We prepared this program through final dress rehearsal, only to learn that the pandemic lockdown would cancel the performance.
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
In the last fifteen years of his life, Anton Bruckner composed his final three symphonies, numbers 7 through 9, and his final large-scale sacred choral works, the Te Deum and Psalm 150. Symphony No. 7 brought Bruckner his first real success, and it remains one of his most popular and most performed works. Bruckner was still working on Symphony No. 9 when he died, and it was left unfinished.
Bruckner came from a humble, rural area in northern Austria, and he remained loyal to that background and to the Roman Catholic faith in which he was raised. But he had extensive contact with Austrian culture, especially music, and became an accomplished organist, composer, and teacher. As he studied and trained, Bruckner changed teachers several times, and moved to larger, more cultural towns, until he arrived in Vienna, where he spent his last 28 years.
Bruckner began work on the Te Deum in 1881, while writing his sixth and seventh symphonies, which in fact contain quotations from the Te Deum. After interrupting work on the Te Deum to finish the two symphonies, he returned to the Te Deum in 1883, finishing it in 1884.
The Te Deum is a song of praise to God, also sometimes known as a hymn of thanksgiving. It has been set to music many times through the centuries by composers including Palestrina, Purcell, Handel, Berlioz, Dvořák, Verdi, and Bruckner, and on into the 20th century, Britten, Kodály, and Vaughan Williams.
Though the text was the same, the structure and musical style were naturally very different for such a wide range of composers. Bruckner divided the text into five sections, set for SATB chorus and soloists, and a fairly large orchestra including two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and organ. The vocal parts are challenging, demanding a very wide range for both the soloists and the chorus.
Bruckner’s Te Deum was an immediate success, highly praised by Mahler and performed and admired in Vienna, Berlin, and around the world. As an unusually religious man, Bruckner considered his Te Deum a tribute to his God and one of his best compositions.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
The Lark (1952), written by playwright Jean Anouilh, tells the story of Joan of Arc from her childhood through her crusade to save France from the invading British in 1429. It is a play (her life) within a play (her trial). The play begins with Joan’s inquisition during which the French Bishop wants her to review her whole life and ends with her being burned at the stake after renouncing her earlier compliant confession.
In 1955, Lillian Hellman staged her adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s L’Alouette (The Lark) at the Plymouth Theatre in Boston before the opening on Broadway. She chose to keep Anouilh’s minimalist staging, that is, with no sets but simply a screen behind the stage on which images were projected to suggest settings. Hellman painted a broader picture of the scenes using lighting, staging, and Leonard Bernstein’s incidental music for each scene.
At the time the score was prepared, Bernstein had already written the musicals On the Town and Wonderful Town, and he was working simultaneously on West Side Story and Candide, the latter also a collaboration with Hellman. Each of the eight choruses written by Bernstein for The Lark is associated with a particular scene in the play. To reflect the era and setting of the action, the music is a blend of sounds—the modern Bernstein along with a medieval flavor and French folk songs. The highly rhythmic music is infused with Bernstein’s jazz-inspired harmonies and medieval polyphony.
This is the Chorale’s second performance of Choruses from The Lark. The first was in 2005, when the movements were sung in the order of the two published sets: three French choruses, then five Latin choruses. This year, to give the performance more context, the movements are being performed in the order in which they appear in the play, and narrative sections have been added to link the choruses together and highlight the story line.
Commonwealth Chorale thanks Noel McCoy for her assistance in creating the narration.
--- Marie Baroni Allen
Robert Chilcott (b. 1955)
Robert (Bob) Chilcott has been described by The Observer as “a contemporary hero of British Choral Music” and has become a widely performed composer and arranger. His large catalogue of works reflects his wide taste in musical styles and his commitment to writing music that is both singable and effective. He has been involved in choral music for most of his life, initially as a chorister and choral scholar in the King’s College choir and later as a member of the King’s Singers, for whom he made a number of popular arrangements. His career as a composer began in 1997 and includes Can You Hear Me?, a work for children’s choir with a deaf protagonist and a sign language component. Substantial recent compositions have included Requiem (2010), St. John Passion (1913), and Move Him into the Sun (2018), to celebrate the centenary of the death of British poet Wilfred Owen. In addition to composition, Chilcott has been in demand as a choral conductor and has conducted choirs in 30 countries. He has also served as the principal guest conductor of the BBC Singers since 2002.
Jubilate incorporates the text of both Psalm 100, a psalm of joy, and Prayer, an inspirational poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that expresses the joy of Psalm 100 in an inner and personal way. The lyrical framework of the piece supports both the exuberant passages of public rejoicing and the sections of more personal praise and thanksgiving. The composer recently remarked that he included the Hopkins poem “to ask God for forgiveness and to express both frailty and hope for man from a remarkably human perspective. Musically, the piece is an arch that begins softly and ends softly, the unresolved chord at the end reflecting God’s truth, which as the text says, ‘endures from generation to generation.’”