(Instrumentation: Solo Baritone voice, mixed chorus, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, sarrusophone (typically substituted with contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, chime, drums, cymbals, tam-tam, 2 harps, strings)
(Born in Paris in 1893; died in Mézy-sur-Seine, France in 1918)
Pour les funérailles d’un soldat (“For a Soldier’s Funeral”)
Lili Boulanger was born into Parisian musical nobility. Her paternal grandfather, Frédéric, was a distinguished cellist, her grandmother, Juliette, a celebrated singer, her father, Ernest, was a well-regarded composer and teacher, and her mother, Raissa Mychetsk, was of Russian nobility and a gifted singer and vocal teacher. Lili’s older sister, Nadia, approached prodigy status, and indeed, Lili likewise, by age two, was heralded as a prodigy herself by, essentially, any musician who was anybody in Paris. One of those notable musicians was the famous French composer and (soon-to-be) director of the Paris Conservatoire, Gabriel Fauré, also a close family friend. Lili was surrounded by music and musicians of the highest quality before she could walk or speak.
Lili used to accompany her sister, Nadia, to music classes as Nadia took lessons at the Paris Conservatoire with Fauré, and age four, Lili was enrolled there, too. She soon excelled in piano, harp, cello, violin, and organ, but her truest gifts became apparent in composition. A great pedigree does not necessarily make a great composer, but by all accounts, from the very beginning Lili was jaw-droppingly talented. But she was dogged by ill health her entire life. A severe bout with pneumonia at age two weakened her immune system, followed by a near deadly case of measles, and then a lifelong debilitating gastro-intestinal disease (thought to be intestinal tuberculosis, but may in fact have been Crohn’s Disease, which wasn’t a known diagnosis until 1932). That illness would end her life in 1918 at the age of 24. Her sister Nadia would survive her with a long life and became one of the greatest composition teachers in the 20th Century – mentor to hundreds, including the likes of Aaron Copland and Neal Gittleman. But when Lili died, Nadia rarely composed again, saying that the talent died with her sister, and she became a tireless champion of Lili’s compositions for the rest of her life.
It was in the midst of working towards her first entry for the Prix de Rome in 1912 – a composition contest offered by the Conservatoire that was deeply coveted in the Parisian music world – that the 18-year-old Lili collapsed from her illness and had to abandon her entry. Two types of compositions were required for the Prix de Rome, including a cantata (a choral work of several parts with instrumental accompaniment – for example, Bach wrote many cantatas). In preparation, her Conservatoire composition teacher gave her a choral homework assignment to focus on tone-painting, the technique of crafting music to reflect the meaning of the words. In this particular exercise, two stanzas from one of France’s most celebrated Romantic poets, Alfred de Musset (1810 – 1857) were chosen from Act Four of his five-act dramatic poem La Coupe et les Lèvres (“The Cup and the Lips”) (1831,1833). In this portion, Musset describes the aftermath of the death of a soldier, paying homage to the honor and sacrifice of those who served. Boulanger’s cantata version of Musset’s verses was titled Pour les funérailles d’un soldat (“For a Soldier’s Funeral”).
Boulanger would recover enough from her collapse to enter the Prix de Rome again the next year, in 1913, with her superb cantata Faust et Hélène, and became the first woman to win that great prize. But in the meantime, she also orchestrated her homework assignment in 1913 and published her Pour les funérailles d’un soldat. It quickly became celebrated – one critic called it “the noblest inspiration that has been revealed to us since the Funeral March of [Beethoven’s] Eroica Symphony.” Whereas Musset’s verse focused on reverence for the fallen, Boulanger’s Funeral looked more closely at its religious dimensions and the darkness of loss. The works that she would compose in the next five, final, years of her life would return to these aspects repeatedly – nearly all of them works for chorus and orchestra inspired by religious text.
Funeral begins with a sober darkness, as processional drums quietly tap out a long-recognized funeral rhythm. As the orchestra joins, Boulanger creates an uncanny atmosphere of sorrow, almost dread – yet infusing it with an energy, mainly through dramatic harmonic shifts, that accompanies momentous occasions. Those harmonies are rich and darkly hued, and some of Boulanger’s orchestral sound effects are startling, such as the sudden accented notes from muted French horns.
At the first words from the men in the chorus,
Qu’on voile les tambours,
(“Let the drums be covered [silenced],”)
… the drums halt, and the lower strings take up their rhythm. Over them, the male choirsters chant as if in an ancient Latin Mass. As the side drum enters once again, the text commands
Qu’on dise devant nous la prière des morts.
(“Let the prayer of the dead be said before us.”)
At this moment the ancient plainchant, Dies irae, is played in the violins (you may recognize this tune from Berlioz’s use of it in his Symphonie fantastique). In some brilliant tone-painting, these musical evocations occur in a reverent whisper, yet sweep us fervently forward.
A magnificent section appears in the middle, introduced by the insistent clanging of the chime (bell) and tam tam (gong). The solo baritone sings
Si ces rideaux de pourpre et ces ardents nuages,
(“If these purple drapes and these burning clouds,”)
Que chasse dans l’éther le souffle des orages,
(“Which chase the breath of storms in the ether,”)
The music is filled with emotional drama, rapidly changing between menace, tenderness, and magnificent climaxes. And all along, the harmonies sound ancient and awed – Boulanger uses parallel fourths and fifths, a church technique from the Middle Ages used for sacred chant. Yet, even as Boulanger conjures up this kind of epochal majesty, the baritone soloist sings above it with an operatic air.
The ending reintroduces the funeral drums once again, accompanied by the string basses, but the rhythm is truncated, as though it’s lost a portion of itself to war. The Dies irae continues quietly and in longer tones. The tempo slows and the volume fades. The female voices vocalize without words, as if their meaning has been lost, and the work sinks into the earth like its soldier.
Though Boulanger’s Funeral (1912-13) pre-dated WWI, just after her death and at the end of the War in 1918, the work was slightly revised by her sister, Nadia, and republished to support benefit concerts for the war and veterans as a statement of grief and consolation. In the Century since, Boulanger’s Funeral is sometimes, though incorrectly, remembered as being created in 1918 by Lili as a comment on the tragedy of the War. All the more extraordinary is the truth that this 18-year-old composer created such a prescient, and deeply moving, piece about war in general.
Pour les funérailles d’un soldat Qu’on voile les tambours, que le prêtre s’avance. A genoux, compagnons, tête nue et silence. Qu’on dise devant nous la prière des morts. Nous voulons au tombeau porter le capitaine. Il est mort en soldat, sur la terre chrétienne. L’âme appartient â Dieu; l’armée aura le corps. Si ces rideaux de pourpre et ces ardents nuages, Que chasse dans l’éther le souffle des orages, Sont des guerriers couchés dans leurs armures d’or, Penche-toi, noble cœur, sur ces vertes collines, Et vois tes compagnons briser leurs javelines Sur cette froide terre, òu ton corps est resté! - Alfred de Musset (1810–1857)
For a Soldier’s Funeral Let the drums be covered, let the priest step forth. Upon your knees, comrades, bare your heads and keep silence. Let the prayer of the dead be said before us. We wish to the tomb to take the captain. He has died a soldier, upon Christian ground. The soul belongs to God; the army shall have the body. If these purple drapes and these burning clouds, Which chase the breath of storms in the ether, Are warriors laid out in their golden armor, Inclinest thou, noble heart, upon these green hills, And see your companions break their javelins Upon this cold earth, where your body now rests! (Translation: William White)
PROGRAM NOTES by Michael Schelle
BORN January 22, 1950 in Philadelphia
Dedicated to my father, Lt. George W. Schelle (1915-2004), a first generation American and a naval officer in the Pacific Theatre 1941-45, Resilience is a dramatic three-movement work honoring the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
The nervous, restless music of Movement 1, Dachaulieder, is inspired by a brief motive from the opening of a string quartet by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), one of the very first Jewish composers to become known throughout the world. Movement 2, Rising Sun, Fallen Sky, a fusion of American and Japanese musical traditions, embraces the restless ground campaigns of Okinawa, lwo Jima, etc., and the mysterious atmosphere and wasteland landscapes of Japan after the bomb. Following a brief revisiting/revision of the anxious, explosive materials from Dachaulieder, Movement 3, Blast of Silence, collapses into an extended, emotionally-charged ‘prayer for peace’ that eventually dissolves into thin air.
Although I never realized it until recently, Resilience had been over fifteen years in the making. First, the little Mendelssohn tune fragment of Movement 1 comes from a piece I heard performed a few years ago by a Chicagoarea string quartet whose personnel included Joshua DeVries, the cello soloist for whom Resilience was written. Also, I have visited Hiroshima twice over the past few years—an emotionally paralyzing experience—and have traveled the streets of Tokyo, trying to imagine the devastating fire-bombings of the 1940s.
However, after my father’s death in 2004, I realized I knew quite a lot about the Pacific Theatre of World War II but was under-educated regarding Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Stalin, Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. I immediately embarked on an extended, in-depth self-study of all things European Theatre, an absorbing obsession that continues today. In recent years I have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw and Krakow, and the site of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. On an interior wall of one of the barracks in Dachau was a small plaque: a brief, simple, painful song/melody (words in German) written by an anonymous prisoner. I took a photograph of this remarkable, heartbreaking artifact, knowing that someday, somewhere, I would incorporate it into my music. Near the end of the Dachaulieder movement that haunting little tune—now extended, harmonized, orchestrated and “distributed” across the orchestra and the soloists—emerges out of the chaos for a brief “reality-check” reflection into the tragic past.
A personal note: my Dad never spoke of the war unless we asked him and, even then, the information was minimal. He was an optimistic, generous man, a brilliant man—my hero, my role model, a gentle giant (all 6’8″ of him) who took care of his family (and four kids), was an AMAX Corporation executive in Manhattan, and a Little League coach.
Resilience was a consortium commission from multiple orchestras including the Dayton Philharmonic, the Nashville Symphony, the Fort Smith (AK) Symphony, and the South Shore Orchestra of Chicago. The work was premiered in September 2015 by the Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra, John Jeter, Music Director and Conductor. The premiere performance soloists were Alaina Rea, viola, and Joshua DeVries, violin.
The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, trombone, bass trombone, timpani, 2 percussion, harp, solo viola, solo cello, and strings. The duration is about thirty minutes.
(Instrumentation: 3 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, valveless (natural) trumpet in E♭, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, celesta, harp, and strings, soprano)
Ralph Vaughan Williams
(Born in Down Ampney, England in 1872; died in London in 1958)
“Pastoral Symphony” (Symphony No. 3)
1. Molto moderato
2. Lento moderato
3. Moderato pesante
Ralph Vaughan Williams became a kind of “Dean of English music” in his lifetime. He spearheaded a deep study and collection of English hymns and folk music, as well as the “classical” music of his forebears, like Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis (1505 – 1585) and Baroque composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695) among others. He also achieved fame in his long career as England’s premiere writer of symphonies. By 1914, he had completed his first two of his eventual nine, and was contemplating a third, when the world erupted into World War I.
As so many other of his countrymen did, Vaughan Williams volunteered for military service. Because of his age, 41, armed service was ruled out, so he instead joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in France, carrying bodies off the battlefield (as well as additional assignments over the course of the War). One of Vaughan Williams’ colleagues described the “typical” night that a Medical Corpsmen such as Vaughan Williams would have experienced:
“Slowly we worked our way along the trenches, our only guide our feet, forcing ourselves through the black wall of night and helped occasionally by the flash of the torch in front. Soon our arms begin to grow tired, the whole weight is thrown onto the slings, which begin to bite into our shoulders; … we feel half suffocated, and with a gasp at one another the stretcher is slowly lowered to the duckboards. A twelve-stone man rolled up in several blankets on a stretcher is no mean load to carry when every step has to be carefully chosen and is merely a shuffle forward of a few inches only.”
Vaughan Williams survived the War, but so many of his countrymen did not, including fellow musicians and composers. He wrote to his friend, Gustav Holst, in 1916:
“I sometimes dread coming back to normal life with so many gaps…out of those 7 who joined up together in August 1914 only 3 are left – I sometimes think now that it is wrong to have made friends with people younger than oneself.”
But return he did, and he resumed his life as a composer, teacher, and researcher. But it took him another three years after the end of the War, in 1921, to commit his wartime experiences to music. It took shape as his Pastoral Symphony (later numbered as Symphony No. 3) the genesis of which had been interrupted in 1914. He felt lucky to be alive, but rather than recreate the violence and cruelty and death that he had experienced in the War, Vaughan Williams sought to capture peace. Peace in nature, peace in living, peace in quietude – the nurturing calm that was likely taken for granted before the war, was now used as one of the few balms for healing. His Pastoral is, in some ways, an escape into beauty – yet, not quite. As Vaughan Williams described it in 1938:
“It’s really wartime music – a great deal of it incubated when I used to go up night after night with the ambulance wagon at Ecoivres and we went up a steep hill and there was a wonderful Corot-like landscape [French landscape painter 1796 – 1875] in the sunset – it’s not really lambkins frisking at all as most people take for granted.”
Though this “pastoral” symphony may be filled with lush soundscapes and languid tempi, Vaughan Williams created a work that keeps slipping away, disappearing, not only harmonically and lyrically, but also structurally. His Pastoral contains some of the most beautiful music that he wrote, certainly, but big climaxes and bucolic lingering on lyrical tunes are extremely spare. The Pastoral is Vaughan Williams’ Corot-easel that captures the dark, lovely, and lonely figures at sunset, but is profoundly shadowed by the loss and death of the battlefield and the carnage below the hill.
The first movement begins with undulating woodwinds, like zephyrs across the fields at the change of day. The woodwinds are soon accompanied by a four-note motif in the cellos, basses, and harp. Both motives will pervade the movement. The feeling is light and gentle, until a solo violin enters with a melancholic air. The movement proceeds in this hallowed glow, with those wafting undulations murmuring through all the instruments. Solos from the winds, French horn, and strings converse with each other briefly and move on, creating a sound-world awash in subtle sounds and colors, but with a slightly uncanny feeling of wandering or being lost in thought. The harmonies are gorgeous, but underneath, typically in the low strings and brass, deeply dark movements occur, just in the margins, just off the canvas. At one point early in the movement, one of these deep rumblings moves upwards in grinding half steps, creating a momentarily disturbing feeling of bending light.
The second movement, Lento moderato (moderately slow), begins with a similar tone to the first, though more emphasis is given to melodic direction. But in the middle comes a breath-taking moment, where, over sustained strings, a solo trumpet plays a version of the British military bugle call, the “Last Post.” This trumpet call signals the end of the day’s activities, and, more importantly here, is played at military funerals to signify that the lost soldier has died and gone to their “Last” and final “Post.” Vaughan Williams’ idea for this moment came from the battlefield, when on several evenings a military bugler was practicing this call in the distance and missing the top notes (which on valveless brass instruments can be notoriously difficult). Vaughan Williams suggests that the solo be played on a particular type of trumpet to replicate the military bugle, to capture its “true intonation” (for our civilian, concert-hall ears, it may seem slightly out of tune). No doubt, in 1921, the passage also reminded Vaughan Williams of another lost artist, the British war poet Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918), who, before his death in the War, penned:
“Bugles sang, saddening the evening air;
And bugles answered, sorrowful to hear.”
After this Last Post solo, the horn and clarinet have simultaneous solos, the horn as a far-off answer to the bugle, the clarinet, instead, detached from the pathos in a moment that is simultaneously lovely and chilling.
The third movement brings energy and high spirits. A muscular theme is introduced right off, with full orchestra, with a faster tempo and a jaunty rhythm. Soon, a flute solo flutters like a bird, answered by a violin solo reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ 1914 work The Lark Ascending. Tempos and themes change rapidly and orchestral effects are colorful and splashy. But just when one theme seems to be gaining momentum, it quickly changes to something new. For example, listen for a sea shanty to appear, but just as it begins to rollick, a new tempo and theme swiftly displace it. Even a frisky and brilliant fugue flashes past our ears. It’s as though celebration and musical forms cannot really succeed or take root. Despite the many attempts, jubilance here is almost sinister: For “wartime music,” there can be no true festivity.
The final movement returns to melancholy and quietness. The timpani begins with a soft roll and a gentle swell. Over top of this floats a soprano voice, almost aimlessly, vocalizing without words. The music is marked “without measure” creating a pulseless, floating effect. Like the end of Boulanger’s piece on war, For a Soldier’s Funeral, it’s as though words cannot convey the experience of war. This moment is both meltingly beautiful and emotionally unsettling. The movement nostalgically recalls past themes from earlier moments in the work, and then leads to the Symphony’s ultimate climax as the violins alone take up the soprano’s opening tune. Likely the loudest moment in the piece, it’s almost unbearably vulnerable. But after this deafening climax, the music floats like smoke from cannon blasts back to earth, drifting back to the wafting zephyrs of the Corot landscape. After a moment of magisterial beauty with full orchestra and triumphant brass, the Symphony ends in a troubled quiet, as the soprano sings us wordlessly home.
© Max Derrickson