Program Notes

Composer Craig Carnahan on Armistice 1918 [Everyone Sang]: “Siegfried Sassoon’s poem “Everyone Sang” was written in April of 1919, shortly after the end of World War I. Sassoon was an officer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and even though he didn’t serve on the front lines, it is safe to assume that his experiences during the war had a profound impact on his life and work. Much has been written about this poem, and there are conflicting interpreta- tions of Sassoon’s intent. Some argue that his reference to “singing” literally represents the troops’ celebration upon receiving news that an armistice had been reached. Others, drawing from Sassoon’s own account, see his use of “singing” as a metaphor for the social revolution he hoped was imminent. I was drawn to the contrasting moods found in the poetry—at times ecstatic and exuberant, and at other times subdued and reflective. There is joy that the war has ended, but sadness at the tremendous loss. Throughout, two images predominate: the communal power of voices united in song and the unbridled joy of freedom embodied by birds in flight. This, then, is a celebration of the resiliency of the human spirit, building to the powerful closing “...and the song was wordless, the singing will never be done.”

Sivan Eldar, The Song About the Child, 2015
Sivan Eldar (b. 1985) is an Israeli-born American composer, whose many awards include the 2021 Fedora Opera Prize for Like flesh, “a dark contemporary myth informed by queer politics and environmental sciences.” The Song About the Child is a movement from her larger work “Mother Tongue/The Song About the Child,” commissioned by the Terezin Music Foundation (TMF) as part of their 2015 LiberArte Project, honoring the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camps and the end of WWII. TMF Executive Director Mark Ludwig commissioned 82 poems about freedom from 63 of the world's most renowned poets, and commissioned significant emerging composers to set these works to music. Eldar set two TMF- commissioned poems, which in her words “tell the story of birth, of loss, and of finding hope,” by Agi Mishol, a Jewish Israeli poet whose parents survived the Holocaust, and Salman Masalha, an Arab-Israeli poet (born in the Arab town of Al-Maghar and living in Jerusalem).

“In my settings I first of all wanted to be true to each text. "The Song About the Child" has beautiful rhymes and double rhymes in Hebrew. It is an anthem of sorts, but also a tragic lullaby. When I created the relationship between the soloist (singing in Hebrew) and the choir (singing in English) I wanted to highlight these two qualities.” — Sivan Eldar

Viktor Ullmann, “Eliahu HaNavi” and “Anu Olim,” arranged in 1943

"By no means did we sit weeping on the banks of the waters of Babylon. Our will to create was commensurate with our will to live." — Viktor Ullmann, Terezín composer

Eliahu HaNavi and Anu Olim were arranged by Viktor Ullmann in Terezín in 1943-44. Ullmann was a renowned pianist and composer who studied with Schönberg in Vienna and Zemlinsky in Prague, and worked as a conductor in Zurich. He fled Germany in 1933 and returned to Prague, where he worked as a music teacher and critic and studied at the Prague Conservatory. On September 8, 1942, he was deported to Terezín. At that time his list of works had reached 41 opus numbers, including three piano sonatas, as well as song cycles, operas, and his piano concerto Op. 25, completed in 1939, nine months after the Nazis entered Prague. In Terezín, Ullmann was a major force as a composer, pianist, and mentor. He also organized a chamber music series, The Studio for Neue Musik, showcasing music of 20th-century masters such as Schönberg, Zemlinsky, and Haba, alongside works of his imprisoned colleagues. The two works by Ullmann that Coro Allegro sings today come from a set of 10 Hebrew and Yiddish prayers and folksongs that he arranged for the community choruses of Terezín, written before he was deported to Auschwitz on October 16, 1944. Eliahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) is a prayer sung towards the end of Sabbath morning service, calling on Elijah to return with the Messiah, the son of David, and bring salvation to the people. Ullmann’s setting of Anu Olim (We are going up to the Land) with its yearning melodies, rhythmic textures, and accelerating tempos, builds up in waves of shared urgency, energy, and hope.

– Program notes for Eldar and Ullmann works compiled by Yoshi Campbell with gratitude to Terezin Music Foundation Executive Director Mark Ludwig, from the TMF archives.

Among many early 20th-century composers who incorporated spirituals into their compositions was the Canadian-born composer Robert Nathaniel Dett. In 1918, he wrote: “We have this wonderful store of folk music—the melodies of an enslaved people... But this store will be of no value unless we utilize it, unless we treat it in such manner that it can be presented in choral form, in lyric and operatic works, in concertos and suites and salon music—unless our musical architects take the rough timber of Negro themes and fashion from it music which will prove that we, too, have national feelings and characteristics, as have the European peoples whose forms we have zealously followed for so long.” Dett composed The Chariot Jubilee while in residence at Harvard; the premiere performance was in Boston in 1921. He originally wrote it for tenor, chorus, and organ. Hale Smith’s orchestration was commissioned on behalf of the Atlanta Symphony by Benjamin Roe, who served for a number of years as a board member of the Landmarks Orchestra. The opening bars of The Chariot Jubilee pay tribute to the chords heard at the begin- ning of the Largo of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. Dvořák had famously urged Americans to use the spirituals as a resource to create an authentic American musical style. The work is a felicitous hybrid of arranged spiritual and European-style anthem. The biblically inspired text is Dett’s own.

– R. Nathaniel Dett notes courtesy of Christopher Wilkins, Music Director of Boston Landmarks Orchestra

“Everything I managed to entertain in the way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.” – Gabriel Fauré on his Requiem, Opus 48, 1888-1890

Composer Gabriel Fauré saw his Requiem as his ultimate work of faith, albeit as a “very human” one. Fauré made very conscious choices about the instrumental forces with which he originally chose to set what he called his “petit requiem.”

Similar to the opening of the Brahms Requiem, Fauré employs the warm, dark color of the lower strings, and divided violas, cellos and basses, to accompany the central narrative of the choir’s chant-based melodies and continuum of the organ. Horns and timpani add dramatic notes, while sections for solo violin and harp lighten the texture, creating the ethereal, otherworldly sound that makes this Requiem so memorable. Also like Brahms, Fauré chose to emphasize the peace of death rather than its terrors by changing the format of the Mass for the Dead: Fauré cut the Dies Irae sequence, with its fire and brimstone, keeping only the last beautiful statement of hope, Pie Jesu. The fear of death is still present, but in the more personal form of the Libera Me, a setting for baritone solo and chorus of a motet text. Fauré added a text from the ancient burial service, In Paradisum, to bring his Requiem to rest. Fauré’s text setting stands out for the ways he navigates between the fear of death and the joy of consolation through subtle shifts of harmony and color on a deceptively small scale. Even the dynamic contrasts are more nuanced and flexible than dramatic; there are only about 30 measures of fortissimo in the entire piece. All of his precise and delicately crafted contrasts serve to draw the listener’s attention to the text in all its meanings. But beyond simple text setting, Fauré’s constantly shifting landscape of minor and major, intensity and intimacy, and tension and release somehow offers us a window onto something that rises above mere fear or happiness, a transcendent vision of peace.

Alleluia (1940) is probably the best known and most beloved piece by American composer and educator Randall Thompson (1899-1984). Thompson was commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky to write an anthem to be performed by the entire student body of the Berkshire Music Center for its opening exercises in 1940. Deeply affected by events in Europe, particularly the fall of France, Thompson decided against a triumphant and celebratory choral fanfare, submitting instead a quiet, lento meditation on a single word, “Alleluia,” followed by a simple “Amen.” As he would later explain, he took inspiration from the book of Job 1:21, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In Alleluia, the shape of the word and the stress of its syllables dictate the contours and rhythms of the musical phrase. Yet the meaning of the “text” belies any translation. With one word, Thompson setting takes us on a journey of emotions through reverence, introspection, uncertainty, anxiety, and exuberant hope, before ending in a quiet invocation of peace.

– Fauré and Thompson notes by Yoshi Campbell, Executive Director