Enjoy these lovely program notes for Cries, courtesy of Kathryn Bacasmot, Sarah Darling, and Caroline Shaw. Josquin Des Pres c.1450-1521 :: Nymphes des bois / La déploration sur la morte de Johannes Ockeghem
One hundred years prior to the birth of Johannes Ockeghem, the Ars Nova era dawned. Music notation became more complex, and styles became more expressive. Known as a technician, and a “man of canonic ingenuity,” Ockeghem produced some of the most sophisticated and beautiful music of his time, including contrapuntal masterpieces utilizing thirty-six voices, and works such as the Missa prolationum, in which the counterpoint was carved out of the sheer simplicity of changing note lengths. In “Nymphes des bois / La déploration sur la mort de Johannes Ock- eghem” Josquin Des Prez, who likely studied with Ockeghem in his youth, pays homage to the master with this serene and effective motet. (Curiously, Ockeghem had also written a memorial work to his teacher Binchois.) The text is by Jean Molinet, who melds references to antiquity (Atropos, the Greek deity whose shears cut the thread of every human life) to contemporary names who function as witnesses and mourners; Josquin is among them. As Ockeghem did before him, Josquin imitates some of the stylistic hallmarks of his teacher’s style in this tribute. The cantus firmus to the requiem mass grounds the work.
Nymphs of the woods, goddesses of the fountains, Expert singers from all nations, Turn your voices, so clear and high, To rending cries and lamentation. For Atropos, the terrible ruler, Has seized your Ockeghem in her trap. The true treasurer of music and its masterpiece Learned, elegant in body and in no way old-fashioned. It is a terrible loss that the earth covers him. Put on your mourning clothes Josquin, Pierson, Brumel, Compère, And weep great tears from your eyes Gone is your great father. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Cantus firmus: Eternal rest give them, Lord, And light perpetual shine on them. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Caroline Shaw b.1982 :: Music in Common Time
About five years ago, up in the Berkshires, in the first weeks of what would be a very hot summer, I wrote a bit of music for some new friends. The idea for the music started with a chord, plain old D-major with the third on top, emerging pristinely out of some gritty, wild, chaotic vocal rubble. But the chord, and the piece, soon began to morph into different colors and forms, full of little corners and passageways and histories and trajectories. That piece was called Passacaglia, which now closes out a piece that is very dear (and still a little mysterious) to me, Partita for 8 Voices. Those friends that summer were Roomful of Teeth, in our first weeks together.
This week is a very exciting combination of old and new friends, with Roomful of Teeth and A Far Cry. (To clarify, some of these old friends are among the wonderful players in A Far Cry — people I’ve known for many years — through school, chamber music festivals, Irish bars on the Upper West Side...) It’s a collaboration I’ve dreamt of, and thanks to many, here we all are.
So I decided to write some music in common time. Exploding that D-major chord of years ago, launching into something new and different. Finding some of those old corners and trajectories again, and venturing down some roads both familiar and less traveled. Thanks for joining us. -cs
Franz Schubert 1797-1828 :: Quartet in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’
A prodigious youth, like Mozart before him, Schubert was given the advantage of being selected by his teacher Antonio Salieri (famous for his supposed tussles with Mozart) to sing in the impe- rial Hofkapelle, and receive an education typically reserved for the Viennese aristocracy. His mu- sic education from the beginning consisted of playing chamber music with his family and singing in the choir. Though he would contribute larger works, the realms of song and quintets, quartets, and trios, would immortalize him.
When Schubert was twenty-seven, his health turned for the worse, likely as a result of syphilis setting in, and the misery of both the disease and the treatment began to weigh heavily on the composer. In a letter, he wrote:
I find myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world. Imagine a man whose health will never be right again, and who in sheer despair continually makes things worse and worse instead of better; imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have perished, to whom the felicity of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain at best, whom enthusiasm (at least of the stimulating variety) for all things beautiful threatens to forsake, and I ask you, is he not a miserable, unhappy being? ‘My peace is gone, my heart is sore, I shall find it nevermore’. I might as well sing every day now, for upon retiring to bed each night I hope that I may not wake again, and each morning only recalls yesterday’s grief.
Written during this dark time, the String Quartet in D minor expresses the composer’s preoccupation with the desire to be comforted by death. Its nickname, “Death and the Maiden,” comes from a set of variations in the second movement, which uses a song written by Schubert in 1817 of the same name for its theme. Based on a poem by Matthias Claudius, Death, personified, discourses with a girl on the brink of dying. Interestingly, the language given to Death is not just warm and reassuring, but has a rustic, simple, flavor. The words, straightforward and friendly, almost too colloquial for a poem, bring not just comfort but a familiar feeling; perhaps of the countryside, perhaps of home.