Brattleboro Concert Choir – The Birds Will Still Sing: Music of Perseverance
April 25 @ 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
This program showcases four deeply personal and idiosyncratic musical expressions of the drive to strive, to overcome, and to persevere.
The concert begins with two Baroque pieces – one by the too-little-known Italian composer Isabella Leonarda, and one by the very-well-known J.S. Bach. Leonarda’s continuo motet Alma redemptoris Mater, written before 1685, is a joyous and dance-filled setting of the traditional Catholic hymn of striving for Mary’s aid. Bach’s motet Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227, which was likely written for the 1723 funeral of the Leipzig postmaster’s wife, is a vivid and dramatic set of variations on a traditional Lutheran chorale melody, and like much of Bach’s work, it is a sublime combination of evocative harmonic writing and masterful formal construction.
The Concert Choir then moves to two 20th-century pieces – one by Venezuelan composer Maria Guinand, and one by English composer Herbert Howells. Guinand’s “y se quedaran los pajaros cantando…” (“and the birds will still sing”) from 1980 is a setting of Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez’s 1911 poem “El Viaje Definitivo” (“The Final Journey”), in which a first-person narrator reflects on the ways that the world will change, and also be exactly the same, after they die. Guinand’s setting reflects this ephemeral quality of life through beautifully winding phrases that continually slip away from traditional harmonic resolution.
Howells’ Requiem was written for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge in 1932. He never sent it to King’s, though, and after his nine-year-old son Michael died in 1935, the work became closely associated in the composer’s mind with his son’s passing. Its existence remained a secret until Howells published it in 1980, three years before his own death, and almost 50 years after its original composition. The text is a personalized compilation of portions of the Catholic and Anglican services for the dead, and Howells sets them in achingly beautiful style, with long arching melodies passing through complex chromatic and modal harmony to a simple, luminous resolution in D major.