GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL
1685 – 1759
Selections from Messiah - Part One 1741
In 1741 literary scholar and musical associate Charles Jennens presented the ailing, poverty-stricken Handel with a libretto compiled completely from Old and New Testament scriptures. Fired up by the oratorio's verses, the composer threw himself into a creative frenzy that lasted 24 days and produced 250 pages in three parts. The ability to write at record speed (which he always did) was partially the result of having "self-borrowed" from previous works, a common practice for composers from the past to the present. This oratorio resulted from an evolutionary process which fused German, Italian, and English national traditions with which Handel was well acquainted. The polyphonic and choral writing is traceable to his early German period, while flowing melodies and monumental choruses stem directly from Italian sources. From the British, Handel extracted dance rhythms and the English anthem style; familiarity with rhythms of Sicilian folk dances and the French overture style are also evident. Although the oratorio is primarily contemplative, it also includes several dramatic scenes.
The first scene (from the Sinfony through "For unto us a child is born") prefigures the arrival of the Messiah. The second scene opens with an instrumental interlude depicting the shepherds' pipes, and the angel announcing the birth of Jesus. This truly narrative moment in the oratorio ends with the angels disappearing through fading music, but is quickly followed by the spirit of rejoicing.
There are many opinions why this oratorio is the most popular of oratorios in the world. Answers lie in the composer's inspiration derived from the text and from his genius in creating music so well matched to biblical passages. Messiah thus includes dramatic silences, stirring mood contrasts, elegant melodies, ranges of harmonies and their interplay with different rhythmic schemes. The moods are both light and dark, while rhythms vacillate from dirge to dance. Diversity reigns in its infinite variety and contrasting moods, and ends with the crowning glory of the majestic Hallelujah Chorus.
1719 – 1787
A Musical Sleigh Ride 1755
Leopold Mozart distinguished himself as a violin teacher and author of an important book (still used) on 18th century violin performance playing. Beyond musical studies, Leopold spent time as an actor, a vocalist, and in science and theology studies. Before graduating, he left university studies for employment on the musical staff of the Archbishop of Salzburg. As a member of the Archbishop's staff, he became court composer and deputy Kapellmeister, a position he maintained until his death in l787. Leopold spent an inordinate amount of time guiding the musical path of his unpredictable son. The consequence of this was to miss out on advancement to higher court status, which would have been possible with more dedication to his job.
Leopold was fond of humor and jokes and utilized percussive instruments — bells, rattle, whip and triangle — in his program works to achieve naturalistic sounds. Sleigh Ridemusically depicts a trip to a ball on a horse-drawn sleigh. The titles of the movements describe the hustle and bustle of trip preparations, the sleigh ride itself, shivering passengers, a minuet which begins the ball, and the ride home in the sleigh.
JOHN RUTTER 1945 –
English composer John Rutter is renowned throughout the world for his original choral music and unusual arrangements of Christmas carols and anthems. His compositions also include a Gloria, a Magnificat, a Requiem, and an opera for young people called Bang! His compositional style is eclectic; it shows 20th century influences of French and English choral traditions as well as of light music and American songwriting. But the onslaught of chronic fatigue syndrome in 1985 restricted Rutter's output; he was forced to end a prolific career of writing music on commission. A London Evening Standard review in 2005 summons up his style: "for the infectiousness of his melodic invention and consummate craftsmanship, Rutter has few peers."
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Joan Olsson.