David Van Vactor (b. Plymouth, Indiana, 1906, d. Los Angeles, California, 1992) like many other composers, had at first no intention of becoming a professional musician, much less a composer. His boyhood was spent in northern Indiana, and it was in the town of Argos that he was taught to play the flute by the town barber. He was a member of the town band and, by the composer’s own admission, it is very likely this contact with bands that explains why so many of his works contain spirited marches.
After three years as a pre-medical student at Northwestern University, Van Vactor entered the School of Music of that institution. Upon graduating he went to Vienna, where he studied flute with Josef Niedermayr. In 1931, he became a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock, where he remained for thirteen years. Soon after joining the orchestra, Van Vactor spent a summer in Paris, studying composition with Paul Dukas and flute with Marcel Moyse. From 1936 to 1943, he was a member of the faculty of Northwestern University, teaching theory and conducting the chamber orchestra. Following this he went to Kansas City, where he held the position of assistant conductor of the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra. During his stay in that city he was head of the Department of Theory and Composition at the Conservatory of Music. He also founded the Allied Arts Orchestra for performance of music for chamber orchestra, with special emphasis on contemporary music.
In 1947, Van Vactor founded the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and was appointed conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, a position he held until 1972. He had visited Central and South America several times, appearing as both conductor and flutist. Upon several occasions he had conducted European orchestras — the Philharmonia in London, and the Palmengarten, Jugend Symphonie and Hessian Symphony orchestras in Frankfurt-am-Main.
As early as Easter of 1968 the composer considered writing a choral work based on the Gospel narrative of the crucifixion of Christ. While vacationing at Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy, Van Vactor began sketches for the piece — taking it up from time to time, then setting it aside in order to finish various commissioned works. In May of 1976, in response to a request made by the director of Knoxville Choral Society, J. B. Lyle, Van Vactor concentrated all of his creative efforts on the new work which, now bearing the title Episodes — Jesus Christ, was completed in March, 1977, and was dedicated “To the memory of my Mother and Father.”
The text was compiled by the composer’s daughter, Raven Harwood, and is drawn from the four Gospels (chiefly the fourth) and from Acts, Romans, I Corinthians and I Timothy. It will be seen that the text of the work, though taken from the Bible, is not always presented in the order in which appears in the Scriptures. Also, there are occasional changes made in the text, which was taken from the King James or Authorized Version of 1611 — changes made chiefly to suit the singing voice.
Notes by George F. DeVine (b.1915 Chicago, Illinois - d.1999 Knoxville, Tennessee)