2324 | SMF FS2 | HAILSTORK Sonata da Chiesa

Program Notes

American composer Dr. Adolphus Hailstork has written over 250 works in nearly every genre, and his music has been commissioned and performed by orchestras throughout the country. A native of New York, he holds composition degrees from Howard University, the Manhattan School of Music, and Michigan State University. Hailstork cites his early experiences as a chorister in the Episcopal Church as the foundation of his unique voice. As he said in a 2021 interview, “I once read an essay about the two threads—a modernist thread and populist thread—that entered into the 20th century. You can pick one or the other. I’m more on the populist side: tonal, lyrical. I am interested in a continuation rather than a breaking away from.”

Premiered in 1992 under the baton of Hazel Cheilek, the Sonata da Chiesa, or “Church Sonata,” was a commission from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. The term “sonata da chiesa,” originating in the Baroque era, refers to an instrumental work suitable for performance in church—essentially, one that did not incorporate dance movements like minuets and gigues. However, Hailstork pushes the definition further, pulling in his fascination with cathedrals—especially the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York, where he grew up—to create a church-inspired orchestral work. Intended to be performed without pause, the Sonata da Chiesa’s seven sections relate in some way to sacred contexts. Words like “Exultate” (Exalt) and “Jubilate” (rejoice)—perhaps even recalling Mozart’s famous motet of the same name—occur alongside selections like “O magnum mysterium” (O, wondrous mystery) from the Christmas Matins service. Hailstork even refers to actual Mass movements, like the “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God) and “Dona nobis pacem” (Grant us peace).

Throughout the Sonata da Chiesa, Hailstork’s music reflects the mood of the Latin titles. “Exultate” is a rhythmic, jubilant chorale, while “O magnum mysterium” is quiet and introspective. “Te adoro” (I adore) features intimate string solos, and “Jubilate” is celebratory. As is so often the case in settings of the Mass, the slow, contemplative “Agnus Dei” serves as the emotional heart of the work. In the “Dona nobis pacem,” solo lines almost sound like plainchant, serving as a bridge to the reprise of the opening “Exultate.”