Thursday, August 15, 2013

Longfellow Chorus shares previews of selected recordings of 4-part 'Song of Hiawatha' of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

[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.,]

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

Dear Bill,

Here's a post for your blog:

As you know, in March 2013, The Longfellow Chorus put on a rare performance of the complete 4-part Song of Hiawatha by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, in Portland, Maine. I am now able to share previews of a few recordings of this remarkable music from that performance, as sung by a diverse group of 60 singers from Portland, Maine, from Boston and from Washington, DC. What you will hear occasionally in the background are five dancers from New York City, choreographed by the American choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie.

As the story goes, Hiawatha and his grandmother, Nokomis, and their talented friends, Pau-Puk-Keewis (the dancer), Chibiabos (the musician) and Iagoo (the storyteller), really knew how to put on a good wedding:

1. After the dinner feast was over (where hump of bison, among other specialties, was on the menu), Nokomis invites Pau-Puk-Keewis to dance for everyone:

2. Pau-Puk-Keewis gets a little carried away, collapsing to fan himself at the end of his dizzying, panther-like display:

3. Every good wedding needs a good wedding singer, and so the guests call for the musician Chibiabos -- Hiawatha's special friend and the "sweetest of all singers" -- to give them a love song:

4. This he does, and here you hear the American tenor Rodrick Dixon -- best known, perhaps, as a member of the trio of tenors Cook, Dixon & Young -- singing what was perhaps SC-T's best known (and actually very sensual) song, "Onaway! Awake, beloved!"  SC-T's future bride, Jessie Walmisley, probably swooned over this one. (Do you think Jessie also had breath "as sweet as the fragrance of the wildflowers in the morning," as the song says?):

5. The storyteller Iagoo (who is "old and ugly" -- we are told that he is the special friend of Nokomis) has gotten jealous of the attention given Pau-Puk-Keewis and Chibiabos. And so Iagoo is invited to "tell us now a tale of wonder . . . a strange adventure . . . that the time may pass more gaily."

6. This completes the wedding celebration, and the guests depart, leaving Hiawatha "happy with the night and Minnehaha":

7. Hiawatha Part II, "The Death of Minnehaha," quite accurately depicts scenes of winter starvation that periodically occurred among Native American tribes in the wild before the beginning of the 20th century, and this contains some of SC-T's most heartfelt music. Having been visted by "Famine" and "Fever," Hiawatha's young bride dies while Hiawatha desperately searches for food. Minnehaha's Funeral March also brings to mind SC-T's own funeral in September 1912, and thus, this is especially moving:

8. In his grief, Hiawatha sings the beautiful aria, "Farewell, Minnehaha." Here we hear the American baritone Robert Honeysucker, who is known for his "powerful and plaintive voice":

9. The finale of The Death of Minnehaha contains one of the great climatic moments of Victorian English music. The only thing missing here is the sound of the full organ at the very end. Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, has the Kotzschmar Pipe Organ (completed in 1918), one of the world's largest and greatest organs, but it was out of service during our concerts in March 2013. This closing movement also features what should be known as -- but isn't -- one of the most famous solo cymbal crashes of all time, something that should be on every percussionist's audition list, if only to get the chance to do it with feeling:

Best wishes,

Charles Kaufmann

No comments: