Her voice has been described as luminous, dazzling and shining and her acting witty, delightful, and feisty, Shannon Mercer is an artist of uncommon musical artistry, whose passion for her art form [...]
They spoke about it
A CONSIDERATION OF A SERIOUS MATTER
Charles Ives gave two titles to his most famous composition. The piece generally known as The Unanswered Question, featuring a trumpet call repeating the same earnest question seven times, was also listed by the composer under the title A Consideration of a Serious Matter.
This wonderful title soon became the programmatic idea behind our recording of adagios throughout the centuries. Centered around Bach’s sad yet mysteriously joyful aria Ich habe genug, there emerged a colourful array of choral and orchestral pieces, all having one element in common: they are all meditations on the fundamental questions of life and death and express something impossible to communicate through words.
As we were recording the album we began to feel as if the different pieces were “reacting” to one another. It was almost as if the composers were having an intense conversation across the centuries, with no existing time barriers.
Jan Dismas Zelenka’s 1738 Miserere, an outburst of utter despair, finds a distant echo two centuries later in Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question. According to the American composer himself, the quartet of wind instruments expresses the growing unrest of human beings who feel increasingly unsettled as they come face to face with the inexorability of destiny, as rendered tangible by the ethereal sounds of the strings.
Throughout history, composers have attempted to express the seemingly endless pain of human suffering through music. The examples contained on this recording are among some of the most powerful explorations of this emotional space.
Both Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Sepulto Dominum and G.Carissimi’s dramatic outcry Plorate Israel transport us into a world where, in the face of death, “last words” are uttered. Gregorio Allegri’s famous Miserere, the score of which was held secret by the Vatican in an attempt to retain exclusive control over this powerful piece of music, combines medieval Gregorian chant with highly expressive writing in madrigal style. Culminating in a glorious high C, the soprano part symbolizes a world beyond the three-dimensional sense-perceptible one which we (wrongly!) take to be the only reality.
In a fascinating attempt to understand music from a mathematical point of view, the composer and music theorist Dmitri Tymoczko managed to prove very recently that the harmonies in Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude in E minor were already moving in a four-dimensional space at a time when mathematicians of the 19th century were just beginning to think about the possibility of the existence of more than three dimensions. In physics nowadays it is thought that our universe could contain as many as 11 hidden dimensions, and it is profoundly inspiring to realize that a composer like Chopin was at the artistic and scientific forefront as he explored the beauty of a dimension existing beyond our sense-perceptible world. By Chopin’s request, this piece was played at his own funeral, along with Mozart’s Requiem.
In an attempt to bring “Albinoni’s Adagio” back to its baroque origins, we took the liberty of recomposing the twentieth-century version set by Giazotto on the Venetian baroque composer’s original bass line.
Obviously, Giazotto’s notion of baroque music is quite different from ours nowadays and it proved to be a highly interesting task to focus on the essential elements of baroque style while at the same time attempting to preserve as many of Giazotti’s romanticism as possible.
What would Erik Satie have thought about our use of baroque instruments throughout this recording regardless of the period in which the pieces were composed? This enigmatic and witty composer, who lived in a small hotel room, the location of which he kept secret until his own death finally rendered it public, would surely have enjoyed the pure harmonies which result from playing with less vibrato than that produced by modern instruments (and performance techniques). In the case of his Gymnopédie, just as in Ives’ The Unanswered Question or in Chopin’s Prelude, the power of pure harmonies based on natural major and minor thirds creates a movingly beautiful landscape.
We dedicate this recording to the memory of Bruce Haynes, whose untimely death has deprived us of a cherished friend and colleague. For many years he was at the forefront of the early music movement as a visionary baroque oboist, after which he went on to inspire a whole generation of musicians with thought-provoking books such as The Eloquent Oboe or The End of Early Music.
It is our hope that across the boundaries of time and death Bruce is presently having a friendly conversation somewhere with Erik Satie, discussing the merits of this recording, smoking his customary pipe, amused and touched by our efforts to bring music to life.
Indeed, it is a serious matter to consider that there may be an end to early music, as there is to life itself; but assuming that there is a place beyond time and space, the music on this CD offers glimpses into how inspired composers have managed to zoom in on dimensions beneath and beyond our ordinary reality, insofar as it is humanly possible to do so.
© Matthias Maute