NOTTURNA, the title of The Esoterics’ seventh CD recording, is the feminine form of the of Italian noun notturno, which refers to a musical composition that is inspired by the night, the “nocturne.” A word employed by such diverse composers as Mozart, Chopin, Shostakovich, and Fine, nocturne first applied to 18th-century ensemble pieces in several movements; in the Romantic era, the nocturne evolved to its more familiar form, a single-movement work for piano.
The first nocturnes were not meant to be evocative of the night. Rather, they were composed to be performed at nighttime gatherings. Their mood was often tranquil or contemplative, their melodies lyrical and cantabile, and their overall effect dreamlike and melancholy, sometimes even gloomy. The painter Whistler used titled several of his paintings “Nocturne” because the word was consistent with his theory that the finest of visual arts should be concerned with the beautiful arrangement of colors in harmony. Whistler’s paintings later inspired Debussy to composer his own nocturnes, which in turn inspired future generations of modern composers, including some of the composers on this recording.
NOTTURNA is a sister disc with The Esoterics’ sixth CD, SONETTARIA – in that both of these recordings contain choral nocturnes, both were recorded in the same year, and both were funded by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. True to the original theme of the nocturne, not all of this music is about the night; however, all of this repertoire was performed in a series of summer evening concerts.
Olli Kortekangas’ Three romances were performed by The Esoterics at the Harald Andersén International Choir Competition in Helsinki, Finland in September 2006. Lajos Vass’ Nocturne, the namesake of this recording, recounts the quiet ecstasy of Verlaine’s moonlit midnight. The other four pieces on this CD were commissioned by the ensemble in 2001, and are intended to commend our celestial company of sun, moon, and stars – Asplin’s Of a turning wheel turns to the ancient wisdom of the Upanishads and Vedas, Rumi, ibn Ezra, Ptolemy, and Tagore; Skirvin’s ...stars to hold relies upon the star-gazing strophes of Sara Teasdale; Mäntyjärvi’s Kosijat echoes the folky flavor of the Finnish national epic, the Kanteletar; and Eric Banks' Celestial Wystan finds inspiration in the verses of WH Auden.