Celebrating Philomusica’s 40th Anniversary Season

2008 Fall Concert

Christmas Through the Ages
A cappella performance of Renaissance to 20th century works
by Hans Leo Hassler, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Arvo Pärt
with selected carols
Saturday, December 6, 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 7, 4 p.m.

Performances at Our Lady of Peace Church, 277 Washington Place, North Brunswick, NJ 08902

Celebrating Philomusica’s 40th Anniversary Season
Philomusica Fall Concert

Christmas Through the Ages
December 6, 8pm • December 7, 4pm

      I     Gaudate (from Piae Cantiones, 1582)                   arr. Hawley Ades


     II     The Annunciation

                      Ne Timeas Maria                                 Tomás Luis de Victoria

                      Dixit Maria                                                    Hans Leo Hassler


    III     Magnificat                                                                            Arvo Pärt


   IV     Missa super Dixit Maria                                       Hans Leo Hassler




                      Sanctus & Benedictus

                      Agnus Dei




     V     Three Spanish Carols                                                       Anonymous

                      E la don don, Verges Maria

                      Dadme albricias, hijos d’Eva

                      Riu, Riu, Chiu
                         • Solos: John Chapman


   VI     Quem vidistis, Pastores                               Three Perspectives by:

                                                                                              Orlando di Lasso

                                                                                   Tomás Luis de Victoria

                                                                                               Francis Poulenc


  VII     Carols of Our Time

                      Lux Aurumque                                                   Eric Whitacre

                      The Kings and the Shepherds                      Daniel Pinkham


VIII     Alfred Burt Carols                                                            Alfred Burt

                      Nigh Bethlehem

                      Christ in the Stranger’s Guise

                      Come, Dear Children


Program Notes • December 2008

     Following the introductory piece, Gaudate, our concert begins with two pieces, which not only share an artistic time period and a particular compositional technique, but also have complimentary texts. Ne Timeas Maria by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611) is a setting of the Angel’s announcement to Mary that she is to be the Mother of God, and Dixit Maria by Hans Leo Hassler (1564–1612) is Mary’s reply to that news. Both pieces were written during the Renaissance and employ a compositional technique known as “point of imitation.” This can be heard most clearly at the opening of Dixit Maria. The tenors begin with the first theme which is then imitated four notes lower by the altos, then by the sopranos eight notes higher, and finally by the basses who sing exactly what the tenors sang. In this piece and in Ne Timeas Maria, each new section of text is set to a new point of imitation, with only two exceptions. In Victoria’s Ne Timeas Maria all the voices finally sing the same rhythm at the same time at the words “et vocabitur” (“and he shall be called”) in order to draw special attention to the final words “Altissimi filius” (“Son of the Most High”). The same type of thing occurs in Dixit Maria at the words “Ecce ancilla Domini” (“Behold the handmaid of the Lord”) in order to emphasize the beginning of Mary’s reply to the Angel.
     The Magnificat is Mary’s longer prayer of joy and thanksgiving for this singular honor, with the traditional Doxology (“Gloria Patri”) added to the end. The Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt (1935– ), composed his setting of the Magnificat in 1989 in Berlin, where he has lived since 1982. Although his early works consisted of mainly serial pieces, intense study of medieval music (both plainchant and early polyphony) led him to what he calls his “tintinnabulist” style—that is working with just a few elements, such as chant-like melodies, drones, the triad, one specific tonality. These are the elements he uses in his a cappella Magnificat. Instead of setting the words in a descriptive way, Pärt instead gives them a solemn, chant-like recitation. The only words which are repeated are the opening words, which replace the “Doxology” to close the composition. Structurally the piece alternates sections of two-part textures, in which a chant-like melody is supported by a drone on the pitch “C” above middle “C,” with sections of fuller textures of three or more parts. These sections are also built on simple chant-like melodies accompanied mostly by f minor triads in the other voices. The result is a somewhat hypnotic musical frame through which to view/hear the words—a frame at once both ancient and modern.
     The next piece is connected to the motet Dixit Maria by more than just the title. This Mass is an example of a “Parody Mass.” According to the Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music, a “Parody Mass” is an “important type of 15th and 16th century Mass composition, that incorporates material derived from various voice-parts or from entire sections of another polyphonic composition (motet, chanson, madrigal).” In this particular case, it is easy to hear that Hassler bases the beginning of each Mass movement (except the “Benedictus”) on the beginning of his motet. As each Mass movement progresses, Hassler uses both newly composed music and musical material from other parts of the motet. For example, the last “Kyrie” section is based on music originally set to the text “Ecce ancilla Domini” in the motet. The tempo of the music may vary from piece to piece, depending on the meaning of the words. To help the words come across clearly, much of the Mass is composed homophonically, which means that all of the voices move in the same rhythm.
     The Three Spanish Christmas Carols from the Renaissance, which open the second half of our concert, are part of a long tradition of dance songs (caroles) that go back to the Middle Ages. Riu, Riu and E la don are built around refrains that are sung after each verse of the text. All three pieces are melodious, with catchy rhythms and simple harmonies.
      These carols are followed by three perspectives on the Christmas text “Quem vidistis, Pastores” (“Whom did you see, shepherds?”). The first of these pieces is by Orlando di Lasso (1532–1594) and is written in five parts. It begins with a feeling of two beats per measure and employs points of imitation like the motets of Victoria and Hassler with which we began this concert. At the words “collaudantes Dominum,” di Lasso switches to triple meter and homophony so that we can more easily hear all the angels together praising God. The piece ends with a return to duple meter for an extended closing “Alleluia” section. The fairly fast tempo and major key impart a feeling of great joy to this piece. In his setting of this text, Victoria also uses points of imitation and begins in duple meter. However, Victoria uses six parts and frequently sets up echoes between the three men’s parts and the three women’s parts. He also chooses to begin in minor and in the lower part of the vocal ranges, which gives a darker, more ambiguous feeling to the words. Like di Lasso, Victoria also switches to triple meter for “collaudantes Dominum” and back to duple meter for the “Alleluia’s.” The French composer, Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) also starts his setting in minor and in duple meter, but then takes a different approach. Rather than using points of imitation and a lot of polyphony, Poulenc composed chant-like melodies and accompanied them with 20th century harmonies (mostly triads with numerous added notes). These two techniques allow the piece to sound and feel both ancient and modern.
      The Carols of our Time section begins with Lux Aurumque by the American composer Eric Whitacre (1970 – ). Like Poulenc, Whitacre also uses triads with added notes for harmony and combines this with many gradual dynamic changes. The ways these two techniques are used in this piece impart a surprising sensuousness to the Latin words. The Kings and the Shepherds by the American Daniel Pinkham (1923–2006) is set up with a structure of verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Pinkham too adds notes to almost every triad, which in this case gives an extra shimmer to the sound. Although the piece is written in C major, there are only two simple C major triads in the whole piece; one at the end of each chorus, which gives a feeling of ecstatic release.
      We close this concert with three carols written in the 20th century by Alfred Burt (1921–1954), a minister’s son and jazz trumpet player. Continuing a tradition started by his father, Rev. Bates Burt, Alfred wrote the music each year for a new Christmas carol to be sent as a Christmas card to family and friends. The words were written either by Rev. Burt or by an organist and family friend, Wihla Hutson. However, Christ in the Stranger’s Guise is Alfred’s adaptation of an Old English Rune of Hospitality.


Past Performances:

Celebrating Inspiration - Spring 2008
Awake, Awake - Fall 2007
Sounds of Devotion - Spring 2006
Echoes of Mystery and Joy - Fall 2006

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