Ground Work

Sunday, May 1, at 4 pm, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia will give the first performance of my Alleluia on a Ground. The concert will be at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, 2110 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. More information here.

Here’s my program note:

The Mendelssohn Club’s request for a setting of just the word “alleluia” in honor of Alan Harler meant that I would be working without the formal structure afforded by a more extensive text. Therefore I chose to build my Alleluia on a Ground around a musical structure, a repeated succession of notes. Over this ground I have built a piece that is stark, sober, and mysterious rather than exuberant, becoming grand, but ultimately resting in a quiet peace. A brief quotation from a Gregorian melody near the close gives a source for this sense of mystery.

Alan Harler is the former director of the Mendelssohn Club. The Gregorian quote is a familiar one, the opening phrases of Victimae Paschali Laudes.

Although a ground can be as short as four notes, the ground for this piece is made of four phrases and runs 19 bars. After a unison statement of the ground (I am going to put in an option for the first alto note to be sung an octave lower), the first variation is for the women alone, the second for the men (the portion shown below omits the last bar of the men’s statement):

ground 1

ground 2

ground 3

The next section begins with three part writing, then finally a four voice texture. There are four more sections, each treating the ground with increasing freedom. After a climax involving a juxtaposition of chords from the full chorus and a small semi-chorus, a solo voice intones the chant fragment over hushed triads, with one last statement of the ground’s first phrase to close.

The Mendelssohn Club is a big group – that’s perhaps a little more than half the group in the snapshot below –  and they make a thrilling sound under the expert direction of Paul Rardin (on stage in the picture). Hope to see you Sunday!


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