“Songs of the Saints” Program Notes – Solis Camerata

Songs of the Saints 2014-1

November 6, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

Xavier Chapel of our Lady:
4710 North 5th Street,
Phoenix, Arizona 85012

Tickets: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/songs-of-the-saints-tickets-13613294731?aff=eac2

Ave Generosa
St. Hildegard Von Bingen (and St. Mary)
Hildegard Von Bingen (c. 1098 – 1179) is a significant figure in music and Church history. Hildegard suffered from what scholars believe were intense migraines from the age of three. The migraines brought on luminous visions that she believed were from God. At the age of 43, she began to write down these visions. With the help of male scribes who could read and write, she was able to document treatises on natural science, medicine, healing and spirituality. Her visions and treatises, originally discouraged by the Catholic Church, eventually became accepted and admired due to her distinguished holy wisdom. Hildegard received veneration during her life and after her death, but it was not until May 2012 that Pope Benedict XVI declared her a saint and, in October 2012, named her a Doctor of the Church.

She is one of the few known women medieval composers, a champion of women, their spirituality and strengths in society. Although she did not question the role of women, she was outspoken in the presence of clergymen and nobility. Her long list of appointments includes as the Abbess at the Benedictine monastery of St. Disibod in Germany. She founded two convents despite intense Church opposition. When Hildegard founded the first convent, she was forbidden to use the Church-sanctioned liturgy. Instead, she composed her own music, developing her own musical style. Although she did not have a formal music education, her exposure to music of the Church inspired her to develop her own system.

Her music is nothing like existing 12th century chant. Instead, we see monophonic writing with extraordinary wide ranges, unheard-of ascending intervals of a fifth, soaring melodies, highly melismatic melodies and alternating soloists and choir. Her text directly pairs with the melodic action in the music, implying drama and narrative, which was a rarity in 12th century compositions. Because she did not receive formal music training, she did not make use of the medieval neumatic system of notation, therefore her scores look different from those of her contemporaries. Today when we perform her music, the rhythmic durations are up to interpretation by the performer. Hildegard enthusiasts celebrate her music, which much of the body of repertoire honors the mysticism and reverence for the Virgin Mary, such as the piece on tonight’s program, “Ave Generosa.”

Salve, Sancte Pater Patriae
Guillaume Dufay (St. Peter or St. Francis of Assisi)
This hymn, traditionally attributed to St. Francis, literally translated (Sancte Pater) could be for the Holy Father, or specifically for St. Peter. St. Peter, known in the bible originally as Simon the apostle, received the name Peter when Christ said: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” As the rock-like foundation, Peter became the first leader of the apostles as well as the head of the larger community who believed in Christ. He traveled to far lands proclaiming the gospel, but died as a martyr for his faith by crucifixion on an upside down cross. He was the first pope of the Catholic Church and is the patron saint of Fishermen and workers.

Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397 – 1474) had a broad spectrum of talents. In addition to his activities as a composer, he labored as a doctor of Canon Law, regularly participating in ecclesiastical events as a holder of various prebends. A wealthy, cosmopolitan, and powerful man living in the area of Cambrai (Northern France), his correspondence with contemporary composers, such as Binchoi and Ockeghem furthered his compositional technique. Much of his output reflected his dedication his canonic duties, as it furthered the larger role that liturgical polyphony played in the Church. His melodies, harmonies and plainchant compositions are an area of distinction, as well as his continued development of the iso-rhythmic technique, an older style that he perfected. The motet for this program, “Salve, Sancte Pater Patriae,” displays the iso-rhythmic aspects of medieval rhythm. The rhythm and melody repeats, and those repetitions shift over time. Each voice has its own independent line, but placed in counterpoint to the other voices, which in turn have their own repetition. Some voices have elongated and augmented rhythms, while other voices have smaller and faster diminutive rhythms. The resulting sonic structure sounds to the modern ear as if it is syncopated, and quite dissonant. However, what sounds archaic and alien to us now, was new and innovative for its time.

Missa Pange Lingua, Kyrie
Josquin des Prez ( St. Thomas Aquinas)
At the tender age of five, St. Thomas Aquinas’ (c. 1225–1274) parents gave him to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino with the expectation that he would choose the life of an abbot. When Thomas reached the age of nineteen, he chose a different path against his Italian family’s wishes, and took up the Dominican habit. Shortly after, he began his career as a teacher and writer. That work later became the foundation of his faith and led to his renown as the preeminent teacher of Theology and Philosophy in the Church. His legacy lies within his writings where his main themes outline the natural order, human knowledge of the divine, the relationship between faith and reason, and the proof of God’s existence. He is the patron saint of students, schools, colleges and universities.

Josquin des Prez (c. 1450/1455 – 1521) was not a composer by trade, but rather an aristocrat who ‘dabbled’ in music. In the 15th century, aristocrats trained musicians and poets. However, it was not acceptable to brag about one’s talent as a musician, but rather be ‘asked’ – if not ‘pleaded’ – by others to ‘favor’ them with a composition. Josquin acquiesced to that ‘favor’ so often, that he is now considered a central figure in the high Renaissance and was lauded and praised during his day for his mastery of the technique. During this period, composers were unencumbered by the medieval formulaic methods of the text or rhythm, and did not have to rely upon a pre-existing melody (cantus firmus). It was a time of inventive creativity and an opening of new expressive ideas. Therefore, Josquin was able to compose freely, creating his own musical form.
Josquin’s “Missa Pange Lingua” came from a contemporary source of inspiration, the well-known hymn of the same name by St. Thomas Aquinas. Josquin set the tune as the basic melodic structure of the entire mass. As in previous compositions, Josquin turns to paraphrasing and imitation as the basis of his technique. The opening and closing Kyrie sections display imitative counterpoint defined rhythmically and melodically where each new vocal line conveys a new point of imitation. The concept of tact (or pulse) is clear in the writing of these two sections. In the middle Christe section, each new line of text conveys a new point of imitation. Some imitative motives occur in duetted pairings (the same idea which led later to antiphonal choirs). Yet, other motives trail each other with ‘question and answer’ canons. The Renaissance melodic method of horizontal lines in independent voices, combined with long chains of interlocking motives paved a path for exquisite overlapping phrases. The listener hears tension and resolution, and the long aching melodies that we have come to associate with Renaissance writing. Josquin’s genius is not only in his compelling melodies and in imitative structures, but also that he displayed a strong relationship between the text and music. This technique laid the groundwork for the Renaissance maxim: “Music is not the servant, but the mistress of the words.”

Ask Anything
Joshua Ian Elder (St. Thomas Aquinas)
*Commissioned for “Songs of the Saints” by Catholic Phoenix

I have a deep regard for the mystic poets – their poems cause us to ponder and meditate; never offering answers, but always leading to more questions, they allow us to unravel for ourselves the Divine Mystery. So, when I happened upon “Ask Anything,” I knew immediately that I would set the text to music. The poem is a beautiful reminder that we can come before God with all of our questions, doubts and fears, and that when we grapple with our issues before God, we will be rewarded by a deeper understanding of God’s nature and our own. – Notes by Joshua Ian Elder

Beatus Franciscus
Jerónimo de Aliseda (St. Francis of Assisi)
St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1181 – 1226), founder of the Franciscan order, came from the least likely background to live a life dedicated to the Church. His mother named him Giovanni after John the Baptist, but his father returned after a time in France and refused to name his son after a Christian figure. His father, a French merchant, renamed him Francesco after his own love of France. Francis lived a life of luxury and wealth, and had a reputation as a friendly and well-loved child and a natural leader. However, he tended to indulge himself in alcohol, fine food, friends, and women. As a grown man, he was much like his father, in his love for France, keen sense of adventure, business acumen, and excitement at the prospect of joining a crusade. He answered the call for knights in a war against the nearby town of Perugia. However, the war ended poorly and Francis landed in prison, suffering both physically and mentally. There he had the first of several visions from God. God told him to return home, repair the Church and live a life of poverty. A ransom from his father was accepted, but when Francis returned home, he was a different man. His transformation to man of God was not immediate, yet over time Francis lost his desire for an indulgent life. Instead, he disposed of all his possessions, devoted himself to solitude, prayer, and helping the poor. A naturally joyful man, Francis learned that he did not need possessions, wealth, or glory to be happy and at peace, but rather to be in the service of God. An important sojourn of St. Francis’ life occurred when he followed Christ’s journey through forty days of fasting and prayer. During his fast, an angel brought him a vision and at the angel’s adjourn, St. Francis became the first person to receive the stigmata, wounds similar to Christ’s wounds on the Cross.

Scholars know little about the life and works of Jerónimo de Aliseda (c. 1548 – 1591) except that he was a composer working at the Toledo Cathedral in Spain. This motet about St. Francis comes from the Toledo Polyphonic Choirbooks, a large collection of illuminated, musical liturgical sources from the Toledo Cathedral between 15th and 19th centuries. The atlas-sized book, only discovered in 2002, unearthed 170 previously lost Masses, motets and plainchants intended for liturgical functions. Although scholars do not have a large body of historical information about the piece “Beatus Franciscus,” it is clear that the reverence for St. Francis, his life and sacrifice was a topic this Spanish composer still found compelling and inspiring three hundred years after the saint’s death.

Nos Qui Sumus
Orlando di Lasso (St. Nicholas)
This 3rd century saint is the real person behind the Santa Claus story. Far from the legendary home at the North Pole, Nicholas was born in the city of Patera, on the southern coast of modern Turkey. Nicholas dedicated his life to serving the God at a young age. His parents died, leaving him a significant inheritance, which he gave to the needy, sick, and poor. He became Bishop of Myra and his paved his legacy through his generosity to those in poverty, needy children, and sailors at sea. Many stories about this Saint have been passed down, some about his kind deeds during his life and others about the many miracles which occurred through beseeching prayers to St. Nicholas after his death. One of the most famous stories led to a tradition we celebrate during the Christmas holiday today. It tells of a poor man with three daughters but no money for a dowry to prevent their being sold into slavery. On three different occasions, an anonymous person threw a bag of gold into the house through an open window giving the father money for each of the daughters’ dowries. The stories say the bag landed in stockings or shoes left beside the fire. Some variations of the story describe the contents of the bags from St. Nicholas as either three gold balls, or three oranges. Today we honor St. Nicholas, the gift giver, by leaving a stocking or shoes out for him to fill, whereby he secretly enters the house through an open window, or chimney.

Originally from Belgium, Orlando di Lasso (c. 1532 – 1594) began as a nine year old chorister soprano at St. Nicholas Cathedral choir. His famous vocal talent caused him to suffer kidnapping on three occasions, stolen away to a new cathedral. He spent many years in Italy working at the Gonzaga court in Mantua and studied singing and composition from Italian masters. After working in Italy for the Medicis and as chorus master at the Basilica of San Giovanni di Laterano (St. John Lateran), and extended travel to study music all over Europe, he returned to the Belgium. Eventually he settled in Bavaria, and Lasso received the appointment of Kapellmeister at the ducal court in Munich, Bavaria. Considered one of the Renaissance’s great composers, Lasso (or Lassus) was an authoritative writer of all genres and techniques. His music explores more chromatic and intrepid harmonies than most of his contemporaries, save perhaps Don Carlo Gesualdo. The prose for “Nos Qui Sumus” comes from the liturgical sequence for St. Nicholas’s feast day, remarking on shipwreck, despair, and rescue of sailors. The St. Nicholas liturgical sequence, attributed to Adam of St. Victor, was a popular form during the 14th century and would have been included before the gospel during medieval worship. It was only after 1570, with the introduction of the Tridentine Missal that Pope St. Pius V drastically reduced the number of sequences in the Roman Rite.

Ave Maria
Franz Biebl (St. Mary, Mary the Blessed Virgin)
St. Mary, the Blessed Virgin, is the Mother of God and wife of St. Joseph. Mary’s life is exalted and celebrated through multiple feast days and holidays across multiple Christian denominations. In life, she became the mother of Jesus Christ, saved her son from the grasp of King Herod, and raised him with her husband Joseph. Mary was present during Jesus’ first documented miracle at the wedding in Cana and she was present at his Crucifixion. In death, Mary’s body rose to heaven as celebrated in the Feast of Assumption. She is traditionally known as the first disciple and the preeminent witness to Christ. As such, she leads us to Christ and gives hope, love, nourishment, and comfort, standing by our side from birth until death. St. Mary’s legend and many miracles that occurred on her behalf led to the cult of the Virgin Mary in the Middle ages, emphasizing the relationship between her and the holy child. A popular topic for composers since the Middle Ages, thousands of choral works exist in her name. Some familiar works about the Virgin Mary are: Magnificat, Ave Marie Stella, Ave Dulcissima Maria, Assumpta est Maria, Ave Virgo Gloriosa, Ave virgo Sanctissima, Beata es Virgo Maria, Maria Matrem Virgine, and the most famous Ave Maria.

The “Ave Maria” on this program is a contemporary composition by Franz Biebl (c. 1906 – 2001) from Bavaria, Germany. A devout Catholic, Biebl served as choirmaster at St. Maria in Munich and then later taught theory and voice professor at the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg, Austria. His most famous work, Ave Maria, quickly became popular after the American choral director, Thomas A. Sokol of the Cornell University Glee Club, came across the score music while on a concert tour in Germany. After his introduction of the work in the US, it became a staple of men’s professional choral group, Chanticleer, reaching the status of a choral “hit” after their first recording. The text comes from the ancient Angelus prayer, which is recited at three times during the day accompanied by the ringing of a bell. Scholars believe the Angelus stems from the 11th century tradition of saying three Hail Marys during the daily bell, which Pope Gregory IX ordered rung to pray for the Crusades.

Love’s Living Flame
Kira Zeeman Rugen (St. John of the Cross)
*Commissioned for “Songs of the Saints” by Catholic Phoenix

As a child, St. John of the Cross (c. 1542 – 1591) lived a life of poverty, hunger, and sacrifice, after his father died and left his family destitute. St. John of the Cross joined the Carmelite order where St. Teresa of Avila enlisted him to help establish a monastery, which would return the order to a life of prayer. Carmelite dissenters of the renewed directive kidnapped St. John of the Cross, locked him in a cell for nine months, where they beat, and starved him. During his this period of suffering, St. John of the Cross had heavenly visions, and he wrote down several works of exquisite poetry based on those visions. These poems, described as mystic poems, deal with the perpetual relationship between man’s soul and God. St. John of the Cross wrote that the soul must lose all earthly attachments before it can be united with God. Cardinal Wisemen (first Archbishop of Westminster, b. 1802) said of this journey, “St. John of the Cross gives us clearly the results of his own experience in himself and others. He presents you with a portrait, not with a fancy picture. He represents the ideal of one who has passed, as he had done, through the career of the spiritual life, through its struggles and its victories.”

In the composition “Love’s Living Flame” (Poetry title: Living Flame of Love), Kira Rugen chose to set the text both from the perspective of St. John of the Cross, during his imprisonment and his intimate struggle to find God’s light, and also in relation to the divine yet turbulent relationship between all humans and God. In this poem, St. John of the Cross emerges from the “Dark Night of the Soul,” where he experienced the absence of God’s light. He now feels of God’s presence, but it is not yet a complete reunion, and St. John finds the relationship is more painful than it is peaceful. Yet, St. John seeks more understanding, climbing higher where he attempts to partake of the Divine Nature. Instead of exaltation, he perceives the pain as a part of his cleansing to fully receive the glory and the light of God. So too in our lives do humans seek the love of God, but like Job and St. John of the Cross, in order to understand the fullness of his glory and mercy, we must first be stripped of ego, earthly materials and honor to find ourselves humbled and in need of His grace. Kira Rugen’s composition uses harmonies, colors and rhythm that present the perpetual human questioning of God’s absence, the need for his love, and the simultaneously mystifying and clarifying nature of God’s answers.

St. Crucis Mass
Josef Rheinberger   (The Holy Cross)
Although the “St. Crucis Mass” is not about a specific Saint, its name reflects the vital and the central point of focus for the Catholic Church – the Holy Cross. When examined as separate words, St. Crucis presents a deeper meaning. The Latin word for Saint (St.) is Sanctus, otherwise translated as “holy,” reflecting the sacred, consecrated, canonized or a set of descriptors recognized as good, kind, patient, of eminent piety and virtue. The definition for Crucis is cross, or crux meaning the most vital or decisive stage, a central difficulty, a crossroads of interpretation or a central point.

Scholars have not unearthed historical background for the “St. Crucis Mass,” aside from the assumption that its intended use was for worship and Rheinberger composed it in 1882 while he held the title of Bavarian court Kapellmeister (Munich). However, a possible commissioning came from a church in Germany by the same name, Saint Crucis, church of Erfurt. The size and architecture of this late Gothic building built around 1170 suggests the medieval importance of the nearby castle in Landsberg (Saalekreis). The double chapel was used for church government for the Bishop of Salain Hohenstaufen. The tapestries hung on the pillars and columns highlight a community of wealth and agricultural strength.  Alternately, Josef Rheinberger (c. 1839-1901) may have simply named the Mass for his own devotion to the Church and his convictions regarding the liturgical purpose of the Mass. A devout Catholic, Rheinberger was a member of the Caecilian Society, whose religious ideals advocated for a purity of the spirit in worship through a revival of interest in Gregorian chant. Rheinberger preferred an a capella ideal, which he considered to be “the special medium of the Church,” and drawing from 16th century fugal and canonic forms he alternated homophonic and contrapuntal techniques. Rheinberger, a strict conservative, looked to musical forms of previous centuries interspersed with a nineteenth harmonic language of traditional classical harmony and rich chromaticism. The legacy of his compositions lies in their simplicity, clarity, intricate contrapuntal harmony and soaring melodies without adhering to the overly dramatic overtures found in Wagner and Brahms. He earned a distinctive reputation as a conductor during his time as director of the German Oratorio Club (Oratorienverein) and Director of Sacred Music at the Bavarian Court. Now considered one of the great religious composers of the 19th century, his German Romantic peers largely overshadowed him in popularity for more than one hundred years. With a revival of his music in the late 20th century, scholars have discovered his long history as a harmony professor at the Royal School of Music in Munich, having taught such composers as Engelbert Humperdink, American George Chadwick and even acting as a mentor to Richard Strauss.

Hymn to St. Cecilia
Benjamin Britten  (St. Cecilia)
It is only befitting that tonight’s musical journey concludes by honoring the life and influence of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, who (as said in the text below) “appears in visions to all musicians” to “inspire.” Although St. Cecilia was not a musician, the tragically romantic story of her life dating from the third or fourth century says that Cecilia heard heavenly music when she was forced to marry a Pagan, Valerian. She told her husband that an angel watched over her to guard her purity, and when he wanted to see the angel, she told him he would only after his baptism by Pope Urban. After Valerian converted, Cecilia, her husband, and her brother undertook a mission of burying Christian martyrs killed by the Roman city officials. All three of them received a death sentence for their efforts, but Cecilia did not die after being struck by the executioner’s sword three times. Instead, she survived for three days while people came to her home to honor her. In the Middle Ages, her popularity as a saint flourished. Many songs, poems, stories, and compositions arose in her honor and several paintings of St. Cecilia emerged. Her feast day inspired a wealth of famous compositions bearing her name and spirit: Henry Percell’s “Ode to St. Cecilia,” George F. Handel’s “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day,” Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s “In honorem Caeciliae,” Charles Gounod’s “Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cecile,” and tonight’s final work, Benjamin Britten’s “Hymn to St. Cecilia.”

Benjamin Britten was actually born on St. Cecilia’s feast day, November 22 (c. 1913 –1976). The poem “Hymn to St. Cecilia” written by a close friend, William H. Auden, is divided into three parts. The first section refers to the holy lady, St. Cecilia, as an innocent virgin, who constructs an organ to extend the power of her prayer. Auden likened her to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of fertility, as she floated on a shell in the sea. The second section is the voice of music itself, carefree, innocent, playful, and joyful to all who partake of its aesthetic–for music cannot hurt or cause suffering. The third section deals with humankind offering prayers to St. Cecilia, calling upon her to help us overcome our sorrows and restore our lost innocence. Additionally, the third section offers St. Cecilia’s answer, in which she reproaches humans for overlooking sorrow, and being blind to the destruction they cause. The poem ends with hope, returning once again to artists beseeching St. Cecilia to continue inspiring musicians to create “immortal fire.” Keep in mind that this poem, written in the midst of World War II, holds meanings reflective of pre-war and wartime Europe. First, there is a happy time, joyful and blissfully unaware of pain, then a time of lost innocence and tremendous human suffering. Benjamin Britten, a leading 20th century composer, was an active pacifist, speaking out against the war-ridden Europe, who eventually gained status as a conscientious objector.

2 thoughts on ““Songs of the Saints” Program Notes – Solis Camerata

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s