“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.