We’d like to offer you a further sneak peek into the music we have in store for you this weekend by sharing our program notes, written by our own Susan Wladaver-Morgan. Enjoy! And remember that you still have a couple more days to buy tickets in advance and save 10%! We hope to see many of you this weekend!
Wine, Roses, and Music
What better way to kick off Portland’s Rose Festival than with music celebrating wine and roses, two of our region’s most popular offerings? Both have inspired the creativity of artists for centuries, and it is a pleasure to sample this bounty with you.
We begin with the 1962 Oscar winner for best original song. “The Days of Wine and Roses,” with music by Henry Mancini (1924-1994) and lyrics by Johnny Mercer (1909-1976), elegantly sums up the movie of the same name. The plot tells of a young couple struggling with alcoholism, whose love cannot survive their addiction (“a door marked nevermore that wasn’t there before”). The song shares the warmth and wistfulness of the creative team’s “Moonriver,” which won the Oscar just the year before.
Next we present Three Flower Songs (2001) by Grammy-winner Eric Whitacre (b. 1970). An innovator in using digital technology, Whitacre created the Virtual Choir. People from all over the world digitally record and upload videos of themselves singing one of his works, and he combines these into a single recording posted online. His most recent virtual choir included nearly 6,000 voices from 101 countries!
Whitacre’s composing style relies on rich, dense chords, achieved by dividing vocal parts into as many as 10 distinct lines. These three songs show off these chords, as well as his wonderful taste in texts. The first, by Emily Dickinson, portrays her tentative efforts to reach out from her reclusiveness through a flower; her passionate longing peaks just before fading. The second is by 20th-century Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, a close friend of surrealist artists who was executed in the Spanish Civil War. Whitacre depicts the text in terms of two elements—fire and water—fire in the almost flamenco rhythms at the beginning and end, water in the lyrical passages in the middle. The third, by English Renaissance poet Edmund Waller, was actually one of Whitacre’s first compositions. He wrote it at age 21 as a gift for his conducting teacher. The poem personifies the rose as both the poet’s messenger to a beautiful young woman and an embodiment of how quickly beauty fades.
“To a Wild Rose” comes from Woodland Sketches by American composer Edward MacDowell (1861-1908) and is probably his most famous composition. MacDowell was born in New York, and studied in Paris (Debussy was a fellow student). He showed an interest in American folk songs and even Indian themes, bits of which he worked into his evocative sketches. A mysterious mental and physical breakdown forced his untimely retirement to his New Hampshire farm, which has become a retreat for American artists of all kinds.
Roses as symbols of love appear again in the Rose Trilogy. A perennial favorite for weddings, “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose” by Robert Burns exists in dozens of arrangements and folk versions. Our setting is by American René Clausen (b. 1953), conductor of the famous Concordia Choir in Minnesota. A composer of both sacred and secular work, his most recent recording, Life & Breath, won three Grammy awards last year. Canadian Eleanor Daley (b. 1955) composed the other two pieces for women’s voices, and they won the Canadian award for outstanding choral composition in 2004. The first contrasts passion (the red rose) with love (the white); the text is by John Boyle O’Reilly (1844-1890), an Irish nationalist poet who eventually wound up publishing a newspaper in Boston. The wrenching final piece depicts a love that withers even before it can fully bloom—the lost rose a symbol of heartbreak depicted in falling, overlapping lines that fade and die away.
But we close the first half with a toast to champagne. This giddy polka comes from the party scene in Die Fledermaus (1874) by Johann Strauss (1826-1899). A composer like his father, Strauss wrote over 400 waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles, as well as 16 operettas. A farce full of disguises and pranks, Fledermaus was the most popular operetta in the world in the 1870s—no mean feat in the age of Offenbach and Gilbert & Sullivan.
Our first piece in the second half of the concert shows that drinking songs go way back. German Renaissance composer Johann Herman Schein (1586-1630) wrote both sacred and secular music, mostly vocal and usually influenced by Italian madrigals. The word “Rundadinella” is completely made up, a simple refrain like the “fa-la-la” found in English madrigals. This song comes from a four-song collection entitled Studenten Schmaus (Student Feast), though these students seem to do much more drinking than eating.
Les Chansons des Roses (1993) by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) was the first piece we chose for this concert. Born in Washington State, Lauridsen grew up in the Portland area and attended Sunset High School. In the last fifteen years, he has become the most widely performed American choral composer in the world. He does most of his composing in an isolated cabin in the San Juan Islands, and his love of nature shines through his work. Although not all his music has explicitly religious themes, a fellow musician has described him as “the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic.” More on this extraordinary composer and his work can be found on a wonderful DVD titled Shining Night.
Lauridsen initially intended “Dirait-on” to sound like a simple French folk song. Passionate about poetry in many languages, he was intrigued by the image of a rose caressing itself, obsessed with its own beauty like Narcissus. But other poems from Les Roses (1924) by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) kept drawing him back. As with his Mid-Winter Songs (based on poems by Robert Graves), Lauridsen chose a few poems from the longer work and rearranged them in a new order. Musical phrases recur from one song to the next, until the piano finally melts in under the voices in “Dirait-on”—a magical effect.
Anything but magical, the rowdy “In taberna” comes from Carmina Burana by German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982). In 1934 Orff ran across an edition of medieval student songs, mostly in Latin, from the 11th and 12th centuries. His complete work is often performed in costume or accompanied by ballet, although the opening chorus, “O Fortuna,” can also be heard in numerous commercials. Like the piece by Schein, “In taberna” extols the revelry (and also the dangers) of drink.
The Mozart canon praises the pleasures of wine. Apparently based on a tune by Wenzel Trinka and composed in 1782, the original irreverent lyrics confirm the portrait of Mozart presented in the film Amadeus; the song was almost certainly meant to be sung at parties. We sing the cleaned up version that Mozart’s widow submitted to the publisher after his death.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) rarely composed light-hearted music, which makes “Tafellied” (“Thank the Ladies”) very special. It is also his only work expressly composed for choir with piano (not orchestral) accompaniment. Baron Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857), considered one of the most important German Romantic poets, wrote the lyrics. In the song, the women and men flirtatiously exchange toasts, before joining in 6-part harmony to celebrate love and wine.
We close with the finale from Gilbert and Sullivan’s last successful operetta, The Gondoliers (1889). In the story, one of two gondoliers (but no one knows which) is supposedly the king of Barataria, somewhere near Spain. When the Venetian men and their girlfriends reunite in Barataria, they rejoice in this festive song praising Spanish dances and wines before they all head home to Venice.
We wish you all a great time at the upcoming Rose Festival and look forward to seeing you again next season.