Symphony No. 4 "Requiem" (1943)
Hanson regarded this deeply-felt elegy for the dead as one of his favorite works. Entirely orchestral, it is cast in four movements, the titles of which are taken from the Requiem Mass. The first movement is turbulent, romantic and reverential; a Kyrie theme alternating with dance and song-like sections and a chorale statement from which develops a storm-tossed, timpani-pounding coda as though suggesting the conflict between good and evil. The second Requiescat (Largo) movement is a softly ascending processional that is most affecting; the brief Dies Irae is a fast and ferociously bitter scherzo, while the Lux Aeterna (Largo pastorale) has some of Vaughan Williams's luminous mysticism as it sings eloquently and majestically of simple but strong piety. A most unusual but engaging work.
On a trip to England, Hanson came across and was very impressed by the epic poem Beowulf believed to have dated from 700 A.D. He began sketching his Lament in Scotland in "an environment rugged, swept with mist, and wholly appropriate to the scene of my story... My intention has been to realize in the music the austerity and stoicism and the heroic atmosphere of the poem.." Hanson wrote.
Beowulf is the nephew of the King of Geatus (now Sweden) who defeats a ferocious monster but ultimately pays for its destruction with his life. The Lament, scored for choir and orchestra, is about the people's grief over Beowulf''s death. The Seattle Symphony and Chorus vividly and movingly depict the hostile location, the grieving people and the scene where they are gathered around the hero's funeral pyre. The opening is thrillingly evocative with horns and trumpets calling across the soundstage over cavernous bass drum beats, low bass string ostinatos and snare drums. A magnificent work.
Written as a wedding present for his wife, Margaret Elizabeth Nelson, it is quietly, dreamily romantic. Quoting the booklet, "The work's chief voice is the flute which unspools long flowing melodies to the harp's rhythmic obbligato. It's gentleness notwithstanding, Hanson gives the Serenade a propulsive dynamism that carries the listener with the inevitability of a flowing brook." Soloists Judith Mendenhall (flute) and Susan Jolles (harp) capture its magic beautifully.
Hanson's opera and most ambitious work, Merry Mount, is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, The Maypole of Merry Mount. It is a story that is anything but merry. It is a tragedy set in a Puritan town in old New England and it is about a pastor's obsession with a visiting Lady and the unleashing of his repressed hedonism. The Overture, using modal writing, is austere befitting the Puritans but the second movement, "Children's Dance" brings a relaxation and the music becomes syncopated and much more colorful. The lush romantic music for "Love Duet" has throbbing bass and percussion to signify the Pastor's growing desire for Lady Margaret Sandys, and it reminds one slightly of Bernard Hermann. The Prelude to Act II and The Maypole Dances use original themes and modes to depict the erection of the maypole, a pagan totem that scandalize(s) the Puritans. The music becomes more sensuous, reflecting the abandonment that leads Pastor Bradford to murder. Schwarz relishes all his expressive and dramatic opportunities. Enjoy!