Sunday, August 25, 2013

Charles Kaufmann: The Longfellow Chorus releases trial concert recordings of 'Hiawatha's Departure' of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

[(Photo by Emil Hoppe) Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List and a Bibliography by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, We are collaborating with the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation of the U.K.,]

The Longfellow Chorus and Orchestra, Charles Kaufmann, conductor, from the March 16, 2013, Longfellow Choral Festival in Portland, Maine

Charles Kaufmann of The Longfellow Chorus of Portland, Maine writes:

The Longfellow Chorus releases trial concert recordings of Hiawatha's Departure, recorded on March 16 and 17, 2013, Portland, Maine:

The final section of Coleridge-Taylor's 4-part Hiawatha cycle, Hiawatha's Departure, tells the story of the meeting of the French Jesuit "Black Robe" priests and the Eastern Woodland Indians in North America in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Hiawatha delivers a prophesy to his People: unless they make treaties with these white "Black Robe" chiefs, and convert to their Christian religion, the Indian Nations will perish.

Coleridge-Taylor later inserted the "Overture to Hiawatha" as Part III of the Hiawatha cycle. The main theme of the overture is based on the African-American spiritual, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I See, Lord!" (alternate tune). The Orchestra of The Longfellow Chorus performed the overture in concert where Coleridge-Taylor intended it: between Part II, "The Death of Minnehaha," and Part IV, "Hiawatha's Departure." Here is a recording of that performance:

Hiawatha Part III: Overture to The Song of Hiawatha:

Hiawatha Part IV: Hiawatha's Departure:

1. Spring Had Come:

It is spring in the woodlands, and all the birds and blossoms seem happy enough. But Hiawatha still grieves for his young bride Minnehaha. Angela Brown, soprano, sings:

2. From His Wanderings far to Eastward:

Iagoo, "the great boaster," as sung by tenor Rodrick Dixon, returns from his travels with a wild story about having seen something even bigger than Lake Superior, the "Big-Sea-Water," upon which "a canoe with wings came flying" filled with "a hundred warriors" with faces painted white. The village people mock him: "Kaw!" they say, "we don't believe you.":

3. Hiawatha's Vision:

In this remarkable aria -- one of the greatest arias of Victorian English music -- Robert Honeysucker, baritone, as Hiawatha, warns his People that what Iagoo says is true. He has seen this himself in a "vision," he tells them, in which he "beheld the westward marches of the unknown crowded nations." He warns them that if they do not "extend the heart's right hand of friendship," to the white men, the remnants of their tribes will be "swept westward" "like the cloud-rack of a tempest," "like the withered leaves of Autumn":

4. By the Shore of Gitche Gumee:

It is now summer, and "all the earth is bright and joyous." Coleridge-Taylor's choice of dramatic harmony and the sense of urgency of his music hint at a different story:

5. From the Brow of Hiawatha:

Angela Brown and The Longfellow Chorus sing another beautiful and dramatic aria about the welcome Hiawatha gives to the Black Robe Jesuit Chief. This scene reminds me of the 1991 Canadian film "Black Robe" :

6. Beautiful Is the Sun:

Hiawatha sees the arrival of the Back Robes as a happy occasion for his People. Even the tribal cornfields seem exultant:

7. And the Black-Robe Chief Made Answer:

Rodrick Dixon, as the Black Robe priest (the "Pale-face"), offers Hiawatha and his People "the Peace of prayer, peace of pardon, Peace of Christ and Joy of Mary":

8. Then the Generous Hiawatha:

The singers of The Longfellow Chorus describe "the old men of the village" gathering with peace-pipe to greet to Black Robes. Of note is the powerful, ominous theme, "It is well," they said, "O brother, that you come so far to greet us." This is the title that the late Howard University scholar Doris McGinty chose for her Coleridge-Taylor article ["That You Came So Far to See Us: Coleridge-Taylor in America"; Black Research Journal, Vol. 21., No 2, Autumn 2001] about the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society of Washington, D. C. and their invitation to Coleridge-Taylor to visit them in 1904. This theme is intermeshed with the winter starvation theme of SC-T's Hiawatha Part II: The Death of Minnehaha:

9. Then the Black Robe Chief Told His Message to the People:

Rodrick Dixon, tenor, sings the best late-Romantic conversion speech that an early 17th-century Black Robe could muster. Of note here is SC-T's signature chord of grief after Dixon sings "How he rose from where they laid him, walked again with his disciples" -- an augmented triad built on the flattened sixth degree of the scale (C-natural) resolving to the major tonic cord in second inversion (E-major). It is an especially touching musical moment (sung magnificently by Dixon) and one of significance and identity for SC-T. He uses this harmony in numerous other works, such as for the final cadential harmony of one of his last compositions, "Keep me from sinkin' down," for violin and orchestra (1912)":

10. And the Chiefs Made Answer:

The tribal chiefs sound pretty skeptical here about conversion and the whole "join them or die" idea put forth by Hiawatha: "We'll think about it," they say:

11. Then They Rose Up and Departed:

The skeptical chiefs (and SC-T's big brass section) take the message back to the People in their wigwams. The white men fall happily asleep in Hiawatha's wigwam to the waltz-like sound of the grasshoppers in the cornfields. Meanwhile, the sunset sends silent, deadly spears of light into the thickets that dance in "secret ambush":

12. I Am Going

Hiawatha decides -- we're not actually sure why -- that now is the time for him to sail off into the sunset in his magic canoe. Undoubtably, he believes that the Black Robes will help save his People in his absence. Before he goes, he tells his grandmother, Nokomis, to make sure that the People don't molest his Black Robe guests. Next, he tells the People themselves: "Trust the white men. They know what they're talking about." In light of the history of the many later broken treaties of the 1800s, perhaps this isn't such good advice. (Hiawatha says he'll be back, so perhaps there'll be a second judgement someday.):

13. On the Shore Stood Hiawatha:

Hiawatha waves goodbye to the People and shoves his magic canoe into the water, whispering to it, "Westward! westward!" Paddling (or riding) off into the fiery sunset would become a stereotype of Wild West films in the 20th century. In 1899, SC-T captured it when the idea was fresh and new. Can we thank SC-T for the discovery of the idea in 1899 in Longfellow's 1855 poem?

14. And They Said, "Farewell for ever!"

If the finale to The Death of Minnehaha provided one of the greatest climatic moments of late-Victorian English choral music, this one might be The Greatest. It is not Hiawatha who disappears "to the regions of the home-wind, of the Northwest wind, Keewaydin," while the forests weep and the waves sob and the heron screams. Historically speaking, it is the People -- the wild, unconquered North American tribes. The only things missing are the 6,862 pipes of the municipal organ of Portland, Maine, the Kotzschmar Memorial Organ, all stops drawn at the end. It was out of service. Well, maybe if ever Hiawatha returns to Portland:

What you can hear in these recordings, but not see, are our five dancers and the choreography of Darrell Grand Moultrie. However, a slide show of over 40 photos of this performance can be seen by following the link below and clicking on the image on the right of the page.

Charles Kaufmann

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