Friday, December 4, 2009

The Moravian Heritage and CONCORA's "Christmas in the Americas"

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Yesterday, I posted the introduction to my program notes for CONCORA’s upcoming concert, “Christmas in the Americas.” The concert takes place on Sunday, December 13, at 4:00 p.m., at the historic Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford. (Details and ticket information are at the end of this post.)

The program annotations I provide for the printed program book are necessarily short, due to space constraints. When I have time, I like to prepare an expanded “program essay” for the singers that includes a lot of the information that I had to edit out for the short printed notes. Today I'm finishing up that longer essay. Here’s a“long note” for our opening selection, the lively Hosanna by Christian Gregor. We’ll sing it antiphonally from the back of the sanctuary before processing to the front for the remainder of the first half of the program.

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Our journey across the Americas starts in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where evangelical missionaries from the Moravian church established their first permanent settlement in North America in 1741. The Moravian Church was founded in 1457 by followers of Jan Hus (1369-1415), a Czech priest and reformer; like Martin Luther, Hus promoted worship of “piety and joy” to be conducted in the vernacular and with enthusiastic congregational participation. The Moravians brought from Europe a rich musical heritage which they have sustained and developed in their still-vibrant communities, where music is central to worship and everyday life. The practical music of the Moravians, created primarily for use by amateurs, is marked by excellent craftsmanship, musicality, and absence of virtuosic display. The Moravians’ musical legacy has had a profound effect on music in America, not only in the practice of excellent musicianship, but in the creation of a large body of good music and the early importation and performance of the best music from European composers. The American Moravian community, which now numbers about 58,000, has preserved and enriched its remarkable musical heritage and continues to celebrate music as a an essential element of daily life and tradition.

Among the best-known Moravian composers is Christian Gregor (1723-1801), acknowledged as the leading musician of the Renewed German Moravian church. Born in Dirsdorf, Silesia (now Przerzeczyn Zdrój, Poland), Gregor was orphaned as a child and raised by a Pietist noble who encouraged his education. Gregor joined the Moravian church in 1742 as a musician, but showing talent in many other areas of ecclesiastical management (spiritual leadership, teaching, financial management), he was ordained to the ministry in 1756 and consecrated bishop in 1789. He compiled and edited his church’s hymnal in 1778, rewriting or resetting some 750 of the 1750 hymns therein; he also composed some 87 chorales for the Moravian Choral-Buch of 1784. Many of his hymns and chorale tunes still appear in modern Moravian hymnals. Gregor developed important concepts for music in worship, many of which are considered ideal for today’s churches, as well: An organist must “not allow his skill to impede worship, but must sense the mood both of the hymn and the congregation and play accordingly, leading but not dominating the singing.” Gregor visited American congregations in 1771-1772, where he likely shared his ideas and his Hosanna, composed in 1765 for use on Palm Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent. In Gregor’s time, the men and women of the congregation, or the girls and boys, would have sung this music antiphonally; we approximate that configuration with two antiphonal choirs of mixed voices. (It was, and is, sometimes performed with antiphonal trombone choirs.)

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Over the next several days, I’ll continue to share snippets of the information I’ve gathered about some of the selections we’ll perform on "Christmas in the Americas." I do hope you can be in the audience to hear this remarkable program. You may view the entire repertoire list at the end of my first post about this concert, here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/12/rich-choral-tapestry-concora-presents.html

Call today to reserve your seats!

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CONCORA
“Christmas in the Americas”
Richard Coffey, conductor
Dan Campolieta (piano, organ, and percussion) and Christen Hernandez (percussion)
Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
Snow Date: Monday, December 14, 7:30 p.m.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Avenue, Hartford
Tickets:
http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500
Preferred seating: $45; General admission: $25; Students: $10.
2-for-1 general seating tickets are available to those with a Let*s Go Arts!” card from the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

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