hero_The Ravishing Hour

The Ravishing Hour

Sunday, APRIL 22 at 4:00 pm
St. Luke Catholic Church, McLean, VA
Register for The Ravishing Hour: Treasures of the French Choral Tradition (McLean, VA)  in Mclean, VA  on Eventbrite
General Admission – $30
Student – $15

A program of shorter masterpieces from the French Choral Tradition.

Lili Boulanger

Composer, Lili Boulanger

We close our season with two ravishing afternoons of exquisite French music. The concerts will highlight well known and rarely heard gems of the impressionist and modern repertoire, including Lili Boulanger’s Soir sur la plaine and excerpts from Maurice Duruflé’s Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens. The programs will also feature art songs by Debussy and appearances by guest artist Paul Skevington who will accompany the Chorale in dramatic works for organ and chorus.

» View Program and Notes About the Music

About Guest Artist, Paul Skevington

Organist Paul Skevington has been at St. Luke Parish in McLean since 1993

Organist Paul Skevington has been at St. Luke Parish in McLean since 1993

A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Paul Skevington completed his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in organ performance at Indiana University and earned a Doctorate degree in Liturgical Music from the Catholic University of America. He held the position of Assistant in Liturgical Music at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., from 1984 – 1987. He is currently Minister of Music and Liturgy at Saint Luke Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia. In addition to his duties at Saint Luke, he maintains an active performing schedule, and appears regularly at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and other major venues in the Washington, D.C. area as an organist with chorus and orchestra. He gives solo recitals throughout the United States, including convention recitals for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) and American Guild of Organists (AGO). He appears on recordings on the Gothic, Summit, Sonoris, and Naxos labels.

Paul Skevington is past dean of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the AGO, serves as Chairperson for the NPM Section for Organists, and is a member of the organ faculty at Northern Virginia Community College. He spearheaded the effort to purchase one of Northern Virginia’s finest organs, the highly acclaimed, 61-rank, Steiner-Reck mechanical-action pipe organ at Saint Luke Church. Under Paul’s direction, Saint Luke has become a vital centre for performing and recording music and home for the popular Music in McLean Concert Series.

March 18, 2012 & April 22, 2012

Toccata from Symphony No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42 No. 1 | Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
    Paul Skevington, organ

Kyrie from Messe Solenelle | Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
    Washington Master Chorale, Thomas Colohan, director | Paul Skevington, organ

Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op. 10 | Maurice Duruflé (1902- 1986)
Ubi caritas | Tota pulchra es | Tu es Petrus | Tantum ergo
    Washington Master Chorale

Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 | Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
    Washington Master Chorale | Mark Vogel, piano

Jesu, dulcis memoria, Op. 78 No. 4 | Pierre Villette (1926-1998)
    Washington Master Chorale

Gloria from Missa cum Jubilo | Maurice Duruflé
    Washington Master Chorale | Scott Humburg, baritone | Paul Skevington, organ

Prélude from Le tombeau de Couperin | Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
    Mark Vogel, piano

Two chansons from Clairières dans le Ciel | Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)
Vous m’avez regardé avec toute votre âme
Un poète disait…
    Deborah Sternberg, soprano | Mark Vogel, piano

Hymn au soleil | Lili Boulanger
    Washington Master Chorale
    Martina Wheeler-Lutz, alto (March 18) | Jennifer Randall, alto (April 22) | Mark Vogel, piano

Soir sur la plaine | Lili Boulanger
    Washington Master Chorale
    Laura Stuart, soprano | Andrew Hill, tenor | Brian Henry, baritone | Mark Vogel, piano

Calme des nuits, Op. 68, No.1 | Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
    Washington Master Chorale

Beau Soir | Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
    Scot Humburg, baritone | Mark Vogel, piano

Selections from Trois chansons bretonnes | Henk Badings (1907-1987)
La nuit en mer
Soir d’ete
    Washington Master Chorale | Mark Vogel, piano

Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villan | Claude Debussy (No.3 from Trois chansons de Charles d’Orléans L. 9)
Washington Master Chorale
    Amy Broadbent, soprano | Erica Haman, alto, | Doug Gaddis , tenor | Brian Henry, bass

About the Music

Tonight’s program is drawn from the French impressionistic music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the sacred church music that followed in its wake. As with their English counterparts, the French composers of this period were colleagues and friends, studying at the same schools with the same teachers, working in the same churches, and even socializing it the same cafes. The influence of the “impressionistic” style they pioneered, with its emphasis on symbolism, color, timbre, and the blurring of keys and lines spread far beyond France and endured well into the 20th century.

The first half of our program focuses on the French church music of the later period. These works are rooted in the ancient tradition of Gregorian chant yet infused with impressionist techniques. The composers represented were the foremost organists and composers of their time. Gabrielle Faure and Maurice Durufle are the most prominent among them, known best for their respective Requiems, both of which are widely known as masterpieces.

We begin with Charles Marie Widor’s jubilant Toccata from his Organ Symphony No. 5 Op. 42 No.1. Widor was friend and colleague of Faure’s and teacher to Vierne, who in turn taught Durufle. Frequently heard at weddings and other festive occasions, it is probably the most famous piece French organ literature from the period.

Louis Vierne is best known for his organ works, his impact as a teacher, and his dramatic life and death. Legally blind from birth, Vierne relied on outsize manuscript paper, large pencils, and later Braille to complete is his work. Having served assistant to Widor at Saint-Sulpice, he ultimately became principal organist at Notre-Dame Cathedral from 1900-1937. He taught many of the French musicians of this day including both Lili and Nadia Boulanger. Of his limited choral output, the Kyrie from his Messe Solennelle is the most riveting. Famously, while the young Maurice Durufle was assisting him during a recital, Vierne suffered of a heart attack and died at the console of the great organ at Notre Dame.

Maurice Durufle’s choral work was brilliant but also limited, perhaps due to his self-critical nature. He was most famous during his lifetime as an organist and he and his wife were a popular organ duo who toured the United States and Europe in the 1960’s and 70s. His exquisite set of motets from 1960 Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens (Four motets on Gregorian themes) form the core of the first half of the concert. We follow that set with Faure’s sublime Cantique de Jean Racine. The short piece is his first notable work, written at the age of nineteen while he was a student at L’Ecole Neidermeyer.

The newest work on our program is Pierre Villette’s lovely Jesu Dulcis Memoria Op.78 no. 2. It is the second in a set of three motets written in 1994 near the end of his life. Villette was a student of Durufle’s who studied at the Paris Conservatory and spend most of his musical life in northeastern and southern France. Durufle’s influence in his writing is unmistakable.

Durufle’s Missa Cum Jubilo is an effective and compelling mass setting notable for its scoring; organ and a chorus of baritones and tenors entirely in unison. Written in 1968 and dedicated to his wife, it features supple chant lines embedded in a rich organ texture. The rousing “Gloria” serves to bring our first half to a dramatic close.

We open the second half with the touching “Prélude” from Maurice Ravel’s  piano suite Le tombeau de Couperintombeau was generally understood in Ravel’s time as a musical memorial to an individual.  In this case, the term served a dual purpose.  Ravel was indeed paying homage to the great French Baroque composer François Couperin by composing a  suite in his style.  More poignantly, Ravel served as an ambulance driver in World War I  and each of the movements of the suite are dedicated to a friend he lost in the war.   The “Prélude” we hear today is dedicated to his friend Lieutenant Jacques Charlot, who transcribed some of Ravel’s work before his untimely death in 1915.

We open the second half with the little known and profoundly beautiful music of Lili Boulanger. The younger sister to the famed teacher Nadia Boulanger, Lili was the first woman to win the Paris Conservatory’s prestigious “Prix de Rome” in 1913, at the age of 19. Affected by what we now know as Crohn’s disease, Boulanger lived only until she was 24. Nurtured and tutored by her sister Nadia, she produced a significant amount of music before her early death. In her vocal and choral writing she is noted for sensitive text settings, and the strong influence of symbolist poetry.

We begin with two songs from her vocal cycle Clairières dans le ciel, on poems of symbolist Francis Jammes. These are followed by two superb choral settings Hymn au Soleil and Soir sur la plain on poems by Delavgine and Samain respectively. In the second choral work we turn our attention to the subject of evening and the theme at the heart of tonight’s program. It is not surprising that these symbolist poets and impressionist composers where naturally drawn to this time of day. The sunset hour is the time when the line between light and dark is blurred, when the color and light are the most rich, and everyday forms take on an almost mystical quality.

The work that follows was composed by Faure’s teacher and close friend Camille Saint Saens touching Calmes des nuits, and is probably the oldest work on the program. The text speaks directly of the evening as an inspiration for poets.

We continue in this vein with Claude Debussy’s hauntingly beautiful Beau soir for solo voice and piano. As we near the end of the program we move to Dutch composer Henk Badings’ La nuit en mer and Soir d’ete, two stunning settings of Botrel, a popular poet of the day. Badings is the only composer on today’s program not born in France, but it is clear from these works that he thoroughly absorbed the impressionist style during his time studying in the Paris. It is in the second of these gorgeous poems that we are invited “to flee this life at the ravishing hour of a beautiful summer evening.”

We end our program a bit tongue in cheek, with Debussy’s tour-de-force for chorus Yver vous n’estes q’un villain. Debussy himself disliked the term “impressionism” and referred to people who apply it to his music as imbeciles. While Debussy’s music is indeed in a class by itself, he remains the chief exponent of the style, and this brief, delightful work serves to bring our program to a humorous and rousing finish.


Politoske, Daniel T.; Martin Werner (1988). Music, Fourth Edition. Prentice Hall. p. 419.

Thompson, Oscar Debussy: Man and Artist, Tudor Publishing Company, 1940. P. 70, 161

Translations from: Deborah Williamson, “A performer’s analysis of Lili Boulanger’s Clairières dans le ciel: song cycle for high voice and piano : a lecture recital together with the role of Blanche in Dialogues of the Carmelites by F. Poulenc and two recitals of selected works by H. Purcell, F. Schubert, S. Prokofieff, E. Chausson, W.A. Mozart, R. Schumann and G. Fauré.”  PhD diss., University of North Texas, 2001. <http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc3022/m1/1/high_res_d/dissertation.pdf>