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Americana

Composer(s): Seymour Shifrin, Randall Thompson, Elliott Carter
Album Title: Americana 
Cat. No.: 80219
Genre: Classical
 
Description: The University of Michigan Chamber Choir; Members of the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Hilbish

Choral music has always held and continues to hold a prominent position in American musical life. The three works presented here take their place in a tradition that stretches back to the Puritan Fathers. The title composition, Americana, is one of the most popular works of Randall Thompson, America's finest and most-performed composer of choral music. In a prefatory note in the score the composer commented:

The [five] different parts of the work are satirical and, at moments, mirth-provoking, but the music was written with compassion. The five texts represent five characteristics of this nation and doubtless of various other nations at different stages in their history. The texts were set to music with a keen sense of the emotional quality which lay behind each excerpt. The music is not meant to point the finger of scorn, but only to underline the pathos inherent in those whose ideas about life lead to extraordinary and sometimes extreme conclusions.

Elliott Carter's To Music, a setting for a cappella mixed chorus of Robert Herrick's lyric poem, is one of three short choruses Carter wrote in 1937 to English texts. It is written in the basically neoclassical style characteristic of his early works. Despite the overall simplicity and straightforwardness of Carter's setting, as well as certain clear stylistic references to earlier music (particularly the late Renaissance English madrigal), there are numerous subtleties that hint at the direction  his music was to take in later years.

Seymour Shifrin's Odes of Shang, written in 1962, is a setting of two poems from Ezra Pound's The Confucian Odes. It employs a mixed chorus, piano, and an elaborate body of Oriental and Western percussion instruments. It is in two parts: the first, a ceremonial call to worship, celebrating youth and fecundity; the second, involving conciliation with age, the offering of sacrifice. Shifrin's is a unique style in which classical qualities, such as formal clarity and textual transparency, are mixed with others of an intensely expressive nature. The resulting tension accounts for the deeply emotional character of his work, which, though demanding, is not easily forgotten. 
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