This week the Consonant Classical Challenge spotlights American composer Kirke Mechem. Mechem, has written over 250 works, including four operas, and two symphonies. The bulk of his output has been for the human voice, though, which is why he's known as the dean of American choral music.
Mechem says, "I don’t want to find new music 'interesting' in a purely intellectual way; I am impatient with novelty or experimentation for their own sake; I am too old to be taken in by trends or jargon. Been there, heard that. I want to love a piece of music, to be delighted by it, to be moved to tears or laughter or in some way taken out of myself. At the very least I must want to hear the piece again, the sooner the better."
That's the aesthetic behind his work, which is firmly grounded in tonality. His carefully crafted melodies make his choral works flow naturally, and explains their popularity.
"Blow Ye Trumpet" is a good example of Mechem's choral writing. This short work has an almost folk-like quality to it, with thick, expressive harmonies.
The Suite for Piano, Op. 5 presents the essence of Mechem's style. The chordal accompanigment is more than just simple triads, and the melody, while still within the key, uses escape tones add poignancy.
Of Mechem's four operas, "Tartuffe" seems to be the most popular, and "Fair Robin" the most often performed aria from it.
"Islands in Space," another popular Mechem work, has a tonal foundation, but uses harmonies of stacked seconds and thirds to create the etherel quality of the music. Tonality doesn't necessarily mean simple, as this selectdion demonstrates.
Like many choral composers, Kirke Mechem not only creates original works, but arranges traditional pieces as well. Here's his arrangement of Patapan -- an appropriate number for this time of year!
Kirke Mechem is well-known in the choral world, but unfortunately his chamber and orchestral works aren't widely performed. I was unable to find any recordings of his music (save for a track or two on a university choral release). And that's a shame. Based on the quality of his music available on YouTube, Mechem is certainly deserving of an album or two. And personally, I'd love to hear those two symphonies of his.