Stephen Hartke: Tituli / Cathedral in the Trashing Rain

The Hilliard Ensemble

“Beautiful craftsmanship is [Hartke’s] hallmark but not his limitation: the imaginative drive is fresh, partly in being so playful, though he can also be solemn.” – New York Times
    Tituli / Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain is the first all Stephen Hartke disc on the New Series. His music was introduced on the label through Michelle Makarski’s 1995 solo recording Caoine.
    Stephen Hartke’s music grows out of a variety of impulses and inspirations, including poetry, plainchant, the paintings of Joan Mir. In the case of both Tituli and Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain, the inspiration comes, at least initially, from words: Tituli is built on fragments of inscriptions carved and scratched on ancient Roman artifacts, and Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain is a setting of a poem by Japanese poet and sculptor Takamura Kotaro (1883-1956). But as playwright and poet Philip Littell notes in the CD’s liner essay, “Hartke’s music is about a double listening, first to the sounds themselves, with the apposite yet anachronistic marimba and violin combined with singers in Tituli, the evocations of medieval organum in Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain and, next, to the voices in the text calling out: look at me, remember me, listen to me, witness me. These may be humble and fragmentary voices, but they are possessed of an energy and a will to speak that has triggered the composer to remake their world.”
    Tituli / Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain is the first ECM New Series title to be released in hybrid CD/SACD format, meaning that it can be played on either a standard CD player or on a Super Audio CD player. SACD format provides superior sonic warmth and clarity, thanks to the Direct Stream Digital system (DSD), which samples music at 64 times the rate of conventional CDs. This album is currently available in the US only.

Featured Artists Recorded

February 2003, Mechanics Hall, Worcester

Original Release Date


  • Tituli
    (Traditional, Stephen Hartke)
  • 1Lapis niger06:08
  • 2Dedicatio02:03
  • 3Columna rostrata05:43
  • 4Elogio parvuli12:03
  • 5Tabula Panormi02:54
  • 6Sortes06:20
  • 7Instrumenta06:44
  • 8Cathedral in the thrashing rain (2000)
    (Takamura Kotaro, Stephen Hartke)
On a new ECM release … two works by Stephen Hartke create a fascinating linkup between the spirit of adventure old and new. ‘Tituli’, the first and longer of the works, draws upon fragments of inscriptions carved or scratched onto ancient Roman artefacts, and expands seven of these brief phrases into complex musical structures for small vocal ensemble, a solo violin and percussion. The music itself is a haunting mix of the mannerisms of ancient chant – harmonies in the parallel movement known as organum mingled with a rhapsodic melodic line for the violinist and a background of solemn thudding from small drums and the lower register of a marimba. … The companion work is Hartke’s 18-minute ‘Cathedral in Thrashing Rain’ for voices alone, a setting of words and moods by the Japanese poet and sculptor Takamura Kotaro. Here the inspiration is a visual image, the ecstasy of the writer’s first view of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Again, the harmonies draw upon influences old and new: passages of organum which translate the look of Notre Dame’s grandiose interior into deep, dark sound, and an exhilarating sound-picture of the rainstorm itself.
Alan Rich, Los Angeles Weekly
A former professional singer, the American composer Stephen Hartke clearly has a nose for unusual but singable texts. Tituli is a 42-minute suite on some of the oldest surviving Latin inscriptions, including fragments and aphorisms, but also a nearly complete and very touching elegy for a six-year-old boy. The settings enrich the Hilliard Ensemble’s usual smooth four-voice close harmony with a third tenor, while violin and occasional percussion add extra colouristic layers. The result is strangely timeless, as if Hartke is trying to create a sort of early music of the distant future.
Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain is on the face of it more straightforward, a setting for the Hilliard’s regular quartet of a poem translated from the Japanese of Takamura Kotaro. … Hartke’s inclusion of occasional lines of Japanese, and his musical allusions to plainchant and medieval Notre Dame organum, highlight the gulfs between ages and cultures. Impeccable performances, recording and presentation enhance the effect of this fascinating disc.
Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine
American composer Stephen Hartke, born in 1952, deserves to be heard in the UK and beyond. His postmodern scores, drawing deep from the well of plainsong and also inspired by poetic and visual imagery, are strikingly original, as this revelatory disc from ECM proves from the off. "Tituli" changes the mood with lightning speed, moving from monkish incantations to wild outbursts and back again. The seven-movement work for male voices, violin and percussion sets ancient Roman texts in Old Latin, including shop signs and epitaphs. "Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain" translates Japanese poet Takamura Kotaro’s evocative impressions of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris into music that you can almost touch and smell.
Andrew Stewart, Music Week
Sieben verschiedene Inschriften – alle über 2000 Jahre alt und teilweise nur bruchstückhaft erhalten – hat der amerikanische Komponist Stephen Hartke seinem gut vierzigminütigen Zyklus “Tituli” zugrunde gelegt. Mit fragilen, nur vorsichtig aus der Stille sich lösenden Liegetönen tastet er da behutsam den Fragmenten eines geistlichen Textes von 600 v. Chr. nach, kleidet die triumphale Bilanz des ersten punischen Krieges in eine nervös bewegte, von Schlagwerk und Geige beinahe hektische vorangetriebene Klangsprache und findet in „Elogium parvuli“ ... zu Momenten von gläserner Schlichtheit.
Stärker noch als in „Tituli“ tritt der archaisierende Tonfall von Hartkes Musik in seinem A-cappella-Stück „Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain“ zu Tage, das mehr als einmal fauxbordonartige Gesten evoziert. Beide Kompositionen sind dem Hilliard Ensemble samt Mitstreitern auf den Leib geschrieben und ertönen hier in einer entsprechen mustergültigen, organische geatmeten und klangschönen Darbietung.
Marcus Stäbler, Fono Forum
Both compositions, Tituli and Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain, were written especially for these performers; the US premieres took place in January, 2001 at the University of Southern California, where Hartke teaches composition. Later that year, Tituli was one of the top three finalists for the Pulitzer prize in music.

The idea to compose a piece based on old Latin inscriptions first occurred to Hartke in 1993 when he was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, but it was not until 1998 that he began to work at it, having decided to set the texts for violin, percussion, and male voices – specifically the Hilliard Ensemble. “I had long admired them, but I did not know them personally,” says Hartke. “Thanks to Michelle Makarski, the basic notion and the texts were presented to them, and they immediately accepted.”

Makarski recently recalled the genesis of Tituli: “Once during a conversation in early 1998, Stephen mentioned to me that he had always had a desire to write for the Hilliards – he was a longtime admirer of theirs. In fact, he had this wild idea of a piece for them involving me and also marimbas, using different pre-Roman inscriptions as texts, things discovered carved into stone and other materials. In Old Latin, no less! I had to chuckle at this – it brought together so many of his various loves; early languages, the violin, pre- classical antiquity, the Hilliards, marimbas. But coming from Stephen, I knew this was no hodge-podge. He had already created this sound-world in his mind’s ear and he knew precisely what he needed.

“Talking to Manfred Eicher later, I mentioned all this,” she continued. “He was immediately intrigued and said he’d put the idea before the Hilliards when he saw them at Sankt Gerold – they would soon be recording Mnemosyne. They agreed, and fortuitously, our ECM label-mate Thomas Larcher offered us the chance to premiere at his Klangspuren Festival in Schwaz, Austria.”

The seven movements of Tituli explore various texts, ranging from declarations of law and military victory to an epitaph from the grave of a small boy named Optatus (meaning “the desired one”). “The final two movements involve compilations of quite short texts,” notes Hartke. “‘Sortes’ is a collection of oracular texts, most of them scratched on metal foil or on rods that were used for fortune- telling. The last movement, ‘Instrumenta,’ sets inscriptions from personal belongings. The first three texts are in Etruscan with the remainder in Latin, and each has either the name of the owner or of the person who presented the object as a gift.”

Takamura Kotaro’s Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain pays tribute to the awe and ecstasy the poet felt on seeing the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. “Ever since reading this poem in Hiroaki Sato’s elegant translation more than 20 years ago, I’ve wanted to set it,” comments Hartke. “During rehearsals for Tituli, the Hilliard Ensemble asked for an unaccompanied piece for four voices, and I knew I had found the ideal medium for this text.”

“Intelligence, wit and sensitivity in the setting of texts – I think that these are the characteristics of Stephen Hartke’s music that I find most appealing,” states Gordon Jones of the Hilliard Ensemble. “Add to that part-writing which is always effective and a remarkable sense of scale in the music and you have the beginnings of a winning formula. It’s not unknown for us to say to a composer, ‘That’s a nice piece but perhaps it’s a couple of minutes too long’; that has never yet happened in the case of Stephen’s compositions – in spite of their being far from short! There is a tremendous emotional range in the pieces too,” he continues, “from the exhilarating rainstorm in Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain to the profoundly touching fourth movement of Tituli. It’s not often that we are presented with music of this scope and scale and we feel privileged to be its recipients.” The Hilliard Ensemble expands its relationship with the composer this September, when they make their New York Philharmonic debut as the soloists in the premiere performance of Hartke’s Symphony No. 3. This opening work of the Philharmonic’s subscription season was commissioned in remembrance of September 11, 2001.

Tituli / Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain is the first ECM New Series title to be released in hybrid CD/SACD format, meaning that it can be played on either a standard CD player or on a Super Audio CD player. SACD format provides superior sonic warmth and clarity, thanks to the Direct Stream Digital system (DSD), which samples music at 64 times the rate of conventional CDs. This album is currently available in the US only.