by Annie Barnes
Throughout my childhood, my sister and I, like most children, looked forward to Christmas with a special fervor. We had many traditions, but there was one in particular that continued through our adolescence and into adulthood. Each year, our mother and maternal grandmother would buy a new Christmas book. Some were classic Santa tales, some told the story of Jesus’ birth, some were beautifully illustrated, and some were simple.
One year, when visiting my grandmother up in Ohio, during the grandchildren’s annual energetic demolition of wrapping paper and presents, my sister and I received a unique book. It was an illustrated copy of Hans Christian Andersen's “The Little Match Girl.” Although not technically a Christmas story, my family came to associate this story with the holiday season, and it quickly became one of my favorite Christmas books.
“The Little Match Girl” is the tale of a child, barefoot and alone on the street in winter, selling matches to make a small profit to bring back to her abusive father. Ultimately, she finds a corner between houses and huddles up against the cold. She begins to light the matches to warm herself, and each time she does, she imagines progressively grander scenes of holiday food, festivities, and family. Her final vision is of her grandmother, “the only one who ever loved her,” who took the small child in her arms and “flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God.”
After reading this description, you might be wondering how a young girl of 7 or 8 could come to love this story. It is unusual, I admit. I remember first loving the book purely for the gorgeous illustrations by Rachel Isadora, but as I got older, the book held different meaning for me. Of course I did not have the knowledge, emotional maturity, or desire to fully analyze why I loved this story in my youth, but revisiting this text through The Valley 7’s study of this work has encouraged me to do so. Was it for a religious reason? The idea of life beyond death? The counterintuitive idea of happiness in death?
Perhaps this is a simple answer, but I believe that I came to love this story because it describes how hope and memories have the power to influence the beauty we see in the world. I am not an expert in analyzing Andersen’s intent; it is more probable that this was a religious tale describing the promise of heaven. However, I see God’s gift of hope as the greatest promise, how a small girl in the cold of night does not suffer, because she is warmed by her hopes and dreams, until finally, she is at peace.
by Michael Hickman
Origins of "The Little Match-Girl"
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Match-girl” began unconventionally. Typically, authors commission illustrators after completing their texts; however, for “The Little Match-girl,” this process was reversed. Publishers approached Andersen with woodcuts by illustrator Johan Thomas Lundbye and solicited a story based on the one Andersen found most intriguing. The image of a melancholy girl, barefoot and wandering a cobbled street quickly arrested him.
In The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen (TAHCA), editor Maria Tatar notes that below Lundbye’s beleaguered girl appeared the phrase: “Do good when you give.” TAHCA also includes a transcription of Andersen’s emotional and introspective reaction to the image: “‘While I was at [an opulent manor in Denmark],’ Andersen later recalled in his travel diaries, ‘in this time of luxury and plenty, a publisher sent three woodcuts asking me to pick one and write a little story around it. I chose a scene that depicted poverty and deprivation, a ragged little girl with a handful of matches—‘The Little Match-girl’—the contrast between our life at Augustenborg and her world.’” His humility and empathy are poignant, especially for those of us today who live in the midst of plenty.
Andersen’s choice to call this figure the ‘little’ match-girl bears importance. TAHCA relates that the denotation ‘little’—when used in fairy tales—indicates that the anointed character will invariably experience tragedy. Such is the plight of our little match-girl.
Lang’s setting of her narrative truly embodies the sorrow of Lundbye’s woodcut and Andersen’s response to it. While Andersen felt torn between his world of luxury and the girl’s life of poverty, Lang explores this dichotomy by extrapolating the tensions between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane.’ Through the introduction of Christ’s suffering via Bach’s passion texts, Lang provides a ‘this-worldly’ treatment of the girl’s suffering alongside something more fundamentally ‘other-worldly’ and spiritual. Lang’s music is—by itself—striking, but the more we peel back the layers of the little match girl passion, the more complicated and rich it becomes.
"The Little Match-Girl" in print
“The Little Match-girl” (Danish: “Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne”) debuted in Dansk Folkekalender for 1846 (Danish Folk Calendar for 1846); the publishers who contacted Anderson with Lundbye’s woodcuts commissioned several stories to give their calendar more appeal. Regarding the story’s first publication in book form, “The Little Match Girl” was first found in 1848’s Nye Eventyr (New Fairy-Tales) and soon thereafter in 1850’s Eventyr (Fairy-Tales). The last Danish publication during Andersen’s lifetime came in the March 1863 Eventyr og Historier (Fairy Tales and Stories).
Regarding Andersen’s broader literary impact, several of his acclaimed fairy tales actually appeared in America before they saw Danish release. In the introduction to The Andersen-Scudder Letters, Jean Hersholt, a celebrated Danish-American film and radio personality, noted that “The widespread acceptance of his work in America was a never ending source of gratification to him.” Andersen felt it appropriate to ‘reward’ American audiences for their support by offering exclusive access several stories (which would become highly lauded), including “Lucky Peer,” “The Great Sea-Serpent,” “The Gardener and the Manor,” and “The Flea and the Professor.” And while his “American editor, publisher, and translator” Horace Elisha Scudder encouraged him to visit the United States to greet his adoring fans, unfortunately, Andersen’s “susceptibility to seasickness was one reason why he did not cross the Atlantic.”
Andersen’s mark on the literary world is evident, and the fairy tale category of his oeuvre is impressive; Anderson published 168 fairy tales between 1835 and 1872. Likewise, the staggering number of illustrations and translations (both professional and amateur) produced since then are a testament to Andersen’s strengths as a storyteller.
I own a 1942 edition of Andersen’s Fairy Tales, translated by the same Jean Hersholt mentioned above and illustrated by Fritz Kredel. There’s only one image of the little match-girl; it portrays the delicious roast goose she fantasizes about while lighting those few remaining matches in an attempt to keep herself warm.
It’s been an absolute pleasure learning about the provenance and publication of “The Little Match-girl” in preparation for the little match girl passion. While most composers usually provide musicians with performance notes to inform their performances, the little match girl passion has required a more investigative approach for The Valley 7. Practicing and polishing Lang’s epic piece has been an unforgettable experience, but truly immersing ourselves in the nuance, the depth, and the history of this text’s composition has been equally rewarding.
Recipient of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, David Lang’s the little match girl passion retells the classic Hans Christian Andersen story about a forlorn girl, cold from winter and without food or shelter. Attempting to stay warm, she lights the matches she had hoped to sell while dreaming of warm Christmas feasts and recalling memories of her kind grandmother. Lang’s contemporary, minimalist style, paired with our protagonist’s story, will undoubtedly prove heart-wrenching and poignant.
According to Valley 7 member, W. Bryce Hayes, “Having recently won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, the little match girl passion is very popular with contemporary music ensembles. The marriage of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale with texts borrowed from Bach makes for a unique contribution to the repertory, successfully bridging the gap between the sacred and the profane, sometimes referred to as ‘secular transcendence.’ The Lang has presented The Valley 7 with new challenges in our brief history. The work is less about beautiful arching phrases, matching vowel color, or consistent intonation as our forays into Tallis or Messiaen require. TLMGP is far more about becoming powerfully rhythmic performers and learning how to utilize the voice in a minimalist setting. Singing the same melodic phrase over several minutes presents interesting challenges in maintaining vocal health and utilizing our voices consistently. In addition to the technical challenges, the little match girl passion has encouraged us to grow as collaborative musicians. The nuanced listening this work calls for requires each member of the ensemble to be consistently in tune with each other, in a way far beyond typical choral music. Not to mention that we all are learning how to be percussionists! Virtually all of the Valley 7 will play percussion during the performance. We are very much enjoying learning more about ourselves and our process through the Lang. We look forward to bringing this work to the public on May 15.”
For this performance, The Valley 7 is glad to welcome Laurel Black, a marimba player of considerable talent, who will perform before we take you through the Little Match Girl’s harrowing narrative.
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christmas. The term advent is a version of the Latin word meaning "coming". The four weeks are often characterized by the symbols of Hope, Love, Peace, and Joy. Tonight’s program uses these symbols as inspiration, exploring music and readings for the season. Through these symbols we explore themes associated with the season: through hope we explore the season of coming and waiting; through love we explore the Virgin Mother; through Peace we explore the Christ child; and through Joy we explore the celebration of Christmas day.
Our program begins with a Latin chant, in the style of the earliest notated Western music. The chant begins with one melodic line, and later adds a second line in a style known as organum. Some version of this antiphon has been sung in the church during the season of Advent since the ninth century. Lo, How a Rose relates the foretelling of the coming through Isaiah. The O Magnum Mysterium text has served as inspiration for composers for centuries. Tonight we explore two distinct settings from Renaissance Spain and Twentieth century Paris.
O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
Dominum Christum. Alleluia.
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord. Alleluia!
The Virgin Mary serves as inspiration for our second set. Mary has been venerated since Early Christianity and is considered by many to be the most important saint. The image of the Virgin Mother as the spotless rose or as the rose of the highest virtue has inspired Christian art and music for centuries. Tonight we offer two settings of these texts from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries followed by two settings from the late medieval, early Renaissance periods.
Texts dealing specifically with the birth of Jesus are often directly connected to the crucifixion. We hear this in the opening image of I Wonder as I Wander, “…how Jesus, the Savior, did come for to die for poor ornery people like you and I…” and in the lullaby The Infant King, “Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing, then in the grave at last reposing.” The image of the peace Christ brings into a pained world is portrayed throughThe Coventry Carol, “Herod, the king, in his raging, Charged he hath this day His men of might, In his own sight, All young children to slay”. The peace of Christ is expressed in more hopeful terms in Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, “This fruit doth make my soul to thrive, it keeps my dying faith alive which makes my soul in haste to be with Jesus Christ, the apple tree.”
Finally, our program comes to the joy of the Christmas season through carols. The imagery of bells ringing, glorias being sung, and the snowy winter cold have no true Biblical basis, but rather conjure up images of nineteenth century Dickensian visions of the season. This can be in seen in a reading from A Child's Christmas in Wales, a prose work by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Originally emerging from a piece written for radio, it was recorded by Thomas in 1952. The story is an anecdotal retelling of a Christmas from the view of a young child and is a romanticized version of Christmases past, portraying a nostalgic and simpler time. It is one of Thomas's most popular works. We hope our program will bring hope, love, peace, and joy to you this holiday season.
Traditional folk music is dependent upon cultural processes rather than abstract musical types, and is typically exemplified by continuity over generations and oral transmission. In the words of folk scholar Rachel Clare Donaldson, “Folk music is what the people sing.” Our program today provides a smattering of music inspired by folk sources from across the globe, some more directly connected to traditional sources, and some more crafted by a composer. Our program takes the form of a journey around the globe, starting in our country.
North American folk music often incorporates a fusion of the tunes brought to the continent by immigrants mixed with the music of indigenous peoples. Bright Morning Star, however, is a purely Appalachian folk tune that originated in Kentucky. The Blooming Bright Star is an adaptation of an Irish folk tune, “The Green Shores of Fogo” from the people of Newfoundland. La Sandunga is a tune from Andalusia, Spain that adapted text in the Mexican isthmus.
The music of South America blends the traditions of indigenous cultures with Spanish and Portuguese influences. Mata del Anima Sola is a Venezuelan song that combines an improvised tenor solo over the rhythmic instruments of the traditional joropo dance. Marcos Leite composed his Tres Cantos Nativos on the melodies sung by the Kraó tribe, an indigenous tribe of the Amazon rainforest, and he utilizes bird calls, ritualistic rhythms, and percussion to illustrate the nonsense text.
Australian folk music blends sounds from many regions of the world, and Stephen Leek’s Tunggare showcases this global influence. Leek marries the Australian aboriginal word “tunggare” (which means “voice” or “to sing”) to a rhythmic, pulsing groove—producing a uniquely Australian piece capable of resonating with peoples across the Earth.
Chinese-American composer Chen Yi was born in Guangzhou, China and spent years collecting Chinese folk songs. In 1986 she became the Composer-in-Residence for Chanticleer, among other choirs in the San Francisco area. Fengyang Song is a modern setting of a traditional Anhui folk melody from her Set of Chinese Folk Songs that playfully combines a lighthearted text about music making (“I am singing a song while playing drums and gongs”) with Chinese nonsense words that approximate the instruments mentioned in the text.
The text of Véñiki is a Russian tongue-twister with an essentially meaningless text: Brooms, brooms, brooms – sweepers on the hearth laid about, from the hearth were torn off. In the early 1930s, Zoltan Kodály collected Esti Dal in a northern county of Hungary, Nográd. This song is a typical Hungarian campfire song and an evening prayer. Bárdos followed in the footsteps of his teacher, Zoltán Kodály, at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest with incomparable musical settings of folk texts. Loch Lomond is a freshwater lake lying on the Highland Boundary Fault. The ‘low road’ is a reference to the Celtic belief that if someone died away from his homeland, the fairies would provide a route for his soul to return home. While Comin’ Thro’ The Rye is attributed to Burns as penned in 1782, this is only one version of the text. The song itself, in some form or other, was known long before it passed through the hands of the poet.
The music of the middle eastern regions is very often tied to the practices of the Abrahamic religious traditions. Folk music developed to assist in worshiping communities. From the Muslim tradition we present a layered song on the text, Bismillah, ir-Rahman ir-Rahim which translates to, “In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful.”
The use of music as a social and political symbol in Africa is represented in these two pieces. Amavolovolo was sung in pre-democratic South Africa and tells the story of the people who were afraid to go to Kwa-Mashu because there was so much violence. Wana Baraka is a traditional Kenyan piece promoting a Christian message.
“Songs of Spring” collects four settings of texts united by pastoral imagery. While the past 150 years have witnessed the rapid spread of industrialism, these pieces suggest a continued desire for connection to the simple, untouched beauty of nature in Spring. Written in 1889, “My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land” was Elgar’s first published partsong. Like the poetry it sets, the song is simple and folk-like. The text, written by Scottish folklorist and historian Andrew Lang, is infused with fairy tale and myth. For “A Rose Touched by the Sun’s Warm Rays,” German-born composer Jean Berger set an American text taken from a Pennsylvania Book Plate found in the Pennsylvania German Society in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Frühlinsahnung is the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn's choral song cycle, Der Erste Frühlingstag, or The First Day of Spring, written in 1839. This celebration of the coming spring is written in the more Classical style of Mozart or Haydn, as Mendelssohn was a master of imitating earlier styles of composition. Following his death many of CV Stanford's works quickly went out vogue. The clear exception to this was his simple part-song, The Blue Bird. a setting of a simple yet powerful Mary Coleridge text describing blue hues of a bird, the sky, and the reflection of both in a lake. This is Stanford at his best – crafting an exquisite miniature that depicts color in sound.
“Song of Solomon” offers three settings from the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) alongside a poem by the 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi which, like the Song of Solomon, imbues the worldly experiences of embodied life with rich spiritual and symbolic significance. Both echo the sentiment of love in spring, particularly in their repeated references to ripe fruits and the “Beloved.” Early American composer, William Billings, a contemporary of Mozart!, sets the most pastoral sections of the Song of Solomon (with frequent references to apple trees, the lily of the valley, and the “hinds of the field”) in a charmingly simple style. Anglo-Canadian composer Healey Willan’s “Rise Up My Love My Fair One” sets much of the same text as Billings, but the contrast in style is stunning. Willan replaces the jaunty quality of Billings’s setting with a lush, lyrical take on this section of the Song of Solomon known as “The Beloved’s Request.” Clausen’s classic setting of “Set Me as a Seal” and Whitacre’s song “This Marriage” work as depictions of eros and agape love. The “Set Me as a Seal” text is often read as God speaking to the Israelites, but it spoken by a bride in the Song of Solomon, and the reference to marriage--literally and symbolically--connects to Rumi’s emphasis on marriage vows as both romantic and religious. The text ends with the speaker admitting “I am out of words to describe how spirit mingles in this marriage.”
‘British & American Folksongs” closes the program with four settings of widely-known and much loved folk songs that tie together the program’s dominant themes of spiritual and worldly love, Spring, and the dawn and end of day. “Bright Morning Star” grounds its joyful expression of spiritual revelation in the image of Jesus as a bright, guiding star at dawn. Returning to the tragic longing of Lang’s “My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land,” British Romantic poet Meta Orred’s “In the Gloaming,” arranged here by our own W. Bryce Hayes, connects the simple beauty of the gloaming time (dusk) with longing for lost love. And like Lang’s distinctly Scottish text, this final set’s other two pieces--”Loch Lomond” and “Coming Thru the Rye,” offer quintessentially Scottish voices. In fact, the text of “Loch Lomond” was later adapted by Lang in 1876 to dramatize the failed Jacobite uprising of 1745. We end with “Coming Thru the Rye,” an adapted setting of a text by the Scottish Romantic luminary Robert Burns. Though the speaker bemoans that though “every lassie has her laddie” but “none they say have I,” this youthful setting emphasizes the hope of love and the joy of desire at the start of Spring when rye is at its peak and ready, after a cold winter, or harvest.
The title of today’s program, “While Endless Ages Run,” is inspired by a particularly poetic translation of the Latin “in saecula saeculorum,” often heard as part of the “Gloria patri” and translated: “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” This alternate translation inspired our drawing together of works some 400 years apart to illuminate connections across time, as well as sacred and secular boundaries.
The 16th century was a particularly exciting time for choral music, with English luminaries like Tallis, Byrd, and Gibbons developing an expressive body of polyphonic choral works, some of which you will hear tonight. Much, though not all, of this music was written for the church and published through Tallis and Byrd’s joint monopoly on music publishing, granted by Queen Elizabeth in a time of great conflict between Catholic and Anglican ideologies.
Against this, we pose works by 20th century composers who draw on the rich heritage of choral music while reimagining it with exciting harmonic colors, such as the jazz-influenced palette of Messiaen’s “O Sacrum Convivium.”
We begin with an invitation--to live, to worship, and to love--and continue with two sets that consider the mysteries of life and love at the intersection of heart, soul, mind, and incarnation. In “Life’s Short Comedy,” we trace the metaphorical “dimming of the day” as we confront fear, loss, and death. Our program ends with the hope of dawn, new life, and new love.