Program Notes War+Peace

CHARLES IVES  They are There!

Charles Ives was born in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1874 and died in New York City in 1954. He originally composed this song in 1917 with the title He is There! In honor of the American soldiers marching off to World War I. He revised the song in 1942 with World War II in mind. While most of the music was unchanged, the words were altered to fit the new circumstances and Ives composed a new coda for the work. Ives’ editor, Lou Harrison, adapted the orchestral arrangement of the original He is There! to the new version. This may have been first in 1944, but the first documented performance was by the Danbury State Chorus in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1966. Another Ives editor, James Sinclair, created the present arrangement for concert band and chorus in 1976.

There’s a time in many a life,
When it’s do though facing death
And our soldier boys will do their part
That people can live in a world where all will have a say.
They’re conscious always of their country’s aim,
Which is Liberty for all.
Hip hip hooray you’ll hear them say
As they go to the fighting front.

Brave boys are now in action
They are there, they will help to free the world
They are fighting for the right
But when it comes to might,
They are there, they are there, they are there,
As the Allies beat up all the warhogs,
The boys’ll be there fighting hard
A-a-and then the world will shout
The battle cry of Freedom.
Tenting on a new camp ground.

When we’re through this cursed war,
All started by a sneaking gouger,
Making slaves of men
Then let all the people rise,
And stand together in brave, kind Humanity.
Most wars are made by small stupid
Selfish bossing groups
While the people have no say.
But there’ll come a day
Hip hip Hooray
When they’ll smash all dictators to the wall.

Then it’s build a people’s world nation Hooray
Ev’ry honest country free to live its own native life.
They will stand for the right,
But if it comes to might,
They are there, they are there, they are there.
Then the people, not just politicians
Will rule their own lands and lives.
Then you’ll hear the whole universe
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.
Tenting on a new camp ground.
Tenting on a new camp ground.

 

 RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS “Beat! Beat! Drums!” from Dona nobis pacem

 Ralph Vaughan Williams was born in Down Ampney in Gloucestershire, England, in 1872 and died in London in 1958. He composed most of his cantata Dona nobis pacem in 1936 for the centenary of the Huddersfield Choral Society; it incorporates the “Dirge for Two Veterans,” based on the Whitman text, that he had composed previously in 1911. The work was first performed in 1936 by the Huddersfield Choral Society under the direction of Albert Coates.  The score calls for chorus, 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, optional organ, and strings.

 It is often supposed, on the evidence of this work and others, that Vaughan Williams was a pacifist; he was not. But he did know the horrors of war first-hand. Though he was 41 at the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and could have avoided service entirely, he volunteered for the Army Medical Corps and spent five years in uniform, first as an ambulance driver and later as an artilleryman. During World War II, when fellow composer Michael Tippett—who was a pacifist—stood trial for refusing to serve, Vaughan Williams appeared as a defense witness: “I think Mr. Tippett’s pacifist views entirely wrong,” he testified, “but I respect him very much for holding them so firmly.”

Nonetheless, as the Spanish Civil War raged and another war in Europe seemed all but inevitable, Vaughan Williams felt compelled to compose his cantata Dona nobis pacem, “Give us peace,” as a warning. He assembled his text from four sources: the first movement is a setting of the Agnus Dei from the Latin mass; the next three come from the poems of Walt Whitman (who as a nurse had tended wounded soldiers during the American Civil War), the next from a speech given in the House of Commons by Quaker John Bright in 1855 coupled with verses from Jeremiah, and the last movement is an amalgam of bible verses from Daniel, Haggai, Micah, Leviticus, the Psalms, Isaiah and Luke. The six sections of  Donna nobis pacem are normally played without pause.

“Beat! Beat! Drums!” may be the most furious poem Whitman ever wrote—it calls to mind Mark Twain’s scathing “War Prayer.” This movement is very much the Dies Irae of Vaughan Williams’ “requiem.” It blares, it beats, and it gives a premonition of the warning not taken.

Much of what follows seems utterly devoid of hope. But there is hope in Vaughan Williams’ untitled final section, hope in the imagining of a world without war. It is not the hope of experience— it is the hope of possibility.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying,
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.

 

CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI Madrigali Guerrieri e Amorosi (Songs of War and Love)

Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona, Italy, in 1567 and died in Venice in 1643. While this work’s date of composition is not known, it was first published in 1638. The first madrigal of the set, “Altri canti d’Amor,” is based on a sonnet by an anonymous poet. The madrigals are scored for chorus, continuo and strings.

 

SERGEI PROKOFIEV  Waltz from War and Peace

 Sergei Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka, Ukraine, in 1891 and died near Moscow in 1953. He began composing his opera War and Peace in 1942, to a libretto by Mira Mendelson after Tolstoy’s novel of the same name. He revised the opera for a planned premiere in 1943 that fell through. He revised it again in 1948, but the new version was not staged until two months after the composer’s death. The score of the Waltz calls for 3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.

 It stands to reason that Tolstoy’s sprawling, epic novel War and Peace would spawn a sprawling, epic opera. Prokofiev had had such a project in the back of his mind for years, but it was the German invasion of Russia in 1941—with its obvious parallel to Tolstoy’s novel— that prompted him to begin.

Prokofiev’s original conception was to split the opera into two halves, to be performed on successive nights: Peace and (then) War, if you will. The first half mostly concerned the love story about Natasha and Prince Andrei, while the second was about the war and the invasion of the homeland. Prokofiev’s Soviet minders wanted the second half to have more a heroic and patriotic fervor, so the composer added several marches and patriotic songs to the score. He also added the ball scene near the beginning of the opera, a matter of musical and emotional balance.

The opera ended up at more than four hours in length, thirteen scenes in five acts and over seventy singing roles. After a premiere planned for 1943 fell through, Prokofiev shortened the score to make it suitable for a single evening, but he never heard the first performance of this final version. Since then it has lived at the fringes of the operatic repertory.

The Waltz comes from the ball scene, where Natasha wonders whether she will ever be asked to dance and Prince Andrei finally works up the courage to do so. It’s a cloudy waltz, set

in a minor key and with a musical circularity that never seems to arrive at a destination. A foreshadowing, perhaps, of the doomed lovers’ relationship and the immense struggle to come.

 

SEBASTIAN CHANG  Between Heaven and Earth

Sebastian Chang was born in Mission Viejo, California, where he still resides part-time. The other part of the time Chang is in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is the auxiliary pianist for the Louisville Orchestra. Between Heaven and Earth was completed in November of 2017 and this performance is the world premiere. In collaboration with visual artist, Vian Sora, the movements in this piece are titled after paintings by the Baghdad artist. Between Heaven and Earth is scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, Contrabassoon,4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, strings, and chorus.

Read the interview with Sebastian Chang, Vian Sora and Teddy Abrams HERE.

I.City Face
What is the value of human life?

Tell me whose is worth more,
Yours, or mine?
Can you be for certain,
All the time?

Tell me the true value
Of the human life.

Modern war makes life cheap.

Tell me the true value
Of my life.

II. Apocalypse / Maze 1 / Maze 2
I would not ask to live forever.

Life is short, uncertain.
Life is brief, forgotten.

I only ask
For a chance
To see
The place I now call home.
My new home.

III  Ancestral / Air-Walker
Seasons pass,
Day and night follow each other,
The moon about the Earth,
And Earth about the sun.
Yes, our planet follows the sun.
Rain falls on young and old, and
The sunlight shines on good and wicked.

Glorious life,
Do I know what I’ve have given?
I’ll never forget the feeling of
Sunlight on my face.

I have seen so much sorrow
But through it all
I’ve always faced Heaven.

Close your eyes, weary pilgrim.
Take your rest.
Far is near, dark is light,
And worst is best.

Gate Gate Para Gate
Parasam Gate Bodhi Svaha
Om.

 

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG  A Survivor from Warsaw, op. 46

Arnold Schoenberg was born in Vienna in 1874 and died in Los Angeles in 1951. He composed this cantata as a tribute to the victims of the holocaust in 1947 to his own text. It was first performed the following year by the Albuquerque Civic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kurt Frederick. The score calls for narrator, chorus, 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings. 

I cannot remember everything. I must have been unconscious most of the time.
I remember only the grandiose moment when they all started to sing, as if prearranged, the old prayer they had neglected for so many years – the forgotten creed!
But I have no recollection how I got underground to live in the sewers of Warsaw for so long a time.
The day began as usual: Reveille when it still was dark. “Get out!” Whether you slept or whether worries kept you awake the whole night. You had been separated from your children, from your wife, from your parents. You don’t know what happened to them … How could you sleep?
The trumpets again – “Get out! The sergeant will be furious!” They came out; some very slowly, the old ones, the sick ones; some with nervous agility. They fear the sergeant. They hurry as much as they can. In vain! Much too much noise, much too much commotion! And not fast enough! The Feldwebel shouts: “Achtung! Stillgestanden! Na wird’s mal! Oder soll ich mit dem Jewehrkolben nachhelfen? Na jut; wenn ihrs durchaus haben wollt!” (“Attention! Stand still! How about it, or should I help you along with the butt of my rifle? Oh well, if you really want to have it!”)
The sergeant and his subordinates hit (everyone): young or old, (strong or sick), guilty or innocent … .
It was painful to hear them groaning and moaning.
I heard it though I had been hit very hard, so hard that I could not help falling down. We all on the (ground) who could not stand up were (then) beaten over the head … .
I must have been unconscious. The next thing I heard was a soldier saying: “They are all dead!”
Where upon the sergeant ordered to do away with us.
There I lay aside half conscious. It had become very still – fear and pain. Then I heard the sergeant shouting: „Abzählen!“ (“Count off!”)
They start slowly and irregularly: one, two, three, four – “Achtung!” The sergeant shouted again, “Rascher! Nochmals von vorn anfange! In einer Minute will ich wissen, wieviele ich zur Gaskammer abliefere! Abzählen!“ (“Faster! Once more, start from the beginning! In one minute I want to know how many I am going to send off to the gas chamber! Count off!”)
They began again, first slowly: one, two, three, four, became faster and faster, so fast that it finally sounded like a stampede of wild horses, and (all) of a sudden, in the middle of it, they began singing the 
Shema Yisrael.

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
V’ahavta eit Adonai Elohecha b’chawl l’vav’cha uv’chawl nafsh’cha, uv’chawl m’odecha. V’hayu had’varim haeileh, asher anochi m’tsav’cha hayom, al l’vavecha. V’shinantam l’vanecha, v’dibarta bam b’shivt’cha b’veitecha, uvlecht’cha vaderech, uv’shawchb’cha uvkumecha. Ukshartam l’ot al yadecha, v’hayu l’totafot bein einecha. Uchtavtam, al m’zuzot beitecha, uvisharecha

 GUSTAV  MAHLER  “Revelge” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn

 Gustav Mahler was born in Kalischt, Bohemia, in 1860 and died in Vienna in 1911. He composed this song in 1899, taking his text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of German folk songs edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published in 1805–1808. Mahler added this song to his collection of Wunderhorn songs to replace one that had been removed from the set for use in one of his symphonies. “Revelge” was first performed in Vienna in 1905 under the direction of the composer. The score calls for soprano or baritone, 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, trumpets, timpani, percussion, and strings.

Reveille
In the morning between three and four,
we soldiers have to march,
the alley up and down;
tralali, tralalei, tralala,
My darling looks down.

“Oh brother, now I’m shot,
the bullet has hit me badly,
carry me to my quarters,
tralali, tralalei, tralala,
they are not far from here.”

“Oh brother, I cannot carry you,
the enemies have beaten us,
may god help you;
tralali, tralalei, tralala,
I have to march unto death.”

“Oh brothers, you pass by me,
as if it were all over with me!
The enemy, the scoundrel, is here
tralali, tralalei, tralala,
you offend me.

I will well play my drum
or else I will lose myself completely.
The brothers, plentiful sowed
tralali, tralalei, tralala,
they lie as if they’ve been mowed.”

He plays the drum up and down,
he wakes his silent brothers,
they beat their enemy,
tralali, tralalei, tralala,
a terror beats the enemy.

He plays the drum up and down,
there they are in the night-quarters again,
into the alley.
tralali, tralalei, tralala,
they march to darling’s house.

In the morning there stand the bones,
in rank and file like tombstones.
The drum stands in front
tralali, tralalei, tralala,
so that she can see him.

 

ARVO PÄRT  Summa for Choir

Arvo Pärt was born in Paide, Estonia, in 1935. He originally composed Summa as a setting of the Latin Credo for voices in 1977. He has since arranged the music for violin, two violas, and cello (1990), string orchestra (1991), string quartet (1991), recorder quartet (2005) and several other combinations. Our performance is of the original choral version.

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has shifted his musical style radically several times in his career. His student works have been called neoclassical, bearing the imprint of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Serialism came next, but he quickly tired of it. He then developed a unique collage style, full of dramatic contrasts. Though he produced several major works in this idiom, Pärt abandoned it as well and ceased composing for several years.

Pärt spent this compositional hiatus studying medieval and Renaissance music, from plainchant to early polyphony, absorbing the methods of composers such as Josquin, Machaut, Ockeghem and Obrecht. He found inspiration in these works: their simplicity, harmonic openness and crystalline textures appealed to him, as did their air of mystery. Here, he felt, was the chance for the old music to inform the new. “I have discovered,” he said, “that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. I work with very few elements—with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials—with the triad, with one specific tonality.”

Pärt has stuck with this simpler— and in his eyes, more spiritual—manner of composing ever since. Summa is one of his earliest efforts in this new style. It was originally composed as a setting of the Latin Credo for voices, but with an unusual twist. In most vocal settings the music is subservient to the text: the words themselves determine the rhythmic flow and the overall shape of the musical phrases. In Summa Pärt reverses the roles: here the music determines the flow of the text. Pärt established a syllabic pattern—7-9-14-9-14-9-14, etc., finally ending with another 7-syllable Amen—and applied it to the 364 syllables of the text without regard to where one word ends, or another one begins. As a result, a musical phrase will sometimes end in the middle of a word, while the next phrase will pick up where the last one left off. The effect is stunning: one senses a continuum of both melody and text intertwined to a greater purpose than either alone.

Even the purely instrumental versions of Summa have a similar effect. The music seems to revolve around the syllabic pattern, always changing yet always the same. It is much like viewing a sculpture from all angles—as you walk around the artwork you know you are viewing the same object, yet every step you take brings a new aspect into view.

SAMUEL BARBER  Adagio for Strings 

Samuel Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1910 and died in New York City in 1981. He originally composed this music in 1936 as the second movement of his String Quartet No. 1 in B-minor, Op. 11, and later arranged it for five-part string orchestra. The first performance of the orchestral version was by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini in 1938.

 When Arturo Toscanini told Samuel Barber he would like to perform one of his works, Barber knew the importance of the request: the great maestro had enormous influence, and his performances of American composers were very rare. Eventually, Barber sent Toscanini the scores to the Essay for Orchestra and the Adagio for Strings; sometime later, they were returned to him without comment.

Barber and his friend, composer Gian Carlo Menotti, had been frequent house guests of Toscanini. When they were invited again, Barber was plainly annoyed and refused to go. Toscanini asked Menotti, “Well, where’s your friend Barber?” Menotti said that Barber was ill, but Toscanini replied, “I don’t believe that. He’s mad at me. Tell him not to be mad. I’m not going to play one of his pieces. I’m going to play both.” Toscanini had memorized the scores before returning them.

Toscanini programmed the two works for a 1938 broadcast of the NBC Symphony, a group formed expressly for him. These broadcasts were anticipated with a fervor bordering on the religious. The success of the performance, especially the Adagio, caused Barber’s standing to rise overnight, and the Adagio would become his most-performed work.

What accounts for the Adagio’s long-lived popularity? Technically it is a simple work. Its long arch is formed by a succession of phrases, each subtly different from the previous. A great climax is reached, then the music ebbs away. The harmonic language is a straightforward melding of the phrygian church mode and Barber’s own romanticism. Its colors are homogeneous, its style elemental.

Yet for all its simplicity, the Adagio is a profoundly moving piece, its pure music even more evocative than Barber’s more descriptive works. It is a matter of feelings. As Aaron Copland said, “It comes from the heart, to use old-fashioned terms.” William Schuman added: “I think it works because it’s so precise emotionally. The emotional climate is never in doubt. It begins, it reaches its climax, it makes its point, and it goes away. For me, it’s never a warhorse; when I hear it played, I’m always moved by it.”

MAURICE RAVEL  La Valse   

Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure, France, in 1875 and died in Paris in 1937. He composed this work in 1919 and 1920, and it was first performed in 1920 by the Lamoureux Orchestra of Paris under the direction of Camille Chevillard. The score calls for 3 flutes, piccolo, oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, 2 harps, and strings.

 Ravel first conceived of an orchestral tribute to the Viennese waltz in 1906; had he composed it then, it might have turned out to be a very different piece. But World War I intervened and, like most Europeans, Ravel was deeply affected by it. He tried to enlist in the armed services but was too small to be accepted. After several attempts to volunteer he was finally made a truck driver, and he saw intense action near the front lines. He was eventually discharged due to ill health.

At the end of the war, Serge Diaghilev commissioned him to compose a short ballet for the impresario’s Ballets Russes. Ravel returned to his pre-war idea enthusiastically. “I’m waltzing madly!” he wrote. But when he finished La Valse and played it for Diaghilev, he was stunned: Diaghilev pronounced it “a masterpiece— but it is not a ballet. It is only the portrait of a ballet.” That was the last that Ravel would have anything to do with Diaghilev; he refused even to shake the man’s hand when they met again years later. (La Valse soon found a welcome home in the concert hall, however, and eventually it was produced as a ballet by Ida Rubinstein.)

The opening music of La Valse is nothing less than cinematic. A mysterious grumbling is heard in the low strings, with the barest hint of rhythm. “From time to time, through rifts in turbulent clouds, waltzing couples can be glimpsed,” Ravel wrote. “The clouds gradually disperse and a huge ballroom is revealed, filled with a great crowd of whirling dancers.

Gradually the stage grows lighter. At the fortissimo the lights in the chandeliers burst forth.” Ravel then launches a series of waltz episodes, very much in the manner of Johann Strauss Jr., with melodies seemingly worthy of the Waltz King himself. But there is always something subtly and pervasively wrong. An undercurrent of unease grows deeper and more disturbing as the waltzes become more intense. The music steadily loses its grip—its control and order—until the cataclysmic ending, where even the three-beat waltz rhythm is overruled with fury.

What had begun as a celebration of the Viennese waltz became, in Ravel’s mind, an apotheosis giving “an impression of a fantastic and fatal sort of dervish’s dance.” The piece could not be a simple homage to the waltz, for the war had changed Vienna as surely as it had changed Ravel: both had been dragged forcibly from the 19th century into the 20th. The kind of society that had spawned the Viennese waltz was now, simply, irrelevant. The complacency of the past had been undermined by uncertainty about the future, and Ravel miraculously captured that feeling in every note of La Valse.

—Mark Rohr Questions or comments? markrohrprogramnotes@gmail.