QUEEN LILIʻUOKALANI (1838-1917)
Aloha ʻOe (1877/78)
(Arranged By Michael-Thomas Foumai)
The work is scored for flute and piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, various percussion, harp, strings and voice.
“Lydia Lili‘u Loloku Wewehi Kamaka’eha was born on September 2, 1838, in Honolulu. Sister of King Kalākaua and hanai sister of Princess Pauahi, she was a self-described scholarly girl with a deep love for books and learning. She went on to become an extraordinary musician, composing a remarkable 150 songs including the famed “Aloha ‘Oe.” Young Lili‘u was also shaped by the profound grief and suffering she witnessed in the aftermath of a measles epidemic that decimated Hawaiian families, taking over 10,000 lives. When she assumed the throne as Queen Lili‘uokalani, her deeply compassionate nature would be harshly tested time and again. During the tumultuous overthrow, the Queen was forced to surrender the Hawaiian Kingdom to the United States to avoid bloodshed. Imprisonment and the failed campaign to block Annexation took its toll. The beloved Queen, and last ruling monarch of Hawai‘i, died of a stroke in 1917.” (Liliʻuokalani Trust)
Recognized as one of the most well-known Hawaiian songs of farewell, Aloha ʻOe’s roots in goodbyes exist in both the lyrics and it’s creation. There are several stories behind the genesis of Queen Liliʻuokalani’s most beloved mele. Of the more familiar stories takes place in 1878 on a return trip to Honolulu from the Boyd ranch in Maunawili, where Liliʻuokalani witnesses a tender embrace of farewell between Colonel Boyd and a young lady. She begins humming a tune similar to Charles C. Converse’s The Rock Beside the Sea and by some accounts, would compose it so quickly, everyone in her company could sing the tune by the journey’s end.
In The Queen’s Songbook, Dorothy Kahananui Gillett points out that Liliʻuokalani would borrow four measures from Converse’s tune, a perfectly legal amount under copyright law. Of course, Converse’s opening four beats also resembles the first phrase of the refrain from the Christian hymn How Great Thou Art, a tune based on a Swedish traditional melody.
This new arrangement begins with an orchestral introduction that resembles Liliʻuokalani’s original, slightly extended. The first and second verse and chorus are separated with a brief orchestral interlude with changes in orchestration during the later. Towards the ending of the second chorus, the orchestra builds to a triumphant return in a call and response, leading to a final statement of the last line of chorus for one last embrace. © MTF
*Digitally published for the Hawaiʻi Symphony Sheraton Starlight Series on June 4-6 2021.