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The two outstanding student musical events of the year will be presented this week and next: the annual concert by the Harvard Glee Club in Sanders Theatre this Thursday at 8:15; and next Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 8:45, the yearly opera given by the Lowell House Musical Society.
The Sanders Theatre concert this year features on the first half of the program a collection of English elegaic music from different periods. Starting with a Byrd motet, there is music by Tallis, Dr. Arne, Francis Ireland, and Gustave Holst, and it is fascinating to observe how the elegaic motif is treated by each composer, always successfully, but in entirely different ways. The magnificent Byrd motet, Iustorum Animae, probably the finest music on the program, sums up in its short pages all the serenity and breadth of sixteenth-century classicism. With a bare economy of notes, it builds up by means of polyphonic architecture to a climax of tremendous beauty, and with the final text "in pace," the souls of the righteous seem to float off into space and come eternally to rest in Abraham's bosom. The Lamentations of Jeremiah, an entirely different sort of thing, takes as its subject the Biblical account of the fall of Jerusalem, and achieves its effect of sustained grief by a certain pitched, calculated monotony. Now and then a sharper twist of phrase suggests the weeping and gnashing of teeth, sackcloth and ashes of the historical Jeremiah, but for the most part the rhapsodic wildness of the prophet does not break through the fabric of ritualistic lament. Emotion breaks through more strongly in a far more conventional piece, however, the Elegy of Dr. Arne, from the Apollonian Harmony of 1790. A memorial tribute to a friend, the Elegy was written to a pastoral poem by John Gay, which rocks with neo-classic artificialities. Yet despite the artificialities in the poem, and occasional artificialities in the music, the simplicity and sincerity of feeling rise as a whole above artificiality, and create a minor masterpiece. Representing the modern era, Gustav Holst's Dirge for Two Veterans is included.
The second half of the program is devoted to some waltzes from Johann Strauss's oriental opera, La Reine Indigo, Constant Lambert's jazzy, flashy, but not too consequential Rio Grande, and the opening chorus from Verdi's Othello.
The Lowell House Musical Society this year continues its delightful series of English operas with a presentation of Venus and Adonis by John Blow, next Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in the House dining-hall. To my mind the Society has done an impressive job during the past years in resurrecting the wonderful English operas--anyone who knows the beauty of these little operas will realize that it is only their peculiar hybrid form which has held them in relative obscurity. Somehow or other, grand opera as it grew up on the continent never clicked in England. Even after the Italian style of declamatory singing was assimilated in the seventeenth century, opera remained a blood brother of the masque from which it had sprung, never getting past the stage of a masque with incidental music. Venus and Adonis is such a masque: an elaborate little puppet opera, composed in 1685 as an offering to James II by John Blow, Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, and Organist at Westminster Abbey. Most of us know of Blow only as the vague, unimportant creature who tutored Purcell. Actually he was an excellent composer with an individual style of his own, and to relegate him to a name in Purcell's biography is to slight his gifts as a composer as well as to lose some fine music. The revival at Lowell House of Venus and Adonis, with Nancy Waite and John Darr in the title roles, the Radcliffe Ballet, and the Pierian under Mal Holmes participating, should be an event of interest and entertainment to all music lovers, especially to those who miss as sorely as I do the lovely minor music of the seventeenth century.
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