Columbia University's Collegium Musicum presents its spring 2008 concert: Rejuvenations.
Music Director, Sean Parr
- Ave verum corpus - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Ave verum corpus - Daniel Shaw
- Moro, lasso - Carlo Gesualdo
- Moro, lasso - Carl Christian Bettendorf
- Miserere - Gregorio Allegri
- Gloria Makino, Juliette Forshaw, Kevin Findlan, Dave Macleod
- Miserere - Daniel Iglesia
- Kate Soper, Juliette Forshaw, Micki Kaufman, Dave Macleod
- Cantique de Jean Racine - Gabriel Fauré
- Yearning for the beloved - Wang Lu
- Mercè grido - Carlo Gesualdo
- Mercè grido redux - Kate Soper
- B minor Mass, Cum Sancto Spiritu - Johann Sebastian Bach
- Contra/ficta - Anthony Cheung
- Vesperae solennes de confessore, K 339 - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Beatus vir
- Laudate pueri
Last summer, while planning the repertoire for Collegium, I decided that it would be interesting to take some well-known choral works and juxtapose them with new works by Columbia composers. After speaking with composer Carl Bettendorf, I came up with the idea of having the new works based loosely on the earlier works.
I struggled with the labeling of these new pieces—“decompositions” seemed both too morbid and too close to ideas of postmodern deconstruction; “neo-versions” seemed too related to ideas of the neo-classical, an early twenthieth-century style associated with Stravinsky and Prokofiev, among others; and “fantasias” seemed also historically out of place. I arrived at the idea of “rejuvenation” as a more accurate and more colorful alternative. The idea of making something seem young or fresh again seemed appropriate on two levels. For one thing, the juxtaposition of old and new compositions encourages us to think about both works in new ways, blurring the lines between past and present. And in a second manner, one very much associated with ideas of historically-informed performances, it is my hope that any concert containing works from our past can somehow bring these works back to life. In these two ways, the concert tonight attempts to embolden music from the past and the present with a rejuvenated presence in performance.
Tonight’s program begins with the very famous Mozart motet, “Ave verum corpus.” Mozart’s beautiful musical treatment (in major mode) of a very graphic text is contrasted with a neo-tonal version by Daniel Shaw that emphasizes the sorrowful affect. The next two works also feature a somber text, one more explicitly depressing and pessimistic. Gesualdo’s “Moro, lasso” paints an extreme sonic portrait of this affect, with punctuated exclamations (“Ahi!”) that are pared down starkly in Carl Bettendorf’s pointilistic version. Allegri’s “Miserere” as traditionally performed today bears little resemblance to its original, falsobordone chant form. Embellishments accumulated over the centuries and Daniel Iglesia’s rewinding of the years back to a prima pratica musical treatment is perhaps most appropriate in light of this accumulation.
Fauré’s luminously lovely “Cantique de Jean Racine” launched his career when it won him a premiers prix in composition at the Ecole Niedermeyer. Wang Lu’s adventurous leap from Fauré’s work uses a four-note descending scalar line from the opening phrase of the piece and integrates that material with a Chinese folk song.
The musical scream of Gesualdo’s “Mercè grido.” is mellowed in Kate Soper’s version. Soper’s piece uses the plaintive ending phrase of Gesualdo’s madrigal along with an eerie echo effect achieved by a sextet that extends phrases that had been resolved by the choir.
Bach’s frenetically joyful “Cum Sancto Spiritu” concludes the Gloria section of his B minor Mass. The angular, difficult fugue subject begun by the tenors accumulates energy and timbral density as it builds to a tremendous ending. Anthony Cheung combines motives from the Mass and in the process “melts” Bach’s motives, chromatically altering the sonic picture in a manner that I find resonates with surrealist art, such as Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory (1931).
The second (and shorter) half of the concert features Mozart’s second and more famous setting of the Vespers. The collection of movements is interesting for its variety, but the movements do not seem very connected to the meaning of the texts. Wide intervallic leaps to high notes on unaccented syllables, the meditative (and famous), “Laudate Dominum,” a mysterious sounding “gloria patri” section, and the pathotype fugal treatment of “Laudate pueri” all imply that Mozart’s treatment of the text was more about experimenting with musical types rather than focusing on its meaning.
Such a disconnect between music and text can cause us to wonder. Perhaps we might focus less on reading the text and translations and more on how different musical types can affect us as a twenty-first-century audience. Hearing all these works tonight, I hope it will be possible for you to reflect on how we might refresh our ears and hear music from the past and the present in new and invigorating ways.
These two settings of “Ave verum corpus” are built from similar structures: most importantly, the general phrasing of the text and certain pivotal harmonic changes. My piece, differing from Mozart's, is in a minor key, tapping into a different harmonic convention—one more closely connecting this piece to a color palate often found in classical musical settings of the Requiem mass. These two pieces share similar chordal textures, and also similar voice leading tendencies within the choral parts. My work takes on a slightly different harmonic and melodic logic, one that might seem neo Romantic.
Carl Christian Bettendorf:
This “decomposition” of a madrigal by the great Renaissance composer, Carlo Gesualdo was originally commissioned by the A•Devantgarde Festival in Munich for the vocal ensemble Singer Pur. The premiere was given at a concert entitled “Parodia Moderna,” for which five composers had written new works based on medieval and Renaissance pieces from the ensemble’s repertoire that were performed along with the new compositions.
Alongside Allegri’s Miserere, I ventured to place a contrasting example of its stylistic predecessor, the strict polyphonic forms of prima practica, typified by Palestrina (with whom Allegri studied). The distinction between the two styles seems especially evocative, between the complex contrapuntal rules of the older, and the sensuousness and transparency of the newer. Church figures were torn between the tradition and erudition of the former, and the increased intelligibility of both form and lyrical content offered by the latter; such decisions for art institutions remain evident to this day, perhaps perpetually so.
I take the minor third and the descending four notes of Fauré’s opening phrase as my main material, then translate the material to a Chinese folk-like harmonic language. There are also two sections of one-bar direct quotes of from Fauré’s work, but I change the linear line into vertical harmony, thereby making it sound very different because of the chromaticism. The Chinese folk song material is about peasant women yearning for their missing men, who left home to work and have not given news for a long while.
When Sean sent out the call for reaction pieces to works on tonight’s program, I was already toying with the idea of “doing something” with Carlo Gesualdo’s “Mercè grido.” Characteristically for the composer, this madrigal is filled with improbable sounds and simultaneities that sound improbably wonderful, and is a weird delight both to sing and to listen to. Rather than trying to out-Gesualdo Gesualdo, I decided to take what I find to be the sweetest moment in the piece—an unexpectedly poignant downward progression on the words “pria ch’io mora” (“therefore I die”) and to draw it out from ten seconds to two minutes. Gesualdo ends this phrase with a disorienting move from an A major to an A-sharp major chord, an idea I replicate in a brief coda: “Io moro” (“I die”). Many thanks to Sean and Collegium!
I first became acquainted with Bach's Mass in B Minor in high school, where I was fortunate to study it with Dr. Bruce Lamott, an expert on the work. Over the years, my admiration and love for the music has grown with each new encounter. In college, I found myself in Christoph Wolff's graduate seminar on the piece, which culminated with a trip to Germany to examine the original score and parts in Dresden and Berlin. That experience, along with hearing a concert of Bach's music at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, remains one of my most treasured memories.
One of the things that fascinates me about the B Minor Mass is its anthology/compendium-like quality; Bach's "musical resume," as Dr. Lamott put it. Bach's habit of self-parody is in full force in many of the sections. The first source I quote has two alternate texts in the Mass, first appearing as the "Gratias agimus tibi" (Gloria) and later reappearing at the very end as the "Dona nobis pacem" (Agnus Dei). Bach had already used this music earlier in Cantata 29 ("Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir"). My own parody of the parodies combines all three contrafact texts and leads them in an unexpected direction. In the second section of the piece, the "Cum Sancto Spiritu" from the Mass is likewise combined with its contrafact version, "et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum" from Cantata 191. In Bach's parody movements, he often makes slight scalar/harmonic adjustments, in some cases corresponding to what in older practices would be considered "ficta" notes. I extend this analogy by taking the opening sequence of "Cum sancto spiritu" as the basis for all kinds of "ficta-tious" twists and turns, leading to new and distant key areas, without departing from the overall style of the original. At the end, a new quote from Bach's "Musical Offering" turns up.
Nina Monfredo (& viola)
Madeleine Rubenstein (& viola)