Masterworks 4 Eric Whitacre b. 1970

Eric Whitacre (b. 1970)
Deep Field

Eric Whitacre composed Deep Field in 2015, inspired by the 342 images of deep space taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of a tiny area in the constellation Ursa Major in December 1995. These images, known as the Hubble Deep Field, provided novel information that revolutionized the study of the early universe.

The twenty-minute work opens in hushed atmosphere with a two-note descending motive for the strings, creating an atmosphere of mystery and expectation. Whitacre brings in the instruments gradually, perhaps as a musical metaphor for the emerging cosmic revelations from the telescope. Beginning within a completely tonal context, he also introduces dissonance and orchestral textures in the same subtle manner. The tempo remains constant throughout. The simple motive that has opened Deep Field also develops gradually into an actual theme, which dominates the latter part of the work and provides the material for the fortissimo climax. Late in the work, Whitacre brings in a wordless female chorus, a reference to the final moments of “Uranus” in Holst’s The Planets.

A native of Reno, Nevada, composer and conductor Eric Whitacre studied at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and Juilliard. He states that singing in Mozart’s Requiem as a student, changed his life, inspiring him to become a professional composer full time. He is best known for his choral works, many of them to poems by noted poets. His Virtual Choir project combines individual voices from around the world into an on line choir. He is currently Artist-in-Residence with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.


Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

As slovenly as Beethoven was in his personal life, he stored and maintained his musical ideas in sketchbooks, continually jotting down ideas that might come in handy later on. Perusing these sketchbooks today, we are provided with an insight into both his creative process and method of working. While Beethoven did not have the quick and ready inspiration of a Schubert or a Mendelssohn, two characteristics contributed to his greatness: he had the tenacity to work and rework his material many times, often over many years; and he knew when he got it right.

Ideas about the Ninth Symphony first appeared in Beethoven’s sketchbook in 1817-18, initially as material for a pair of symphonies, one of which was to have a choral finale with text from Greek mythology. He did not begin sustained work on the symphony until 1822, finally finishing it in February 1824.

During this period, Beethoven was embroiled in turmoil in his personal life. When his brother Johann, who had married a woman against the composer’s advice, became ill, his wife Therese shamelessly carried on with her lover. Beethoven’s on-again-off-again friendship with Anton Schindler, who eventually became his private secretary and first biographer, was currently off. It should be noted, however, that for all Beethoven’s irascibility and mood swings, he was often a shrewd judge of character and he did not trust Schindler, who in the end made off with the composer’s sketchbooks and conversation books, selling some and forging others.

At the time, Beethoven was both clearly over his head in commitments and also beset by debts. He was putting the finishing touches for publication of the Missa Solemnis while trying to manipulate a secret bidding war for it among three publishers, each of whom were expecting the work. He used a bait-and-switch maneuver involving a Mass in D (that was never written), as an excuse to each publisher for not delivering the Missa Solemnis. He had also undertaken several other commissions, some of which remained incomplete or never started.

One unfulfilled commission spurred the completion of the Ninth Symphony. Always an admirer of the British, Beethoven had sent inquiries to the Philharmonic Society of London and had received a positive reply with the promise of £50 for a new symphony. Beethoven would have liked to visit London, perhaps to experience the accolades showered on his former mentor, Franz Joseph Haydn, but the visit never materialized, and the commission never fulfilled. But it was an incentive to finish the Symphony. The score was finished in February 1824, and Beethoven, disgusted with the musical taste of the Viennese, planned to premiere the work in Berlin. But it had been ten years since he gave a public concert of his work, and his friends and admirers signed a petition begging him not to disappoint his public any longer. Although he eventually gave in, it took three months of haggling with the Imperial “Pooh-Bahs” and reluctant singers to finally schedule the concert for May 7 at the Kärntnertor Theater. Artistically the Symphony was a wild success but – because of the huge forces required and the large copying costs – a financial near-disaster.

Starting from the mysterious descending open fifths of the first movement, the symphony must have amazed its first hearers. Example 1 The powerful first theme based on the descending fifth gradually emerges and develops in classical sonata form. Example 2 The contrasting second theme, like many of the composer's themes, is made up of several distinct motives that he later develops separately. Example 3 A long dramatic coda with an ominous ostinato in the cellos and basses concludes the movement, setting up musical tension that will not be released until the choral finale. Example 4

The second movement, molto vivace, is a massive scherzo that opens with hammer-blow descending octaves, an oblique reference to the descending fifths in the first movement. Example 5 This motive is immediately picked up by the violins as the first bar of the principal theme, which is introduced as a fugue. Example 6 The driving ostinato rhythmic motif underlies the scherzo section and the timpani periodically bang out the signature octaves and motivic rhythm. A playful trio brings respite, Example 7 but the insistent scherzo returns with a short coda and a final hint at the trio.

The slow third movement is a free variation form comprised of the simultaneous transformation of two themes; Example 8 Example 9 its gentle intensity is in marked contrast to the powerful, driving music that preceded and will follow it. If anyone ever doubted that Beethoven was a romantic, this movement will dispel the doubt, especially with the heartfelt second theme.

The long introduction to the Finale begins with a surprise, a recitative for the cellos and basses that quotes the themes from the first three movements and a snatch of the main theme in between the phrases of the recitative. Example 10 But these serve merely as “false starts.” For a long time Beethoven had been unsure about the Finale; material for a purely instrumental one ended up in 1825 as part of the string quartet Op.132. The gestation of the theme for the choral finale was a long one: in its first manifestation it appeared in a song, “Gegenliebe” (WoO 118) from 1794 and, in a later form, as a main theme of the Choral Fantasia, Op.80, of 1808, Example 11 the closest to the theme Beethoven ultimately settled on. Example 12

It was not until November 1823, only three months before he finished the symphony, that Beethoven decided to use Friedrich Schiller’s “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy). He had been toying with the idea of setting the Ode since 1793, when he considered it for a song. Again, in 1812, he incorporated part of it into a choral overture, a project he abandoned. Now, he took the opportunity to combine his desire and set the poem into the new choral symphony.

The long introduction to the Finale begins with a surprise, a recitative for the cellos and basses that, between recitative passages, recaps in order the first themes from the three preceding movements and anticipates a snatch of the chorale theme. But these recurrences serve as deliberate “false starts.”

After the introduction by the full orchestra, Beethoven uses his own words as a baritone recitative, initially played by the lower strings at the beginning of the movement, to introduce Schiller’s poem. As poems go it is not much, and Schiller himself did not care for it. Beethoven's music, coupled with judicious rearrangement and strategic deletions in the text, transformed it into a cultural icon. Musically, the movement is a set of variations, one for each stanza of the poem. Among the historically notable variations is the Turkish march in imitation of the Jannissary bands of Ottoman soldiers, who were a constant threat to the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Example 13 However constrained in form the variations may have been, Beethoven introduces a new theme, Example 14 which the composer combines with the main melody into a double fugue. Example 15 At the climax of the movement, Beethoven abandons the variations for a lengthy dramatic coda in which the soloists and chorus restate the text of the poem and freely develop the musical material. Beethoven handles the coda as an operatic finale, recalling the heady celebration that concluded his opera Fidelio in 1806.

TEXT (adapted from Schiller)

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern Laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
Und freudenvollere

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!

Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.

Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Küß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder - über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen

Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Küß der ganzen Welt!

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen

Tochter aus Elysium,
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Küß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Küß der ganzen Welt!

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken

O friends, not these sounds!
Rather let us strike up more pleasant
And more joyful ones.

Joy, thou glorious spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We approach fire-drunk,
Heavenly One, your shrine.

Your magic reunites
That which custom strictly parts;
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing alights.

Whoever succeeds in the great attempt
To be a friend of a friend,
Whoever has won a loving woman,
Let him add his jubilation!

Yes, whoever calls even one soul
His own on the earth's globe!
And who never has, let him steal,
Weeping, away from this group.

All creatures drink joy
At nature’s breast;
All the good, all the evil
Follow in her roses' trail.

Kisses gave she us, and wine,
A friend, faithful unto death;
Even the worm was granted pleasure,
And the cherub stands before God.

Glad, as his suns fly
Through the Heavens' glorious plan,
Run, brothers, your course,
Joyous, like a hero to victory.

Joy, thou glorious spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We approach fire-drunk,
Heavenly One, your shrine.

Your magic reunites
That which custom strictly parts;
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing alights.

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.

Do you bow down, you millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the star-canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.

Be embraced, ye millions!
This kiss for the whole world!

Joy, thou glorious spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We approach fire-drunk,
Heavenly One, your shrine.

Do you bow down, you millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the star-canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.

Daughter of Elysium,
Your magic reunites
That which custom strictly parts;
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing alights.

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods


Program notes copyright by:
Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn
Wordpros@mindspring.com
www.wordprosmusic.com