Yale Schola Cantorum | Magnificats/Prayers for Unity (NYC)

Event time: 
Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 7:30pm to 9:00pm
Alice Tully Hall See map
1941 Broadway
New York City, NY 10023
Event description: 

David Hill, conductor

with Juilliard415


Gods, storms, and demons: Dances from Rameau’s operas (Jean-Philippe Rameau, 1683-1764)
   from Naïs (1749)                                                                                                
   from Les Indes galantes (1735) 
       Air pour les Amants    
       Rigaudons I & II
   from Les Boréades (1763)
       Entrée de Polymnie
   from Les Indes galantes

This Love between Us: Prayers for Unity (Reena Esmail, b. 1983)

Magnificat, BWV 243 (Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685-1750)

     I. Magnificat                                                                                                       
    II. Et exultavit
   III. Quia respexit
   IV. Omnes generationes
    V. Quia fecit
   VI. Et misericordia
 VII. Fecit potentiam
VIII. Deposuit potentes
  IX. Esurientes
   X. Suscepit Israel
  XI. Sicut locutus est
 XII. Gloria Patri

Notes on the program:

The career of the French opera composer Jean-Philippe Rameau began only when he was fifty years old, with the huge success of his first opera. Rameau went on to write more than thirty operas in his remaining years. These works are filled not only with brilliant arias and choruses, but also with spectacular dances: for the French, no opera was complete without ballet. 

Our suite is made up of a selection of these striking movements. We begin with the overture Rameau wrote for his 1749 opera Naïs, which depicts a great war in heaven. We can vividly hear the action as the Titans secretly gather to wage war on the gods; suddenly the battle begins, with violent syncopations and expressive dissonances.

Although most of Rameau’s operas were grand five-act tragedies, he also created several lighter opéra-ballets. One of the most popular of these was his Les Indes galantes from 1735. The opera opens with Bellona, the goddess of war, calling all the young men of Europe to her. The Air pour les Amants depicts the men rushing to war, while the women hold them back. The god of love decides that, since war is ruling Europe, he must go elsewhere: the rest of the opera presents various aspects of love in the “Indies,” which for eighteenth-century France means anything from Peru to Persia.

The love affairs that follow are accompanied by many opportunities for dance. The Musette is a depiction of the small bagpipe that was popular at the time, a symbol of pastoral pleasures; the Rigaudon is a vigorous rustic dance. The festivities are interrupted by a violent Orage (storm). All is calmed by the arrival of Polyhymnia, the goddess of sacred poetry, dance, and eloquence. This gorgeous Entrée comes from Rameau’s last, unperformed, opera Les Boréades. We end our suite with the concluding Chaconne from the final act of Les Indes, which is set in America: here the trumpet of war is finally vanquished by the oboes and strings of peace.

                                                                                                                           Note by Robert Mealy

This Love between Us is a piece about unity. Its seven movements juxtapose the words of seven major religious traditions of India (Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Islam), and specifically how each of these traditions approaches the topic of unity, of brotherhood, of being kind to one another. The texts come either straight from canonical religious writings or from poets who write through the lens of their religion. Each text is itself a union: it is set simultaneously in English and in its original language (with the exception of the Christian text, where the Malayalam is a translation), so you can hear the beauty of the original and grasp its meaning through translation. Each movement also contains a unique combination of Indian and Western classical styles, running the continuum from the Christian movement, which is rooted firmly in a baroque style, to the Zoroastrian movement, which is a Hindustani vilambit bandish. Each of the other movements lives somewhere in between these two musical cultures in their techniques, styles, and forms. But even more than uniting musical practices, this piece unites people from two different musical traditions: a sitar and tabla join the choir and baroque orchestra. Each of the musicians is asked to keep one hand firmly rooted in their own tradition and training, while reaching the other hand outward to greet another musical culture.

This piece is also a union for me. The time I spent studying at both Yale and Juilliard has been the foundation of my career as a Western composer. And my Fulbright year, studying Hindustani music in India, opened my ears and mind to the world of Hindustani classical music. One day in late 2015, after months of pleading with embassies, government officials, and agencies, I finally lost the battle for the visa I needed to return to India, simply because my grandfather had moved his family to Pakistan in the 1950s. I have never been more heartbroken in my life. The pain of being from two places is that, wherever you are, you always miss the other place. And somehow, as if in answer to my despair, the very next day I received the e-mail asking me to write this piece—the one you will hear today. If it is impossible to be in both places at once, or at all, I have strived every day since then to create this hybrid, united world in my music.

I wrote This Love between Us through some of the darkest times in our country and in our world. But my mind always returns to the last line of this piece, the words of Rumi, which are repeated like a mantra over affirming phrases from each religion, as they wash over one another: “Concentrate on the Essence. Concentrate on the Light.”

                                                                                                                             Note by the composer

In May of 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach was appointed to the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig. It was the position in which he would remain until his death in 1750, and in which he composed many of his greatest works, including the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, the Mass in B Minor, the Christmas Oratorio, and the Magnificat. The Magnificat was the earliest of these works, composed in late 1723 for the Christmas Vespers.

The Magnificat text, often referred to as the Song of Mary, is one of the earliest Christian hymns, with text from the Gospel of Luke 1:46–55. The canticle traditionally appeared in Vespers services, and after the Reformation it became commonly linked with the Nunc dimittis. Other than the Mass itself, it is the liturgical text most commonly set to music. In Leipzig, the Magnificat was sung in German on ordinary Sundays, but more elaborate settings in Latin were used for Marian feasts and high holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

Bach originally composed his Magnificat (BWV 243a) in the key of E-flat major, and inserted four German hymn settings (or laudes) related to the Christmas feast between the movements. For the Feast of the Visitation in 1733, he revised the work, altering or expanding the instrumentation of a few movements, and transposed the Magnificat to D major, perhaps catering to the typical tuning of the valveless trumpets of the region. This second version of the Magnificat (BWV 243) has become the more common of the two, with the German hymns from the E-flat version often transposed and appended for performances, especially at Christmastime. Today’s performance includes only the Magnificat movements, with no inserted hymns.

The duration of the Magnificat is similar to that of Bach’s German cantatas. However, it contains approximately twice as many movements, eleven with texts from the Gospel of Luke and a twelfth movement setting the doxology. Likewise, the chorus is expanded from the typical four voices into a five-voice (SSATB) division, and the orchestration calls for a much fuller range of instruments than the standard cantata. The arias in the Magnificat, as in most cantatas, generally employ an obbligato instrument with basso continuo and occasionally strings, yet Bach kept the movements shorter by avoiding the da capo structure. The Magnificat has a symmetrical key structure, with the first, last, and middle movements all in the tonic key. A pattern of alternating major and minor movements in the first half is reflected exactly in the second half after the central tonic movement, “Fecit potentiam.”

The opening movement features full orchestral forces and the five-part chorus in a joyous and boisterous setting of “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (My soul magnifies the Lord, Luke 1:46). Trumpets and timpani add to the ebullient instrumental opening, after which the chorus takes over the same melodic material.

The first aria, “Et exultavit” (And my spirit rejoices), features the second soprano soloist accompanied by continuo and strings in demonstrating Mary’s youthful excitement.

“Quia respexit” (For He has regarded), sung by the first soprano soloist, demonstrates a more pensive and demure side of Mary, suitable to the “lowliness of his handmaiden.” The minor key and oboe d’amore obbligato create a plaintive affect before the chorus interrupts to complete the sentence on “Omnes generationes” (All generations). The bass aria that follows, “Quia fecit” (For the Mighty One has done), returns to a major key and features only the solo singer with continuo. “Et misericordia” (His mercy), for alto and tenor duet, features muted strings with flutes in a minor tonality with a troubled, swirling 12/8 meter.

“Fecit potentiam” (He has shown strength) forms the centerpiece of the Magnificat and features the same key and instrumental forces as the opening movement. Although brief, it contains difficult melismatic choral writing and an adagio conclusion with a slower homophonic text emphasized by the addition of trumpets. The fiery tenor aria that follows, “Deposuit potentes” (He has brought down the powerful), features unison violins with continuo. The ritornello, echoed by the tenor, consists of a dramatically descending phrase that captures the essence of the text: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” Likewise, the ending of the charming alto aria “Esurientes” (He has filled) features witty text painting with the omission of the final notes from the obbligato flutes at “and sent the rich away empty.”

“Suscepit Israel” (He has helped Israel) features an intricate trio of treble voices above two unison oboes playing the tonus peregrinus psalm tone. The congregation of St. Thomas would likely have recognized this chant melody, which had also been used as a cantus firmus by a long line of composers such as Buxtehude, Schütz, Schein, and Pachelbel.

The final two movements return to the tonic tonality. “Gloria Patri” (Glory to the Father) begins slowly and grandly with stacked vocal entrances spiraling upward. As the text “Sicut erat in principio” (As it was in the beginning) enters, the musical material from the opening movement returns with the celebratory trumpets, timpani, chorus, and full orchestra. Thus the Magnificat ends as it begins, in a joyous celebration intended to “Magnify the Lord.”

                                                                                                                         Note by Nola Richardson


Open to: 
General Public