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South Holland Master Chorale Concert Extends Across Centuries

Singers, orchestra to join forces at Lansing and St. John churches

South Holland, IL-(ENEWSPF)- South Holland Master Chorale will combine music from the 18th century and the 21st century in a concert titled “A Mass for Troubled Times,” to be presented on May 19 in Lansing, Illinois, and June 2 in St. John, Indiana. The performances genuinely span across centuries.

The concerts, directed by Philip J. Bauman, will present the stirring work “I thank you God for most this amazing day” by contemporary American composer Dan Forrest, based on a text by E.E. Cummings. They pair with the “Mass for Troubled Times,” also popularly known as the “Lord Nelson Mass,” by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Across Centuries: Places and Times

The May 19 performance will be at 4 p.m. at All Souls Parish, 3010 Ridge Road, Lansing. The hour-long concert repeat on June 2 at 4 p.m. at St. John the Evangelist Church, 10701 Olcott Avenue, St. John. Admission to both concerts is free; donations will be accepted. For more information, visit the Chorale website,, phone 708-210-2913, or email [email protected].

“We certainly live in troubled times,” Bauman said. “This concert celebrates the amazing things God has given us, things to be thankful for, and a cry for peace in the world. The power of the human voice can change the world. Our voices resound in glorious harmony and in one accord as we conclude the Mass exclaiming, ‘Dona nobis pacem!’ Give us peace!”

Across Centuries: Prince Nikolaus and Haydn

Written in 1798, much of the European world was in turbulent times. Napoleon’s army challenged European powers. The “Nelson Mass” is considered by many scholars to be among Haydn’s greatest compositions. At this time, Haydn, in his mid-60s, already had completed 104 symphonies and his choral masterworks “The Creation” and “The Seasons,” and was hailed as a musical genius throughout Europe. His employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, had commissioned Haydn to compose a new setting of the Catholic Mass each year to mark the name day of his wife, Princess Maria. The Mass setting performed in these concerts is the third of six that Haydn completed.

British conductor and choral music composer John Bawden notes that at that time, Mass settings generally were “a straightforward affair with organ accompaniment and perhaps a small group of strings.” But now Haydn, “still alert to any opportunity for innovation, proceeded to expand the format, integrating the orchestral and vocal forces in an extended symphonic choral work.” Bawden further notes that “for economic reasons, Prince Nikolaus had dismissed nearly all the wind players from his court orchestra, leaving Haydn with only trumpets, timpani, organ, and strings. With typical resourcefulness, he turned this apparent disadvantage into an opportunity, creating a highly distinctive sonority found in no other Mass.”

Retaining Haydn’s Original Orchestration

Later published editions of this Mass ran with more “normalized” orchestration. These became extremely popular. However, the presentation by South Holland Master Chorale will retain Haydn’s original orchestration.

Interestingly, Haydn’s manuscript of this Mass had no title or dedication. People knew it simply by the key of D minor in which the composer wrote it. Only some years later did Haydn himself catalog it as “Missa in Angustiis” (Mass in Troubled Times). Presumably, this reflected the uncertain times when he composed the piece. However, two years after Haydn wrote the Mass, British Lord Horatio Nelson visited the Esterhazy estate near Vienna. Nelson commanded the fleet that defeated Napoleon in the Battle of the Nile in August 1798. This was about the same time that Haydn was composing this Mass.

Haydn’s “Te Deum” and the “Mass in D Minor” were performed in Nelson’s honor during that visit. Bawden and others suggested that presentation, as well as the militaristic tone of parts of the Mass because of the prominence of trumpets and timpani, may have prompted the later association of Haydn’s Mass with Lord Nelson.

Across Centuries: The Nelson Mass

“Despite the foreboding of (these parts of the Mass),” Bawden says, “the prevailing mood of the ‘Nelson Mass’ is one of jubilation.” He adds, “Haydn once observed, ‘At the thought of God, my heart leaps for joy, and I cannot help my music doing the same.’ The sparkling vitality of the ‘Nelson Mass’ is the very epitome of that statement.”

The second work on the concert program is a setting by contemporary American composer Dan Forrest of E.E. Cummings’ poem “I thank you God for most this amazing day.” The poem’s text reflects elements of Cummings’ being raised in the Unitarian faith, which emphasizes the oneness of God, as well as his adult embracing of transcendentalism, which celebrates humanity and nature. In the poem, the natural world triggers an awakening to “Truth,” which, for Cummings, is a person, a “You.”

South Holland Master Chorale performed this work in its concerts this past fall. That presentation included only piano accompaniment, while the upcoming concerts will feature the work with orchestral accompaniment for a more full sound.

Dan Forrest found inspiration while biking.

Philip Bauman says that Forrest it was a bike ride along the Atlantic coast that inspired to create this work.

Forrest described the event: “I’m riding my bike across this narrow bridge that goes across the marsh to get back to the mainland, and the wind is pushing through all the reeds on the marshes, and the sun is shining — it’s just the most beautiful thing. And then, out of nowhere, this beautiful egret rises out of the marsh. This white bird with a huge wingspan is just pure snow white, and it rises effortlessly and starts floating across this sea of marsh grass, blowing in the wind. And I thought, ‘i thank you God for most this amazing day.’

E.E. Cummings

“It was seeing the kind of beauty that E.E Cummings was talking about in that text,” Forrest continues. “It was very shortly after that that something about the vast marshes and how it’s just grass, as far as you can see, may have lent itself to that kind of minimalism that starts the work. (It’s) just a very simple idea like one blade of grass but just repeated as far as the eye could see and yet constantly changing and moving in the wind and morphing into new things, and then this bird just rising and floating over the top of all. It is almost like the choir rising and floating over the grass underneath.”

As Forrest reflected on this work, he noted that he has rarely heard it all the way through, but when he has, he thinks, “Did that actually come from me? It is so beautiful.”

Bauman adds, “That is why South Holland Master Chorale and I love his musical writing. It always is ‘so beautiful.’