Program Notes

Fanfares by Daniel Pinkham

Fanfares is an exuberant work in four movements which may be performed individually, or as a set. Written in 1975, the work was commissioned by Isabel Sondheim for the 100th anniversary of the Reading Choral Society (of Pennsylvania). The work is scored for chorus, tenor solo, brass, percussion and organ. The first movement, "Prophecy," boldly heralds the birth of God incarnate, and ends with a beautiful a cappella chorale-like section imagining a world without anger or fear; where all of its inhabitants coexist in peace. "Proclamation" begins with a stately exhortation for Jerusalem to “arise, your light has come.” A joyous dance of celebration then bursts forth, inspiring the people to spread the word of salvation.

The third movement has only one word of text: "Alleluia." Yet it is the most complex section of the whole work. Minimalist in conception, Pinkham begins by layering two separate ostinati. On the bottom in the timpani is a perpetual motion motive based on open fourths, which is seven and a half measures in length. Above that, the organ has tightly packed sustained chords which run their rhythmic and harmonic sequence in five and a half measures. Throughout the movement, the organ pedal sustains middle C. All this combines to create a static state of unrest.

When the chorus first enters, it plainly states the text on unison C. With each subsequent entrance, the chorus increases in volume until the women's voices break off into their own dialogue. Here the patterns begin to evolve as Pinkham fragments the word and adds chromatic inflections. As the tension builds, the tenors and basses and brass refocus the music to a unison C. Then it's the tenors/basses’ turn to have a short dialogue, followed by brass commentary, after which the sopranos and altos, with more chromaticism and motivic fragmentation, push the limits of the text and the feeling of C. Soon, the tension from all of this instability can no longer be contained and the chorus, doubled by the brass, explodes into a brief straightforward alleluia, only to be immediately drawn down into the organ ostinato. The piece ends as the echoes from all this activity dissipates and finally disappear. The fourth and final movement is a jubilant setting of Psalm 150, which captures the spirit of the text, and provides a wonderful summation of the work as a whole.

– David Hodgkins

Mass in G Minor, Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph Vaughan Williams, along with lifelong friend Gustav Holst, and later, Benjamin Britten, played a crucial role in the revitalization of British music. As a young composer, however, Vaughan Williams actually met with little success. Indeed, his first teachers tried to dissuade him from becoming a composer, instead encouraging him to pursue a career as a violist. It wasn’t until after he traveled abroad to study with Bruch in Berlin and Ravel in Paris that he realized that his compositional inspiration would not be derived from the imitation of foreign ideals. Instead, he looked to England’s own musical legacy: folk songs of the British Isles, music of the Elizabethan period, and music of the English Renaissance, particularly Byrd and Tallis.

Vaughan Williams deeply believed that music must be of the highest caliber, yet be accessible to people in all walks of life, a sentiment strongly echoed by Poulenc in France and Kodály in Hungary. As a result, his music encompasses a wide spectrum of difficulty, from the simplest of folk song arrangements to complex concert works. During the First World War, Vaughan Williams enlisted as a wagon orderly in the medical corps, a job that must have been particularly gruesome. Though a self-proclaimed atheist, he wrote during this time a string of profound sacred works, including the Mass in G Minor. The work is an a cappella setting of the ordinary of the Mass for double chorus and solo quartet. The work, written in response to a revival of the music of William Byrd at Westminster Cathedral, helped to re establish the a cappella choral tradition in England. The Mass in G Minor is dedicated to Gustav Holst and his Whitsuntide Singers.

– David Hodgkins

Paradise: A Motet for 12 Voices, by Shawn Crouch

Paradise is based on the poems of poet Brian Turner, an Iraq War veteran, whose moving accounts of the war are set alongside the poetry of the 12th Century Persian poet Hāfez as translated and selected by poet Sholeh Wolpé. Having myself had a brother who served two tours of duty in Iraq in the Marine Corps, I was drawn to the visceral images Turner paints with his text. In the music I want to emphasize the lyrical qualities and changing colors of the poems that emerge as arching musical lines that often seem to layer upon themselves. The composition brings the listener from descriptions of the desert landscape, through Turner’s view of what it means to take a life, and finally to a place of acceptance. In between many of the movements lie choral settings of Hāfez’s poems. They are a calling to the modern poet, like ancient spirits speaking through the battered landscape.

– Shawn Crouch

Christmas Cantata (Sinfonia Sacra), Daniel Pinkham

At first glance, Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata (Sinfonia Sacra) (1957)—with its jubilant echoes of the great polychoral works of Giovanni Gabrielli and Heinrich Schütz—would seem to have little to do with the war themes that shaped the piece that precedes it on today’s program, Shawn Crouch’s Paradise. But a story by Pinkham’s partner Andrew Holman reveals otherwise:  
"Dan was one of the least sentimental people I have known. But a key turning point in his life came from an unexpected source. Back in 1939, the Trapp Family (just out of Nazi Germany and Austria) gave a concert in Andover. They played unfamiliar instruments: viola da gamba, virginal, a quartet of recorders, and sang with the timbre of children’s voices, producing a spare, clean sound that spoke to young Dan. This epiphany caused him to read everything he could find on 17th- and 18th-century music. He continued this research at Harvard, producing a thesis on performance practice in music of the French baroque. Sharing his knowledge with students, he helped Boston and the New England Conservatory become the center of early music in the United States."
The Christmas Cantata, composed for the New England Conservatory Chorus and Lorna C. DeVaron, is Pinkham’s most widely performed work. It is scored for chorus, and a double instrumental “choir” consisting in today’s performance of a brass choir and organ. The first movement opens like the Britten, with a unison question: “What did you see, Shepherds.” The answer is given in a section dancing with excitement and shifting meter driven by the sharp rhythms of word stress, and sparkling with instrumental and choral flourishes. The second movement evokes the great mystery, as pairs of voices sing long, chromatic, chant-like lines against a haunting phrase passed back and forth between the colors of trumpet and organ. The final movement, which mingles more fanfare with Renaissance dance rhythms, is in rondo form. The opening text of the “Gloria” of the Mass is interspersed with passages from Psalm 100 in a growing crescendo of jubilation.

– Yoshi Campbell