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PROGRAM

Les Chant des Oyseaux – Clement Janequin

In the Beginning – Aaron Copland

Six Part-Songs – Felix Mendelssohn

Sand County – Jean Belmont Ford

A Medieval Bestiary – R. Murray Schafer

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Les Chant des Oyseaux – Clement Janequin

Throughout the ages, composers have been fascinated by birds and their songs. Whether they are inspired by their characteristic traits – the brooding of a dove, the effervescence of a lark, the cheerfulness of a robin – or imbued with a desire to capture some representation of that effortless, spontaneous musicality in their own works, birds and their carols fill the repertoire. Perhaps one of the most famous “birdsong” pieces ever written, Curé Clément Janequin’s Le chant des oyseaux is literally filled with imitations of bird calls. Despite his life in the church, the vast majority of Janequin’s surviving works are secular chansons, and many of them are programmatic in nature, such as La bataille, a noisy battle piece, and Les cris de Paris, which imitates the cries of street vendors. In Le chant, the god of love awakens dormant, wintry hearts by using birds as his messengers: the thrush; the “dear little” starling (evidently the French variety is not as annoying as its American cousin); the cuckoo, that seedy wretch, and, of course, the nightingale.

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In the Beginning – Aaron Copland

Perhaps rather surprisingly, Aaron Copland actually wrote relatively little music for chorus. Although he received accolades for his instrumental chamber music, solo songs, film scores (in addition to earlier nominations, his score for The Heiress won the Academy Award in 1949), ballets (Martha Graham’s commission, Apalachian Spring,was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1944), and, of course, his many orchestral scores (surely everyone on the globe recognizes his Fanfare for the Common Man), he was a bit daunted when Harvard approached him for a commissioned work. “It was brave of me to accept a commission for a choral work to be premiered at a Symposium on Musical Criticism in May 1947, never having composed anything of length for chorus,” he later reminisced. Harvard had suggested that he choose an ancient Jewish text, but, despite his roots as the descendant of Lithuanian Jews, Copland had no real experience with Hebrew, and instead elected to set the Creation Story as told in the Book of Genesis (1:1-2:7). The result was his extended motet In the Beginning, which received its debut performance by the Harvard University Collegiate Chorale under the baton of Robert Shaw. Copland subsequently wrote to Leonard Berstein, “Bob Shaw did a bee-utiful job with my new chorus. Most people seemed to like it, but the press was only mildly interested. I can’t imagine how you’ll react to it. Anyhow, you won’t have to conduct it – since there’s nothing but voices.” If Copland felt that the critics had been underwhelmed at the time – not that there is much press to justify that contention – he was gratified as the work grew in popularity and stature. Copland himself conducted what must have been one of the more unusual performances – al fresco – in Israel! “I leave for Tel Aviv in two days,” he wrote to Irving Fine on April 3, 1951. “Sort of excited about it. I’m to conduct In the Beginning to open a Passover Service on the shores of Galilee. Seems unreal.”

A mezzo-soprano soloist acts as the voice of God, setting the stage “in a gentle, narrative manner, like reading a familiar and oft-told story.” The unaccompanied chorus describes the fulfillment of the pronouncements, chanting their subtly varied refrain (“and the evening and the morning…”) at the end of each day’s completion. In Copland Since 1943, co-authored with Vivian Perlis, the composer states: “It does not incorporate folk music or jazz materials, but jazz rhythms are used in various sections, particularly for the verse ‘And let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens….'” Most glorious of all, however, is the final radiant climax, the musical embodiment of the breath that awakened the soul of man.

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Six Part-Songs – Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn was the grandson of the great Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Despite having been given a letter of protection by Friederich Wilhelm II, four of Moses’s six children would eventually convert from Judaism, two becoming Catholic, and two Protestant (including Felix’s father, Abraham). After being baptized, the family took the surname Bartholdy, to distinguish themselves from the Jewish branch of the family. However, although Felix was raised a Lutheran, he never denied or renounced his Jewish heritage and refused to drop the family name Mendelssohn entirely, in favor of Bartholdy, as his father had wished him to do – Bartholdy, incidentally, being the name of a family dairy farm. (Consequently, it is hardly surprising that he should have become as reviled by the Nazi regime as Wagner was revered.) Mendelssohn wrote three sets of Sechs Lieder im Freien zu singen (which translates as Six Songs to Be Sung in the Open Air, or variously To Be Sung Outdoors), and this program will present the third set, composed in 1843. As would be expected from such a title, these pieces are comparatively simple, strophic settings in a folk-song vein. The four poets represented in these six pieces were highly respected and notable figures (indeed, each of the three gentlemen has his own postage stamp), but history has not remembered them equally. Helmina von Chézy (In Grünen) is best known today for having written the libretto for Carm Maria von Weber’s opera Euryanthe and for her play Rosamunde, for which Schubert wrote the incidental music (she also raised some eyebrows during her lifetime for her somewhat chequered love life). Johann Ludwig Uhland (Ruhethal) began his career as a lawyer, but later gave up the law for a career in literature, serving for a time as a professor of literature at the University of Tübingen. Rather surprisingly, he is commemorated by a town in Texas, where a German immigrant changed the name of the very small community of Live Oak to Uhland in 1900. Better known still is Joseph von Eichendorff (Abschied vom Walde and Jaglied), who is more properly known as Josef Karl Benedikt, Freiherr von Eichendorff (Freijerr translating most accurately as Baron). Often called “the last champion of Romanticism,” his poetry is amont the most often set of all the German poets, and many songs set to his texts have become folk songs, for all practical purposes. And finally, the most famous of the four is of course Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Frühzeitiger Frühling and Die Nachtigall), one of Germany’s – indeed, the world’s – greatest men of letters, and one of the most remarkable figures in Western history for his contributions to science and philosophy as well as literature.

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Sand County – Jean Belmont Ford

Jean Belmont Ford, Kansas City composer, specializes in writing chamber and choral music. She received dual Bachelor’s degrees in composition and music education from the University of Redlands in 1961, and her Masters and Doctoral work in composition at George Peabody College for Teachers. She has sung professionally in opera and on public television, and has taught composition and voice at the University of Alabama and St. Margaret’s Academy in Connecticut. In addition to her many commissions, Jean has received numerous Meet the Composer and NEA-subsidized grants, two Barlow International Composition prizes and an annual National Public Radio Lucien Wulsin Award for Best New Music. Jean’s music has been internationally performed, recorded and critiqued for many years, and she has been honored by inclusion in the performing schedules of such noteworthy groups as the BBC Singers, the Emerson String Quartet, Chanticleer, and the Kansas City and Phoenix Chorales. Music publishers who list her titles are: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., the Lorenz Corporation and Alliance Music Publications, Inc. Jean’s twenty-one minute work, Electa, is featured on the Phoenix Chorale’s recording “Spotless Rose,” which won the 2008 Grammy® award for Best Performance by a Small Ensemble.

Aldo Leopold is considered by most to be the father of America’s wildlife conservation movement. In 1909, he became one of the first graduates of the newly-formed Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and thereafter joined the U.S. Forest Service. Within three years, he was named supervisor of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico (which encompasses a million acres), and in 1924 became the Associate Director of the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. It is largely due to his persistence and persuasiveness that the Gila Wilderness, a portion of the Gila National Forest, was set aside in 1924 to be managed as an untouched wilderness area, the first in the world to be so designated.  In 1935, Leopold and seven other committed conservationists founded The Wilderness Society, which has to date preserved some 110 million acres in 44 states. Looking for a weekend retreat, Leopold bought an abandoned farm near the river outside of Baraboo, 80 barren acres that had been over-farmed, over-grazed, and subjected to numerous prairie fires. In the middle of these “sand counties” (not an actual county, but rather the gently rolling, sandy prairies of central Wisconsin where the rivers run “gin clear,” much to the delight of fly fishermen), Leopold and his family rebuilt the decrepit chicken coop for their bunkhouse (fondly nicknamed “The Shack”) and set about bringing the land back to life.  Sand County Almanac is Leopold’s love letter to the land, with one chapter for each month of the year, turning his meticulous eye on each new marvel of the season. After its publication in 1949, it slowly became a bestseller, but Leopold did not live to see it – he died of a heart attack in 1948 while helping a neighbor battle a prairie wildfire. His legacy lives on in the Leopold Conservation Award, presented by the Sand County Foundation to a private landowner “who exemplifies the spirit of this emerging land ethic – an individual or a family committed to leaving their land better than they found it.” The Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

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A Medieval Bestiary – R. Murray Schafer

R. Murray Schafer has long been a committed environmentalist and educator, whose many eclectic interests are reflected in his music – which combines a wealth of techniques from traditional harmony to serialism to Sprechstimme.  Some of his more famous choral pieces call for non-singing vocalizations, and he also takes a great delight in exploring language, as in Epitaph for Moonlight, whose text consists of made-up words for moonlight by 7th-graders; Miniwanka or the Moments of Water, comprised of words drawn from North American Indian dialects; Sun, which embraces 36 languages and their vocabularies for that ball of fire; Snowforms, built around the Inuit words for “snow”; and A Garden of Bells, made up of the names for “bell” in various languages.  He was the first recipient to be awarded the Composer of the Year Award by the Canadian Music Council, the first recipient of the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, and the first recipient of the Glenn Gould Award, while his many other honors include the Prix international Arthur-Honegger and the Banff Center for the Arts National Award in the Arts.  He is perhaps best known, however, for his World Soundscape Project, which was founded in the 1960s out of his growing absorption with the concept of sensory awareness and the relationship people have with their acoustic environments, and his fears of “sound overkill,” particularly for those forced to live in urban “sonic sewers.”   He still continues this work from his farm in rural Ontario, where he elaborated on his convictions and concerns in a short film produced for the ceremony presenting him with the 2009 Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement:  “A soundscape is any collection of sounds, almost like a painting is a collection of visual attractions.  I think when you listen carefully to the soundscape it becomes quite miraculous… I think if you listen carefully, your life is enhanced.  I think it becomes much more interesting. It’s the same as looking carefully, if you can use your senses properly…that enriches your life.  In a way the world is a huge composition, a huge musical composition that’s going on all the time without a beginning and presumably without an ending. We are the composers of this huge, miraculous composition that’s going on around us, and we can improve it, or we can destroy it.  We can add more noises, or we can add more beautiful sounds – it’s all up to us.”

For his A Medieval Bestiary, Schafer has paraphrased a selection of texts from the 12th-century Latin prose bestiary transcribed by Terence Hanbury White (generally known as T. H. White, the name under which he published his famous England Have My Bones and The Once and Future King).  Born in Bombay, India and sent back to English boarding schools after his alcoholic father and emotionally withdrawn mother divorced when he was fourteen, White formed a surrogate family comprised of some school friends and several admired professors, but he always continued to be something of a recluse.  In 1946, he moved to Alderney, one of the Channel Islands, remaining there for the rest of his life.  He particularly liked the unhurried pace of life there, for, as he explained in a BBC interview, he could “cross the road without his dog being run over.”  (It was also in Alderney that he played host to Julie Andrews, who portrayed Guenevere in the stage version of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, which was based on The Once and Future King.)  “Tim” White had a wide and varied range of interests, encompassing such diverse subjects as medieval literature, falconry, piloting airplanes, psychology, fishing, and Braille, the written language for the blind.  White provided us with the first English translation of the medieval bestiary (originally published as his Book of Beasts) now housed in the Cambridge University Library.   He treats the fantastical original with dignity and respect, although, as an agnostic, he cannot always restrain himself from editorial asides in the footnotes.

White takes pains to remind us that “a bestiary is a serious work of natural history,” however bizarre its creatures may seem to us and however convoluted and labored the moralizations.   White tells us that this bestiary was the work of an anonymous author known as “the Physiologus,” who was probably an Egyptian (writing in Greek) sometime between the second and fifth centuries A.D.  The earliest Latin translation dates to the eighth century, and it has been translated into Latin, Ethiopic, Arabic, Armenian, Syriac, Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic, Spanish, Italian, Provençal, and all the primary Germanic and Romance languages.  The medieval bestiaries were considered both scientific and moral authorities as late as the Elizabethan age, and it was only with the rise of the empirical sciences in the mid-1600s that they finally began to be replaced in the minds and hearts of their readers.  “But the Physiologus lived in the age of faith.  He lacked, as we have seen, our modern means of communication and our apparatus of criticism.  He was beset by a hundred traditions and fables which the March of Mind had not yet exploded.  There was no Encyclopaedia Britannica for him, no Oxford English Dictionary.  He was doing his best, and a wonderful best it was, when all things are considered, to write a serious text-book on biology.”  (Nevertheless, after dealing with so many reams of convoluted, fanciful, and downright mistaken etymologies, White remarks somewhat plaintively in a footnote that “it does sometimes become tiresome to have to unravel these readings.”)

The original Greek bestiary consisted of 49 beasts; by the 12th century, it included more than 100 beasts, fowls, and fishes.  Schafer has therefore obviously had to choose a mere sampling of the marvels within, and to paraphrase those, at that.  The complete text is well worth a read, for where else will one learn such wonders as the fact that ointment made from the dung of a crocodile will make old and wrinkled whores beautiful, at least until the “sweat of their efforts washes it away” again; that Vervus the Wether (a ram) butts his head in order to relieve the itch caused by the “maggots in his noddle” (“vermes” being a possible etymological link to “Vervus”); that the urine of the Lynx hardens into a precious stone, which the Lynx covers in sand from a “constitutional meanness,” so the gem will not provide enjoyment for the human race; that Hares, Lynxes, Camels, Elephants, Rhinoceroses, Tigers and Hyaenas have “aversely seated Pizells,” which necessitate Retrocopulation; or that the Lion hides its spoor so it cannot be tracked by hunters, just as Jesus also “hid the spoor of his love in high places” until his Incarnation, and hid it so successfully that even the angels did not recognize his spoor and said at his Ascension, “Who is this King of Glory?” In each of his chosen movements, Schafer provides us with a bit of the scientific prose and its related moralization.  Although it is hard not to smile at the Panther’s allspice-scented belch or the Bison’s devastating three-acre, pyrotechnic fart, the sincerity with which these perceived truths are shaped to offer their readers insight into the Christian condition is ingenious and endearing. As White affirms at the close of the volume: “It was a seventeenth-century student of the Bestiaries who said:  ‘As dutifull children let us cover the Nakednesse of our Fathers with the Cloke of a favourable Interpretation’:  and this is all that I have tried to do.”

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The program notes for our concerts are written by a great friend of Charles Bruffy and the Chorale, Kathryn Parke.  A soprano who specializes in early music, she taught for many years at Pittsburg State University , Pittsburg , KS .  In addition to performance and research, her musical interests include composition and arranging, and her pieces have been performed by the PSU Choirs, the Early Music Consort of Kansas City, and several District Honor Choirs.  She has written the liner notes for the majority of the Chorale’s recent CDs.