About this Recording
8.669012-13 - HANSON: Merry Mount
English 

Howard Hanson (1896-1981)
Merry Mount, Op. 31

Opera in Three Acts and Six Scenes
Libretto by Richard L. Stokes, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, The Maypole of Merry Mount

Lady Marigold Sandys - Lauren Flanigan (soprano)
Sir Gower Lackland - Walter MacNeil (tenor)
Wrestling Bradford - Richard Zeller (baritone)
Praise-God Tewke - Charles Robert Austin (bass)
Plentiful Tewke - Louise Marley (mezzo-soprano)
Thomas Morton - Byron Ellis (bass-baritone)
Jack Prence - Paul Gudas (tenor)
Myles Brodrib - Barry Johnson (baritone)
Peregrine Brodrib - Christopher Bristol (tenor)
Love Brewster - Diana Huber (soprano)
Bridget Crackston - Rosy Freudenstein (alto)
First Puritan - Fred K. Dent (baritone)
Second Puritan - Daniel Jessup (bass)
Desire Annable - Nan Beth Walton (alto)
Jonathan Banks - Gino Luchetti (tenor)
Faint-Not Tinker - Joachim Schneider (baritone)
Jewel Scrooby - Gene Buchholz (bass)

Seattle Symphony Chorale • Northwest Boychoir • Seattle Girls' Choir
Abraham Kaplan, associate conductor for choral activities
Joseph Crnko, director, Northwest Boychoir
Dr. Jerome Wright, director, Seattle Girls' Choir

Seattle Symphony
Gerard Schwarz

 

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Born of Swedish ancestry in Wahoo, Nebraska, on 28 October 1896, Howard Hanson was introduced to music at the age of six when his mother began teaching him the piano, supplemented later by instruction on the cello. Two years later Hanson wrote his first composition, a piano trio influenced by Edvard Grieg — not surprising given the youngster's Scandinavian ancestry. By the following year, Hanson was playing the cello in a string quartet. His musical interest flourished as he studied music at Luther College while still a high school student. In 1911, he received his diploma with highest honors from Luther College ; a year later he graduated as valedictorian from Wahoo High School.

Hanson's studies continued at the Institute of Musical Art in New York City (The Juilliard School of Music) with Percy Goetschius and later at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. It was at Northwestern that he completed, among other works, his Symphonic Prelude (1916), which was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under music director Frederick Stock. He moved into the world of academe as a professor, and later, dean at the College of the Pacific in San Jose, California. During his tenure, he continued to compose, developing his unabashedly ripe romantic style while many of his contemporaries were casting their lot with the compositional avant-garde.

Hanson's Swedish ancestry infused much of his music and was a source of inspiration for his First Symphony, 'Nordic ' ( Naxos 8.559072), composed in 1923. In the same year he was invited to Rochester, New York, to direct the symphony's American première. While there, he met George Eastman, who had recently founded the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. Eastman persuaded Hanson to assume the school's directorship, a position he occupied until retirement in 1964. During his forty-year tenure he was responsible for inaugurating annual festivals of American music, presenting works by more than 700 composers and close to 1,500 compositions.

By 1930, Hanson had composed in nearly every musical form save opera. His chance came with a commission from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The result was Merry Mount, which he dedicated to the recently deceased Eastman. The opera received its professional première at the Met conducted by Tullio Serafin on 10 February 1934, both live and on radio, receiving more than fifty curtain calls. The Met gave nine performances of Merry Mount that season, including three "run-outs" (in Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Rochester ). Hanson had led a concert performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the previous May at the Ann Arbor ( Michigan ) May Festival. Despite the successful Met run, there was no follow-up second-season revival.

Hanson's collaborator was Richard L. Stokes, a New York-based music critic, who fashioned his 1927 libretto after The Maypole of Merry Mount, a grim story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose obsession with Puritan hypocrisy was most famously expressed in The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne had based the Maypole tale on an actual event in 1628 that focused on a violent encounter between business-oriented fur traders and the Pilgrims' community at Plymouth, Massachusetts, where intolerant and self-righteous practitioners strongly resented the secular "adventurers."

The composer described the music for Merry Mount as "warm-blooded…essentially a lyrical work [that] makes use of broad melodic lines as often as possible. There is less parlando than one might expect to find in a contemporary opera, and a greater tendency toward the old arioso style…. Both harmonically and rhythmically, the listener will hear certain Americanisms. In orchestration, too, use has been made of certain orchestral colors and devices which were born on this side of the Atlantic …. A word might be said concerning the frequent use of modal writing, especially in the music of the Puritans. It seemed to me that the characteristics of such melodic modes as the Aeolian, Dorian, Phrygian and, in exalted moments, the Mixolydian, are very much in keeping with the Puritan character."

Listeners familiar with Hanson's music, particularly his first two symphonies, will find strong melodic, harmonic and timbral affinities with Merry Mount.

Steven Lowe

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Synopsis

Howard Hanson's opera Merry Mount, with a libretto by Richard L. Stokes, is based on the story The Maypole of Merry Mount, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera of New York, it was first performed there on 10 February 1934, the occasion of the recorded broadcast.

Act I: The Village

The first act is set in the main street of a Puritan settlement. At the back of the stage is a great square building of sawn planks, supported by oak-beams, serving as church and fortress. It has a flat roof and a parapet, with cannon embrasures, and portholes in the walls. In the façade are three doors, the centre one surmounted by a porch with the head of a wolf nailed to its front. Faint-Not Tinker is standing guard on the roof. On one side of the meeting-house is a pillory, where the Shaker Jonathan Banks is held, and on the other side stocks, in which Desire Annable is held by the wrists and ankles. Banks is gagged, his face writhing in fury. Desire is an attractive young woman, tearful, with her hair in disarray. Both have been pelted and are splashed and stained. In the centre is a whipping-post, unoccupied. To the right stands the tall and imposing Indian chief Samoset, with a squaw and her papoose crouching at his feet. In the background is the forest. [CD 1 / Track 1] It is a Sabbath noon in May and during the Prelude the voices of the congregation are heard [1/2] calling for divine retribution on unbelievers, urged on by their minister, Wrestling Bradford. The people come out of the meeting-house, the men, armed, to the left, marshalled by Myles Brodrib, and the women to the right. They wait for Bradford to appear, especially Plentiful Tewke, who has dared to wear a bow of flame-coloured ribbon on her grey gown. Bradford emerges and continues his tirade against the ungodly, to the admiration of his people, as he inveighs against Satan and his assaults on this new English Israel, the cause of their loss of crops and provisions: to this Indian sorceries have contributed. Samoset, to whom Bradford has pointed, reacts indignantly and stalks out. Bradford now turns his attention to Desire Annable, mother of an illegitimate child and guilty of whoring. In the words of Christ he tells her to go and sin no more, and she is released from the stocks. As she staggers up, Love Brewster tries to help her, but is pushed away by her grandmother. They go out, shunned by the other women.

[1/3] Bradford has now turned his attention to the Shaker Banks, in the pillory, who denies Bradford's God and Christ, bringing cries of blasphemy and threats of death from the crowd. Banks is set free, however, and hustled out, with blows. The people continue their singing, praising the Lord and castigating the Devil. Bradford adds his closing Amen to those of the rest, as the people go out. Only Bradford, Plentiful Tewke and her father Praise-God remain. They whisper together and she pushes Tewke forward, herself running into the meeting-house, from where she can observe what transpires. [1/4] Tewke praises Bradford 's sermon, while Faint-Not Tinker, on watch above, nods off. Bradford continues his harangue against the world, sin and the Devil, sentiments in which Tewke concurs. Bradford, though, is haunted by the vision of lascivious concubines of Hell, with dewy flanks and honey-scented breasts. [1/5] He recounts how one, like Astoreth, Queen of the Moon, came to him the night before in a dream, tempting him to carnal sin. He kneels and prays to have this temptation taken from him. [1/6] Tewke tells him that he is more than ripe for marriage and that his daughter Plentiful has a foolish fancy for him. Bradford had aspired to celibacy, but sees marriage as perhaps God's will. Tewke calls his daughter out, and she eventually admits that she loves Bradford, as the couple is left together. [1/7] Bradford urges marriage that very day. She demurs, seeking delay of a month or a week. To this last he agrees. Following custom, at her bidding, he gives her half a coin and she kisses his hand, inflaming his passion. His brutal kissing frightens her and she recoils. He is dismayed, seeing no cure for him in this marriage. At this point children come in, led by the serious boy Peregrine Brodrib and the twelve-year-old Love Brewster, bringing flowers for Plentiful. [1/8] The children, delighted at seeing the couple together, begin to sing: " Plentiful Tewke hath catched the preacher ! ", to be rebuked by Bradford for profaning the Sabbath. Bradford goes out, followed by Plentiful, wringing her hands. Bradford had told the children to study their religious books, reminding them of the bears that ate children who mocked Elijah. Peregrine now starts to take the other children through their catechism. They are interrupted by the mountebank Jack Prence, bearded, hunch-backed, about fifty years old and dressed in motley, with cap and bells. He makes a game for them, with three chalk circles, one for heaven, one for paradise and one for hell. Two children stand in each, before the game of tag begins. Peregrine eventually wants to join in, replacing Love's partner, but is knocked over, finding himself relegated to hell, to the amusement of the children. He goes out angrily, threatening to tell his father.

[1/9] The game is interrupted by the arrival of Brodrib and three Puritans, the latter carrying pikes. They question Prence, who has recently landed, with a company of merry gentlemen from England and is ready to celebrate the maypole dance. Appalled, they tie him to the whipping-post and set about him. Bradford enters, deep in thought, to be met by Lady Marigold Sandys, richly dressed, with riding-habit, velvet skirts and a feathered and bejewelled hat. She belabours Bradford, who is enraptured by her appearance, and sets Prence free. Brodrib makes threateningly towards her, but Bradford intervenes. Now she calls on her friends, who enter with drawn swords, just as Faint-Not Tinker wakes up and falls off the parapet. Sir Gower Lackland is handsome and arrogant. He is accompanied by Lady Marigold's uncle, Thomas Morton, and a parson, Jewel Scrooby. Gower and Brodrib fight and the others join in. Bradford, however, is mesmerised by Marigold, while Tinker seizes his drum and sounds the alarm. Other Puritans rush in, with Cavaliers ranged now against them, the latter with their preparations for a maypole. Tinker threatens to fire, but Elder Tewke comes in, and sternly rebukes the combattants. The parties introduce themselves, the parson causing particular offence to the Puritans by his obvious indulgence in worldly pursuits. The Cavaliers bring with them a royal warrant from King Charles, which Tewke indignantly rejects.

[1/10] The two groups express their views of each other. For the Cavaliers, Roundheads are rebels, while, for the Puritans thrones of earth be idle things. Bradford interrupts them, rebuking his fellow-Puritans and welcoming the newcomers. The wildness of his manner alarms his friends, as he promises to shelter Lady Marigold's fool Prence, in his own house. He urges the Cavaliers to repentance, but they only laugh. [1/11] He is mocked by Prence and then by Scrooby, before the others join in. Tewke thunders at them, a generation of hellish vipers, and tells them to take ship and go back to England. Finally a truce is called, after both sides have expressed their antagonism. [1/12] Marigold and Gower are left gazing at each other, to be interrupted by Bradford, who falls on his knees before her and asks to be allowed to rescue her from Satan, observed now by Plentiful Tewke. Marigold tells Bradford to come to her at sundown, giving him a fleeting hope, but dashing it when she demands that he marry her and Gower. They go out, leaving Bradford in a frenzy of anguish, now urging attack on the Cavaliers, in spite of the truce they have promised. The Puritans resolve to do as he says. Plentiful approaches Bradford and touches his arm. He looks at her like a stranger, and taking out his half of the betrothal coin, throws it down and grinds it under his foot, to Plentiful's tearful dismay. The act ends with the resolve of both parties to go their own ways, the Cavaliers to dance and sing, and the Puritans to scatter their enemies like chaff before the wind.

Act II

Scene 1: The Maypole

The second act opens on the afternoon of the same day. The scene is set on a hill-top, with a glade of evergreens and dogwood in flower. There is a maypole in the centre, a slender pine-tree, crowned with flowers and antlers, with the traditional streamers attached to it and to the surrounding foliage, forming a canopy. The maypole is decked out with flags, garlands and a bridal wreath of roses. In front is a throne, with nine seats set at its foot. There are silken arbours and green bowers, with banquet tables, at the left. Trumpets are heard and the distant sound of a ship's bell and of cannon-fire. For the festival Morton is Master of Merry Disports; Scrooby, vested as an English priest, with a chaplet of vine-leaves on his head and a garland over his shoulder, is Abbot of Misrule. Gower is May Lord, dressed in white, with a gilt staff, a rainbow-coloured scarf across his breast and a small dress sword. His comic train-bearer is Prence. Gower is attended by the Nine Worthies, Joshua, David, Hector, Alexander the Great, Judas Maccabaeus, Julius Caesar, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Duke Godefrey of Bologne. The merrymakers, some of them drunk, include nymphs, satyrs, dwarfs and fauns, shepherds and shepherdesses, morris-dancers, jugglers, tumblers, minstrels, archers, mountebanks, greenmen dressed in leaves, wild men in animal skins, mummers, sword-dancers, a great ape, a dancing bear, a hobby horse and every form of traditional English reveller. There is an effigy of Flora, goddess of spring, a group representing Robin Hood and his companions, prettily dressed milkmaids, chimney-sweeps belabouring bystanders with bladders on sticks and dancing round a figure of Jack-in-the-Green. [2/1] After a short prelude, the curtain rises. Women are preparing the maypole. The procession comes in, led by Morton and Scrooby, then Gower, followed by the Nine Worthies. [2/2] Gower proclaims a Commonweal of Joy on the hill, which he now calls Merry Mount. Gower and the Worthies seat themselves, while Morton and Scrooby marshal the revellers, who dance round the maypole, forming patterns with their interwoven streamers. While the dance is in progress, Samoset enters, with braves and squaws, and offers gifts to Gower, who gives the sign for the Indians to be made welcome with wine and food. The dancing becomes wilder and the Indians slink out of sight, seeking the places where the wine is kept.

[2/3] At the sound of horns, the revellers stop dancing and make way for 36 girls, four abreast, forming a coach, twirling parasols to represent the wheels and bearing Lady Marigold as the goddess Flora. Two children serve as horses to draw the coach, with another child as coachman and a fourth at the back, as a postilion. The revellers greet the Lady of the May, on her wedding-day. [2/4] Gower greets her, praising her beauty, and she answers him in the same vein. He leads Marigold to the maypole, where Scrooby now stands, with his prayer-book, ready to marry the couple. As he is about to pronounce the final words of the service, proclaiming them man and wife, he is interrupted by Bradford, who bids him hold. [2/5] Bradford now inveighs against this pagan revelry, the maypole, the beastly tower of scarlet Babylon. Armed Puritans swarm in and the Cavaliers, without their proper weapons, are unable to defend themselves. Morton accuses Tewke of breaking his word, but the Puritans now drive the Cavaliers off, and set about hacking down the maypole and destroying all the signs of revelry. Samoset appears, with his followers, and claps Brodrib on the shoulder. The latter strikes the wine-cup from the Indian's hand and slashes him across the face with a gauntlet. Samoset strides off in anger, followed, after a moment's hesitation, by Bradford. Wind and distant thunder is heard, as the Puritans complete their task, to the great satisfaction of Tewke.

Scene 2: The Forest

[2/6] The second scene follows at once. It is another part of the wood. Bradford comes in, followed by two Puritans, dragging Marigold between them. One of the men carries a dark lantern, which Bradford tells him to open, bidding the men leave him together with Marigold, so that he may wrestle with her soul. When they are gone, he immediately urges his attentions on her, declaring his love, to her dismay and expressed loathing for him. He threatens to kill her, rather than see her with Gower, seizes her and she strikes him. Their struggle is interrupted by the arrival of Gower, staggering in, his costume dishevelled and torn. He and Bradford fight, but Gower breaks off as Tewke enters, with other Puritans, armed and carrying axes and lanterns. Gower seizes an axe, but is run through by the pike of one of the Puritans, to Tewke's dismay. Gower dies in Marigold's arms. She kisses his brow and stands up. [2/7] She calls for vengeance, seeking her own death. [2/8] Tewke orders the men to take her, as a prisoner, to the village, and this they do, bearing Gower's body away and leaving Tewke and Bradford alone together. Tewke rebukes Bradford and urges him to repent. [2/9] Left alone, Bradford prays for divine help, as a sinner. [2/10] Worn out by his despair and struggles, he falls asleep as mystic voices are heard, echoing his Amen, and the scene slowly comes to an end.

Scene 3: Bradford 's Dream: The Hellish Rendezvous

[2/11] As Bradford sleeps, his dream of the Valley of Tophet is seen, an infernal glen, with ramparts of sandstone, crags and molten stone, trickling down. Vapours arise from the cinders on the ground, meteorites smoulder and human bones glisten on the plain. Where the maypole once stood, there is now a giant toadstool and in his dream Bradford sees a mixture of the pagan revelry of the maypole ceremonies and fragments of Christian demonology. The Cavaliers seem to represent the Princes, Warriors and Courtesans of Hell, with Gower as Lucifer, while the Worthies are now the old pagan gods of the enemies of Israel, Dagon, Moloch and Gog-Magog, with Morton as Beelzebub, Scrooby as Antichrist in papal robes and tiara, together with Mahomet, Anubis, a medicine-man represented by Samoset and the beast of the Apocalypse, a compound of the dancing bear, eagle and lion, with its three heads. Marigold is Astoreth and Prence carries Lucifer's train. Witches flutter down on broomsticks, a minotaur, with the head of a bull and the painted body of an Indian joins them in their grotesque dance. From beneath the toadstool hops a great toad, with a jewel in its forehead; a calf-like beast, with a coronet and eyes before and behind shambles from its den in the rocks; more monsters appear, goblins with tomahawks, devils with pitchforks and cat-o'-nine-tails, satyrs, witches, lamiae and ogresses. Hisses and brutish cries resound, while Bradford remains inaudible and invisible to them. The monsters point as a brilliant haze of emerald flares up in the sky. Lucifer makes his entrance, in a procession led by heralds from the summit of a ridge, across a bridge and down into the plain. Musicians play serpents and other barbarous ancient instruments. A troop of warriors with exotic weapons and sinister banners enters, with nine Princes and their acolytes, swinging censers of brimstone. The monsters leap in delight. Prence carries Lucifer's train, followed by a Nubian guard, rings in their noses and woolly head-dresses. Lucifer stands on the ridge, his face deathly pale and with a blood-stained bandage across his chest, supporting himself with a golden staff. He is helped down the rocks by his attendants. From the ground appear thrones for Lucifer and for Astoreth, with thrones for the nine Princes. As Lucifer passes among them, the monsters kneel and Bradford tries to stand, but cannot. Lucifer stands before his throne, the monsters bow down, and there is thunder and lightning as they greet their master. At a sign, they all stand and then start to dance, to break off at a further sign from Lucifer. Bradford is seized and brought before him and bidden to abjure his God. To tempt him, courtesans appear, dancing about him, but it is the final appearance of Marigold as Astoreth, now in Babylonian dress, with a great crescent of gems, like ram's horns, on her head, that persuades him to apostasy, as he curses Puritan New England, calling down storm and pestilence, and signs the Devil's book and takes the Devil's mark on his brow. [2/12] Now he belongs to Lucifer, who leaves, with a contemptuous laugh. [2/13] Astoreth remains with Bradford, who remembers the Song of Solomon, as he calls on her to rise up and come away. He leads her to the door of the tent, they embrace and then go in.

Act III: The Village (Night)

Scene 1: The Forest

[2/14] The first scene serves as a brief prelude to what follows. Bradford lies asleep and Plentiful, who has covered him with her cloak, crouches by his side in terror. There is a lantern on the ground and ghostly moonlight, with thunder and lightning. In his sleep Bradford calls out to Astoreth and tries to embrace Plentiful, who shrinks away. Waking, he tells her how in his dream he was crowned Emperor of Hell. They hurry away in fear.

Scene 2: The Village

[2/15] Indian war-drums are heard. The scene is one of disaster. The church has been burned to the ground and other structures are still burning. Samoset and his braves are ending a war-dance, while one of them drags in Love Brewster, who tries to scream, but is scalped. There is a shot and Samoset falls, a bullet in his head. The Indians take flight as the Puritans return, some of them wounded, Love's grandmother distraught to find her grand-daughter's body. Tewke and his fellow-Puritans cry out in a biblical lament at what they see.

When Bradford appears, they turn to him for prayer and help, but he is horrified at the realisation of his curse. [2/16] He will never pray again and tells them of his dream and of his own apostasy at the sight of Astoreth. [2/17] The Puritans lament their loss, now they are without a shepherd to guide them. When Marigold appears, distraught and spent with fatigue, her festal dress bedraggled, she recoils with horror as she sees Bradford. The Puritans heap abuse on her calling for her death as a witch, [2/18] but she tells me them she is no witch: once she was happy, but now, her husband dead, she is happy no more, but soon will join him. [2/19] As the people are about to stone her, Bradford tears off his clerical bands and his skull-cap, revealing the Devil's mark on his brow. Calling on his new master, he summons fire and flames seize the village buildings. Marigold swoons in fear, and Bradford seizes her, and carrying her in his arms, walks into the flames, as the Puritans, aghast, kneel in prayer.

Keith Anderson

 


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