Sunday, March 25, 2007

Conversations across time

After ten years of being a Presbyterian music director, I (and my family) have been attending an Episcopal church for the past six months. Discovering new hymns is certainly one of the joys of this experience. This morning I noticed our second hymn was entitled "To mock his reign," which did not strike me as a promising poetic beginning. (I have to admit that the evil side of me wondered if the tune would be the "mock-a-reign-a," and I'd like to go ahead and apologize for afflicting you with that thought.) However, I was delighted to see that this F. Pratt Green hymn was to be sung to Tallis's "Third Tune," which I quickly realized is THE subject on which Vaughan Williams' glorious Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis is based. I can't reprint the words here for copyright reasons, but it was a marvelous experience finally to get to sing this melody, and the text fits well. (It's #170 in the The Hymnal 1982. You can see the tune in something closer to Tallis's original setting here; the tune is in the tenor voice.)

I don't mind admitting that I felt surrounded by the sumptuous string sound of the Vaughan Williams while I sang this recounting of Christ's suffering on the cross. I think it's a good example of how a "tribute" work like the Vaughan Williams can help to illuminate something old and beautiful. Actually, I heard a student pianist audition yesterday with George Crumb's Dream Images that also reinterprets an old piece (in this case, fragments of Chopin's famous Fantasie-impromptu) in a new light. I hadn't heard that piece in years and had forgotten the Chopin was going to emerge; it was much more effective than I remembered, I'm sure in part because I didn't remember what was going to happen. My other recent encounter with a reimagining of something old would be Grieg's added piano part to Mozart's famous "easy sonata" in C major. The Grieg obbligato is played on a second piano and hearing it is hard to describe; worlds collide, but in an engaging way. You can hear it in this radio interview with my beloved former teacher, Alan Chow. The recording features Alan playing with his sister-in-law, Angela Cheng. It occurs at about 16 minutes into the interview.

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