Eternity

Sunday, March 8, 2015 • 3:00 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church

Orchestra Seattle
Seattle Chamber Singers
Clinton Smith, conductor
Sarah Larsen, mezzo-soprano
Ryan Bede, baritone

Program

Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986)
Requiem, Op. 9

—intermission—

Gustav Holst (1874–1934)
The Planets, Op. 32

About the Concert

If the entire history of the world were compressed into a 24-hour period, humans would have existed for only one second. Meditate on the concept of eternity through Duruflé’s heart-stoppingly beautiful Requiem from 1947, dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father. Turn from the frenzy of everyday life to contemplate the end of existence—and what follows it—through this rich and powerful work. Then reflect on the incomprehensible enormity of the universe—and our tiny place in it—as you experience Holst’s ever-popular Planets.

About the Soloists

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Mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen, praised as “sizzling,” “riveting” and possessing a “plummy, ripe mezzo,” debuted with Santa Fe Opera as Mercédès in Carmen at their 2014 summer festival. Recent and upcoming engagements include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with OSSCS, La Muse/Nicklausse (cover) for Les contes d’Hoffmann with the Metropolitan Opera, and a return to Seattle Opera for her role debut as the composer in Ariadne auf Naxos. An alumna of the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program, Ms. Larsen returned to Seattle Opera for their 2013–2014 season as Maddalena in Rigoletto and the Secretary in The Consul. In May 2013, she premiered a new song cycle, Farewell, Auschwitz by Jake Heggie and Gene Sheer, with Music of Remembrance, a recording of which is now available on the Naxos label. Learn more: sarahlarsenmezzo.com

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Baritone Ryan Bede returns to Tacoma Opera during the 2014–2015 season, where he will appear as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte and Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette. Also upcoming are his first mainstage appearance with Coeur d’Alene Opera as Sonora in La fanciulla del West and Israel in Egypt with OSSCS. Engagements during the 2013–2014 season included the Pirate King in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance for Tacoma Opera, a concert of French opera selections for the Seattle/Nantes Sister City Organization, Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach with the Seattle-based Bella Sala Ensemble, Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus with Skagit Opera, and Albert in Werther with Vashon Opera. He presently teaches voice through the Community Music Department at the University Of Puget Sound. Learn more: ryanbede.com

Program Notes

Maurice Duruflé
Requiem, Op. 9

Duruflé was born in Louviers, France, on January 11, 1902, and died outside Paris on June 16, 1986. He began composing his Requiem in 1941, completing it in 1947. The premiere was heard across France via a November 2, 1947, radio broadcast. In addition to chorus and two soloists, the work requires 3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (2 doubling English horn), 2 clarinets (plus bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, organ, celesta, harp and strings.

Maurice Duruflé was a French organist, composer and conductor. Although his family was not particularly musical, he was able to attend the choir school at the cathedral in Rouen, where he studied piano, organ and music theory. He moved to Paris to attend the Conservatoire and was (at age 17) appointed Charles Tournemire’s assistant organist at Sainte-Clotilde. Duruflé studied organ and composition with the leading organist-composers of the early 20th century: Tournemire, Charles-Marie Widor, Eugéne Gigout and Louis Vierne. Paul Dukas was his composition and orchestration teacher at the Conservatoire, and he mastered Dukas’ pointillistic and impressionistic orchestration techniques. As a result, Duruflé was a marvelous orchestral colorist, unlike most of the organists (and composers) of his generation.

Duruflé was a virtuoso organist, easily the match of any of his teachers, and a brilliant improviser. As a result, at the age of 27 Duruflé was appointed (by Vierne) as assistant organist at Notre-Dame and, simultaneously, as organist titulaire at Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which featured one the largest organs in one of the most important churches in Paris. He remained there for the rest of his career, sharing the work with his second wife, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier, who was an even more brilliant organist than he. M. and Mme. Duruflé toured extensively as individual soloists, as a duo, and as a conductor and accompanist—Maurice conducting his Requiem and Marie-Madeleine playing Maurice’s reduction of the entire orchestral score!

Duruflé was an extraordinarily perfectionistic composer. Had he notated his weekly organ improvisations, he would be ranked as one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. Yet his published output includes only 14 authorized works, six for organ solo, two for piano solo, two for orchestra, four small motets for unaccompanied chorus, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer, and two large masses (the 1947 Requiem and the 1966 Messe cum jubilo). A few smaller works were published after his death. Many of these works were withdrawn, changed and republished throughout his life, and both masses were published in three different accompanimental versions: for solo organ, for organ and chamber orchestra, and for full orchestra.

Gravely injured in a 1975 car accident, Maurice Duruflé never recovered. Mme. Duruflé, also injured, did recover and assumed his concert and church service schedule. Maurice finally succumbed to his injuries in 1986.

Sunday masses in Paris prior to Vatican II were distinctly different from what churchgoers might experience in Seattle some 50 years later. Masses featured two organists, one at a smaller organ near the front of the church and the other at the much larger instrument near the back of the church. The first organist was responsible for leading the choir (and sometimes the congregation) in the ordinary of the mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus) and possibly a congregational song. The organist at the rear played a prelude and postlude (often half-hour recitals in themselves) and improvised on the Gregorian chants that comprised the proper or changing musical portions of the mass (the introit, gradual, tract or alleluia, offertory and communion). On significant days, he might also play an improvisation on the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus. It is out of this practice of accompanied chant that Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem comes.

The Requiem, Op. 9, was dedicated to the memory of Duruflé’s father. The texts are the traditional texts of the requiem mass: Requiem aeternum (introit), Kyrie, Domine Jesu Christe (offertory), Sanctus, Pie Jesu (elevation), Agnus Dei and Lux aeterna (communion). Two chants for the absolution of the dead, Libera me (responsory) and In paradisum (blessing of the body), complete the nine movements. Alert readers might notice that there is no setting of the Dies irae, a typical part of the requiem (and often the most memorable—as in Verdi’s Requiem), but even more alert readers would notice that this is the exact set of texts that appear in Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. Duruflé did not omit the Dies irae to make his Requiem more “consoling,” but rather used the standard texts and chants sung in French requiem masses. Normally, the whole sequence of texts between the Kyrie and the Domine Jesu Christe (the gradual, a repeated Requiem aeternum; the tract, Absolve; and the sequence, Dies irae) were recited quietly by the clergy while the organist improvised, often on the chant of the Absolve (“Forgive, O Lord, the souls of the dead”).

Musically, the Requiem owes its origin to a commission from Duruflé’s publisher for a set of pieces based on the Gregorian themes of the requiem mass, as memorial tribute to Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique. Duruflé’s work on this project, after his own father’s death, expanded into a complete choral requiem. In accord with French improvisatory practice, each musical phrase from the requiem chant books found its proper home in Duruflé’s score. Duruflé was deeply formed by the reconstruction of Gregorian chant at the French Abbey of Solesmes. His Requiem is, however, far beyond a brilliant orchestration of an organ accompaniment to chant. Melodic material is given to both choir and orchestra, and chants are broken down into their smallest fragments and recombined into new structures, yet the listener always senses the bedrock of chant. A significant reason for this solidity is Duruflé’s appreciation of Solesmes’ theories of chant rhythm. Duruflé continually changes the time signature, even landing the weak syllables on downbeats. He stretches phrases and note values, making the heartbeat of chant to pulse evenly.

It may be easiest to hear Duruflé’s technique in the very first movement, the Introit, and then experience it throughout the Requiem.

The composer begins the work with an organistic perpetual-motion motive in the violas, while tenors and basses sing the unadorned chant melody. Sopranos and altos join with the violins in an orchestration of an organ’s fond doux. Sopranos sing the psalm, “Te decet hymnus,” with woodwinds providing a different organ-like accompaniment. To this point, the music is little more than Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice meeting a sleepy organist. But when the antiphon (Requiem aeternum) returns, Duruflé demonstrates his compositional skill. Cellos play the chant, but upside down. Violas return with their motive, while violins play the chant melody in canon at a one-beat separation. The choir becomes tower bells, tolling the passing of the soul. At “Et lux perpetua,” the choir picks up the chant melody, at half the tempo of the violins, but in a Ravelian four-part harmony. Harp joins in with the viola motive, but slowly, at the choir’s tempo. The movement ends with all the complexity reducing to a peaceful F-major chord, which leads into the Kyrie, also deceptively simple, but concealing the complexity of an eight-part double fugue in its quiet.

The Sanctus demonstrates Duruflé’s compositional prowess in a different way. The chant underlying this movement is one of the simplest in the entire repertoire. With a range of only four notes and little more than a repeated up-and-down cantillation of the text, there is little musical material upon which to build. Violas once again begin with rapid movement, but this time derived from the cantillation and its inversion in alternation. Sopranos and altos sing the simple three-note melody of the first part of the chant, in harmony. The melody is repeated three times, each time one note higher, bringing to mind the liturgical announcement of the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

“Pleni sunt coeli” is presented similarly, ending with the Hosanna melody. The texture is simplified to a clarinet picking up the viola figuration, and altos reduced to a single repeated note. Harp enters, pianissimo, with the notes of the tower-bell chime of one of Duruflé’s favorite churches, the perpendicular Gothic Cathedral of Soissons. This chime motive is picked up through the woodwinds and brasses, and played off against the three-note Sanctus fragment, with increasing rhythmic and contrapuntal intensity. Finally, at triple-forte and with every instrument in the orchestra playing and every voice singing, a tsunami of sound explodes at “In excelsis” (“in the highest”). Duruflé returns to the simple form of opening of the Sanctus for the Benedictus in a perfectly balanced ternary form.

As you listen this afternoon, enjoy the infrequently heard full orchestral version of Duruflé’s Requiem. Listen for the orchestration of a master whose skills rival those of his mentors Dukas and Ravel. Experience the spirituality of a musician who firmly believed that death was the gate of heaven, and catch a glimpse of angels guiding souls into endless bliss.

Walter Knowles

Gustav Holst
The Planets, Op. 32

Holst was born September 21, 1874, in Cheltenham, England, and died May 25, 1934, in London. He began composing this seven-movement orchestral suite in 1914, completing it in 1917. The work requires 4 flutes (2 doubling piccolo, one doubling bass flute), 3 oboes (one doubling bass oboe), English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tenor tuba, tuba, 2 sets of timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, orchestra bells, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, xylophone), organ, celesta, 2 harps, strings and—in the final movement—offstage female chorus.

“As a rule, I only study things which suggest music to me,” wrote Gustav Holst in 1913. “That’s why I worried at Sanskrit. Then recently the character of each planet suggested lots to me, and I have been studying astrology.” Holst’s interest in Hindu philosophy dated from 1895, and he taught himself Sanskrit in order to compose works such as the opera Sita (unperformed during his lifetime), the Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda and The Cloud Messenger. A 1908 trip to Algeria inspired the orchestral suite Beni Mora, about which his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote: “If it had been played in Paris rather than London it would have given its composer a European reputation, and played in Italy would probably have caused a riot.” During a March 1913 excursion with composer Arnold Bax, his brother Clifford and Balfour Gardiner (a champion of Holst’s music), Clifford Bax shared with Holst his interest in astrology.

The previous September, Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra had premiered at one of Henry Wood’s Promenade concerts, and in January 1914 Schoenberg traveled to London to conduct a second performance—attended by Holst, who obtained a copy of the score. Later that year, Holst set about writing a work (with nearly identical instrumentation) he would call Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra, attaching to each movement a title related to the astrological character of one of the eight planets (omitting Earth).

Preoccupied with his “day job” teaching music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, Holst composed his uncommissioned orchestral suite largely during weekends and holidays over a three-year period, occasionally interrupted by work on other projects. After completing A Dirge for Two Veterans in the spring of 1914, Holst began sketching “Mars, the Bringer of War,” completing it shortly before Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in August of that year. He composed the remaining movements in order, save “Mercury, the Winged Messenger,” which he wrote last, finishing it during early 1916. The orchestration took another year.

Due to frail health, Holst could not serve in the military, but (after modifying his Germanic surname “von Holst”), he took a YMCA post organizing music at internment camps. Shortly before Holst departed England, Gardiner lavished upon his friend the gift of a private performance of The Planets at Queen’s Hall on September 29, 1918, led by Adrian Boult (after a mere one-hour rehearsal). Excerpts from the suite appeared on public concert programs over the next two years, to mixed reviews. When Holst’s 1917 The Hymn of Jesus debuted to widespread acclaim in March 1920, interest in a complete performance of The Planets surged, resulting in a November 15, 1920, London Symphony Orchestra concert directed by Albert Coates—after which most critics revised their assessment of the work. The Planets would become Holst’s signature composition, overshadowing all of the music he produced during his remaining 14 years.

Rather than tone poems in the Richard Strauss mold that depict specific action, each movement is a character study of the astrological entity in question, based in part on descriptions from Alan Leo’s book What Is a Horoscope and How Is It Cast? And while Schoenberg’s Five Pieces likely provided an overall template, early reviewers and later writers detected influences from many other composers.

Boult later reported that Holst sought to convey “the stupidity of war” with the insistent 5/4 ostinato rhythms of “Mars”; according to Kenric Taylor, its “blatant dissonance and unconventional meter seems to be riddled with the influence of Stravinsky” (whose The Rite of Spring debuted in London in 1913). In “Venus,” David Trippett detects hints of Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, Stravinsky’s Firebird and “a celesta passage from the second of Schoenberg’s Five Pieces,” while Holst derived the opening from one of his own (abandoned) vocal works, A Vigil of Pentecost.

In “Mercury,” Holst uses bitonality, shifting accents and three-against-four rhythmic patterns to suggest the winged messenger scurrying about, techniques he had employed in his 1915 Japanese Suite. To one reviewer, the opening of “Jupiter” brought to mind Rimsky-Korsakov (who in turn influenced Stravinsky’s Firebird and Petrushka), but the inspiration for the majestic central episode is clearly “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

For “Saturn,” Holst drew on material from Dirge and Hymeneal, his 1915 composition for female chorus and piano. “Uranus,” which opens with a broadly stated four-note motive that pervades the movement, recalls Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The use of wordless women’s chorus in “Neptune” may derive from Claude Debussy’s “Sirènes” (from Nocturnes) but the use of shifting orchestral colors in place of a clearly definable melody echoes the third of Schoenberg’s Five Pieces (“Farben,” or “Colors”).

Jeff Eldridge