Taliesin: Choruses from Shining Brow


Taliesin: Choruses from Shining Brow


for mixed chorus and orchestra (1996)

  • Premiere: 16 September 1996  / Oscar Mayer Theater, Madison, Wisconsin  / The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus / John DeMain

  • Instrumentation: 2(I=picc,II=picc,alto).2(II=corA).2(II=bcl).2- 
  • Duration: 25'
  • Text: Paul Muldoon (E)
  1. Hymn to Nature (Chorus)
  2. Sullivan Variations (Brass)
  3. Workmen's Chorus (Tutti)
  4. Reporters' Chorus (Chorus)
  5. Fire Interlude (Orchestra)
  6. Townspeople's Chorus (Tutti)
  7. Balm in Gilead (Tutti)

Program note

Taliesin: Choruses from Shining Brow is a suite based on music from the opera by Daron Hagen and Paul Muldoon about the problematic life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The opera deals with events in Wright's life between 1903 and 1914: his affair with Mamah Cheney, wife of one of his clients, their escape to Germany, their return to Spring Green, the tragic destruction of his home, Taliesin, and the murder of Mamah by Wright's chef.

The sequence of movements follows a musical, rather than a dramatic program. The Hymn to Nature is associated in the opera with the character of Mamah Cheney.

The Sullivan Variations are first heard when we see Wright's estranged mentor, the architect Louis Sullivan, sitting alone nursing a drink at the Cliff Dwellers' Club.

The Workmen's Chorus is sung from the rafters of the half-completed, Wright-designed Cheney house.

The Reporters' Chorus, scored in the opera for a Damon Runyon-esque fistful of fellows who have just left Wright's infamous Christmas morning press conference at Taliesin, is here presented for the entire chorus.

The orchestral Fire Interlude served the drammaturgical function of representing (offstage) the fire and murders at Taliesin. This is followed by a flashback to the 'Townspeople's Chorus,' we begins the second act of the opera.

The final section of the suite, Balm in Gilead, is a fantasia based on Mamah's first act scena and the quintet for cellos that underpin Wright and Sullivan's moment of rapprochment in the second act.

The suite draws almost exclusively on material that was assigned to the chorus in the opera. Neither of the two large counterbalancing arias (for Mamah and Wright) are featured, nor are Catherine's (Wright's wife), Edwin's (Mamah's husband), or Louis moments. Commissioned by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the work was premiered on 16 September 1996 by the Madison Symphony and Chorus, Music Director John DeMain, conductor.


Daron Hagen's Taliesin: Choruses from Shining Brow received its world premiere. Comprising five reworked sections based on music from his 1993 opera Shining Brow joined to a new concluding section, the work is attractive despite a certain awkwardness in the choral texts. The chorus was thoroughly prepared and gave an energetic and careful performance. The orchestral sections, some of them quite tricky to play and conduct, were also appealing. The music includes many of the opera's best features and very few of its weaknesses. A more American style -- wide-open, spacious, warm and friendly -- would be hard to imagine. To my ear it sensibly evokes the broad fields and inviting hills one still sees today from Taliesin, looking out onto the fertile, green Wyoming Valley.

— Jess Anderson, Isthmus Magazine, 9/29/95

In recast form, the choral passages of 'Hymn to Nature' and Workmen's Chorus rekindled the warmly inviting charms of Hagen's musical talent, with exuberant echoes of Americana, ranging from Barber to Copland to Bernstein. Traces of musical theater and jazz phrasing boosted the populist flavor, especially in the construction workers' paean to an honest day's work in the 1930's heartland, replete with innocent 'skirt' ogling. The contrast of this earthbound simplicity to Wright's high-minded architecture and cosmopolitan lifestyle is this story's rub, as dramatized by the ensuing orchestral explosions of the brilliant 'Fire Interlude,' which showed Hagen's skill at Stravinskian thunder 'n' lightnin' -- driven mightily by timpanist James Latimer and the crackling whiplash of strings and brass. From the gossipy humor of the Townspeople Chorus to the elegiac beauty of the closing. (There is no) Balm in Gilead, these "choruses" underscored a captivating and resonant musical drama that deserves a place in the operatic repertoire. From Hagen's open-hearted brio, DeMain reached to the icy Finnish transcendence of Sibelius....

— Kevin Lynch, The Capital Times, 9/25/95

Daron Hagen's Taliesin: Choruses from Shining Brow is a pleasure, and the 2,000 or so concertgoers at the Madison Symphony Orchestra performance Saturday night seemed to agree. The seven-movement suite (which has no breaks) is Hagen's continuing look at the stormy life of Frank Lloyd Wright, and this was the work's premiere. Led by John DeMain in his second season as music director, the orchestra and the Madison Symphony Chorus (for which the piece was commissioned) gave a spirited rendering of the jazzy work. The chorus' a cappella lines glowed with intonation, as did the lively brass choir in the 'Sullivan Variations' (the second movement). One of the evening's high points was the 'Fire Interlude' (fifth movement), which sounds a bit like the fight scene of West Side Story. The orchestra positively popped and roared!"

— Elizabeth Brixley, Wisconsin State Journal9/24/95

John DeMain conducted the premiere of the Choruses

John DeMain conducted the premiere of the Choruses

Roland Johnson conducted the premiere of  Shining Brow

Roland Johnson conducted the premiere of Shining Brow

Anne Stanke, the guiding force behind the commission

Anne Stanke, the guiding force behind the commission

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright