Requiem for Ghost Ship

“Take Care of This House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Bernstein’s last Broadway score was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, subtitled “A Musical About the Problems of Housekeeping.” With book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, it opened on May 4, 1976, and closed four days later after only 7 performances. New York Times critic Clive Barnes wrote: “If this is meant as a Bicentennial offering … maybe we should wait for the Tricentennial.” Jerome Robbins commented, “Only two titans could have a failure like this.”

The story covers a hundred years of American history from the standpoint of the White House and its residents: the Presidents and First Ladies, and two black servants. A subplot depicted modern actors rehearsing the play. “Take Care of This House” is a ballad sung by Abigail Adams to a young slave named Lud, who will eventually live through the Emancipation Proclamation.

Text of “Take Care of This House”

Here in this shell of a house,
this house that is struggling to be.
falling through the hall,
coming straight through the wall,
is hope staring down at me,
but there’s nothing you can see
sadness will flow down a cheek
courage stand out like a tree
Joy, joy is as bright
as a comet in flight.
but hope isn’t easy to see.

Take Care Of This House
keep it from harm
if bandits break in sound the alarm
Care for this house
shine it by hand
and keep it so clean
the glow can be seen all over the land.

be careful at night,
check all the doors,
if someone makes off with a dream
the dream will be yours.
be always on call
for this house is the home of us all.

Be careful at night
check all the doors
if someone makes off with a dream
the dream will be yours.
be always on call,
for this house its the home of us all.

Ghost Ship Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
Richard Marriott (b. 1951)

The name Ghost Ship evokes radical independence from the restrictions of conventional existence, the freedom to experiment, and to travel to distant lands.

The 1st movement is subtitled “Exhilaration, Freedom, Discovery”. As it opens, a nautical mood is implied with the call and answer in the horns as if ships were communicating over great distances. The cello introduces a main theme in 6/8 time, full of expectation, romance, and daring in the resonant key of C, and then is answered by the full orchestra.

The next sections of the 1st movement describe travel to distant shores and the joy of exploration, the impulse to relax and luxuriate in the sensuous surroundings, and then finally, moving further on to the next adventure. Themes are introduced which are repurposed in later sections. As the Ghost Ship was full of artistic references to the island of Bali, so the 1st movement utilizes elements of Balinese music, especially the hocketing technique called “kotekan”. We finally return to the main theme, now in the darker key of Db, but full of experience.

The 2nd movement is subtitled “The Fire”.  The movement opens with the nautical call and response of trombone and tuba. The cello introduces a theme full of dark complexity and is joined by the orchestra in a dramatic tutti.  

At the time of the fire, the warehouse was hosting a concert featuring artists from the record label 100% Silk, and headlined by Golden Donna. The rest of the 2nd movement is inspired by the electronic music of the evening, the slewing patterns of the oscillators heard as polyrhythmic glissandos on the cello, answered in the strings, and a barrage of percussion. The music imperceptibly mutates and becomes incendiary, with the dance of flames outlined by the woodwinds against the glissandos in the trombones and strings, culminating in a raging percussion crescendo.

The 3rd movement is subtitled “Lacrimosa”. The cello leads us through the loss of lives and devastation of dreams. The movement starts as a naked open wound. There will be memorials, some stately; a flicker of a smile as we remember the beauty, enthusiasms, and accomplishments of the victims, but the painful wound is never far away. We return to the Lacrimosa, but now also a hint of anger at the circumstances which caused the tragedy, what persons, what economics, what deity is responsible? The cello cadenza returns us to the opening theme of the 1st movement but now heard as a mournful comment on mortality, before the end comes crashing down.

Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), Op. 45
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

In the late 1850’s, Brahms began a cantata of mourning, possibly influenced by Robert Schumann’s death in 1856. By 1861, he had selected several biblical texts and arranged a four-movement cantata. After his mother’s death in 1865, he took up the work again and during the next two years the Requiem began to take its final shape.

Brahms did not take his text from the Roman Catholic Mass of the Dead, as had other composers before him. His intention was to select Old and New Testament texts that not only mourn the dead but also give comfort to the living. The texts he chose were taken exclusively from Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible; hence the title, A German Requiem, to distinguish it from the Latin Requiem of the Catholic liturgy. However, Brahms later mentioned that he would gladly have left out the word “German” and put “Mankind” in its place.

By August of 1866, six movements of the Requiem were finished. These were movements one, two, three, four, six and seven of what would become the final version. The first three movements were presented for the first time in Vienna, on December 1, 1867. Due to a lack of rehearsal time the performance was a failure.

On Good Friday, 1868, Brahms conducted a performance of the six-movement work at Bremen Cathedral. In the audience were many of his closest friends: Clara Schumann, Joseph Joachim and Albert Dietrich, as well as his father, Jakob Brahms. Members of the Hamburg Ladies Choir, which Brahms had founded, were part of the chorus. The performance was such a complete success that it was repeated within the month in Bremen.

In May, 1868, Brahms added the fifth movement, dedicated to the memory of his mother. The complete version of the Requiem as we now know it was introduced in Leipzig on February 18, 1869.

“The symmetry and perfect equilibrium of all its parts stamp the work as a product of Brahms’ complete maturity,” writes Karl Geiringer. “Most of the movements of the Requiem are in three parts, and this tripartite symmetry gives the whole work of seven movements its special stamp.” Further, the entire piece is constructed like a giant arch, with the central fourth movement surrounded by thematically paired movements on either side. The first is related to the last movement, the second to the sixth, and the third to the fifth.

“Brahms has only one object, the consolation of the living,” writes Peter Latham. “It is a paean of release. After it the mourner can return to his private griefs with his soul at peace.” Thus the first chorus sings “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” accompanied by an orchestra of divided violas and cellos. The bright tones of violins, clarinets and trumpets have been silenced. The second movement is a funeral march to the words “Behold, all flesh is as the grass.” The baritone soloist begins the third movement with “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days.” Solo and chorus alternate until the fugue on “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God.”

The central fourth movement is a chorus in rondo form, “How lovely is thy dwelling place,” which Geiringer calls “the gentle trio of the work.” In the fifth movement, the soprano solo begins with, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” The chorus takes up the refrain. In the sixth movement the chorus darkly intones, “For here have we no continuing city.” Out of this comes the baritone’s call to the mystery, the same passage as in Handel’s Messiah: “We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye … for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,” and later the familiar “O death, where is thy sting?” The movement ends with a joyous double fugue. Recalling the first movement, the last intones: “Blessed are the dead…that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”

Text of German Requiem

Selig sind, die da Leid tragen, denn sie sollen getröstet werden.
Die mit Tränen säen, werden mit Freuden ernten.

Sie gehen hin und weinen, und tragen edlen Samen, und kommen mit Freuden und bringen ihre Garben.

(Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. [S. Matthew v.4]
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. [Psalm cxxvi. 5,6])

II. Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen wie des Grases Blumen. Das Gras ist verdorret und die Blume abgefallen.

So seid nun geduldig, lieben Brüder, bis auf die Zukunft des Herrn. Siehe ein Ackermann wartet auf die köstliche Frucht der Erde und ist geduldig darüber, bis er empfahe den Morgenregen und Abendregen.

Aber des Herrn Wort bleibet in Ewigkeit.

Die Erlöseten des Herrn werden wiederkommen, und gen Zion kommen mit Jauchzen; Freude, ewige Freude wird über ihrem Haupte sein; Freude und Wonne werden sie ergreifen, und Schmerz und Seufzen wird weg müssen.

(For all flesh is as the grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away. [I Peter i. 24]

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.  Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. [James v. 7]
But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. [I Peter i. 25]

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. [Isaiah xxxv. 10])

III. Herr, lehre doch mich, dass ein Ende mit mir haben muss, und mein Leben ein Ziel hat, und ich davon muss. Siehe, meine Tage sind einer Handbreit vor dir, und mein Leben ist wie nichts vor dir. Ach, wie gar nichts sind alle Menschen, die doch so sicher leben. Sie gehen daher wie ein Schemen, und machen ihnen viel vergebliche Unruhe; sie sammeln und wissen nicht wer es kriegen wird. Nun Herr, wes soll ich mich trösten? Ich hoffe auf dich.

Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand und keine Qual rühret sie an.

(Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold thou hast made my days as a hand-breath; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them. And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee. [Psalm xxxix. 4-7]

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. [Wisdom iii. 1.])

IV. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, Herr Zebaoth! Meine Seele verlanget und sehnet sich nach den Vorhöfen des Herrn; mein Leib und Seele freuen sich in dem lebendigen Gott. Wohl denen, die in deinem Hause wohnen, die loben dich immerdar!

(How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even, fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. [Psalm ixxxiv. 1,2,4])

V. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit; aber ich will euch wieder sehen und euer Herz soll sich freuen, und eure Freude soll niemand von euch nehman.

Ich will euch trösten, wie einen seine Mutter tröstet.
Sehet mich an: ich habe eine kleine Zeit Mühe und Arbeit gehabt und habe grossen Trost gefunden.

(And ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you [S. John xvi. 22]

As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you. [Isaiah ixvi. 13]
Behold with your eyes, how that I labored with a little, and found for myself much rest. [Ecclesiasticus li. 27])

VI. Denn wir haben hier keine bleibende Statt, sondern die zukünftige suchen wir.
Siehe, ich sage euch ein Geheimnis. Wir werden nicht alle entschlafen, wir werden aber alle verwandelt werden; und dasselbige plötzlich in einem Augenblick zu der Zeit der letzten Posaune. Denn es wird die Posaune schallen und die Toten werden auferstehen unverweslich, und wir werden verwandelt werden.

Dann wird erfüllet werden das Wort, das geschrieben steht: Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg. Tod, wo ist dein Stachel?  Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?

Herr, du bist würdig zu nehmen Preis und Ehre und Kraft, denn du hast alle Dinge erschaffen, und durch deinen Willen haben sie das Wesen und sind geschaffen.

(For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. [Hebrews xiii. 14]
Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory? [I Corinthians xv 51-2, 54-5]

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. [Revelations iv. 11])

VII. Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an. Ja, der Geist spricht, dass sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit, denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach.

(Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them. [Revelation xiv. 13])

~ Program notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2018.