Choral Masterworks

Mon, June 17, 2024 6:30 pm
Thu, June 20, 2024 6:30 pm


Grant Park Chorus

Carlos Kalmar, conductor

Christopher Bell, chorus director



and the swallow


Six Songs, op. 59

Im Grünen
Frühzeitiger Frühling
Abschied vom Walde
Die Nachtigall


In Paradisum


Os justi


The Aged

See the Gypsies


Which Was the Son Of…



South Shore Cultural Center, Columbus Park Refectory


Approx. 70 minutes


This program is generously supported as part of the Dehmlow Choral Music Series. 


Caroline Shaw (1982-)
and the swallow

Caroline Shaw wrote and the swallow in 2017 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Taking its text from Psalm 84, the piece conveys “a yearning for home that feels very relevant today,” Shaw said. Just as the swallow in the psalm is looking for a nest where she may lay her young, so too are families looking for a place where they can keep their family safe. Starting in low homophony, the sopranos soar wordlessly upward, mimicking the bird’s flight. Soon, the rest of the choir joins in with overlapping ascending hums. Shaw, known for her fondness for extended vocal techniques, then evokes the sound of the autumn rain with a bed of soft repeated “n’s” under the final phrase.


Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)
Six Songs, op. 59 

Although Felix Mendelssohn is best known for his instrumental music and large-scale choral works like Elijah, the composer wrote a surprising number of intimate unaccompanied choral pieces called part-songs. While he only released four volumes of part-songs during his lifetime, another three sets were published posthumously, and others remain in manuscript form. Mendelssohn intended for many of these part-songs to be sung outside and even subtitled this set of Six Songs, op. 59 “Im Freien zu singen,” or “to be sung outdoors.” In a letter to his mother dated July 3, 1839, Mendelssohn recounted the joy of singing with a small amateur chorus in the forest outside of Frankfurt: “How lovely the song sounded, how clearly the sopranos trilled in the air, and what a glow and charm enveloped all the pitches, everything so quiet and furtive and yet so clear—that I couldn’t have imagined . . . it was magical in the forest solitude, so that tears almost came to my eyes. It sounded like pure poetry.”

Mendelssohn composed Six Songs, op. 59 between 1837 and 1843. Mirroring their intended performance venue, many of the songs feature texts on the Romantic themes of nature and springtime. Most are simple strophic settings, where the same musical material is used for multiple verses. Only occasionally does Mendelssohn employ imitative counterpoint for contrast, as in “Die Nachtigall.” Otherwise, the homophonic textures maximize the accessibility of the songs and the comprehensibility of the text. Given its artful simplicity, the elegiac “Abschied im Walde” gained particular popularity and even folksong status.


Ēriks Ešenvalds (1977-)
In paradisum

Before turning his professional sights to composition, Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds studied at the Latvian Baptist Theological Seminary for two years. Still deeply religious, Ešenvalds often turns to religious subjects for his works. In paradisum, an antiphon from the Latin Requiem Mass, is traditionally sung when the body is taken from the church for burial at the end of the funeral service. Dedicated to his grandmother Irma, who passed away the morning of the work’s premiere in 2012, the piece evokes the gentle beating of angels’ wings as they guide the soul to its eternal rest in paradise. In the beginning, the chorus is barely audible, humming and singing wordlessly under the solo cello’s elegy, before opening up into a slow-moving, chant-like statement of the text. The chorus recedes into the background again, reappearing with increasingly impassioned declamations before dissipating again like a fading heartbeat.


Anton Bruckner (1824 – 1896)
Os justi meditabitur

 Although Anton Bruckner is most often remembered for his monumental symphonies, sacred music dominated much of the composer’s career. It served as a direct expression of his deeply held Catholic faith instilled in him as a child singing at St. Florian’s monastery near Linz, Austria. Much of Bruckner’s sacred music reflects the ethos of the Cecilian reform movement that dominated Catholic church music in the late 1800s. The aim of the movement was to restore the dignity and purity of church music, which its proponents believed had become corrupted by the “worldliness” of post-Enlightenment secular music. Dedicated to the music director at St. Florian’s, Os justi meditabitur is a prime example of Bruckner’s adherence to this philosophy. Written in 1879, the motet is informed by Gregorian chant and the 16th-century polyphony of Palestrina. It is also set in the Lydian church mode and strictly avoids the use of any sharps or flats, lending it an ancient feel.


Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967)
Öregek (“The Aged”) & Túrót eszik a cigány (“See the Gypsies Munching Cheese”)

One year before his death, Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály wrote, “Our age of mechanization leads along a road ending with man himself as a machine; only the spirit of singing can save us from this fate.” Vocal music was important to Kodály throughout his life and formed the foundation of not only his compositional output but also his scholarly work and the pedagogical method that bears his name. In the early 20th century, Kodály and his friend Béla Bartók went on tours of rural Hungary, recording thousands of folksongs on phonograph cylinders in an effort to preserve and codify their musical heritage. Of the nearly 150 unaccompanied songs Kodály wrote, many are arrangements of these folksongs or have folk-inflected rhythms or melodies. Composed in 1933, Öregek (“The Aged”) is set to a poem by Sándor Weöres. The plodding, descending motion in the lower voices captures the slow movement and perhaps resignation of a person in later life. In contrast, Túrót eszik a cigány (“See the Gypsies Munching Cheese”) is an arrangement of a playful Romani dancing song. As a result of its accessibility and lightheartedness, the song is a popular choice among children’s choirs.


Arvo Pärt (1935-)
Which was the son of…

 Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is best known for his minimalist, serialist compositional style inflected by traditional melodic and harmonic elements of Renaissance, Medieval, and Eastern Orthodox sacred music. It perhaps comes as no surprise, then, that he would choose to set a highly repetitive portion of Luke’s Gospel in Which was the son of... The context of the commission drew Pärt to this text that painstakingly outlines Jesus’ genealogy. In 2000, Pärt was asked to compose a work for the youth choir Voices of Europe, which was gathering in Reykjavik to celebrate the city’s status as the European Capital of Culture that year. Knowing Iceland’s passion for genealogy and tradition of passing on names from one generation to another, Pärt turned to this rarely set passage of Luke’s Gospel and its string of ancient names.

In lesser composers’ hands, this text might become like a recitation of the phone book. Instead, Pärt avoids monotony by employing a variety of musical characters and textures. The piece opens assuredly, calling to mind Spirituals in its use of call and response between the upper and lower voices. A more flowing section in 9/8 follows, building to a climax with the recitation of the names Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham in a gleaming C major. Finally, Pärt leads us through the circle of fifths to a simple resolution on “which was the son of God”—the whole crux of the passage.


Caroline Shaw
and the swallow  

Psalm 84 

How beloved is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts,
my soul yearns, faints, my heart and my flesh cry.
The sparrow found a house and the swallow, her nest,
where she may raise her young.
They pass through the valley of bakka,
they make it a place of springs.
The autumn rains also cover it with pools. 

Felix Mendelssohn
Six Songs (op. 59)

Im Grünen 
Wilhelmina Christiane von Chézy, née Klencke (1783 – 1856) 

In Nature
Wilhelmina Christiane von Chézy, née Klencke (1783 – 1856)

Im Grün erwacht der frische Mut,
wenn blau der Himmel blickt.
Im Grünen da geht alles gut,
was je das Herz bedrückt.

In nature (In green) a fresh courage awakens,
When the blue of the sky is revealed.
In nature, everything turns to the good
That has oppressed one’s heart.

Was suchst’ der Mauern engen Raum,
du thöricht Menschenkind?
Komm, fühl hier unter’m Grünen Baum,
wie süss die Lüfte sind.

Why do you seek the walls of an enclosed room,
You foolish child of Mankind?
Come feel, here under the blooming tree,
How sweet the breezes are.

Wie holde Kindlein spielt um dich
ihr Odem wunderlieb,
und nimmt all’ deinen Gram mit sich,
du weisst nicht wo er blieb.

Like a sweet young child, around you
Play their wondrous exhalations of love,
And take away all of your suffering,
You know not what has become of it.

Frühzeitiger Frühling
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

Early Spring
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

Tage der Wonne
Kommt ihr so bald?
Schenkt mir die Sonne,
Hügel und Wald?

Days of joy,
Have you come so soon?
To give me the sun,
Hill and Forest?

Reichlicher fließen
Bächlein zumal.
Sind es die Wiesen
Ist es das Thal?

Amply flow
the brooklets again,
Are those meadows?
Is this a valley?

Blauliche Frische!
Himmel und Höh!
Goldene Fische
Wimmeln im See.

Blue freshness!
Heaven and heights!
Golden fishes
Teeming in the sea.

Buntes Gefieder
Rauschet im Hain;
Himmlische Lieder
Schallen darein.

Colorful plumage
Rustles in the grove,
Heavenly songs
Resound therein!

Unter des Grünen
Blühender Kraft,
Naschen die Bienen
Summend am Saft.

Under the greenery’s
Blooming, thriving effort
The little bees dine,
Humming, on nectar.

Leise Bewegung
Bebt in der Luft,
Reizende Regung,
Schläfernder Duft.

Gentle movements
shake in the fresh air,
the lovely stirring
Of sleepy fragrance.

Mächtiger rühret
Bald sich ein Hauch,
Doch er verlieret
Gleich sich im Strauch.

Powerfully stirs
a breath of air,
Yet it loses
itself in a bush.

Aber zum Busen
Kehrt er zurück.
Helfet, ihr Musen,
Tragen das Glück!

But to the bosom
It turns back,
Help [me], o Muses,
To bear [this] Happiness!

Saget seit gestern
Wie mir geschah?
Liebliche Schwestern,
Liebchen ist da!

Tell me how, since yesterday,
it happened to me,
lovely sisters –
My sweetheart is there!

Abschied vom Walde
Joseph Karl Benedikt, Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788 – 1857)

Farewell to the Forest
Joseph Karl Benedikt, Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788 – 1857)

O Täler weit, O Höhen,
o schöner grüner Wald,
du meiner Lust und Wehen
andächt’ger Aufenthalt!
Da draussen, stets betrogen,
[saust] die geschäft’ge Welt;
schlag’ noch einmal die Bogen
um mich, du grünes Zelt!

Oh distant valleys, o heights,
Oh lovely, green forest,
You holy dwelling place
Of my joy and pains.
Out there, always cheated,
Rushes the busy world;
Bend once again your bows
Around me, you green tent!

Wenn es beginnt zu tagen,
Die Erde dampft und blinkt,
Die Vögel lustig schlagen,
Daß dir dein Herz erklingt:
Da mag vergehn, verwehen
Das trübe Erdenleid,
Da sollst du auferstehen
In junger Herrlichkeit!

When dawn begins,
The earth steams and sparkles,
The birds cry out joyously
Till your heart rings out:
Then the gloomy earthly sorrows
Can pass, can blow away,
Then you shall be resurrected
In youthful magnificence!

Im Walde steht geschrieben
ein stilles ernstes Wort
vom rechten Tun und Lieben,
und was des Menschen Hort.
Ich habe treu gelesen
die Worte, schlicht und wahr,
und durch mein ganzes Wesen
ward’s unaussprechlich klar.

A still, earnest maxim
Is written in the woods
Of righteous conduct and love
And what is mankind’s haven.
I have faithfully read
The words, simple and sincere,
And through my whole being
An unspeakable clarity spread.

Bald werd’ ich dich verlassen,
fremd in die Fremde geh’n,
auf buntbewegten Gassen
des lebens Schauspiel seh’n.
Und mitten in dem Leben
wird deines Ernst’s Gewalt
mich Einsamen erheben,
so wird mein Herz nicht alt.

Soon I will leave you
And go – a stranger – into the distant world,
Will on brightly milling lanes
See the theater of life;
And in the middle of that life
The power of your earnestness
Will lift me, the lonely one,
And so my heart will not grow old.

Die Nachtigall 
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

The Nightingale
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

Die Nachtigall, sie war entfernt,
Der Frühling lockt sie wieder;
Was neues hat sie nicht gelernt,
Singt alte, liebe Lieder.

The nightingale was far away,
But the spring has tempted her once again;
She has not learned anything new,
So sings old, beloved songs.

Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787 – 1862)

Valley of Rest
Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787 – 1862)

Wann im letzten Abendstrahl
Goldne Wolkenberge steigen
Und wie Alpen sich erzeigen,
Frag’ ich oft mit Tränen:
Liegt wohl zwischen jenen
Mein ersehntes Ruhetal?

When in the last rays of evening
golden hills of clouds ascend,
manifesting themselves like the alps,
I often ask with tears:
between them, is that where lies
my longed-for valley of rest?

Joseph Karl Benedikt, Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788 – 1857)

Hunting Song
Joseph Karl Benedikt, Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788 – 1857)

Durch schwankende Wipfel
Schießt güldener Strahl,
Tief unter den Gipfeln
Das neblige Tal.
Fern hallt es am Schlosse,
Das Waldhorn ruft,
Es wiehern die Rosse
In die Luft, in die Luft!

Through waving tree tops
Flickers a golden beam,
Far below the top
Of the misty valley.
Afar, echoing from the castle
The hunting horn calls,
The steeds whinny,
Into the air, into the air!

Bald Länder und Seen
Durch Wolkenzug
Tief schimmernd zu sehen
In schwindelndem Flug,
Bald Dunkel wieder
Hüllt Reiter und Roß,
O Lieb’, o Liebe
So laß mich los! –

Soon lands and seas,
[Through] a procession of cloud,
Appear to shimmer deeply
In a dizzying flight.
Then darkness again
Veils rider and horse,
O love, O love,
[So] let me go!

Immer weiter und weiter
Die Klänge ziehn,
Durch Wälder und Heiden
Wohin, ach wohin?
Erquickliche Frische,
Süß-schaurige Lust!
Hoch flattern die Büsche,
Frei schlägt die Brust.

Still further and further
The sounds carry,
Through forests and fields,
To where, o where?
Refreshing coolness,
Sweet terrifying joy!
On high the thickets flutter,
Freely beats the heart.

Ēriks Ešenvalds
In paradisum 

Catholic Liturgy 

In paradisum deducant Angeli
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus Angelorum te suscipiant
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.  

Ēriks Ešenvalds
Into Paradise

Catholic Liturgy 

May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your arrival
and lead you into the holy City of Jerusalem.
May the choir of Angels greet you
and like Lazarus, who once was a poor man,
may you have eternal rest. 

Anton Bruckner
Os justi 

Psalm 37 

Os justi meditabitur sapientiam,
et lingua ejus loquetur judicium.
Lex Dei ejus in corde ipsius,
et non supplantabuntur gressus ejus.

Anton Bruckner
The mouth of the righteous

Psalm 37

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks what is just.
The law of his God is in his heart,
and his feet do not falter.

Zoltán Kodály
The Aged
Sándor Weöres (1913-1989) 

How lonely and sad – the old folks are!
For sometimes I see them pass by my window,
Their weary backs bent ‘neath gathered bundles,
In wind and in rain, as homeward they go. 

Or else I see them in summer heat 
as tired they rest in sultry sunshine.
On winter nights beside the stove 
they lie down peaceful, and soundly they sleep. 

Bowed and humble in church they stand 
and stretch out their hands in dull despair, 
they fade like leaves in autumn 
left all sere and yellow. 

When in the street on sticks stumping they go, 
e’en the sunshine looks like strangeness on them.
Carelessly people give them greeting:
“Good morning, old man!” 

The summer sun, the winter snow,
autumn leaves and opening flow’rs of spring,
all, all reech in their ears:
“Only dregs of life’s plenteous banquet, 
only husks of the once rich harvest, 
from life’s candle droppings only, all is eaten up, 
all is scattered wide, all is burnt out!” 

And sometimes when the aged hands gently caress the head of a child, 
it hurts, the feeling that these hands with labor roughened, 
outstretched in kindness, by no one are wanted, 
nobody needs them, nobody wants them. 

And prisoners they are, dull and indifferent, fast held in bondage.  
And their fetters are the load of bygone years, seventy years of sin and bitterness, 
years of bondage, years of worries, and they wait for the merciful hand, 
wait for the dread hand, that compelling, terrible hand that will bid them: 

“Lay down your burden, Come, lay your load down.” 


Zoltán Kodály
Túrót ëszik a cigány

Romani dancing song 

Túrót ëszik a cigány, duba,
Veszekëdik azután, lëba,
Még azt mondja pofon vág, duba,
Vágja biz a nagyapját, lëba. 

Csipkefa bimbója Kihajlott az útra
Rida, rida, bom, bom, bom. 

Arra mënt Jánoska, szakajt ëgygyet róla.

Zoltán Kodály
See the gypsies

Romani dancing song 

See the gypsies eating cheese
After that they become quarrelsome.
They even say they will slap your face;
Why, they’ll slap their own grandfather! 

The buds of the briar hang over the road,
Rida, rida, bom, bom, bom. 

Little Janos went that way and picked one of them. 

Arvo Pärt
Which Was the Son of…

Luke 3: 23-38 

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph,
Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge,
Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri,
Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er,
Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi,
Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim,
Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David,
Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson,
Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor,
Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala,
Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech,
Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan,
Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.