To Orpheus
Liner Notes   Cat. No. NWCR615     Release Date: 1991-01-01

The New York Virtuoso Singers: Sopranos: Catherine Aks, Marion Beckenstein, Maureen Haley, Cynthia Richards Hewes, Suzanne Peck; Altos: Phyllis Jo Kubey, Natasha Lutov, Mary Runyan, Nancy Wertsch; Tenors: James Bassi, Greg Hostetler, Michael Hume, Neil Farrell; Basses: Albert DeRuiter, Elliot Z. Levine, Timothy Mount, Frank Nemhauser, Kurt-Owen Richards, Mark Wagstrom; Harold Rosenbaum, Conductor


Hans Werner Henze’s (b 1926) demanding Orpheus Behind The Wire was composed in 1983 on a powerful, stirring text by radical Edward Bond (author of the libretto to Henze’s opera, We Come To The River). The work is in five sections, each scored for a different number and combination of singers varying from four-to-twelve voices. 

The influence of Henze’s political aesthetic and his musical dramatism can be heard in By Fire, composed in 1984 by David Lang (b 1957). Lang, who holds degrees from Stanford, the University of Iowa, and the Yale School of Music, names Henze as one of his principal teachers along with Jacob Druckman, Martin Bresnick, Roger Reynolds, and Henri Lazarof. The piece, for small mixed chorus, including a soprano and a bass soloist, is based on two texts sung simultaneously. One, a passage from an interview with an unidentified CIA analyst describing the effect of a nuclear test on the local birds (“beautiful creatures, watching them is a wonder”), the other, from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, titled, “Attacking with Fire”.

Very different in structure are the “Il coro delle malmaritate” (“Chorus of Unhappy Husbands”) and “Il coro dei malammogliati” (“Chorus of Unhappy Wives”) of Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975). This pair of verses make up the first of three sets (and the only one for unaccompanied chorus) from Dallapiccola’s Sei cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il giovane (Six Choruses by Michelangelo Buonarotti the Younger).

More satiric than comic, Michael Dellaira's Art and Isadora (1987) uses John Dos Passos’s “biographical portrait” of Isadora Duncan from The Big Money (the third novel in his U.S.A. trilogy) as the basis for a timbrally motivated work that also invokes the spirit, if not the style, of the madrigal.

George Perle's “Sonnets to Orpheus” constitutes the second movement of his ambitious Songs of Praise and Lamentation (1974) for orchestra and chorus, commissioned by the Dessoff Choirs and dedicated to the memory of Noah Greenberg, founder and director of the New York Pro Musica.

William Schuman's Carols of Death (1958), based on three short poems by Walt Whitman, is a simple and austere bonding of word music. Like his secular cantata, A Free Song (1943), awarded the first Pulitzer Prize ever in music, the harmonic language of Carols of Death is direct and accessible, using chromaticism strictly within the context of extended triadic structures and thus never losing tonal ballast.


This title, originally issued on the CRI label, is now available for order from New World Records as an on-demand CD (CD-R). It can also be downloaded in MP3/320, FLAC and/or WAV format(s).

New York Virtuoso Singers

To Orpheus

MP3/320 $9.99
FLAC $9.99
WAV $9.99
CD $15.99

Track Listing

Orpheus Behind The Wire: I. What was Hell Like?
Hans Werner Henze
Buy
Orpheus Behind The Wire: II. The Point to be Noted
Hans Werner Henze
Buy
Orpheus Behind The Wire: III. You Who Survived
Hans Werner Henze
Buy
Orpheus Behind The Wire: IV. It has Changed
Hans Werner Henze
Buy
Orpheus Behind The Wire: V. Orpheus
Hans Werner Henze
Buy
By Fire
David Lang
Buy
Sonnets to Orpheus: I. Sonnet #1
George Perle
Buy
Sonnets to Orpheus: II. Sonnet #9
George Perle
Buy
Sonnets to Orpheus: III. Sonnet #5
George Perle
Buy
Sonnets to Orpheus: IV. Sonnet #19
George Perle
Buy
Carols of Death: I. The Last Invocation
William Schuman
Buy
Carols of Death: II. The Unknown Region
William Schuman
Buy
Carols of Death: III. To All, To Each
William Schuman
Buy
Art and Isadora
Michael Dellaira
Buy
Prima serie cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane: I. Il Coro delle Malmaritate
Luigi Dallapiccola
Buy
Prima serie cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane: II. Il Coro dei Malammogliatti
Luigi Dallapiccola
Buy