Preliminary Notes on Chorale's December 11-12 Concerts

Vigilia (1971-72) Einojuhani Rautavaara 1928- Einojuhani Rautavaara is perhaps the best known contemporary Finnish composer. His romantic, mystical style is exemplified in his Vigilia in memory of St. John the Baptist, a complete setting of the Orthodox liturgies of Vespers and Matins. The piece was inspired by a childhood visit to the island monastery of Valamo in Finland's Lake Ladoga, that remained in the composer's mind as an overwhelming vision of domes, bells, and icons. Rautavaara’s stirring music has a raw, visceral, yet euphoric quality, totally unique in twentieth century a cappella repertoire.

Rautavaara composed the two sections of Vigilia for separate events, and later combined them into a single concert work. Chorale will present the first part, Vespers, in its entirety, with bass Wilbur Pauly intoning the deacon’s part, and a quartet of soloists, as well as the rest of the ensemble. The composer utilizes the choir in as varied a way as possible—they sing, speak and whisper, occasionally in clusters and glissandi, traditional features of ancient Byzantine liturgy.

Salve Regina (1941) Francis Poulenc 1899-1963

Widely recognized as France’s most important mid-twentieth century composer, Francis Poulenc was described as "half monk, half delinquent" ("le moine et le voyou"). His a cappella motet Salve Regina, like most of his choral music, reflects the former tendency. Especially from the 1930’s onward, the loss of close friends, coupled with a pilgrimage to the Black Virgin of Rocamadour in 1936, led him to rediscover the Roman Catholic faith in which he was raised, and prompted a sizeable number of choral compositions based on religious themes.

Salve Regina captures the essence of Poulenc’s life-transforming experience upon encountering the basalt figurine of the Black Virgin in southern France-- the mysterious, timeless, incantatory quality evoked by this faceless, ancient invitation to kneel and worship.

The Sealed Angel (1988) Rodion Shchedrin 1932-

Shchedrin composed The Sealed Angel, also known as ‘Russian Liturgy,’ in 1988, in commemoration of the millennium of the Christianization of Russia. It received its premier that same year, and was awarded the Russian State Prize in 1992 by President Boris Yeltsin.

Shchedrin came from a religious background; his grandfather was a priest, and his parents raised him with knowledge of their historic Orthodox faith. He attended the Moscow Choir School between the ages of 12 and 18, where the pupils were introduced to the great liturgies of the 18th and 19th centuries with secular texts. With this ‘Russian Liturgy,’ which utilizes Old Slavonic sacred texts, he wanted to compose a work which would resume the tradition of Russian Orthodox music that had been interrupted by the 1917 Revolution. The Perestroika of the mid 1980’s seemed to offer this opportunity.

The work is loosely based on The Sealed Angel, a short novel by 19th Century writer Nikolai S. Leskov. It concerns a community of "Old Believers," whose greatest treasure is a miraculous icon of an angel. The prohibited sect is denounced to the state, and the official seal is embossed onto the middle of the confiscated angel’s face. Shchedrin’s work is in no way programmatic, but it does explore the most ancient practices and liturgies of the Orthodox Church in its musical materials. Shchedrin named the work after this story, rather than identifying it as a sacred work, to avoid the state censorship which persisted at the time of its composition.

The compete work consists of nine movements; Chorale will present only the last two.

And Give us Peace (2010) Stephen Paulus 1949-

Celebrated American composer Stephen Paulus is best known for his vocal music, both choral and solo. His style is essentially tonal and melodic. He has been commissioned by such notable organizations as the Minnesota Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Dale Warland Singers, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, whose then-conductor Robert Shaw championed his choral works widely. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Foundation, and won the prestigious Kennedy Center Friedheim Prize.

Chicago Chorale, with the financial support of Chicago’s Harper Court Foundation, has commissioned And Give Us Peace in honor of the ensemble’s 10th anniversary year, 2010-2011.