This afternoon, as part of our 25th season of celebrations, Coro Allegro marks three milestones in our quarter century of musical history. First, we honor the legacy of legendary Boston LGBT composer Daniel Pinkham with The White Raven, his soaring tribute to the exceptional, a work originally commissioned for Coro Allegro’s fifth anniversary season.
Second, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Daniel Pinkham Award (established in 2008) to be given annually in memory of Daniel Pinkham, and in recognition of outstanding contributors to classical choral music and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. This year’s recipient is Catherine Peterson, in recognition of her innovative programming and creative advocacy in support of Boston arts and America’s choruses.
Coro Allegro celebrates its 25th anniversary season with a series of new commissions to honor the extraordinary musicians and volunteers who have played such important parts in our success. Today we present the world premiere of Caprice for Piano and Orchestra by Fred Onovwerosuoke, commissioned by Coro Allegro in honor of and in gratitude for our extraordinary accompanist Darryl Hollister.
Lastly, we close with (Franz) Joseph Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis (Mass for troubled times; “Nelsonmesse”), pairing its forces and vocal fireworks once more with those of The White Raven as Daniel Pinkham originally intended.
The White Raven
Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006)
Jubilate Agno, the poem from which Daniel Pinkham selected the majority of the text for The White Raven, was written by English poet, scholar and philosopher Christopher Smart (1722-1771) while he was confined to a series of mental asylums between 1756 and 1763.
Smart’s renowned scholarship notwithstanding, socially, he was a strong-drinking prodigal dandy, good humored cross-dresser and habitual debtor. It was around his 29th year that mounting pressures from his debts coupled with his growing religious mania led to the compromise of his mental health. Smart became known for flights of pontifical ranting and for stopping strangers and acquaintances alike in public assembly, urging them to kneel and pray for him. These outbursts increased in frequency and intensity, ultimately resulting in Smart’s institutionalization to St. Luke's Hospital in 1756, at the age of 34. He was moved from one asylum to the next for the following seven years. It was over the course of these seven years that Smart penned Jubilate Agno.
Dismissed outright from consideration as a deliberate work of poetry, Jubilate Agno appeared to be the desperate contemplations of a man condemned to madness and solitude. With only three exceptions, each page of his manuscript was comprised either entirely of verses beginning with “Let” or verses beginning with “For.” The style and content of the piece served only to baffle and sadden Smart’s contemporaries and critics. The work went unpublished for 180 years.
In 1939, the 32 surviving pages of the manuscript were printed and released to the public exactly as Smart had offered them in 1763. The disturbing composition of the poem, along with its apparently random sequence of declarations and observations corroborated the lingering opinion that Smart was not in his right mind during its authorship. It was not until 1954 that Harvard's Houghton Library Curator of Manuscripts, William H. Bond, republished Jubilate Agno, casting a new light on the work.
Bond found that “each of the ‘Let’ verses had a matching ‘For’ verse, and that the whole was conceived responsorially, as with Hebrew poetry. By carefully piecing the sheets together and following the dates and catchwords on them, he was able to reconstruct the still incomplete poem as it was meant to be read.” The poem was suddenly transformed in the public eye from the addled musings of a madman to the significant ecstatic revelations of a tortured visionary.
In The White Raven, Pinkham carefully chooses passages from Jubilate Agno that highlight Smart’s heartfelt experience of God and nature. Immediately in the first movement, we hear Smart identify himself as a beautiful conundrum. He has seen “the White Raven,” and finds himself “a greater curiosity.” Contextually, this verse follows Smart’s declaration that, “For I have adventured myself in the name of the Lord, and he hath mark’d me for his own.” Smart sees his plight as a divine trial and finds himself mysteriously sustained by the knowledge that his infinitely unique life is God’s plan.
With “Water,” Smart uses the physical properties of moisture and precipitation both to celebrate perfect celestial design as well as to paint a picture of the spiritual life of man. Smart offers that water and, by metaphor, the human spirit, are both gifts from the heavens; ever purified by the Earth; ever working to ascend and reunite with the source from which they came.
Pinkham’s third movement of The White Raven, “Air,” opens with what is perhaps his sweetest lament, “For the Air is contaminated by curses and evil language.” Not content to remain mired in the unfortunate, Smart and Pinkham suggest anodyne in the form of open prayer. The two creative forces behind The White Raven, separated by 230 years, assert that prayer, when spoken aloud and with full commitment, can heal the physical body, the soul and the world at once.
In “Fishes,” Smart bestows joy to a wide array of biblical characters, coupling them with creatures of the sea. Not to be lost is the significance of the ancient identification of fish as Christian souls. More significant, perhaps, is Smart’s feeling that his confinement was his own Christian trial. Pinkham resolves the movement by repeating Smart’s final sentiment on the matter: “it is good to be at peace. ”One cannot help but hear in Pinkham’s setting the comfort Smart offers himself in his solitude.
The text for “Hosannah!,” the fifth and final movement of The White Raven, comes not from Jubilate Agno, but from Smart’s poetic translation of Psalm 150. Smart and Pinkham resolve the curious White Raven with pomp and revelry, calling on musical instruments and voices to send praise to the Creator. In this, Smart and Pinkham saw eye to eye: “For all whispers and unmusical sounds in general are of the Adversary.”
Caprice for Piano & Orchestra
Fred Onovwerosuoke (b.1960)
Movement 1 – Incolatus
Worlds in variance
Echoes of tomorrow
Movement 1, Incolatus, is a paraphrase on its sibling poem. It's a snapshot of one life's journey bedecked by reveries, mirages and intrigues. Of triumphs, echoes thereof often hazed by another drowsy night. The movement closes reassuringly, as would the proverbial Ghanaian sage: "the preening bird hops from branch to branch (measurer 73 to mid measure 74), announcing the breaking of yet another day"
Movement 2 – Evigilans
Where only a few tread
Tickling, tingling childhood
- memories of innocence -
Of storms turned waves
Thrusting forward, forward,
Movement 2, Evigilans, opens suddenly with rousing "Sikuti" dances, inspired by celebratory traditions of the Massai and Samburu warriors of Eastern Africa. The middle section draws from a variety of imageries of African responsorial traditions. Then recapping through a reminisce of childhood memories - of innocence, toys, playtime, etc. (Section F), - the work closes with an annotated reprise, a befitting accolade to a beloved friend and a bold quest charting new musical frontiers!
Missa in Angustiis or “Lord Nelson” Mass
(Franz) Joseph Haydn (1732 –1809)
Haydn wrote a total of 12 masses: six early masses, written between 1749 and 1782, and six late masses, written from 1796 to 1802. The early masses are pleasant, not too complicated, employ small orchestrations, and last roughly 20 minutes. The late masses are conceived on a much grander scale, with a larger orchestra and more mature writing. The 14-year hiatus between Haydn’s early and late masses owed to decrees from church officials in the 1780s that forbade elaborate orchestral music in favor of a more solemn service.
Two events occurred in the interim years that directly affected Haydn’s style of composition. The first was the death of Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy in 1790. His successor Prince Anton did not share his father’s passion for music. Haydn was retained as Kapellmeister with the same pay, but with far less responsibility. This freed Haydn from his isolated residency at Esterházy, allowing him to move on to the much more culturally stimulating Vienna. Second, Haydn made two visits to London in the early 1790’s. During the first visit, he attended the great Handel Commemoration of 1791, where he heard such oratorios as Messiah and Israel in Egypt. The experience would have a profound influence on his later choral works, namely the six late masses, and his oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons.
Under Prince Anton’s successor Prince Nikolaus II, who partially restored the music programs at Esterházy, Haydn’s main duty as Kapellmeister was to compose a new mass every summer to celebrate the name day of Princess Marie Hermenegild. During July and August of 1798, Haydn penned his Missa in Angustiis, more commonly known as the “Lord Nelson” Mass.
Missa in Angustiis, (Mass for troubled times) was composed two years after the Missa in tempore belli (Mass in Time of War). Europe at the time was in turmoil. Austria was fighting the French on two fronts, in the west and from the south in Italy, where a menacing new military and political leader, Napoleon, had beaten the Austrian armies four times running and threatened Vienna itself.
The origins of the nickname “Lord Nelson” Mass or “Nelsonmesse” may lie in the coincidence that Haydn was writing it in the months that Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson was winning a decisive victory over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile. In fact Haydn and his audience may have first heard the good news of that victory on the very date of the work’s premiere. Two years later, Lord Nelson himself visited Eisenstadt Castle and he may have heard the “Lord Nelson” Mass performed. Whether or not that was actually the case, the association of Nelson and the Missa in Angustiis would stick.
Due to the ominous political and financial climate of 1789, Nikolaus II had dismissed the Feldharmonie, or wind band, favored by his father, leaving Haydn with added challenge of writing for a “dark” orchestra composed only of strings, trumpets, timpani, and organ. The military overtones and note of anxiety can be heard from the trumpet calls, kettle drums and choral entrances of the opening minor Kyrie, which punctuate the yearning virtuostic solo lines of Christe.
The Gloria opens in D major, whose exuberance is destabilized by hints of other keys. The resulting contrasts and fluctuation lends striking expressive tension to Haydn’s text setting. In the Credo, Haydn employs the unusual technique of a canon between the soprano/tenor and the alto/bass lines. This technical masterwork is followed by an “Et incarnates”of moving humanity and a glorious “Et resurrexit “in which Haydn manages to do extraordinarily vivid things with the dry word “Et” (and) as an insistent reminder of the life ever after. The sublime tensions of the Sanctus give way to dancing exaltations. The Benedictus is particularly noteworthy for the martial effect of the writing, reinforced again by the addition of trumpets and timpani, an unexpected setting of the text “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Haydn’s Agnus Dei ends with a resounding and joyous fugue on the text “Dona nobis pacem,” (grant us peace), offering a promise of hope that nevertheless persisted even in troubled times.
Program notes © -- Mehran Khaghani (Pinkham), Fredo Onoverosuoke (Caprice) and David Hodgkins and Yoshi Campbell (Haydn). These notes are published here for patrons of Coro Allegro and other interested readers. It is permissible to use short excerpts for reviews. For permission to copy, publish or make other use of these notes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and make a donation to Coro Allegro.