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A message from our Founding Conductor, Brian Dearing

Welcome to our annual Spring Concert!  Today’s music includes masterworks by three different composers: Mozart, Lauridsen, and Haydn.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) would by most accounts be considered a “Top Ten” composer of all time. He was flexible, fluent, and prolific: his catalog numbers nearly 700 compositions in a huge variety of genres, from solo piano to full-scale opera. Interestingly, he usually worked on a commission basis or for a specific performance opportunity; he was a free-lance musician for most of his relatively short life.  

Here's an interesting aside: it is often thought that Mozart was buried in a “pauper’s grave” because poor management of his personal finances left him destitute at death and his wife and two surviving sons penniless. While there is more than a grain of truth in that picture, it is not entirely fair. Most Viennese citizens were afforded only a “third class” funeral, which used common graves to conserve land, a practice imposed by the ruling Emperor. And though Mozart certainly had debts, his recent appointment as unpaid adjunct Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s was very likely to soon provide him with a prestigious position and a steady income upon the death of the aged incumbent. After his death, his wife Constanza proved herself a shrewd (if occasionally perhaps a bit unscrupulous) custodian of his compositions, which were her sole source of income.  

Symphony No. 29 in A Major (K201/186a) is often considered an early example of Mozart’s mastery of the symphony. It is in four movements: Allegro Moderato, Andante, Menuetto: Allegretto – Trio, and Allegro Con Spirito.  Three of the four movements are in so-called “Sonata Form,” invented and perfected during the Classical era of which Mozart was a part. In essence, two themes are presented, then developed (meaning modified, but no so much that they are unrecognizable), and finally presented again (recapitulated). Though the piece is in A Major, the second movement is in D Major (the subdominant) and part of the third movement is in E Major (the dominant). It is a combination of Mozart’s restrained chamber music style with fiery, passionate and impulsive outbursts. Since it was one of the last pieces he wrote in Salzburg before permanently moving to Vienna, it’s possible that these outbursts are a subliminal protest against the Salzburg Archbishop’s reduced commitment to music. Or not.

Morten Johannes Lauridsen (b. 1943) is an American composer. He was named an “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2006, is a National Medal of Arts recipient (2007), and has been a professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for over 40 years. Today he is the most frequently performed American choral composer.

The words are by American novelist, journalist, poet, screenwriter and film critic James Agee (1909-1955). Agee’s most famous work, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, is a non-fiction work in which Agee’s text is paired with photographs of Depression-era sharecroppers. He also was the screenwriter for The African Queen, a film which starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The text is an excerpt from “Description of Elysium,” a poem in Agee’s sole book of poetry, Permit Me Voyage (1934).

Lauridsen’s setting is serene and restful and owes much (by his own admission) to songs from American musical theatre. The men present the melody first before the women add their voices. It ends very quietly.

The most common question about this piece is, “what does it mean?” Is it about the peace that passes all understanding? God in nature? Solitary contemplation of the stars? Or is it simply inscrutable and beautiful at the same time? Listen and decide for yourself.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was born near Vienna and lived a long and full life. He essentially invented the modern Symphony and was the “father” of the string quartet, most notably developing the Sonata form. He spent the shank of his career in the service of the immensely wealthy Esterhaży family, where he was in charge of their musical establishment. He actually took advantage of his relative isolation in the Esterhaży household as a goad to his creativity: “I was cut off from the world. There was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.” As a composer, he wrote more than 100 symphonies, fourteen masses, 68 string quartets, and a very large number of concerti, piano music, and songs. He was also a man of deep faith: “When I think of my God, my heart dances within me for joy, and then my music as to dance, too.” Baptized on April Fool’s Day, he was blessed with a positive outlook and a sunny disposition.

Both his faith and his disposition are evident in his music. The Grosse Orgelmesse in E-flat (Hob XXII:8) was written for the Esterhaży court, and gets its nickname from the virtuoso obbligato organ part likely played by Haydn himself. (Incidentally, organs in Vienna at that time typically did not have pedals, so the part is often played on a positive organ.) Interestingly, the oboes are replaced by English horns, which were acquired by the Esterhaży orchestra after the composition was (probably) completed. Haydn added the trumpet and timpani parts later. The piece is full of variety, including off-beat dialogs between the choir and the orchestra, counterpoint, homophony, and solo, duet, trio, and quartet textures in the soloist parts. Haydn’s musical imagination is ever-present and simply delightful.

We hope you enjoy this afternoon’s musical presentation.  We have certainly enjoyed preparing it and presenting it to you.

Brian Dearing
Founding Conductor
Milwaukee Area Messiah Community Chorus and Orchestra

Welcome to our

Spring 2023 Concert!

We are so glad that you could join us.

To reduce our carbon footprint, we are publishing parts of our program online. 

Find out about more about: 

The composers and the music-- See below

  • Symphony No. 29 in A by Mozart
  • Sure on this Shining Night by Lauridson
  • Great Organ Mass (AKA Grosse Orgelsolomesse) No. 5 in E flat by Haydn​

The people--

The benefactor--