Sunday, April 22 , 2018, 1:50 am | Fair 53º


Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Master Chorale Sings Berlioz, Schumann in Weekend Performances

The stellar choral group, the Santa Barbara Master Chorale, under the direction of Steven R. Hodson, presents its next pair of concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church.

The main work on the program is Hector Berlioz's oratorio L'Enfance du Christ/The Childhood of Christ — which he called his "sacred trilogy" — but we will also hear two shorter works by Robert Schumann, both from 1849: the collection of five partsongs that he called Romanzen und Balladen, Opus 67, and the Requiem for Mignon for Solo Voices, Chorus and Orchestra, Opus 98b.

In the early 1850s, a hack biographer wrote to Berlioz (1803-1869), asking him questions about his life and career. Berlioz responded, in part: "You wish to know why I have encountered so much opposition as a composer in Paris during the last 25 years. The causes were many in number; I am happy to say that they have to some extent disappeared. This seems to be proved by the fact that, with the exception of the Revue des deux mondes (whose music criticism is in the hands of a monomaniac, and whose editor cordially detests me) the entire Press was favourable to me on the occasion of my latest work, The Childhood of Christ. Some people imagined they could detect in this work a complete change in my manner and style. Nothing could be more mistaken. The subject naturally lent itself to a mild and simple kind of music. That was why they found it more accessible — that and the development of their own taste and powers of understanding. I should have written The Childhood of Christ in the same way 20 years ago."

"... a mild and simple kind of music ..."

As great a writer as he was as a composer — dissimilar gifts — Berlioz not only knew why everbody loves The Childhood of Christ, he was able to explain the effect without resorting to either technical jargon or literary allusions. He did not say "sincere," because there is nothing so insincere as a protest of sincerity.

Anyway, Berlioz was human; he was no doubt insincere on occasion, but I have never caught him at it. The Childhood of Christ is taken up with King Herod's attempt to scotch the messianic birth by a slaughter of all recently born males, and with the escape of the Holy Family to Egypt to avoid the king's butchers. Berlioz avoids melodrama by keeping the story pitched at the level of a folk tale. I find all of his work accessible, but this one especially.

The two works by Schumann differ from each other as much as they differ from that of Berlioz, whom Schumann knew and admired. (It is quite wonderful that Berlioz, Schumann and Mendelssohn all knew each other and were friends; that they supported each other's careers, conducted or arranged for each other's premieres. The public, even then, might have preferred them to be catty and envious, but they were great souls as well as great composers. For much of his early career, Berlioz received much more honor and attention in Germany than in Paris; Schumann and Mendelssohn had a lot to do with it.)

The five partsongs of Romanzen und Balladen are very lofty and spiritual; the Requiem for Mignon, a kind of choral tone poem inspired a scene in Goethe's novel, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, builds to a quite powerful catharsis that would not have shamed Beethoven.

Tickets to this concert are $22 general admission, $20 for seniors and those with disabilities, $12 for college students with ID and for children K-12. They are available at Chaucer's Bookstore, Santa Barbara Sheet Music, Tecolote Book Shop, and at the door at First United Methodist Church, 305 E. Anapamu St.

Click here for more information, or call 805.967.8287 to reserve tickets.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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