Program Notes

2002 Fall – Christmas Cantata

Christmas Cantata

At 79, Daniel Rogers Pinkham is one of the most versatile of American composers, yet perhaps less well known among the public than many of the next generation. Perhaps that is because he has spent almost his whole life in Massachusetts; born there, he taught at Boston Conservatory, Simmons College in Boston, Harvard, the University of Boston, and the New England Conservatory. In 1958, he became the Music Director of Kings Chapel, Boston, a post he kept for 42 years, retiring in June of 2000. He studied with many musical legends: Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston, Arthur Honegger, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and the great Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger; he studied harpsichord with Polish legend Wanda Landowska, and organ in the US with E. Power Biggs. He was a performer of note on piano, organ, harpsichord, and carillon. As a composer he writes for all of these instruments, and also extensively for vocalists—his output includes short choral pieces, songs, and longer compositions for various choir and instrument combinations up to and including full orchestra. He has a keen dramatic sense, and some of his choral works incorporate instructions for staging. He has worked on electronic music in recent years; he experimented with avant-garde techniques but never committed completely to such devices as 12-tone row. He has also encouraged the revival of early music, and has arranged many works by Handel, Purcell and Schubert, among others.

Christmas Cantata, composed in 1957, is an early Pinkham work; he was then 34 and teaching at Harvard, shortly before he took the post at Kings Chapel. He subtitled the work Sinfonia Sacra, indicating a relatively large scope. The Cantata was originally scored for chorus and double brass choir (ten instruments), with an optional organ part. While, like the other two works on this program, it utilizes traditional Nativity texts – “Gloria in excelsis Deo…”, and “O magnum mysterium…”, among others– , it is original throughout, and captures the spirit of the season via its Latin texts and the variety in color and pace of its music. It begins maestoso, with the question “What have you seen, shepherds? Tell us!”, accords honor to Mary, “Blessed Virgin, whose flesh has merited bearing the Lord Christ”, and concludes, allegro, with a celebratory “Glory to God in the highest” in a sprightly, syncopated rhythmic drive.

This is the Chorus’ first performance of a Pinkham work.

J. R. Fancher, November 2002

Free translation

I. What did you see, shepherds? Tell us! Proclaim to us what was revealed to you on this earth!
“We saw a Child and a chorus of angels!”
II. O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, how the animals watch over the Son of God laying in a manger!
Blessed mother, whose pure womb carried Christ.
III. R. Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill to all!
V1. Let all the earth praise the Lord and serve the Lord joyfully!
V2. Come into our sight rejoycing!
V3. Know now that the Lord is God. He himself made us, and not only
us. Alleluia!
Erin O’Neil Doppke