David Hill, conductor
J. C. Bach Grand Overture (Symphony) in D major, Op. 18 No. 4
Josef Haydn Lord Nelson Mass
Paweł Łukaszewski Ascensio Domini
commissioned for Yale Schola Cantorum
Conductor David Hill introduces Ascensio Domini and gives insight into Łukaszewski’s musical language.
All concerts are free; no tickets or reservations required.
Friday, May 24 | Copenhagen
Evening concert at the Gustafs Church
Sunday, May 26 | Lund
Service participation at Lund Cathedral
Monday, May 27 | Västerås
Free concert in Västerås Cathedral
Thursday, May 30 | Helsinki
Concert in the Rock Church (Temppeliaukio)
Saturday, June 1 | Oslo
Concert in the Domkirke
More info on the church website
Johann Christian Bach, Grand Overture (Symphony) in D major
Four of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons—the two oldest (Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, or “C. P. E.”) and the two youngest (Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian)—staked notable places as composers. The youngest of these, Johann Christian (“J. C.”), most thoroughly embraced the emerging Classical style of the mid-eighteenth century. After his father died when he was fifteen years old, J. C. was taken in by C. P. E., who continued tending to his upbringing. Five years later J. C. left for Italy, viewed as the hub of new music, and he all but “turned Italian,” even to the extent of leaving his family’s traditional Lutheran faith to become a confirmed Roman Catholic. After building a reputation in Italy as an opera composer, he moved in 1762 to London, where Italianate taste was on the ascendant. He scored more successes in the opera house, was appointed music master to Queen Charlotte, and co-founded a prestigious concert series that kept English audiences current to the latest symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and vocal works. In 1764, Leopold Mozart and his two prodigy children, Wolfgang and Nannerl, befriended J. C. while visiting London. J. C. left a lasting impact on Wolfgang, whose earliest piano concertos include arrangements of movements from J. C.’s keyboard sonatas.
It was in 1781 or early 1782 (which is to say shortly before or just after J. C. died) that the publisher William Forster issued a collection of the composer’s Six Grand Overtures, Op. 18, which mark the summit of his contributions to orchestral literature. Some of the pieces were original to this venture, while others were drawn from music J. C. had previously used in operas and serenatas. The middle movement of the Symphony No. 4, the work heard here, is adapted from the overture to his opera Temistocle, which he had written on commission for the court of Mannheim in 1772; but this particular music goes back even further, since he adapted that bit of Temistocle from his 1767 opera Carattaco. In Temistocle this breezy Andante included three clarinetti d’amore (probably ancestors of the basset horn), clarinets being a glory of the famous Mannheim orchestra. In the Symphony version, this movement employs a wind section of just two flutes and bassoon, along with strings and (one assumes) a keyboard continuo. For good reason were the terms “Overture” and “Symphony” essentially interchangeable in England at that time. Both an opera overture and a concert symphony typically adhered to the same three-movement, fast–slow–fast layout, and in many cases the same piece might serve double duty, employed in both contexts.
The Grand Overture’s extroverted first and third movements employ larger, more bright-hued forces: pairs of oboes, trumpets, and timpani, in addition to bassoon, strings, and continuo. (The same players probably would have doubled on flutes and oboes.) The opening Allegro con spirito follows a textbook sonata-allegro form, though with no repeat of the exposition. The Rondo finale adds no depth to this symphony, but it does prolong its delight, making it easy to understand why Mozart held J. C. in such high regard and crafted so many of his own early symphonies in a similar mode.
Note by James M. Keller
James M. Keller is the longtime program annotator of the
New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony
Paweł Łukaszewski, Ascensio Domini
Born into a family of musicians, Paweł Łukaszewski received diplomas from Warsaw’s Chopin Music Academy in cello and in composition (with distinction, following study with composer Marian Borkowski). He also completed graduate work in choral conducting at the Bydgoszcz Music Academy and in 2000 received a doctorate in composition from the Chopin University in Warsaw, where he now serves as professor of composition. He is artistic director of the Musica Sacra choir in Warsaw and in 2011–2012 was composer-in-residence at the Warsaw Philharmonic. His work has been recognized with numerous honors in his native Poland, including most recently the City of Warsaw Scholarship (2010), Silver Gloria Artis Medal (2011), and Primate of Poland Award (2011).
Recognized as a leading composer of contemporary choral music, his works have been included on more than 110 CDs, including on such internationally notable labels as Hyperion and Signum. Eight releases on Poland’s Dux Records and three on Hyperion have been devoted entirely to his music. Ensembles that have championed his music on disc include the Polyphony ensemble, directed by Stephen Layton; Trinity College Choir Cambridge, also with Layton; and Tenebrae, directed by Nigel Short. A prolific composer, Łukaszewski has produced not only the choral works for which he is best known, but also major orchestral pieces (including three choral symphonies and several concertos) and numerous works of chamber music. Among organizations that have commissioned pieces from him are the King’s Singers, Polish Radio, Polish Composers’ Union, Britten Sinfonia, Cracow Philharmonic, and Wrocław Philharmonic.
His music is sometimes described as relating to the neo-medieval harmonic and spiritual traditions that have also inspired such composers as Henryk Górecki, Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, and Morten Lauridsen. The Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California has this to say about his style: “The use of major and minor modes serves the composer only as a point of departure for his highly subjective musical style which, especially in the realm of vocal compositions, is inspired by texts he is setting to music. Łukaszewski’s highly individual musical language, rhythmic vitality, and the careful formal layout present in all of his works, as well as his profound understanding of the liturgical texts in the Catholic rite, combine to produce music that is strikingly traditional yet fully modern.”
Łukaszewski has provided this comment about Ascensio Domini:
Commissioned by the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Ascensio Domini is the third part of a large cycle of vocal-instrumental compositions that cover the liturgical period from Jesus’ passion and death on the cross through his resurrection and ascension. The full title of the cycle is Via crucis, Resurrectio, et Ascensio Domini. A setting of a Latin text, it was written between 2000 and 2018. Via crucis was composed for my doctoral degree. Resurrectio was commissioned by the Archbishop of Cologne.
Ascensio Domini lasts about twenty five minutes and is scored for four soloists, choir, and orchestra. It was commissioned to be performed by an ensemble of period instruments, but a modern orchestra may also be used. The composition falls into five movements: the opening instrumental Sinfonia is followed by two settings of biblical texts (“Viri Galilei” and “Baptismus”), the hymn “Salutis humanae Sator,” and a final “Alleluia.”
Note by James M. Keller
James M. Keller is the longtime program annotator of the
New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony
Joseph Haydn, Lord Nelson Mass
Haydn occupies a pivotal place in the history of Western music. In 1732, the year he was born, Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, composers whose music defined the High Baroque style, were still in their primes. By the time he died seventy-seven years later, Beethoven was hard at work ushering in the Romantic era. Haydn’s lifetime thus neatly encompassed the Classical era, and his music reflects the “classical” virtues of equilibrium, clarity, and seriousness of purpose that we associate with the Enlightenment. His influence was felt throughout Europe, even though he spent virtually his entire career either in Vienna or in the idyllic seclusion of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy’s country estate in Eisenstadt, where he served as resident Kapellmeister. After that sinecure, so conducive to sustained creativity, came to an end in 1790, Haydn embarked on two extended sojourns to London, where he wrote a clutch of popular symphonies that made him the toast of Europe. In 1795 Prince Nicolaus II lured the aging composer back to end his days in the Austrian capital. This late period yielded many of Haydn’s finest works, including the richly humanistic oratorios The Creation and The Seasons and no fewer than six settings of the Roman Catholic mass, written for the annual name-day celebrations of the prince’s wife.
Haydn took full advantage of the resident orchestra that Nicolaus placed at his disposal in Eisenstadt. Buoyed by the success of his “London” symphonies, he scored the Lord Nelson Mass for a festive ensemble of three trumpets, woodwinds, timpani, strings, and continuo, leading the musicologist H. C. Robbins Landon to characterize this work and its five companions as “symphonies for voices and orchestra using the mass text.” (Owing to a temporary reduction in the orchestra’s personnel, the wind parts were allocated to the organ at the first performance of the mass in 1798, as in tonight’s performance.) The use of such “worldly” instruments in the church had been discouraged under the ecclesiastical reforms promulgated by Emperor Joseph II in 1783, prompting a disgruntled Haydn to declare a moratorium on sacred music. No sooner were the decrees rescinded, however, than he returned to the field with gusto, embarking in 1796 on a cluster of quasi-operatic works that demonstrated his prowess as a dramatic composer. Although Haydn was sharply criticized for mixing sacred and secular idioms—Antonio Salieri, the powerful imperial Kapellmeister, dismissed his late masses as a stylistic “mishmash”—such views appeared increasingly outmoded by 1802, when a prominent German music writer opined that “church music may appear in whatever form it wants so long as it maintains the character of solemnity and devotion.”
Solemnity and devotion abound in the Lord Nelson Mass—or, to call it by the name Haydn entered in his personal catalogue, Missa in Angustiis. (The precise meaning of the Latin is somewhat obscure, but “Mass in Straitened Circumstances” seems as good a translation as any.) Both it and its predecessor, the Missa in Tempore Belli (Mass in Time of War) of 1796, were composed in the shadow of the escalating conflict between France and the other major European powers that would soon engulf the continent as Napoleon pursued his imperial conquests. According to a contemporary report, Haydn was putting the finishing touches on the Missa in Angustiis in August 1798 when he received word of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory over the French forces at the Battle of the Nile. Infused with patriotic ardor, he purportedly inserted the trumpet fanfares that figure so prominently in the Benedictus movement and lend a stirring, martial character to much of the mass. Even allowing for the fact that news of Nelson’s triumph didn’t actually reach Vienna until mid-September, there is no doubt that the association with Britain’s renowned military genius gave currency to the work’s popular nickname. It would become more firmly attached two years later, when the mass was performed at Eisenstadt in the presence of the great man himself and his equally celebrated mistress, Lady Hamilton.
The solemn, foreboding atmosphere of the opening bars is accentuated by somber drumbeat patterns in the trumpets and timpani and the chorus’s emphatic octave leaps on the word “Kyrie” (Lord), which conspire to fix the home key of D minor firmly in our ears. Although the prayer sounds more hopeful when it’s taken up by the solo soprano in F major, the somewhat muddled tonality of the ensuing choral fugue seems emblematic of wartime Vienna’s apprehensive mood. Haydn’s characteristic optimism asserts itself in the Gloria’s confident D-major strains (with a sharp swerve to B-flat major in the central “Qui tollis” section as the solo bass fervently pleads for the Savior’s mercy) and the choir’s spirited canonic recitation of the Nicene Creed in the Credo. Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection are masterfully depicted in deft dramatic strokes. The last three movements of the mass offer further examples of Haydn’s often playful text-painting: the rising arpeggios on the words “Pleni sunt coeli” (“The heavens are full”) in the Sanctus are conventional but nonetheless effective. The long, mysterious orchestral prelude to the Benedictus contrasts with the sturdily affirmative choral benediction and the giddily leaping theme of the “Osanna.” The Agnus Dei culminates in another energetic fugue, this time in jubilant D major, marking the end of our musical and spiritual journey from darkness to light.
By all accounts, Haydn’s Catholic faith was simple and sincere. “He was very strongly convinced in his heart that all human destiny is under God’s guiding hand, that God rewards good and evil, and that all talents come from above,” wrote his friend and biographer Georg August Griesinger. Intolerance, Griesinger observed, was foreign to the composer’s accepting nature. “Haydn left every man to his own conviction and recognized all as his brothers. In general, his devotion was not of the gloomy, always suffering sort, but rather cheerful and reconciled, and in this character, moreover, he wrote all his church music.” It was in a spirit of joyous offering, rather than pious abnegation, that the composer penned the rubrics “In Nomine Domini” (In the Name of God) and “Laus Deo” (Praise Be to God) at the beginning and end of the manuscript score of the Lord Nelson Mass.
Notes © by Harry Haskell
A former music editor for Yale University Press, Harry Haskell is a program annotator for Carnegie Hall in New York, the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, and other venues, and the author of several books, including The Early Music Revival: A History and Maiden Flight.