Soprano Nichole DeChaine and baritone Nik Schiffman will be vocal soloists, with chorus and orchestra (the latter comprised of both professionals and student musicians) conducted by music director Steven Hodson.
The quite gorgeous program consists of four works: Gabriel Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Opus 11; Wolfgang Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus (Hail the true body ...), Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata, Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ Lay in the Bonds of Death), BWV 4, and Fauré’s ravishing Reqiem in D-Minor, Opus 48.
The Mozart work, written in the year of his death (1791), reflects both the somberness of hia musical spirit at this time and the extreme compression that his art had achieved.
In his magnum opus, The Intellectual History of Europe (1953), Austrian Catholic historian Friedrich Heer wrote: “The expert writer and speaker is not supposed to talk about certain themes which society, the party or the religious confession does not wish to be discussed. Fear, resentment and apprehension squeeze the scope of free speech. In the late 19th century it was improper to speak of God in good society. Today it is improper to speak of anything important. The press, the film industry, the managerial class and most publishers go out of their way to avoid most of the serious questions of politics, society and philosophy. Our anxieties have created forbidden zones. In such zones of fear, an internal inquisition functions noiselessly and an apparatus of defamation grinds forward to co-ordinate all Europe behind a few slogans.”
In the midst of factually very useful pages of publicity material for this concert, I find the Bach cantata referred to as “lively.” This seems to me to be Heer’s “internal inquisition” at work, Americans everywhere resenting any memento mori. Because, alas, none of the four works on this program — which is all about death — can be so-described. The Bach, a meditation on the three days directly following the crucifixion — the only three days out of all eternity that the Savior was not alive somewhere — is one of his gloomier scores. It is a setting of Martin Luther’s text.
As much as I admire (always) and love (usually) his music, I confess that Fauré is a total enigma to me. As with his teacher and friend, Camille Saint-Saëns, his music seems to create its own timescape, unrelated to the years in which he lived and composed. The Cantique de Jean Racine, Opus 11 is an early work, written when he was 19, upon his graduation from the École Niedermeyer.
The work won first prize in the school competition, and when it was given a public performance the following year (1866), it won the young musician his first fame. The text, “Verbe égal au Très-Haut,” is a paraphrase by 17th century dramatist and Jansenist Jean Racine, of the hymn for Tuesday matins, Consors paterni luminis.
Fauré’s Requiem, of course, needs no introduction. I consider it the most beautiful Mass for the Dead ever written. But I must make explicit my gratitude to the writer of the above-cited publicity material, for providing a stunning quote from the composer about the work — a quote that I think supports my belief that some of our most sublime religious music was written by musicians of indifferent faith and little conscious commitment to Christian theology.
“Everything I managed to entertain in the way of religious illusion,” Fauré said, “I put into my Requiem, which, moreover, is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.” R.I.P. Gabriel Fauré.
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