Join us in our
2024-2025 SEASON

"Remembering Fauré"
Saturday, October 19, 2024
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Ellicott City, MD

Handel: Messiah
Sunday, Dec. 8, 2024
Jim Rouse Theatre, Columbia, MD

A Christmas Noël
with the CPC Chamber Singers
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2024
Christ Episcopal Church
Columbia, MD

"Celebrating Rutter"
Sunday, March 16, 2025
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Ellicott City, MD

"Asain American/Pacific Islander"
Saturday, May 3, 2025
Jim Rouse Theatre, Columbia, MD

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Columbia Pro Cantare
Studio 17
8510 High Ridge Rd
Ellicott City, MD 21043
Fax: 410.696.2591

Columbia Pro Cantare Program Notes
2014 - 2015 Season

Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle

Even if you have no knowledge of the composer, Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), you probably have at least one of his themes in your memory: the so-called "Lone Ranger" theme which was borrowed by radio producers from Rossini's opera William Tell. This was only one of the 39 operas Rossini wrote, both tragic but especially comic (opera buffa) making him, at his early retirement (the ripe young age of 37), the most popular opera composer ever known.

Some will remember his most celebrated comic opera, The Barber of Seville, of which Beethoven noted at his meeting with Rossini: "So you're the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists." Beethoven was right. Rossini's operas continue to play and delight audiences worldwide for their memorable melodies, their insightful characterizations, the swift and surprising action and the interplay between characters.

So – how did this celebrated opera composer come to set the words of the Roman Catholic Mass? And in his retirement from the stage?

The setting was Rossini's retirement to Paris in 1855, where he played host to many literary and artistic personalities. He began to compose smaller, intimate works, applying the consummate craft he had brought to opera – works that influenced the coming generation of French composers, including Camille Saint-Saens and Emanuel Chabrier. These compositions were performed for private audiences for his Paris salon and the Petite Messe Solennelle was one of those works. Originally composed during Rossini's summer vacation in his suburban villa at Passy, it is clear that it was an offering of religious devotion. The first version was for a small group of singers and musicians, hence the title Petite Messe. Rossini later scored it for larger chorus and orchestra, anticipating that it would receive a larger audience and not wanting others to make the "adaptation." It is Rossini's own later version that the Columbia Pro Cantare will present to you.

Finally, here is a small masterpiece, described to you in Rossini's own words for its original setting that he wrote at the end of the manuscript in French: "Dear God, there you have it, finished, this poor little mass. Is it really sacred music or is it damned music that I have created? I was born for opera buffa, as you well know! Little technique, a little heart, that is all. So may you be blessed and grant me Paradise." A modest approach to God from one who knew well his earthly reputation.

The Petite Messe Solennelle follows the customary (Ordinary) musical settings of the Roman Catholic Mass: Kyrie, Gloria in excelsis Deo, Credo in unum Deum, Sanctus-Benedictus, Agnus Dei, with the addition of a Latin hymn: O Salutaris Hostia, the last two stanzas of a moving poem to Christ by Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274). The intent of the text (set to music by many composers: Palestrina, Beethoven, Gounod, Liszt), is the request for Christ's help in persevering in the spiritual journey towards Eternal Life – our native land – Heaven.

I. Kyrie eleison – Christe eleison – Kyrie eleison
Perhaps the oldest known ritual chant, and in Greek, it is set by Rossini in a traditional "Classical" way. After an introduction (note the rhythm of the bass line) the chorus takes the lead, singing in hymn-like harmonies (Kyrie...). The tonal fabric lightens in the middle (Christe...) and seems to float with imitative lines from one voice to another Then the bass rhythm returns (Kyrie...) to underlie the chorus with a sense of inexorability, to end in a soft sigh in deep chords.

II. Gloria in excelsis Deo
Rossini followed the tradition of setting each verse separately, but in his own way. The first lines (Gloria in excelsis Deo) are set apart as a fanfare-like introduction. The text, "Laudamus te" is given to the four soloists with the chorus joining on the words, "Adoramus te." "Gratias agimus tibi" is again given to the soloists. The words, "Domine Deus" give the tenor an operatic heroic aria, followed by a charming duet for soprano and alto on the words "Qui tollis..." After a stirring introduction, the bass soloist begins an extended bravura aria on the words, "Quoniam tu solus sanctus," in a style that is intended to show the singer's virtuosic ability. The chorus closes the movement (could it be like an operatic scene?) with the heroic setting of "Cum Sancto Spiritu..." including a partial double fugue, setting the word "Amen" against the text "Cum Sancto Spiritu" and then an extended sequence, creating an effect of tremendous positive energy that builds to a climax.

III. Credo in unum Deum
What a tempo marking! Rossini wrote, "Allegro Cristiano!" And Allegro it is, with the tenors leading followed by the rest of the chorus and then the soloists. The word, "Credo" punctuates the verses. It can be helpful to imagine an operatic scene with the soloists and chorus. A change of "scene" occurs on the words, "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis," announced by the soprano soloist, with a rocking rhythm in the basses, descending on the words, "et sepultus est." The chorus then proclaims, triumphantly, "Et resurrexit..." in full harmony, the soloists also taking part in the declaration of faith. On the words, "Et vitam venturi.." the tempo quickens, with the soloists leading. This is a "set piece" used by operatic composers of the time, in which all the characters are onstage, singing their various parts. But the choir has the last word, the assertive, "Credo."

IV. Prelude religieux (during the Offertory of the Mass)
An instrumental piece to cover the action at the altar.

V. Sanctus
What a burst of energy from the chorus, soloists included! It is followed by a soprano solo, "O salutaris," which is not part of the Mass but a few stanzas from a separate hymn written by Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi – to be sung at Lauds (a monastic observance in the morning).

VI. Agnus Dei
The orchestra introduces an alto solo designed to showcase the alto's vocal abilities, as well as addressing the text. The chorus soon joins her with the words, "Dona nobis pacem" in subdued tones, at times, even broken. The work closes with the orchestra sounding a forceful assent to the last words sung, "Dona nobis pacem" [Grant us peace]

Whether personal or global, the plea, "Grant us peace" remains, echoing in the minds and hearts of the listener. Peace – personal peace, political peace, social peace, domestic peace – peace is what Rossini tells us we long for and must desire above all, trusting that it will be given – on earth and in heaven.

by Barbara A. Renton, Ph.D.

Handel's Messiah

Some may think of George Frideric Handel as one of the first modern public personalities. He was born in what is now part of Germany (Halle) in the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach (1685) and died in 1759 as a naturalized English citizen. His entire life was lived during the period of the settlement of the American colonies and before the American Revolution. He was not only an inventive and ingenious composer, but also an able capitalist who understood how to use social systems and economic systems, patronage and the market-place, popular impressions and wealthy support, to enable public performances of his works not once, but many times over.

His early professional life and emigration from Germany to England could form the basis of a romantic novel, and, as luck would have it, he wound up on the right side of the English Channel just at the point when his erstwhile patron, King George I of Hanover (Germany), succeeded to the British royal throne. In England Handel continued to write and produce operas, but with varying success, despite his renown in other types of music and his reputation for organ playing (which at that time meant a high degree of improvisation). After the failure of his operas (and those of many others), in 1739 Handel began to exchange staged dramatic compositions (opera: primarily on secular and mythical themes) for unstaged dramatic ones (oratorio: primarily on biblical themes). Here he struck gold with the public. In 1742, Handel's reputation as a composer of church music led to an invitation on behalf of three Dublin charity organizations to compose an oratorio, to be performed exclusively for charitable purposes: "For the relief of the Prisoners in several Gaols, and for the support of Mercer's Hospital in Stephen Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn's Quay." The resulting work, Messiah, proved to be not only a unique work for Handel, but the most magnificent triumph of his life. Evidence shows that not only did Handel not accept a fee, he persuaded the soloists -- of high quality and reputation -- to forego payment also. Charles Burney, the celebrated English musician and music historian, noted that Messiah continued to be a work that "fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphan," so great were the power of its reputation and the number of charity performances.

Messiah was unlike any of Handel's works, because Dublin was unlike any other city in its cultivation of music and numerous charity performances. The text, by Charles Jennens, is unusual in that is drawn entirely from the Hebrew scriptures ((Old Testament) and the Christian revelation (New Testament). The subtle sequence is that of Promise, Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection, giving an epic quality that replaces a dramatic plot. It is not a reenactment, but a lyric contemplation of the idea of Christian redemption (in the Christian church year: Advent, Christmas and Easter). The many choruses, particularly the stately ones, relate the work more closely to the English anthem than to the German or Italian oratorio. There is little doubt that it is the choruses that have contributed largely to this work's popularity. So artful was Handel's craft in the sequence of pieces and their artistic balance and contrast, that at the first notes of Hallelujah the first London audience was literally lifted to its feet by a swell of emotion — a custom that has persisted to this day — but less by custom than by a similar swell of enthusiasm. "I just can't help it," many persons have said, "I know it's not logical, but I feel I just can't sit there; I have to do something."

The original chorus was a small number of singers from the two Dublin cathedrals. The Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Jonathan Swift (of Gulliver's Travels and other well-known pieces of literature, who was known for his dislike of music), had to be persuaded to grant permission for the use of the Cathedral's singers "to assist at a club of fiddlers in Fishamble Street..." as he put it. The alto arias were composed for Mrs. Susanna Cibber, a stage tragedienne who played opposite the great David Garrick on the London stage. Male soloists were drawn from local choirs. The orchestra of the Dublin State Band was modest in size, not grandiose as we sometimes think, and was directed by Handel from the harpsichord.

Rich in invention and craft, amazing in musical inspiration and illumined by an unending number of details that delight the ear, the mind, the heart, Messiah continues to claim a central place in the public's affection. On April 6, 1759, eight days before his death, afflicted by blindness, Handel accompanied a performance of Messiah on the organ. He was buried with the honors of state in Westminster Abbey. The performances continue...

by Barbara A. Renton, Ph.D.

Women Composers - March Concert

Tonight's program is an unusual one: every composer on the program is female. The history and practice of Western music has given little acknowledgment or encouragement to women's participation and contribution. It is still a matter for remark to see a female conductor, and it was only in 1997 – 18 years ago – that the Vienna Philharmonic, the last of the major European orchestras began to admit women to its ranks. (The Berlin Philharmonic finally admitted women in 1982.)

The situation with respect to female composers has been even less favorable, largely due to social and cultural restraints and assumptions. Nevertheless, there have been women whose musical compositions have been recorded and preserved for many centuries. "Preserved," is the operative word for it implies admiration and even reverence. Tonight you will hear just a sample of the creative music of an even smaller sample of creative women musicians, from the 12th, and the early and late 19th centuries. The Columbia Pro Cantare hopes that you will be motivated to seek further for the works of these composers and of contemporary women composers – yes – and even suggest to your local and regional ensembles that they might consider putting women's compositions on their programs.

by Barbara A. Renton, Ph.D.

Great American Songbook - May Concert

The program title, "Great American Songbook" can be attributed to the songwriter and music critic, Alec Wilder (1907-1980) in his 1972 book, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950. The book was devoted to what a later radio personality (Jonathan Schwartz) called "America's classical music." So what is "classic" about the popular music of the United States, particularly the music composed after 1900 and through 1950? Well, it's not all the popular music (ex. "Mairzydoats and dozydoats") which have mercifully been forgotten — well, maybe not by all.

What is classic is the craftsmanship of those lyrics that are melded closely to the melodies. The classic songs were taken up by jazz musicians who were stimulated by the harmonies, so that these songs, written as show pieces or presumed ephemera, never died. To this day, singers and instrumentalists around the world continue to draw inspiration from the Great American Songbook.

The Columbia Pro Cantare and friends are pleased to invite you to join them in an exploration of some of the "classics" of the Great American Songbook, hoping that you will find some songs that take you back in time or that are new to you that you will incorporate into your own set of favorites. The first part of the program highlights the music of Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Glenn Miller; the second part of the program recalls the music of Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, and George Gershwin, all of them icons of "The Great American Songbook."

It can't be repeated enough: the lyrics inspire the music while the music gives rise to the lyrics; therefore the lyricists also need to be recognized and applauded. Finally, we need to acknowledge the Broadway stage and Hollywood film industries without which much of this well-known, well-loved, and well-crafted music would never have reached the ears of a world audience.

OVER THE RAINBOW by Harold Arlen (1905-1986)
Harold Arlen was born in Buffalo, NY; he earned immense fame as a masterful creator of jazz and blues songs. The son of a cantor, he started as a piano player in New York clubs, doing arrangements for Broadway shows and those who starred in them. "Over the Rainbow" was written in collaboration with the top lyricist, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, for the film, The Wizard of Oz, and was almost cut from the final version. Fortunately...

BLUE MOON by Richard Charles Rodgers (1902-1979)
Often called the "Dean of Broadway composers," Richard Rodgers gave us more than 40 Broadway musicals, many of which were made into films, such as: Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. The song, "Blue Moon," (1934) with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, although not written for a show, has become a standard ballad. A doo-wop version recorded by The Marcels (1961) and then by Jan and Dean became a popular hit with the next generation, not to mention a brief appearance in the musical, Grease, and, in Frank Sinatra's recording, in the video game, Fallout:New Vegas.

JEROME KERN – A CHORAL PORTRAIT by Jerome David Kern (1885-1945)
What American has not heard "Ol' Man River?" or "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes?" These and other gems came from the fertile imagination of Jerome Kern, composer of musical theater and film and popular music. Kern was a native New Yorker, living for a time in Newark, New Jersey. He worked his way up in the field of popular music, starting in Tin Pan Alley and entering early into film music possibly as early as 1912 – the same year as his first complete Broadway score (The Red Petticoat).

by Barbara A. Renton, Ph.D.

For more program notes from previous years, click here.