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A Midsummer Night's Dream



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MATTHEW HALLS conductor
GERARD McBURNEY creative partner
MIKE TUTAJ video designer
JONATHAN MASTRO Puck
SUSAN SHUNK Hermia
MATTHEW KRAUSE Lysander/Egeus
BRADLEY ARMACOST Bottom (Pyramus)
ROGER MUELLER Theseus/Oberon
JILL SHELLABARGER MUELLER Hyppolita/Titania
STEPHEN O’CONNELL Quince/Flue
ANYA MATANOVIČ soprano
GINA PERREGRINO mezzo-soprano
MAY FESTIVAL YOUTH CHORUS James Bagwell, director
MAY FESTIVAL CHORUS Robert Porco, director
The May Festival Chorus is endowed by the Betsy & Alex C. Young Chair

DELIUS
(1862–1934)

Summer Night on the River from Two Pieces for Small Orchestra

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
(1872–1958)

Three Shakespeare Songs

Full Fathom Five
The Cloud-Capp’d Towers
Over Hill, Over Dale

 

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS

Serenade to Music

 

INTERMISSION

MENDELSSOHN
(1770–1827)

Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Opp. 21 & 61

       

   

 

(1862-1934)

Summer Night on the River from Two Pieces for Small Orchestra

Composed in 1911. Premiered on October 23, 1913 in Leipzig, conducted by Artur Nikisch.

In 1899, after a failed attempt to run an orange grove in Florida, stints as a music teacher in Virginia and an organist in New York, and a musical apprenticeship at the Leipzig Conservatory, Frederick Delius used an inheritance from his father (a well-to-do German-born merchant who made his fortune in wool in Manchester) to abandon his native England and settle in France. In Leipzig, Delius met Edvard Grieg, with whom he became fast friends and regularly passed his summer holidays in Norway, and Jelka Rosen, a German painter whom he married. Delius and his bride established their home in the village of Grez-sur-Loing, 50 miles south of Paris, where Jelka’s family had enjoyed several vacations in earlier years. Delius largely shut himself off from the world thereafter, living in the comfort provided by his wife’s substantial inheritance and writing in short order four of his greatest compositions: A Village Romeo and Juliet, Sea Drift, Appalachia and A Mass of Life. Those works and several others established his reputation in Germany and Scandinavia, but his music made little impression in England until Thomas Beecham began championing his compositions with the premiere of A Mass of Life at Queen’s Hall, London in 1909. By that time, Delius had gathered a growing and fiercely supportive band of partisans who determined to further the cause of his music; chief among them were Percy Grainger, the eccentric Australian composer-pianist, and Philip Heseltine (penname: Peter Warlock), the English writer and composer who would become Delius’ biographer and author of a Serenade for Delius on his Sixtieth Birthday before committing suicide in 1930. Both men offered Delius the same advice at the beginning of 1913 to foster his British renown: “Write some short pieces for small orchestra, and English orchestras will devour them” (Heseltine); “I do wish you had in print some piece for not too big orchestra and not too wildly hard…that could be performed with an hour’s rehearsal and then form part of the general repertory” (Grainger). Delius took their counsel, and early in 1913 created the exquisite orchestral miniatures “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” and “Summer Night on the River,” which were published together later that year as Two Pieces for Small Orchestra with a dedication to the English composer and conductor Balfour Gardiner, another devotee of the Delian cause. The high level of regard for Delius on the Continent was demonstrated when Artur Nikisch, director of both the Berlin Philharmonic and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestras and perhaps the most revered conductor of that time, agreed to premiere the Two Pieces in Leipzig on October 23, 1913. Willem Mengelberg played the Two Pieces with his Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam a few weeks later, and gave them again at Queens’ Hall in London on January 20, 1914 with excellent success.

Summer Night on the River, the perfect embodiment of Delius’ unique blend of English pastoral lyricism with sensuous French Impressionist harmony, is his musical contemplation of the placid waterway that coursed by his verdant property in Grez-sur-Loing before flowing into the Seine ten miles downstream. Eric Fenby, the young Yorkshire organist and aspiring composer who in the late 1920s developed an extraordinary relationship as amanuensis and companion with the aging and infirm Delius, wrote that it is “unique in all Delius’ music in the power of its sense of depicting as well as evoking the spirit of the scene.”

Dr. Richard E. Rodda

 

(1872-1958)

Three Shakespeare Songs for Chorus

Composed in 1951. Premiered on June 23, 1951 at the Royal Festival Hall in London by the Combined Choirs of the British Federation of Music Festivals, conducted by C. Armstrong Gibbs.

The British have loved music festivals ever since a performance of Messiah by over 500 musicians was the highlight of the celebration of the centennial of Handel’s birth at Westminster Abbey in 1784. (It was then thought that he was born in 1684, one year before the actual occurrence—the monument above his grave in the Abbey still wrongly bears that date.) Festivals and their concomitant amateur choirs, often in very large numbers (George Bernard Shaw reported in one of his turn-of-the-20th-century columns of music criticism on a performance of Messiah involving some 4,000 participants), flourished throughout the 19th century, and by 1885 competitions had sprung up to promote the movement and to encourage high standards of performance. In 1921, the British Federation of Music Festivals was founded to oversee these contests, and after World War II Ralph Vaughan Williams, long a supporter and frequent conductor of its programs, agreed to serve as its president. (The organization today is part of the British and International Federation of Festivals for Music, Dance and Speech, which oversees some 300 events in Britain alone.)

Early in 1951, the choral conductor Armstrong Gibbs asked Vaughan Williams to write a test piece for the Federation’s festival in June, but the composer was immersed in the premiere of his Bunyan-based opera The Pilgrim’s Progress at Covent Garden in April and he did not respond immediately to the request. Gibbs assumed that his invitation had been refused until, he recalled, “Soon afterwards I was stricken with some illness and was in bed when a fat envelope was brought up. Inside was the manuscript of the Three Shakespeare Songs, dedicated to me, and the briefest of notes which ran: ‘Dear Armstrong. Here are three Shakespeare settings. Do what you like with them…. Yours ever R.V.W.’” Gibbs led the massed choirs of the Festival in their premiere at Royal Festival Hall in London on June 23, 1951.

Vaughan Williams had written for chorus throughout his life (his first acknowledged composition, Three Elizabethan Partsongs from the early 1890s, included two settings of Shakespeare), and the Three Shakespeare Songs (the first two based on texts from The Tempest, the last on A Midsummer Night’s Dream) attest to his sensitivity to the meaning, color, and cultural and artistic value of the words as well as his ability to employ the unique sonorities of unaccompanied chorus. “Full Fathom Five” evokes mysterious undersea voices and a tolling bell. “The Cloud-Capp’d Towers” has a solemn tranquility perfectly suited to some of the most thoughtful lines in all of Shakespeare: “We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.” Expressive and stylistic balance is provided by the words of a Fairy in the closing “Over Hill, Over Dale.”

TEXT

Full Fathom Five
(The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2)
Ding-dong, bell …
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them—
Ding-dong, bell.


The Cloud-Capp’d Towers
(The Tempest, Act IV, Scene 1)
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind:
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Over Hill, Over Dale
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1)
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough briar,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire
I do wander everywhere.
Swifter than the moonè’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

 

(1872-1958)

Serenade to Music

Composed in 1938. Premiered on October 5, 1938 in London, conducted by Sir Henry Wood.

Henry J. Wood (1869–1944) was one of the leading figures of British music in the first half of the 20th century. After his training at the Royal Academy of Music, he was engaged as conductor by the Savoy Theater (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame), and soon became known throughout Britain as a musician of extraordinary skill. In 1895, he organized the first of the Promenade Concerts, which proved to be such a smashing success that the series became a regular part of London’s musical life. More than just “pops” concerts, the Proms developed into a showcase for new music by British and other composers, and they continue today. For his work in producing the Proms, selecting their programs, and bringing countless British artists before the public, Sir Henry (he was knighted in 1911) came to be held in the greatest respect by the English musical community.

The Golden Anniversary of Wood’s debut as a conductor was to be celebrated in 1938, and he asked Ralph Vaughan Williams, then Britain’s leading composer, to contribute a work to the gala concert. Wood discouraged Vaughan Williams from writing a laudatory work in favor of something more general in character, music that could be used at any time or place. The composer had been interested for some time in making a musical setting of the famous verses from Act IV, Scene I of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s greatest tribute to the art of music, and he settled upon those stanzas as the text for his new piece. To pay tribute to Sir Henry, Vaughan Williams hit upon the novel idea of writing this Serenade to Music for 16 vocal soloists who had been associated with the conductor throughout his career. Each was given a solo phrase devised especially to suit the particular characteristics of his or her voice, and the initials of each participant inscribed in the score to note the association of performer and music. The Serenade is rarely heard now in its original version for 16 soloists; most performances employ the choral version authorized by the composer.

The Serenade to Music is one of the greatest of all musical interpretations of the words of Shakespeare. It is a work of simple but glowingly sensual beauty whose serenely rapturous mood is matched by only a handful of other compositions in the history of the art—some of Mozart’s slow movements, especially those with muted strings; the close of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges; the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony; “The Fisherman’s Tale” from Falla’s El Amor Brujo; Vaughan Williams’ own Tallis Fantasia. Of the Serenade, Hubert Foss wrote, “This music stands isolated as a single work among the whole of Vaughan Williams’ large catalogue. It is perhaps the most successfully integrated, the most concordant, the sweetest on the ear, of all his inventions, matter and manner indissolubly fused.” As testimony to Mr. Foss’ observation, once the Serenade to Music is known it is impossible to hear Shakespeare’s words again without having them conjure up Vaughan Williams’ exquisite music. (Handel’s Messiah has the same effect.) In the words of the poem: Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music Creep in our ears. Soft stillness, and the night Become the touches of sweet harmony.

TEXT

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold.
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Come, ho, and wake Diana with a hymn!
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear,
And draw her home with music.
I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
The reason is, your spirits are attentive:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.
Music! hark!
It is your music, madam, of the house.
Methinks it sounds much sweeter than by day.
Silence bestows that virtue on it.
How many things by season seasoned are
To their right praise and true perfection!
Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion,
And would not be awaked.
Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

 

(1809-1847)

Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Opp. 21 & 61

Composed in 1826 and 1842. Premiered on February 20, 1827 in Stettin, conducted by Carl Loewe, and October 14, 1843 in Potsdam, conducted by the composer.

 

Berlin in the 1820s was a populous, densely packed city with few open spaces, “a city without lungs,” wrote the art historian Karl Scheffler. Abraham Mendelssohn, father of Felix and a wealthy banker, was one of those who could afford to live beyond the city gates, where the open country made life more pleasant. The Mendelssohn home was a mansion, a small palace really, set on ten verdant acres. The residence boasted a hall for theatrical productions, while the garden house was arranged so that its large interior could be used for concerts with an audience of several hundred. There were regular Sunday afternoon musicales in the Mendelssohn household, with Felix and his older sister, Fanny, being regular participants. (It was for these events that Mendelssohn composed and—a luxury rare among composers—heard his early music performed immediately.) Also on the grounds was a beautiful garden, a magical place for young Felix, where the warm days of summer were spent reading and dreaming. In later years, he told his friend, the English composer William Sterndale Bennett, about an evening in July 1826, “It was in that garden one night that I encountered Shakespeare.”

Felix and Fanny were enamored in those years of reading the works of Shakespeare, who, next to the arch-Romantic Jean-Paul, was their favorite writer. Shakespeare’s plays had been appearing in excellent German translations by Ludwig Tieck and August Schlegel (father Abraham’s brother-in-law) since the turn of the century, and the young Mendelssohns particularly enjoyed the wondrous fantasy world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play inspired the already accomplished budding composer, and plans began to stir in his imagination. Early in July, he wrote in a letter, “I have grown accustomed to composing in our garden. Today or tomorrow I am going to dream there [the music to accompany] A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. This is, however, an enormous audacity....” Within a few days, however, he had embarked on his “audacity,” and was writing an Overture to the play. By August 6th, the work was done. On November 19th, Felix and Fanny played the original piano duet version of the score on one of their Sunday musicales, and a private orchestral performance followed before the end of the year. In February, the work was first played publicly in Stettin. It immediately garnered a success that has never waned.

By 1842, Mendelssohn was one of the most famous musicians in Europe and in demand everywhere. He was director of the superb Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, a regular visitor to England, and Kapellmeister to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia in Berlin. For Mendelssohn’s Berlin duties, Friedrich required incidental music for several new productions at the Royal Theater, including Sophocles’ Oedipus and Antigone, Racine’s Athalie and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This last would, of course, include the celebrated Overture Mendelssohn had written when he was 17, exactly half his age in 1842. He composed the additional numbers of the incidental music the following spring, creating a perfect match for the inspiration and style of the Overture. The premiere of the new production in November was an enormous triumph.

The Overture is the greatest piece of orchestral music ever composed by one so young, including Mozart and Schubert. Woven into its sonata form are thematic representations of the woodland sprites, the shimmering light through forest leaves, the sweet sighs of the lovers, even the “ee-ah” braying of that memorable Rustic, Bottom, when he is turned into an ass. In matters of formal construction, orchestral color and artistic polish, this Overture is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

The Scherzo, the Entr’acte to Act II, is the music that, in the words of Sir George Grove, “brought the fairies into the orchestra and fixed them there.” Its winsome grace and incandescent sonorities defined in large part the idea of delicacy in music, and there has never been another major composer (only Saint-Saëns and Berlioz come close) who was so well able to conjure exactly this mood in his works.

The March of the Fairies accompanies the appearance of the mischievous woodland sprites in Act II, Scene 1.

The Song with Chorus (“You spotted snakes … Philomel, with melody”) is sung by the fairies in Act II, Scene 2 to protect the sleeping Titania from the evils of the enchanted wood.

The Intermezzo to Act III is a swift and agitated piece that depicts the desperation of Shakespeare’s pairs of lovers caused by a magic spell that has made one of the men fall in love with the wrong woman; the movement concludes with a bumptious country dance to accompany the entry of the Rustics whose style recalls moments from Der Freischütz by Mendelssohn’s friend Carl Maria von Weber.

The Nocturne evokes the magic slumber of the lovers in the moonlit forest in Act III, Scene 2 through the burnished sonorities of horns and bassoons.

The majestic Wedding March, the Entr’acte to Act V, accompanies the festive triple wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, Demetrius and Helena, and Lysander and Hermia.

The Funeral March is the music for the arrival of Bottom and the Rustics in Act V to perform their riotous Pyramus and Thisbe. They exit to the Dance of the Clowns.

The Finale, based on themes from the Overture, is the background to the last lines of the play, some spoken over the musical accompaniment, some sung by a soprano soloist and a chorus of fairies to accompany dancing. Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream closes as it began, with the bewitching woodwind chords that seem to distill the very essence of Shakespeare’s enchanted wood.

Inserted into the score are several melodramas, spoken lines accompanied by or interrupting the music, and some short pieces of incidental music.

TEXT

Song with Chorus
You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy queen.
Philomel, with melody
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good night, with lullaby.
Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legged spinners, hence!
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm nor snail, do no offence.
Philomel, with melody...
Hence, away! now all is well:
One aloof stand sentinel.

Finale

(Chorus) Through the house give glimmering light,
By the dead and drowsy fire:
Every elf and fairy sprite
Hop as light as bird from brier;
And this ditty, after me,
Sing, and dance it trippingly.
(Solo) First, rehearse your song by rote,
To each word a warbling note:
Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
Will we sing, and bless this place.
(Chorus) Through the house...
(Spoken) Now, until the break of day,
Through this house each fairy stray.
With this field-dew consecrate,
Every fairy take his gait;
And each several chamber bless,
Through this palace, with sweet peace;
And the owner of it blest
Ever shall in safety rest.
(Sung) Trip away; make no stay;
Meet me all by break of day.
(Spoken) If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends