CONTACT: PETER ALEXANDER
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0072; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: March 24, 2000
Mendelssohn's 'Walpurgis Night' will be performed by UI Symphony and Choruses
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Music by Felix Mendelssohn and Anton Bruckner, two of
the 19th-century's most active and successful composers of choral music, will
be performed by the University of Iowa Symphony and Choruses at 8 p.m. Wednesday,
April 5 in Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus.
The program will comprise three pieces: the motet "Heilig, Heilig"
(Holy, holy) by Mendelssohn, for unaccompanied choir; the Bruckner's "Te
Deum" for choir and orchestra; and Mendelssohn's secular oratorio, "Die
erste Walpurgisnacht" (The first Walpurgis night) op. 60.
Timothy Stalter, director of choral activities at the UI School of Music,
will conduct the performance, which will be free and open to the public. Soloists
will include baritone Stephen Swanson from the School of Music faculty, along
with UI graduate students Emeline Fitzmorris, soprano; Ann Cravero, alto;
Lawrence Reppert and John Des Marais, tenors; and John Spomer, bass.
This will be the first Symphony and Choruses performance conducted by Stalter,
who joined the UI faculty last fall.
The two major works of the program -- Bruckner's "Te Deum" and
Mendelssohn's "Walpurgisnacht" -- are colorful, expressive pieces
of less than 30 minutes. In other ways, however, they are very different:
The "Te Deum" is Bruckner's best known choral work, and it is a
powerful affirmation of simple faith. In contrast, "Die erste Walpurgisnacht"
is infrequently performed; it is a secular, rather than sacred, oratorio;
and it tells a sophisticated and at times satirical story of pagan Druids
and Christian crusaders.
Stalter believes that the two works make an attractive combination. "Bruckner's
'Te Deum' and Mendelssohn's 'Die erste Walpurgisnacht' are both wonderful
examples of the best of the choral/orchestral repertoire from the Romantic
era." he said. "Both are exciting, powerful, impressive pieces.
We are all looking forward to performing these incredible works in Hancher."
In modern liturgical books the "Te Deum" is termed a "Hymn
of Thanksgiving" and it has long been associated with important ceremonies
such as coronations and celebrations of victory in battle. The stirring text
inspired a number of 19th-century composers, chief among them Mendelssohn,
Berlioz, Bruckner, Dvorak and Verdi.
Bruckner's "Te Deum" had its first performance in Vienna on May
2, 1885 with the composer conducting. It was well received, despite the fact
that the orchestra part was played on two pianos. The Vienna Philharmonic
premiered the orchestral version under the famous conductor Hans Richter the
next year. Soon there was a triumphal series of performances of the "Te
Deum" as far afield as Oslo, Amsterdam, and Cincinnati -- where it was
performed by 800 singers and a 120-strong orchestra before an audience of
The dictionary defines the Walpurgis Night as a depiction of a witches'
Sabbath, or a situation that has a nightmarish quality. Mendlessohn's oratorio
is based on a dramatic ballad by Goethe that satirizes the medieval crusaders
as superstitious, in contrast to the genuine reverence for a God-like nature
as practiced by Druids. "Walpurgis Night" is used ironically for
the title, since the Druids pretend to be devils in order to frighten away
the threatening crusaders. For Mendelssohn, the text provided many opportunities
for the expression in music of both humor and reverence.
The premiere of "Die erste Walpurgisnacht" took place in Leipzig
under the composer's baton on Feb. 2, 1843. Composer Hector Berlioz, who attended
the final rehearsal, wrote afterward, "I was at once quite astounded
by the . . .grandeur of the work. I am strongly inclined to regard it as the
finest thing that Mendelssohn has done."
The April 5 concert by the UI Symphony and Choruses is supported in part
by a contribution from the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.
Stalter directs Kantorei, the premier choral ensemble of the UI School of
Music, teaches graduate conducting courses, and administers the graduate program
in choral conducting. He has research interests in the teaching of conducting
and historical musical performance. An active member of the American Choral
Directors Association, he frequently presents clinics and workshops in choral
conducting around the United States.
In addition to conducting and teaching choral music, Stalter is active as
a tenor soloist in the United States and abroad. A specialist in the music
of the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods, he is known for his performances
as the Evangelist in the Passions of J.S. Bach and Heinrich Schuetz. He has
appeared as tenor soloist with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers in France,
the Robert Shaw Chamber Choir in Atlanta, the Classical Music Seminar and
Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria, and the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival.
Swanson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music in 1994. For nearly
20 years before that date he had an active operatic career in Europe. During
that time his repertoire grew to 91 roles in opera, operetta and musicals.
He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a
featured soloist in European festivals including the Berliner Festwochen,
the Days of Contemporary Music in Dresden and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi,
Swanson recently took part in the Viktor Ullman-Projekt 1998, a celebration
of the 100th anniversary of the birth of a composer who died in the Nazi death
camps. Swanson sang major roles in Ullman's operas "Der zerbrochene Krug"
and "Der Kaiser von Atlantis" at performances in Europe, at the
Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and at the Martyr's Museum in Los Angeles.
For information on UI arts events, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/~uiowacr
on the World Wide Web. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at http://www.uiowa.edu/~music/.