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Songs of the Spirit:

Poetry by William Blake, Music by Nancy Wertsch

One of our soprano choristers, Padma Rangarajan, is a Romanticist who studied Blake. She was kind enough to provide the following discussion of William Blake and the four poems which are the text for Songs of the Spirit. The illustrations accompanying the text below were created by Blake as illustrations for the books of poetry mentioned below that he himself published.

Six Chansons

Music by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), poems by Ranier Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Ranier Maria Rilke

Ranier Maria Rilke

 Although Rilke wrote primarily in German, the poems in Six Chansons – “The Doe”, “A Swan”, “Since All is Passing”, “Springtime”, “In Winter”, and “Orchard”, were written in French, in a beautiful lyrical style.  Hindemith’s settings echo the lyricism of the poetry.  They are wonderful to sing – each one is different in character and mood. You can easily see the swan gliding majestically over a glassy pond, and the doe bounding gracefully through the forest. We tend to think of Hindemith in terms of his later instrumental music, but these earlier a cappella pieces are anything but atonal.

I have not been able to discover how Hindemith became aware of the poems, part of a larger set of over 400 poems written by Rilke in French between his emigration to Switzerland in 1923 and his death from leukemia in 1926.  Hindemith also wrote the music in Switzerland after he and his wife escaped from Germany in 1938, before they emigrated to the US in 1940.

Invitation to a Voyage

A young Charles Baudelaire

A young Charles Baudelaire

I’m going to start with my favorite work, Invitation to a Voyage, by the poet Charles Baudelaire, set to music by Sanford Dole.

The text Sanford used was translated from the original French by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  We sang this piece several years ago, and we were completely captivated.  The music and the words work together to create a wonderful atmosphere, painting vivid images of the scenes Baudelaire describes.

A contemporary of the Impressionist painters, Baudelaire was part of the artistic and literary scene of that era. His innovative, highly original poetry was a departure from earlier French romantic poets, and influenced many of the younger poets in his circle.

Last night was the final rehearsal with piano – next week orchestra and soloists!

We ran the show, with special emphasis on Vesperae Solennes de Confessore. What an amazing piece! Not a work I have sung before, it has been wonderful to listen to (over and over and over) and very rewarding to sing. Compared to the other two, it feels as if it has more weight. No, it’s not heavy by any means, it just has more dimensions. More operatic would be a good description. We all can’t wait to sing with the orchestra and soloists!

I’m not going into more detail because Sanford’s Program Notes are posted here. They are a wealth of information on Mozart, and on each piece. Lots of information on how each is structured and special things to listen for. Very much worth reading!

Again . . . tickets available online or at the door of each performance. It’s going to be a spectacular performance!

Our workshop was great! It was very exciting to have time to go through all three pieces and really get a feel for how they work. They are so gorgeous that I found myself thinking “I get to sing these seven more times! Yeah! Five of them with orchestra and soloists!” And last night’s rehearsal was equally good.

I did get curious about when the works we’re singing were written. In fact, all three works were written in the course of a year to 18 months in 1779 to 1780 while Mozart was extremely unhappily employed in Salzburg. However I can’t find any traces of his unhappy relationship with his employer in the three works we are singing. And the circumstances did not appear to affect his musical output which included symphonies, sonatas, marches, opera fragments and other works for a range of instruments, including his Serenade in D, nicknamed “Posthorn” because it does indeed feature a posthorn.

The Coronation Mass does have a publication date – March 23, 1779 – appearing between various sonatas and a couple of symphonies. It feels more reflective to me than the Regina Coeli – well, it’s a Mass, after all. I love the way different texts are handed off between the chorus and the soloists, with the orchestra keeping everything neatly connected with little energetic two-measure transitions. My favorite movement is the Agnus Dei, where the chorus gets to reprise the gorgeous soprano solo.

To be continued . . .

Regina Coeli


So much has been written about Mozart by Mozart scholars or classical music scholars or music critics, that everyone can find reams of information with a few clicks. So I’m not going to even attempt a scholarly discussion here. But I can talk about what it’s like to learn and sing this music, and how much the chorus is enjoying the experience. It’s fantastic! I can’t wait to get to rehearsal every week.