Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts
Andrews University Singers
May 29, 1999
Pinkham: Christmas Cantata | Bernstein: Chichester Psalms | Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4

Daniel Pinkham (1923- )
Sinfonia Sacra


The long and illustrious career of Daniel Pinkham includes a large catalogue of compositions, teaching, and performing.  Today he continues as music director of King's Chapel, Boston.  In addition to a large body of choral works, he has written symphonies, concertos, documentary film scores, stage works, and many chamber works, often employing "his" instruments -- the harpsichord or organ.  Pinkham has taught at Boston University, Harvard, and from 1959 lectured in composition and headed the department of early music performance at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Pinkham's interest in early music and his role as a composer-performer came together in producing his most often performed work, the Christmas Cantata.  Subtitled Sinfonia sacra, the piece recognized the polychoral works of Giovanni Gabrielli and Heinrich Schutz.  The Latin texts ar drawn from the Mass and various Christmas services.  The three-movement work is scored for three choirs:  one vocal and two brass.  Ever the pragmatist, the composer scored the second instrumental choir for either brass or organ.  The first movement Qem vidistis, pastores? Dicite (Whom do you see, shepherd?  Tell us) uses contrasting textures and rhythms to render the conversation of the text. with its modal tonality and long, sustained melismaas, the second movement O magnum mysterium (O great mystery) evokes a medieval atmosphere.  The final movement presents statements of the text Gloria in excelsis deo (Glory to God in the highest) accompanied by brass alternating with a capella statements of the psalm Jubilate Deo omnis terra (Rejoice in the Lord, all y lands).  The organ joins the final, joyous Alleluias.

The Christmas Cantata received its premier on December 1, 1957.  It was performed by the New England Conservatory Chorus and conducted by Lorna Cooke DeVaron, for whom it was composed.

Back to top

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Chichester Psalms (in three movements)

  I.  Psalm 108, vs.2
Psalm 100, entire
II.  Psalm 23, entire
Psalm 2, vs. 1-4
III.  Psalm 131, entire
Psalm 133, vs.1

"I want to play the piano. I want to write music for Broadway and Hollywood. I want to write symphonic music. I want to keep on trying to be, in the full sense of that wonderful word, a musician. I also want to teach. I want to write books and poetry. And I think I can... do justice to them all. But I can't do them all at once." It seems that the immensely talented Leonard Bernstein spent his life in a wild juggling act of all this and more. In June of 1964 he took a fifteen-month sabbatical from the hectic life of as conductor of the New York Philharmonic to concentrate on the new music and his relationship to it as a composer. He summed up his feelings about his time of pondering with an article in the New York Times, October, 1965. Much of it was written inverse as the following excerpts illustrate:

Of time to think as a pure musician
and ponder the art of composition.
Four hours on end I brooded and mused
on materiae musicae, used and abused;
On aspects of unconventionality,
Over the death in our time of tonality,
Over the fads of Dada and Chance,
The serial strictures, the dearth of romance,
"Perspective in Music" the new terminology,
Pieces called "Cycles" and "Sines" and "Parameters"-
Titles too beat for these homely tetrameters;
Pieces for nattering, clucking sopranos
With squadrons of vibraphones, fleets of pianos
played with the forearms, the fists and the palms
-And then I came up with the Chichester Psalms.
These psalms are a simple and modest affair,
Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square,
Certain to sicken a stout John Cager
With its tonics and triads in E flat major.
But there it stands the result of my pondering,
Two long months of avant-garde wandering -
My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet.
And he stands on his own two tonal feet.

The Chichester Psalms, the happy child of the composer's sabbatical, were commissioned by Walter Hussey, Dean of the Chichester, for performance at the Three Choirs Festival of 1965 (the choirs being those of Chichester, Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals), the church authorities agreed to Bernstein's condition that the Psalms must be sung in the original Hebrew. The original scoring for this three-movement work is for four-part mixed chorus, soloists, six brass instruments, timpani, percussion including bells, xylophone, glockenspiel, two harps, and strings. The composer also prepared a reduced accompaniment of organ, harp and percussion -- the arrangement heard in this concert. After a strong introduction Awake, psaltery and hart!  from Psalm 108, the movement presents Psalm 100 (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands) with joyful, dancelike rhythms. In total contrast, the second movement begins with a tender rendition of the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my shepherd) by alto solo and treble voices of the choir with simple harp accompaniment. The pastoral setting is interrupted by the men's voices asking Why do the nations rage? from Psalm 2. The pastorale mood returns to complete the 23rd Psalm. After an extended instrumental introduction, the choir continues the third movement with a peacefully flowing melody expressing Psalm 131 Lord, Lord, My heart is not haughty... Surely I have calmed and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother. The piece concludes with the choir singing quietly, a capella How good and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity.

Back to top

Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 4, Op. 36 in f minor

I.  Andante Sostenuto
Moderato con anima
Allegro vivo
II. Andantino in modo di canzone
II. Scherzo:  Pizzicato ostinato;  Allegro
IV.  Finale:  Allegro con fuoco

Coming form the year 1877 -- an unusually tumultuous year in Tchaikovsky' life -- the Symphony No. 4 in f minor, Op. 36 depicts the composer's struggle to reconcile the extremes of melancholy and frenzied optimism.  1877 was the year of the composer's ill-fated marriage, suicide attempt, psychological breakdown, and finally the appearance of his patron, Nadezhda van Meck. By mutual consent, Madame von Meck and Tchaikovsky never met, but their correspondence and her generous financial patronage supported the composer until 1890. It was to her -- "my best friend" -- that the work was dedicated.  At her request he provided a program of the symphony -- in reality a post-compositional attempt to explain the emotional experiences that he expresses in hits work.

The piece begins with the seed of the whole symphony, a brass fanfare -- the call of fate. This theme appears throughout the first movement, and reappears near the end of the last movement. The despair of fate contrasted with dreams of happiness dominate the first movement. An oboe solo introduces the second movement.  "Here is that melancholy feeling which enwraps one when he sits at night alone in the house... One thinks on the gladsome hours, when the young blood boiled and bubbled, and there was satisfaction in life...And it is all so sad and yet so sweet to muse over the past."  The playful pizzicato of the third movement expresses "capricious arabesques of elusive images which rush past...your spirit is neither cheerful nor yet sad. You think of nothing; you give free rein to your imagination...somewhere in the distance, a military procession passes." This movement is made up of "completely disjointed images which rush past in your head when you have fallen asleep. Of the fourth movement the composer wrote "if within yourself you find no reasons for joy, look at others. Go among people. Observe how they can enjoy themselves, surrendering themselves wholeheartedly to joyful feelings." But then "irrepressible fate again appears and remind you of yourself.  But others do not care about you... they have not noticed that you are solitary and sad... Do not say that everything in this world is sad. There are simple but strong joys. Rejoice in others' rejoicing. To live is still possible!"

Back to top

Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1999.
Send me e-mail.

Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts