One of the main reasons that the group you see before you tonight formed is love of music; Octarium exists primarily because these eight singers find great pleasure in the incredible music they are able to make together. With that in mind, a concert extolling the virtues of music just makes sense; a thank you for the medium that brought us all together tonight.
Lloyd Pfautsch (1921-2003), who died last month, was a professor of sacred music and director of choral activities from the faculty of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he had taught since 1958. “Musicks Empire” and “Consecrate the Place and Day” are two of the three pieces that make up Triptych, composed in 1969 for the dedication of the State College of Arkansas’ Fine Arts Center.
November 22nd is a day of celebration in honor of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, and in her honor we perform Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia. Britten was born on St. Cecilia’s Day in 1913 so it seems natural that he composed a work in honor of the Saint with whom he shared his birthday. In 1940 Britten found a text, three odes in honor of St. Cecilia penned by W.H. Auden, which inspired him to compose the work. Composed during a sea voyage from the United States to England in 1942, Hymn to St. Cecilia falls into three sections each ending with a refrain in the form of a musicians’ prayer to their patron for inspiration. The first section tells the legend of Saint Cecilia, with some reference also to non-Christian mythology, while the second is a self-definition of music as personified by the saint. In the final section a prayer for music to bring order to a chaotic world is answered by a call to accept things as they are. In this section four musical instruments are represented by voices. They symbolize sin, social order, sorrow and divine leadership.
William Billings, best known for his hymns and anthems, was one of the first important native-born American composers. “Modern Musick” was included in The Psalm-Singer’s Amusement, published in 1781. The text is a tongue-in-cheek description of what was the state of music and performance in Billing’s time.
Many madrigals from many countries address the joys singing, dancing, leisure, mirth, pleasure and, of course, love. Of the three madrigal selections on this concert, two belong to the English madrigal tradition and the third hails from the Italian madrigal tradition.
Instrumental music often serves to imitate events and experiences outside the musical realm. Vocal music does this less often but this concert features three choral songs of imitation. In di Lasso’s double choir “Olà! O che bon eccho!” the voices literally replicate the phenomenon of a natural echo. “El Grillo” is one of the most well-known pieces of the late 15th century. With its imitation of the chirps of a cricket, the piece may have been intended to make a joke of the vocal ability of a singer named Carlo Grillo, who, with Josquin, was under the Sforza patronage in the 1470s. Claude Achille Debussy, born in Paris, France, was one of the original exponents of musical Impressionism, although he would shudder if he knew history had tied him so closely to a movement of which he never quite approved. “Quant j’ai ouy le tabourin,” part of a set of three songs on texts by Charles, Duc d’Orléans, sets a mood and a style for the merry month of Maying, with its lilt and its nonchalance.
Music has the power to settle the soul and quiet the fear. The final set on the concert could be entitled “Music for the journey beyond.”