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Beethoven’s Many Mansions Include the Hatch Shell

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Boston Landmarks Orchestra conductor Christopher Wilkins’s 4,240-word Podium Notes can serve to illuminate brave readers about Saturday night’s concert at the Hatch Shell. He will be raising his baton at 7:00 for Rossini’s William Tell Overture’ Strauss’s To America: Fair Columbia Waltzes, Diane White-Claytons Many Mansions (world premiere performance), and Beethoven Symphony No. 9; he and the orchestra will be sharing the stage with Sirgourney Cook, soprano; Tichina Vaughn, mezzo-soprano; Ethan Bremner, tenor; Phillip Bullock, baritone; David Hodgkins, chorus master; One City Choir; Coro Allegro. Wilkins begins:

At a certain place in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, one might have the sensation of floating above the earth in a starry dome, with a dream of immortality in the heart; all the stars seem to glimmer around, with the earth sinking ever deeper downwards. (Friedrich Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, 1878 )

When Beethoven unveiled his ninth and final symphony to an eager Viennese audience in 1824, he had not written a symphony in nearly 12 years. Many of the leading figures of Viennese society attended, even though public taste had long-since turned away from the complexities of Beethoven’s music toward the more easy-to-digest style of Gioachino Rossini, far and away the most popular composer of the day. Beethoven was not on board with the trend: “You do not know how to deal with real drama,” Beethoven reportedly told Rossini to his face when they met in 1822.

In 1824—the same year as the premiere of the Ninth—Rossini moved from Naples to Paris to assume the directorship of the Théâtre Italien. He immediately began work on William Tell, a French-language opera aligning with the resurgent revolutionary sentiments of the Parisian public. The opera, like Beethoven’s Ode: To Joy, takes its inspiration from the writing of German playwright Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805). The tale is one Beethoven no doubt admired: the battle of the Swiss for independence from the tyrannical rule of the Hapsburgs in the early 14th century.

By legend, William Tell was a huntsman turned nationalist, renowned for his superb marksmanship. When challenged by his district’s despotic Governor to shoot an arrow through the center of an apple placed on his son’s head, Tell hits the mark perfectly. In the final act, shouting “Let Switzerland breathe!” he hits with equal aplomb his much-preferred target: the Governor himself.

Not long after completing William Tell, his final opera, Rossini wrote to a young composer with advice on composing an opera’s overture: “Wait until the evening before the opening. Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity, whether it be the presence of a copyist waiting for your work, or for the prodding of an impresario tearing out his hair. I composed the overture to Otello in a little room in the Barbaja Palace, wherein the baldest and fiercest of directors had forcibly locked me with a lone plate of spaghetti and the threat that I would not be allowed to leave the room alive until I had written the last note… I composed the overture to Comte Ory while fishing, with my feet in the water, and in the company of Signor Agnado, who talked of his Spanish fiancée. The overture to William Tell was composed under more or less similar circumstances.”

Although Rossini wrote with astonishing ease—38 operas over a 20-year period—it is hard to take him at his word. The Overture to William Tell is the most innovative and ambitious he ever produced. It is a 12-minute tone poem, drawing music from four different scenes of the opera. Hector Berlioz—who was in the throes of composing his own Symphony fantastique at the time—enthused, “Rossini has so enlarged the form that his overture becomes, in truth, a symphony in four very distinct parts, rather than the two-movement piece with which composers are ordinarily satisfied.”

The William Tell Overture begins with music evoking the serenity of a dawn in the Swiss countryside. A slow rising line in the solo cello suggests somebody looking skyward, or maybe the lifting of a stage curtain. Four more solo cellos respond in the manner of a male chorus. A second solo cello exchanges melodic phrases with the first, in a duet of sublime and poetic beauty. They pause twice to listen to the sound of distant thunder in the timpani. To close this ruminative “sun salutation,” the solo cello repeats the opening rising line three times more, reaching at last the instrument’s highest register. A rustling figure in the second violins and violas enters underneath the cello, quietly at first, imitating a gentle rush of wind. Woodwinds introduce the first sensation of raindrops; string tremolos signal growing anxiety. The tumult builds; the bass drum enters; scales in the upper strings and woodwinds cascade downward; and trombones and low instruments respond with surges in the opposite direction. We are in the middle of a tempest on Lake Lucerne, the same storm that will save Tell from his forced journey into imprisonment.

Now Rossini clears the air, as echoes of distant lightning flashes in the flute morph into bird calls. The English horn begins Rossini’s famous ranz des vaches, a traditional tune sung by Swiss Alpine herdsmen—or played on an alphorn—to call cattle. The tradition of the ranz des vaches is a source of Swiss pride and patriotism. We have already heard one this summer: when Berlioz imagined a Swiss setting for the third movement of his Symphonie fantastique. Like Berlioz, Rossini sets his tune as a dialogue between two woodwind instruments: a flute answers the English horn with increasingly elaborate flourishes. Plucked strings provide the support of an accompanying harp or guitar. Then, without a hint of anticipation… Hi-yo Silver!… here come the Swiss Patriot Troops—unmistakably on horseback—to provide a stirring conclusion to the struggle, the opera, and this most famous of all opera overtures.

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra gets its name from the notion that live music can enliven historic spaces to create experiences that enhance both. A “synergy of site and sound,” Ambassador Swanee Hunt has called it. My first experience conducting the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, for example, was an unforgettable concert on July 7, 2010, in Fenway Park, featuring the finale of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony.  It is unlikely, though, that any performance in Boston history—or U.S. history for that matter—has ever approached the ambition, grandeur, and sheer audacity of a music festival that took place in Copley Square from June 17 to July 4, 1872—one hundred and fifty years ago this summer:

A twenty-thousand-voice chorus. A thousand-piece ‘Grand Orchestra.’ Four foreign bands. A huge 350’ x 550’ building in Copley Square, built for the event. An audience of up to twenty-five thousand people. One hundred Boston firemen banging away on anvils. And a ‘Waltz King’—Johann Strauss II—from Vienna.

This was the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival, as described by historian, educator, and self-professed Johann Strauss II “addict,” Dann Chamberlin. He continues:

“How did such an event come to be? In general terms, it could be seen as a manifestation of the “bigger is better” ethos of the time, when we were a rapidly growing nation expanding to the Pacific coast. The transcontinental railroad had just been completed, and the industrial revolution was taking hold.

“The enterprising soul who made the Jubilee happen was an Irish-born American by the name of Patrick S. Gilmore. He was America’s most prominent bandmaster before John Philip Sousa came on the scene. He was also a composer, most famous for the song, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’ Among his other works is a Bay State Polka.

“In 1869, he had put together a National Peace Jubilee to celebrate the restoration of peace to our land after the Civil War. That one had a chorus of ‘only’ ten thousand voices. When he was congratulated for the success of the Jubilee, he is reported to have exclaimed, ‘Now there is nothing left for me to do but get up another jubilee twice as big as this one!’

“So the die was cast. The end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 gave Gilmore the reason he was looking for to stage another Peace Jubilee—this time an international one. Armed with a letter of introduction and endorsement from President Ulysses S. Grant, Gilmore went over to Europe to line up his talent.”

At the top of Gilmore’s VIP wish list was the famed Waltz King, Johann Strauss II, who eventually agreed to appear in Boston for a reported fee of $20,000. His contract committed him to conduct, perform as violin soloist, and compose two new waltzes for the occasion. The first of these was the Jubilee Waltz, which was dedicated to Gilmore. Always happy to fulfill a lucrative made-to-order commission, this pastiche waltz concludes with a quotation from The Star-Spangled Banner. Maestro Richard Pittman performed it with the Concord Orchestra in 1980. The other waltz Strauss wrote for the 1872 Jubilee was Fair Columbia—or as it was published in its piano version, To America: Fair Columbia Waltzes. In a letter to me in March of 2022, Dann Chamberlin reported on his research:

But Fair Columbia never turned up anywhere, and we more or less concluded that the work had never come into being. But just two years ago now, Fair Columbia turned up in an archive in Michigan. I was thrilled to say the least… as it’s not every day (or week or month) that a previously unknown Strauss waltz is unearthed.

Since the version unearthed was for piano, in order to bring Fair Columbia fully back to life, Dann commissioned an orchestration by Kurt Schmid, an Austrian conductor, composer, and arranger who has Strauss’s orchestrations in his blood. Maestro Schmid is an accomplished conductor of many orchestras and ensembles. But of special note today, he has been Chief Conductor of the orchestra in the Ukrainian city of Lugansk—in the Donbas region—since 2002. In 2014, Russian separatists took control of the city, and the orchestra had to relocate to Severodonetzk. Since July 3, 2022 the entirety of Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast is controlled by Russia. He has now reorganized his orchestra with most of his musicians in Lvov (Lemberg). He reports that “on the 3rd of September we will give a concert in Lvov, and on the 4th in the very small city of Kolomyya… On the 6th of August I am busy in Vienna, but would very much like to visit Boston sometime soon!”

In addition to commissioning the orchestration of Fair Columbia by Maestro Schmid, Dann Chamberlin also arranged to have the score and orchestral parts prepared for the Landmarks Orchestra by a Ross Capon, a colleague who serves as rehearsal pianist and string bassist for the Victorian Lyric Opera Company in Rockville, Maryland. He was assisted in this endeavor by his son, William, age 14, who has performed as principal oboe in several of the company’s productions, and is about to begin his senior year at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. William has also been orchestrating the overture to Sousa’s The Free Lance “for fun.”

Fair Columbia follows the usual Straussian strategy of linking together a sequence of waltzes—typically five, as in this case—of contrasting moods. Also standard is a slow introduction using some of the material of one of the waltzes to come, and a coda that revisits several of the work’s principal themes. Fair Columbia has an introduction, but no coda, so Maestro Schmid has fashioned one for this, the modern-day premiere of To America: Fair Columbia.

Dann Chamberlin quotes an observant reporter, describing a scene at one of Strauss’s 1872 Jubilee performances, though it could well be a scene at any given Landmarks Orchestra concert:

While the grand orchestra, led by Herr Strauss, was rehearsing the Blue Danube Waltz, a little girl four or five years old, who was with her parents on the floor, nodded her head in unison with the exquisite music for some time with an air of the supremest delight. At last her feet were unable to resist the seductive strains any longer, and the little girl began to dance back and forth. Her innocent happiness added in no small degree to the pleasure of those who witnessed it and heard the music.

For many years, the Landmarks Orchestra has organized programs and collaborations around the glorious body of American sacred songs by anonymous authors known as the Negro spirituals. William Dawson—whose extraordinary symphony will be the centerpiece of our August 24 program—preferred the term Negro folk songs: “we have got to know and treat them as folk songs because they contain the best that’s in us.”

Among the various symphonic works that draw on the legacy of the spirituals, one of the finest is Nathaniel Dett’s The Chariot Jubilee, as arranged by Hale Smith. Dett’s work brings together two contrasting types of music, combining the spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot with his own original music drawing on the tradition of the English choral anthem. The Landmarks Orchestra performed The Chariot Jubilee in 2019, with members of the One City Choir and the New England Spiritual Ensemble.

Out of that experience, we hatched the idea to commission a new work that could extend the type of hybrid writing begun by Dett. The Chair of the Landmarks Orchestra’s board, Rev. Emmett G. Price III, enthusiastically recommended Dr. Diane White-Clayton—”Dr. D”—for the task. A wonderful talent with a wide range of musical interests, she is a vocalist, pianist, composer, conductor, clinician, and speaker, trained in classical piano, gospel singing, and conducting. She currently serves on the faculty of UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music.

The work she has written for us—Many Mansions—is inspired by a widely performed arrangement by Dr. Roland Carter of a spiritual called In Bright Mansions Above. With Dr. Carter’s blessing, Dr. Dee has turned an unaccompanied choral work into a work for soloists, chorus, and orchestra. It is scored for the same forces as the Beethoven Ninth, and is conceived as a companion to the Ninth. I was struck by parallels between the two texts: the spiritual’s text, “in my Father’s house there are many mansions” (John 14:2) compared to the Schiller poem that Beethoven set, “above the stars must live a loving Father…”

Notes on Many Mansions from the composer, Dr Diane White Clayton:

Negro Spirituals are sacred folk songs birthed on American soil by people of African descent amidst the horrors of the institution of slavery. These beloved songs I heard from my youth not only as folk songs but as classically-arranged vocal works by great African-American composers on whose shoulders I stand.

One such composer whom I greatly admire and adore, is Dr. Roland Carter (b. 1942). When Maestro Christopher Wilkins approached me with the daunting task of creating a new work based on Carter’s iconic arrangement of In Bright Mansions, I knew I was treading on sacred ground.

Dr. Carter enlightened me on the classic arrangements that influenced his: from the 1874 First Edition of the Hampton Collection of Spirituals, which he remembered singing as a college student at Hampton, to a similar Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) version, to the Leonard De Paur (1914-1998) arrangement sung by the famed Hall Johnson choir in the 1936 movie, The Green Pastures.

My goal was not to “re-arrange” or to improvise on Dr. Carter’s arrangement. Instead, I analyzed his version, digging deep into its fabric. I extracted themes and harmonies, his insertion of Jesus’ words from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, and even certain elements of the aforementioned arrangements. Seeking to build upon the strong foundation my elder composers laid, I used this source material to create a new work.

Having begun the research in 2019, I started writing more intensely at the beginning of 2020. Then, the pandemic hit. And two months later, George Floyd is murdered before our eyes. All of a sudden, this folk song that cried, “Lord, I want to live up yonder in bright mansions above” and “My mother’s gone to glory; I want to go there too,” took on an entirely different meaning. It was palpable. Death overwhelmed us all. The trauma, the loss, the pain. The anger, the confusion, the despair.

And it wouldn’t cease. At one point in the piece, I abbreviated the lyric to say only, “I want to live!” I imagined George Floyd whispering those words as his life ebbed away. Then I heard my nephew’s powerful voice—Phillip Bullock, the baritone giving the work’s premiere tonight—sing that line as a Black man simply proclaiming, “I want to live!” 

I wrote for America. I wrote for those who lost family members, wanting us to use this piece to mourn together. I used the spiritual’s verses, “My mother’s gone to glory…my father… my brother… my sister…” But I added a verse not found in the original, “My child has gone to glory, I want to go there,” having heard the pain of a mother who lost her baby to Covid. At times, I would sit at the piano sobbing in the midst of composing. Yet, it helped to save me. It gave me hope…creating beauty out of sorrow. Remembering death is not the end.

Diane White-Clayton: In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
Gospel of John (14:2), King James Version

Diane White Clayton

The text to Many Mansions:

In bright mansion above,
In bright mansions above;
Lord, I want to live up yonder
In bright mansions above.

My mother’s gone to glory,
I want to go there too;
Lord, I want to live up yonder
In bright mansions above.

Let not your heart be troubled,
If ye believe in God,
Believe also in me.

In my Father’s house,
There are many mansions:
If it were not so,
I would have told you.

My father’s gone to glory;
My brother’s gone to glory;
My sister’s gone to glory;
My child has gone to glory.

I want to go there.
I want to know where.
I want to live;
I want to live.

In bright mansion above,
In bright mansions above;
Lord, I want to live up yonder
In bright mansions above.

In my Father’s house,
There are many mansions:
If it were not so,
I would have told you.

I go to prepare a place for you.
That where I am ye may be also.
Bright mansions, bright mansions above.
Lord, I want to live up yonder.

For expressive range and communicative power, no work commands attention as Beethoven’s Ninth does. The purity and force of its two-hundred-year-old vision still brings solace to our world. Leonard Bernstein conducted it in December 1989 at the Berlin Wall. Its Ode to Joy is the official anthem of the European Union. Beethoven did not write music to fill a few hours with pleasant diversion; he wrote music to be listened to and reckoned with.

Following the completion of the Seventh and Eighth symphonies, Beethoven’s output slowed considerably. He had been beset by personal worry and illness. And his works took longer for him to produce, partly because he was writing now with greater depth and imagination. He had entered a new phase in his creative life—his “late period.” His music sounded other-worldly, untethered, irrational, and puzzling—not just to the Rossini-loving Viennese, but to nearly everyone.

Edward Said, in his book On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain, examines the musical and literary output of creators in their final years. According to Said, late works tend to:

  • crown a lifetime of aesthetic endeavor
  • convey an “unearthly serenity”
  • reveal difficulty and unresolved contradiction
  • resist what is currently popular
  • are forerunners of what is to come

All these traits are true in the Ninth. The Ode to Joy developed within Beethoven from his teen years. And it is not an exaggeration to say that music of the 19th and 20th centuries is inconceivable without the Ninth.

The first movement begins with mystery and ambiguity. The tempo, harmony, melody, and home key are all in doubt. As the music grows stronger, the motives grow and point forcefully in a downward direction. A group of lyrical, upward themes follow. After a development section that intensifies into a fugue, the return of the opening idea is not whispered as before, but roared; there are frightening torrents of sound. I think of T.S. Elliott’s memorable phrase: “The end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”

The second movement is a hybrid of scherzo, fugue, and sonata forms. The main theme is athletic and bracing, but its open intervals and minor mode echo the ominous character of the first movement. The central trio provides antic relief, and also one of the most challenging of the many tempo controversies surrounding the Ninth. Beethoven’s metronome indication—116 beats to the minute—seems equally ill-suited to the half-note as to the whole note. An examination of the manuscript shows that Beethoven himself changed his mind about which of those two note-values should be represented by the measure.

The Adagio is one of Beethoven’s most sublime creations. It has two blissful and gorgeous themes, each of which sets up its own set of variations. The solo for the fourth horn that emerges in the middle of the movement was written for a new invention, a valved horn that could play all the notes of the chromatic scale. Maynard Solomon’s words could hardly sum up this glorious music better: “In a sense, all of Beethoven’s best music is utopian, in that it holds out images of beauty, joy, and renewal as models of future possibility.”

The famous finale of the Ninth can be thought of as a four-movement symphony within a symphony. The first “movement” of it begins with Beethoven’s Schreckensfanfare—Fanfare of Terror—that leads into a recitative for cellos and basses alone. It is instrumental music that sounds as if it were the setting of a text, which, of course, it will soon become. There are brief recollections of themes from the previous three movements, until the woodwinds suggest a fourth option, the Ode to Joy. This hymn-tune begins with utter simplicity in the cellos and basses at first and without harmony, and then with ever-increasing adornment as other instruments join in.

The Fanfare of Terror is heard once again, and then—for the first time in musical history—the human voice is heard in a symphonic setting. The words are Beethoven’s, not Schiller’s: “Oh friends, not these tones! Rather let us raise our voices with more pleasant and joyful sounds.” The Ode to Joy pours forth once again with incomparable elation and optimism. The second “movement” of the finale is a grand march featuring the tenor soloist. It is, in fact, another variation of the Ode to Joy theme. With the third section, we enter holy ground: “Do you kneel down, you millions? Do you sense your creator, world? Seek Him beyond the stars!” Here Beethoven reverts to a style that invokes the masters of sacred polyphony of an earlier age, music he had studied closely since 1812 at the time of his last symphony. Finally, the Ninth Symphony comes to a close in a series of musical paragraphs featuring the solo quartet and the chorus, with trumpets and horns at the conclusion blaring out the Ode to Joy motive double-time.

 Opening Text by Beethoven

 

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freudenvollere.

Freude! Freude!

 

Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let us raise our voices
with more pleasant and joyful sounds.

Joy! Joy!

                                  

             An die Freude

         Friedrich Schiller

 

                Ode: To Joy

            Friedrich Schiller

 

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben
und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum siegen.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen.

 

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly One, thy sanctuary!
Your magic joins again
What convention strictly divides;
All mankind becomes as brothers,
Where your gentle wing abides.

Who has succeeded in the great attempt,
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a lovely woman,
Add his to the jubilation!
Indeed, who calls even one soul
His own upon this world!
And whoever never managed, shall steal
Weeping away from this company.

All beings drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
All good and all the evil
Follow her rosy path.
She has given us kisses and wine,
A friend, tested unto to death.
Desire was given by the serpent,
And the cherub stands before God!

Gladly, as His heavenly bodies fly
Through heaven’s magnificent design,
Run, brothers, your race,
Joyfully, as a hero to victory.

Be embraced, you millions.
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must live a loving Father.
Do you kneel down, you millions?
Do you sense your creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the stars;
Above the stars must He dwell.

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