NPR: A King Celebration 2003

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A King Celebration 2003

A KING CELEBRATION
Martin Luther King Jr. Benefit Concert

ROBERT SPANO, Conducting
MONICA KAUFMAN, Narrator
LAURA ENGLISH-ROBINSON, Soprano
CRYSTAL HARRIS, Mezzo-Soprano
MEL FOSTER, Tenor
MARTIN WOODS, Baritone
SPELMAN COLLEGE GLEE CLUB, Kevin Johnson, Director
MOREHOUSE COLLEGE GLEE CLUB, David Morrow, Director
Members of the ATLANTA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA CHORUS,
Norman Mackenzie, Director of Choruses
FRED CHILD, Host


MOZART

Selections from Requiem, K.626 (1791)
     I. Introit: Requiem
     II. Kyrie

BARBER

Adagio for String Orchestra, Op. 11 (1936)

BEETHOVEN

Leonore Overture No. 3 (1806)

INTERMISSION

MOORE

Scenes from the Life of a Martyr (1980)
     Prologue
     I. "Whenever a people is oppressed,
          they wait in hope"
     II. "His mother rocked him gently with love
          and freedom on her mind"
     III. Songs at the Cradle, No. 1
     IV. Songs at the Cradle, No. 2
     V. Songs at the Cradle, No. 3
     VI. Ring Game
     VII. "The voice of my beloved"
     VIII. "Arise my love, my fair one"
     IX. "Set me as a seal on thy heart"
     X. "He hath anointed me to preach the
          gospel"
     XI. "I never felt such love in my soul
          before"
     XII. Martin's Song: "Lord, thou knowest"
     XIII. Martin's Lament
     XIV. "Oh God, how many are them that
          hate me!"
     XV. "They tell me Martin is dead"
     XVI. "Tell all my Father's people, Don't you
          grieve for me"

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NOTES ON THE PROGRAM
by Nick Jones

"Requiem" and "Kyrie" from Requiem, K.626
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)

Composed: 1791. Completed posthumously by F. X. Süssmayr. First performance: December 14, 1793, Vienna. Performing forces: soprano solo, four-part mixed chorus; two bassett horns (or clarinets), two bassoons, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, strings, and organ.

Despite its familiarity and popularity, the Requiem by Mozart remains one of the most enigmatic of the great choral works in terms of authenticity and the composer's intentions. Its composition is inextricably tied to his feverish, desperate last days, and the facts concerning its completion are part of the mysterious (some would say deliberately misrepresented) events surrounding his death and burial.

What is verified is that, aware he would not live to finish the work, Mozart went over it in detail with his friend and former pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who afterward completed the work at Frau Mozart's request. This work on the score was done about two months after Mozart died, after Joseph Eybler and other composer friends of the family had declined to complete the Requiem.

We shall never know for certain the cause of Mozart's death. He himself declared that he was being poisoned, several months before he died. The recorded symptoms in his last days are not incompatible with mercury poisoning. His doctors, two physicians of considerable reputation, listed the cause of death as "heated miliary fever," but this is vague, a description more of symptoms than a specific malady. Posterity has suspected Antonio Salieri, but historians have dismissed Salieri's senile confession as improbable. Other perpetrators have been suggested, but all is conjecture.

There is no doubt that Süssmayr finished the Requiem, nor why this was done: the shadowy stranger who commissioned the work had already paid in full for it, and Mozart's family could not afford to refund the money. Süssmayr later stated which portions are authentically by Mozart, and that would include the two movements heard at this concert.

This is the Mozart Requiem as we have known it for 200 years. Dark and somber as befits its solemn purpose, it has a dignity and grace that make it worthy to stand beside the composer's greatest works.

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Adagio for String Orchestra, Op. 11
SAMUEL BARBER (1910-1981)

String Quartet completed: December 1936. First string orchestra performance of the Adagio: November 5, 1938, New York City; NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini conducting. Performing forces: five-part strings.

Barber grew up in a musical family and showed musical aptitude at an early age. (He once said, "I began composing at seven and have never stopped.") He was in the first class of students at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, entering at age thirteen with a triple major in piano, voice and composition. Possessed of a fine baritone voice, he considered singing as a career, and he later made recordings of several of his own vocal works, including the well-known piece Dover Beach.

His aunt was the celebrated Metropolitan Opera contralto Louise Homer, whose husband composed songs and chamber music. The Adagio for Strings bears a dedication "To my aunt and uncle, Louise and Sidney Homer."

After graduating from the Curtis Institute, Barber traveled and composed in Europe for a couple of years as a result of several prizes he won: the Bearns Prize of Columbia University, two Pulitzer Traveling Scholarships and the American Prix de Rome. Among the early works he produced at this time were the Symphony No. 1 and the String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 11. Both quickly received performances in Rome and in America.

When he met Toscanini in 1937, Barber discussed several projects with the great conductor. With Toscanini's encouragement, he took the second movement, Adagio, from his Quartet and reworked it for string orchestra. Toscanini introduced this Adagio for Strings in New York and later included it in the programs for his South American tour.

Through Toscanini's recording, the Adagio was Barber's first work to reach a wide audience. Its sad but noble quality expressed the grief of millions of listeners when it was selected for radio play immediately after the announcement of President Franklin Roosevelt's death in 1945. Since then it has remained among the first choices for music expressing grief and honor at the death of great public figures.

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Leonore Overture No. 3 in C Major
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Composed: 1806. First performance: March 29, 1806; Theater-an-der-Wien, Vienna. Performing forces: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.

Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, ranks among his strongest statements for freedom. Florestan is a political prisoner in the dungeon of Don Pizarro, who plans to kill him before the Spanish prime minister arrives to inspect. Florestan's wife, Leonore, disguises herself as a man called Fidelio in order to work at the prison. She goes so far as to help dig Florestan's grave but then makes her stand, holding off Pizarro with a pistol and thus saving her husband's life until the prime minister arrives. Florestan and all the other prisoners are released, and Pizarro is jailed.

The composer's first overture to his opera, which he called Leonore while the rest of the world knew it as Fidelio, was discarded even before the premiere, and the work was introduced in 1805 with what is now called the Leonore Overture No. 2. For a new production the following year he wrote this third version of the overture, as well as making extensive revisions and cuts in the opera itself. Then, for the work's 1814 revival he made further revisions and wrote a fourth overture, now known as the Overture to Fidelio, to begin the drama.

Basil Deane calls Leonore No. 3 "the first, and perhaps the greatest, tone poem." Though occasionally used as a prelude to the opera's final scene, it has found its securest place in the concert hall, where it has become the most popular of Beethoven's overtures.

Florestan's aria "In des Lebens Frühlingstagen" ("In the spring days of my life") is used as introductory material. The noble main theme rises from a soft beginning to be defiantly proclaimed by the full orchestra. The mighty struggle that follows is cut off at its climax by a trumpet fanfare that announces the Prime Minister's arrival. The overture is rounded in symphonic fashion by a full recapitulation of the first part. Florestan's aria is worked in once more (now at the faster tempo) as the music builds toward a triumphant coda.

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Scenes from the Life of a Martyr
UNDINE SMITH MOORE (1904-1989)
Text by Undine Smith Moore
Orchestrated by Donald Rauscher

Completed: 1980. First performance: January 1982, Carnegie Hall, New York; Collegiate Chorale, Robert Bass conducting. Performing forces: narrator; soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists, four-part mixed chorus; two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.

"It is a great thing to be a musician. . . . The only thing that matches it is perhaps the opportunity to be a teacher." - Undine Smith Moore

One of a number of African-American composers in the 20th century who were also dedicated educators, Undine Smith Moore was sometimes called the Dean of Black Women Composers. She was a faculty member at Virginia State College for 45 years, being recognized upon her retirement in 1972 with an honorary doctoral degree from the college and a New York concert of her works. (She continued to teach part-time for the rest of her life.) Among her students were opera singer Camilla Williams, composer Phil Medley, and jazz pianist and composer Billy Taylor. Indiana University, where she served for many years as an advisor to the Afro-American Arts Institute, conferred a second honorary degree upon her. The commonwealth of Virginia presented her with its Governor's Award in the Arts and designated her a Music Laureate. Her 1981 keynote address to the First National Conference on Women in Music is reprinted as "My Life in Music" in the February 1997 issue of the journal of the International Alliance for Women in Music.

Born in rural Virginia, Moore grew up in a musical household. As a pianist and composer, she graduated at the top of her class at Fisk University and received a professional diploma from Columbia University Teacher's College. She pursued further composition studies at the Juilliard, Manhattan, and Eastman Schools of Music.

Moore was instrumental in the founding of the Black Music Center as an effort to keep the fire of black achievement alive in succeeding generations. Started with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the center presented campus seminars featuring the performing arts, focusing on what she called "the true creative genius of the black people in the ditches and in the sawmills."

She composed in a number of forms, including solo works for voice and for various instruments, choral music, chamber works, and orchestral pieces. Deeply influenced by her religious upbringing, she stayed close to the southern hymns and spirituals she had learned as a child, recalling them in many choral arrangements and such works as Choral Prayers in Folk Style and Afro-American Suite.

Her Virginia State colleague Carl Harris, writing in Choral Journal, designated Moore among the "Black Innovators," composers who have made "dramatic and effective use of old compositional techniques coupled with many contemporary ideas." In another Choral Journal article, dedicated entirely to Moore's music, Harris praised the genuine style of her treatment of Negro spirituals: "The original melodies and characteristic rhythmic vitality found in Mrs. Moore's arrangements . . . assure us that much of their real import is still present and that fairly authentic performances can be realized."

Her oratorio Scenes from the Life of a Martyr received its premiere in Carnegie Hall and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize the same year. An expansive work in 16 movements, it contemplates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through texts from a variety of sources. A narrator provides the prologue, transitions between movements, and sometimes commentary during the music. In a preface to the score, Moore wrote,

The lives of all martyrs have much in common. This work, specifically in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., is, therefore, intended to evoke memories of others who have been Valiant-for-Truth.

Portions of the text not written by the composer are chosen from the Bible and a few other poets [Stephen Spender, Claude McKay, and Robert Hayden] of different times, races, places.

The composer conceives the variety in text and variety in musical styles to be appropriate to the memory of a man of all the people, who had a dream for all men, of all times, everywhere.


-- Program Notes © 2003, Woodruff Arts Center

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