Though this work is the Finale from Samuel Jones’ choral symphony (Canticles of Time: Symphony No. 2), it is able to stand alone as a concert piece of immense power and rejoicing. Spiraling out with successively larger dimensions until it reaches its final triumphant moment, the work takes the listener on a journey to the transcendent experience embodied by its title, Gaudeo (Latin for “I rejoice!) The text for the work is by the noted Atlanta poet and physician, John Stone. Both the poet and the composer were classmates at Millsaps College in the 1950’s, and both were commissioned by Millsaps to write this work to commemorate the centennial of the college in 1990.
The chorus, unaccompanied and in full voice, opens the work, proclaiming, “Blake was right: within our days ‘Joy and Woe are woven fine.’ Yet, of the faces we put on the most enduring one is Joy.” This is answered by an outburst of support from the orchestra. Two more choral phrases, one celebrating the joy of poetry, the other, that of music, reverberate from the chorus, each, again, being vigorously seconded by the orchestra. The orchestra then ushers in the primary music of the movement, which consists of constant repetition and expansion of a short theme that is recited over and over, now in the foreground, now in the background, in the manner of a mantra. This theme becomes mesmerizing as it concentrates on relinquishing thought and “journeying inward,” as Joseph Campbell puts it, “to the field of reference to what is absolutely transcendent.” As the gaudeo theme (the mantra) repeats itself, it groups itself into ever longer segments. (Those interested in numbers will recognize the dimensions by which the segments are getting longer—namely, the Fibonaci series [1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.]. This series of numbers embodies the mathematical proportions of the Golden Mean; the proportions by which the movement is expanding are indeed the same by which the parent symphony has been expanding since the first movement.) Each section of the movement is separated by a short interlude in the orchestra, commenting upon the progress so far and setting the stage for the next section. While the mantra-like theme remains relatively constant, the music surrounding it is continually being changed. The section containing eight repetitions of the mantra forms the middle section of the movement, during which the two melodies which had been briefly quoted in the introduction (Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light and Gaudeamus Igitur) are expanded upon with full statements from the chorus, with the gaudeo theme now being intoned in the background by the violas. The section containing thirteen repetitions of the mantra serves as something of a recapitulation, except that time is telescoped, the meters become mixed, and the sense of reality is compressed and accelerated. At the peak of this foreshortening, the chorus triumphantly reenters to repeat its opening chorale, affirming once again that “the most enduring face we put on is Joy”. A final coda gathers energy from all that has gone before, transforming everything into a transcendent realization of the full meaning of those words sung in Latin, I rejoice! Let us rejoice!
Program Notes by Samuel Jones