Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The composer's reflections after the premiere of 'Media Vita'

Dr. Kurt Knecht premiered his choral work, Media Vita, this past Sunday. It was a huge success, and Knecht agreed to tell a little of the story of how this piece came about. “The Lincoln Lutheran Choir commissioned me to write a piece that would pair with the Fauré Requiem,” Knecht said and explained that “the orchestration choice was very practical.” He needed to use the same resources as the Fauré Requiem as arranged by Rutter. However, he chose to use the piano instead of the organ in the hopes that it would be easier to use in future performances for those places that do not have an organ.
The texts that he chose came from a discovery some years ago when Knecht came across a burial responsary in a Lutheran hymnal:
“I thought the texts would serve nicely as a pairing with the Fauré and fit in well with the tradition of vernacular text settings. Interestingly, all of the texts come from responsaries from the Little Hours for the Dead from the monastic tradition. I also found that the Lutheran's tended not to adjust funeral liturgies which is rather surprising since they felt free to adjust liturgies at will after the Reformation. Of course, they didn't really do much to adjust actual liturgies (at least in the same way that Calvinists did). So, it is not very surprising to find Roman Catholic rites continued in the Lutheran tradition. How they decided to pick these texts from several different Little Hours and compile them into a set is still a mystery. Ultimately, though, I really loved the theological motion of the texts themselves.”

Although he speculates on whether or not personal beliefs affect text settings since there are many beautiful settings of religious texts by atheists, Knecht does “absolutely” share the beliefs conveyed in these texts. His thoughts on the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead are that it “is a much misunderstood doctrine. For many Christians, the belief is that we have an immortal soul that goes to live with God when we die. If that was the ultimate reality, Jesus would have never shown his wounds to the disciples after the Resurrection. It is very important to understand that the ultimate reality is that I will see God ‘in my flesh,’ as the passage from Job says. This very body that I'm in right now is going to be transformed into something lasting. Our hope is that death is not the final word.” Of course, the hope that Knecht has was also the theme of the concert and came across in a very fitting manner in all the selections of the evening.

Some of Knecht’s musical reasons are ones that are important to him in all of his works, of great concern to him is the use of counterpoint because “so few know how to write good counterpoint any more. So, the first movement begins in free counterpoint in a minor mode and moves to a slow moving fugue in major for the ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord" text.” For the second movement, Knecht started with the strings and horns and moved to the harp. He also employed “a Bachian obbligato violin part over the fugue.” In the second movement, Knecht wanted to write something that began “in quiet conviction and moved to defiance. I certainly had the powerful instrument of Bill Shomos in my head when I was writing. He is spectacular and an inspiration for a composer to have that sort of sheer volume when orchestrating.” For the third movement, Knecht felt that it “just needed to be a Mendelssohn inspired piece that ended in a fugue. It was the only way to communicate that much excitement.” The fourth movement was written with his second soloist in mind, knowing Becky Shane’s inspiring voice. “I knew she could deliver the most poignant performance of that text if I provided her a vehicle in which to drive. As usual, she delivered an incredibly moving performance.” In the fifth movement, Knecht wanted to end with everyone singing "We are the Lord's" over and over. So that “the overall scope should move from questions and resignation at the beginning to comfort and hope at the end.”

Visit Knecht’s blog to hear each movement of the piece here.

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