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Classical Notes: May 8, 2007 Archive

Pieces of Spring No. 7

Posted at 8:00 AM on May 8, 2007 by John Birge

Welcome May, and Classical Minnesota Public Radio's Pieces of Spring.

Every day, we'll play a springtime classic. Visit our online playlist to find each day's spring piece or, in the Twin Cities, listen to 99.5 every morning at 8. Enter the correct title here, and you have another chance to win fresh flowers delivered to your door for a year! Check back here every day to see if you got it right.

Yesterday's piece was the chorus "Come, Dear Spring," from Haydn's oratorio "The Seasons."

"The Seasons" was commissioned by a group of Viennese nobles who subsidized large-scale choral works, led by librarian Baron von Swieten. Von Swieten provided Haydn with the libretto for "The Seasons," a heavily-edited, German translation of an epic poem by English poet James Thomson. Haydn didn't like the libretto, with its portrayal of peasants (instead of angels, as in his other great oratorio "The Creation"), but the audience at premiere of "The Seasons" was quite taken with the piece.

Come, dear spring! Come, gift from heaven!
From its sleep of death, awaken nature!

It approaches, fair spring, we feel its
soft breath even now. Soon everything
will live again.

Don't rejoice prematurely. Often,
veiled in mist, winter may creep back
and spread on blossoms and seeds its
numbing poison.

Come, fair spring, come gift from
heaven! Sink down upon our
meadows! O come and delay no longer.

A well-timed sip of wine with eyebrows cocked

Posted at 5:35 PM on May 8, 2007 by Don Lee

Some worthwhile reading in Friday's Guardian--a piece by 25-year-old American composer Nico Muhly who, I'm gathering, is a young guy to watch. In a March profile, just in advance of a Carnegie Hall performance, The New York Times described Muhly's compositions as "typically small, elegant parcels filled with clear melodies, pulsating rhythms and the occasional alarming abrasion."

In the Guardian piece he recalls how, as a choirboy, he fell in love with old English church music. "This music," Muhly says, "never calls attention to the composer."

He goes on:

In Romantic music, every note--every detail of orchestration--is illustrative of the composer's emotional journey; in the audience, we're obliged to follow the itinerary outlined for us. At its best, this feels like an adventure. At its worst, it's like being stuck in conversation with a man muttering professorially into a pint of beer.

And a few lines later:

By contrast, Byrd, Gibbons, Weelkes and Tye were like the dinner guests on whom you had crushes as a child, not because of any particular story they told, but because of the way they told those stories--the turns of phrase, the little obsessive details, the localised, rather than structural repetitions. The content of the stories could be in another language, but the little gestures--the musical equivalent of subtly tapping the table twice to reinforce a conclusion, smoothing out the tablecloth before the punchline of a joke, a well-timed sip of wine with eyebrows cocked--were the stars of the show, they were like the things you remember when people you love have changed, or moved away, or died.

Makes me wish I could find a service of choral evensong on the way home.