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A musical take on Missouri and the Civil War

When you think about the Civil War in Missouri what comes to mind? If Stefan Freund has anything to do with it you'll soon be more familiar with the sounds and images that the 1861-65 conflict produced. KBIA's Trevor Harris recently interviewed Freund, an MU School of Music faculty member about his new Civil War Oratorio that will have its premiere April 24 in Columbia's Jesse Auditorium.

Taking a period as dramatic and traumatic as the Civil War and creating a large-scale performance piece was a challenge that Freund was up for. Once he committed to an April premiere, the Memphis native Freund immersed himself in source materials, devoting himself to a regimen that included writing a daily minimum of three pages of score.

Asked what attendees should expect next Thursday at the premiere of his work, Freund offered this:

There are going to experience stories, letters, battle reports and editorials capturing the events of 1861 to 1865 around the state. I think is just an incredible story the way that at first Missouri was kept in the Union. An amazing statistic is that 70% of Missourians in the year 1861 had Southern sympathies yet the vote to remain in the Union was very strong. I believe there were only two dissenters at the Constitutional Convention that was held to discuss secession. The guerilla warfare aspect of the period is more familiar to us through stories especially the rivalry against Kansas. What I wanted to do was create an experience for the audience that would help them realize that the events that happened here were incredible and are important to our regional and national history of our region... This story has a gravitas behind it that needs the kind of performance forces and length of a concert length oratorio, a work written for over 200 singers, full orchestra, three soloists. The stories have a depth to them, an emotional content that needs that sort of force behind it.

Among those 200 singers is Dr. Arthur Mehrhoff. Besides his work as an academic coordinator for MU's Museum of Art and Archaeology, Mehrhoff is also a member of MU's Chorale Union. Mehrhoff joined Freund for our KBIA interview last week. Mehrhoff intimated that listeners at next Thursday's premiere:

...should expect to be emotionally drained. [The Oratorio] is an epic work. I've sung with the Chorale Union for five years now and I can tell you that everyone in the chorus is very excited about this piece. This is not just a performance. It's a catharsis.

How did Freund create a work that summarizes and illuminates a conflict that saw brother fighting brother in some Missouri families? While no one alive today remembers the Civil War personally, Freund was able to draw upon a growing body of work that chronicles the War Between the States.

Anytime you are writing a dramatic musical work, your first concern has to be the text. Where does the text come from? I decided very early on that the text would come from source materials. The only question was: How to find those source materials? Fortunately, there's been a lot of scholarship in the area of the civil war in general and in particular events in Missouri during the civil war especially in the past five or so years. This work would have been much more difficult to do ten years ago before the 150th anniversary of the war because a lot of scholarship has come out recently [including] collections of letters, battle reports, even collections of editorials. It was actually a pretty easy job for me to go through these collections and select the texts because the editors had already done a great job finding evocative, dramatic texts.

These texts both informed Freund's work and will be featured in the work. Text that informed the work will be sometimes read, sometimes sung, and ofetn observed on screen throughout the April 24 performance. The premiere's multi-media presentation will feature images from Missouri's State Historical Society collections projected on a screen during the premiere. These images include artwork from the civil war period, newspaper articles and paintings including George Caleb Bingham's 1868 General Order Number 11.

Listen here to an excerpt from the Overture to Stefan Freund's Civil War Oratorio.

Freund's Civil War Oratorio has its premiere Thursday, April 24 at 7:00 p.m. Earlier that day at 3:00p.m., Dr. Arthur Mehrhoff will lead a panel discussion in the School of Music's Whitmore Recital Hall about music from the Civil War and more.

Further information about the panel discussion is here while tickets for the Civil War Oratorio are available here.

Listen to Thinking Out Loud each Tuesday afternoon at 6:30 p.m. on KBIA. Hear past episodes of the program online.

Trevor serves as KBIA’s weekday morning host for classical music. He has been involved with local radio since 1990, when he began volunteering as a music and news programmer at KOPN, Columbia's community radio station. Before joining KBIA, Trevor studied social work at Mizzou and earned a masters degree in geography at the University of Alabama. He has worked in community development and in urban and bicycle/pedestrian planning, and recently served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia with his wife, Lisa Groshong. An avid bicycle commuter and jazz fan, Trevor has cycled as far as Colorado and pawed through record bins in three continents.
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