The Score is the Thing

Over the course of Melodia’s seventeen-year history, the choir has performed many rarely-heard works that were composed for women’s voices and instruments, pieces that have frequently disappeared from concert repertoire over the years. Often, the challenge with performing these works is obtaining the instrumental parts. This turned out to be the challenge in presenting two of the compositions at the center of our program – each with quite different stories.

One of Melodia’s favorite tales to tell describes the discovery of an old box of abandoned women’s choral scores that formed the basis of Melodia’s now vast collection of music. This box, like several collections of donated music that followed, contained numerous treasures long out of print and no longer performed. One of the scores in the original dusty box was Robin Milford’s Days and Moments (1953)which Cynthia Powell, Melodia’s founding Artistic Director and Conductor, has pulled out of the files from time to time, waiting for the right time to include it in a concert program.

This fall’s Incantations concert, on November 23 & 24 in New York, proved to be the right setting for the piece. The musical style and poetry by Walter de la Mare was a perfect fit for a program described as “darkly transcendent” with a mystical and magical feel. An additional draw was the instrumentation – strings, including optional double bass. Two movements, Autumn and Winter, are featured.

Like most of the music that has come to Melodia, the faded pink Milford score is a vocal score, with the soprano and alto parts with piano accompaniment. There was no sign of instrumental parts. There began a long process of detective work to find the conductor’s score and the instrumental parts, one that involved the staff at Peter’s Edition, the publisher, digging into their archives in London and finally, dispatching the parts from Switzerland. The scores that arrived are hand-engraved and beautiful.

In the meantime, while looking for additional works for the concert that fit with the instrumentation and theme, a deep dive through the IMSLP public domain online music library found C.V. Stanford’s Fairy Day – Three Idylls for Female Chorus and Small Orchestra (1912). A search through IMSLP and elsewhere on the Internet found no trace of the instrumental parts. The search did reveal a wonderful new recording  of works by C.V. Stanford by the Ulster Orchestra, in Northern Ireland (A Song of Agincourt & other works,2019), which included Fairy Day. Correspondence with the orchestra staff in Ireland led us to the editor of the orchestral material, Jeremy Dibble, Professor of Musicology at Durham University and author of numerous books on British and Irish composers. Professor Dibble was generous enough to e-mail the entire set of scores and parts.

The recording liner notes by Professor Dibble also revealed that Fairy Day was originally commission by St. Celia’s Chorus in New York, originally a women’s choir, although never performed here. Both these great works appear to be having their U.S. premiere during our Incantations concert, in the company of a world premiere work by New York area

 composer Allison Sniffin. Her work, Ekō, scored for women’s voices, piano and strings, comes with the added advantage of a complete set of scores and parts readily available.

 Incantations was presented on Saturday, November 23 at 7:30pm, Holy Apostles, 296 Ninth Avenue @ 28th Street, NYC, and Sunday, November 24 at 3:00pm, West End Collegiate, 245 West 77th Street @ West End Avenue, NYC.

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