Philip Glass is considered one of the most influential composers of the late twentieth century. In November he will be awarded the Eleventh Glenn Gould Prize by the Glenn Gould Foundation and the National Arts Centre. Although he has often been described as a “minimalist,” he considers himself a “classicist.”
In 1988 Glass visited the construction site of the five-mile-wide Itaipú Dam on the Paraná River, which forms the border between Brazil and Paraguay. He marvelled at the ingenuity of those who were transforming nature and likened it to the building of the Egyptian pyramids. He determined to write a piece based on the construction as the final section of his “portraits of nature” trilogy and began searching for a text to set. He found the perfect libretto in a creation story of the local Guaraní Indians, for whom the Paraná River is “the place where music was born.” In their language, itaipú means “the sounding stone.” Itaipú was commissioned by an anonymous donor for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and was debuted on November 2, 1989. Itaipú features South American instrumentation, especially in the percussion, and the Master Chorale will sing it in the Guaraní language.
Schicksalslied (“Song of Destiny”), by Johannes Brahms, was begun in the summer of 1868 but not completed until 1871. In his biography of Brahms, Josef Sittard wrote, “Had Brahms never written anything but this one work, it would alone have sufficed to rank him with the best masters.”
While on an excursion with friends to visit the North Sea naval base in Wilhelmshaven in the summer of 1868, Brahms came across the poems of Friedrich Hölderlin and became “profoundly stirred” by “Hyperion’s Song of Destiny.” Later, the sightseeing group noticed Brahms sitting a distance away on the beach, writing. He was scribbling down the first sketches of Schicksalslied, but he struggled over the course of the next three years to arrive at a satisfactory manner in which to conclude his controversial setting of this text, Brahms ends the piece by revisiting that celestial vision in a beautiful orchestral coda, this time in C major, to provide a measure of solace—and resolved the issue enough to write one of the Romantic Era’s most celebrated compositions.
In 1826 a 17-year-old Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy wrote a concert overture (Op. 21) titled “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Sixteen years later, Frederick William IV of Prussia was so impressed by Mendelssohn’s music for a production of Sophocles’ Antigone that he commissioned Mendelssohn to provide music for several other plays, including Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mendelssohn wrote a set of incidental music (Op. 61) for treble voices and orchestra, brilliantly incorporating the original Op. 21 as the first piece of the new work. One of the single most popular pieces written by Mendelssohn, “The Wedding March,” is contained within this work and was first used by Princess Victoria in her 1858 marriage to Prince William of Prussia. Although this opus has been heard so often that it has lost its charm and novelty, you will discover it anew with the San Luis Obispo Master Chorale Orchestra’s rendition as envisioned by Artistic Director and Conductor Thomas Davies.