Dickinson Madrigals, Book I (1980)
My Cocoon Tightens
The Fire Choire
William Hatcher, Conductor
Three Sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millary (1984)
Lynne Levine, Soprano
John Heggie, Piano
Istampita Gbaette (14/15 Century)
Instruments: Saz, Bongos
Estampie (Trouvere song)
Instruments: Piccolo-Blockflöte, Taar
Como poden (13th Century)
Instruments: Gemshorn, Duff
Jannis Kaimakis, Various melody instruments
Issam El-Mallah, Percussion
Paul Des Marais
Hand of Glory (1983)
Paul Reale, Piano
Trotto (14th/15th Century)
Instruments: Piccolo-Blockflöte, Taar
Chanson a refrain (13th Century)
Instruments: Panflute, Bandir
Wascha mesa (16th Century)
Instruments: Renaissance Lute, Taar
O ypnos tou agouron ke i lyjeri
Instruments: Piccolo-Blockflöte, Bongos
Von Tod im Wald, Op. 23 (1927)
Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht
John Hall, Bass
Ron Wakefield and Dan Lucas, Clarinet
Hugh Michie, Bassoon
Theresa Hoblock, Contrabassoon
Howard Hilliard and Paul Loredo, French horn
Tim Divers and James Stehn, Trumpet
Alex Iles, Trombone
Brent Decker, Bass Trombone
Lucas Richman, Conductor
Dickinson Madrigals, Book I was composed in 1980 and premiered at the first “Composers in Red Sneakers” concert in Boston. After Randall Thompson introduced me to the music of The Sacred Harp, a collection of early American hymns, I was inspired to write this set of choral songs with texts by Emily Dickinson. With the exception of “Secrets” the pieces are largely homophonic so that the texts may be easily heard. This work is the first of three to be based on poems by Emily Dickinson. The most recent, A Slash of Blue, for soprano, viola, and harp, will receive its premiere next week (Nov. 3) by Kimball Wheeler in her Los Angeles debut recital at UCLA.
Roger Bourland studied first at the University of Wisconsin with Les Thimmig, later at the New England Conservatory (where he received an M.A. in composition in 1978, the same year that he was awarded the Koussevitzky Prize in composition at Tanglewood), and then at Harvard, where he received his doctorate in composition in 1983. His composition teachers in Boston have included William Thomas McKinley, Donald Martino, Gunther Schuller, Randall Thompson, John Harbison, Earl Kim, and Leon Kirchner. He has been since 1981 a core member of the composers’ collaborative “Composers in Red Sneakers.” He is currently an instructor at UCLA. His catalogue already includes a large number of works ranging from full orchestra, large and small chamber ensembles, solo instruments, and voice, as well as scores for theatrical and film use.
He has recently received commissions from Boston Musica Viva, The Cascade String Quartet (Montana), the Pro Musicis Foundation, the Portland String Quartet (Maine), and St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church (Los Angeles).
Three Sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
When I look for a poem to set to music, I look for one that makes a direct, easily-understood statement without complex imagery, symbolism, or obfuscating wordage, and with fairly long lines - not short phrases with much punctuation. The poem may be lyrical - such as a description of a landscape or one portraying a general mood - a ballad type - one that has some discernible story line and concerns some aspect of love.
I have long been fond of the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay. From her collected sonnets I have selected three that I feel “go together” and tell a story, even though each appeared originally in a different collection.
The first is a bitter, angry outcry that the pain of unrequited, frustrated love that is finished does not abate quickly, contrary to the popular adage that time heals all wounds, the pain lingers on. The second is a quiet reminiscing of the many attempts at love tried, one may presume, in order to find the one “perfect” love (as opposed to out-and-out promiscuity). The lady is aware that it is all past and done, but she is resigned to it and is perhaps grateful that in the gray panoply of the past there still remains the memory that there was love. The third poem is a whimsical “scolding” of “the man that got away,” who didn’t have the perspicacity and patience to wait just a little longer for love to bloom.
Millay was criticized for the frank, exposed, raw passion that is express in many of the sonnets, but I feel that this very accessible clarity makes them ideal for making them into songs. For when words are sung, the time-span is longer, and it takes longer for the listener’s ear to apprehend the total message of the words; therefore, that message needs to be clear.
I also felt that the passionate, romantic quality called for a comparable romantic, impressionistic setting, even bordering on the style of popular song and piano style of the 1930’s.
Further, I felt that a singer who was familiar with both concert and popular styles would be the best choice to sing them, and so I asked Lynne Levine. Miss Levine is a graduate of UCLA’s Music Department, during which time she won the Frank Sinatra competition award in the popular category. Since then she has appeared in several musicals in the Los Angeles area, the latest being the Marilyn Monroe part in Sugar at the Buena Park Civic Theatre. She is currently studying music therapy at Long Beach State University.
John Heggie is continuing his studies in piano at UCLA wiht Johana Harris-Heggie.
The performance of medieval music presents a great challenge to the musician. In contrast to modern scores the written notes do not give the slightest indication towards their adequate performance. In many cases only the basic outline of a melodic line is written down and needs to be completed by the instrumentalist. Medieval notation did not provide detailed instructions for its performance but served only to preserve a basic sketch of the piece. The modern performer has here the rare possibility to act not as a reproducing but as a creative musician and to contribute an essential element to the piece. Whilst studying a manuscript containing medieval dances one finds for example that the scanty melodic line needs to be completed by improvising and that no rhythm is inconceivable. The rhythm was so obvious to the musician of that period that it was not written down but simply added to each performance. The written notes therefore need to be completed by adding a rhythm instrument to the ensemble.
This theoretical knowledge alone does not help much further if one cannot find musicians who can perform the music itself. The overwhelming majority of Conservatoire and Music Academy graduates are trained to perform music written during the last 250 years, most of them are therefore unable to make use of the creative possibilities offered by medieval music. Musicians who grew up in souther or in non-european countries have a more intensive relationship to the nature of a medieval musician. In Egypt, for example, a melody is still only sketched in its basic outline even today, if it is written down at all. The rhythm, although a vital element in Arabian music, is never written down but is at the most implied by the type of piece sketched.
The musicians of Duo Mediterraneo had the benefit of traditional, fundamental instrumental training in their native towns of Thessaloniki and Cairo and were also able to pursue theoretical musicological studies. They combine both of the elements so vital to the revival of medieval music; on the one hand theoretical insight into its historical context, on the other hand the unconstrained approach of a creative musician. This combination allows the Duo Mediterraneo to see a medieval manuscript not only as the dead subject of academical research but also to bring its stimulating music back to life.
Since being established in 1982 Duo Mediterraneo has performed with great success both in Germany and abroad.
Jannis Kaimakis was born in 1952 in Thessaloniki. While still at school he was a member of the Macedonian ensemble “Pro Musica” and later played in the folk music ensemble of the Greek broadcasting company. After leaving school he studied both the guitar and the oboe in Thessaloniki and Munich and passed his Magister in 1983/1984. He received an award (Förderpreis für Musik) of the city of Munich in 1984.
Issam El-Mallah was born in 1948 in Port Said. At the age of six he started to play various Arabian percussion instruments. Having left school he studied Musical Education in Cairo, passing his Bachelor degree in 1969. He came to Munich in 1971 to intensify his studies and received his Doctorate in Musicology in 1979. Since 1980 he has taught in Munich as a music ethnologist, concentrating on Arabian music.
Paul Des Marais’ music for Touch, commissioned by and dedicated to Linda Sohl-Donnell, artistic director of LTD/Unlimited, received considerable support from the UCLA Committee on Research. This is the composer’s and choreographer’s second collaborative effort. A quiet and traditional piece in every sense, Touch explores, in an abstract way, relationships between the two couples.
Hand of Glory refers to an ancient charm of witchcraft, it is, quite literally a severed human hand which has been dipped in was and used a torch in satanic rituals. For me this dominant image represents those things which both attract and terrify us. Human nature appears to be fascinated with flickering beauty, only to be repelled by its consequences.
The piece was written especially for a lecture-recital which I gave at the Shanghai Conservatory in April of 1983. I wanted to bring to the Chinese a piece with a pervasive visual symbol, since it appears to me that much Chinese art proceeds from a dominant image (often revealed in the provocative titles of classical pieces). This performance is the first in the United States.
“…musically, it has a marvelous, mysterious quality, and also a great, beautiful poem by Brecht; so powerful-gruesome but powerful-and young, you know.”
- Lotte Lenya, 1975
Written after the Mahagonny Singspiel but before the three-act opera version, The rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, I expected this Brecht/Weill collaboration to be similar to Mahagonny in style and content. Not so. First the poem (published in Brecht’s Hauspostille collection in 1927) is darker and more “poetic” than the poems of Mahagonny. Kurt Weill’s setting of the somber text is beautifully colored by his dark instrumentation of bassoon, contrabassoon, trombones, trumpets, horn, and clarinets. This use of the Hauspostille poetry and male voice accompanied by wind instruments was later repeated in The Berlin Requiem (1928). Weill turns away from the “Mahagonny” kind of composition which had brought hi such acclaim and notoriety in July 1927. His Von Tod im Wald was premiered on November 18, 1927 at a Berlin Philharmonic concert and seems more related to his studies with Busoni (1920 - 23). I notice the clarity of the part writing, the organized framing of the piece with spare contrapuntal lines that avoid emotionalizing the text past taste and belief, and the free use of tonal dissonance which heightens the gruesome text. This piece was called a “monstrosity” at the premiere. I think that is an accurate assessment, but I love to perform this monster.
I must thank Alan Rich and his wonderful radio series on Kurt Weill, broadcast on KUSC, for giving me the courage to program this work. I also thank Roger Bourland for asking me to sing it on this series. I have wanted to sing some Brecht/Weill since I staged The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at UCLA in 1977. This is it, folks.
P.S. It is great to share tonight’s concert with two of my favorite former students Lynne Levine and Lucas Richman.
Von Tod im Wald is presented by special arrangement with European American Music Distribution Corporation, the copyright owner.