Ever wonder what music the great composers enjoyed – or dismissed? Beethoven despised many of his colleagues, with the exception of Mozart and Joseph Haydn.
Another composer Beethoven respected was Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842), an Italian who spent his lifetime negotiating a path through the trials and tribulations of the French Revolution. The Hawaii Vocal Arts Ensemble Festival Chorus and Orchestra will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Cherubini’s birth with a performance of his once popular, but now rarely heard "Requiem in C minor" at Chaminade University on Sunday.
‘ROMANTIC CHORAL RARITIES’
Featuring the Hawaii Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Vocal Masterworks Festival Chorus and Orchestra, performing Brahms, Schubert, Berlioz, Britten, Mozart and Cherubini.
Where: Mystical Rose Oratory, Chaminade University, 3140 Waialae Ave.
At a time when having the wrong friends could be costly, Cherubini composed for the aristocracy, for Napoleon, and eventually for the church. "He somehow managed to make a career during this period and not get beheaded," said Tim Carney, music director of the Hawaii Vocal Arts Ensemble.
The subject of his Requiem wasn’t as fortunate: In 1793, King Louis XVI was executed during the French Revolution, followed nine months later by his queen, Marie Antoinette. But by 1817, the French had tired of Napoleon’s brutal wars and demoralizing defeats, and decided Louis wasn’t such a bad guy after all. They had the remains of the royal couple dug up and reburied at a basilica in Paris.
Cherubini was chosen to compose the music for the reinterment, and his work proved immensely popular. "It was performed at Beethoven’s funeral at his request, and Schumann and Brahms greatly admired it," Carney said. "It eclipsed Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ as the one to be played for most of the 19th century."
One particularly striking feature of the piece is that it employs a gong, which is heard once – and only once – during the entire work.
"It’s very surprising," Carney said. "I’ve had to go looking around town trying to find a gong."
Sunday’s program also includes works by Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and Berlioz, and features an unusual work by Benjamin Britten called "Rejoice in the Lamb." The words are taken from a poem by an 18th-century Englishman, Christopher Smart, whom Carney described as a "a very religious man who also happened to spend some time in an insane asylum."
"He certainly had a musical way with words … but it has some parts that are just a bit crazy," Carney said. "There’s something about a cat, and another part about a mouse. It’s really about all creatures great and small."
Though sung in English, the libretto will be included in the program for those who want to follow Smart’s tangled text.