Twelve years prior to writing “Ave verum corpus,” the penniless, twenty-three-year-old Mozart took a job as court organist and sometime composer for the Archbishop of Salzburg, a man whose taste in church music could not have been more polar to Mozart’s own, and whose primary criterion for excellence was brevity. For Easter of that year, 1779, Mozart produced his “Coronation Mass” as a first attempt at pleasing his new employer. The Mass is unusual in that it employs the full orchestra and soloists associated with the longer Masses popular in his day, while the text and musical ideas have been compressed to save time. There is thus little
opportunity for development and elaboration, and the musical ideas must make their impression at first hearing. Though the Mass was not actually written for a coronation, its popularity is attested to by the fact that it was chosen for the coronation in Prague of King Leopold II in 1791 and possibly a year later for the coronation of his successor.
The late Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt (1915-2014) set I Will Greatly Rejoice to a joyous biblical text from Isaiah in 1977 and it has never gone out of print. Popular with all kinds of ensembles, the challenge for the choir is the constantly shifting meter, or number of beats in each measure, written to compliment the textual stress. His compositions have been popular throughout the world but particular in Scandinavia and the United States. In 1966, the King of Norway made Nystedt a Knight of the Order of St. Olav in recognition of his contributions to Norwegian music, and in 2002 the King made him a Commander of St. Olav.
Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611) was a renowned Spanish composer who ranks with Palestrina and DiLasso among the greatest composers of the 16th century. As a Catholic priest, as well as an accomplished organist and singer, his career spanned both Spain and Italy, but he preferred the life of a composer to that of a performer. His motet O quam gloriosum is a classic example of a Renaissance composer who broke the restraints of conservatism in his use of word painting. In the motet you will hear the choir joyfully break into fast moving passages on the word “gaudent” (rejoice) and later entrances which follow one another on the word “sequuntur’ (follow).
Antonio Lotti (1667 – 1740) made his career at St. Marks of Venice, first as an alto singer (from 1689), then as assistant to the second organist, then as second organist (from 1692), then (from 1704) as first organist, and finally (from 1736) as maestro di cappella, one of the most coveted positions in Europe, which he held until his death. His compositional style was marked by the use of prepared dissonance and resolution. In the Crucifixus a 8 (meaning 8 parts or SSAATTBB), Lotti sets the opening parts a half step or semitone against one another, perhaps depicting the agony of the crucifixion. This use of dissonance is usually achieved through (in musical terms) suspensions and a liberal use of seventh chords for the first 32 measures, only resolving to a major tonality on the last chord.
Antiphon is the last of the set entitled Five Mystical Songs and was written for baritone soloist and – in a utilitarian fashion typical of Vaughan Williams – may be accompanied with several different instrumentations, including piano alone, mixed chorus and piano, as well as mixed chorus and full orchestra. Though a self-declared atheist in his younger years, Vaughan Williams’ settled into what his wife Ursula described as a “cheerful agnosticism.” Despite these views, Vaughan Williams was inspired “…throughout his life by the liturgy of the Anglican church, the language of the King James Bible, and the visionary qualities of religious verse such as [George] Herbert’s (1593-1633).
O schöne Nacht was originally conceived for a quartet of solo SATB singers, with a text taken the collection Polydora by Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800-1875), which in this case was a German translation of a Hungarian poem. Like many of the themes from the Romantic period, nature prevails in the beginning of the work but later the text reveals that it is actually a love poem as the youth “steals away quietly to his love”. Please note the beautiful accompaniment with its syncopation in the right hand, lending a sense of forward motion to the end.
Vaughan Williams was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. His operas attained some stage performance, but all too often by students or amateurs. His Falstaff opera, Sir John in Love, based on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and composed between 1924 and 1928, had its premiere at the Royal College of Music in 1929 but did not achieve professional performance until 1946. Not surprisingly, he gave some of the music wider circulation by arranging it as a choral cantata. Thus, In Windsor Forest came about in 1931. The text to See the Chariot at Hand is by 17th-century playwright, poet, and critic Ben Jonson. This gentle chorus describing the beauty of the bride forms the fourth movement of the cantata and has widely been performed at weddings throughout the English-speaking world.
Similar to other works of the period, the elegant Cantique de Jean Racine (Song of Jean Racine) by Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) to the words of playwright Jean Racine (1639–1699) has a history of revision and multiple versions. Fauré wrote it in 1865 at the age of twenty, making this only his second attempt at a choral setting and his eighth-oldest work overall. As time passed and the composer’s tastes changed, he expanded the accompaniment from the original organ to harmonium and string quintet (1866) and then to full orchestra (1906). There is evidence, however, suggesting that the 1906 orchestration might be the work of someone else.
Cantate Domino, according to the composer, “was commissioned by Brady Allred and the Salt Lake Choral Artists for the 2011 World Choral Symposium in Puerto Madryn, Argentina. After a stately opening reflecting the deep sense of joy that comes from singing to God, the composition breaks into a joyful and exuberant Basque text interspersed with Latin. After the last reprise, the coda is repeated, finishing strongly and energetically.” The work has gone on to be performed all over the world in festivals, high school honor choirs, and professional competitions.
Wondrous Love is based on the melody originally from William Walker’s 1840 collection Southern Harmony, a gigantic compendium of “Tunes, Hymns, Psalms, Odes, and Anthems” as well as a robust and complete primer for music instruction in the 19th century. The tune was arranged by Paul Christiansen, youngest son of F. Melius Christiansen, and choral director at Concordia College from 1937-86.
Originally thought to be a Bahamian lullaby, the song All My Trials gained popularity as an international song of protest in the 50’s and 60’s. In this beautiful, expressive arrangement, rich vocal harmonies and gentle syncopations combine with the flowing piano part to create an exquisite song, full of tenderness and resignation.
The musical The Secret Garden from which comes Hold On follows the young, orphaned Mary Lennox as she's sent from her home in India to live with her reclusive uncle on his haunted English country estate. Guided by an exceptionally beautiful score, audiences are entranced with Mary's unapologetic curiosity as she is joined with the help of unlikely companions transporting her on a thrilling quest to untangle the pieces of her family's past and - most importantly - discover herself.
In early 19th century, a "Second Great Awakening" swept across America, moving from New England to the South and on to the frontier. This great religious revival led not only to the rise of new religions but also to new political and social reform movements. Another significant development of the era: the rise of the American folk hymn. "We don't have a lot of original musical tradition," says arranger Mack Wilberg. "Most of our American musical heritage is based on European models, but the folk hymns and spirituals are one of the most fertile and unique of our American musical traditions." Saints Bound for Heaven is also taken from Walker’s Southern Harmony, and is set in a straightforward manner, mostly unison, and with four-hands piano accompaniment.