Missa sacra, op. 147 in C minor, for mixed chorus, soloists and organ (or orchestra) by Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann came from the mainly Lutheran region of Saxony in east-central Germany, though he was never a traditionally religious man. Nevertheless, in 1851 he told a colleague that "it must always remain an artist's highest aim to direct his efforts to sacred music," acting on this remark to produce both a Mass and a Requiem in the following year. This sudden outpouring of Roman Catholic liturgical music is, on the surface, as difficult to explain in Schumann as it is with regard to Bach's B-minor Mass .
Schumann moved in 1850 from Dresden to Düsseldorf in the predominantly Catholic Rhineland, to succeed Ferdinand Hiller as director of the city's municipal music institutions, thereby escaping the increasingly restrictive political atmosphere of post-revolutionary Saxony . While the new post required him to direct masses at two of the city's churches on Corpus Christi and the feast day of St. Maximilian, it was by no means obligatory for him to provide original music for these occasions. In Bach's case it is possible that the hope of obtaining a post at the then-Catholic electoral court in Dresden led him to expand his Lutheran Missa - the Kyrie and Gloria movements of the present B-minor Mass - into a full-scale Missa solemnis, but Schumann would have had no such aspirations, as at that point his ineptitude as a conductor hadn't yet put his tenure into question (he was forced to resign the following year). But soon after his arrival in Düsseldorf Schumann had attended an investiture ceremony at the great Gothic cathedral of Cologne and been overwhelmed by the splendor of the occasion. Its immediate result was the fourth movement of his Third Symphony - the "Rhenish" - with its solemn brass chorales and echoing orchestration; the composer at first entitled the movement "In the Character of an Accompaniment for a Ceremonial Occasion." The Missa sacra, and the Requiem that followed it later in 1852, may simply have been additional ripples in the wake of that Cologne experience.
The Missa sacra was sketched over a period of only ten days and orchestrated immediately afterward. While it reflects Schumann's studies of Bach and Palestrina, it departs in many ways from the typical mass settings of Classical- and Romantic-period composers. In particular, the Credo seems to minimize the Incarnation and Crucifixion episodes, making its sole focus the Resurrection. Schumann also replaced the expected repetition of the Hosanna following the Benedictus with the first verse of "O salutaris hostia" from Thomas Aquinas' Corpus Christi hymn "Verbum supernum prodiens" (The Word Descending from Above) - evidence, perhaps, of an intention to use this Mass in the annual festival service at St. Lambert's Church. More importantly, Schumann in this Mass employed a rhythmic flexibility entirely absent from his earlier large-scale works, often entirely negating the regularity of the bar line by means of accents and irregular phrasing. What to Schumann's contemporaries appeared bizarre and even, perhaps, evidence of a disturbed mind reveals itself today as the product of a revolutionary musical thinker willing to challenge accepted traditions in sacred composition, much as a hundred years later Igor Stravinsky did in his own Mass.
During the spring of 1853 Schumann revised the Mass, adding an offertory movement, "Tota pulchra es, Maria" (You are entirely beautiful, Mary), in effect making the Mass a specifically Marian offering (and as a result even more alien to Protestant sensibilities). At the same time he also made an organ version based on the orchestral parts, to enable him to enter the Mass in a British choral composition competition whose guidelines prescribed accompaniment by organ alone. Schumann never heard a complete performance of the Missa sacra . He conducted the first two movements at a concert in March 1853, but along with many of his other late works it was deemed by his wife Clara and others to be inferior to his earlier music, tainted by his approaching insanity, and was approved for publication among his complete works only reluctantly. The organ version was lost for many years; it was rediscovered around 1990 and received its first performance in Düsseldorf in 1991. This evening it receives its Hong Kong première.
Prelude and a Psalm of Francis Thompson (The Kingdom of God) for mixed voices and organ, strings and timpani (or organ alone) by David Francis Urrows
David Francis Urrows was born in Honolulu, Hawai'i, in 1957. He was educated at Brandeis University, and pursued postgraduate studies in music and philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, and also at Boston University, where he received his doctoral degree in 1987. His principal teachers were Randall Thompson and Kenneth Leighton; he also studied composition with David del Tredici, Donald Martino, and Girolamo Arrigo. His compositions are marked by a rational, classical aesthetic and a deeply melodic orientation. The distinguished American composer Arthur Berger identified the main features of Urrows' creative style in 1981, when he wrote that "Urrows quite consciously and deliberately eschews the current trends used by his fellows - non-tonalism, serialism, aleatory - and quite courageously veers to a neo-classic path somewhat in the manner of young composers in the 1930s." "Urrows," concluded Berger, long-time music critic for the Herald Tribune, "is an original." Dr. Urrows has taught in the Department of Music at Hong Kong Baptist University from 1989 to 1991, and again from 2001 to the present. He has also served on the faculties of the University of Massachusetts, Eastern Mediterranean University, and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. In addition to his work as a composer, Dr. Urrows is a musicologist with a specialization in mid-nineteenth century music, and is editor of the critical edition of the works of German-American composer Otto Dresel. Dr. Urrows has written music on commission for The Providence New Music Ensemble, The Oratorio Society of Providence, The Barnby Choir, Nova-The American Women's Choir in Hong Kong, and Ragazzi -The Peninsula Boys Choir; he is the recipient of many awards, including an ASCAP Foundation Grant, the Stratton Prize-Fellowship for Intercultural Achievement (for his opera, A Midsummer Night's Dream), the National Association of Teachers of Singing Art Song Composition Award (for his song cycle, A New England Almanack), and ASCAP Special Awards every year since 1987. He was the conductor of the Hong Kong Bach Choir from 1989 to 1991.
About Prelude and a Psalm of Francis Thompson, the composer is unwilling to say much, other than to note that he feels his reading of the poem very deeply. Its final words - or at least the final words of that portion of the poem that Urrows sets ("...the many-splendoured thing") - suggest a Hong Kong connection, but Urrows insists that he'd been thinking about setting this poem for many years before receiving the commission from The Hong Kong Bach Choir; he notes that 2007 is the centenary of Francis Thompson's death, another reason to write this work now.
Despite his resolutely tonal orientation, Urrows chooses pitch combinations as methodically as the most ardent serialists do. The melodic interval of a half-step, so characteristic of the piece's motivic basis, has its counterpart in the tonal contrast of the harmonic fifth E-flat/B-flat and E-natural/B-natural. The half-step - a quite "modern" duality - is balanced by the classically oppositional perfect fifth. Interestingly, it is a similar (and similarly ambiguous) half-step dialectic that pervades Richard Strauss' tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, a more grandiose essay on a similar poetic theme. In Zarathustra, a solo violin provides textural contrast; here it is a solo cello, whose song concludes the Prelude . That cello returns in the opening stanza of the poem's setting, providing a sense of short-term continuity that complements the work's long-term melodic and tonal arc.
Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227 Motet No. 3 in E minor for 5 vocal parts and obbligato instrumental accompaniment by Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach's six authenticated motets were all written for the funeral services of prominent Leipzig citizens between 1723 (Bach's first year as Cantor of St. Thomas' Church) and 1727. Jesu, meine Freude, the earliest, longest and most musically complex of the six, was first performed at St. Thomas ' on the 18 th of July 1723 during the funeral of Johanna Maria Käsin, the wife of the city's postmaster.
Like many of Bach's contemporary cantatas, this motet is based on a pre-existing Lutheran chorale melody, in this case by Johann Crüger. The chorale text is by Johann Franck; like the melody, it dates from the early 1650s and, like other chorales, would have been familiar to worshippers in the congregation, enabling them, perhaps, to sing the melody together with the choir much as hymns are sung today.
The motet's odd-numbered movements present increasingly florid - and increasingly passionate - elaborations of the chorale's six strophes; these alternate with movements whose texts are based on verses from Paul's Epistle to the Romans, which speak of the power of Jesus to free man from sin and death.
Viewed as if from above, the motet presents a beautiful symmetry, what would come in the twentieth century to be called "arch form." The outermost movements are identical musically, though differing in their sung texts. The second and penultimate movements are similarly related to each other in their musical settings, while the third and ninth movements are variant settings of the chorale - the ninth embedding individual phrases of the chorale melody in the alto voice within a trio for two sopranos and tenor. The fourth and eighth movements are both gentle trios. In contrast, the fifth movement is almost violent in its metrical dislocations, its text encouraging the listener to defy fear and death. (The bar line, therefore, perhaps represents the finality of death!) While the seventh movement is another chorale setting, its lower three choral voices are as aggressive as in its earlier counterpart. This leaves the sixth movement, a large-scale fugue, as the fulcrum on which the entire edifice is balanced.
But this view of the work is a static one. Music is apprehended not as sculpture is, but progressively, through the interaction of movement and time rather than of movement and space. The beauty of Jesu, meine Freude is contained in its perfectly calculated expressive expansion based on a sequence of alternating ideas, in which the ultimate return to its beginning suggests the never-ending cycle of life.
- Jerome Hoberman -