Daniel Pinkham & Joseph Haydn
American composer Daniel Pinkham, Boston, 1940s.
Uncle and nephew Andrea and Giovanni Gabrielli—composer/musicians of the late Renaissance both provided music for San Marco in Venice, ushering in the Baroque with forward-looking harmonies that made their names synonymous with a style that incorporated brass choirs and antiphony.
Born in 1732, Franz Joseph Haydn lived to the then astonishingly old age of 78, dying in Vienna in 1809. This remarkable feat of longevity allowed Haydn to leave behind an extra ordinary legacy of musical compositions, works that speak as freshly to modern ears as they did to 18th century ones.
Portrait of Haydn by Isidor Neugass, 1806. Esterházy Privatstiftung, Eisenstadt Palace–b40; [Photo: Gerhard Wasserbauer, Vienna.]
Daniel Pinkham: Christmas Cantata (Sinfonia Sacra) for chorus, brass quartet and organ
Twentieth-century composer Daniel Pinkham successfully borrowed part of the Gabrielli idiom—mixing independent brass choirs with a choral ensemble (the organ is used in lieu of the second brass choir)—and crafted a work that has one foot in the early Baroque and the other in modern times. Indeed, the composer subtitled this work Sinfonia Sacra (Sacred Symphony) in homage to the works of Giovanni Gabrielli. Pinkham himself describes this composition as his “…most performed work.” The three texts are taken from the Proper of the Roman Mass for the Nativity of Our Lord.
The first movement opens with the majestic questioning of the shepherds, asking for a recounting of their experience on the night of Jesus’ birth. A more rhythmic section follows, joyously telling of the prophesied birth. The triple figures, bouncy rhythmic motifs and rocking shifting meters create a dance between the chorus and brass and effectively convey the unbridled happiness of the shepherds as depicted in the Gospels.
The second movement sets the famous and strikingly beautiful text “O magnum mysterium.” Pinkham’s treatment of the opening lines O great mystery, scored for women’s voices alone and accompanied by a minimal repeated melody alternating between the brass and organ creates an appropriate mood for this contemplative text. When the men’s voice enter the harmonies evoke both past and present with the ingenious use of crossed relations (an F♮ and an F♯ appear almost simultaneously) building to a controlled climax that at once expresses the prescient nature of the text while maintaining its innate dignity. Pinkham closes the work with the ultimate crossed relation: brass choir playing a D-minor chord while the organ simultan eously plays a D-major chord.
The final movement is again based on the musical forms of the Baroque. The "Gloria in excelsis Deo" is repeated as a ritornello (returning) between the verses of this most well-known Nativity hymn. Starting softly and building to an im pressive and stirring conclusion, Pinkham creates the aural impression of the angelic choir singing from afar and grad ually moving closer. The steady pulse and syncopated rhythmic figures conjure images of angels dancing. Whether their preferred medium is the head of a pin is better left to others to reconcile!
Haydn lived an interesting life indeed. As the Grove Dictionary Online so succinctly puts it: “Any attempt to give an account of Haydn’s life is bound to fall short of complete ness. There are periods about which virtually nothing is known.” What we do know, however, paints a portrait of a man who knew the hardships of penurious life as well as the splendor of wealth.
Like most other composers of his day, Haydn began as a choirboy in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he also studied organ, composition and violin. He is reputed to have been “…a lively boy with a natural bent for humor and prac tical joking.” This jocularity would appear time and again in Haydn’s later compositions.
After leaving choir school, Haydn lived as a freelance musician, accepting gigs as they came, supplementing his income by teaching young pupils. It is clear that Haydn lived the classic Bohemian life: there were times when he had no money for food, fuel and even lodging—living for various intervals with friends or on the street.
Good fortune came to him soon enough when the Prince Esterhazy, of the ruling family of Hungary offered Haydn the position of Kappellmeister. Later, Haydn came to be the most celebrated composer in Europe: concerts of his music in London sold out weeks ahead and earned him great wealth and fame.
The Cantilena pro Adventu is a simple, charming work for soprano solo, strings and two horns whose text reflects the humility attributed to the virgin Mary. Its form is an A-B-A song form; an extended exposition is followed by a shorter middle section (in this case a mere 22 measures). The A section is then repeated in the manner of the 18th century with ornamentation by the singer.