Music

 

Four Anthems


My childhood ambition was to become a composer. I read Piston’s through Harmony long before I was able really to understand it, but I had a passion to learn more and more about music theory. Maybe because my father loved Mozart and Haydn, I fastened on modern music and studied Stravinsky and Schoenberg. This lasted through my university years, when I took a combined program in English and Music, and was eventually given permission to study composition with distinguished composers Domenick Argento and Paul Fetler. By the end of my undergraduate program, however, I realized my shortcomings, which seemed insurmountable (lack of keyboard skills coupled with a gross lack of self confidence) and gave it up.


Then, after several years, I began singing in choirs, and the music looked easily do-able, so I started writing pieces as a hobby. The best results are here. I make them freely available, should anyone wish to use them, asking only that I be given credit as composer. (BTW I am not the “Stephen Adams,” aka Michael Maybrick, responsible for “The Holy City” [1892] and other tunes popular in the early twentieth century.)

 

This is the best I’ve done. The text is based on Psalm 150, in an old-fashioned nineteenth-century paraphrase by John Mason Neale that I found in a hymnbook. At least it’s not under copyright.

 

When the United Church of Canada formalized a new “creed,” I decided to be one of the first to give it a setting. My initial decision was to challenge some of the staidness of traditional church music, hence up tempo and afterbeats.

 

A simple a cappella piece for Easter. The novelty is the meter, 10/4, which I omitted from the printed music because it seemed too scary. The divided parts require a choir of moderate size.

 

This is a hymn anthem based on a lovely tune named "Victoria" by the Canadian composer Godfrey Ridout. The tune has a metrical wrinkle and a graceful falling seventh that give it distinction. I don’t know if it has ever caught on with congregations, but I fell in love with it playing through the hymnbook, and decided to work with it, not realizing that the tune had been named for Vicky Ridout, the composer’s daughter, who was a friend of my wife’s family. I added two middle verses to the text, to give the anthem more space. Vicky has given copyright approval for the tune and first-stanza harmonization, which are taken directly from the hymnbook in verse 1.

 

Listening Log

 

I grew up as son and brother to symphony musicians, so I knew most of the standard rep at an early age and could pretty well distinguish one composer from another by ear. I trained as a composer, so I listen structurally.

 

At some point, however, I realized that I was hard put to name a single contemporary of Beethoven, and realized that the great names had overshadowed many rewarding artists, that standard rep was driven by the desire of the casual listener for “guaranteed masterpieces,” that many reputations had been obliterated by political events – not only those of women, Blacks, or Jews in the Holocaust, but Marxists in a capitalist world (Dessau, Blitzstein), Nazi  sympathizers, etc. There were odd cases like Gouvy, a French symphonist born in Alsace, ignored by the opera-obsessed French, acclaimed in Germany by many serious critics including Schumann – until 1870, when the Franco-Prussian War obliterated his name in both countries. Examples are many.

 

For the past ten years or so, I have kept notes on my listening, paying particular attention to second-tier composers who do not get much exposure in concert or on the media, or who have been set aside for social or political reasons. Here are a few:

 

Classicists:

--Joseph Wölfl (Piano Sonatas, String Quartets, these are real treasures – the Symphonies are unavailable)

--Jan Ladislaus Dussek (F# minor Piano Sonata, E-flat Piano Concerto)

--the symphonies of Étienne Méhul

--Also, very strong cases have been made for Czerny, Reicha, Ries, etc

 

Some early Romantics:

--Louis Spohr – he wrote a great deal, but the Gesangscene Concerto, his best known piece, is highly innovative, the four Double Quartets and the Nonet are all beautiful, as well as many of the unfairly maligned string quartets. (They are not just display pieces for the first violin). The cycle of 9 symphonies is also very rewarding – uneven but highly innovative: one is for two orchestras, another portrays (sort of) the history of music. There are four Clarinet Concerti (I like the Second best), and a truly extraordinary à cappella Mass.

--Johann Kalliwoda wrote some fine symphonies. Not all seem to be recorded, but the Fourth is exceptional. I’m glad to see a chapter on them in Fyfield’s book on The Symphony from Beethoven to Brahms.

--Robert Bürgmüller numbers among those who died tragically young, but just about everything that he left is superb.

--Louise Farrenc is one of the handful of women who set her ambitions as a composer very high: her three symphonies and her chamber music are very fine.

--Théodore Gouvy I mentioned above. The entire cycle of symphonies plus the Sinfonietta are worth attention.

 

Later Romantics:

--Karl Goldmark clings the edges of the repertoire, but he deserves better. The Violin Concerto belongs with the greats, plus the overtures, the Rustic Wedding, plus chamber music. And his opera Die Königin von Saba is near the top of my list of operas that deserve revival. It suggests what German opera might have become without Wagner (not that I’m wishing away Wagner).

--So many others: Bruch seems to be getting a revival, d’Albert, Albert Dietrich . . .

 

At the turn of the century:

--Chausson gets performed (I performed the Poème once myself with the university orchestra), but much is little known by the composer very dear to my heart: the Symphony, the sumptuous Concert for Violin, Piano & String Quartet, other chamber works, songs, and a luscious opera Le roi Arthus, which is a kind of severe Catholic reply to Tristan und Isolde.

--Dukas too, looking beyond Mickey Mouse and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – La Peri, Polyeucte, a magnificent Symphony, a huge Piano Sonata, and his feminist version of Bluebeard, the opera Ariane et Barbe-bleu.

--D'Indy is just about crowded off the map – maybe the Symphony on a French Mountain Air survives at the edges of the rep, but there’s the voluptuous Istar, the huge and complex Second Symphony. He’s uneven but merits exploring.

 

I’m  going on too long, but . . .

--Fibich – Symphonies 2 and 3

--Attenberg – an amazing cycle of 9 unknown symphonies

--Braunfels – obliterated by the Nazis, orchestral works plus his opera after Aristophones, The Birds (Die Vögel)

--Joseph Jongen – one of my favorites and very little explored. The Symphonie Concertante for organ & orchestra  is somewhat known, but there’s a lot more, especially chamber music.

Paul Juon, mainly chamber music, has experienced a significant revival.

--Jolivet

--Krenek

 

Americans:

--Foote, Beach, Paine, Chadwick, Converse, Loeffler, Griffes, Sessions (a major symphonist but hardly a crowd pleaser), Roy Harris, Domenick Argento (Jonah, Te Deum, the operas Aspern Papers, Postcard from Morocco, Casanova…)