Notes and Editorial Reviews
J. & D. CANFIELD
Stephen Pratt, cond; Tom Ellsworth (nar); Nicholas Coppolo (ten); Christopher Burchett (bar); Lisa Williamson (sop); Bloomington Oratorio Ch & O
ENHARMONIC 03-016 (2 CDs: 91:25
The Canfields are quite the musical household. David DeBoor, the son, was born in 1950 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His mother, June DeBoor Canfield, was a former violinist in the Columbus Philharmonic under Izler Solomon, the conductor well known for
his recordings with Heifetz. David’s father, John Canfield, had founded the Fort Lauderdale Symphony Orchestra (now the Florida Philharmonic) just before the younger Canfield was born, and was a music educator throughout his career. Quite naturally, the boy’s earliest musical studies in piano, violin, music theory, and composition were all with his father. By high school, however, an interest in chemistry began to supersede David’s interest in music. It was in chemistry, in fact, that he was accepted as a major at Stetson University in 1968, although he received a full scholarship from the school for playing in the university orchestra, of which he was concertmaster for a year and a half.
Midway through his junior year, Canfield decided to switch from chemistry to music and transferred to Covenant College, where his father was head of the music department at the time. He became the first composition major to graduate from that school. Taking two years off from his education after graduation, he played violin professionally in the Fort Lauderdale Symphony (as it was then called), the Miami Opera Association, and the Miami Beach Symphony Orchestra. In 1974, David was accepted into Indiana University’s graduate program. While there, his dissertation piece, a piano concerto, won the Dean’s Composition Competition and was premiered by David Brunell, piano, and Keith Brown, with the Indiana University Orchestra.
Not interested in pursuing a career as a teacher of composition, Canfield then began Ars Antiqua, which in a short time became the world’s largest mail-order business devoted to classical LP records. He also compiled, during the course of running this venture, the worldwide standard price guide for classical records, the latest edition of which contains almost 200,000 different records on all formats. On a personal note, let me add here that I had learned of Ars Antiqua as a source for good-quality used LPs long before I knew anything of David’s musical background.
During the 25 years he has run his record business, he has continued to compose and receive numerous performances of his works, which include his Piano Sonata and his overture
The Spirit of Challenger.
Canfield is the composer-in-residence of the Bloomington Pops Orchestra, which has performed more than 12 of his pieces over the eight years of the orchestra’s existence. The largest-scale of these, his
American Patriot Overture
, is scored for large orchestra, chorus, auxiliary brass, and cannons. The Pops performed the piece three times (in 1999, 2000, and 2001) to audiences totaling more than 15,000 people. There is much, much more to Canfield’s musical career and activities, but lest this entry expand beyond reasonable limits, I direct you to classical-composers.org/comp/canfield to read the rest of it.
is a Passiontide oratorio. Its composition was entirely a family affair, with music written by the elder Canfield, John, and his son David in 2002. The libretto, drawn primarily from the Gospel of St. John, recast in updated, idiomatic English, and with some interpolated, extraneous material, was the work of John’s wife and David’s mother, June. The oratorio is divided into two roughly equal parts or acts.
Part I covers the first six narratives of St. John up to the point of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. The story, however, does not progress strictly according to scriptural canon. Instead, it is interrupted and embellished by episodes that function as commentary and meditation on the narrative, much in the way that the arias in Bach’s
s invite the listener to contemplate the meaning of the unfolding drama. Thus, there occurs in Part I an extended section titled “The Festival,” in which a chorus of Hebrew men and women commemorate the Passover and their redemption from slavery. Obviously, there is a scriptural as well as a chronological disconnect here, as the historical event being commemorated is postulated to have occurred some 1,500 years before Christ and is certainly not part of the Christian experience. Its resonance within the framework of the Passion narrative, however, I’m guessing has to do with Last Supper, believed to have been on the night preceding the Jewish Passover, and the transmutation of the physical paschal lamb into the symbolic Lamb of God. Whether that was the intent or not, as in Bach’s Passion settings, the Canfields also introduce asides into the main storyline for emotional and dramatic effect that cause us to pause and reflect.
Part II picks up the narrative with the “Denial and Lament of Peter,” proceeds through the “March to the Cross and Crucifixion,” and ends with the “Final Chorus of Victory” in which a modified reprise of the chorus of Hebrew men and women becomes a song of praise that seems to suggest they’ve seen the error of their ways and now embrace the new Savior. Clearly, this does not comport with the historical record, but suspension of reality is part and parcel of good entertainment; besides, it’s in service to an evening of pleasant music.
Speaking of the music, David Canfield in his program note explains that
, not unlike a Wagner opera, is leitmotif-based, and he provides musical examples of the main motifs that underlie the composition. The work employs a large contingent of vocal soloists—beyond the main ones named in the headnote—in smaller roles, a large mixed choir, and a sizeable orchestra. This is no parsimonious, one-to-a-part production. The music, in David’s words, “is cast in a late Romantic style throughout most sections.”
At the outset of the project, he found himself questioning the rationale of it. To what end composing a quasi-liturgical, quasi-theatrical, quasi-musical drama on a subject exhaustively explored by composers for over the better part of 12 centuries? Evidence of the Passion narrative being intoned as opposed to being simply spoken dates back to at least the eighth century. Musical settings steadily evolved to include
scenes and an array of singers playing different dramatic roles by the 15th century. From there, through a host of Renaissance and Baroque composers, right on up to our own time with examples by Penderecki and, as recently as the 1997
Passion According to St. Matthew
by Mark Alburger, the narrative has inspired a bewildering number and variety of treatments. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera
Jesus Christ Superstar
and Stephen Schwartz’s musical
are modern adaptations of the Gospel accounts.
is hardly novel in concept or particularly original in its musical treatment. The real incentive for creating it, as revealed by David Canfield, was twofold: one, to produce such a work as a father-and-son collaboration, something that had never been done before, and two, to express the family’s deep and abiding Christian faith.
Though neither the subject nor its setting holds much appeal for me personally,
, as I said earlier, offers the listener, at the very least, 90 minutes’ worth of enjoyable music. Whether it also offers a rewarding emotional experience and spiritual enrichment will depend on how responsive the listener is to the work’s somewhat proselytizing tone. The current recording is of the edited world premiere performance on April 17, 2003. Performances and sound are in the good-to-excellent category.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
The Proclamation by David DeBoor Canfield
Lisa Williamson (Soprano),
Nicholas Coppolo (Tenor),
Tom Ellsworth (Narrator),
Christopher Burchett (Baritone)
Bloomington Oratorio Chorus,
Bloomington Oratorio Orchestra
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