In the middle ages, poets, artists and musicians devoted numerous works to Danse Macabre, or dance of death. This medieval allegory that death is all-conquering expresses the idea that no matter one’s station in life—who they are, where they live, how much money they have—every one of us will dance with death one day.
In a Graveyard: A Choral Concert on Death and Remembrance, conducted by Alison Allerton, assistant professor of choral music education, explores the dance of death theme with Hugo Distler’s Totentanz. The 14 short, unaccompanied choral movements are settings of sayings by Angelus Silesius, a 17th century mystic priest who was influenced by the numerous art pieces born in the middle ages depicting various characters dancing with death. In Distler’s musical setting, each movement represents various characters—the emperor, pope, farmer, merchant, old man and tiny child as death leads them in a mortal waltz.
“The main impetus behind the concert was to perform Distler’s Totentanz, as it was the piece I wrote my dissertation on. Hugo Distler wrote this work—a motet for All Saints Day—in 1934. Eight years later, in 1942, he committed suicide on All Saints Day,” Allerton explains.
“This fall is the seventy-fifth anniversary of his death, and I really wanted to perform this piece—both as a culmination of my research on this work, and as a sort of memorial to him, a way to honor this amazing composer on the anniversary of his death. For many reasons (too numerous to elaborate on here), this work appears to be very near and dear to the composer,” she adds.
Accompanying Dister’s Totentanz, is a collection of music thematically connected to Halloween and All Saints Day. The concert will also include visuals and the audience will be encouraged to participate (as long as they are comfortable) by honoring their loved ones who have passed.
“I hope those in attendance will find themselves either entertained or comforted—perhaps even both!” says Allerton.
If you go
What: In a Graveyard: A Choral Concert on Death and Remembrance
When: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Christ Church Episcopal
Admission: Free and open to the public
The concert’s choral ensemble is made up of 16 singers from the Chattanooga area and some from out of state. Local singers include choral directors from McCallie School, Dade County High School, Signal Mountain High School, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Tennessee Wesleyan University.
The group also includes a freelance professional singer from the Houston area, Michelle Capdau, and a freelance professional singer from the New York City area, Erick Sanchez; both will be singing stunning solos in the final work—a spiritual arrangement of Soon Ah Will Be Done and I Wanna Die Easy arranged by world renowned composer and conductor of Conspirare, Craig Hella Johnson.
In addition to Totentanz, these works will be performed:
- Rufus Wainwright’s “In a Graveyard”
- Einojuhani Rautavaara’s “Suite de Lorca”
- Matthew Harris’ “Come Away, Come Away Death”
- Ildebrando Pizzetti’s “Dies Irae” from Requiem
- Daniel Elder’s “Elegy”
- Heinrich Schutz’s “Selig sind die Toten “
- “Soon Ah Will Be Done/I Wanna Die Easy” arranged by Craig Hella Johnson