A Concert of Remembrance featuring Vaughan William's epic Dona Nobis Pacem and Corigliano's setting of Fern Hill
Ralph Vaughan Williams composed his Dona Nobis Pacem as the world was hurtling toward WW II. His experience in the ambulance service in WW 1 gave him a vivid picture of warfare, and he composed this moving work in an effort to move the world toward piece. It is truly one of the most stirring and inspiring pieces in the choral/orchestral repertoire. It combines Latin texts with poetry of Walt Whitman, for who Vaughan Williams had a close affinity and whose world-view was shaped by similar experience assisting recovering soldiers in the Civil War.
John Corigliano wrote the following note for his Fern Hill.
I first encountered Dylan Thomas's work in 1959, my last undergraduate year at Columbia College. It was a revelation. Both the sound and structures of Thomas's words were astonishingly musical. Not by accident, either: "What the words meant was of secondary importance; what matters was the sound of them...these words were as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments," he wrote in his Poetic Manifesto of 1951. I was irresistibly drawn to translate his music into mine.
One poem captivated me: Fern Hill, about the poet's "young and easy" summers at his family's farm of the same name. I wanted to write this work as a gift for my high-school music teacher, Mrs. Bella Tillis, who first encouraged my musical ambitions. She introduced Fern Hill with piano accompanying her (and, once, my) school choir.
Fern Hill is a blithe poem, yet touched by darkness; time finally holds the poet "green and dying," but the poem itself, formally just an ABA song extended into a wide arch, sings joyously of youth and its keen perceptions. I set it for mezzo-soprano solo, chorus, and orchestra, aiming to match the forthright lyricism of the text. (The direction "with simplicity" is everywhere in the printed score.)
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