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Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas | Northern Lights

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Classical: Choral Music World: Scandinavian Moods: Mood: Christmas
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Northern Lights

by Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas

Recorded live in concert at Bastyr Chapel and St. James Cathedral during our 2015-16 season, Northern Lights showcases music that evokes the shimmering beauty of the aurora borealis.
Genre: Classical: Choral Music
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Lauliku Lapsepõli
Seattle Pro Musica, Katie Skovholt, Meaghan Leferink, Kira Hicks & Karen P. Thomas
3:21 $0.99
2. Heyr, Himna Smiður
Seattle Pro Musica, Will Myers & Karen P. Thomas
2:35 $0.99
3. Taaveti Laulud (Psalms of David): Taaveti Laul Nr. 141
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
2:40 $0.99
4. Taaveti Laulud (Psalms of David): Õnnis on Inimene
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
2:02 $0.99
5. Taaveti Laulud (Psalms of David): Taaveti Laul Nr. 104
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
3:41 $0.99
6. Northern Lights
Seattle Pro Musica, Jacob Buys & Karen P. Thomas
5:54 $0.99
7. Bogoroditse Devo
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
1:23 $0.99
8. Ave Maris Stella
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
3:13 $0.99
9. O Salutaris Hostia
Seattle Pro Musica, Christina Graham, Katie Skovholt & Karen P. Thomas
3:29 $0.99
10. Natt Över Jorden
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
3:39 $0.99
11. Northern Lights (Virmalised from Winter Patterns)
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
2:44 $0.99
12. Psalm 150 in Grandsire Triples
Seattle Pro Musica, Heidi Kim, Marissa Burkey, Miriam Gnagy & Karen P. Thomas
3:57 $0.99
13. Lapi Laul (Song from Lapland)
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
2:57 $0.99
14. O Jul Med Din Glede
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
1:32 $0.99
15. Nu Är Det Jul Igen
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
1:31 $0.99
16. Pasakykit, Piemeneliai
Seattle Pro Musica, Rachel Bodansky & Karen P. Thomas
2:15 $0.99
17. Latvian Carols: Ziemassvētku Nakts (Christmas Night)
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
2:20 $0.99
18. Latvian Carols: Meklētāja Ceļš (Christmas Rose)
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
1:51 $0.99
19. Latvian Carols: Ai, Nama Māmiņa (The Christmas Season)
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
2:02 $0.99
20. Eatnemen Vuelie
Seattle Pro Musica & Karen P. Thomas
2:53 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The aurora borealis (northern lights) was named in 1621 by the French astronomer Pierre Gassendi after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind. The Old Norse word for the aurora borealis is norðrljós (northern lights), and from the beginning of time, these lights have fascinated and even terrified those who have seen them. Many cultures have tried to account for this remarkable and beautiful sight, some seeing it as threatening, others as benign. In Latvian folklore, for example, the northern lights are the restless spirits of fallen warriors, still fighting their battles in the sky. In Norse mythology, the northern lights were caused by the Valkyries galloping across the night sky on their horses, equipped with helmets, spears, and armor that would glow and shimmer in the darkness. In Finnish, the word for the aurora borealis translates as "fox fires." The name comes from an ancient Finnish myth in which the lights were caused by a magical fox sweeping its tail across the snow, sending sparks up into the sky. In Norwegian folklore, the lights were the spirits of old maids dancing in the sky and waving. In some Scandinavian traditions, the northern lights were believed to enhance the earth’s fertility. The Sámi, who live north of the Arctic Circle in Northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway, traditionally believed that the lights were the energies of the souls of the departed.

Today we think more often in scientific terms – auroras are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere. Less fanciful, to be sure, than Valkyries, foxes, and the spirits of fallen warriors. On this recording, we invite you to enter the ancient mindset and allow your imagination to conjure the resplendent imagery of the northern lights!

Karen P. Thomas, Conductor and Artistic Director, Seattle Pro Musica


Veljo Tormis is considered by Estonians to be one of their most important composers of the 20th century, and is most celebrated as a composer of choral works. Almost all of these are based on ancient Estonian folksongs (regi laulud) – some are folksong settings, while others are composed works using traditional Estonian texts or melodies. Tormis writes: “The most fundamental part of my work is choral music and its connection with ancient Estonian folk song and the folk song of other Finnic peoples…My music can by no means be labeled as folk or world music. It is rather an attempt to preserve the authenticity of the source material, whilst making a compromise with the forms and performing practices of today.” Of Lauliku lapsepõli, Tormis says, "It presents a theme frequently occurring in Estonian songlore describing the process of becoming a singer. The music is of rather melodious contour, dominated by the refrain al'leaa. The folk melody is complemented by an intentionally minimal harmony [since] my artistic credo insists that the folk song should retain as much of its authenticity as possible."

Heyr, himna smiður (Hear, smith of heavens) is a well-known Icelandic hymn written in 1208 AD. The text is by Kolbeinn Tumason (1173–1208) who was a powerful chieftain in one of the Icelandic family clans at the beginning of the most violent and turbulent time in Icelandic history. The poem is a prayer to God for strength, peace, and guidance in the face of open inter-clan warfare. According to legend, Kolbeinn wrote the poem on his deathbed following the Battle of Víðines in which he was mortally wounded. The music was composed by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson (1938–2013), over 700 years later.

The Estonian composer and choral conductor Cyrillus Kreek taught at the Tallinn Conservatory until forced to abandon his position by Soviet authorities who labeled him a ‘bourgeois nationalist’. During his student years, he began to collect Estonian folk music, becoming one of the first Estonians to use the phonograph to record traditional melodies. His choral works reflect the influence of Estonian folk music as well as the harmonic language and color of classical Estonian choral music. The Taaveti laulud (‘Psalms of David’), rediscovered in 1989, are based on the melodies and vocal traditions of the Eastern Orthodox church.

Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds has emerged as one of the most sought-after composers of his generation. In Northern Lights, Ešenvalds combines a Latvian folk song that describes the Northern Lights as the restless souls of fallen soldiers, with the English words of two 19th-century Arctic explorers who were awed by the display (Charles Francis Hall and Fridtjof Nansen). Using chimes and tuned glasses to create an unearthly aura, the piece is full of the wonder and drama of being immersed in the aurora borealis.

Arvo Pärt has achieved the status of “most widely-performed living classical composer” for the past four years in a row, and in his native country of Estonia, he has the status of a rock star. Born in 1935 to a non-musical family, he learned to play piano on an instrument that that lacked several keys; as a child, he would whistle to fill in the missing notes. His emotionally-charged Bogoroditse Devo is a vibrant tribute to the Virgin Mary. It is sung in the traditional Orthodox Church Slavic language and alludes to traditional Orthodox compositional practices.

The Norwegian composer, pianist, and conductor Edvard Grieg is known to contemporary audiences mainly as a composer of orchestral and piano music, as well as secular songs. Grieg’s sacred choral music comprises only a small portion of his oeuvre, perhaps due to his strained personal relationship with the Christian church (in later life he adopted the principles of Unitarianism). This setting of Ave maris stella shows Grieg in his most traditional Romantic style.

O salutaris Hostia by Ēriks Ešenvalds is a section of one of the Eucharistic hymns written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Ešenvalds sets this text for choir and two solo sopranos whose melodies intertwine and soar above the choir.

Einojuhani Rautavaara is one of the most important and internationally renowned contemporary Finnish composers.
Marjatan jouluvirsi (Marjatta’s Christmas Hymn) is an excerpt from his choral opera Marjatta matala neiti (Marjatta, Lowly Maiden), a setting of the last canto of the Finnish national epic poem, the Kalevala. This final canto depicts the shift from the ancient Finnish shamanistic worldview toward a Christian one.

Fagurt er í fjörðum is a traditional Icelandic melody collected in the 19th century by Sigtryggur Guðlaugsson from a farmer. It was arranged by John Hearne for the famed Icelandic youth choir, the Hamrahlíðarkórinn. The poem is by the 18th-century poet Björg Einarsdóttir (also known as Látra Björg). She was hailed as a gifted writer and she excelled at composing verse spontaneously for various occasions and circumstances, a time-honored tradition in Iceland. At the time, some poets were thought to be able to influence future events with their verse, and Látra Björg was one thought to have such powers.

Karin Rhenqvist is one of Sweden's best-known and widely performed composers. She was awarded the 2015 Grand Swedish Gannevik Prize, about which the jury wrote: “It has been said of Rehnqvist’s music that ‘a call rings through it.’ A call, a shout, a plea, a whisper: often raw and unsentimental, yet it speaks straight to the heart. She transforms the ancestral past, the folk heritage, into a disquieting, moving, and very immediate present.” Natt över jorden draws inspiration from Swedish folk music, with a simple and beautiful melody which Rhenqvist sets as a round for two voices. She gradually adds more voice parts for a continuous, lulling evocation of the poet’s musings on night, stars, and darkness.

Virmalised (Northern Lights) by Veljo Tormis is the final movement of the four-movement work Talvemustrid (Winter Patterns), and it depicts the shimmering of the aurora borealis. Composed in the late 1960s, the text of Virmalised paints a picture of the aurora borealis: in the wintry Estonian landscape, we see what appear to be horses on a blue field and fiery fox tails in the sky.

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi is a Finnish composer and a professional translator. Of Psalm 150 in Grandsire Triples, the composer writes: “Change-ringing is an old English tradition of ringing church bells. It is based on permutations: in each change the bells sound in a different order. The number of possible permutations for seven bells is 5,040. Grandsire Triples is a ringing method. A method describes how pairs of bells swap places in the ringing order. A triples is a method for seven bells. Grandsire Triples cover 70 of the 5,040 possible permutations for seven bells.” In this setting, Mäntyjärvi sets the changes for three female soloists, while the 5-part choir sings the Psalm 150 text with harmonies that alternately blend or clash with the ringing of the “bells”.

Ester Mägi has been called the "first lady" of Estonian music, and is a greatly revered figure in Estonia. She studied Estonian folk music, and her compositions show the influence of those folk traditions. Lapi laul (Song from Lapland) was composed in 1971 to a text by Ain Kaalep, one of Estonia’s foremost poets. The text and music of Lapi laul conjure images of ancient Estonian herders and shamanistic rituals.

Ísland, farsælda frón is a traditional Icelandic tvísöngslag (“twin-song”), a type of improvised harmony that has existed in Iceland since the Middle Ages. It consists of two vocal parts sung in parallel 5ths or 4ths to a pre-existing melody.
Ísland, farsælda frón was collected by priest and composer Bjarni Þorsteinsson in the late 19th century when there was great interest in rediscovering Icelandic sagas and traditional music. The text is by Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845), the most beloved poet in Iceland. His poems are part of Iceland’s national identity, and he played an important part in the early Icelandic independence movement. His best known poems celebrate the natural beauty of the land.

The Norwegian Christmas carol O Jul med din glede, is traditionally sung while dancing in a circle around the Christmas tree. The Swedish carol, Nu är det Jul igen, tells of the joys of the Christmas season and is also sung by families and friends while dancing around the Christmas tree.

Composer, conductor and teacher Juozas Bertulis was born in Lithuania in 1893. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1950, bringing many of his compositions with him; those manuscripts are housed in the Archives of Lithuanian Music in Chicago. A number of manuscripts remained in Lithuania and have been lost. During his lifetime, he collected and notated 500 Lithuanian folksongs, which often served as models and inspiration for his original choral works. Pasakykit, piemeneliai (Tell us, Shepherds) was composed between 1941 and 1950. The author of the texts is unknown. Translations are by Ina Bertulyte Bray, the daughter of the composer.

The Three Latvian Carols are arrangements of well-known Christmas carols by the Latvian composer Andrejs Jansons. The final carol deals with the pagan tradition of mummery, which pre-dates the 13th-century Christianization of Latvia. In this tradition, masked mummers traveled to farms where they were invited in and given food and traditional gifts – these gifts would ensure that the livestock and crops on the farm would produce well in the coming year. The mummers would sing, dance, and play traditional games, including the obligatory “theft” of brushes, combs, or awls upon departure. The “kaladu” refrain means “alms” or “charity” and appears in many Latvian Christmas carols.

Eatnemen Vuelie, by Norwegian composer Frode Fjellheim, is inspired by yoik, an old vocal tradition among the indigenous Sámi people of Scandinavia. Characterized by short, repeating melodic phrases with slight variations, the yoik is meant to encapsulate a person, place, element of nature, or emotion. The wordless phrases in Eatnemen Vuelie are juxtaposed with the melody of the hymn Beautiful Savior.

Visit seattlepromusica.org for texts, translations, and more information.

Recording, editing & mastering: Bill Levey, Via Audio
Conductor & Producer: Karen P. Thomas
Executive Director & Assistant Producer: Katie Skovholt
Cover and booklet design: Carole Jones Design
Booklet editing: Wes Kim, Katie Skovholt



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