Stephen Hartke: Sons of Noah

Composer(s): Stephen Hartke
Album Title: Stephen Hartke: Sons of Noah 
Cat. No.: 80568
Genre: Classical
Description: Sons of Noah, Wulfstan at the Millennium

Lisa Stidham, soprano; Xtet; Donald Crockett, conductor

Stephen Hartke (b. 1952) has gradually risen to prominence as one of the more distinctive composers of his generation, writing music in an idiom that is unmistakably contemporary while keenly aware of traditional antecedents. His music seems to sit on the cusp between East Coast and West Coast sensibilities, with a gleamingly professional surface, full of delicately calculated instrumental detail, and with audible antecedents in the European modernism of Olivier Messiaen. On the other hand, Hartke's California years have clearly contributed to his sensuous sound world, his highly innovative instrumental combinations, and his use of Asian elements.

Another major element of Hartke's musical language that is especially relevant to the present CD is his early involvement with the performance of church music, especially of the Medieval and Renaissance eras. Indeed, the two works heard on this recording may be regarded as imaginative reinventions of aspects of liturgy and liturgical drama. Sons of Noah is based on "three lost chapters of the Bible" by the 19th-century Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis;  Wulfstan at the Millennium is an imaginary liturgy. They are neither the devotions of an East Coast churchgoer nor the Asian or Native American spiritual travels of a Californian, but in both of these pieces the religious subject matter contributes to the considerable emotional power of the music.

"Sons of Noah is based on Machado de Assis's short story, Na arca, written during the Crimean War, the first great modern conflict between the Islamic world and Europe. The story is a pointed satire tracing all human conflict back to the sons of Noah, who, in this telling, already started squabbling about who would get what in the newly purged world even before landfall had been achieved. This setting, in Philip Littell's wonderfully colloquial but elegant English adaptation, presents the story as a dramatic cantata for solo soprano with an eccentric ensemble, somewhat Baroque in its constitution, of winds (4 flutes and 4 bassoons) and plucked instruments (4 guitars).

"Wulfstan at the Millennium, for ten players, is a collection of stylistically diverse movements evocative in a quite abstract way of a liturgy. It is also something of a work of musicological fiction: music composed as if Leonin, Perotin, Philippe de Vitry, Machaut, and a host of anonymous medieval English and Cypriot composers had been the direct antecedents of late-twentieth century music-as if the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods had never happened. In addition to mirroring the general plan of a musical liturgy, this work also reflects its emotional and dramatic character."
-Stephen Hartke 
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