Program Notes

2003 Fall – A Christmas Garland – Susa

A Christmas Garland by Conrad Susa

Conrad S. Susa’s eclectic musical career belies his Carnegie-Mellon and Juilliard training, where, he says, his notable teachers included P. D. Q. Bach (!).. The Pennsylvania-born Susa, 68, was a musical director on Broadway in the 1960’s, wrote playscripts for the Eugene O’Neill Center in Connecticut, was staff pianist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, and composed scores for documentary and PBS films. More recently, he was resident composer with the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and a member of the Composition Department at San Francisco State University. His compositions include five operas and many lighter works. Susa says, however, that getting started on Garland was not an easy task. A medley of carols, including audience participation, was requested by Professor Maurice Casey, Choral Director at Ohio State 1967-1994, for the Cantari Singers, an acclaimed professional chorus based in Columbus, of which Prof. Casey was then the conductor. However, says Susa, it took the death of a dear friend from his Broadway days– actor and director Nikos Kafkalis– in October of 1988, to finally provide the inspiration: “…He [Kafkalis] had hoped to live until Christmas…”. Susa determined to retell the Christmas story, in memory of his friend, through the selection and placement of carols. This is how he conceived the narrative

“Noels” herald the angels’ news, and it is brought to mankind God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen English, from Cornwall and/or London, 1770 to 1800. “God Rest Ye Merry” means “(May) God keep you happy”, not, as is sometimes assumed, “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen…”;
(Orchestral snatch) Surprise of the local populace Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabella Traditional French, collected and translated by E. Cuthbert Nunn, c. 1900;
(Orchestral) Celebration begins The Holly and the Ivy Possibly of pagan origin, as early as 1710, the holly and the ivy representing male and female spirits;
Questioning the signs I Saw Three Ships Poem from 1666, music from late 1800’s: Many versions, and none clearly show who is in the three ships– perhaps Mary, Joseph and the Child; Susa thinks it is—
Answering the questions We Three Kings The only carol here with a firmly known composer and lyricist, Dr. John Henry Hopkins, Rector of Christ’s Church, Williamsport, PA, about 1857;
The child sung a lullaby as the Kings arrive Coventry Carol Text by Robert Croo, 1534, probably for sacred Coventry plays; tune about 1584;
The audience joins the celebration Adeste Fidelis (O Come, All Ye Faithful) While there is some dispute, the original Latin verses and the tune apparently originated with an English copyist, John Francis Wade, working in Douay, France, about 1734;
The celebration expands to the world Joy to the World The tune, Antioch, is attributed to George Friderich Handel, in the early 1700’s, but may not have been the original setting for the words of Isaac Watts, based on Psalm 100 and also written in the early 18th Century; Susa says he has arranged this in imitation of Handel’s other works, such as Messiah.
And “Noel” resounds everywhere.

The Chorus previously performed this work in 1993, accompanied by another Magnificat– that of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Chorus has also performed other Susa works, including Carols and Lullabies in December of 1999, and his arrangement of the Spanish carol, Fum, Fum, Fum, also in the 1999 concert.

J. R. Fancher, Oct. 2003