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Program Notes

SAT NOV 4, 8 pm • SUN NOV 5, 2 pm 

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor CHLOÉ BRIOT soprano LEAH WOOL soprano MEG BRAGLE mezzo-soprano THOMAS COOLEY tenor MATTHEW BROOK baritone MAY FESTIVAL CHORUS Robert Porco, director

BACH (1810–1856)

Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243

• Magnificat
• Et exsultavit, spiritus meus
• Quia respexit humilitatem
• Langsam. Lebhaft
• Omnes generationes
• Quia fecit mihi magna
• Et misericordia
• Fecit potentiam
• Deposuit potentes
• Esurientes implevit bonis
• Suscepit Israel
• Sicut locutus est
• Gloria Patri



Equinox for Chorus (WORLD PREMIERE) (A Cappella chorus)

The May Festival commission of Julia Adolphe’s Equinox for Chorus is made possible by a grant from ArtsWave

BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Triumphlied ("Triumphal Song"), Op. 55

• Halleluja! Heil und Preis
• Lobet unsern Gott, alle seine Knechte
• Und ich sahe den Himmel aufgethan

Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243

Born: March 21, 1685, Eisenach, Germany Died: July 28, 1750, Leipzig, Germany

Work composed1723, revised ca. 1730

Premiere: Premiered on Christmas Day 1723 in Leipzig, under the composer’s direction.

Instrumentation: SATB soloists, SATB chorus, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoon, 3 trumpets, timpani, organ, strings

CSO notable performances: Three previous subscription weekends | Premiere: February 1950, Thor Johnson conducting, Miami University Chorus, soloists | Most recent: November 2002, Robert Porco conducting, May Festival Chorus, soloists | The work was first performed at the 1875 May Festival (Saengerhalle), Theodore Thomas conducting the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, May Festival Chorus, soloists.

Duration: approx. 29 minutes

On June 1, 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach assumed the duties of Kantor for the churches of Leipzig. Though the city was something of a cultural backwater in the early 18th century, it was a powerful center of Lutheranism in Germany, and the position of music-master to its churches was a prestigious one. Bach, fully aware of the importance of his job, enthusiastically launched into his duties during his early years in Leipzig—most of his nearly 300 cantatas date from the first decade of his tenure. With only six months on the job, the 38-year-old composer made a special effort to impress his superiors with the music for his first Christmas season as Kantor, and he composed three new cantatas for the morning services of December 25, 26 and 27, as well as another for the New Year’s worship of the following week. In addition to these pieces (and playing the organ, and conducting the rehearsals, and copying the parts), he wrote his glorious Magnificat for the special afternoon Vespers service that was a beloved Leipzig Christmas-day tradition.

The text of the Magnificat is the Canticle of the Virgin Mary as given in the Gospel of St. Luke (i, 46-55), and was a regular part of the Roman Catholic Vespers and the Anglican Evensong services. Though usually sung in plainchant, these verses had prompted polyphonic compositions for special occasions since at least the 14th century. It was to enrich such important religious days that the Canticle was retained in the Lutheran Vespers services for Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. The Christmas Vespers in Leipzig began at 1:45 p.m., and included the formal order of worship, a cantata preceding the sermon, and the Magnificat as the brilliant finale to the day’s activities. Due to the imposing length of the Lutheran service in Bach’s time (often four hours in duration!), it was necessary that the closing items of the Vespers be succinct so that the Benediction would come before dusk. The compact nature of Bach’s 12 Magnificat movements demonstrate that he took this requirement to heart. The real reason for the local popularity of the Magnificat (beside its function of ending nearly eight hours of worship on Christmas day) was that it accompanied a tableau-vivant representation of the Nativity, with many of the Biblical characters portrayed by the Church members in costume. For the original 1723 version of his Magnificat, Bach interspersed five German Christmas hymns among the Latin verses to accompany the stage action of this mystery play. (The durability of this spectacle in the affection of the Leipzigers is attested by the fact that the City Council had been trying unsuccessfully to abolish it since at least 1703.) In 1733, Bach revised the work by transposing it to its present key of D major and eliminating the Yuletide insertions, thereby making it practical for performance at Easter and Pentecost as well as at Christmas.

The esteemed English musicologist Sir Donald Tovey wrote, “Bach’s Magnificat is one of his most comprehensively representative works. From it, almost any point in Bach’s treatment of words, of musical forms, and of instrumentation can be brilliantly represented.” Each of the 12 movements engenders a clear and vivid mood: from the jubilant opening and closing choruses (which, by sharing the same joyous music, serve as supporting pillars for the entire structure) to the pathos of the duet Et Misericordia; from the surging power of Omnes Generationes to the bucolic sweetness of Esurientes Implevit Bonis; from the anguish of Deposuit Potentes to the confident optimism of the Doxology (Gloria Patri), Bach’s Magnificat is not just a beautiful work of art but also a document of the composer’s faith in God’s multifarious and omnipotent qualities. It is music that is joyous, festive and uplifting while being at the same time introspective and touching. Like his later B Minor Mass and St. Matthew Passion, Bach’s Magnificat scales the summit of the musical expression of man’s faith.

—Dr. Richard E. Rodda


Equinox for Chorus

Born: May 16, 1988, New York City

Work composed2017

Premiere: These performances are the work’s world premiere.

InstrumentationSATB chorus, a cappella

Duration: approx. 15 minutes

Among the greatest distinctions for a composer is the performance of a major work by one of the world’s leading orchestras. Julia Adolphe registered that honor at age 25, when her Dark Sand, Sifting Light was one of three pieces by young composers chosen for the New York Philharmonic’s 2014 “NY Phil Biennial.” In addition to glowing reviews of the work, Adolphe also took from that experience a 2016 Lincoln Center Emerging Artists Award and a commission for a concerto titled Unearth, Release for the Philharmonic’s Principal Violist Cynthia Phelps, which was premiered at a subscription concert in November 2016 conducted by the orchestra’s Music Director-Designate, Jaap van Zweden; White Stone, Adolphe’s third work for the NYP, was introduced by the orchestra and Alan Gilbert at the Bravo! Vail Festival in Colorado in July 2017.

The performances in New York were a homecoming for Adolphe, who was born there in 1988. She received her baccalaureate from Cornell and took her master’s degree at the Thornton School of Music at USC, where she is currently pursuing a doctorate; her teachers include Stephen Hartke, Steven Stucky and Donald Crockett. Julia Adolphe is also an active writer, teacher and producer: in 2014, the website NewMusicBox.org published her articles on teaching music in an all-male maximum security prison; in 2013, she was co-producer of The Prodigal Son, conducted by James Conlon for the LA Opera Britten Centennial; and she also served as the Primary Research Assistant for Conlon’s Orel Foundation, which is dedicated to reviving music suppressed during the Third Reich. In addition to her orchestral compositions, Adolphe has written choral music, chamber works, songs and a one-act opera titled Sylvia, which was developed in 2012 at the Lost Studio Theatre in Los Angeles, excerpted for performance at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust as part of the Yom HaShoah Commemoration, and heard complete at New York City’s Bargemusic in March 2013; she is currently working on A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, a one-act opera with a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann based on a novel by Jules Feiffer. In addition to her Lincoln Center Award, Julia Adolphe has received the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Theodore Front Prize from the International Alliance for Women in Music, Jimmy McHugh Composition Prize, John James Blackmore Prize, John S. Knight Prize, and grants from Opera America, New Music USA, American Composers Forum and League of American Orchestras.

Equinox, commissioned in 2017 for the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus, is based on verses by poet, essayist, playwright and teacher Elizabeth Alexander, one of the most prominent and influential figures in contemporary American literature. Dr. Alexander was born in Harlem in 1962 but grew up in Washington, D.C., where her father, Clifford Alexander, Jr., was United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman. She has taught at Yale (where she chaired the African-American Studies Department), Smith College and the University of Chicago, and is now Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and Director of Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation. Her book of poems American Sublime (2005) was one of three finalists for that year’s Pulitzer Prize and among the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year.” In 2009, she composed and delivered Praise Song for the Day for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Elizabeth Alexander’s best-selling memoir, The Light of the World, was released to great acclaim in 2015 and named as a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Awards. First Lady Michelle Obama said it was her favorite book of the year.

Julia Adolphe wrote of Equinox:

Against the backdrop of the autumnal equinox, where dying bees feverishly fill the skies, Elizabeth Alexander portrays a family’s encounter with illness, death and human perseverance. Striking juxtapositions permeate the poem: life and death, venom and honey, frenzied movement and complete stillness. The equinox, one of the two days out of the year when day and night are equal in duration, captures the protagonist’s dual state of existence: understanding the frailty of the human body and the resilience of the human spirit. With highly rhythmic, contrapuntal motives juxtaposed against lyrical lines and homophonic singing, the work’s music follows the trajectory of Alexander’s poem. Harmonies swirl through moments of dark richness to pale sparseness, evoking the poem’s complex exploration of human striving, patient acceptance and spiritual communion.

—Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Equinox by Elizabeth Alexander
Now is the time of year when bees are wild
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.
I have found their dried husks in my clothes.
They are dervishes because they are dying,
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze
a drop of venom or of honey.
After the stroke we thought would be her last
My grandmother came back, reared back and slapped
a nurse across the face. Then she stood up,
walked outside, and lay down in the snow.
Two years later there is no other way
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.


Triumphlied (“Song of Triumph”), Op. 55

Born: May 7, 1833, Hamburg, Germany Died: April 3, 1897, Vienna

Work composed: 1870–71

Premiere: Movement I premiered on Good Friday, April 7, 1871 at the Bremen Cathedral, conducted by the composer; complete work premiered on June 5, 1872 in Karlsruhe, conducted Hermann Levi.

Instrumentation: SATB double chorus, baritone soloist, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, organ, strings

CSO notable performances: These performances are the CSO subscription premiere of Triumphlied. It has been performed in this space only once before: at the 1875 May Festival (Saengerhalle), Theodore Thomas conducting the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, May Festival Chorus, baritone Franz Remmertz.

Durationapprox. 27 minutes

Brahms became indissolubly associated with Vienna following his permanent move there in August 1863 to become director of the Singakademie, the city’s leading choral ensemble, but he was born and trained in Hamburg, established his reputation in Germany, frequently returned there to perform and visit friends, and always retained his interest in the affairs of his native land. When Otto von Bismarck began his machinations to unify the German lands into a single political entity in the 1860s, Brahms not only supported the Prussian statesman’s aims but came to regard him as a national hero—he carried a copy of Bismarck’s speeches in his travel bag during those years and hung a picture of the Prussian Chancellor on the wall of his apartment, wreathed in laurel and placed just below an image of the revered Beethoven. Bismarck’s nationalistic strategy culminated when he was able to provoke the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870, which both rallied the fragmented German nation and delivered a stunning blow to France. Victory for the German forces came quickly under the leadership of the Prussian Field Marshal, Helmuth Karl von Moltke, and Bismarck added humiliation to defeat for the French when he had the Prussian King Wilhelm IV crowned as Emperor Wilhelm I at Versailles on January 18, 1871. Brahms followed Germany’s military successes with delight, and he was inspired to commemorate them in music with a Triumphlied—“Song of Triumph”—for baritone soloist, double chorus and orchestra. For his text, he chose passages from Revelation 19, whose praises of God were also meant to extol Bismarck and Wilhelm I, to whom the score was dedicated; there are extended sections based on the word “Hallelujah” in all three of the work’s movements. Brahms finished the first movement of the Triumphlied during the winter of 1871, and conducted its premiere at the Bremen Cathedral in a concert in memory of the war dead on Good Friday, April 7th; the work was completed during the following year and first heard in its entirety on June 5, 1872 in Karlsruhe under the direction of Hermann Levi. The Triumphlied enjoyed a popularity rivaling that of A German Requiem until World War I, when it fell from favor both at home and abroad because of its jingoistic origin and sentiments. It has remained among the least-known of Brahms’ major compositions.

As the musical and expressive model for this panegyric to king and country, Brahms turned to the Coronation Anthems, Dettingen Te Deum (written for King George II’s defeat of the French at the Battle of Dettingen in June 1743) and the most overtly celebratory moments in the oratorios of George Frideric Handel. Brahms, the most skilled but also the most subtle of 19th-century contrapuntists, seldom indulged in polyphonic showmanship just for the sake of it, but in the Triumphlied the intricate polyphonic textures elsewhere woven so finely into his works are put on full Handelian display, making this one of his most exultant but also most difficult choral pieces to perform.

The opening movement (Alleluia! Salvation and glory), which makes splendid antiphonal use of double chorus, is perhaps Brahms’ most unceasingly fervent utterance. Movement II (Praise our God, all ye his servants) is somewhat more mild and lyrical in expression, though it, too, devotes a central episode to a series of rousing “Hallelujahs.” Brahms rarely indulged in descriptive “program” music, but the finale graphically depicts the opening verse—And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse—with galloping music and the text “treading the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God!” with a march. (Neither could Igor Stravinsky, who also almost categorically eschewed program music, resist creating a musical stampede in the finale of his Symphony of Psalms, which he said was inspired “by a vision of Elijah’s chariot climbing into the Heavens; never before had I written anything quite so literal as the triplets to suggest the horses and chariot.”) The Triumphlied reaches its climax with the text that also closes the most famous of all “Hallelujah” choruses: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Alleluia!

—Dr. Richard E. Rodda