A few interesting facts about works that are among this year’s Winter’s Gifts:
Randall Thompson‘s beautiful Road Not Taken is a musical setting of the famous poem by Robert Frost, who knew Thompson and reportedly admired his music.
The piece is part of a seven-movement suite of choral art songs (Frostiana) commissioned by the town of Amherst, Massachusetts for its bicentennial in 1959. Robert Frost taught at Amherst College off and on between 1917 and 1938.
Much like the student composers who enter the Rachel Moore Composition Contest today, Gabriel Fauré wrote the sublime Cantique de Jean Racine for a composition contest in 1865 while still a student at the École Niedermeyer, a music school in Paris. The judges had specified that entrants use a traditional Latin text, and Fauré tested the limits of the rules by submitting a piece based on the playwright Jean Racine’s French translation (“Verbe égal au Très-Haut”) of the Latin hymn “Consors paterni luminis” (which translates yet again in to English as “O Light of Light”). He eventually (after much debate about his rule breaking) won first prize.
One of the most popular living choral composers today, Ola Gjeilo, from Norway, used excerpts from Walt Whitman’s poem Song of the Universal for his choral piece of the same name. “Walt Whitman has always been one of my favorite poets. I love the unabashed optimism, exuberance and his unwavering confidence in our deeper humanity – all through the prism of a big, warm, beating heart,” he said.
The musicality of Whitman’s poetry is often noted along with his love for classical music. After an opera performance in 1851, he wrote, “…a sublime orchestra of myriad orchestras – a colossal volume of harmony, in which the thunder might roll in its proper place; and above it the vast, pure Tenor – identity of the Creative Power itself – rising through the universe, until the boundless and unspeakable capacities of that mystery, the human soul, should be filled to the uttermost, and the problem of human cravingness be satisfied and destroyed? Of this sort are the promptings of good music upon me.”