Marguerite L. Brooks, conductor
O quam gloriosum Tomás Luis de Victoria
To the Field of Stars Gabriel Jackson
Anything Can Happen* Mohammed Fairouz
Apparebit repentina dies Paul Hindemith
Free; no tickets required. Additional parking at the Worthington Hooker School (180 Canner St.)
* A slideshow will accompany this performance. Images provided through the auspices of the Climate Reality Project. Founded and chaired by Nobel Laureate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the Climate Reality Project is dedicated to catalyzing a global solution to the climate crisis. ©The Climate Reality Project 2017. For more information or to request a presentation for a school, church group, or other association, visit www.climaterealityproject.org.
The greatest Spanish composer of the High Renaissance, Tomás Luis de Victoria cut his musical teeth as a choirboy in his native Ávila. The ecstatic visions of Teresa of Ávila, then in the throes of her campaign to purify the Carmelite order, colored his early religious experience and may have influenced his later decision to enter the priesthood. In due course Tomás’s well-to-do parents packed him off to the newly established Collegio Germanico in Rome, a Jesuit seminary charged with training “fearless warriors for the faith” to defend the Catholic Church against the threat of the Reformation. Victoria’s weapon of choice would be music—specifically, the richly textured vocal polyphony associated with Palestrina, whom he knew and possibly studied with in Rome.
The short four-voice motet O quam gloriosum appeared in Victoria’s first collection of sacred music, published in Rome in 1572. It was an auspicious debut for the twenty-four-year-old composer, including as it did many of the works on which his reputation would ultimately rest. Although the Latin text, drawn from the liturgy for the Feast of All Saints, does not refer to Saint James, it obliquely describes a spiritual journey akin to that of medieval (and modern) pilgrims along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James, that serves as a theme of today’s program. The jubilant, uplifting spirit of Victoria’s music, with its flowing contrapuntal lines and interlocking points of imitation, affords a beatific vision of “the kingdom where all the saints rejoice with Christ.”
The cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain, has been a major pilgrimage destination since the ninth century. No one knows with certainty where it got its name, but one tradition holds that Compostela derives from the Latin phrase campus stellae, which loosely translates as “field of stars.” Albeit most likely apocryphal, this etymological connection suggested a point of departure for British composer Gabriel Jackson when he was invited to compose a piece commemorating both the four-hundredth anniversary of Tomás Luis de Victoria’s death, in 2011, and the countless pilgrimages that have taken place along the fabled Camino de Santiago.
To the Field of Stars incorporates Victoria’s O quam gloriosum in the last of its seven movements, which the composer likens to devotional or meditative “stations.” At the front end of our journey, a brilliant, percussive Intrada extolls the martyrdom of Saint James in the rhythmic cadences of medieval Latin pentameter verse taken from the Codex Calixtinus, a twelfth-century guidebook to the Camino that includes everything from practical advice to some of the earliest polyphonic motets. The transitional choral refrains that Jackson interpolates between the movements are drawn from the same source. These “bare and rustic-sounding” interludes, as the composer describes them, are united by a repeating rhythmic pattern according to an age-old technique known as isorhythm.
Jackson has chosen six modern texts to mark the intermediate stages of his musical pilgrimage: (1) an anonymous traveler’s prayer from nineteenth-century Scotland; (2) a jaunty pilgrims’ song overlaid with John Adams’s (spoken) account of his trek along the Camino in 1779–1780; (3) an unexpectedly somber setting (mostly for tenors and basses) of William Cowper’s poem “Oh! for a closer walk with God”; (4) a richly harmonized version of “Miracles,” Walt Whitman’s rapturous rumination on everyday miracles; (5) a simple, subdued setting of “Our Journey Had Advanced,” an Emily Dickinson poem about life’s journey that ends with “God at every gate”; and (6) a musical “campus stellae,” in which the chorus whispers the exotic names of stars ad libitum while the obbligato cello rhapsodizes on high and a solo soprano lyrically invokes “the heavenly citadels among the stars.”
By the time we reach our final destination in “Compostela,” it is abundantly clear that To the Field of Stars, in Jackson’s words, “is also about journeying in a wider sense—the physical, emotional, and psychological struggle to reach a long sought-after and life-changing goal.” The four independent voices of Victoria’s O quam gloriosum have miraculously multiplied to eight. Like pilgrims plying separate but parallel paths, these intricately intertwining polyphonic lines ultimately converge on a sustained A-major chord. Abruptly, an energetically dancing solo cello intervenes to usher in music of a contrasting character: a vigorous hymnlike setting of a paean to Saint James, the “light and glory of Spain,” which brings the work to a radiantly affirmative D-major conclusion.
Travelers following the well-trodden Camino de Santiago have a good idea where this particular earthly pilgrimage will end. Yet even the prospect of eternal peace and salvation cannot make the journey through life any less fraught with uncertainty and the ever-present threat of violence, death, and destruction. Such, at least, is the doleful burden of the three fiercely apocalyptic poems by Irish poet Seamus Heaney that form the core of Mohammed Fairouz’s small-scale oratorio Anything Can Happen, scored for baritone soloist, chorus, and amplified viola.
Fairouz is a young Arab-American composer known for his sensitivity to language and for his collaborations with literary figures such as Pakistani-British novelist Mohammed Hanif, Irish poet Paul Muldoon, Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim, and Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Composed in 2011, Anything Can Happen was his first joint project with Heaney, who died two years later. (Fairouz would set another Heaney poem in his 2012 song cycle Audenesque.) Interspersed with Heaney’s three poems are two equally portentous passages from the Injeel, or Injil—the gospel of Jesus according to Muslim belief—which Fairouz calls suras (Arabic for “pictures” or “images”).
Heaney’s deeply rhythmic language, rich in assonances and onomatopoeia, has a music of its own. Fairouz’s settings unobtrusively reinforce the poems’ intrinsic lyricism, while exploiting the abundant opportunities for text-painting. In “In Iowa,” for example, the chorus’s overlapping phrases contrast with the viola’s relentlessly swirling triplets, gusting like the poet’s “slathering blizzard.” A sudden change to freer cantilena style is matched by a shift in verbal register, as the baritone plaintively intones the biblical-sounding words “Verily I came forth from that wilderness.” Heaney’s reference to “the veil in tatters” anticipates the Koranic imagery of the “First Sura,” an account (sung in the original Arabic) of the aftermath of the crucifixion. Here the baritone moves into declamatory mode, with the viola providing a discreet pizzicato commentary.
The melting “three-tongued glacier” of Höfn, a village in Iceland, brings the theme of catastrophic global warming front and center. Both the viola’s lumbering, lethargic introduction and the homophonic setting for men’s voices, with its gaping fifths and unstable cadences, evoke dark, subterranean forces. In the “Second Sura,” the viola’s flowing eighth notes in groups of five, sinuous as a dragon’s body, move in and out of sync with the baritone’s more regular rhythms. “Anything Can Happen” offers a harrowing vision of post-9/11 chaos, where the “tallest towers [are] overturned” and “nothing resettles right.” After a muted choral preamble, the music erupts in a pandemonium of stabbing accents, syncopations, and jagged motoric rhythms. As if to emphasize the violent assault on our senses, Fairouz repeats the entire Allegro furioso section before music and text fade to a despairing whisper.
The apocalyptic mood of Fairouz’s oratorio carries over into this late work by Paul Hindemith, a powerfully dramatic meditation on the Day of Judgment scored for choirs of mixed voices and brass. Despite its religious subject, Apparebit repentina dies was written not for a worship service but for a symposium on music criticism held at Harvard University in 1947. (Among the other pieces premiered during the three-day event were Aaron Copland’s In the Beginning, to a text drawn from the Book of Genesis, and Arnold Schoenberg’s String Trio, Op. 45.) Apparebit repentina dies was performed by the Collegiate Chorale and members of the Boston Symphony under the baton of Robert Shaw—the same forces that had premiered Hindemith’s cantata When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d a year earlier.
The text Hindemith selected for this unusual commission, from the Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, bears only a tangential relation to either scripture or liturgy. In fact, part of the poem’s appeal to the theoretically minded composer may have been its arcane structure: an acrostic consisting of twenty-three nonrhyming couplets, starting with successive letters of the Roman alphabet. In arbitrarily dividing the text into four movements, Hindemith seized the opportunity not only to create distinctive sound worlds suited to each section of the poem, but also to utilize the Baroque forms and procedures that had long interested him.
The first movement, expressing the awesome splendor of God, is dominated by fugal textures and opens with an elaborately contrapuntal brass fanfare built on a vigorous, leaping motif. Later Hindemith adroitly combines this music with a choral fugue on a different, more smoothly conjunct subject, as the reddening moon and dimming sun in the text presage the summoning of the quick and the dead. The second movement casts the winnowing of the elect and sinners as a choral dialogue, the women’s dulcet voices alternating with sterner recitatives for the basses. After initially abstaining, the brass interject themselves now suavely, now gruffly, according to the dictates of the text.
In the third movement, those who are called to judgment meet their fates. A recurring nervous, twitching figure in the brass suggests the flickering of the eternal flames that await the unrighteous. This hellish vision gives way to a majestic, Baroque-style passacaglia—a series of richly imaginative variations on a broad, confidently striding melody redolent of the kingdom of heaven—and a final section characterized by billowing waves of sound that evoke the glory of Christ. Hindemith’s fourth movement is a brief, strophic chorale adjuring us to beware the serpent’s wiles and greet the king with burning lamps. To drive the lesson home, the brass echo the work’s opening theme, and Apparebit repentina dies ends where it began, in warm A-flat major.
Notes © by Harry Haskell — A former music editor for Yale University Press, Harry Haskell is a program annotator for Carnegie Hall in New York and the author of several books, including The Early Music Revival: A History and Maiden Flight.
“First among apostles, / martyr in Jerusalem … James, shining light of virtue / was chosen to enlighten Spain.” These lines from the work’s Intrada and Refrain place St. James in dual contexts. First, according to the biblical record, he was one of Christ’s three closest disciples, later an apostle in Jerusalem, and one of the early Christian martyrs. But according to a long-held tradition from Galicia in northwestern Spain, the body of St. James traveled first by sea and then through dense forest, guided miraculously by various creatures, until his relics found their way to Compostela. There his body lay for many years until a shepherd received a revelation that this was the precise resting place of St. James’s body, after which the great Cathedral of Santiago (that is, of “St. James”) was built up around his relics. Pilgrims began to walk there to seek miracles, creating pilgrim routes across southern France and Spain; the most famous of these is the Camino. This road has as much political and social significance as it does religious. It was an important trade route; it also played a role in jurisprudence, as medieval judges sometimes sentenced prisoners to walk the Camino as an alternative to incarceration. The road fell into disuse for some time, but its popularity revived in the 1980s, and today it is walked by more than 250,000 people every year.
At first glance, the texts compiled for Gabriel Jackson’s To the Field of Stars may seem puzzlingly diverse. They fall into place, however, when understood as the chronology of the pilgrimage to the city of St. James, as a celebration of centuries of pilgrims who have trodden the Camino to seek miracles at his great cathedral, and as a tribute to James as the patron saint of travelers. The Intrada places us in the saint’s legend, and is followed by a prayer from the Carmina Gadelica for travelers setting out on a journey. John Adams’s history lesson fills in more of the legend of the shepherd who received the revelation. It is followed by William Cowper’s self-reproachful but plaintive poem that connects pilgrimage with the idea of devotional life itself as a “walk with God.”
Traditionally, pilgrims went in search of miracles, such as healing or the conception of a child. By drawing Walt Whitman’s poem into his text, Jackson subverts the idea of miracles being rare and occurring only in unusual moments; he suggests instead that every moment of the day can be perceived as extraordinary, if only we have eyes to see what is in front of our noses. “As to me,” Whitman writes, “I know of nothing else but miracles, / Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan, / Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky….”
Emily Dickinson’s poem is somewhat darker, using the language of pilgrimage to describe the journey through life that must lead at last to death. Quite what Dickinson meant by “the fork in the road” is much debated by scholars, but her use of the phrase is reminiscent of the earliest Christian conception of pilgrimage. Even in New Testament times, and in order to distinguish themselves from pagans who journeyed to hallowed sites associated with various divinities, Christians spoke of pilgrimage not in terms of an ephemeral journey to a literal destination but rather as a journey through life, with heaven as their goal. Dickinson’s poem, dark though it is, sounds a note of joy when—after surrendering to the inevitable—she finds that every traveler en route to the unknown is finally greeted by God: “Eternity’s white flag before, / And God at every gate.”
At last, then, we come to the “Campus Stellae,” from which it is thought the name Compostela may have derived. The naming of stars one after another takes us into a place of wonder. It is reminiscent of the shepherd’s vision of light that identified St. James’s resting place. It also reminds us of Dickinson’s vision of raising the white flag of surrender to God, only to find with joyful relief that God is present at every gate.
Finally, the naming of stars anticipates the antiphons at first and second vespers on the feast of St. James, with the prayer that we might ultimately find our home in the heavenly citadels among the stars: “…restore to your people the life long yearned-for, that we may be found worthy to reach the heavenly citadels among the stars.”
Professor Maggi Dawn, Dean of Marquand Chapel
Since the very first journeys to Santiago de Compostela began over 1,000 years ago, the Way of St. James has been articulated and celebrated in music. The vast Codex Calixtinus, dating from the twelfth century, is a compendium of advice and instructions for pilgrims, sermons, reports of miracles, prayers, and polyphonic motets. Over the years many concert programs have been devised to relive the medieval pilgrims’ journey in song, drawn from the codex and other sources, and new pieces have been composed which also reimagine the experience of travelling the Way of St. James.
So the challenge with this piece was to try to say something new and worthwhile about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela that hadn’t already been said. I didn’t want to write a literal account of the journey, a series of postcards from the pilgrimage route—today we are in Puente la Reina… tomorrow we reach Finisterre—for that has already been done and done very well. So while To the Field of Stars is about the pilgrimage to Santiago, it is also about journeying in a wider sense—the physical, emotional and psychological struggle to reach a long-sought after and life-changing goal.
One of the first things that struck me was the possible etymological origin of “Compostela” as “campus stellae”—the field of stars. This suggested a literal field of stars, and that notion became the sixth movement of the piece, a sustained, glistening carpet of murmured stars’ names underpinning a flickering high cello descant.
In order to articulate and give structure to the journey, the piece is divided into seven movements, seven “stations” as it were, points of meditation and reflection which are separated by choral refrains and brief cello envoix. The texts of the refrains are drawn from a medieval pilgrims’ hymn in the Codex Calixtinus and they also act as a Latin grammar primer, each verse addressing St. James in one of the six grammatical cases (nominative, genitive, vocative, etc.). These bare and rustic-sounding refrains are isorhythmic—the rhythm remains identical each time, only the pitches changing.
The piece begins with an ecstatic and ululatory Intrada, a brief choral fanfare that apostrophizes St. James and his illustrious martyrdom. The seven movements that follow are both stages in the physical journey and reflections on the transforming experience of any arduous voyage, often sparked by key words in the preceding refrain in a kind of free association.
“Prayer for Travelling” is by turns optimistic and apprehensive, full of both fear and excitement about the journey ahead. A quiet chorale is repeatedly answered by melismatic exclamations from upper voices and cello replete with sighing appoggiaturas and declamatory glissandi.
In the second movement, “Pilgrims’ Song with History Lesson,” the female voices sing of the joys of travel in rather obsessively jubilant tones. At this stage of the journey there is much to look forward to, and the almost-nonsense verse of their effusions is anchored by a jaunty march from the cello. Later in the movement we hear an account of the history of the shrine from the second president of the USA, John Adams.
“Walking with God” is dominated, in contrast, by the male voices, a dark-hued riposte to the bright cheerfulness of the preceding movement. Cowper’s poem, so familiar as a comfortable Anglican hymn, is here reimagined as a raw and angry dark night of the soul. Beset by doubt and uncertainty, the pilgrims sing in ornate and anguished tones, thoughts of the dove of peace offering a brief moment of balm, and leading to a quiet and unsure conclusion.
St. James was noted for his performance of miracles, and in the fourth movement Walt Whitman tells of his apprehension of the divine in the everyday in a poem that is truly sacred in the broadest sense. Linguistically rich and full of ritualistic repetition, Whitman’s vision is set to some of the lushest music in the piece, its polyphonic intertwinings both meditative and sensual.
In Emily Dickinson’s “Our Journey Had Advanced” the end destination is almost certainly death (as was her wont) but that “God at every gate” may equally be found at the shrine of St. James. The movement is simple and quiet, for the most part, its bare homophony briefly overlaid with filigree in the second verse.
In a kind of other-wordly interlude, the whispered field of stars that is the sixth movement supports a solo soprano cantilena that also longs for those “heavenly citadels among the stars.”
And then, at last, we reach our destination— the Basilica of St. James—and “O how glorious is the kingdom” indeed!
2011, the year in which the piece was written, was the 400th anniversary of the death of the great Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria and here his iconic four-part motet is elaborated by a further four polyphonic voices, its long concluding pedal- point launching the final peroration, an exuberant and jubilant hymn to St. James. Bedecked by virtuosic cello roulades and chiming bell sounds, the piece ends, exhausted but uplifted, in a clanging pæan of fortissimo ecstasy.
Gabriel Jackson (2015)
By his own account, Mohammed Fairouz is a composer who finds the inspiration for his music in words. “I don’t write poetry, I’ve always shied away from it, but you don’t write over a hundred art songs and song cycles without being obsessed with text in some way.” His 2012 composition Anything Can Happen bears out the truth of this claim. Dedicated to Seamus Heaney “with gratitude,” the work is a collaboration between the composer and the Nobel Prize–winning Irish poet (d. 2013) that began with Fairouz’s desire to set Heaney’s post-9/11 poem “Anything Can Happen” to music. Heaney demurred; he didn’t see the musicality of the lyric on its own, but thought that it might work in the context of two other poems. Given that Fairouz was given his commission by Grinnell College, Heaney’s “In Iowa” came to mind; so too did the poem “Höfn” (the name of an Icelandic fishing village located near the Hornafjörður fjord). Heaney thought that both lyrics, with their sense of foreboding—a gathering storm, rising waters, a melting glacier—would provide a sort of premonition, a culmination of an impending catastrophe, an omen fulfilled. While unmistakably contemporary in diction and tone, both lyrics have the feel an Old Testament prophetic witness as found in the first-person visions of Ezekiel and Jeremiah: “In Iowa once … I saw … Verily I came forth”; “The three-tongued glacier has begun to melt … I saw it.”
Interspersed with the three Heaney poems are two suras or portions of the Injeel, an Arabic word derived from the Greek euangelion. (The Injeel is one of the four holy books of Islam, believed by Muslims to be the revelation of God to Jesus and regarded as the only true Gospel.) In a juxtaposition of ancient scripture and twenty-first-century poetry, Fairouz has the first of the suras come immediately after the gathering winter storm of “In Iowa,” giving an account of the crucifixion’s aftermath as found first in Matthew 27:51–53. (Fairouz scores the text in Arabic but provides his own translation for singers and his audience.) Jesus meets death with a cry of astonishment, the Temple veil is torn in two, an earthquake opens graves, and “the departed saints” leave their graves to roam through the holy city of Jerusalem. What follows upon the crucifixion’s catastrophe, in other words, is a mass exodus from death.
The second sura recalls the Revelation to John 12:1–6, with its apocalyptic account of another catastrophe and another deliverance. The dragon hunts down “the woman who had borne the Child” and attempts to drown both of them in the unleashed flooding waters of a river. The earth protects Mother and Child by swallowing the dragon’s flood, gaining a reprieve that lasts only for a while. Deprived of his prey, the dragon swears revenge: “He left to invent means to destroy the woman / and all her children / Who revere God / And keep the commandments / of Jesus Christ the Messiah.” Therefore, every exodus is temporary and provisional. The “rising waters” continue to threaten, and escape from death is only for the time being.
Death also threatens to have the last word in “Anything Can Happen,” the poem that inspired the composition in the first place and that Fairouz chooses for his ending. Writing after the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States, but most especially after the bombing of the Twin Towers, Heaney closely models his text on a Horace ode (Book 1, poem 34, Parcor deorum cultor et infrequens). In Horace, Jupiter wields his thunderbolts in an unclouded sky as the earth trembles beneath his show of power, shuddering from the highest mountain to the “dark abodes of Tartarus.” As in the Virgin Mary’s “Magnificat” in the Gospel of Luke, long-established hierarchies are reversed: the mighty fall, the lowly rise up. In charge of this reversal, however, is no divine Dominus but only “Fortuna,” arbitrary and merciless.
Looking back to Horace, Heaney’s rewrite incorporates the light flashes of Jupiter (“Across a clear blue sky”) and the ravages of “Stropped-beak Fortune.” But to Horace’s ancient Roman scenario he brings the specific events and atmosphere of September 11th: the day’s unnervingly “clear blue sky,” the foundation-shaking tremors in lower Manhattan, the river Styx winding its lethal way to “the Atlantic shore itself,” and the fact that even the “tallest towers” can be overturned. The poem’s title becomes a refrain, “Anything can happen,” as what had seemed like terra firma is anything but. In our world nothing is sure, everything is headed for meltdown:
Capstones shift. Nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.
According to Genesis, the world was once destroyed by a flood, with a tiny human remnant preserved to replenish the future. In the apocalyptic vision of Fairouz, however, our future ends in a conflagration from which no one is delivered. The work he termed an oratorio, he said, “turned out to be one of my most unrelentingly dark pieces of music.” What does this work of darkness mean? Is it a death knell, a warning, a truth to contend with, a premonition of The End?
Anything can happen.
Peter Hawkins, Professor of Religion and Literature
When Seamus Heaney selected the three poems, “In Iowa,” “Höfn,” and “Anything Can Happen” as the basis for our first collaboration, he rationalized it by writing to me “I thought a triptych could be made as follows—the first two being ominous, the third catastrophic—the omen fulfilled, as it were.”
We knew from the very start that Anything Can Happen, my first choral work since my Requiem Mass (2006), would be a heavy work. I found, in the process of putting together the texts with Seamus, that there were beautiful parallels to the narrative of these three apocalyptic poems in passages from the Arabic Injeel (the equivalent to the New Testament) that I ended up setting in the original old Arabic to form the inner movements of the piece. These movements are titled Suras (literally “Pictures” or “Images”), to which I provide my own translation from the original Arabic.
“In Iowa” is a powerful sonnet that opens, as many epics open, with a storm (think of Shakespeare or the Iliad). The setting of “In Iowa” was especially attractive, as one of the co-commissioners for this work, together with Cantori New York, Boston Back Bay Chorale and the Marsh Chapel Singers, are the Grinnell Singers at Grinnell College where Seamus originally wrote the poem. The emergence of the biblical language “Verily I came forth…” is cast for the baritone soloist here.
This movement is followed by the “First Sura,” which is a setting in Arabic from a section of the Arabic Injeel somewhat corresponding to the recounting of the crucifixion from the book of Matthew. The imagery of the tearing of the veil at the third hour corresponds closely to Seamus’s imagery in “In Iowa.”
Following this is the center movement cast for the male voices of the chorus. It is a setting of “Höfn” and recounts the melting of a glacier. This image of the earth flooding (with overtones of global warming) links not only to the closing lines of “In Iowa” (“Not of parted, but of rising waters”) but also to the next sura.
The “Second Sura” is a setting in Arabic that corresponds to a sequence from the Book of Revelation in which the dragon, banished from Heaven, attempts to drown the mother of humanity by drowning her and her children in a flood which it unleashes. In failing, the dragon vows revenge on the woman and future generations.
The finale is a setting of “Anything Can Happen.” This music is violent. Much has been said about the imagery relating to the September 11th terrorist attacks on America in this poem but the poem contains even more. It is filled with all types of apocalyptic imagery which are realized in an androgynous opening for the whole chorus, some violent outbursts and an eventual collapse. The work closes with the pulsating lines of the chorus singing “Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.”
Anything Can Happen is dedicated to Seamus Heaney with gratitude for his support and friendship.
Mohammed Fairouz (2011)