Hans Sachs was, of course, the sixteenth-century poet and Meistersinger portrayed in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. In the opera much was made of the meistersinger’s strict adherence to laws of vocal improvisation, one of which was conforming to the AAB form (bar form).
The homage here comes from the notion that this work, while often sounding wildly improvisatory and free, is in fact incredibly tightly controlled. For example, every molecule of the work is governed by bar from, from the large-scale structure to individual note combinations. This is cross-cut by a simultaneous but non-synchronized variations form based on interval arrangements.
The work begins with a single, very long, densely ornamented pitch. This “unison” expands outward little by little before collapsing inward in a jarring gesture as the beginning of the second A section. The piece also ends with a similarly intricate pitch of gasp-educing length.
Composer Justin Merritt was the youngest-ever winner of the ASCAP Foundation Rudolph Nissim Award. He is also the winner of a host of other awards including the McKnight Fellowship, the Copland Award, and the Polyphonos Prize. His music has been played by the Minnesota Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, and on A Prairie Home Companion. His evening length cantata, The Path, was premiered at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis in April 2018. The work is a setting of a collection of Buddhist Pali scriptures translated by the composer and set for multiple choirs, soloists, and large orchestra. He received his Bachelors from Trinity University and his Masters and Doctorate from Indiana University. He studied composition with Samuel Adler, Sven-David Sandstrom, Claude Baker, Timothy Kramer, Don Freund, and electronic and computer music with Jeffrey Hass. He is currently Professor and Chair of Music at St. Olaf College. He resides in Northfield, Minnesota with his wife Faye and their children Cullen Fang Ouxiang and Molly Fang Qinghe.
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