Edge of the World notes

John Corigliano (b. 1938) :: Voyage (1976)

John Corigliano is arguably one of our era’s most prolific and protean composers. Throughout his career, Corigliano’s works have moved audiences in both concert halls and movie theaters, garnering multiple Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and other honors. In addition to his work as a composer, Corigliano has instructed and guided numerous young composers as a member of the composition faculty at the Juilliard School, and elsewhere.

Charles Baudelaire’s L’Invitation au Voyage provides the inspirational backbone to the work, which, in its original version (1971), was written for a cappella choir (text translation by Richard Wilbur). In his own note about the piece, Corigliano writes: “Wilbur’s poignant setting pictures a world of obsessive imagination – a drugged version of heaven full of sensual imagery. The music echoes the quality of the repeated refrain found in this lush translation: ‘There, there is nothing else but grace and measure, richness, quietness and pleasure.’”

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) :: Suite from Les Indes galantes

Les Indes galantes (“The Amorous Indies”) premiered on August 23, 1735 in Paris. It was the third opera for Rameau, who had made a name for himself as a music theorist a decade earlier, then increasingly gained recognition and respect as a composer, first of harpsichord suites, and then opera. Elsewhere in Europe, Johann Sebastian Bach had recently celebrated his fiftieth birthday. Unbeknownst to either of them, the Baroque era was reaching its pinnacle—and now even had a name.

The composer was fifty years old in 1733 when he finally had the opportunity to make his debut as an operatic composer with Hippolyte et Aricie. It made an indelible impact, and it was the reviews of the opera as “baroque” (misshapen) that became synonymous with both the composer and his time.

Les Indes galantss was performed 64 times in the two years between its premiere and 1737, and underwent numerous revisions and changes over the next almost 30 years. The opera’s main literary conceit, told over the span of four acts (or “entrées”), is transplanting stories of mythological figures and the paths and fates of humans in love from European settings to the “Indies” (i.e. somewhere “exotic”). Specifically, these locales include an island in the Indian Ocean, South America, the Middle East, and North America. The last act, set in North America, contains one of Rameau’s most recognizable tunes Les Sauvages, which made its first appearance in his harpsichord suite in G major (RCT 6) approximately nine years earlier. It was directly inspired by the 1725 visit of several Native American tribal chiefs to the court of Louis XV and the tribal dances at they were invited to perform at court.

Claude Vivier (1948-1983) :: Zipangu (1980)

Often described as “visionary” and “distinctive,” the works of Claude Vivier are a testament to the vivid imaginative qualities held by this Canadian composer whose life was tragically cut short when he was murdered in his mid thirties. In the end, he left behind a rich catalog of around 50 works, which include a variety of genres (and an invented language). Perhaps the greatest influence on Vivier was his period of study with Karlheinz Stockhausen, the result of winning a scholarship to study in Europe when he was twenty-three years old.

In 1976 Vivier traveled throughout Asia, including Japan. With Zipangu, one of his final works, he turned again to the region, and to his obsession with Marco Polo. In his program note for the work, Vivier expounds:

“’Zipangu’ was the name given to Japan at the time of Marco Polo. Within the frame of a single melody I explore in this work different aspects of color. I tried to ‘blur’ my harmonic structure through different bowing techniques. A colorful sound is obtained by applying exaggerated bow pressure on the strings as opposed to pure harmonics when returning to normal technique. A melody becomes a color (chords), grows lighter and slowly returns as though purified and solitary.”

Program Notes by Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot. Kathryn is a pianist/harpsichordist, musicologist, music & cultural critic, and freelance writer. She is a graduate of New England Conservatory, and writes program annotations for ensembles nationwide.