Long, Long Night

 

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NIGHT

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

Program

The theme of our final cycle is the long, long night, not just in a literal understanding, but also in a metaphysical one that relates it to the span of human life. We celebrate precious life and the journey we travel, but we link to the themes of resurrection and rebirth from our other concerts and reflect that our journeys have meaning and truth. The music we sing includes Taverner’s five-voice motet Dum transisset Sabbatum (1575), which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus and, to bring our season full circle, we sing his famous setting of Audivi vocem, which we heard in a setting by Thomas Tallis in our first cycle. John Taverner (1490-1545) was widely regarded as one of the most important composers of his era. A former organist of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, he composed mostly vocal music and was both innovative and creative in his use of harmony and counterpoint. We juxtapose the music of the renaissance Taverner with the modern one, celebrating the life and work of John Tavener (1944-2013), who claims lineage to his illustrious predecessor. Tavener’s haunting and spare music has touched many with its beauty and grace. We will sing his Song for Athene (sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales), and we include music from his extraordinary cycle Ex Maria Virgine for choir and organ. The concert will also include the world premiere of Song of the Wandering Aengus, a setting by Balint Karosi of the poem by W. B. Yeats, dedicated to the Boston Choral Ensemble.

We will repeat this concert on Saturday 13 June, 2015 at 12:00 PM in Holy Cross Cathedral Boston, as part of the Boston Early Music Festival Fringe.

 

1. John Tavener: O, do not move

2. John Taverner: Leroy Kyrie

3. John Tavener: Audivi vocem de caelo venientem 

4. Balint Karosi (b. 1979): Song of the Wandering Aengus 

(World Premiere. Dedicated to the Boston Choral Ensemble)

5. John Tavener: Song for Athene

6. John Taverner: Dum transisset Sabbatum 

7. John Tavener: from Ex Maria Virgine

           a) Ave rex angelorum 

           b) Remember O thou man

           c) Nowell, nowell

 


Program Notes

BCE's final concert of the 2014-2015 season features the music of two English composers whose names are strikingly similar, and whose works, though distinct, share important compositional threads. Sir John Tavener (1944-2013), claims to be a direct descendent of the 16th century composer of a nearly identical name. His compositions are widely admired for their deeply spiritual texts and haunting musical quality. Until close to the 1520’s, the works of English composer, John Taverner (1490-1545), adhered to pre-Reformation conventions of English church music. Like Tavener, his works were primarily inspired by sacred texts. Highly imitative writing and extraordinarily melodic vocal lines in later compositions set him apart from other 16th century English composers whose styles were more florid and embellished. Contemporaries of John Taverner include William Cornysh and Robert Fayrfax.

Sir John Tavener is remembered for setting highly spiritual texts and for his uniquely luminous harmonic language. The first piece on the program, O, Do Not Move, is a brief setting of text by Nobel Laureate and Greek poet-diplomat Georgios Seferiades which Tavener wrote in November of 1990. Three variations of a two-measure melodic fragment in the beginning of the piece sound chant-like over a low drone in the bass voices. Similar fragmented variations reverse direction at the end of the piece and change slightly in rhythm.

In the pre-Reformation English church, the Kyrie portion of the mass was often troped, or given additional text relevant to the feast day, so composers of the time wouldn’t typically bother to write a Kyrie when setting music for the mass. John Taverner’s Leroy Kyrie  stands alone as a mass fragment; a rather rare and significant florid setting of the Kyrie text that is not part of a larger mass setting. Elements of Taverner’s later style appear throughout the piece, including freedom from heavy embellishment, and an equal responsibility among the voices to sing melodic material. Audivi vocem de caelo venientem is the eighth response for Matins on All-Saints Day. Lines of unison plainchant appear throughout the piece, punctuating sections of florid polyphony. The most significant style feature evident throughout this piece is the close imitation among the voices, a characteristic often observed in Taverner’s later works.

Sir John Tavener’s Song for Athene is well known for its inclusion in the 1997 funeral service of Diana, Princess of Wales. Like many of his pieces, Tavener’s Song for Athene was written as a tribute to a friend. The lowest voices sing a drone to support the flowing, chant-inspired melodies sung by the upper voices throughout. Seven sections of “Alleluia” are sung before and after each section of text drawn from the Orthodox Funeral Service and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Tavener’s instructions for the final section read, “with resplendent joy in the Resurrection.” The drone in the lowest voice expands from one unison pitch to three pitches. A few soprano, alto, and tenor voices join the drone to sustain the soaring harmonies in the other voices, which creates a truly sublime picture of heaven.

Dum Transisset Sabbatum is one of two settings by John Taverner written for Matins on Easter Sunday. Perhaps one of his best-known compositions, Dum Transisset Sabbatum follows a familiar convention of English church music and places the cantus firmus, or a pre-existing melody, in the tenor voice. Like Audivi vocem de caelo venientem, portions of the chant that were sung by the choir during mass are the only sections for which Taverner wrote polyphony, and the remaining sections of plainchant were woven throughout the piece.

Tavener’s Ex Maria Virgine is a set of Marian-themed Christmas carols dedicated to HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall in celebration of their marriage in December 2005. This piece is a musical departure from Tavener’s typical minimalist, Orthodox-inspired approach as it features raucous organ accompaniment, thicker harmonic texture, and greater rhythmic complexity. Throughout each movement of the work, Taverner delivers explicit performance markings such as, “With joyous exaltation, fast, dancing, and always rhythmic,” “With wild, primordial joy!” and “An effulgence of the Eternal Feminine.” The three movements we perform at our concerts demonstrate the wide range of Tavener’s skill at choral writing, from the minimal prayer-like  “Remember O thou man” to the devastatingly impactful  “Ave rex angelorum.”

In the first two concerts in this cycle we are pleased to be premiering a piece dedicated to BCE by Bálint Karosi (b. 1979). Karosi is an award-winning composer, concert organist, harpsichordist and conductor and has set for us the poem The Wandering Aengus by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) from The Wind Among the Reeds (1899).

 


Texts and translations

1. O, do not move (2004)

O, do not move, listen, to the gentle beginning.

George Seferis

 

2. Leroy Kyrie

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

 The Kyrie is the first sung prayer in the Ordinary of the pre–1969 Tridentine Mass.

 

3. Audivi vocem de caelo

Audivi vocem de caelo venientem: venite omnes virgines sapientissime; oleum recondite in vasis vestris dum sponsus advenerit. Media nocte clamor factus est: ecce sponsus venit.

I heard a voice coming from heaven: come all wisest virgins; fill your vessels with oil, for the bridegroom is coming. In the middle of the night there was a cry: behold the bridegroom comes.

(8th responsory at Matins on All Saints. The source of text is Jeremiah 40:10 and Matthew 25:6.)

 

4. The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

(W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) from The Wind Among the Reeds (1899).)

 

5. Song for Athene

Alleluia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Alleluia. Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.
Alleluia. Give rest, O Lord, to your handmaid, who has fallen asleep.
Alleluia. The Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life and door of Paradise.
Alleluia. Life: a shadow and a dream.

Alleluia. Weeping at the grave creates the song: Alleluia.

Come and enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you: Alleluia.

(Text from Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Orthodox funeral service.)

 

6. Dum transisset Sabbatum

Dum transisset Sabbatum, Maria Magdalene et Maria Jacobi et Salome emerunt aromata ut venientes ungerent Jesum. Alleluia. Et valde mane una sabbatorum veniunt ad monumentum orto iam sole. Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. Alleluia. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

(Third responsory at Mattins on Easter Sunday. The source of text is Mark 16:1-2.)

 

7. From Ex Maria Virgine

a) Ave rex angelorum

Ave rex! Ave rex angelorum! Ave rexque celorum! Ave princeps que polorum! Hail, 0 King! Hail, King of the angels! Hail, King of the skies! Hail, Prince of Heaven! Hail, most mighty in thy working, Hail, thou Lord of allae thing; I offer thee gold as to a king. Ave rex angelorum!

(Text: Anonymous, medieval.)

 

b) Remember O thou man

Remember 0 thou man, 0 thou man, 0 thou man, Remember 0 thou man, Thy time is spent. Remember 0 thou man, How thou art dead and gone, And I did what I can, Therefore repent. Remember God's goodness, 0 thou man, 0 thou man, Remember God's goodness, And his promise made. Remember God's goodness, How he sent his Son doubtless Our sins [for] to redress, Be not afraid. The angels all did sing, 0 thou man, 0 thou man, The Angels all did sing Upon the shepherds' hill, The Angels all did sing Praises to our heav'nly King, And peace to man [living], With a good will. To Bethlem did they go, 0 thou man, 0 thou man, To Bethlem did they go, The shepherds three. To Bethlem did they go, To see where it were so or no, Whether Christ were born or no To set man free. In Bethlem he was born, 0 thou man, 0 thou man, In Bethlem he was born, For mankind's sake. In Bethlem he was born, For us that were forlorn, And therefore took no scorn, Our flesh to take. Give thanks to God alway, 0 thou man, 0 thou man, Give thanks to God alway, Most joyfully. Give thanks to God alway, For this our happy day, Let all men sing and say, Holy, Holy.

(Thomas Ravenscroft, c. 1590-1633.)

 

c) Nowell, nowell

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!

This is the salutation of the Angel Gabriel.

Out of your sleep arise and wake,

For God mankind now hath ytake,

All of a maid without any make,

Of all women she beareth the bell:

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!

This is the salutation of the Angel Gabriel.

Now man is brighter than the sun,

Now man in heaven on high shall wone,

Blessed be God this game is begun,

And his mother empress of hell:

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!

This is the salutation of the Angel Gabriel.

Now, blessed brother, grant us grace

A Domesday to see thy face,

And in thy court to have a place,

That we mow therae sing Nowell:

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!

This is the salutation of the Angel Gabriel.

(Text: Anonymous, medieval.)