The musical journey begins in the distant reaches of our solar system. Many listeners will correctly surmise that Pluto: The Last Planet was inspired by Gustav Holst's The Planets. When Boston Brass and Robin Dinda (see Nocturne, below) commissioned the work in 1992, they did so with two major goals: to make a worthy contribution to the organ-and-brass literature, to produce a work composed in the style of a heroic legend. Bruce Edward Miller, who was trained for film scoring and now works extensively in that field, has met both goals most successfully in Pluto.
Our next stop, closer to home, is in late-sixteenth-century Venice. Giovanni Gabrieli is especially well-known for his Canzoni, rich musical conversations among two or more voices or groups of voices. Canzona Septimi Toni (Canzona on the Seventh Tone) is an exploration of the seventh (mixolydian) mode, or scale. The combination of the mixolydian scale and reverberant acoustics create a special "other-worldly" effect.
The next three works are associated with death and passage into another world. Often sung at funerals, Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee is an arrangement based on Brahms' opus 30, Geistliche Lied (Sacred Song), for four-part mixed chorus with organ or piano accompaniment. The piece was composed in the mid-1850s, evidently as a counterpoint exercise for Brahms' friend, violinist Joseph Joachim. Musically, the piece is notable for its use of the double canon below at the ninth, in which the soprano and tenor voices on the one hand, and alto and bass on the other, engage in a musical dialogue. The text ("Let nothing afflict thee with grief. Be calm, as God ordains, and so shall my will be satisfied.") is by Paul Flemming (1609-1640), a widely admired lyric poet of the German baroque.
Continuing the theme of death and other worlds is Dupré's Poème Heroïque, a commemoration both of the restoration of the Cathedral in Verdun in 1935, and the approximately one million soldiers killed in the First World War battle of Verdun. The piece is essentially an elegy, but the listener will hear themes both martial and heroic.
Sir Patrick Spens is the title of a medieval Scottish ballad; Sir Patrick is a renowned sailor whose reputation proves to be his undoing when he accepts the challenge of sailing into a winter storm that ultimately sinks his ship. This piece is an arrangement of a setting by Robert Pearsall.
Eugene Gigout held the post of organist for most of his career at the church of St. Augustin; he was also professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory. He counted among his friends Fauré and Saint-Saëns; the latter was also Gigout's teacher. Grand Choer Dialogué (Grand Chorus in Dialogue) was originally scored to exploit separate divisions of a solo organ. The arrangement heard here makes use of the two "choirs" of brass quintet and organ; in the recapitulation, we are treated to the delightful addition of the Flentrop's own reed stops.
The world of heaven was a common subject of Lutheran chorales and Bach's cantatas. "Wir Müssen durch viel Trübsal" (BWV 146) was probably composed in 1726. My Spirit Be Joyful is a duet, originally for tenor and bass. While the cantata as a whole explores both joy and grief, Bach's setting clearly evokes the joy of heaven in this movement: "Ah, how I will glory in song and rejoicing, / when all of these earthly afflictions are past. / The sun of my soul will in splendor be shining, / the blessings of Heaven will banish repining, / all earthly woe will end at last."
Boston Brass and Robin Dinda have long been affiliated through the First Congregational Church of Nashua, N.H., where Dinda served as Organist and Choirmaster. Gabrieli's Canzona Septimi Toni, heard earlier, inspired Dinda to compose Septimi Tempi (Seventh Tempo, or speed) for brass and organ. That piece, in turn, inspired Nocturne, composed in 1996 specifically for Boston Brass. As the title suggests, Nocturne is an exploration of a separate world within our own; it is a quietly flowing, contemplative interweaving of the various voices.
Richard Strauss is known for monumental orchestral works; if such writing is to be arranged for a group of only six musicians, then brass and organ are an agreeable choice of instrumentation. Solemn Entry was originally scored for brass band with tympani, but Strauss liked the piece well enough to score it for symphony orchestra and organ. The arrangement heard here is based on the original brass arrangement and a score reduction for organ by Max Reger. The title refers to the ceremonial entry of candidates into the order of St. John, originally dedicated to the protection of pilgrims to the Holy Land during the Crusades.
George Frederic Handel is known today largely for his oratorios (especially Messiah) and his instrumental works. However, he also made a career-long exploration of opera, ranging from playing violin in the Hamburg opera as a teenager, to composing many operas of his own. Xerxes, composed in 1738, treats the story of the mythical king of Persia. This piece was not actually a setting of text, but rather a simple instrumental interlude designed to divert attention from scene changes on stage.
André Campra was a leading figure in French theatre and sacred music in the eighteenth century. The two aspects of his career did not always peacefully coexist, as cleverly illustrated in this punning poem by the composer: Quand notre Archevêque saura / L'Auteur du nouvel opera / De sa Cathédrale Campra / Décampera (When our Archbishop would know / the author of the new opera / from his cathedral Campera / decamps). Campra did just that, leaving his post at Notre Dame in 1700 to work solely at the Paris Opera. The Rigaudon heard here, taken from the opera Idomeneo of 1712, is a stately dance well suited to the slow ceremonial processionals of the day.
Our exploration concludes with a tribute to Seattle and a musically convincing argument for the pipe organ's inclusion in the jazz band! Here's That Rainy Day was composed for the 1953 musical Carnival in Flanders. Jimmy Van Heusen (who was born Edward Chester Babcock and later renamed himself after the shirt company) collaborated famously with lyricist Johnny Burke on dozens of musical theatre and film projects. Hornist J.D. Shaw's arrangement opens with a statement not unlike the concert or sacred character of much of the rest of the recording; but the harmony shifts subtly: a foreshadowing, perhaps? The entrance of harmon-muted trumpet confirms our awakened suspicions, and indeed our journey ends with a rich stroll through a delightful, lush musical landscape.
- Notes by Timothy Helming and Ed Clough