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Shall We Gather at the River/Choral Arts, Bode
Shall We Gather at the River/Choral Arts, Bode


 
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Shall We Gather at the River
The Choral Music of William Hawley (1950)
Choral Arts, Robert Bode, director

Winner of the American Prize in Choral Performance
William Hawley is a central figure in today's renaissance of American choral music. His treatment of harmony and counterpoint helped to establish compositional trends that have since been adopted by other major figures such as Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre.
Winners of the American Prize and the Margaret Hillis Award, Choral Arts and Robert Bode make a musically persuasive case for the importance of Hawley's choral works.



Beautiful River (“Shall we gather at the river”)

Four Reveries
I. Echo
II. Remembrance
III. My River runs to thee
IV. Meeting at Night

Two Motets
I. Mosella
II. Te vigilans oculis

Tre Rime di Tasso
I. Amor l’ali m’impenna
II. Fuggi, fuggi, dolor
III. Labbra vermiglie e belle

Six Dickinson Settings
I. There came a Day at Summer’s full
II. A Valentine
III. As if the Sea should part
IV. I have a Bird in spring
V. It’s like the Light
VI. On this wondrous sea

Not one sparrow is forgotten (Recessional)
Program Notes

William Hawley (born 1950) is one of the central figures in today’s renaissance of American choral music. Born in upstate New York to a literarily minded family, he studied at Ithaca College and the California Institute of the Arts. There, he composed avant-garde instrumental works in the shadow of Morton Subotnick, Earle Brown, and Morton Feldman, and even flirted with minimalism. However, the launch of his Two Motets in 1981 demonstrated a shift to vocal music and to a more emotionally direct style. This new approach, unusual among his fellow composers based in New York City, was particularly well-suited to unaccompanied choirs, with their natural penchant for rich textures, sonorous but dissonant harmonies, unresolved suspensions, and subtle counterpoint. His catalog also includes an extensive corpus of music for women’s chorus, major works for chorus and orchestra (including a Mass and a Requiem), and several pieces for solo voice. He has composed for such noted ensembles as New York’s Gregg Smith Singers, the Dale Warland Singers in St. Paul, the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, and Chanticleer, San Francisco’s all-male professional choir. In recent years, Hawley has traded the hubbub of Manhattan for the calm of coastal Maine, but his continuing output demonstrates an influential and timely voice in American choral music. Indeed, his treatment of harmony and counterpoint helped to establish compositional trends that have since been adopted by other major figures such as Morten Lauridsen and Eric
Whitacre.
Beautiful River (“Shall we gather at the river”) (1995)

In the nineteenth-century, American hymnody achieved an unprecedented flowering. One of the most enduring examples is “Shall we gather at the river,” with words and melody written in 1864 by Robert Lowry, a Baptist pastor then serving in Brooklyn, New York. Lowry himself did not particularly like the hymn, comparing it unfavorably to an insistently swaggering brass-band march. Fortunately, the twentieth-century giant among American composers, Aaron Copland, disagreed and included it among his popular arrangements of Old American Songs. William Hawley made his arrangement in 1995 for the Dale Warland Singers. Hawley assigns the hymn a rich, eight-voice texture, with sopranos floating effortlessly above the gently rolling river of the lower voices.

Shall we gather at the river,

Where bright angel feet have trod,

With its crystal tide forever

Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,

The beautiful, the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at the river

That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,

Washing up its silver spray,

We will walk and worship ever

All the happy, golden day.

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,

The beautiful, the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at the river

That flows by the throne of God.


—Robert Lowry (1826–1899)
Four Reveries (1995)

Composed for The Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati, William Hawley’s Four Reveries link four of the great Romantic poets of the English language. Throughout the cycle, Hawley draws attention to the text by representing it aurally. The title of the first song, Christina Rossetti’s “Echo,” is reflected at the very opening as the men’s voices mirror the women’s initial phrase. As we hear “the slow door ... opening,” the sopranos have a flowing, slow phrase that opens above the other sections. The second movement, to a text of Percy Bysshe Shelley, begins in a sprightly 6/8 meter, “swifter far” than its predecessor.
This is aurally exaggerated by the choir’s divisions into eight polyphonic parts. Though the tempo remains constant, the summery second stanza feels slower due to its duple meter and homophonic double-choir texture. Hawley repeats the first stanza, ending the work with introspective repetitions “left alone.”

Emily Dickinson is the Reveries’ third poet. Hawley depicts a flowing river by repeating one chord incessantly, as each half of the choir grows and sinks in dynamic, displaced by two beats to create the sound of overlapping waves. He concludes with a reprise of the first stanza, growing the wave effect such that the final, harmonically ambiguous “Wilt welcome me”, now forte, is simultaneously a desperate plea and an unbridled affirmation. The cycle concludes with words of Robert Browning. The music rises from basses to sopranos as the “gray sea” rises to meet “black land.” The “startled little waves” ripple and “tap on the pan” with quick, delicate, repeated notes. The final sonority is a special moment of text-painting, as the basses depict “two hearts beating.”

I. Echo

Come to me in the silence of the night;

Come in the speaking silence of a dream;

Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright

As sunlight on a stream;

Come back in years,

O memory, hope, love of finished years.

O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,

Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,

Where souls brimful of love abide and meet;

Where thirsting longing eyes

Watch the slow door

That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live

My very life again though cold in death:

Come back to me in dreams, that I may give

Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:

Speak low, lean low,

As long ago, my love, how long ago.


—Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
II. Remembrance

Swifter far than summer’s flight—

Swifter far than youth’s delight—

Swifter far than happy night,

Art thou come and gone—

As the earth when leaves are dead,

As the night when sleep is sped,

As the heart when joy is fled,

I am left lone, alone.

The swallow summer comes again—

The owlet night resumes her reign—

But the wild-swan youth is fain

To fly with thee, false as thou.—

My heart each day desires the morrow;

Sleep itself is turned to sorrow;

Vainly would my winter borrow

Sunny leaves from any bough.


—Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

III. My River runs to thee

My River runs to thee—

Blue Sea! Wilt welcome me?

My River waits reply—

Oh Sea—look graciously—

I’ll fetch thee Brooks

From spotted nooks—

Say—Sea—Take Me!


—Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

IV. Meeting at Night

The gray sea and the long black land;

And the yellow half-moon large and low;

And the startled little waves that leap

In fiery ringlets from their sleep,

As I gain the cove with pushing prow,

And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;

Three fields to cross till a farm appears;

A tap on the pan, the quick sharp scratch

And blue spurt of a lighted match,

And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,

Than the two hearts beating each to each!


—Robert Browning (1812–1889)
Two Motets (1981)

In the early 1980s, Hawley was particularly drawn to ancient texts: witness the Sappho Songs for mezzo-soprano on texts by the seventh-century-BC Greek poetess; O blandos oculos, a setting of the fourth-century poet Alcimius for two voices and three instruments; and the present Two Motets. These last were written in 1981 for the Gregg Smith Singers, one of the nation’s leading professional choirs, and became Hawley’s earliest works to gain national attention. Ostensibly these two works are hardly motets at all: in the modern sense of sacred, non-liturgical music to a Latin text, only the linguistic criterion applies.

The first text is a paean to nature by Ausonius, a noted fourth-century French grammarian who became teacher and influential advisor to the Roman emperor Gratian. Hawley has chosen four lines from Ausonius’s extended poem, Mosella, which extols the beauties of the Moselle River, as it flows from the Alps, through northeastern France and into the German Rhine. In these lines, Ausonius describes the vine-covered hills as they are reflected in the river at sunset. Hawley depicts this reflection by dividing the choir’s sixteen parts into two double-choirs. Half of each choir functions as a unit, while the other halves serve as a reflection. This unusual texture lends a rich fullness; the pacing flows slowly and steadily; the harmony is as placid as the Moselle itself.

The author of the second text, Petronius, was a particularly worldly courtier to the Emperor Nero in the first century. He was quite central to the court—later writers such as Tacitus and Plutarch called him Nero’s arbiter elegentiæ, or “judge of fashion” —but later he committed suicide under accusation of treason. Petronius is known for his hedonistic writings, possibly including the novel Satyricon, and the impassioned love-poem chosen by Hawley certainly fits that mold. Hawley treats the chorus with the same texture used in Mosella, as the two groups illustrate the separation of poet and paramour. These two motets are virtually identical in terms of structure and harmonic development, with one crucial difference: the shift from the river’s major tonality to the estranged lover’s minor mode.

I. Mosella

Quis color ile vadis, seras cum propulit umbras
What color that shoal, with the late shadows banished by
Hesperus et viridi perfudit monte Mosellam!
Hesperus, and verdure filling the hills of the Moselle!
Tota natant crispis iuga motibus et tremit absens
Everything floats, rippling together in motion, as the distant
pampinus et vitreis vindemia turget in undis.
vine-leaf trembles, and the grape swells in the glittering water.
Hesperus = the Greeks’
N.B.: Hesperus is the Greeks’ Evening Star and the Moselle is a river in France and Germany

—Decimus Magnus Ausonius (c.310–c.395 AD)

II. Te vigilans oculis

Tevigilans oculis, animo te nocte requiro,
My eyes watch for you, by night my soul desires you,
victa iacent solo cum mea membra toro.
alone and overcome, my limbs tossing in bed.
Vidi ego me tecum falsa sub imagine somni:
I have seen myself with you, in the imagination of sleep:
somnia tu vinces, si mihi vera venis.
in dreams you appear… if only you would truly come to me.

—attributed to Gaius Petronius (c.27–66 AD)

Tre Rime di Tasso (2000, revised 2004)

Between 1567 and 1593 the Italian poet Torquato Tasso wrote nearly two thousand rime (rhymes, or poems) that became much beloved of contemporary madrigal composers like Monteverdi and Gesualdo. Four centuries later, William Hawley fulfilled a commission from Chanticleer, the San Francisco–based professional men’s chorus, with his own Tre Rime di Tasso. In doing so, he adopted several compositional quirks common among the Renaissance madrigalists. The first setting, for example, has several moments of textpainting, such as the rising motive to represent the climbing of mountains and storms (“passo monti e procelle”), and the corresponding cascades to describe falling from Paradise (“ch’altri cadeo”). This movement also illustrates Hawley’s keen attention to his music’s architecture: musical repetitions connect love (“amor”) with the realm of pleasure (“del piacer … il regno”), and similarly correlate a lack of hope (“tal ch’i’ non spero più”) with grief (“questo m’accora”).

For the second movement, Hawley focuses attention on another common feature of madrigals: chromaticism. By carefully choosing pitches outside his home-key of D major, he moves to a different key for every line of text, through such unlikely keys as D-sharp major and G-sharp major. The pace of harmonic instability gains rapidity as the poet approaches the source of his love (“già vicino…”). Hawley returns to D major for concluding acclamations of the dearness of life (“la cara vita”), but, in a move that Monteverdi would have approved, shifts suddenly to B minor for the very end.

The third song returns to the sound-world of the Two Motets, composed twenty years earlier. The choir divides into twelve voices, arranged in double choir, aptly representing the lush harmony of angels (“angelica armonia”). Beautiful and wandering spirits (“gli spiriti vaghi e peregrini”) slowly meander around oscillations full of sweetness (“di dolcessa piena”). Here is a paean to lips resistant to be kissed. By the end of this movement, one wonders how those lips could resist such poetry, or such music.


I. Amor l’ali m’impenna

Amor l’ali m’impenna,
Love, whose wings take up my pen,
amor caro, amor dolce, amor felice,
precious love, sweet love, exultant love,
tal ch’i’ non spero più, né più mi lice.
that for which I no longer hope, nor am allowed to hope.
Passo monti e procelle,
I traverse mountains and storms,
passo il cielo e le stelle.
I traverse mountains and storms,
Del piacer quest’è il regno:
This is the realm of pleasure:
ah, mia fortuna non se l’abbia a sdegno!
ah, that my happiness were not the beginning of scorn!
Questo, questo m’accora,
This, this is what grieves me,
ch’altri cadeo dal paradiso ancora.
that one should thus be made to fall again from Paradise.

II. Fuggi, fuggi, dolor

Fuggi, fuggi, dolor, da questo petto
Flee, flee, sorrow, from this breast
or che vi torna la gioiosa speme;
and let joyous hope return;
or che promette al cor pace e diletto,
give promise of peace and delight to my heart,
tutti fuggite omai, tormenti e pene.
begone forever, all torment and pain.
Già vicino è ‘l mio sole: oh cieli amici!
Already my light is near: oh friendly heavens!
Già s’apressa il mio bene: oh dì felici!
Already my goodness unfolds: oh day of bliss!
Né, potendo tornar senza partita,
Not being able to return without having departed,
mi piace che partì la cara vita.
I should be pleased to have left this dear life.

III. Labbra vermiglie e belle

Labbra vermiglie e belle
Lips vermillion and gracious
che sete sì adorata e dolce via
which rest so adored and sweet amidst
d’angelica armonia;
angelic harmonies:
bianche perle e rubini,
such white pearls and rubies,
dove frange ed affrena
through which Love causes to break, then halt
Amor la voce di dolcezza piena
that voice full of sweetness
e gli spiriti vaghi e peregrini;
and that rare, lovely breath;
boca, suo bel tesoro e di natura,
O mouth, abundant treasure of Nature,
se nulla toglie a te chi più ne fura,
since you will remain undiminished by the taking,
né ti manca una gemma od una rosa
and will miss not a single one of your gems or roses
per mille baci altrui, perché ti spiace?
after even a thousand more kisses, why should you be sorry?
Deh! fa del furto pace,
Come! make peace with the theft,
e sarai quanto bella ancor pietosa.
and you will be as beautiful as you now feel you are to be pitied.

—Torquato Tasso (1544–1595)

Six Dickinson Settings (1987)

Composed for the New York vocal ensemble Talisman, the Six Dickinson Settings (1987) encompass the breadth of the great American poet’s output. While these six texts range from love-poems to social parody, they are united by a philosophical questioning of the nature of eternity. Just as Dickinson implies that all matters are transitory, Hawley only rarely gives the listener a stable harmonic underpinning. While his language is fundamentally tonal, Hawley concludes most of these settings with a pair of whole-tones rather than a full triad.

In the first song, Hawley lays out his concept of harmonic ambiguity but declaims the text clearly, thereby drawing attention to Dickinson’s verse recalling a doomed summer romance sanctified by religious imagery. The second song is a light-footed scherzo. Dickinson’s text parodies the value of education, being littered with common Latin quotations; references to writers such as Isaac Watts (“How doth the busy bee”), Peter Parley (author of educational texts for children), and Robert Burns (“Bonnie Doon”); and irreverent jibes at Christopher Columbus, frontiersman Daniel Boone, Newtonian gravity, the Garden of Eden, literary transcendentalism, and even the tragic Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution. The poem’s speaker must depart to serve in the legislature (as the poet’s father had done), bidding farewell to the Tuscarora, a native American tribe not far from Dickinson’s home in eastern Massachusetts.

The third movement begins with a rising motive that passes from basses directly to altos, skipping the tenors and thereby parting the choir “as if the Sea should part”. Beginning in F major, Hawley moves chromatically and smoothly to the distant key of Fsharp major at “But a presumption be”. A predominantly contrapuntal texture comes to an abrupt halt for the final line, the moral of the story, as we conclude again with wholetones. Hawley follows the parted sea with a running sixteenth-note figure depicting a bird in flight. He adorns the second stanza with new music, as the poet indicates that her robin will return with a new melody next year. The shortest song of the cycle follows, as Hawley embraces particularly expansive harmonies to represent “Light”. The final movement again returns to the sea: the tenors’ and basses’ off-kilter metrical pulse recall a sailor without his sea-legs. Above this rollicking seascape, the sopranos and altos intone a steady tune reminiscent of Bach chorale cantatas. These roles trade at mention of the “peaceful west”. As Dickinson finally comes to shore, Hawley ends the cycle in a gentle G major.

I. There came a Day at Summer’s full

There came a Day at Summer’s full,
Entirely for me —
I thought that such were for the Saints,
Where Resurrections1 — be —

The Sun, as common, went abroad,
The flowers, accustomed, blew,
As if no soul the solstice passed
That maketh all things new —

The time was scarce profaned, by speech —
The symbol of a word
Was needless, as at Sacrament,
The Wardrobe — of our Lord —

Each was to each The Sealed Church,
Permitted to commune this — time —
Lest we too awkward show
At Supper of the Lamb.

The Hours slid fast — as Hours will,
Clutched tight, by greedy hands —
So faces on two Decks, look back,
Bound to opposing lands —

And so when all the time had leaked,
Without external sound
Each bound the Other’s Crucifix —
We gave no other Bond —

Sufficient troth, that we shall rise —
Deposed — at length, the Grave —
To that new Marriage,
Justified — through Calvaries of Love —

II. A Valentine

“Sic transit gloria mundi,”
“How doth the busy bee,”
“Dum vivimus vivamus,”
I stay mine enemy! —

Oh “veni, vidi, vici!”
Oh caput cap-a-pie!
And oh “memento mori”
When I am far from thee!

Hurrah for Peter Parley!
Hurrah for Daniel Boone!
Three cheers, sir,
for the gentleman
Who first observed the moon!

Peter, put up the sunshine;
Pattie, arrange the stars;
Tell Luna, tea is waiting,
And call your brother Mars!

Put down the apple, Adam,
And come away with me,
So shalt thou have a pippin
From off my father’s tree!

I climb the “Hill of Science,”
I “view the landscape o’er;”
Such transcendental prospect,
I ne’er beheld before! —

Unto the Legislature
My country bids me go;
I’ll take my india rubbers,
In case the wind should blow!

During my education,
It was announced to me
That gravitation, stumbling
Fell from an apple tree!

The earth upon an axis
Was once supposed to turn,
By way of a gymnastic
In honor of the sun!

It was the brave Columbus,
A sailing o’er the tide,
Who notified the nations
Of where I would reside!

Mortality is fatal—
Gentility is fine
Rascality, heroic,
Insolvency, sublime

Our Fathers being weary,
Laid down on Bunker Hill;
And tho’ full many a morning,
Yet they are sleeping still,—

The trumpet, sir,
shall wake them,
In dreams I see them rise,
Each with a solemn musket
A marching to the skies!

A coward will remain, Sir,
Until the fight is done;
But an immortal hero
Will take his hat, and run!

Good bye Sir, I am going;
My country calleth me;
Allow me, Sir, at parting,
To wipe my weeping e’e.

In token of our friendship
Accept this “Bonnie Doon,”
And when the hand that plucked it
Hath passed beyond the moon,

The memory of my ashes
Will consolation be;
Then farewell Tuscarora,
And farewell, Sir, to thee!


III. As if the Sea should part

As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea —
And that — a further — and the Three
But a presumption be —

Of Periods of Seas —
Unvisited of Shores —
Themselves the Verge of Seas to be —
Eternity — is Those —

IV. I have a Bird in spring

I have a Bird in spring
Which for myself doth sing —
The spring decoys.
And as the summer nears —
And as the Rose appears,
Robin is gone.
Yet do I not repine
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown —
Learneth beyond the sea
Melody new for me
And will return.
Fast in safer hand
Held in a truer Land
Are mine —

And though they now depart,
Tell I my doubting heart
They’re thine.
In a serener Bright,
In a more golden light
I see
Each little doubt and fear,
Each little discord here
Removed.
Then will I not repine,
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown
Shall in distant tree
Bright melody for me
Return.


V. It’s like the Light

It’s like the Light —
A fashionless Delight —
It’s like the Bee —
A dateless — Melody —
It’s like the Woods —
Private — Like the Breeze —

Phraseless — yet it stirs
The proudest Trees —
It’s like the Morning —
Best — when it’s done —
And the Everlasting Clocks —
Chime — Noon!

VI. On this wondrous sea

On this wondrous sea —
Sailing silently —
Ho! Pilot! Ho!
Knowest thou the shore
Where no breakers roar —
Where the storm is o’er?

In the silent2 West
Many — the sails at rest —
Then anchors fast.
Thither I pilot thee —
Land! Ho! Eternity!
Ashore at last!

—Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

Editor’s Note: Hawley used an adapted, slightly modernized version of Dickinson’s verse. This includes the following two substantive changes from Dickinson’s originals:
1 revelations
2 peaceful

Not one sparrow is forgotten (Recessional) (1998)

The present celebration of William Hawley’s choral music ends as it began, with a
hymn arrangement written for the Dale Warland Singers. The tune first appeared in the
hymnal of the Shaker community at Canterbury, New Hampshire, in 1908. Hawley’s
arrangement, originally titled Recessional, bears an inscription from Luke 12:6—“Not one
of them is forgotten before God.” Here is a perfectly crafted miniature, illustrating
Hawley’s always fine pacing of rhythmic motion, spacing of eight-part chords, dynamics
linked to the text, and gorgeous, sonorous harmonies.


Not one sparrow is forgotten,
E’en the raven God will feed:
And the lily of the valley
From His bounty hath its need.
Then shall I not trust Thee, Father,
In Thy mercy have a share?
And through faith and prayer, my Mother,
Merit Thy protecting care?

—from the hymnal of the Canterbury Shakers, 1908

Program notes by Gary D. Cannon
Translations by William Hawley


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