Middle East Homework 5-9

This is a continuation of the homework assignments listed here.

Writing about music is an important tool for understanding it. MusicAtOurHouse solidifies class content with a short writing assignment following each session. Homework for the live class is posted on the discussion forum. For anyone participating in recordings-only, please feel free to post on the forum on an ongoing basis.

Discuss and compare the four religious pieces we heard in class:

a) Hymn to Nikkal (1400 BC, Babylon)
The vocal version is available only on the physical CD Sounds from Silence
Here is an instrumental version:


b) Hymn to Apollo (128 BC, Delphi)

c) Azan - Islamic Call to Prayer


d) Kol Nidre, from the Jewish Faith, a Declaration recited on the Day of Atonement

See the text translation here.

You may also find the alternative versions of the Hymn to Nikkal interesting. They are listed under "Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal" on our resource page.

Choose a topic from these:

a) How does Byzantine religious music compare to the other religious musics we have heard? (See last week's homework for the list of examples). Here is a page that plays a Byzantine chant on arrival:

And here is a page with a video of a (long) concert of Byzantine music (the singing starts at the 17 minute mark):


b) Describe some of the music from "Fiddler on the Roof" -- what is the feeling? how does it compare to the Asian or Western sounds we have been hearing? what are your favorite songs and why?

c) What is Arabic "Maqam" and what are the special intervals it makes use of which are not characteristic of Western music? Give examples of music that uses these intervals and describe the feeling of it. See the links on our resource page.
Also, a further option for the Junior-Senior High class:
d) Compare Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherezade Symphony to Maurice Ravel's Sheherezade Overture and/or Ravel's song "Sheherezade." (See our prior homework about Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherezade)

Ravel Overture:


Ravel Song:

A two-part writing homework this time; please do both parts.

a) What was required of theater singers before the technology of recording and amplification? How did this shape the characteristically "operatic" vocal style?

b) Compare the following different performances of Handel's song "Ombra mai fu", sung by King "Serse" (Xerxes) in the opera of the same name. (You don't have to cover all four, just the ones you have the clearest ideas about or the ones you find most interesting.) Here are the words in English:

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never bother your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

A shade there never was,
of any plant,
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Mezzo-Soprano Cecilia Bartoli

Countertenor Andreas Scholl

Historic recording (1920) of tenor Enrico Caruso (includes both
recitative and aria)
(notice that the accompaniment is played by a wind ensemble--why?)

Our writing homework for next week is to compare two opera excerpts, both of which use religious subjects: a Classical period song by Mozart, and a Romantic one, by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Mozart's "O Isis and Osiris" is sung by a priest in The Magic Flute (1791). It is a prayer that the opera's hero, Tamino, be protected in his quest for enlightenment. Isis and Osiris were a pair of ancient Egyptian gods, a sister and a brother; Isis is the godess of the downtrodden, and her brother Osiris was the god of the underworld. Belief in these gods from ancient Egypt had spread and they became symbols of the European Enlightenment.
A classic recording from 1928:

Here's another nice recording:

Camille Saint-Saëns' "My Heart Opens to the Sound of Your Voice" (Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix) is sung by Delilah, in the opera Samson & Delilah (1877). It is her means of convincing Samson, falsely, that she loves him, and of making him fall in love with her. Her seduction works, and enables Delila to betray him--when he falls asleep, she has his hair cut and he loses his strength.


(Feel free also to discuss the famous orchestral Bacchanal from this opera--the savage dance in the temple preceding the moment when Samson, with restored strength, pulls down the columns of the temple, crushing everyone inside.)


Also, here's something I wrote about Shirley Verrett, the singer of the Delila role in these examples, when she passed away recently.

9. What has been your favorite piece from the music we've studied so far, and why?

Further examples from class 9:

Some of the examples from class today:

"Let the Bright Seraphim" from Handel's SAMSON
Kathleen Battle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7PzO2x9k0o
Let the bright Seraphim in burning row,
Their loud uplifted Angel-trumpets blow:
Let the Cherubic host, in tuneful choirs,
Touch their immortal harps with golden wires.



"Va Pensiero" (Slave Chorus); see lyrics here


"Ready to ascend the throne" (Salgo gia)
Abigaille determines to seize the throne (Salgo già del trono aurato / "I am ready to ascend the bloodstained seat of the golden throne").
"The High Priest of Baal comes into the royal chambers and tells her that Abigaille's sister Fenema wants to free the Hebrews. The priests of Baal have therefore set up a rumor that Nabucco has died, leaving Abigaille the throne. Abigaille then responds, singing that she has decided that she will indeed take the throne by whatever means necessary."
Ghena Dimitrova


from AIDA

O Patria Mia; text here


Alone in the hall, Aida is torn between her love for her father, her country, and Radamès. (Aida: Ritorna vincitor / "Return a conqueror").
Lyrics here:
Leontyne Price


A variety of recordings here.

(Celeste Aida)
Lyrics here.