April 6, 2015

Organist Charles Rus Returns to Sonoma State for Choral Concerts


Charles Rus, who played a key role in the selection of Schroeder Hall’s Brombaugh organ, made his Schroeder Hall solo debut in November 2014.

Two upcoming choral concerts at Sonoma State University will feature organist Charles Rus, formerly from the Bay Area and now living in Washington. The programs include works by Haydn, Duruflé and Britten under the baton of Jenny Bent, choral activities director. Rus, who played a key role in the selection of Schroeder Hall’s Brombaugh organ, made his "Sundays at Schroeder" solo debut in November 2014 performing Baroque and modern selections before a sold-out house.

  • April 24, 7:30 pm, Weill Hall

SSU Symphonic Chorus with organ, soloists and orchestra
Jenny Bent, conductor
HAYDN - “Little Organ Mass,” Jennifer Thuman, soprano soloist
DURUFLE - Movements from Requiem



  • April 26, 7:30 pm, Schroeder Hall

SSU Chamber Singers with organ
Jenny Bent, conductor
BRITTEN - Rejoice in the Lamb  
Choral works by di Lasso, Debussy, William Schuman and Eleanor Daley


Tickets are $8. Advance purchase is recommended. Call the box office at 707-664-4246 or click on the Ticket links above to buy online.

Charles Rus playing the 1724 organ at the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam.

Special Appearance The April 24 concert will open with a performance by the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra of Berkeley, appearing through the collaboration of Trio Ariadne, the music department and Frederica von Stade, a member of the YMCO board. Young Musicians Choral Orchestra serves the greater Bay Area as a youth development program offering high quality, intensive musical training, academic support, and personal guidance for low-income students, ages 8-18. The ensemble will be spending the day visiting campus and receiving a clinic by Jenny Bent.

About the Music Haydn composed his Missa brevis in 1775 for the charity society of Kismarton, Hungarian Kingdom, (now Eisenstadt, Austria). The subtitle “Little Organ Mass” is attributed to the extensive organ solo in the Benedictus. Jennifer Thuman will be the soprano soloist.

Duruflé’s Requiem, completed in 1947, closely parallels the meditative mood evoked in the well-loved setting by his countryman Gabriel Fauré some 70 years earlier. He used the same text as Fauré, omitting the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) section, which was not compatible with the gentler, more reassuring tone of the work.

Rejoice in the Lamb Op. 30 is a cantata for four soloists, choir and organ composed by Benjamin Britten in 1943 and based on the extraordinary poem Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart (1722–1771). Britten was attracted to the poem’s great color, drama, bizarre imagery, and the central issue of the individual against the crowd, or against authority—one to which Britten was to return repeatedly in his works.

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the living God.
Duly and daily serving him.

 —Christopher Smart (1722-1771)

Directions Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center is located near the intersection of Rohnert Park Expressway and Petaluma Hill Road. Parking is available in Lots L, M, N, and O. GMC map.

Soprano Jennifer Thuman (Valentina Sadiul photo)

















Joseph Haydn
“Little Organ Mass”

There is some debate over when exactly Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) composed the Klein Orgelmesse (“Little Organ Mass”), known by it Latin title as Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo. It was composed specifically for the Order of the Barmherzige Brüder (Brothers of Charity) in Eisenstadt, though the autograph has no date. This is unusual for Haydn, and scholars surmise it was written in the mid-1770s and certainly no later than 1778. Many Austrian cities and towns had chapters of the Barmherzige Brüder, founded in 1534 by the Portuguese monk Juan Ciudad (1495-1550), better known as St. John of God. He dedicated his life to caring for the poor and sick, and the members of the Order were esteemed for their medical services to the community. Members also believed in the healing power of music, as this became a major part of their worship. Haydn had a relationship with at least two chapters of this Order, one in Vienna when he was younger, and the other in Eisenstadt.

The Missa brevis form was popular in the mid-eighteenth century in Austria and Southern Germany. Overlapping texts with different voice parts ensures a much shorter version of the mass than if the voices were singing unison text. Length was one of the factors Haydn had to consider when composing this mass for the Brothers of Charity. The Order felt obliged to leave their patients unattended for no more than half an hour, so any setting of the Ordinary had to be brief. The mass takes less than 15 minutes to perform, and the Gloria is extremely short, only 1.5 minutes in length. The Credo section is only 81 measures long, which along with the Gloria is common practice for this process.

Another factor Haydn would have considered was the performance space itself, which was rather small. As the organ loft of this sanctuary was very small, the number of performers had to be restricted. The forces needed for this work are minimal, with a chorus, two violins and bass. The exception is the fifth movement, or Benedictus, which is written for a soprano solo and organ obbligato with strings. The nickname given later, “Little Organ Mass” comes from the use of organ in this movement. Haydn composed this work while he was a practicing organist, so one has to assume he wrote this movement with himself in mind. The Benedictus, perhaps the one place in a traditional Austrian Missa brevis where an extended musical treatment is allowed, is considered the highlight of the Mass.

Haydn set his mass in the key of B-flat, with all movements except the Benedictus adhering to this main key center. Many of Haydn’s masses are written in B-flat, including the final choruses of Parts 2-3 of The Creation and Part 1 of The Seasons, and some speculate it is because B-flat was the highest pitch he normally wrote for choral sopranos. Both the Kyrie and Agnus Dei/Dona are Adagio in tempo, which gives a rather contemplative framework for the overall work. The overlapping text of the Gloria is quite challenging, and Haydn’s brother Michael even suggested it might need revision. Next is the Credo, which along with the Gloria is polytextual in nature. The descending chromatic choral bass line on the text “Crucifixus” is an excellent example of Haydn’s genius with word painting. The “Amen” section of the Gloria is brought back at the end of the Credo which provides musical cohesiveness between these two movements. The fourth movement, Sanctus, is Allegro and set in 6/8 time which is unique to Haydn’s masses. Perhaps its inevitable suggestion of the hunt or peasant dance is a reference to St. John’s past as shepherd and soldier. Finally the Agnus Dei and Dona are combined into one extensive movement, rather than having two distinct movements as was customary for a mass setting. The pianissimo at the conclusion of the prayer for peace could be seen as a way to pay homage to the caregivers for whom the mass was written, but was uncharacteristic of Viennese tradition.

It is interesting to note the Kleine Orgelmesse became one of the most popular of all Haydn’s masses, partially due to the smaller scale and the musical richness. Haydn’s compositional style was understood in his own day as unique, and he prized his status as an original. In many ways, his style mirrors his character or personality—the duality between earnestness and humor. Haydn was a master at creating themes that sounded familiar to the listener, but were carefully crafted works of art.

—Amy Johnston Blosser
The Choral Journal Vol. 49, No. 6
Reprinted with permission

Maurice Duruflé

The Requiem Op. 9, by French composer Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was published in 1947 by Durand. Several stories have appeared regarding its origin, and this account by one of Duruflé’s students is generally accepted:
Duruflé had been working on a suite of pieces for organ based on the chant melodies of the Requiem. At first he intended to write four or five pieces inspired by Requiem themes. He already had composed a Lux aeterna and Sanctus. Then he began to realize that the texts of these plainchants should not be separated from the melodies. So he began to transform his composed pieces… and add to them a work for voices and orchestra.
The work is for SATB choir with mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists. The work is dedicated to the memory of his father and has become a favorite of the choral repertoire from the last century.

Duruflé wrote a set of program notes for a 1980 performance of the Requiem in which he aptly discussed his musical intentions:

This work, completed in 1947, was written in its original version for solo, choir, orchestra and organ. A transcription of the orchestra part was realized for organ alone as well as for reduced orchestra.

This Requiem is composed entirely on the Gregorian themes of the Mass for the Dead. Sometimes the musical text has been respected in full, the orchestra intervening only to sustain or to comment on it; sometimes I was simply inspired by it or sometimes removed myself from it altogether; for example, in certain developments suggested by the Latin text, namely in the Domine Jesu Christe, the Sanctus and the Libera. Generally speaking, I tried to get the particular style of the Gregorian themes firmly set in my mind.

I also endeavored to reconcile as much as possible the Gregorian rhythm, as has been established by the Benedictines of Solesmes, with the demands of modern metrical notation. The rigidness of the latter, with its strong beats and weak beats recurring at regular intervals, is hardly compatible with the variety and fluidity of the Gregorian line, which is only a succession of rises and falls.
The strong beats had to lose their dominant character in order to take on the same intensity as the weak beats; in such a way that the rhythmic Gregorian accent or the tonic Latin accent could be placed freely on any beat of our modern tempo.
As for the musical form of each of the pieces composing this Requiem, it is generally inspired by the form proposed by the liturgy. The organ has only an incidental role. It intervenes, not to accompany the choirs, but only to underline certain accents or to make one momentarily forget the all-too-human sonorities of the orchestra. It represents the idea of peace, of Faith, and of Hope. 

This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from earthly worries. It reflects, in the immutable form of the Christian prayer, the agony of man faced with the mystery of his ultimate end. It is often dramatic, or filled with resignation, or hope or terror, just as the words of the Scripture themselves which are used in the liturgy. It tends to translate human feelings before their terrifying, unexplainable or consoling destiny.

This Mass includes the nine parts of the Mass of the Dead: the Introit, Kyrie, Domine Jesu Christe, sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, Lux aeterna, Libera me, and finally In Paradisum, the ultimate answer of Faith to all the questions, by the flight of the soul to Paradise.

Benjamin Britten
Rejoice in the Lamb
Rejoice in the Lamb Op. 30 is a cantata for four soloists, SATB choir, and organ composed by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) in 1943 and based on the poem Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart (1722–1771). The cantata was commissioned by the Rev. Canon Walter Hussey for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the consecration of St. Matthew's Church, Northampton, England. Britten called his work a Festival Cantata and it is structured with choral and solo movements.

Jubilate Agno was written between 1759 and 1763 during Smart's confinement, ostensibly for insanity, in a London hospital. (Modern analysis suggests that he was manic-depressive.) Smart, a devout Christian, expresses himself in ecstatic, visionary lines about the glory of God shining through religious icons, such as David. But he also sees this glory through other strange things, such as his cat and a bothersome mouse, the letters of the alphabet, and musical instruments.

The poem was first published in 1939, under the title Rejoice in the Lamb: A Song from Bedlam, edited by W. F. Stead from Smart's manuscript, which Stead had discovered in a private library. W.H. Auden brought the poem to Britten’s attention. Britten was attracted to its great color, drama, bizarre imagery, and the central issue of the individual against the crowd, or against authority—one to which Britten was to return repeatedly in his works. The influence of one of Britten’s favorite composers, Henry Purcell, can easily be heard in the Hallelujah sections. A key work in Britten’s catalog, it appeared just prior to the masterful Serenade for tenor, horn and strings and the opera Peter Grimes.


Charles Rus is currently Director of Music and Liturgical Arts at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina, Washington. A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rus received degrees from the Eastman School of Music, the University of Michigan, and, as a Fulbright Scholar, the Folkwang Hochscule fur Musik in Essen, Germany. His teachers include Russell Saunders, Robert Glasgow and Gisbert Schneider. During his 20 years in San Francisco, he was an organist for the San Francisco Symphony, organ teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, organist for Temple Emanu-El, and Music Director at St. John's Episcopal Church. Rus continues to compose liturgical music, much of which can be found here.

Since a young age, Jennifer Thuman has been involved in music— taking piano lessons first, then developing a love for singing after she joined choir in high school. She went on to attend Sonoma State University, where she received a Bachelor's degree in Vocal Performance. While in attendance, she was heard as a soloist with the Sonoma State Symphonic Chorus in pieces such as Fauré's Requeim, Handel's Messiah, and Orff's Carmina Burana, among others. She has sung in the San Francisco Symphony chorus, and with the chorus at Opera San Jose. She recently had a successful run as Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly with Verismo Opera. Jennifer currently resides in the East Bay and studies voice with David Burnakus.

Jenny Bent, DMA, is the Director of Choral Activities at Sonoma State University. She is also Project Manager of Chanticleer’s summer program, Chanticleer in Sonoma. She is a graduate of Boston University (BM in Voice Performance, MM in Choral Conducting, MM in Voice Performance) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (DMA in Choral Conducting and Choral Literature). Her teachers include Ann Howard Jones, Fred Stoltzfus, Ruth Ann Swenson, David Burnakis, Susan Ormont, and Jerold Siena. She has also worked with such choir eminences as Robert Shaw, Joseph Jennings, Matthew Oltman, Peter Bagley, Dennis Keene, and Julian Wachner.

In California, Jenny Bent’s choirs have received much acclaim, earning unanimous superior ratings and command performances at choral festivals throughout the Bay Area and receiving invitations to perform at such venues as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City. She has ten years of experience as a high school music educator, most recently having served as the Director of Vocal Music at the Marin School of the Arts. From 2002-2007 she was the artistic director and conductor of the award-winning teen treble choir, Chantons. Dr. Bent also served on the voice faculty of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, which is part of the Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony.

In addition to her academic work, Jenny Bent serves as an adjudicator for organizations including the California Music Educators Association, the American Choral Directors Association, Golden State, and a clinician for choirs throughout the Bay Area and beyond. She also enjoys hosting the radio show The Choir Loft on KRCB, the Sonoma County National Public Radio affiliate.




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