Simple Gifts: A Thanksgiving Offering

Program notes below.


Aaron Copland: A Lincoln Portrait			      (CD: Copland
		(Henry Fonda, narrator; London		    Conducts Copland)
		 Symphony Orchestra; Aaron Copland)

John Adams: Shaker Loops				   (CD: Shaker Loops)
	Shaking and Trembling
	Hymning Stews
	Loops and Verses
	A Final Shaking
		(Ridge String Quartet &
		 friends; John Adams)

Virgil Thomson: Symphony on a Hymn Tune (No. 2) 	 (CD: Orchestral Works
	I. Introduction and Allegro			   by Virgil Thomson)
	III. Allegretto
	IV. Allegro
		(Mondadock Festival
		 Orchestra; James Bolle)

Virgil Thomson: Five Songs to Poems by William Blake	  (CD: Virgil Thomson)
	The Divine Image
	Tiger! Tiger!
	The Land of Dreams
	The Little Black Boy
	And Did Those Feet?
		(Philip Frohnmayer, baritone;
		 H. Jac McCracken)

Einojuhani Rautavaara: Suite de Lorca, Op. 72		   (CD: Scandinavian
	Canción de jinete				     Contemporary A
	El Grito						Capella)
	La luna asoma
		(Danish National Radio
		 Choir; Stefan Parkman)

Henry Purcell: Trumpet Tune				    (CD: Coronation
		(Christopher Dearnley, organ)		   Anthems and Hymns)

Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring			      (CD: Copland
		(London Symphony			    Conducts Copland)
		 Orchestra; Aaron Copland)

J. S. bach: Mass in B minor				    (CD: Bach: Mass
	Laudaumus te					       in B minor)
	Gratias agimus tibi
		(Julianne Baird, soprano; The
		 Bach Ensemble; Joshua Rifkin)

J. S. Bach: Nun Danket Alle Gott (BWV 657)		    (CD: J. S. Bach:
		(Anton Heiller, organ)			    Eighteen Chorale
							   Preludes of Diverse

Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Now thank we all our God		    (CD: The Sounds
		(Trinity Brass Ensemble; Ross		       of Trinity)
		 Wood, organ; Brian Jones)

Benjamin Britten: Hymn to St. Cecelia, Op. 27		  (CD: Britten: Choral
		(Choir of King's College,		    Music from King's
		 Cambridge; David Willcocks)		   College, Cambridge)

Traditional Shaker songs				   (CD: Simple Gifts)
	Simple Gifts
	Father James's Song
	Mother Ann's Song
	Learned of an Angel
	Celestial Choir
		(Boston Camerata; Schola Cantorum of
		 Boston; Shaker Community of Sabbathday
		 Lake, Maine; Joel Cohen)

Simple Gifts (trad.) / Lord of the Dance (Sydney Carter)   (CD: Simple Gifts)
		(Benjamin Luxon, baritone;
		 Bill Croffut, voice and banjo)

Program notes

This program on a Monday preceding the US Thanksgiving holiday is a convenient time to work with the idea of gifts. There are also ample composers' birthdays to and historical references to to consider as well.

This November 19 was the 132nd anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address, and November 14 was the 95th anniversary of the birth of the American composer, Aaron Copland. These themes are combined with A Lincoln Portrait, conducted by the composer and narrated by the American actor Henry Fonda, who played a young Abe Lincoln in the cinema.

Obviously, the theme of thanks is significant, and the connection to the idea of "simple gifts" is an intuitive one that should not need lengthy explanation. Gratias agimus tibi ("We give you thanks") from Bach Mass in B minor and the German chorale Nun danket alle Gott ("Now thank we all our God") have obvious textual connections. One setting of Nun danket (also known as Marche Triomphale) by the German composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert (b. 21 November 1877) is included.

Another recurring theme in this program are the "Shakers", more formally the "Society of Believers". The modern minimalist composition Shaker Loops attempts a modern suggestion of the Shakers' energetic, fervent worship that earned them their nickname. (Note that the Society of Believers had a sense of humor, so that they embraced this originally derogatory nickname. By contrast, the adherents of the present day Unification Church reportedly have fits if you use their denomination's nickname.

At Thanksgiving, the parallel between the Pilgrims exodus from England to Plymouth, and the Shakers' move to the Americas is easy to draw on. However, we do not have much record of Pilgrim musical culture; they would have considered music in worship frivolous and perhaps too close to the excesses of the Church of England. By contrast, music was intimately connected with the Shakers' worship; they meticulously recorded it with their own notation, and a body of it is now re-emerging. Joel Cohen has recently recorded Shaker songs in cooperation with the sole surviving Shaker community; this CD receives special attention on this program.

To most audiences, "Shaker music" is a synonym for the single song, "Simple Gifts". The biggest popularizer of this song is perhaps Copland's ballet music suite, Appalachian Spring. The tune has been adapted by the 20th century Briton, Sydney Carter, with new words, "Lord of the Dance", a theme hearkens back to the Shakers' worship.

As part of the irregular series of musical settings of the poems of William Blake, settings of Virgil Thomson (born 25 November 1896) are included. The other, more regular thread of the music of Henry Purcell (d. 22 November 1695) is represented with an organ version of the famous "Trumpet Tune" from King Arthur.

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