Author Topic: 20th Century Choral Music  (Read 33116 times)

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Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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20th Century Choral Music
« on: December 04, 2008, 10:51:32 PM »
Mike's lament elsewhere on the opera/vocal board had me thinking of ways to spark some vocal discussion. This particular topic is perhaps a little too esoteric and might not amount to much, but it's a genre I know next to nothing about and would like to learn more.

It just so happens one of my favorite composers - Martinu - has written a fabulous oratorio, The Epic of Gilgamesh. It's a wonderful and dramatic piece, rich in color and invention. Unfortunately I'm short on time at the moment so any extended commentary this piece so rightfully deserves will have to wait.

But please don't let that stop anyone else from commenting on the subject at hand. The floor is open...








« Last Edit: December 11, 2008, 06:05:39 PM by donwyn »
Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach

Offline knight66

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2008, 11:19:35 PM »
Thanks for this; and when I get back from work I will engage in some proper ping-pong on this thread. I don't know the piece you mentioned and would value forther description on it.

Mike
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Offline Anne

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2008, 12:15:04 AM »
Does The Epic of Gilgamesh have any beautiful melodies?

Offline The new erato

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2008, 12:19:33 AM »
Does The Epic of Gilgamesh have any beautiful melodies?
Or a symphony written by Caruso?  ;D

I would like to have heard, but never have, the oratorio Die Unaufhörliche (is that right?) by Hindemith.

The Epic is a strong work, I have the Marco Polo release.

Offline knight66

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2008, 12:23:33 AM »
Tippett is a composer I don't really get along with. I have tried. I think that what has effectively put me off; was when several times I listened to him talking about music. Dry, highly intellectual, meandering, impenetrable, stuffed with references to philosophy. In fact for me, rather like one or two of his pieces that I had listened to. One exception to my rule is 'Child of Our Time'.

My first acquaintance with the piece was preparing it to sing in the chorus conducted by Tippett himself. He turned out to be a delight to work for. The experience was entirely an enriching one. Although we found elements of the music difficult, I don't know of anyone who sooner or later did not succumb to the piece, its beauty, tenderness, drama, the contrast between modernist writing and the Spirituals woven into the piece added to the richness.

It was written around 1949 (Edit my error pinted out, thanks...should be 1941, though I had meant to type 1942.) in response to the war. He was a conscientious objector and during the war he served a prison sentence for his uncompromising stance. The piece depicts the lead up to a shooting and the aftermath. The shooting itself is almost buried within the textures of the music, it is not a drama about a shooting, it is about the human condition. The loose narrative is punctuated with spirituals, which are compared to the use by Bach of chorales, or even to the use of a Greek chorus.

When I was young, critics used often to disparage the work because of this Bachian device; which they felt jarred with the modernist music surrounding it. But for the audience, the mix works superbly. Now, critics seem to be happy to accept that it is a masterpiece; one that taps into people on various levels. Although out of their usual setting, I don't know a more effective or affecting use of spirituals. Lines soar, the melodies are paramount, the word setting careful to communicate.

The spirituals are loaded, in the sense of being slave songs, songs of hope and despair. The four soloists all get a number of highly effective short arias as well as swelling or leading the spirituals, the ensemble work makes the spine tingle.

Colin Davis has produced two versions. The new LSO one is tight, dramatic and has superb choral singing. However, the soloists are not well matched, nor are they distinctive. His first recording on Phillips is my favoured one. The soloists compensate for the analogue sound and the good though less incisive choral work. Jessye Norman and Janet Baker, each sing with both compassion and authority the younger generation don't remotely approach.

But recordings aside, listening to, or being part of a performance is a moving experience, an exploration of The Dark Side, of fear and a call for peace.

Perhaps the answer to my superficial approach to Tippett is to get to grips with the music in a detailed way; from the inside if possible, grow my affection for his music instead of leaving it on the shelf.

Mike
« Last Edit: December 08, 2008, 10:24:57 AM by knight »
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Offline Novi

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2008, 02:59:27 PM »
Does an 'opera-oratorio' count? I love Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex.
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2008, 03:31:07 PM »
I do so agree with Mike both about Tippett himself(his philosophising is way too much for my limited intellect ;D) and a Child of Our Time.
(Although I think Mike that you will find that it dates from 1941 rather than 1949; the first performance was in London on 9th March 1944.)

A Child of Out Time is a glorious and heart-breakingly moving work and I absolutely agree about the way in which the spirituals are woven into the texture of the whole. The version I have is the Collins cd(they stopped making cds some time ago) with the composer conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and soloists including Faye Robinson and Sarah Walker. This is the version now re-released by Naxos. The performance has been rightly criticised for being slighty indisciplined and slow but it is very well recorded and-above all-it is made all the more moving by the fact that it is the 86-year old composer himself conducting and that provides a extra special 'something' which I would not be without!

(I should have added that I do also have the Colin Davis version with Jessye Norman and Janet Baker on LP.)

Martinu's Epic of Gilgamesh is a marvellous piece-one of the best things Martinu ever composed ;D Hindemith's 'Das Unaufhorliche' is not quite in the same bracket! It is 95 minutes long(and seems longer!). I don't think that Hindemith was a natural choral composer(his operas excepted?). The work is of historic interest-Hindemith emerging from the neo-classicism of the 1920s and moving into the sort of music that he would compose in the 1930s/40s and 50s. The Wergo boxed set is still available.

I shall return to this thread tomorrow with some of my favourite 20th century Oratorios....there are a LOT of them though ;D :)
« Last Edit: December 08, 2008, 07:40:57 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline The new erato

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2008, 11:37:50 PM »
....there are a LOT of them though ;D :)
Honegger (too long since I've listened to them) and Frank Martin (wha has several of them ).  Golgatha and In Terra Pax are both superb!

Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2008, 03:59:57 AM »
Honegger (too long since I've listened to them) and Frank Martin (wha has several of them ).  Golgatha and In Terra Pax are both superb!

Just acquired another version (Horst Stein's on the Profil label) of one of my favorite 20th century oratorios: Franz Schmidt's Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln. No time to comment further now (Mrs. Rock wants to do some Christmas shopping) but will post more tonight if she gives me a bit of free time.

Mike, agree with your accessment of Tippett's Child and, as you know, I finally bought the Davis/Baker/Norman CD last week:



Sarge
« Last Edit: December 08, 2008, 04:02:54 AM by Sergeant Rock »
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2008, 08:12:35 AM »
Ok, here goes with a list of 20th century Oratorios in my own collection-

Boris Blacher:        "Der Grossinquisitor"
Willy Burkhard:       "Das Gesicht Jesayas"
Sir Edward Elgar:   "The Dream of Gerontius"
                          "The Apostles"
                          "The Kingdom"
Paul Hindemith:      "Das Unaufhorliche"
Arthur Honegger:    "Cris du Monde"
                           "Jeanne d'Arc au bucher"
                           "Les Danses des Morts"
Herman Koppel:      "Moses"
Jon Leifs:              "Edda", Part 1"The Creation of the World"
Frank Martin:         "Golgotha"
                           "In Terra Pax"
                           "Le Mystere de la Nativite"
Bohuslav Martinu:   "The Epic of Gilgamesh"
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: "Job"
David Monrad-Johansen:  "Voluspaa"
Serge Prokofiev:     "Ivan the Terrible"
Hilding Rosenberg:   Christmas Oratorio "The Holy Night"
Franz Schmidt:       "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln"
Igor Stravinsky:     "Oedipus Rex"
Hermann Suter:     "Le Laudi di San Francesco d'Assisi"
Georgi Sviridov:     Pathetic Oratorio
Sir Michael Tippett: "A Child of Our Time"
Rudolf Tobias:       "Des Jona Sendung"
Ralph Vaughan Williams: "Sancta Civitas"
Heitor Villa-Lobos:  "Amerindia: Sume Pater Patrium"(Symphony No.10)
Sir Henry Walford Davies: "Everyman"
Sir William Walton:    "Belshazzar's Feast"
Franz Waxman:        "Joshua"

The difficulty is where does the Cantata/Oratorio division lie? Is the Oratorio just longer? Some so-called Cantatas are longer than some so-called Oratorios. Sir George Dyson wrote a very big choral work called "Nebuchadnezzar"-is it an oratorio? What about Sir Granville Bantock's "Omar Khayyam"-is it an oratorio? Honegger's "Le Roi David" is described as a 'Symphonic Psalm', Frank Martin's 'Pilate' as a Cantata! Is VW's 'Sancta Civitas' an oratorio while 'Dona nobis pacem' is a cantata?
« Last Edit: December 08, 2008, 08:15:18 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline knight66

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2008, 09:07:57 AM »
Folks, my apologies re the wrong date for the Tippet, I meant 1942, as the source I used indicated between 1941 and 1943, definitely a War Baby!

Sarge, glad you got that specific earlier Davis performance.

Tippet was fairly elderly when I sang it under him about 35 years ago. He somehow retained the scrubbed cherubic public school boy look and manner. He was very friendly, but apart from some wrong notes he detected in the part scores, he expressed himself delighted with most things.

During the performance, his beat not being very firm, we watched him like hawks. There is a passage for the chorus, "What of the boy then?" a couple of beats then....."What of him?" We got through the first half of the phrase, then he just stood stock still.....rather more than two beats went by. I felt the sweat instantly come out on the back of my knees. The leader saved the day, moved us on and Tippet rejoined this world.

Mike
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I wasted time: and time wasted me.

karlhenning

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2008, 09:17:11 AM »
Tippett is a composer I don't really get along with. I have tried. I think that what has effectively put me off; was when several times I listened to him talking about music. Dry, highly intellectual, meandering, impenetrable, stuffed with references to philosophy. In fact for me, rather like one or two of his pieces that I had listened to. One exception to my rule is 'Child of Our Time'.

My first acquaintance with the piece was preparing it to sing in the chorus conducted by Tippett himself. He turned out to be a delight to work for. The experience was entirely an enriching one. Although we found elements of the music difficult, I don't know of anyone who sooner or later did not succumb to the piece, its beauty, tenderness, drama, the contrast between modernist writing and the Spirituals woven into the piece added to the richness.

It was written around 1949 in response to the war. He was a conscientious objector and during the war he served a prison sentence for his uncompromising stance. The piece depicts the lead up to a shooting and the aftermath. The shooting itself is almost buried within the textures of the music, it is not a drama about a shooting, it is about the human condition. The loose narrative is punctuated with spirituals, which are compared to the use by Bach of chorales, or even to the use of a Greek chorus.

When I was young, critics used often to disparage the work because of this Bachian device; which they felt jarred with the modernist music surrounding it. But for the audience, the mix works superbly. Now, critics seem to be happy to accept that it is a masterpiece; one that taps into people on various levels. Although out of their usual setting, I don't know a more effective or affecting use of spirituals. Lines soar, the melodies are paramount, the word setting careful to communicate.

The spirituals are loaded, in the sense of being slave songs, songs of hope and despair. The four soloists all get a number of highly effective short arias as well as swelling or leading the spirituals, the ensemble work makes the spine tingle.

Colin Davis has produced two versions. The new LSO one is tight, dramatic and has superb choral singing. However, the soloists are not well matched, nor are they distinctive. His first recording on Phillips is my favoured one. The soloists compensate for the analogue sound and the good though less incisive choral work. Jessye Norman and Janet Baker, each sing with both compassion and authority the younger generation don't remotely approach.

But recordings aside, listening to, or being part of a performance is a moving experience, an exploration of The Dark Side, of fear and a call for peace.

Perhaps the answer to my superficial approach to Tippett is to get to grips with the music in a detailed way; from the inside if possible, grow my affection for his music instead of leaving it on the shelf.

Mike

Posts like this really make the forum for me; thanks, Mike.

I don't know this piece at all, having kept a cautious distance.  But that must change, I see.

Again, thanks!

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #12 on: December 08, 2008, 09:31:05 AM »
Folks, my apologies re the wrong date for the Tippet, I meant 1942, as the source I used indicated between 1941 and 1943, definitely a War Baby!

Sarge, glad you got that specific earlier Davis performance.

Tippet was fairly elderly when I sang it under him about 35 years ago. He somehow retained the scrubbed cherubic public school boy look and manner. He was very friendly, but apart from some wrong notes he detected in the part scores, he expressed himself delighted with most things.

During the performance, his beat not being very firm, we watched him like hawks. There is a passage for the chorus, "What of the boy then?" a couple of beats then....."What of him?" We got through the first half of the phrase, then he just stood stock still.....rather more than two beats went by. I felt the sweat instantly come out on the back of my knees. The leader saved the day, moved us on and Tippet rejoined this world.

Mike


Tippett, Mike ;D

And I still say that the work, begun in 1939, was completed in 1941 :)

karlhenning

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #13 on: December 08, 2008, 09:35:43 AM »
Ok, here goes with a list of 20th century Oratorios in my own collection-

Boris Blacher:        "Der Grossinquisitor"
Willy Burkhard:       "Das Gesicht Jesayas"
Sir Edward Elgar:   "The Dream of Gerontius"
                          "The Apostles"
                          "The Kingdom"
Paul Hindemith:      "Das Unaufhorliche"
Arthur Honegger:    "Cris du Monde"
                           "Jeanne d'Arc au bucher"
                           "Les Danses des Morts"
Herman Koppel:      "Moses"
Jon Leifs:              "Edda", Part 1"The Creation of the World"
Frank Martin:         "Golgotha"
                           "In Terra Pax"
                           "Le Mystere de la Nativite"
Bohuslav Martinu:   "The Epic of Gilgamesh"
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: "Job"
David Monrad-Johansen:  "Voluspaa"
Serge Prokofiev:     "Ivan the Terrible"
Hilding Rosenberg:   Christmas Oratorio "The Holy Night"
Franz Schmidt:       "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln"
Igor Stravinsky:     "Oedipus Rex"
Hermann Suter:     "Le Laudi di San Francesco d'Assisi"
Georgi Sviridov:     Pathetic Oratorio
Sir Michael Tippett: "A Child of Our Time"
Rudolf Tobias:       "Des Jona Sendung"
Ralph Vaughan Williams: "Sancta Civitas"
Heitor Villa-Lobos:  "Amerindia: Sume Pater Patrium"(Symphony No.10)
Sir Henry Walford Davies: "Everyman"
Sir William Walton:    "Belshazzar's Feast"
Franz Waxman:        "Joshua"

An impressive list, Colin!  And though it be an impertinence for me to make suggestions, just because I happen to know a couple of pieces which don't appear in your list . . . .

First, three pieces which I suspect that you do have, in fact:

Britten, War Requiem (the inclusion of Wilfred Owen's poetry I think bumps this one from the Liturgical category to Oratorio)
Shostakovich, Thirteenth Symphony ('Babi Yar') (I mean:  men's chorus, solo bass, five Yevtushenko poems . . . a cantata/oratorio by any other name . . . .)
Vaughan Williams, Dona nobis pacem

And a few which, when you may have the chance, I think you may find rewarding:

Bartók, Cantata profana
Prokofiev, Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution
Wuorinen, Genesis


And one, if you should investigate it, whether or not you find it rewarding is on the knees of the gods  8)

Stravinsky, Threni

Offline knight66

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #14 on: December 08, 2008, 09:38:57 AM »
Tippett, Mike ;D

And I still say that the work, begun in 1939, was completed in 1941 :)

My spelling! Sorry, I need to do better. As to when it was written, I won't argue. We are all victims of what we read or hear, unless we were there.

Karl, Thanks very much.

Mike

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Offline The new erato

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #15 on: December 08, 2008, 09:42:27 AM »
Anybody heard Der Jona Sendung by Tobias on BIS? I remember Martin Anderson was mightily impressed by it once upon a time.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #16 on: December 08, 2008, 09:42:49 AM »
I wasn't (quite) there in 1941 ;D  My sources all say 1941 but anyway.......your original post was indeed  first class :)
« Last Edit: December 08, 2008, 09:48:02 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #17 on: December 08, 2008, 09:47:25 AM »
Anybody heard Der Jona Sendung by Tobias on BIS? I remember Martin Anderson was mightily impressed by it once upon a time.

Yes sir! That work is on my list and in my collection :) A fine work-grand and imposing! Can't do better than direct you to this review-

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2001/Oct01/Tobias.htm

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #18 on: December 08, 2008, 09:57:45 AM »
Thank you, Karl.

However(ah, there has to be a 'however' ;D)....

I tried to cover some of the exclusions in my last paragraph about the Oratorio/Cantata split.

I DO take your point about Britten's War Requiem. I had excluded Requiems from my list but Britten's could indeed qualify :)
VW called 'Dona nobis pacem' "a cantata for soprano and baritone soli, chorus and orchestra" but 'Sancta Civitas' "an oratorio for tenor and baritone soli, semi-chorus, distant chorus and orchestra".
The Bartok and Prokofiev-both of which I have on my shelves-are obviously Cantatas.

Ok.....I know that this gets rather silly, to quote your beloved Mony Python, and if we are going to include the Cantata then the list would be much longer but don't tempt me to start another list ;D ;D

karlhenning

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #19 on: December 08, 2008, 10:09:56 AM »
Thank you, Karl.

However (ah, there has to be a 'however' ;D)....

I tried to cover some of the exclusions in my last paragraph about the Oratorio/Cantata split.

I know!  I don't know that we are going to come up with an airtight distinction . . . my functional criteria have been:

A. Meant for concert performance? → oratorio
B. Meant for, or compatible with, liturgical use and/or devotional reflection? → cantata

Of course, even Bach (the Founder of our understanding of the Cantata) wrote some secular cantate.  But it is why, even though the Bartók and Prokofiev have cantata in the title, they seem to me to fit more readily in the oratorio bucket.

Also, I didn't suggest the two Webern cantate, which (while not strictly sacred) have a quiet, contemplative character which seems to me more like a cantata than an oratorio.