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SACD403   Kirke Mechem: Seven Joys of Christmas & Beyond

 

SACD403

Kirke Mechem: Seven Joys of Christmas & Beyond

Stanford University Chamber Chorale & Orchestra
Stephen M. Sano, conductor
Laura Dahl, pianist

  • Notes by the composer
  • Complete texts
  • 61'33" total playing time

SACD403     $15.95

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CONTENTS

         SEVEN JOYS OF CHRISTMAS, Opus 25 - A Sequence of Carols Arranged for Mixed Chorus & Orchestra (1964)
1.     The Joy of Love: This is the truth (Soloist: Meredith Kendall)
2.     The Joy of  Bells: Ding, Dong! Merrily on high
3.     The Joy of Mary: Joseph dearest, Joseph mine
4.     The Joy of Children: Patapan
5.     The Joy of the New Year: New year song
6.     The Joy of Dance: Fum, fum, fum!
7.     The Joy of Song: God bless the master of this house

8.     LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENCE, Opus 2, No. 2  Variations for Mixed Chorus a cappella (1951)

9.     CHRISTMAS THE MORN, Opus 63, No. 2 for Mixed Chorus a cappella (1996)

10.    CHRISTMAS PAST, Opus 52, No.1b for Mixed Chorus & Piano (1987)

11.    CHRISTMAS PRESENT, Opus 52, No. 2b for Mixed Chorus & Piano (1987)

         TWO CHRISTMAS BALLADS, Opus 35 for Mixed Chorus & Piano (1969)
12.    1. Christmas Carol, Opus 35, No. 1
13.    2. The Ballad of Befana - An Epiphany Legend

14.    MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD, Opus 2, No. 1 for Mixed Chorus a cappella (1951)

         THREE MOTETS, Opus 57 for Mixed Chorus a cappella (1994)
15.    1. Gloria
16.    2. Alleluia, Amen
17.    3. Cantate Domino

18.    LET US BREAK BREAD TOGETHER, Opus 60, No. 2 Variations for Mixed Chorus & Piano (1995)                           


Recorded for surround sound, January 5, 6, 7 and April 23, 2005
Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford University, California
Recording Engineer: Edward J. Kelly
Producer: Robert Schuneman

 

The Composer:

Kirke Mechem was born and raised in Kansas and educated at Stanford and Harvard universities. He is the composer of more than 250 published works in almost every form. He conducted and taught at Stanford and was for several years composer-in-residence at the Univversity of San Francisco. He lived in Vienna for three years where he came to the attention of Josef Krips, who later championed Mechem's symphonies as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. He was guest of honor at the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and was invited back for an all-Mechem symphonic concert by the USSR Radio-Television Orchestra in 1991. The concert was recorded by Melodíya and released on the Russian Disc label.

ASCAP recently registered performances of Mechem's music in forty-two countries. His three-act opera, Tartuffe, has had nearly three hundred performances in six countries. Songs of the Slave, a suite for bass-baritone, soprano, chorus and orchestra from his opera, John Brown, has produced standing ovations in the more than forty cities where it has been performed. Mechem's talents have been acknowledged through numerous honors, including retrospectives, grants, commissions and special anniversary performances. They have come from, among many others, the United Nations, the National Gallery, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Choral Directors Association, the Music Educators National Conference and the National Opera Association (Lifetime Achievement Award).

Vocal music is at the heart of Mechem's work. He is often called the "dean of American choral composers." Eight doctoral dissertations have been written on various aspects of his choral music. The Choral Journal has written that "his musical settings combine high artistic integrity with the ability to communicate directly with performers and audience."

His comic opera, The Newport Rivals, an American update of Sheridan's classic play, The Rivals, will be premiered in 2007 by Lyric Opera of San Diego followed by performances by a consortium of other companies. The premiere of John Brown, a large-scale opera about the American abolitionist, will celebrate Lyric Opera Kansas City's 50th anniversary and the opening of its new opera house. Mechem is currently (2005) composing an opera based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.


A note from the conductor:

Stanford University has always had a strong choral tradition, and one of the shining stars in the constellation of choral luminaries associated with the university is Kirke Mechem, BA 1951. I was honored when Kirke approached me about the possibility of producing a recording of his Christmas works. As no commercial recording of all his Christmas literature had ever been recorded, and as Stanford was Kirke's alma mater, I thought that this would be a natural project - and a great opportunity to connect another generation of Stanford students with one of the most renowned of American choral composers. But, as all conductors know, terrific repertoire, talented and dedicated choristers, and a stunning recording venue alone do not make a recording happen. It was at just the right time that Bob Schuneman, president of ECS Publishing Corporation and ARSIS Audio, and Stanford AM 1958, learned of this project. Not only did he express his enthusiasm, he committed the resources of his companies to see the project through to its completion. We at Stanford are indeed indebted to these two gentlemen. They have contributed not only to the perpetuation of this wonderful music, they have made a tangible and memorable impact on the choral education of our students.

--Stephen M. Sano


-and from the producer:

What record producer would not enthusiatically jump at the opportunity to record music from the pen of a long-time, valued friend, sung by one of the country's premier collegiate ensembles, conducted by a warm and exciting musician and teacher in the sumptuous and matchless (indeed, stunning) acoustic of Stanford University's beautiful Memorial Church? Throughout a long career as performing musician, music publisher, and now record producer, Stanford and its Memorial Church have always remained one of my favorite places. There is hardly an acoustic anywhere like it, and it is perfect for recording choral and organ music, particularly in surround sound. And so, doing this particular recording in both CD format as well as in 5-channel surround sound in Sony/Philips' "Direct Stream Digital" format (known as Super-Audio CD) has been for me a project of pure deight.

--Robert Schuneman

 

Texts and Notes by the Composer

The original SSA a cappella version of Seven Joys of Christmas was composed in 1964 for singers that I conducted at San Francisco College for Women (now part of the University of San Francisco). The keyboard accompaniment and a version for SATB were added before publication in 1966. The version for small chamber orchestra was written at Roger Wagner's request, and the accompaniment for solo harp in 1986. The vocal parts are the same in all versions.

This Sequence of Carols is built upon traditional melodies from many countries, chosen to express the seven joys of the season: the joy of love, of bells, of Mary, of children, of the new year, of dance, and of song. It is dedicated to my teacher, Randall Thompson. The final piece is a "quodlibet," an old musical term for a piece that uses many different tunes together - not one after another, like a medley - but in counterpoint, against each other. Some of the carols were heard in the preceding numbers, but several others appear as well, sometimes four different turns at once.

I. The Joy of Love
1. This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love,
Therefore don't turn me from your door ,
But hearken all both rich and poor.
3. And we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That He would redeem us by His Son
       
2. The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I'll tell:
Woman was made man to dwell.
4. And at that season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear;
He here did live and preach
And many thousands He did teach
       
5. Thus He is love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved;
And if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what He did say.
 
-Traditional English words and melody

 

II. The Joy of Bells

1. Din don! merrily on high
In heav'n the bells are ringing;
Din don! verily the sky
Is riv'n with angel singing.
   Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!
2. E'en so here below, below,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
And io, io, io,
By priest and people sungen.
   Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!
       
3. Pray you dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers,
May you beautifully rime
Your evertime song, ye singers;
   Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!
   
 
-French melody (from Thoinot Arbeau's "Orchésographic," 1589); words by G. R. Woodward

 

III. The Joy of Mary

1. Joseph dearest, Joseph mine,
Help me cradle the Child divine;
God rewarded thee and all that's thine
In Paradise,
So prays the Mother Mary.
    Refrain:
He came on Christmas day in Bethlehem
Christus natus hodie in Bethlehem;
Lo, He comes to love and save and free us!
2. Mary dearest, Mary mild,
I shall gladly help rock thy Child;
God will surely reward us then
In Paradise.
So prays the Mother Mary.
    Refrain:
He came on Christmas day in Bethlehem
Christus natus hodie in Bethlehem;
Lo, He comes to love and save and free us!
       
3.

Now is born Emmanuel,
Prophesied by Ezekiel,
Promised Mary by Gabriel,
Rejoise and sing
Alleluia, Maria.
    Refrain:
He came on Christmas day in Bethlehem
Christus natus hodie in Bethlehem;
Lo, He comes to love and save and free us!

   
 
-Traditional German melody and text, adapted KM

 

IV. The Joy of Children

 
1. Willie, take yor little drum,
With your whistle, Robin, come!
When we hear the fife and drum,
Turulurelu, patapatapan,
When we hear the fife and frum,
Christmas should be frolicsome.
-Bernard de la Monnoye (1641-1728),
translated Percy Dearmer (1867-1936)

 

V. The Joy of the New Year
  When night's shadows fly
New Year's dawn floods all the sky;
And joyful voices sound,
Branches of the fragrant pine
Hang everywhere around.
  Leaves so dainty fine
Freshly gathered dewy shine,
And glitter in the light.
From Kadusa's lofty pinetree
Waving on the height.
 
-Traditional words set to traditional Japanese melody

 

VI. The Joy of the Dance

On December twenty-fifth, sing fun, fum fum!
On December twenty-fifth, sing fun, fum fum!
He is born of God's pure love, The Son of God;
He is born of Virgin Mary
In this night so cold and dreary. Fum, fum, fum!

Birds who live in every forest, fum, fum, fum!
Birds who live in every forest, fum, fum, fum!
You must leave your fledglings on the bough,
For to make a downy nest,
So the newborn Babe may rest. Fum, fum, fum!

All the brilliant stars in heaven, fum, fum, fum!
All the little stars in heaven, fum, fum, fum!
Looking down see Jesus crying,
Send away the darkness lightly,
Shine your light upon us brightly. Fum, fum, fum!

 

VII. The Joy of Song

God bless the master of his house,
And all that are therein-a,
And to begin this Christmastide
With mirth now let us sing-a!
Then let us all most merry be,
And sing with cherrful voice-a,
For we have good occasion now
This time for to rejoice-a.
  The Saviour of all people
Upon this time was born-a,
Who did from death deliver us,
When we were left forlorn-a.
  The Saviour of all people
Upon this time was born-a,
Who did from death deliver us,
When we were left forlorn-a.
(Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o'er the plains.
  Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing, Let us sing!)
 
-Traditional English words and melody

 

Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence was written in 1951 as an assignment for Randall Thompson's choral composition class at Harvard. It consists of choral variations on an ancient French melody. I tried to build contrapuntal complexity with each successive variation.

1. Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
2. King of Kings yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of Lords in human vesture,
In the Body and the Blood.
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavn'ly food.
       
3. Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of Light descendeth,
That the pow'rs of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
Alleluia, Lord most High.
   
 
-17th C. French melody, words from Liturgy of St. James, trans Gerard Moultrie

 

Christmas the Morn

Christmas the Morn was composed in 1996 for the 60th reunion of the Madrigal Singers of my alma mater, Topeka High School, Steve Eubank, Director. A version for treble voices was commissioned the following year for the 50th anniversary of the Phoenix Boys Choir, Dr. Harvey K. Smith, Artistic Director. The poem, "Now Every Child," is by Eleanor Farjeon, who wrote many prize-winning children's books and poems in England. The poem's strophic form and simple but beautiful imagery seemed to me perfectly suited for a new Christmas piece.

1. Now every Child that dwells on earth,
   Stand up, stand up and sing!
The passing night has given birth
   Unto the Children's King.
Refrain:
Sing sweet as the flute,
Sing clear as the horn,
Sing joy of the Stars
Come Christmas the morn!
Little Christ Jesus
Our Brother is born.
3. Now every Beast that crops in field,
   Breathe sweetly and adore!
The night has brought the richest yield
   That ever harvest bore.
Refrain:
Sing sweet as the flute,
Sing clear as the horn,
Sing joy of the Stars
Come Christmas the morn!
Little Christ Jesus
Our Brother is born.
       
2. Now ever Star that dwells in sky,
   Look down with shining eyes!
That night has dropped in passing by
   A Star from Paradise.
Refrain:
Sing sweet as the flute,
Sing clear as the horn,
Sing joy of the Stars
Come Christmas the morn!
Little Christ Jesus
Our Brother is born.
4. Now every Bird that flies in air,
   Sing, raven, lark and dove!
The night has brooded on her lair
   And fledged the Bird of Love.
Refrain:
Sing sweet as the flute,
Sing clear as the horn,
Sing joy of the Stars
Come Christmas the morn!
Little Christ Jesus
Our Brother is born.
       
5. Now all the Angels of the Lord
   Rise up on Christmas Even!
The passing night will bear the Word
   That is the Voice of Heaven.
Refrain:
Sing sweet as the flute,
Sing clear as the horn,
Sing joy of the Stars
Come Christmas the morn!
Little Christ Jesus
Our Brother is born.
   
 
-"Now Every Child" from Silver, Sand and Snow by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965),
© Michael Joseph, publisher

 

Christmas Past
Christmas Present

Christmas Past and Christmas Present, 1987, was a Christmas gift for Laura Corbett Jones and for the Singing Boys of San Francisco Bay, William Ballard, Conductor. It is published in two versions: for SA and SATB. G. K. Chesterton wrote the first poem, "The Christchild Lay on Mary's Lap." The second, "Snowfall Turns the Earth to White," I wrote as a college freshman.

Christmas Past
1. The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
   His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
   But here is all right.)
3. The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
   His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
   But here the world's desire.)
       
2. The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
   His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
   But here the true hearts are.)
4. The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
   His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him
   And all the stars looked down.
 
-"A Christmas Carol" by G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

 

Christmas Present
1. Snowfall turns the earth to white,
Day grows into quiet night.
3. Voices rise in song again:
"Peace on earth, good will toward men."
       
2. Overhead a star appears,
Changeless through the changing years.
4. Everlasting star above,
Help us find peace and love.
     
-Kirke Mechem

 

Two Christmas Ballads

These pieces, Christmas Carol and The Ballad of Befana, originally written in 1969 for mixed chorus and guiatr, are settings of Epiphany tales by two fine American lyrical poets, Sara Teasdale and Phyllis McGinley. The version for treble voices was commissioned in 1989 by the Peninsula Women's Chorus, Palo Alto, Patricia Hennings, Director. The keyboard accompaniment was added in 2000.

Each tells a very human Christmas story. Teasdale's "Carol" contrasts the magnificence of the songs of angels and kings with the baby Jesus, who "fells asleep before the song was done." (In fact, the sopranos do seem to fall asleep on the note A while the rest of the music goes on to the final G major chord.). McGinley's "Ballad" recasts the ancient Italian legend of Befana. Here she is a housewife who tells the three kings that she is too busy with her housework to visit the Christ Child. She finally decides to go, but it is too late. She is doomed to wander through eternity, crying "Good people, the bells begin! Put off your toiling and let love in."


Christmas Carol
1. The kings they came from out the south,
All dress'd in ermine fine;
They bore Him gold and chrysopase,
And gifts of precious wine
4.

The angels came from heaven high,
And they were clad with wings;
And lo, they brought a joyful song
The host of heaven sings.

       
2. The shepherds came down from out the north,
Their coats were brown and old;
They brought Him little newborn lambs-
They had not any gold.
5. The kings they knock'd upon the door,
The wise men entered in,
The shepherds followed after them
To hear the song begin.
       
3. The wise men came from out the east,
And they were wrapp'd in white;
The star that led them all the way
Did glorify the night.
6. The angels sang thr0ugh all the night
Until the rising sun,
But little Jesus fell asleep
Before the song was done.
 
-from Helen of Troy and Other Poems by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

 

The Ballad of Befana (An Epiphany Legend)

Befana the Housewife, scrubbing her pane,
Saw three old sages ride down the lane,
Saw three gray travelers pass her door-
Gaspar, Balthazar, Melchior.
"Where journey you, sirs?" she asked them.
Balthazar answered, "To Bethlehm,
For we have news of a marvelous thing.
Born in a stable is Christ the King!"
"Give Him my welcome! Welcome Him!
Give Him my welcome - Christ the King!"
"Oh, happily, happily would I fare,
Were my dusting through and I'd polished the stair."
Old Melchior leaned on his saddlehorn.
"Then send but a gift to the small Newborn."
"Oh gladly, gladly I'd send Him one,
Were the hearth-stone swept and my weaving were done.
As soon as ever I've baked my bread,
I'll fetch Him a pillow for His head,
And a coverlet too," Befana said.
"When the rooms are aired and the linen is dry,
I'll look at the Babe." But the three rode by.
She worked for a day and a night and a day.
Then, gifts in her hands, took up her way.
But she never could find where the Christ Child lay.
And still she wanders at Christmastide
Houseless, whose house was all her pride,
Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late:
Wanders, and knocks at every gate,
Crying, "Good people, the bells begin!
Put off your toiling and let love in."                     -Phyllis McGinley

 

Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord

Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord, like Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, was composed in 1951 as an assignment for Randall Thompson's choral composition class at Harvard. One can easily see the great influence of the eminent composer upon his pupil.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord He is God: it is He who hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into His gates with Thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.
For the Lord is good; His mercy everlasting; and His truth endureth all generations.

 
-Psalm 100, based on the "King James" version

 

Three Motets

By using, in these Motets, familiar Latin phrases together with the longer English texts, I hoped to combine the comprehensibility of English with the beautfiul sounds and ancient resonances of Latin. If I were not afraid it sounded frivilous I would call them "Englatin" motets. My Laudate was an earlier work of this kind.

The middle piece, Alleluia, Amen, was composed for the memorial service of my teacher, mentor, and dear friend, Harold Schmidt, who for many years directed the choral music at Stanford University. Harold sent me to Harvard to study with his mentor, Randall Thompson, whose music he loved. Those who know Thompson's Alleluia will note one or two passages reminiscent of this beautiful and famous work. These are intended as homage and marks of gratitude to both of my choral masters.

Hassler's Cantate Domino was another of Harold Schmidt's favorite motets.Isang it many times as a member of his choir - as did Roger Wilhem, the conductor of the choir that commissioned my Cantate Domino - so the choice of this text was a continuation of grateful and happy memories of the man who inspired my lifelong love of choral music.

Each of the Three Motets is complete in itself, but for concert use there is an advantage to performing all three as a group: the last motet, Cantate Domino, ends with a reference to the words and music of the first, Gloria.


THREE MOTETS
Gloria

Gloria Tibi Domine.
Glory be to Thee, O Lord.

1. A Babe is born of all a may [of a maiden]
(To Him we sing both night and day)
To bring salvation unto us:
Veni Creator Spiritus. [Come, creator Spirit]
2. For Him to serve, God give us grace.
At Bethlehem, that blessed lace,
The Child of Bliss now born He was:
O Lux Beata Trinitas. [O Trinity, blessed light]
3. Now three great kings they cometh hence
With gold and myrrh and frackincense,
To priase that little King this day:
A solis Ortus Cardine. [Risen from the quarter of the sun]
4.

And on that night the angels mild
Fair songs did sing unto the Child.
Now worship we as then did they:
Gloria Tibi Domine. [Glory be to Thee, O Lord]

 
-Anonymous 15th C. text, adapted by the composer
 

 

Alleluia, Amen
Alleluia, Amen.

 

 

Cantate Domino

 

O sing unto the Lord a new song.
Cantate Domino canticum novum.

Sing unto the Lord, all the earth.
Sing unto the Lord. Bless his name.

Declare His glory among the people,
Declare His majesty among the people.
     Gloria.

 
-Psalm 96: 1-6, adapted by the composer

 

Let Us Break Bread Together

Let Us Break Bread Together is a folk hymn which I included in a 1995 set called Choral Variations on American Folk Songs. I had earlier used part of this arrangement in my opera John Brown; there it repreesnts a quiet moment of prayer on the Kansas prairie by the devout Brown and his family, but is interrupted by the terrible news of an attack by pro-slavery forces against the free-state settlers in the territory.

Let Us Break Bread Together
1. Let us break bread together on our knees.
    Refrain:
When I fall on my knees
With my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.
2. Let us drink wine together on our knees.
    Refrain:
When I fall on my knees
With my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.
3. Let us praise God together on our knees.
    Refrain:
When I fall on my knees
With my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.
 
-American folk hymn