along with music that transcends the mundane. Click here to see other concerts in this series.
Cold, cold night
1. John Tavener (1944-2013): Funeral Ikos
2. David Lang (b. 1957): The Little Match Girl Passion
*** Intermission ***
3. Sam Beebe (b. 1986): Riding on a Train at Rush Hour
(World Premiere. Winner of BCE's 2014 Commission Competition. Dedicated to the Boston Choral Ensemble)
4. Eric Whitacre (b. 1970): Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine
5. Cole Porter (1891-1964): Romantic Medley (arranged by Ed Wolff)
John Tavener - Funeral Ikos
John Tavener (1944-2013) was a prolific English composer. He converted to the Russian Orthodoxy in the late 1970’s and as part of his spiritual journey he began setting the traditional liturgy of the Orthodox Church. Funeral Ikos, written in 1981, is a setting of text used for the burial of priests in the Orthodox tradition, and while each verse in the text is punctuated by what would normally be a joyful proclamation, each “Alleluia” as well as the surrounding verses are full of solace. Several scholars and composers have noticed an influence of Stravinsky’s homophonic choral writing in this piece, but Tavener certainly maintains a more mystical, nostalgic feeling throughout the piece than Stravinsky in his Three Russian Sacred Choruses, for instance. Funeral Ikos is harmonically uncomplicated, but masterful in its construction for its ability to act as a transparent accompaniment to the text and draw attention to the meaning of the words. Unison singing scattered throughout the piece calls upon chant melodies of the early church, and repetition of musical ideas with only slight changes in each verse allows time and space for the listener to become reflective.
The focus of the text shifts as we move through the piece, beginning with first-person questions about what happens to our loved ones when we leave them behind, followed by more collective statements about a community of believers and their journey on the path toward eternal life, fraught with confusion over the fleeting values of wealth and beauty. In the last verse, we finally hear about the promise of light eternal and a paradise in Christ, which we celebrate with one final “Alleluia.” This verse begins a minor third higher than the other verses, calling us to reorganize our priorities and focus our thoughts on the celebration of life after death. Tavener’s music captures the deep fear and apprehension inside many of us when it comes to one of the most mysterious realities of our existence, but reminds us that we are not alone in our trepidation.
David Lang – The Little Match Girl Passion
I wanted to tell a story. A particular story — in fact, the story of The Little Match Girl by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The original is ostensibly for children, and it has that shocking combination of danger and morality that many famous children's stories do. A poor young girl, whose father beats her, tries unsuccessfully to sell matches on the street, is ignored, and freezes to death. Through it all she somehow retains her Christian purity of spirit, but it is not a pretty story.
What drew me to The Little Match Girl is that the strength of the story lies not in its plot but in the fact that all its parts—the horror and the beauty—are constantly suffused with their opposites. The girl's bitter present is locked together with the sweetness of her past memories; her poverty is always suffused with her hopefulness. There is a kind of naive equilibrium between suffering and hope.
There are many ways to tell this story. One could convincingly tell it as a story about faith or as an allegory about poverty. What has always interested me, however, is that Andersen tells this story as a kind of parable, drawing a religious and moral equivalency between the suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of Jesus. The girl suffers, is scorned by the crowd, dies, and is transfigured. I started wondering what secrets could be unlocked from this story if one took its Christian nature to its conclusion and unfolded it, as Christian composers have traditionally done in musical settings of the Passion of Jesus.
The most interesting thing about how the Passion story is told is that it can include texts other than the story itself. These texts are the reactions of the crowd, penitential thoughts, statements of general sorrow, shock, or remorse. These are devotional guideposts, the markers for our own responses to the story, and they have the effect of making the audience more than spectators to the sorrowful events onstage. These responses can have a huge range—in Bach's ''Saint Matthew Passion,'' these extra texts range from famous chorales that his congregation was expected to sing along with to completely invented characters, such as the ''Daughter of Zion'' and the ''Chorus of Believers.'' The Passion format—the telling of a story while simultaneously commenting upon it—has the effect of placing us in the middle of the action, and it gives the narrative a powerful inevitability.
My piece is called The Little Match Girl Passion and it sets Hans Christian Andersen's story The Little Match Girl in the format of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion, interspersing Andersen's narrative with my versions of the crowd and character responses from Bach's Passion. The text is by me, after texts by Han Christian Andersen, H. P. Paulli (the first translator of the story into English, in 1872), Picander (the nom de plume of Christian Friedrich Henrici, the librettist of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion), and the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. The word ''passion'' comes from the Latin word for suffering. There is no Bach in my piece and there is no Jesus—rather the suffering of the Little Match Girl has been substituted for Jesus's, elevating (I hope) her sorrow to a higher plane.
Sam Beebe: Riding on a Train at Rush Hour
It has become a standard practice of mine, at the onset of a new composition, to find a narrative or emotional plan, that will drive the process to it's conclusion. I've found that a rich source of inspiration (a poem, an image, a story, a scenario) pushes the music into a more unique, specific realm. I try to keep this motivating material present during my process of musical creation, helping me to confirm certain decisions and reject others.
Before I wrote the libretto, I spent a long time working on how the scenario would unfold. I seized the idea of a crowded train as an effective setting for an operatic piece that featured not soloists, but choirs. BCE's 40 person a cappella chorus would be divided into three sections: Lucius (SATB, 3 on a part), Narrator (SATB, 4 on a part), and The Rest (SATB, four on a part). At the time, I was often riding the metro in Mexico City. Despite my physical closeness to the other riders, I was struck by the distance, in time and space, my mind could wander while riding a train. At moments when we are surrounded by a crowd, we can feel so solitary. In the interval between local stops, like falling asleep and awakening, we drift deep into the past, and conversely, snap back from our memories and inner monologues, step off the train, discard our daydreams, and reassume our daily routines and races.
Thornton Wilder wrote a letter to a friend when he was about my age, expressing his deep desire to write drama, and his frustration about not being able to get started. He wrote, "I'm full of plays that can't get written." Writing opera is something that I think about constantly, but like Wilder, don't always know where to begin. With Riding on a Train, I felt a short form, somewhere around ten minutes, was a suitable length to make a distilled dramatic statement. Through a succession of short scenes, I used the individual characters to create contrast and momentum. I wanted Narrator's voice to resound in contrast to the voice of Lucius; Narrator should appear cooler, non-emotional; with Lucius, I wanted to create a more tragic, expressive voice. I emphasized the climactic memory sequence by having the entire chorus break from their choirs and come together as single voice.
I spent nearly as much time writing the libretto of this work as I spent composing the music. I keep saying to myself: 'next time I want to work with a librettist.' But each time I do, I'm reminded of how much control and power I had over the piece as a whole because I had written the libretto myself. It allows the piece in its entirety to be a personal expression for me. In the libretto, I decided to focus on how once-forgotten memories can return to us in vivid detail, leave us just as quickly, and change the course of our lives. The story is about facing the reality of the past and present, and stepping boldly toward the future, whatever it may be.
I'd like to express my deep gratitude to Andrew Shenton and the BCE for supporting me and my proposal for this work, and for their dedication to bringing it to life.
Eric Whitacre: Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine
Charles Anthony Silvestri is not only a brilliant poet, teacher and historian, he is a consummate choral singer blessed with a beautiful tenor voice. When Dr. Gene Brooks called and asked me to write the 2001 Raymond C. Brock Commission, I could think of no other author whose words I would rather set.
We started with a simple concept: what would it sound like if Leonardo DaVinci were dreaming? And more specifically, what kind of music would fill the mind of such a genius? The drama would tell the story of Leonardo being tormented by the calling of the air, tortured to such degree that his only recourse was to solve the riddle and figure out how to fly.
We approached the piece as if we were writing an opera brève. Charles (Tony to his friends) would supply me with draft after draft of revised ‘libretti’, and I in turn would show him the musical fragments I had written. Tony would then begin to mold the texts into beautiful phrases and gestures as if he were a Renaissance poet, and I constantly refined my music to match the ancient, elegant style of his words. I think in the end we achieved a fascinating balance, an exotic hybrid of old and new.
Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine is the second in a planned cycle of element works (the first, Cloudburst, coincidentally, was completed nine years earlier to the day). It is dedicated with much love and respect to my publisher, the radiant and elegant Ms. Gunilla Luboff.
Cole Porter: Romantic Medley
American composer and songwriter, Cole Porter, is well known for his high-energy musical productions and hundreds of memorable popular songs. An arrangement of three romantic Cole Porter greats pays homage to the songwriter’s connection to Yale University. The medley was written for the Yale Glee Club by an alumnus of the class of 1950, Ed Wolff, and comprises three Cole Porter love songs: “In the Still of the Night,” “It’s Alright with Me,” and “So In Love.” Yale recently celebrated 100 years since Cole Porter’s graduation (1913) with a performance of Kiss Me Kate, lectures, a master class, and a swing dance featuring Porter’s music. Porter was president of the Yale Glee Club during his tenure there, and left a legacy of over 300 songs (including fight songs for the school’s football team) along with six full-scale musical productions.
“In the Still of the Night” was featured in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Rosalie (1938) in addition to the Warner Bros. picture, Night and Day (1946). “It’s All Right With Me” made appearances in Porter’s musicals Can-Can and High Society. The third song in Wolff’s medley, “So In Love”, comes from Kiss Me, Kate, one of Porter’s best-known shows and first ever Tony Award recipient for best musical. Each song within this medley was either written or rose to popularity after Porter’s horseback riding accident in 1937. The accident fractured both of Porter’s legs, which led to the eventual amputation of one leg, and caused Porter to suffer chronic pain throughout the remainder of his life. While his compositional output and creativity suffered following the accident, Porter’s personal life took an even greater hit. A lack of musical success, the amputation of his leg, and the death of his wife drove Porter to live a fairly reclusive life until his death in 1964, saying he felt as though he was only “half a man.”
Ed Wolff’s romantic medley artfully fuses some of Porter’s most enduring hits. Filled with haunting chromatic melodies, the contrast of triplet figures in duple meter, and playful scat singing, this medley showcases the best of Cole Porter’s compositional prowess.
TEXTS & TRANSLATIONS
Funeral Ikos (1981)
Why these bitter words of the dying, O brethren, which they utter as they go hence? I am parted from my brethren. All my friends do I abandon, and go hence. But whither I go, that I understand not, neither what shall become of me yonder; only God who hath summoned me knoweth. But make commemoration of me with the song: Alleluia.
But whither now go the souls? How dwell they now together there? This mystery have I desired to learn, but none can impart aright. Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them? Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them and make the song: Alleluia.
We go forth on the path eternal, and as condemned, with downcast faces, present ourselves before the only God eternal. Where then is comeliness? Where then is wealth? Where then is the glory of this world? There shall none of these things aid us, but only say oft the psalm: Alleluia.
If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man, that same mercy shall be shown to thee there; and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion, the same shall there deliver thee from want. If in this life the naked thou hast clothed, the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm: Alleluia.
Youth and the beauty of the body fade at the hour of death, and the tongue then burneth fiercely, and the parched throat is inflamed. The beauty of the eyes is quenched then, the comeliness of the face all altered, the shapeliness of the neck destroyed; and the other parts have become numb, nor often say: Alleluia.
With ecstasy are we inflamed if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder; that there is Paradise, wherein every soul of the Righteous Ones rejoiceth. Let us all, also, enter into Christ, that all we may cry aloud thus unto God: Alleluia.
From the Order for the Burial of Dead Priests; translated from the Greek by Isabel Hapgood.
The Little Match Girl Passion (David Lang, after Hans Christian Andersen)
1. Come, daughter
Help me, daughter
Help me cry
2. It was terribly cold
It was terribly cold and nearly dark on the last evening of the old year, and the snow was falling fast. In the cold and darkness, a poor little girl, with bare head and naked feet, roamed through the streets. It is true she had on a pair of slippers when she left home, but they were not of much use. They were very large, so large, indeed, that they had belonged to her mother, and the poor little creature had lost them in running across the street to avoid two carriages that were rolling along at a terrible rate. One of the slippers she could not find, and a boy seized upon the other and ran away with it, saying that he could use it as a cradle, when he had children of his own. So the little girl went on with her little naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold.
3. Dearest heart
What did you do that was so wrong?
What was so wrong?
Why is your sentence so hard?
4. In an old apron
In an old apron she carried a number of matches, and had a bundle of them in her hands. No one had bought anything of her the whole day, nor had any one given her even a penny. Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along; poor little child, she looked the picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on her long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders, but she regarded them not.
5. Penance and remorse
Penance and remorse
Tear my sinful heart in two
May they fall like rain down upon your poor face
May they fall down like rain
Here, daughter, here I am
I should be bound as you were bound
All that I deserve is
What you have endured
Penance and remorse
Tear my sinful heart in two
6. Lights were shining
Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of roast goose, for it was New-year’s Eve – yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but she could not keep off the cold; and she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not take home even a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; besides, it was almost as cold at home as here, for they had only the roof to cover them, through which the wind howled, although the largest holes had been stopped up with straw and rags. Her little hands were almost frozen with the cold.
Her little hands were almost frozen with the cold.
7. Patience, patience!
8. Ah! perhaps
Ah! perhaps a burning match might be some good, if she could draw it from the bundle and strike it against the wall, just to warm her fingers. She drew one out — “scratch!” how it sputtered as it burnt! It gave a warm, bright light, like a little candle, as she held her hand over it. It was really a wonderful light. It seemed to the little girl that she was sitting by a large iron stove, with polished brass feet and a brass ornament. How the fire burned! and seemed so beautifully warm that the child stretched out her feet as if to warm them, when, lo! the flame of the match went out, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the half-burnt match in her hand.
She rubbed another match on the wall. It burst into flame, and where its light fell upon the wall it became as transparent as a veil, and she could see into the room. The table was covered with a snowy white table-cloth, on which stood a splendid dinner service, and a steaming roast goose, stuffed with apples and dried plums. And what was still more wonderful, the goose jumped down from the dish and waddled across the floor, with a knife and fork in its breast, to the little girl. Then the match went out, and there remained nothing but the thick, damp, cold wall before her.
9. Have mercy, my God
Have mercy, my God.
Look here, my God.
See my tears fall. See my tears fall.
Have mercy, my God. Have mercy.
My eyes are crying.
My heart is crying, my God.
See my tears fall.
See my tears fall, my God.
10. She lighted another match
She lighted another match, and then she found herself sitting under a beautiful Christmas-tree. It was larger and more beautifully decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door at the rich merchant’s. Thousands of tapers were burning upon the green branches, and colored pictures, like those she had seen in the show-windows, looked down upon it all. The little one stretched out her hand towards them, and the match went out.
The Christmas lights rose higher and higher, till they looked to her like the stars in the sky. Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. “Someone is dying,” thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.
11. From the sixth hour
In the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour she
cried out: Eli, eli.
12. She again rubbed a match
She again rubbed a match on the wall, and the light shone round her; in the brightness stood her old grandmother, clear and shining, yet mild and loving in her appearance. “Grandmother,” cried the little one, “O take me with you; I know you will go away when the match burns out; you will vanish like the warm stove, the roast goose, and the large, glorious Christmas-tree.” And she made haste to light the whole bundle of matches, for she wished to keep her grandmother there. And the matches glowed with a light that was brighter than the noon-day, and her grandmother had never appeared so large or so beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and they both flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God.
13. When it is time for me to go
When it is time for me to go
Don’t go from me
When it is time for me to leave
Don’t leave me
When it is time for me to die
Stay with me
When I am most scared
Stay with me
14. In the dawn of morning
In the dawn of morning there lay the poor little one, with pale cheeks and smiling mouth, leaning against the wall; she had been frozen to death on the last evening of the year; and the New- year’s sun rose and shone upon a little corpse! The child still sat, in the stiffness of death, holding the matches in her hand, one bundle of which was burnt. “She tried to warm herself,” said some. No one imagined what beautiful things she had seen, nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother, on New-year’s day.
15. We sit and cry
We sit and cry
And call to you
Rest soft, daughter, rest soft
Where is your grave, daughter?
Where is your tomb?
Where is your resting place?
Rest soft, daughter,
You closed your eyes.
I closed my eyes
Riding on a Train At Rush Hour (Samuel Beebe)
2. How many lives I've lived?
LUCIUS: How many lives I've lived?
How many more to come?
I could live the rest of them
And never see the inside of this train again.
There's far too much history in here.
It's alive, it's a stage, it will always make me remember.
3. One hundred ninety-five stations for trains
NARRATOR: One hundred ninety five stations for trains,
One hundred forty one miles of track,
Three hundred fifty five trains in sixes and nines,
Forty three years of North and South,
Fifteen thousand six hundred ninety five days of East and West,
Five AM till the middle of the night,
One point six zero nine billion riders a year
All heading here or there. (Everywhere, Somewhere, Anywhere, Nowhere.)
4. How many bootprints in the dust?
LUCIUS: How many bootprints in the dust?
How many summers up and down the tracks?
NARRATOR: (To change, to remain.)
LUCIUS: A decade? An era? A lifetime?
Who really cares?
NARRATOR: (To give, to take,To hide, to see…To remember, to forget.)
5. So soft, these antique visions of silk
LUCIUS: So soft, these antique visions of silk.
How could I ever misplace her face in memories so deep.
She was there when my Father died, and I remember watching her weep.
She couldn't speak.
She was always so sweet, so sweet.
I remember countless embraces,
O how the faces return to me
From the shadowy spaces of oblivion.
6. I can hear the sounds of the morning
ALL: I can hear the sounds of the morning,
Sunlight kneading the clouds.
Softly, her outline rises and falls, rises and falls.
Smoothly, gently, I feel each breath on my skin.
There is no speaking.
She is still sleeping.
Soon she'll be waking.
Still she is breathing low.
There are no words.
Her face turns to mine.
And she opens her eyes.
7. Loyalty, betrayal, hope, despair
NARRATOR: Hope, despair,
To give, to take,
To believe, to doubt,
To hide, to see,
To change, to remain,
To reach out, to shy away,
To inhale, to exhale,
To die, to live.
It is yours to choose how,
It is yours to choose when,
Yours to remember,
Yours to forget.
8. How many moments uncounted?
LUCIUS: How many moments uncounted?
NARRATOR: (Suffering, bliss…)
LUCIUS: O passionate crests,
O delirious valleys,
NARRATOR: (Hope, despair…)
LUCIUS: How many dreams devoured?
How many moments denied?
NARRATOR: (To give, to take…)
LUCIUS: O copious wealth of memories,
NARRATOR: (To die, to live…)
LUCIUS: O creeping burden of truth,
Many lives I've lived,
Many more to come.
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine (Charles Anthony Silvestri, b. 1965)
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…
Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…
And as he’s dreaming the heavens call him,
softly whispering their siren-song:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)
L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandi ale,
facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria.
(A man with wings large enough and duly connected
might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.)
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the candles burn low he paces and writes,
Releasing purchased pigeons one by one
Into the golden Tuscan sunrise…
And as he dreams, again the calling,
The very air itself gives voice:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)
Vicina all’elemento del fuoco…
(Close to the sphere of elemental fire…)
Scratching quill on crumpled paper,
Rete, canna, filo, carta.
(Net, cane, thread, paper.)
Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly.
…sulla suprema sottile aria.
(…in the highest and rarest atmosphere.)
Master Leonardo Da Vinci Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.
Leonardo steels himself,
takes one last breath,
“Leonardo, Vieni á Volare! Leonardo, Sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, Dream!”)
Romantic Medley (Cole Porter)
In the still of the night
As I gaze from my window
At the moon in its flight, my thoughts all turn to you.
In the still of the night
While the world is in slumber
Oh the times without number, darling
When I say to you, say to you
Do you love me as I love you?
Are you my life to be, my dream come true?
Or will this dream of mine fade from sight?
Like the moon growing dim
On the rim of the hill
In the chill still of the night
The chill still of the night
It’s the wrong time and the wrong place
Tho’ your face is charming it’s the wrong face
It’s not his face, but such a charming face
That it’s all right with me.
It’s the wrong song in the wrong style
Tho’ your smile is lovely it’s the wrong smile
It’s not her smile, but such a lovely smile
That it’s all right with me.
You can’t know how happy I am that we met
I’m strangely attracted to you
There’s someone I’m trying so hard to forget
Don’t you want to forget someone too?
It’s the wrong game with the wrong chips
Tho’ your lips are tempting they’re the wrong lips
They’re not his lips, but they’re such tempting lips
That if some night you’re free…
Dear, it’s all right with me,
Dear, it’s all right with me.
Strange dear, but true dear,
When I’m close to you, dear,
The stars fill the sky
So in love with you am I
Even without you
My arms fold about you
You know darling, why:
So in love with you am I
In love with the night mysterious
The night when you first were there
In live with my joy delirious
When I know that you could care
So taunt me
And hurt me
And deceive me, desert me
I’m yours till I die
So in love, so in love,
With you my love,
So in love am I.