Skip to page content

About this Piece

One of choral music’s oldest functions is presenting sacred texts in church. Ave Maris Stella is part of Vespers, the Catholic evening service. Franz Biebl composed his Ave Maria, a choral setting of the “Ave Maria” texts interspersed with lines of the Gregorian chant “Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae,” in 1959 and later made versions for four different combinations of voices. Zoltan Kodály’s 1928 Tantum Ergo is a setting of a part of the communion service.

The duet by Johann Ludwig Bach (1677–1731) is from a cantata composed for a Lutheran service in Meiningen. Because Johann Sebastian Bach, his third cousin, performed it in a Leipzig service in the 1720s, there was a copy in the manuscripts J.S. Bach bequeathed to his sons, and until about 1959, it was thought that he wrote it.

I Lift up My Eyes to the Hills by Paul Bouman (1918–2019), a longtime Lutheran church music director, is a complete setting of Psalm 121. Basque composer Josu Elberdin’s Cantate Domino sets the first part of Psalm 98 in English, Basque, and Latin.

The four African-American spirituals on the program are a different kind of liturgy, being arrangements of participatory hymns originating in the slave experience, sung in worship and work. They were often based on stories in the Hebrew Bible that thinly veiled their expressions of longing to be free (“Wade in the water” was both an oblique reference to stepping into the parted waters to flee Pharaoh’s troops and advice to runaway slaves to make it harder for bloodhounds to track them) and smash down walls like Joshua at Jericho. Closely related is the gospel-inspired Still I Rise by Rosephanye Powell, professor of voice at Auburn University, an anthem about female empowerment and persistence.

There are three arrangements of folk songs from outside the Americas on the program. The Korean Arirang is about young lovers separated by water, while the Taiwanese Gao Shan Qing is about a young man and woman as inseparable as the mountain and the river running by it. Ca’ the Yowes to the Knowes, from 18th-century Scotland, exists with two sets of words: the original and a rewrite by Robert Burns.

There are also three arrangements of popular songs. Juramento was a hit for Miguel Matamoros and his Trio Matamoros, a well-known group in Cuba between 1925 and 1961. Paul McCartney’s When I’m Sixty-Four, from the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, shows his penchant for exploring pre-rock’n’roll musical styles (John Lennon called it “Paul’s granny music”). Canadian singer-songwriter Allister MacGillivray’s Here’s to Song is an ode to song and friendship.

A handful of selections on this program are works intended for theater or concert performance in their original form. Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, a short opera about the queen of Carthage and the legendary founder of Rome, was written for a performance at the royal court in the 1680s, but was for centuries wrongly believed to have been composed for a London girls’ school. Hugo Wolf’s Seclusion is his own arrangement of his 1888 solo song.

Pauline Garcia Viardot was a legendary opera singer who retired to teach and compose small operas like The Last Sorcerer, a story about fairies tricking an old sorcerer. Ivan Turgenev, her extremely close friend, wrote the French-language text.

Reena Esmail’s Tuttarana, from 2014, draws its name from the Italian tutti and tarana, a North Indian solo vocal piece that involves rapid pronunciation akin to jazz scat-singing. Esmail posted a 23-minute YouTube tutorial about how to pronounce the phrases.

Past Life Melodies, by the Australian cellist-composer Sarah Hopkins, is also wordless, and indeed mostly consonant-less, exploring the different tone colors of vowel sounds.

Daisy Fragoso’s reflection on the moon, Ciranda da Lúa, explores the popular rhythms of her native Brazil. —Howard Posner