Author Topic: 20th Century Choral Music  (Read 33028 times)

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Mark G. Simon

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #20 on: December 08, 2008, 12:45:56 PM »
I think a pedantic distinction between cantata and oratiorio is to be avoided. There are too many instances of secular cantatas to write them off as aberrations and call them something else. Things like Rachmaninoff's Spring Cantata, Stravinsky's Cantata*, Nielsen's Cantata for the centenary of the Merchant's Committee, Cantata for the Centenary of the Polytechnic High School, and Cantata for the 50th Anniversary of the Danish Cremation Union (I'm not making these up, you know), Tchaikovsky's Cantata for the Pupils of the Patriotic Institute orCantata for the Opening of the Polytechnical Exhibition at Moscow.


If a composer calls it a cantata, it's a cantata.

*Stravinsky's possibly fits for devotional reflection, but more likely intended for concert performance.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2008, 12:51:10 PM by Mark G. Simon »

Offline knight66

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #21 on: December 08, 2008, 12:49:27 PM »
Can we count Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky?

I am currently listening to the new Halle version of Gerontius. In the morning I disappear off on my travells for three days, but when I get back I will write it up. But if anyone is wondering whether to buy it, do, it is simply fantastic.

Mike
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #22 on: December 08, 2008, 12:53:48 PM »
I agree!

As you say "if a composer calls it a cantata, it's a cantata".....not an oratorio ;D

'Alexander Nevsky' is a Cantata drawn from Prokofiev's music for Eisenstein's film :)

Offline knight66

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #23 on: December 08, 2008, 01:14:09 PM »
Yes, but not written as a cantata originally....I thought perhaps it might be excluded. So, good news, I will write about it when I get a chance.

Mike
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #24 on: December 08, 2008, 01:31:14 PM »
Yes, but not written as a cantata originally....I thought perhaps it might be excluded. So, good news, I will write about it when I get a chance.

Mike

What? In THIS thread? The Oratorio thread? ;D ;D

My list of Cantatas is looming ever nearer >:D

Offline knight66

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #25 on: December 08, 2008, 10:03:26 PM »
Could we not settle for 20th Cent choral pieces?


Just an idea

Mike
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #26 on: December 09, 2008, 10:03:13 AM »
Ok, Mike, I am perfectly happy to extend this to other 20th century choral works ;D

So.....among my own personal favourites would be:

Bernstein Chichester Psalms
Bloch Sacred Service
Britten Cantata 'St.Nicholas'
Durufle Requiem
Dyson The Canterbury Pilgrims
Elgar The Spirit of England
Finzi Intimations of Immortality, 'In terra pax'
Hindemith-Requiem 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd'
Holmboe Requiem for Nietzsche
Holst Choral Symphony, Hymn of Jesus, Ode to Death
Honegger-, 'Le Roi David", Christmas Cantata
Herbert Howells-Hymnus Paradisi, Stabat Mater, Missa Sabriensis
Janacek Glagolitic Mass
Ludvig Irgens Jensen 'Heimfred'
Kodaly Psalmus Hungaricus, Budaveri Te Deum
Jon Leifs-Iceland Cantata
George Lloyd Symphonic Mass, Litany, 'The Vigil of Venus'
Frank Martin-Cantata 'Pilate', Requiem
William Mathias-'Lux Aeterna'
Novak-'The Storm'
Orff-Carmina Burana
Penderecki-Polish Requiem
Poulenc-Gloria
Rachmaninov-The Bells
Rubbra-Advent Cantata 'Natum Maria Virgine'
Schoenberg Gurreleider
Suk-Epilogue
Szymanowski-Stabat Mater
Vaughan Williams-Cantatas 'Dona nobis pacem', 'Hodie', 'Toward the Unknown Region'

but others deserving a mention would include John Adams 'On the Transmigration of Souls', the various Cantatas written for special occasions by Hugo Alfven(like the Cantata for the 400th Anniversary of Uppsala Cathedral or the Cantata for the 1917 Reformation Festivities in Uppsala), Britten's Cantata Academica, Foulds' World Requiem, Constant Lambert's 'Summer's Last Will and Testament',
Markevitch 'Lorenzo il Magnifico', Martinu's Czech Rhapsody, the Menotti Cantatas, Knut Nystedt's 'Apocalypsis Joannis', Pfitzner's Cantata 'Von Detscher Seele', the Prokofiev Cantatas("On Guard for Peace", Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution),
Schnittke's Cantata 'Nagasaki' and Faust-Cantata, the short Sibelius Cantatas, Richard Wetz's Requiem.

Oh...I have probably forgotten many others!

Anyway, happy to discuss any of these ;D

Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #27 on: December 10, 2008, 07:29:41 PM »
Ok, Mike, I am perfectly happy to extend this to other 20th century choral works ;D


If it's the board's decision to expand this thread I'm all for it. Should I rename it?

I still hope to contribute, BTW, but I've been under the weather the last several days and can't muster much energy. :P :P
 
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 Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #28 on: December 11, 2008, 07:58:53 AM »
If it's the board's decision to expand this thread I'm all for it. Should I rename it?

I still hope to contribute, BTW, but I've been under the weather the last several days and can't muster much energy. :P :P
 

I think that renaming the thread might now be a good idea :)

Sorry to hear that you are unwell :( Get better soon :)

Here is another thought....why has the big Oratorio or Cantata not been a more popular musical form in the USA? A number of prominent American composers steered clear of big choral pieces with orchestra: Copland, Piston, for example.

Even those who did write a cantata are not primarily remembered for so doing-

Barber: Prayers of Kierkegaard, The Lovers
Bernstein-Chichester Psalms, Mass
Diamond-Sacred Service, This Sacred Ground
Hanson-quite a lot of choral music, including an Oratorio "New Land, New Covenant", Lament of Beowulf, Lumen in Christo, The Mystic Trumpeter,
    Heroic Elegy, Drum Taps, Streams in the Desert, Psalm 121
Harris-also quite a lot, including Challenge, Salute to Death
Hovhaness-a lot(of everything!!)
Mennin-Cantata 'The Christmas Story', Cantata de virtute
Schuman-Cantata 'Casey at the Bak', Prologues
Sessions-Cantata "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"

Ok....more than I thought at first..but not that much ever recorded I wouldn't have thought? Or am I talking rubbish?

karlhenning

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #29 on: December 11, 2008, 08:05:50 AM »
Here is another thought....why has the big Oratorio or Cantata not been a more popular musical form in the USA?

But it has!  Choral societies largely devoted to periodic performances of Messiah, the Beethoven Ninth, The Creation, were for a long time the most important leavening agent for popular appreciation of the classical literature in the States.

It was also a source of a certain degree of inertia in musical taste . . . so many people had sung or listened to these pieces, everybody loved them:  how could newly composed music be great, like these works, if they did not make us feel the same, as these works?

So the existence of these choral societies in the US did not generate demand for new choral works, in anything like the way that corresponding organizations and festivals did in England.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #30 on: December 11, 2008, 08:12:45 AM »
Yes, I should have worded my assertion much more precisely to cover the very point that you make!

I meant, of course, popular form for American composers. I accept that many American composers have written big choral works but relatively few of them seem to have entered the repertoire or been recorded. Many of the pieces I listed are relatively short.

Offline The new erato

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #31 on: December 11, 2008, 10:30:42 AM »


Schuman-Cantata 'Casey at the Bak',
?


So Casey was a bakdoor man as well?

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #32 on: December 11, 2008, 10:35:27 AM »
So Casey was a bakdoor man as well?

Sorry!

"Bat". Schuman must be the only composer to have composed a 'baseball cantata' ;D It's based on his opera "The Mighty Casey".

Offline The new erato

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #33 on: December 11, 2008, 10:54:54 AM »
Sorry!

"Bat". Schuman must be the only composer to have composed a 'baseball cantata' ;D It's based on his opera "The Mighty Casey".
I was aware of that, just needed to pull somebodys leg, and you came in handy! ;D

karlhenning

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #34 on: December 11, 2008, 11:14:40 AM »
The Mighty Casey, the Dark Knight?

karlhenning

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #35 on: December 11, 2008, 11:17:36 AM »
Quote
I don't know that we are going to come up with an airtight distinction

Please consider that to be in compliance with pedantry-avoidance  8)

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #36 on: December 11, 2008, 11:20:16 AM »
Please consider that to be in compliance with pedantry-avoidance  8)

I think that we have now moved on from that point, Karl :)

I made the distinction initially to try to avoid posting too long a list ;D ;D ...but you ended up getting it anyway :)

Offline The new erato

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #37 on: December 11, 2008, 11:23:30 AM »
Did you mention Draumkvedet and Margit Hjukse by Groven? Sterling stuff!

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #38 on: December 11, 2008, 11:31:39 AM »
I mentioned the first of these in the Scandinavian composers' thread; never heard of the second!

Offline knight66

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Re: 20th Century Oratorio
« Reply #39 on: December 11, 2008, 02:40:52 PM »
What a lot of learning I have in store when folk give us some information about all these many works listed that I don't know.



The Dream of Gerontius is 20th century, but only just. The first and unsuccessful performance was in Birmingham in 1900. It is based on a work by Cardinal Newman. The words to the piece seem to either attract people or repel them.

Newman was a controversial figure in academic and doctrinal circles in England. He rather kind of floated round Oxford University in a fairly unconventional way, but wrote highly influential works on theology, becoming a leading light in the Oxford Movement which tried to drag Anglicanism back to its Roman roots. Eventually, he joined the Roman Catholic church, becoming a priest and frankly was seen by the RC establishment as both a pest and a feather in their cap, a high profile defection to their cause. As such it is perhaps no great surprise he was made a Cardinal, writing Gerontius in 1865, he died in 1890. In 1991 he was proclaimed as Venerable, which is one of the stage posts towards canonisation.

Elgar was a Roman Catholic, so the poem is one Catholic setting the words of another. What we have is a religious tract with dramatic content, not a dramatic enactment with religious overtones. This I think is the nub of what some find unpalatable and why some performances seem flat. If the artists can't grapple with this tension, there will be elements missing. It is a mistake to make it an opera of the mind.

Although the words have been criticised, I very much like them and this almost stream of consciousness, and unconsciousness, is unique in its form as far as I know.

Basically it is the journey of an Everyman through death, judgement and into what lies beyond.

There is a brand new version conducted by Sir Mark Elder and I think that at long last I have found a version as deeply satisfying, yet very different from the long cherished Barbirolli. They both emanate from the Halle Orchestra, which is now in resplendent form, a really wonderful outfit.

Almost my favourite parts of this piece are the two orchestral introductions; they are moving and dramatic and have sweep. We get an old hymn as the man in the poem expires, the choral writing goes from delicate and solemn, to later evoking demons. Some choirs manage the various moods of the piece better than others. A few UK choirs have basically been too polite. Not here, they get torn into the spirit of whatever they are asked for. The great set piece, 'Praise to the Holiest' is refulgent and sweeps us along. When singing this, you should be spent at the end of it, or you just are not trying. Here is is given the full-on treatment.

Elder has the symphonic shape under his fingers and it feels wonderfully organic. The piece can sound episodic, but not here. He brings out delicate layers of gentle playing and sweeping passion; and the engineering brings out the organ at vital points better than on the other recordings I have. There is a great feeling of concentration and a calm certainty here once the death has occured, as against Barbirolli's more mercurial journey where there is no certainty until the judgement has been passed. Here there is a serenity in the progression towards that point, an acceptance. At the end, the work ebbs away most beautifully into the ether, shimmering like a mirage.

There are three soloists. The Baratone gets two short arias, they contrast in tessitura and clearly Terfel is less secure in the first aria where he sounds to be pushing and a wobble is evident. His later incarnation finds him more secure, but whatever he sings, he is communicating with every word.

The tenor has to have bit of heft, but in the main, a 1950s style Handel Tenor can get round most of it. It has  been recorded by Peter Pears, desiccated and parched. Although Britten's conducting is worth the entry price and Yvonne Minton is a real asset as the Angel on that Decca set, Pears causes agony when he is really supposed to express it.

Here we have Paul Groves, he is in the mould of Richard Lewis, clear words, clear voice, good expressive use of the text. He is a bit taxed at the occasional almost heldentenor phrases, but it is a small matter. He explains the journey, it is an intelligent reading. Our Andre has ordered the live Barbirolli version from Rome with Vickers, I should think he would be an exceptional Gerontius, I hope he gives us a report.

The make or break however is often the angel. I have not taken very much pleasure with any interpretation after connecting with Janet Baker in the part. I was in choir for her, Helen Watts, Yvonne Minton and Alfreda Hodgson, but Baker had a lot of things to offer that the others sinply could not supply. Mainly it was a kind of tenderness in the tone that was very moving. Alice Coote for Elder is different indeed, cooler, but nevertheless involved and she pulls off the challenge and at last I have found a reading I like as much as Baker, but which is very much its own. She colours the words well, she uses portamento, (as does the orchestra), many touches of individuality and a gravely beautiful voice. There are climactic phrases, some of which have alternative lower options as thy lie right at the top of the mezzo range, but Coote rises to these with gleaming tone and dramatic panash.

So altogether, a great gift of a performance of a favourite piece, a new generation of artists have come together and made what is easily the best version I know of since the Barbirolli was laid down.

Mike


« Last Edit: December 12, 2008, 12:12:01 AM by knight »
DavidW: Yeah Mike doesn't get angry, he gets even.
I wasted time: and time wasted me.