The connective thread in this album is, quite simply, song, whether embodied in an instrumental or purely vocal form. Vocalise for Solo Cello, the title track of the CD, brings out the innate expressive quality of this great instrument. Completed in 1997 and dedicated to my father Donald G. Nelson, this piece was written with great joy in the midst of a renewed conviction that I was meant to be a composer.
Two Songs of Two Loves began its life as a commission from mezzo soprano Jordana Lenon to write an art song as a gift for her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Jordana herself composed the text for Just Yesterday, replete with references
to her parents’ enduring love over many years. The piece represents all that is good and wholesome about human love. Soon after Just Yesterday was premiered at the anniversary celebration in 1999, I thought to add a second song, setting a passage from the Song of Songs and exploring the theme of divine love. I Sought Him–completed in 2007–shares much in common with the first song but with a more mystical flavor, mirroring the shades of affect present in this classic, allegorical text.
Three Motets is a large-scale work for a cappella chorus, exploring a wide range of emotions and spiritual states. Tears, a setting of a poem by Maya Angelou, evokes a sense of world-weariness, imbued with deep spiritual regret. Truly, Truly, I say to You brings the weary soul to Christ, in whose death we must share, for “He who loves his life shall lose it. He who hates his life in this world shall keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). Last in the series, Therefore Are They Before the Throne of God vividly portrays the fulfillment of that promise in heaven. The piece begins with a wordless, musical portrait of the heavenly places, interspersed with tenor solos projecting the words of the Elder from Revelation 7:14, directing our attention toward “the crowd of people in white robes” standing before God’s throne. “These are they who have come through the great tribulation,” and are represented by the full choir. After a broad statement from the latter, the music turns to a dramatic presentation of God’s promises, concluding with a triumphant setting of “and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” The wordless music from the beginning returns with a spacious reflection on previous themes. Finally, and sung as if by an onlooking heavenly host, the motet concludes with an extended “Amen.”
Of Spiritual Joy and Sorrow is comprised of two pieces for solo tenor, based on Scriptural texts adapted by the composer. Alleluia is a paraphrase of Philippians 2:5-11. In this famous and beautiful passage, St. Paul describes how Christ humbled himself in order to accomplish his redemptive work our behalf. As a reward for his obedience to death, “even death on a cross,” God raised him to the glory he had “before the foundation of the world” and gave him “a name above every name”.
How Lonely Sits the City was commissioned by Jeff Ford in 1995 as a lament for all those who have lost their lives to abortion. The text is taken from various portions of The Lamentations of Jerimiah from the Old Testament. Even in the midst of such deep sorrow, God offers great hope to Israel and, by extension, to us. But this requires repentance and faith on our part, “for the Lord is good to those who trust in him, to the soul that seeks him.”
Returning now explicitly to the theme of song, Ballade for Violin & Piano maps out a lyrical musical journey ending in a serene and heavenly reward. Like Dante with Virgil (and later Beatrice) in the Divine Comedy, the two instruments here are very evenly matched: full partners in their upward musical travels.
In contrast, Psalm 100, represents the whole Church singing praise to God. Commissioned by Irmgard Bittar in 1999 for the dedication of Lutheran Church of the Living Christ in Madison, WI, the piece opens with bold, clanging piano chords, followed quickly by a fanfare with the full choir. The piano rhythms subside to accompaniment as the rest of the piece unfolds. The overall form is that of an inverted arch, bold and strong from the beginning and winding down to perfect stillness in the middle as a single, lost sheep—personified by the soprano soloist—comes to rest on the words “and the sheep of his hand.” From here to the end the music gathers speed and strength, returning to the declamatory character of the beginning and ending with a rousing “Amen!”
Ad Astra per Aspera has an unlikely, even humorous origin. It was written for the Lawrence, Kansas-based Helianthus Ensemble and its first annual “Iron Composer” competition in October, 2009. Composed in a single day, the “secret ingredient” was the first five notes of the state song, Home on the Range. Having lived in Kansas for the past eight years, I’ve come to love its special beauty. This short, musical meditation highlights the innate loveliness of the landscape, but also the sense of yearning that it inspires. The bassoon gives voice to this longing, while the violin speaks of the transcendent to which we all instinctively aspire. The title is the Kansas state motto, which translates,“To the stars through trials,” a fitting summary both for the piece and for the message of the album as a whole.
Brian was born in Madison, Wisconsin and received his Bachelor of Composition from the University of Michigan in 1990 where he studied with William Bolcom, William Albright and Nick Thorne. He completed a Masters degree in Composition at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in May 2000. He is currently a D.M.A. candidate in Composition at the University of Kansas School of Music, Lawrence, Kansas, where he studies with James Barnes. Brian is a prolific composer of sacred music as well as chamber and orchestral works. Recent pieces include Elegiac Folk Song for French Horn and Piano – commissioned by Alice Codiek and premiered by her and Ellen Bottorff, piano, in 2008; Ballade for Violin and Piano, which recieves its premiere recording on this disk; Capriccio for Flute, Oboe and Piano, commissioned and premiered by Allégresse Trio in 2009, and Responsorial Psalms for Advent and Christmas, a collection of responsories based on the Catholic lectionary and recorded on a CD of the same name also available on CD Baby.
A committed Catholic, Brian is known for his cheerful, professional approach. He works well with professionals, amateurs and young people, and feels a particularly strong commitment to local cultural life. He can be contacted at the phone, email and web site address listed below. For sheet music availability, go to www.nelsonmusic.com/works. For bios of the performers on this recording, go to www.nelsonmusic.com/recordings.
Brian J. Nelson – Composer