Monday, October 23, 2006

Choral Music, World Literature, And The Loss Of American Humanist Philanthropy

Over the past two Saturday evenings, Washington regional audiences have been fortunate to be able to hear live, and superb, performances of Gustav Holst's 'Hymns From The Rig Veda' (preceded by sacred Hindu solo chanting), and Alfred Schnittke's 'Requiem', from 1975, which the Soviet/Russian/'European' composer based upon his own personal selection of the words of the Latin Mass (the composer, of Jewish and atheist ethical/religious background, converted to Christianity later in his life, but incorporated Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox humanist strains in his orchestral and choral music).

Not this evening, but next Monday, October 30, the Library of Congress will celebrate its Founders' Day with a chamber choral program by the San Francisco-based ensemble Chanticleer, featuring the the East Coast premiere of Ezequiel Viñao's 'The Wanderer', a setting of an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem. Works by American composers Paul Schoenfeld, Carlos Sánchez Gutiérrez, Arthur Jarvinen, and Steven Stucky round out the concert.

The program is the first of three Library of Congress concerts this season highlighting American choral music.

A podcast with Chanticleer music director Joseph Jenning and composer Ezequiel Viñao on The Wanderer is available from the Library of Congress here.


Two extraordinary American women, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Gertrude Clarke Whittall, by their generosity toward the Library of Congress Music Division, had a profound influence on the history of music in the United States and laid the cornerstone for all subsequent musical philanthropy in the Library. They were born within three years of one another, and their support of music in the Library overlapped for several decades, beginning in the 1930s. Although their devotion to music was equal, they expressed that devotion in divergent but complementary ways, Mrs. Coolidge focusing largely on the new, Mrs. Whittall on the classic tradition exemplified by the repertory of the string quartet.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953), one of the most notable patrons in the history of American music, seized an opportunity in 1924 to expand the vision and mission of the Library of Congress through underwriting concerts, commissioning new music, and encouraging musicological scholarship.

To date, the new American oligarchs of the early 21st century, while expressing strong support of science and medicine, have failed to express a comparable level of commitment and thought to American and world humanist-based culture.


In the Beginning: The Bible Before The Year 1000

October 21, 2006–January 7, 2007

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C.

The [Judeo-Christian] Bible is the best-selling book of all time. It has been produced in numerous editions, from the book form popularized over 1600 years ago, to tape recordings, CDs and now on the Internet. However, few people know the fascinating history of the Bible. What were some of the first Bibles like? What materials were used to make them? In what languages where they written?

(Answer to last question: Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Glagolitic [early Slavonic], Armenian, Ethiopian, Coptic, Georgian.)

St. Mark and St. Luke; Right cover of The Washington Manuscript of the Gospels
7th century; Byzantine period
Encaustic painting on wooden panel
H: 21.3 W: 14.3 cm; Egypt
Freer Gallery of Art
Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1906.298


Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.

Photo credit: Freer/Sackler Galleries of Art, Washington, D.C. With thanks.


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