ABOUT THE CONCERT
First Sundays Concerts on Bainbridge Island, Washington, a beautiful ferryboat ride across the bay from downtown Seattle, is the presenter of a return to the Hagen Piano Trio No. 3: Wayfaring Stranger commissioned by, composed for, and recorded by the Finisterra Trio, one of the Pacific Northwest's finest and busiest chamber groups. Read reviews of the Finisterra's all-Hagen Piano Trio CD here.
ABOUT THE PIECE
The American folk spiritual Wayfaring Stranger is thought first to have been arranged as a hymn by John M. Dye in 1935, and may be found in The Original Sacred Harp (Denson Rev., 1936 ed.), paired with words from Bever's Christian Songster (1858). It has been reinterpreted by artists as diverse as Jerry Garcia and Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Anonymous 4.
I confess that, in June of 1997, when my brother Britt asked me to compose a set of variations on his favorite Mormon hymn, Poor Wayfaring Stranger, I had never heard it, and didn't care for the tune. I crafted four rather uninspired variants on it for violin and piano, sent it along to him with my love, and forgot about it. One of ur final telephone conversations concerned itself in part with his account of how the little piece had gone over at his church that Sunday; he died a few days later.
Nine years later, near dusk one late afternoon in June of 2006, as my wife and I drove through the Virginia countryside on our way to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, we were suddenly gripped by the words and melody of a spiritual playing on the radio. Moreover, we realized at that moment that we had for some time been driving through hallowed ground; the First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run — the first major battle of the American civil war — had taken place in the surrounding meadows in July of 1861. The hymn on the radio was Wayfaring Stranger. I knew then that I would return to the hymn and try to do justice not just to my brother's memory but to the wonderful folk melody that he so loved.
The result was a return to the piano trio form after an interval of twenty years. It begins with a Mazurka in seven; marked 'gracious, pleasant, charming,' the customary triple meter pulse is divided into combinations of two and three beats. Wayfaring Stranger gives the folk tune, and follows it with three variations. Next follows a tricky Fandango, my take on an ancient Spanish dance in triple meter, probably of Moorish origin, that came into Europe in the 17th century. At the end of certain measures, the music halts abruptly and the dancers remain rigid until it is resumed. An Aubade, a poem or song of or about lovers separating at dawn, follows; it acts as an introduction to the finale, a set of eight more Variations on Wayfaring Stranger.