Songs of Darkness and Light
Featuring Guest Artists
Donnalynn Grills, mezzo soprano
James Magnus-Johnston, tenor
Howard Rempel, baritone
Donna Laube, piano
Wes Elias, organ
We are excited to once again perform in the WSO’s annual fall festival. With a theme like Angels and Demons, Winnipeg is in for a week of drama and contrasts!
Songs of Darkness and Light is divided into two halves. Darkness, narrated by Derek Morphy, opens with Brahms’ gentle and foreboding Nächtens (At Night), followed by The Furies’ Scene from Gluck’s most popular opera, Orfeo ed Eurydice, and The Witches’ Chorus from Verdi’s Macbeth. Britten’s mystical choral masterpiece Rejoice in the Lamb and Mendelssohn’s Come with Torches Brightly Flashing from Die Erste Walpurgisnacht round out the first half.
Light, narrated by Andrea Ratuski, will kick off with Daniel Pinkham’s In the Beginning of Creation, and the Genesis theme continues with selections from Haydn’s Creation. The uplifting second half also features two works by Russian composers: Sergei Taneyev’s Sunrise, and Dmitry Bortniansky’s choral concerto The King Shall Rejoice in Thy Strength, O Lord; American composer Morten Lauridsen’s O Nata Lux; Edward Elgar’s Lux Aeterna, based on Nimrod from his Enigma Variations; and selections from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
QUICK FACTS about the works featured in Darkness & Light
- Johannes Brahms’ Nächtens (At Night) was written in 1888 when Brahms was 55, as part of his last cycle of six, four-part songs, with poetry by historian/poet Franz Krugler.
- Christophe Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eurydice premiered in 1762 and was his first so-called “reform” opera. As The Furies’ Scene attests, he certainly succeeded in creating high drama and engagement, and Orfeo went on to become the most popular of his 45 operas.
- Giuseppi Verdi’s Macbeth Although Verdi much admired Shakespeare and was largely faithful to the play, for The Witches’ Chorus, he replaced the three hags around the cauldron with a large chorus – a coven? – of female witches singing in three parts. It’s interesting, though, that each part sings as a single witch, using “I”, rather than “we”.
- Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb is a creative, mystical choral masterpiece. Christopher Smart’s poetry delicately balances between glory, genius, and insanity, and the music imitates this.
- Felix Mendelssohn’s Come with Torches Brightly Flashing from Der Erste Walpurgisnacht – Goethe wrote Die Erste Walpurgisnacht expressly for it to be set to music. The Walpurgis festival is named after Saint Walpurga (c.710-777) who was canonized on May 1. Apart from the fact that she was English and came to the Frankish Empire to convert the pagan Germans, she seems to have done nothing that would merit such a strong connection with witches.
- Daniel Pinkham’s In the Beginning of Creation – Great-grandson of Lydia E. Pinkham (famous concocter and marketer of patent medicines), New England-born Daniel was a prolific, respected composer with a preference for sacred choral works.
- Joseph Haydn’s Creation – Haydn was inspired to write a large oratorio after hearing Handel’s oratorios on his trips to England. While there, he was given a long, new poem in English called The Creation of the World. He handed this over to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, diplomat, musician and patron with whom he had previously collaborated. Van Swieten re-cast the work into a German version, Die Schôpfung, but published his own English translation at the same time. Unfortunately, he was not a fluent English speaker, and his translation suffers from awkward phrasing. For example, when describing Adam’s newly-formed forehead, the libretto reads “The large and arched front sublime/of wisdom deep declared the seat.” Despite these imperfections, English choirs have performed this work in their native tongue, to the delight of audiences, for more than two centuries.
- Sergei Taneyev’s Sunrise is one of the most evocative and beautifully-crafted choral works ever written about dawn. A composer, pianist, professor, musical theorist, and author, Taneyev was an influential force in the artistic life of Russia, a student and friend of Tchaikovsky and teacher of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. Like many Russians, he had a keen love of nature that shines through in Sunrise.
- Morten Lauridsen’s O Nata Lux is the third of five movements from Lux Aeterna, a work using various Latin texts on light, and this motet reflects the mysticism often found in this American composer’s work.
- Edward Elgar’s Lux Aeterna – On the evening of October 21, 1898, after a tiring day teaching, Elgar sat at the piano fooling around (if Victorian/Edwardians ever did “fool around”) with a new melody. His wife liked it, so he started creating variations of the tune on styles which reflected the character of some of his friends. What started as a joke became a profound set of fourteen, beautifully structured and orchestrated variations that were immediately popular and made his reputation in continental Europe. Lux Aeterna is the choral version of Nimrod, the ninth of these famous Enigma Variations. While simple sounding from the outside, the eight choir parts have complex, syncopated lines, creating a depth and intrigue far beyond that of the straight melody. Happy 150th Birthday, Mr. Elgar!
- Dmitry Bortniansky’s The King Shall Rejoice in Thy Strength, O Lord – Choral concertos are a genre of sacred music unique to Russia and Bortniansky was the best-known composer in this genre, writing 45 concertos and 14 concerto-like settings.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute): Die Strahlen die Sonne (The Sun’s Rays) and Heilseieuch Geweihten (Hail to You who are Consecrated). As the High Priest Sarastro sings, “the sun’s rays drive out the night” and the choir follows, proclaiming that beauty and wisdom are crowned as a reward!