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Release: March 30, 2001

(NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: "Schicksalslied" is pronounced SHICK-zahls-leed.)

University Symphony and Choruses will perform music by Verdi and Brahms April 11

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University Symphony and Choruses from the University of Iowa School of Music will perform music by two of the most prominent composers of the 19th century -- Johannes Brahms and Giuseppe Verdi -- in their spring concert, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 11 in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.

The concert, under the direction of Timothy Stalter, will be free and open to the public.

Both composers are best known for other genres -- Brahms for his symphonies and chamber music and Verdi for his operas -- but they also wrote significant choral works. In fact, each wrote one major choral work that has become well known, but it is not these monuments -- Brahms’ "German Requiem" and Verdi’s "Requiem" -- that are being performed. Instead the April 11 concert will feature the "Schicksalslied" (Song of destiny) of Brahms and the "Four Sacred Songs" of Verdi.

Stalter believes that these works are every bit as impressive as the better known choral works by the same composers. "Although Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ is his most famous choral composition," he said, "the ‘Four Sacred Songs’ are equally powerful, compelling and beautiful."

Choral forces for the concert will be drawn from several of the choruses in the School of Music: the University Choir and Kantorei, conducted by Stalter; Camerata, conducted by Richard Bloesch; and the Women’s Chorale, conducted by graduate student Robert Boer.

Voice faculty member Rachel Joselson will be the soloist for Verdi’s "Te Deum."

Brahms discovered the poem "Hyperion’s Schicksalslied" by Friedrich Hoelderlin in a friend’s library in 1868. He was impressed by the poet’s expression of humanity’s sense of alienation and made the first drafts of his choral setting at once. He completed the work three years later, conducting its premiere in Karlsruhe, Germany, in October 1871.

The poem, which is at once grim and powerful, apparently appealed to Brahms’ strong sense of fatalism. The poem is in two contrasting sections, which are paralleled in the musical setting. The first describes the untroubled serenity and joy of the spirits who inhabit heaven, while the second depicts mortal man as the plaything of a blind destiny.

One reason it took Brahms so long to complete "Schicksalslied" is that he was uncertain how to end the score, after the grimness of the second section. In the final version, the chorus fades into silence and the orchestra restates the idyllic prologue, resolving the tension of the preceding choral section and providing an element of consolation that is missing in the poem.

Although he is known principally for his dramatic works, Verdi composed sacred music throughout his career. These include several youthful works and the well-known "Requiem" of 1874.

He returned to sacred music in the final years of his life, including his four final works. Although not originally intended to be performed together, they were published in a single vocal score in 1898 as the "Four Sacred Pieces," and from that date they have been considered as a cohesive group.

The Four Sacred Songs are: "Laudi alla Vergine Maria" (Lauds to the Virgin Mary) for four-part unaccompanied female chorus; "Ave Maria sulla scala enigmatica" (Hail Mary on an enigmatic scale) for four-part unaccompanied chorus; "Stabat Mater" for four-part chorus and large orchestra; and "Te Deum" for double chorus (SATB) and orchestra.

The "Laudi alla Vergine Maria" is a setting of a text by Dante from the final canto of the "Paradiso." The music is reminiscent of a Renaissance motet in form, although it is characterized by primarily chordal texture with only occasional counterpoint.

The unusual "Ave Maria" is based on an "enigmatic scale" that blends four separate scale types: minor, major, whole-tone, and chromatic. The scale was originally published as a musical puzzle in the music journal of Verdi’s publisher. Verdi considered the "Ave Maria" more of a musical exercise than "real music," and initially he did not wish to include it in performance with the three other pieces of the group.

The "Stabat Mater," which is characterized by unusual voicing, extensive chromaticism, and lavish orchestration, is often considered an atmospheric piece. Abundant and striking musical ideas, in several instances reminiscent of Verdi’s operatic melodies, pervade the work.

The "Te Deum" is equally adventurous in its harmonic language and even more dramatic than the "Stabat Mater." Its contrasting textures, masterful contrapuntal writing, colorful instrumentation, and clear thematic organization combine for a powerful conclusion to the cycle of four works and to Verdi’s compositional career. In fact, it is said that Verdi treasured the "Te Deum" so much that he wanted the score buried with him.

Before joining the School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997, Joselson spent 13 years in Europe performing in opera and concert with theaters and orchestras in Darmstadt, Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn, Basel, Barcelona, Bilbao, Braunschweig, Brussels, Kiel, St. Gallen, Trier, and other cities in Germany, Switzerland and Spain. In this country she has appeared in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Madison, Johnson City, Tenn., and New Brunswick, N.J.

In the 1995-96 season she had her first engagement at the Metropolitan Opera, and was engaged by London’s Covent Garden for their 1992 Japan tour with Mozart’s "Don Giovanni."

She has performed many of the major soprano roles in the repertoire. She is currently recording a CD of the songs of Swiss composer Arthur Honegger. She was featured in the 1998 recording of Gian Carlo Menotti’s "Help! Help! The Globolinks!"

Stalter joined the UI faculty as director of choral activities in 1999. He directs Kantorei, the premier choral ensemble of the School of Music, teaches graduate conducting courses, and oversees the graduate program in choral conducting. An active member of the American Choral Directors Association, he frequently presents clinics and workshops in choral conducting around the United States.

In addition to conducting and teaching choral music, Stalter is active as a tenor soloist in the United States and abroad. A specialist in the music of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods, he is known for his performances as the Evangelist in the Passions of J.S. Bach and Heinrich Schuetz. He has appeared as tenor soloist with the Newfoundland Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, the Robert Shaw Festival Singers in France, the Robert Shaw Chamber Choir in Atlanta, the Classical Music Seminar and Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria, and the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival. He has recorded as tenor soloist with conductor Robert Shaw on two compact discs released on the Telarc label.

The April 11 concert by the UI Symphony and Choruses is supported in part by a contribution from the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts.

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