Join us on Saturday, December 14 at 7:30 in Clinton High’s Vernon Cook Theater for our Holiday concert. Our special guest this year is RiverChor. This concert is always a favorite as we explore new and familiar musical themes of the Holidays. Bring family and friends for a festive evening!
Our program is:
A Most Wonderful Christmas; arr. Robert Sheldon
Skater’s Waltz; Émile Waldteufel
Festive Sounds of Hanukkah; arr. Bill Holcombe
Messiah And the Glory * For Unto Us * Hallelujah!; George Frideric Handel
Fanfare to La Péri; Paul Dukas
The Nutcracker – Marche * Arabe * Waltz of the Flowers * Trepak; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
How Great Our Joy; arr. John Rutter
Lua, Lua, Lua; Esther Scliar
Farandole from L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2.; Georges Bizet
Pizzicato Polka; Johann Strauss, Jr. and Josef Strauss
Christmas Memories; Rosephanye Powell
A Christmas Festival; LeRoy Anderson
Please enjoy the following program notes:
Music to Dispel the Bleak Mid-winter Doldrums
It is interesting to note that several of the songs and carols that we use to celebrate the Christmas season were originally composed for other occasions, but have been, over time, appropriated for that purpose – to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child or to cast a holiday spirit over the doldrums of a “bleak mid-winter” landscape.
To offset the solemn, dignified, and reverential tone of “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “Away in a Manger”, we have the more celebratory and extroverted sounds of “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Few people know, however, that “Joy to the World” (1719) was not written by Isaac Watts to glorify the birth of Jesus Christ, but in anticipation of His Second Coming. The tune of the song is attributed to George Frederic Handel (Antioch). Even fewer know that Charles Wesley’s piece, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (1739) achieves its wonderful sonorities from the music of Felix Mendelssohn, adapted from his cantata Festgesang (1840) to commemorate Gutenberg’s invention of movable type printing. It was arranged to Wesley’s poem by English composer William H. Cummings (1855). Wesley himself had preferred a more solemn and stately music.
Russian composer Serge Prokofiev, returning from abroad and eager to placate his critics, agreed to score the film Lieutenant Kijé (1934). The film was a success and Prokofiev’s five-movement suite adapted from the score quickly entered the international repertoire. The fourth movement of the suite Troika is often used in Christmas concerts as “sleigh bells, rapid pizzicato strings, and piano combine to give the impression of a fast winter’s journey [in a] troika, a traditional Russian three-horse sled.” American composer Leroy Anderson, in contrast, was prompted by a heat wave in 1946 to compose his Sleigh Ride. Working in his yard repairing water pipes, Anderson envisioned himself in a sleigh drawn by horses galloping through a snow-covered New England landscape with the crisp winter wind whipping across his sweaty brow. Sleigh Ride was premiered by the Boston Pops in May 1948. It makes no mention of any holiday.
Heat waves also played major roles in the creation of two other specific Christmas songs. Mel Tormé and Robert Wells collaborated to compose one of the most recorded Christmas tunes, “The Christmas Song” (1945):
According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer. In an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool…I saw a spiral pad on his [Wells’] piano with four lines written in pencil”, Tormé recalled. “They started, ‘Chestnuts roasting…, Jack Frost nipping…, Yuletide carols…, Folks dressed up like Eskimos.’ Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics.” (Wikipedia)
American popular music composer Irving Berlin gave differing accounts about where and when he wrote the most popular Christmas song of all time – “White Christmas” – more than 50 million sales in the United States, more than 100 million world-wide. Berlin, in the more popular version, claimed that he was staying at a hotel in La Quinta, California, during a particularly hot, sultry spell in 1940, when he began to reminisce about earlier times in New England with his family and friends – especially around Christmas time. Berlin, who liked to compose at night, took down the words and music that came rushing to him and called his secretary in New York:
Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!
More serious – or classical – music also has examples of music adopted, adapted, and/or arranged for the holiday season despite the music’s original intent.
The Farandole on tonight’s program comes from themes Georges Bizet used in his incidental music to Alphonse Daudet’;s play L’;Arlésienne (The Girl from Arles), first performed in 1872. Bizet originally wrote twenty-seven numbers of varying lengths to augment the drama, but both the play and the music were considered failures at the time. Bizet, to salvage something from his efforts, extracted four pieces from score which he re-orchestrated and published as his L’Arlésienne Suite. It was not until four years after Bizet’s death that the second suite was created.
L’Arlésienne Suite No 2 was crafted by Ernest Guiraud, a life-long friend of Bizet. For his suite, he took three selections from the original source material, although he did take liberties with the arranging and scoring of the pieces. In Guiraud’s version of the Farandole, he augments the dance with a traditional French Christmas carol, March of the Kings. Thus, it is through Guiraud’s manipulation of Bizet’s original material that the Farandole is often scheduled on Christmas programs.
Messiah premiered the evening of April 13, 1742, as one of a series of charity concerts in Dublin, Ireland. George Frederic Handel, the German-born, Italian-educated, English citizen, composed this masterpiece over a three-week period during the summer of 1741 set to a libretto by Charles Jennens. Little is known of the reception the work received at its premiere, but it was a success when Handel led a performance in London the following year. Not until 1818 did an American premiere take place in Boston.
Handel altered and revised Messiah depending on the occasion and the musical forces he had at his command, and it was only in 1754 that an ‘authentic’ version was presented at a benefit performance for London’s Foundling Hospital.
The choruses from Messiah offer some of the most inspiring and stirring music that Handel ever wrote. Of particular note is the most famous of them, the Hallelujah chorus. The chorus comes at the end of part two and tradition dictates that the audience stands at this point, as King George II allegedly did in Handel’s time, to show deference to the King of Kings.
Peter Ily’ich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) considered his music for The Nutcracker ballet to be ‘infinitely poorer’ than that of his Sleeping Beauty. Following the success of his opera Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades), Tchaikovsky had accepted two commissions from the director of the Imperial Theatres – one for a ballet and another for a one-act opera. The director gave Tchaikovsky no options on the subject for the ballet; it was to be based on Alexandre Dumas père’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman‘s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
He began work on the score in early 1892 and finished the piece by late summer of the same year. The composer made a suite of eight of the numbers he had already completed and presented TheNutcracker Suite, Op. 72a to the St. Petersburg’s public on March 19, 1892. The complete ballet debuted in December 1892 to generally poor reviews. While the suite was an immediate success, the complete ballet did not achieve great popularity in the United States until the 1950s when it was featured on national television during the Christmas season. Since then, the ballet and the suite have become standard seasonal fare.
The great variety of music – both spiritual and secular – that boosts our holiday mood does much to, indeed, dispel the “bleak mid-winter” atmosphere and brings good cheer to all.
~Program notes by William Driver.