Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chamber Choir Texts and Translations (and general information about the music we're singing for our upcoming concert)

Chamber Choir in Concert on Sunday, Nov. 13 @ 3pm, Roberts Recital Hall

The UAHuntsville Chamber Choir has been working tirelessly on Paul Hindemith's (1895-1963) Six Chansons.  These pieces are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful -- and most under-performed -- pieces in the repertoire.  It's a joy to teach them, and I'm delighted to share them with these young musicians.  Hindemith has such a clear vision about the text (in French, not his native German), and takes such care to treat it as delicately -- almost too delicately at times -- as possible.  Hitler declared his music "degenerate" and he was forced to flee Nazi Germany before the proverbial stuff hit the fan.  In my wildest dreams, I can't imagine how these chords progressions can be called "degenerate", but then again, I'm not a Nazi.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is one of the most well-known German poets of his time.  Yet curiously, a large part of his oeuvre is written in French, dedicated to his strong connection with the French-speaking portion of Switzerland.  All of his poetry is profound and lyrical -- extremely beautiful.  It's traditional in a Romantic sense -- creating beautiful images involving animals and seasons and other natural elements.  But also found in his work is a profound sense of solitude; his work reminds me that in the end, we all die alone, and that perhaps it's best to pay attention to the world around us because we are here for only a very short time.

Six Chansons, Paul Hindemith
(Poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke)

I. La Biche (The Doe)

O thou doe:
what vistas of secular forest appear in thine eyes reflected;
What confidence serene affected by transient shades of fear.
And it all is borne on thy bounding course, for so gracile art thou.
Nor comes aught to astound
the impassive profound unawareness of thy brow.

II. un Cygne (The Swan)

A swan moves over the water,
Surrounded by itself, like a gliding tableau.

Thus the beloved is sometimes
a moving space.

He draws near, duplicated like the swimming swan,
to our troubled soul ....

which adds the trembling image
of joy and doubt.

III. Puisque tout passe (Since all is Passing)

Since all is passing,
Let us make a passing melody.
The one that quenches our thirst
Will be right for us.

Let us sing what leaves us
With love and art;
Let us be quicker
Than the quick departure.

IV. Printemps (Spring)

O melody of the sap
that rises in the instruments
of all these trees,
accompany the song
of our too-short voices.

It is only for a few measures
that we follow
the manifold figurations
of your long abandon,
O abundant nature.

When it comes time for us to fall silent
others will carry on ...
But for now what can I do
to make my whole heart
a complement to you?

V. En Hiver (In Winter)

With the winter, Death, grisly guest
Through the doorway steals in
Both the young and the old to quest,
And he plays them his violin.

But when the Spring’s spades are beating
Frozen earth beneath blue sky,
The Death his way goes fleeting,
Lightly greeting passersby.

VI. Verger (Orchard)

The earth is nowhere so real a presence
As mid thy branches
O orchard blond
And nowhere so airy as here in the pleasance
Of lacy shadows on grassy pond.

There we encounter that which we quested,
That which sustains us and nourishes life
And with it the passage manifested
Of tenderness undying.

But at thy center the spring’s limpid waters,
Almost asleep in the fountain’s heart,
Of this strange contrast scarce have taught us
Since of them it is so truly part.

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) was born in the Netherlands, the son of an organist.  He had a very impressive career in northern Europe as a composer and organist, even in the land of the Calvinist Reformation which (that?) invariably swore off use of accompaniment in the Church.  Most don't know that he was known as the "maker of organists" and ultimately created what was known as the "German School" of organists.  His compositional style also influenced what eventually became the style of the late Renaissance/early German Baroque.  His compositions are highly complex; not surprisingly, he wrote a great deal for keyboard, but also wrote many pieces for a cappella voices.  In Laudate Dominum, we find the standard five-part motet (sacred composition) written for chorus, utilizing fugal texture and points of imitation.  As such, one doesn't need very much text:

Laudate Dominum, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
(Psalm 116 [117])

O praise the Lord, all ye nations;
Praise him, all ye peoples.

For his loving kindness
Has been bestowed upon us,

And the truth of the Lord
Endures forever.

Also, we'll be singing a "newer" work by Tarik O'Regan (b. 1978), a composer who will soon be in residence at UAHuntsville in February.  (Hooray!)  We'll be singing Threshold of Night on Sunday.  If you haven't heard it, I suggest you check it out...stunning piece.  More on O'Regan here.


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