Love and Madness Online Program

 

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Below you will find the program notes from our 2018 concert series, Love and Madness. Enjoy!

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First Half

Second Half

First Half

Tota Pulchra Es (2000)

by Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978)

Renowned choral composer Ola Gjeilo writes predominantly sacred music to traditional texts; he was inspired to write Tota Pulchra Es after hearing Duruflé’s setting of the same antiphon. Tota Pulchra Es is an ancient prayer to the Virgin Mary, and is essentially a love song, extolling Mary’s many virtues and beauties. Gjeilo divides the prayer into three sections, reflecting on each section with tenderness.

               

Poor Wayfaring Stranger (2006)

arr. by Moira Smiley

American singer/composer Moira Smiley writes the following about the next piece: “This iconic American folk song is associated with both sacred and secular sources. My arrangement is influenced by African-American spirituals, circle songs and the rhythm of work songs - with call and response and syncopation built in. The simple stomp pattern, and later, the claps are there to unify the singers, show solidarity and strength.” Smiley’s rendition has a sense of foreboding (and a touch of hopefulness) as this lost soul endures the hardships of life and longs for relief. This song introduces a set of three songs about journeys, to or from loved ones, all threatened with “dark clouds.”

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
a trav’ling through this world of woe. But there’s no sickness, toil, nor danger in that bright world to which I go.

I know dark clouds will gather o’er me. I know my way is rough and steep
Yet beauteous fields lie just before me And lilies grow where angels sleep.

I’m going there to see my mother. I’m going there no more to roam I’m just a going over Jordan
I’m just a going over home.

       —traditional American text

I Love my Love (1916)

by Gustav Holst (1874–1934)

English composer Gustav Holst set six folk songs for chorus, collected from the British countryside, including I Love my Love, a traditional song from Cornwall. The song tells of the madness suffered by a young maid
when her lover goes off to sea, and his parents put her in an asylum. “Bedlam” refers to Bethlehem Hospital in London, which supposedly cared for the mentally ill, though had a reputation for neglecting its patients. Bedlam also appears in Shakespeare’s King Lear, when a character disguises himself as a “Bedlam beggar,” a euphemism for a mad man; we will revisit Shakespeare later in the program. Some have said that Holst’s setting of “I love my love” in the third verse, sung on an off-kilter rhythm by the upper voices of the choir, paints a picture of the poor maid rocking back and forth as she loses her mind in her sorrow. The dark cloud of separation and madness continues to haunt us in the second work in this set.

 

I Hear the Siren’s Call (2012)

by Chen Yi (b. 1953)

The dark clouds follow us into the final song of this set, as temptation sets in for these unfortunate travelers. Chinese composer Chen Yi describes the storyline of the song as follows: “The sirens are represented by the [soprano] voices, echoed by the worksongs of sailors in the ships below. As the sailors draw near, their increasing anticipation becomes palpable and the siren song is nearly overshadowed, blending into the sailors’ singing. Their anticipatory changes build to a climactic shipwreck after which one solitary siren sings a satisfied melody.” Yi’s text is a selection of nonsense syllables, and she refers to the piece stylistically as “composed in a Chinese musical language.”

Lost Love (2018)

by Ian Richardson (b. 1989)

We now journey into the darkest part of our program, with two songs about love lost. The Piedmont Singers commissioned Ian Richardson, our own baritone, to write two pieces on this program, which he did with the ensemble’s specific vocalists in mind. The text he chose is earthy and unsettling. His uncanny ability to paint images with sound is evident in this work which paints a dark picture filled with dissonance and eerie textures. Listen for the clamour of maggots, the spinning of spiders, and the mumbling of grubs!

Let My Love be Heard (2014)

by Jake Runestad (b. 1986)

We move from the sounds of insects to the flutter of angel wings. Runestad, like Richardson in the last piece, effectively uses word painting to musically illustrate a cry to heaven as the voices ascend one after another in an upward cascade of sound that intensifies to a moment of catharsis. The message is universal for those facing loss of a loved one and looking for a way forward.

Love Thrice (2010) by Joseph Gregorio
i. Liquor and laquer

ii. An amethyst remembrance

iii. Kinsfolk

We end the first half with a cycle by Joseph Gregorio, a Massachusetts-based composer. Through the cycle, Gregorio sums up much of our program’s themes in three short pieces. He writes the following: “The first movement...depicts infatuation through flighty changes of meter and sudden shifts of mode. The second...is built around a false cadence on the words “T will keep.” It is regretful, slowly building to an anguished climax and wistfully fading away. Finally, “Kinsfolk”...is both a lighthearted reflection on the paradoxical and complementary relationship between love and pain, and a pining for love. The first two stanzas of “Kinsfolk” pit the tenors and basses, who deliver the first stanza’s melody, against the sopranos and altos, who answer in the second stanza with the same melody in a key a tritone away from that of the first. The third stanza is a fugato on the same melody, culminating in a fervid fortissimo.”

i. Liquor and laquer

ii. An amethyst remembrance

iii. Kinsfolk

Intermission 

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Second Half

Ubi caritas (1999) by Joan Szymko

We introduce the second half like the first, with a text about a sacred form of love, the embodiment of love in God. Composer Joan Szymko writes “Ubi caritas...is a beautiful expression of the Divine One as ‘compassion.’ It is also an invitation to invoke divine presence through acts of compassion and love. In creating a new setting of the venerable text, I hoped to both honor my own religious heritage and arouse a universal longing for Spirit.”

Ophelia (2014)

by Jocelyn Hagen (b. 1980)

Once again, we see where madness and love intermingle in a tragic scene. The text is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which Queen Gertrude brings news of the death of Ophelia to her brother Laertes. Composer Timothy Brown describes Hagen’s work: “Ms. Hagen’s approach to this text is simple—purposefully uncomplicated— allowing the text to be the focus. She keeps the vocal range quite small for most of the work, expanding only to word-paint certain passages such as those describing clothes filling with water... Also subtly injected into the work is the little song of Ophelia, who, sinking into madness, laments her lost love for Hamlet (Act IV, Scene 5). ...[These lines are] whispered as an eerie sort of accompaniment to the telling of her demented descent to the bottom of a pond.” The last two lines of the piece are part of Laertes’ response to Queen Gertrude’s sad telling. This song is the first of three in a set we will sing without break.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day (1992)

by Nils Lindberg (b. 1933)

 

Swedish composer/pianist Nils Lindberg is known for a wide array of styles spanning jazz, classical, and folk traditions. This work is entirely text driven, much like the last selection, and every rhythm matches the setting of the text perfectly. Like a languorous summer day, Lindberg uses smooth, lush, jazz-infused chords to bring this famous Shakespeare text to life- a respite in this emotional set.

The Summer Ends (2018)

by Ian Richardson (b. 1989)

Continuing in the season of summer, our pendulum swings towards fall and harvest. Richardson, in his second commission for The Piedmont Singers this season, again chooses an earthy text, but one which explores the end of a relationship. Its nostalgic melancholy view of summer provides contrast to Lindberg’s Shakespeare setting in the previous work, and ends this set.

Hide and Seek (2005)

by Imogen Heap (b. 1977)

arr. by Jan Yngwe (b. 1953)

Imogen Heap’s original version of this song featured only her own voice, manipulated and layered using a vocoder with keyboard synth. The effect is robotic and yet powerfully emotional. She describes the loss of a loved one, and Yngwe’s arrangement brings out the resentful side of this feeling in his stark chords followed by silences, mimicking the original song’s synthesized sound.

My Hiding Place (2017)

by Lydia Jane Pugh

While love can bring anger and resentment, as Heap explores above, it also brings safety, joy, gentleness and warmth, as embodied in Lydia Jane Pugh’s piece, which takes its text from Psalm 32 of the Bible.

Bridge Over Troubled Water (2013)

by Paul Simon (b. 1941)

arrangement by Vince Peterson of Aretha Franklin's adaptation

Love and relationships can be easily described as “troubled water.” After a rollercoaster ride of heavy emotions, let’s do some healing with the ever-popular Paul Simon classic! Arranger Vince Peterson creates a version for a cappella chorus based on Aretha Franklin’s 1971 version of the song. Rest in Peace, Queen Aretha.

Nyon Nyon (2015) by Jake Runestad (b. 1986)

Our last selection is purely for fun. It echoes some of Jan Yngwe’s use of nontraditional sound effects for chorus, and the body percussion of Moira Smiley in our first half. Runestad writes this: “Nyon Nyon is an exploration of the effects that one can produce with the human voice. I created original words to achieve varieties of colors and mixed and matched them within the ensemble to produce a diverse sonic landscape. Incorporating effects similar to a flanger, wah-wah pedal, drum and bass, and synthesizers turns the choir into a full-fledged vocal orchestra.”

If you'd like to support future work by The Piedmont Singers, please make an online donation!