Five pieces for the Summer sunrise:
First, Reis glorios (Glorious King), a 12th century alba by Guiraut de Bornelh, who was styled the ‘master of the troubadours’. The alba (Occitan) or alborada (Spanish) or aubade (French) is a dawn song. After the (hopeful, on the part of the singer, anyway) seduction of the evening serenade, a sentry/watcher alerts the lovers to the coming dawn and the possibility of discovery by enraged spouse or jealous rival.
Two works with the same title – Helios both inspired by seeing the sunrise over the Aegean. The Nielsen was written in 1903 and the Mathias – clearly, in part, a tribute to the Nielsen – seventy-four years later in 1977. The Mathias was dedicated to the memory of Grace Williams and was written to fulfil a commission from the Llandaff Festival. Both pieces follow the same trajectory, from the darkness of pre-dawn to the twilight of evening.
Nielsen wrote the following superscription to his score:
Silence and darkness,
The sun rises with a joyous song of praise,
It wanders its golden way and sinks quietly into the sea
Carl Nielsen: Helios, Op. 17
William Mathias: Helios, Op.76
It’s hardly surprising that northerners are far more fascinated by the sun than their southern neighbours – we’ve just heard from Nielsen and Mathias, now it’s Sibelius’ turn. It is, after all, a much more infrequent visitor to Finland than Italy, for instance. In Sibelius‘ tone poem Nightride and Sunrise Op. 55, after the incessant, hypnotic, galloping rhythm of the opening, the twittering of the dawn chorus in the woodwind and a hymn-like string transition leads us to the brass section, and one of the noblest of musical sunrises.
Finally, perhaps the finest (and certainly the noisiest) sunrise that I know – no chance of sleeping in through this one! – comes at the end of Schönberg‘s cantata, Gurrelieder. Following the sprechstimme of Des Sommerwindes Wilde Jagd (The Wild Hunt of the Summer Wind) and after cries from the speaker of Erwacht, erwacht (Awake, awake) the chorus announces the final dawn: Behold the sun! (starts at page 68 in the score).
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