Fall And Decline

Gregory W. Brown composer
Variant 6

Release Date: August 27, 2021
Catalog #: NV6359
Format: Digital & Physical
21st Century
Vocal Music
Choir

With Gregory Brown’s FALL AND DECLINE on Navona Records, the composer chronicles the heights to which humanity can soar—but also the depths to which it may come crashing down. Scored for the solo voices of virtuosic vocal sextet Variant 6 and electronics, the sounds range from typical choral textures (though peppered with microtones) to angular and aggressive electronic soundscapes.

The lyrics may span two-and-a-half millennia, but their spirit and subjects are abiding: humankind’s struggle against the limitations of time, conflict, inevitable decay. Persian rulers of the fifth century BCE, Baroque historians, poets of the Victorian age, contemporary wordsmiths, they are all caught in a grander, timeless labor—as is every one of us. FALL AND DECLINE is a stern reminder of Humanity’s ephemerality, but even more, it’s a harbinger of hope, a celebration of creative endeavors despite perpetual adversity.

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Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 I :: but after six years Gregory W. Brown Variant 6 | Rebecca Myers, soprano; Sarah Moyer, soprano; Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano; Steven Bradshaw, tenor; James Reese, tenor; Daniel Schwartz, soloist 3:58
02 ii :: the wine of life Gregory W. Brown Variant 6 | Rebecca Myers, soprano; Sarah Moyer, soprano; Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano; Steven Bradshaw, tenor; James Reese, tenor; Daniel Schwartz, soloist 2:19
03 III :: After the President’s Speech You Dream of Corpses Gregory W. Brown Variant 6 | Rebecca Myers, soprano; Sarah Moyer, soprano; Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano; Steven Bradshaw, tenor; James Reese, tenor; Daniel Schwartz, soloist 6:24
04 iv :: as orchards bloom again Gregory W. Brown Variant 6 | Rebecca Myers, soprano; Sarah Moyer, soprano; Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano; Steven Bradshaw, tenor; James Reese, tenor; Daniel Schwartz, soloist 1:55
05 V :: sixty phantoms of kings Gregory W. Brown Variant 6 | Rebecca Myers, soprano; Sarah Moyer, soprano; Elisa Sutherland, mezzo-soprano; Steven Bradshaw, tenor; James Reese, tenor; Daniel Schwartz, soloist 19:02

Composer / producer Gregory W Brown
Recorded at Breezy Acres
Photography by G. Brown
Manipulations and additions by S. Bradshaw and Nyahzul C. Blanco
Composer photo Sarah Moyer
Layout G. Brown
Engineered, produced, and edited by Charles Mueller
main pair: Soyuz Su-023 / sopranos: Coles 4038 / alto: AEA N22 / tenors: AEA N8 / bass: AEA R84A

General Manager of Audio & Sessions Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette
Mastering Shaun Michaud

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Alex Halloran

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Sara Warner

Artist Information

Gregory W. Brown

Composer

Gregory W. Brown’s music has been heard on American Public Media’s Performance Today, BBC Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, Kansas Public Radio, and Danish National Radio; his Missa Charles Darwin received its European debut in March 2013 at the Dinosaur Hall of Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde. Brown’s works have been performed across the United States and Europe — most notably at Cadogan Hall in London, the Kleine Zaal of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Learn More
Rebecca Myers

Rebecca Myers

Soprano

Soprano Rebecca Myers is  a celebrated performing and recording artist who specializes in a comprehensive variety of repertoire including early, contemporary, and chamber music. Recent seasons have seen solo engagements with Seraphic Fire, Tempesta di Mare, Lyric Fest, Opera Philadelphia, Apollo’s Fire, the CalPoly Bach Festival, and Philadelphia’s Bach @ 7 series.

Also a highly sought after recital artist, Myers has been featured in art song recitals with pianists Laura Ward and Benjamin C.S. Boyle presented by the European American Musical Alliance (EAMA), The Woodmere Art Museum, and Opus Opera. Acclaimed for her work in the field of new music, Myers is a core member of The Crossing, the two time GRAMMY winning ensemble dedicated entirely to new music. She has premiered works by the top living composers around the world and she was a soloist on the 2016 GRAMMY-nominated Bonhoeffer, released by The Crossing.

Sarah Moyer

Sarah Moyer

Soprano

Soprano Sarah Moyer’s recent solo work includes performances with the Cape Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Chamber Symphony, Bourbon Baroque, Lost Dog New Music Ensemble, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Emmanuel Music, Mistral, and Les Bostonades.

She has performed world premieres by Harbison, Kallembach, Theofanidis, and Runestad, among others, and American premieres by Melani and Nørgård. As a choral artist, she appears with GRAMMY-nominated groups Skylark, Seraphic Fire, Conspirare, Clarion Music Society, True Concord, as well as Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Variant 6, Spire, Lorelei Ensemble, The Thirteen, and Ensemble Origo. In her spare time she enjoys accompanying herself on the ukulele as she revives music from the Tin Pan Alley genre.

www.sopranosarahmoyer.com

Elisa Sutherland

Elisa Sutherland

Mezzo-Soprano

Mezzo-soprano Elisa Sutherland is dedicated to detailed, stylistic interpretations of early and new music. She frequently performs with some of the top ensembles and consorts in the country, including Philadelphia’s The Crossing, New York ensembles Ekmeles, TENET Vocal Artists, Clarion Choir and New Chamber Ballet, Roomful of Teeth, Cleveland’s Apollo’s Fire, and Miami’s Seraphic Fire.

Sutherland is a co-founder and Programming Director of her own early and new music sextet, Variant 6. She has performed as a soloist with TENET Vocal Artists, Apollo’s Fire, American Bach Soloists, Apollo Chorus of Chicago, and Quicksilver Baroque, singing early masterpieces such as Bach’s Mass in B minor, Handel’s Messiah, and Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri. Sutherland has a special love for art song, and has sung with LyricFest, Philadelphia’s premiere art song concert series, and the Brooklyn Art Song Society.

Steven Bradshaw

Steven Bradshaw

Tenor

In addition to recording and performing with Roomful of Teeth and Ekmeles, tenor Steven Bradshaw performs with Seraphic Fire, Trinity Wall Street, and Apollo’s Fire. He is a founding member of Variant 6 and the Crossing.

Bradshaw premiered Ted Hearne’s PLACE at the BAM Next Wave Festival and is set to reprise his role with the LA Philharmonic next season. The recording of PLACE was GRAMMY-nominated for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble performance. He has co-composed, developed, and recorded a major work entitled “SUNRISE” with composer Jacob Cooper, and premiered David Lang’s “Lifespan.” Bradshaw generated artwork for The Crossing’s lost season STATELESS/HOWL, with collaborator Nyahzul  C. Blanco. His artwork has been featured at Arch Enemy Arts, Stephen Romano Gallery, Dark Art Emporium, and La Luz De Jesus Gallery.

James Reese

James Reese

Tenor

James Reese is a frequently sought soloist and collaborative musician. He makes regular appearances with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, Lyric Fest, Tempesta di Mare, the Gamut Bach Ensemble, and TENET Vocal Artists, among others.

Reese is an advocate for new music, and is a founding member of Philadelphia vocal sextet Variant 6. He performs with leading ensembles, including The Crossing, Seraphic Fire, and Gallicantus. He is the winner of the Margot Fassler Award for the Performance of Music at Yale, and the Career Advancement Grant from the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia. Reese is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, and holds a Master’s degree from the Yale School of Music. He lives in Philadelphia.

Daniel Schwartz

Daniel Schwartz

Soloist

A Philadelphia native, Daniel Schwartz has sung with the Opera Philadelphia chorus where he has performed a number of bit roles including The Foreman in the east coast premiere of Oscar. Schwartz also sings with The Crossing, a two-time GRAMMY-winning new music choir, and has been featured as a soloist on their radio broadcasts.

In 2014 he traveled to California to perform Louis Andriessen’s De Materie with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and seven other singers from The Crossing, who also made their Carnegie Hall debut that year. Schwartz has performed as a soloist with many distinguished ensembles such as Piffaro and Choral Arts, and is a founding member of Variant 6. In 2016, he performed the role of Captain Belville with Brandywine Baroque in William Shield’s opera Rosina. In 2017 he made his debut as a soloist with The Philadelphia Orchestra for Pat Metheny and the American Beat. He continues to perform around the world with many of the above ensembles. In addition to singing, Schwartz is the conductor of the Philadelphia Voices of Pride.

Notes

The recording was funded in part by the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia. We are grateful to the Fund for their support of Philadelphia-area arts organizations, and their commitment to the creation of new works.

The texts for FALL AND DECLINE span millennia, but the topics remain the same: hubris, fear, and inevitable decline, with a pocket of hope near the end. We begin with an account of Cambyses II, ruler of the Achaemenid Empire in what is present day Iran. His conquest of Egypt ca. 500 BCE is perhaps his most famous achievement, and is relayed here through Samuel Purchas’s 1614 volume and credited as having been “translated out of Arabike by T. Erpenius.” Through the telescoping lenses of history his story emerges and we see the heights of glory, misadventure, and then finally Cambyses is replaced by others, who in turn, fade away.

The second text is from nearly a millennium and a half later, itself seen through the lens of a 19th century Britain: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam (ca. 1120) translated from Persian by Edward Fitzgerald. The poem underscores the futility of man’s ambitions against the inevitable succession of time.

American poet Todd Hearon wrote After the President’s Speech You Dream of Corpses in 2007 in the middle of the Iraq War. The stark and horror-filled imagery evokes the idiosyncratic William Blake and responds to the videos on the 24-hour news channels. He calls on the reader to place themselves within history and question their role there.

The fourth text is from Sadakichi Hartmann, a German-Japanese artist. He directly recalls the quatrains of Khayyam, and offers a hopeful note, or at least a note of acceptance, through images of sunrise and orchards—here used as symbols of rebirth.

The final text comes from Edward Gibbon’s iconic The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (ca. 1789). Towards the end of his sprawling volumes the author ruminates on our place in history—on the sheer scale of it all, piled up around us and ahead of us.

The term “decline and fall” serves as the inspiration for the title of this work. Gibbon suggests that civilization slowly decays and then ultimately fails; Fall and Decline suggest that perhaps things don’t work that way. Perhaps the decline and decay is omnipresent and timeless. The “fall” part is perhaps the metaphoric fall from Grace, or perhaps the moment after the Big Bang, with the creation of all matter followed by slow and inevitable entropic heat death eons later.  The ‘fall’ is the starting point, instead of the end.

In either case, as Yeats asserts, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” and this dance of creation in the face of decay is both futile and the best possible thing I can imagine.

This work was written and premiered in the depths of the Trump administration, recorded from the heart of the Coronavirus pandemic, and edited during the weeks surrounding the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol Building.

It is the product of its time: hope and creativity in the face of decline. 

Gregory W Brown

Texts

Cambyses, having pulled down their Temples in Egypt,[Cambyses] intended as much to the Oracle of Jupiter Ammon,[Cambyses] employed fifty thousand men, which were over-whelmed with a tempest of sand.
Other news of them was never heard.

[Cambyses] meanwhile, meanly provided of victuals for such an enterprise,
made an expedition against the Ethiopians;
in which, famine making herself purveyor for the army, fed them with the flesh of each other;
every tenth man being allotted to the bloody service.
Thus with a double discomfiture altogether discomforted, he retireth to Memphis.

[At Memphis] he found them observing their festival solemnity of the new-found Apis,
he slew the magistrates, whipped the priests,
commanded to kill the citizens that were found feasting,
and wounded their Apis with his sword, unto death.

[At Memphis] he practiced no less hostility upon their obelisks, sepulchers, and temples:
the sepulchers they esteemed sacred, as their eternal habitations:
(and no greater security could any Egyptian give unto his creditor,
than the dead bodies of their parents.)

As [Cambyses] was taking his horse, his sword,
falling out of the scabbard,
wounded him in the thigh (where he before had wounded Apis)
and slew him, [Cambyses].

In the time while the Persians enjoyed Egypt, the Athenians,
by instigation of Inarus King of Libya, invaded Egypt,
won Nilus and Memphis:
but after six years lost all again.

“translated out of Arabike by T. Erpenius” & published by
Samuel Purchas in 1614 [edited by the composer]

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

VIII. from the Fifth Edition of  The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam  (ca. 1120)
translated from Persian by Edward Fitzgerald (1809–1883)

Those bodies that last night
stormed the bosses in your brain
— some picket-line or strike —
and were beaten down
so brutally, batoned
corpses piled the streets,
men and women, naked,
massive, Blakean physiques:
where are they now?
Anonymous,
faceless in the mass
grave your mind’s become
at morning after dream.
So you are the mirror
of your times: a century
rots forgotten, storyless
in you. Sepulcher, articulate
and ambulating tomb. Packed
charnel house. Dead to the very eyes.

Where will you be that morning when they rise?

Todd Hearon (2007)
Todd Hearon, from  Strange Land  (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010)
used by permission of the poet

Yes, life is vain, life is empty,
But why repeat a sad refrain,
The echo of Kayyam’s quatrains,
As long as each day has a morrow,
As long as orchards bloom again,
And empty cups may be refilled.

Sadakichi Hartmann,  Collected Poems,  p. 111

A being of the nature of man, endowed with the same faculties,
but with a longer measure of existence,
would cast down a smile of pity and contempt
on the crimes and follies of human ambition,
so eager, in a narrow span, to grasp at a precarious and short-lived enjoyment.
It is thus that the experience of history
exalts and enlarges the horizon of our intellectual view.
In a composition of some days,
in a perusal of some hours,
six hundred years have rolled away,
and the duration of a life or reign is contracted to a fleeting moment:
The grave is ever beside the throne;
and our immortal reason survives and disdains
the sixty phantoms of kings who have passed before our eyes,
and faintly dwell in our remembrance.

Edward Gibbon,  The history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire , Ch. 48[edited by the composer]