Opus 803

Ascensions (2009)

for SATB Chorus, Traverso, Baroque Violin, Viola da Gamba, Organ

Text by Jakob Balde (in Latin)

Cornell Chamber Singers; Le Petit Violons; Holland J. Jancaitis, conductor

Duration: 15 min.

Dedication: for the Cornell University Chamber Singers

Commission: Commissioned by the Cornell University Chamber Singers, Holland J. Jancaitis, director

Publisher: Musik Fabrik

Performance materials available from the publisher.

Ascensions (2009) for SATB chorus, traverso, baroque violin, viola da gamba, and organ was commissioned by and is dedicated to the Cornell University Chamber Singers, Holland J. Jancaitis, director.

The work is a cantata consisting of an instrumental sinfonia followed by choral settings of three poems by “neo-Latin” poet Jakob Balde, S.J. (1604–68), hailed as the “Horace of Germany” and considered one of the greatest Latin poets of any era.

In the case of the three poems selected, Balde’s vivid imagery and mastery of Latin poetics are put in service of religious expression. The poems are filled with countless allusions to the classical poetic tradition; notably, he creates a strong correlation between the Virgin Mary of his Christian tradition (Balde was a Jesuit priest) and the goddesses invoked in classical Latin poetry. Thus, Balde uses the older forms to express something that was, for him, contemporary and relevant. (An analogue to this use of language is the idea of creating new music to be played on “period instruments.”)

The opening sinfonia begins with an ascending pattern of triads, which returns throughout the work. The forward momentum is interrupted several times before the movement settles tonally. The first choral movement employs a bouncy momentum to set the celebratory poem on the Virgin’s assumption. The second movement is a prayerful song on the acceptance of death; it is spare and meditative, unfolding as a series of sectional canons over several drones. The final movement returns to the celebratory spirit of the opening; this time, instead of the Virgin’s journey, the poem describes the speaker’s journey and compares a purposeful sea voyage to a directed life.

Balde’s poems are provided in their original Latin and in two translations. One is a free translation in rhyming poetic English created by James J. Mertz, S.J., longtime professor at Loyola University. The other is a newly-created literal translation by Edward J. Vodoklys, S.J., Senior Lecturer in Classics at the College of the Holy Cross.