Joseph Haydn’s Part Songs Der Greis and Die Beredsamkeit are miniature masterpieces. One is a lament on aging that the composer took so much to heart that he had the message engraved on his calling card: “Gone is all my strength!” The other is a sly, comic tribute to wine, which makes man eloquent, or so he thinks.
Felix Mendelssohn charms with songs of the outdoors, praising the woods, the nightingale, and the hunt. Hugo Wolf and Johannes Brahms sing of spring and love, tragic or ecstatic, in songs for men’s voices and women’s voices.
The centerpiece of the program is a set of eleven songs for chorus and piano by Brahms called Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy Songs). In our era we avoid the term ‘gypsy’ since it has been used as a slur and has taken on a pejorative meaning. The term ‘Roma’ is what the ethnic group of wanderers call themselves. However, for artists and composers of the nineteenth century, the term gypsy conjured an enticing blend of emotional freedom and romance. Brahms based his song cycle on a set of Hungarian folk songs, but used his own melodies. The texts are about ardent longing and unrequited love.
We also sing two works written in the twenty-first century by American composers. Carol Barnett has written an a cappella work, Musica, Dei donmum optimi, using a Dryden text paired with an anonymous Latin text in praise of music. Dryden’s lines are stirring, and make reference to the Pythagorean theory of “music of the spheres”:
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die
And music shall untune the sky.
The Chamber Chorus will sing a challenging work, Peter Quince at the Clavier, by Robert Cohen. The Wallace Stevens poem deals with the story of Susanna and the Elders from an apocryphal addition to the Book of Daniel. The music changes key thirteen times in the span of a ten-minute piece. Often the singers ascend a scale in one key, but return in another. The poem has been much studied by scholars for its dense and allusive lines, full of musical imagery.
|Three Songs from opus 59||Felix Mendelssohn|
|Abschied vom Walde|
|Musica, Dei donmum optimi New York premiere||Carol Barnett|
|Die Beredsamkeit||Joseph Haydn|
|Der Greis||Joseph Haydn|
|Peter Quince at the Clavier||Robert Cohen|
|Im Sommer||Hugo Wolf|
|Der Braütigam||Johannes Brahms|
|Die Braut||Johannes Brahms|