You may know composer Mari Isabel Valverde from her work “When Thunder Comes,” or “Patterns on the Snow,” which was an ACDA consortium from 2016. Many know Ms. Valverde from her music that connects to equity… or, perhaps because of one of her identities as Mexican-American or transgender. And yes, she is a leader in equity for our National ACDA organization and a leader in facilitating professional development opportunities.
Schooled in the Western European Classical musical tradition, her undergrad was at St. Olaf, where she sang in the Midwestern Lutheran tradition. I’ve programmed her “Cantares” (SSA)– which I recommend – the piece was loved by my treble choir. Now, my singers are preparing a Swedish piece she wrote, Månskenskväll. It’s my joy to share reflections on this piece, as well as another Swedish piece of hers, Hjärtat.
“Hjärtat” (Heart) is an arrangement of William Stenhammar’s (1871–1927) art song, with text by Bo Bergman (1869–1967). When Ms. Valverde was younger, she spent time studying the music of Stenhammar, outside of any requirement for lessons, theory, or choir. This particular piece, composed in 2011, has a distinctly familiar sound to me (as a Luther College graduate, from the same family as Ms. Valverde’s St. Olaf). Unaccompanied, SATB with minimal divisi, duple meter, lucious. The ranges are accessible. The trickiest part is the tuning of the chromatics and some of the leaps. The score itself comes with IPA, phonetic pronunciation, and both poetic and word-for-word translations (something I really appreciate). “Hjärtat” would be a great selection for many choirs, with it’s fairly traditional harmony that stretches just enough to subvert expectations. It’s hymn-like, but not strophic. You can find a video of Hjärtat here, although sung on a neutral vowel and not Swedish.
Månskenskväll (Moonlit Evening), also written in 2011, is in compound meter and has a bit of an afternoon-on-a-porch feeling. The text is by Swedish-speaking Finnish poet Edith Södergran, who died at 31 after contracting tuberculosis. IPA and poem translation are provided in the score. With reasonable ranges (although you’ll need solid low basses for the final E), “Månskenskväll” has more divisi than “Hjärtat” and more leaps for experienced voices to navigate. There is a brief 4-part section for tenor/bass voices, and two optional solos at the end, one for soprano and one for bass. This beautiful piece has incredible dynamic moments and waves of movement. Ms. Valverde writes that this was her attempt to “imitate a Scandinavian Romantic style…”
Let me share why I chose to program “Månskenskväll.” First, the theme of my concert is movement. It could be dance, it could be music that makes us want to move, or about any sort of loosely connected idea of motion. This piece, first of all, has a feeling of rocking a sleeping child or a rocking boat, which is what drew me to the piece initially. That rocking feeling is related to the text, which is about the gliding of the moonlight over water, and waves “swirl (ing) around one another.” In addition, the listener feels the movement because the harmonies don’t really rest. There might be a moment of rest, but it never feels as if it’s settling to a stillness. Her composition reflects movement in it’s harmonies. I was also drawn to the “molto” crescendo/diminuendo over short durations, which give it the feeling of rising and falling both within the musical line and the emotional output. I really lean into those expressive give-and-takes, especially since the piece is somewhat dynamically contained. All of this is connected to the text of the piece. Ms. Valverde is incredibly intentional about her text setting.
One other reason I programmed “Månskenskväll” is because I love figuring out Ms. Valverde’s music. I need to spend time with her music to fully fall in love with it, but I do… every single piece I’ve become familiar with.