Category Archives: Baroque music

The Nobility of Women

The Nobility of Women
2011; Baroque fl, ob, vn, viola da gamba, Baroque vc, harpsichord; 20′
Commissioned and premiered by Mélomanie

nobiltaThis 20-minute work takes its name from the 1600 dance instruction manual Nobiltà di Dame by Fabritio Caroso. The name of the book alone captivated me. I used none of the music from Nobiltà di Dame, but rather imagined a piece that would grow out of a work with that title. I also wanted to write legitimate dance music, that is, music that people could really dance to if they liked. Mélomanie is skilled in Baroque and new music, and I’ve enjoyed writing for historical instruments in the past. The sound-world is entrancing, so I’ve tried to compose a work that would release the beauties of these fabulous instruments, including some short and not-so-short solos throughout.

Here’s a post on the first rehearsal, and here are reviews of the premiere in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Chestnut Hill Local. Below are excerpts from the premiere.

Overture 
Allemande 
Branle 
Musette 
Canario 
Sarabande 
Branle Reprise 
Ciaconna 

Pieces of Vespers in Chicago

vespersHad a great time in Chicago—actually, Evanston and River Forest—with the Aestas Consort, who sang two pieces from Vespers, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern and Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn last Friday and Saturday nights.

“Herr Christ” is the a cappella hymn that begins in four parts, then goes to eight, then 16. It was the first thing I wrote when I sat down to compose Vespers, and when I sent it to Donald Nally, director of The Crossing, he wrote back that he liked it very much, but, um, the whole hour of Vespers isn’t going to be, you know, in 16 parts? It wouldn’t be, I assured him, but for some reason I felt the need to get that out of my system. Aestas Consort’s performance of “Herr Christ”:

For the Aestas performances I made a new arrangement of “Wie schön” for strings and harpsichord. I wrote a little about what that was like here. That makes two new arrangements of that since the original Renaissance-instrument version (the other’s for two trumpets, cello, and organ). Here’s the Aestas Consort performing “Wie schön”:

Friday’s concert was at the lovely St. Mark’s Episcopal in Evanston, a warm and inviting sanctuary, and Saturday’s was at Grace Lutheran in River Forest, by the campus of Concordia University Chicago. The sound in the expansive, three-balconied nave was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. It was live but true, and the sweet spot—where you can hear the direct sound from the front before side and back echoes start interfering—was huge.

The second performance at Grace brought new revelations to all the music. “Herr Christ” was magical and “Wie Schön” clicked brilliantly. The Bach Cantata 4, “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” roared in spots, the performance taking off in exciting directions.

The Buxtehude Membra Jesu nostri is a thrillingly spiritual, wildly delicious work, the combination of Scripture and bold, metaphysical commentary taking it into the realms of ecstasy. Maurice Boyer, director of Aestas, never let the pace lag (and it’s a long work, in seven parts). Musically, it comes across as a “concerto for orchestra” or in this case, choir, with solos, duets, and trios constantly shifting within the ensemble. Violinist Martin Davids led the Baroque instruments with finesse and a gorgeous sound.

Bach famously walked 250 miles to Lübeck to meet Buxtehude. I took an airplane (and with the kindness of Steven Hyder and Maurice driving me through snow), but made sure to visit a giant of Lutheran hymnody, who lives nearby, Carl Schalk. Utterly unpretentious and always cracking jokes, he regaled me in his living room with challenging thoughts on Lutheran church music, on the deep purpose of music in the service, and with behind-the-scenes stories of his important (although he’d never put it that way) career—composing, editing, writing, speaking, and decades of teaching at CUC.

As I was riding away from his house and came to the first cross-street, I looked out the passenger side, noticing an extra blue placard below the street sign. It read, “Dr. Carl F. Schalk Drive.” Man, I thought, but these Lutherans sure are serious about their musicians out here. How fortunate I was to sit and talk with this man.

And how fortunate to be with Aestas, this new, committed band of singers. Thanks for the new friends, for the reaquaintance with old friends, for the food, for the rides, for the trip, and for the big and little kindnesses shown.

Elena Smith and Her Graduation Recital

NelliePostElena Smith, finishing 12th grade and entering Temple University in the fall as a student of Jeffrey Solow, gave a recital May 31st to celebrate her graduation. She is home-schooled, so this served in lieu of a cap-and-gown graduation ceremony. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Abington filled up with friends on this Friday evening to hear her not only on cello, but also on viola da gamba in the Abel.

Our good friend and colleague Kenneth Borrmann accompanied at the piano; we’re so fortunate to be surrounded by lovely musicians who are lovely people as well. Thanks also to Charles Tolton for recording this (the entire recital is below), to Pastor Tavella for his heartfelt invocation, to the Donnellys and everyone for the reception, and to our church for opening its doors. All these people are blessings to us.

Nellie honored me by playing my Spirituals for cello, and so beautifully. My thoughts about our middle daughter, and about her music-making, are included in my, well, baccalaureate sermon I suppose it was, at the end. To say that Jackie and I are proud of her is woefully to understate the case, as it is true of her two sisters.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Suite II in D minor, BWV 1008

Prelude
Gigue

Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787). Allegro in D minor, WKO 208, from 27 Pieces for Bass Viol  

Robert Schumann (1810-1856). Fantasiestücke, Op. 73

1. Zart und mit Ausdruck
2. Lebhaft, leicht
3. Rasch und mit Feuer

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1942). Elégie, Op. 24 

Kile Smith (b. 1956). American Spirituals, Book Two, for Cello and Piano

1. Jesus, Master, O Discover
2. When the Stars Begin to Fall
3. Little David, Play on Your Harp

(Encore) Schumann. Träumerei 

Nellie’s Dad’s speech 

Thank you, Mélomanie, for Nobility of Women encore

Had a blast at Mélomanie’s season opener last night: Telemann, Boismoitier, a Chris Braddock world premiere, and selections from recent commissions, including The Nobility of Women, which they had premiered in January.

I always enjoy hearing the music of Ingrid Arauco, Mark Hagerty, and Chuck Holdeman. I love hearing Priscilla play… anything, or anything of mine, or that Boismoitier, which was a delight. The audience loved everything.

Nobility was represented by the Sarabande (Priscilla’s solo, with cello and harpsichord) and the closing Canario (which also closed the concert), with the whole band. Immanuel Church Highlands in Wilmington is a jewel of a venue for concerts: live, but not too, and beautiful. Mélomanie sounded terrific.

Truth be told, you do take a chance with so many live composers on one concert. Many came up after, in the sanctuary or at the Columbus Inn reception, to tell me how much they were transported by Nobility. Especially did I appreciate the comments of one woman, who was moved by my ingenious picturing of the river. She could really feel the movement of the water, and all I could do was thank her. She was so dear and inspiring with her compliments that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t Mark Hagerty.

(He deserved those compliments for Trois Rivières, so I happily passed them along to him!)

The Nobility of Women, Mélomanie season opener

Mélomanie’s 2012-13 season begins tomorrow night at Immanuel Church, Highlands in Wilmington with a potpourri of excerpted recent commissions. The Nobility of Women will be on the program, along with music by Ingrid Arauco, Mark Hagerty, Chuck Holdeman, and the premiere of The Grease in the Groove by Chris Braddock. Boismortier and Telemann are on tap, and Priscilla’s playing, too!

I cannot be objective about the Braddock piece, because it has a 12-string guitar, and I automatically love anything with a 12-string guitar.

Mélomanie always puts on a great show, and it’ll be great seeing them all again.

Response to St. John Passion in Broad Street Review

Thomas Lloyd agrees and disagrees a bit with me in the Letters section of the Broad Street Review. We corresponded quite a bit on this, after my article (itself a response) on Bach, the St. John Passion, and the charge of anti-Semitism. Our emails drifted into the area of historical criticism of the authorship of John’s Gospel, but Dan Rottenberg’s editing spared BSR readers from our wisdom on that topic, for now.

Lloyd directs the Bucks County Choral Society, and choral and vocal studies at Haverford College. Bach is in good hands with Tom’s championing of his music, as I also have been!