Thanksgiving is a good day for feasting. Last year, it was estimated that over 51.6 million turkey’s were eaten in the USA on Thanksgiving. That should be evidence enough to demonstrate the importance it holds for the American people. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we have prepared a playlist dedicated to friendship and thanksgiving.
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.
A Short History
To understand the origins of this holiday, we must travel back to Plymouth, Massachusetts during the winter of 1620. A group of Pilgrim Fathers – driven out of England – founded the second permanent English colony, the first of which was Jamestown, Virginia founded by Captain John Smith.
The colonists, unfamiliar to their new surroundings, were unable to produce and store sufficient food reserves for the oncoming winter season. The majority of them remained on the boat during the freezing winter, where many died of exposure, malnutrition and contagious diseases.
The remaining survivors came ashore during the spring, and were greeted by Native Americans, who taught them how to grow corn, where to catch fish and other useful pieces of information about how to survive the local environment. In November 1621 after a successful harvest, the settlers invited the Native Americans to share a feast of thanks, an event now remembered as the “first thanksgiving”.
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930), The First Thanksgiving.
A Day for Friendship
A time for celebration and family reunion, Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to catch up with your dearest friends. Friendship and camaraderie are important themes in many works of music. Take Verdi’s five-act opera Don Carlos for example. The heroic Rodrigue sacrifices his own life to save his dear friend Don Carlos from the clutches of his evil father King Philip. Even in death, their unfailing companionship prevails. Away from the pomp of the Spanish court, in a small fishing village on the island of Ceylon, another story of friendship is to be found in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. Nadir and Zurga fall in love with the same women, putting their friendship at risk. The two resolve their dilemma by swearing eternal friendship to one another in the famous duet known as the ‘Pearl Fishers Duet’.
The friendship between composers can – like the heroes of operas – be equally tempestuous and tinged with rivalry. Legend has it that Erik Satie, who – on hearing a critical remark by his friend Claude Debussy about the form and structure of his music – replied in jest by composing a piece titled, Trois Morceaux en forme de poire or, Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear! This suite for piano duet is a set of curious pieces, typical of Erik Satie’s idiosyncratic personality and humour. Despite the name, there are actually seven pieces, not three!
Throughout history, friendship and collaboration have built bridges between all the art forms. Francis Poulenc met the surrealist poet Paul Eluard in 1919, and their friendship inspired some of his most striking works. Figure humaine, Le Travail du peintre, and Un soir de neige, are all pieces of music set to Eluard’s poetry.
A Day of recognition
To say thank you is well-mannered, but to offer thanks through music is even better! In the Christian tradition, the Magnificat is a prayer spoken by Mary, mother of Jesus magnifying God and his great deeds. Monteverdi wrote a setting of the Magnificat in his Vespers for the Blessed Mary, in 1610. At the time, the Vespers were regarded as one of the most ambitious religious musical work ever composed, requiring a 10 part choir, a chamber orchestra and 7 soloists! Over a century later Bach wrote his own version of the text. The work, enriched by trumpets, a five part choir and triumphant singing, is still considered by many to be a sacred masterpiece. Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate is a curiosity, since the author of the text is unknown, and Mozart is the only composer to have used it. He wrote the piece for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, during his third trip to Italy at just 17 years old!
Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, let’s not miss an opportunity to rejoice in music. Our thanks goes out to all the composers and performers who have created these jubilant recordings.