Choral Newsletter ~ Winter 2010-11

HOLST'S CHORAL HYMNS from the RIG-VEDA
FOUR MAJOR WORKS FOR SATB, SSAA, & TTBB VOICES


New Releases - Sacred
SATB
Treble

New Releases - Secular
SATB
Treble
Men

HOLST'S CHORAL HYMNS from the RIG-VEDA
FOUR MAJOR WORKS FOR SATB, SSAA, & TTBB VOICES
By Marie Stultz, Contributing Editor

English-born Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is best known for his orchestral work, The Planets, the success of which baffled him. He simply felt it was not his best work. Holst's father tried to make a concert pianist of him, although Holst's interests lay in music composition from as early as his grammar school years. After years of struggle with his father's piano lessons - as well as with asthma and poor eyesight, young Holst was finally allowed to enter the Royal College of Music in 1893, to study composition.

He began serious study under the careful supervision of the highly regarded English composer, Peter Stanford. Stanford was an extremely patient teacher for the young Holst, who struggled with his compositions, sometimes taking years to complete them. Two years into his studies, he met and became best friends with the venerable and renowned Ralph Vaughan Williams. They remained friends for the rest of Holst's life (Vaughan Williams lived until 1958) and often shared their compositions with each other.

Both men labored over their compositions. They often shared their compositions in draft, playing their new ideas at the piano, offering each other fair criticism and suggestions. During these years, Holst directed several amateur choral ensembles, such as the Hammersmith Socialist Choir. The choir often practiced at the home of William Morris, who introduced Holst to Hindu literature and philosophy. After studying Sanskrit at the University College in London, Holst never attained fluency; but he was able to read and translate stories from the Ramayana and the Mahäbbarata. These readings led Holst to discover the great and ancient hymns of the Rig-Veda.

Poverty forced Holst to find other ways to finance his career as a composer. He returned to the Royal College to study the trombone, in order to earn money playing in bands and theaters in London. He also took a teaching position at the James Allen Girl School in Dulwich, a position he held for the rest of his life. Thus, only being able to compose on the weekends, Holst took many years to complete his composition projects.

His first conception of The Choral Hymns from the Rig-Veda was as a set of solo songs for voice and piano, composed in 1907 and 1908, to translations of his own. Since he had never heard Indian music, Holst struggled to find the appropriate musical sounds for the words. Grove's observes, "He struggled to find appropriate sounds for the mood of the words." He wrote 9 songs in all, with Varuna (Sky,) being the most successful. The four groups of choral settings of the Rig-Veda were composed from 1908 to 1914. A full catalogue of his orchestral and choral music - as well as several operas -- can be found in The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

HISTORY OF THE RIG-VEDA
The Rig-Veda date from 1200-900 BC and are considered the oldest religious writings in the world. Hymns of praise and thanksgiving, Rig-Veda literally translates to praise, verse, and knowledge. They were written by the Aryans during the Harappan Civilization and are the cornerstone of Hindu thought and belief. In the Veda collection there are over 1000 hymns written in Sanskrit. Many Vedas were written, but the Rig centers on the Gods, which include praises, blessings, sacrifices, and curses. Because they are so poetic, they can easily be chanted. Holst managed to select 14 poems (prayers), with the theme of mystery at the center of his selection process. Holst composed his music to his own translations. He made this enormous effort because other translations in English seemed awkward and not musical enough to fit his vision of the music. All 14 movements would soon resonate with singers and audiences around the world.

Of the four settings, the most beautiful and most popular is Group 3 for women's voice and harp. All four groups were first published by Stainer and Bell in England and published in America by ECS, with orchestral parts available separately. All are quite modal in construction, filled with mystery and awe of the universe and its creation. The text painting in the four groups dominates the harmonies, unisons, and dynamics, which seem to spill into the scores.

EDITORIAL ANALYSIS OF EACH MOVEMENT

GROUP I: FOR MIXED VOICES (ECS 1.5089) $4.65
Piano can be used as the major accompaniment for this group but when possible use orchestra, with parts available on a rental basis from the publisher. Holst scored this music for 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba timpani, percussion, harp and strings. This group was copyrighted in 1911 by Holst himself and is the saddest, more mystical of the four groups.

1. BATTLE HYMN
"Indra is the god of sky and storm. The Maruts are his attendant storm-clouds." This battle march is set in 5/4 meter in the key of c minor. The harmonies reflect the era and the ancient thinking of this great prayer. It opens with the men singing in unison. These opening passages suggest the use of the Ionian mode. The four-part writing of this movement is filled with many fifths that often move in parallel. The declamation of the text is both mysterious and powerful in gesture. Adhering to the dynamics is crucial in this movement that speaks of fighting as ordered by the god Indra. The earth trembles in fear of this war song that demands that, "Indra and Maruts fight for us!"

2. TO THE UNKNOWN GOD
This movement begins quietly, a solemn prayer to the mystery of the creation of things found in our universe. The four-parts open in unison, chanting a soulful prayer sung adagio. The orchestra also enters in unison with a ground bass of descending half steps that is reminiscent of the death scale or dirge used by Purcell in Dido and Aeneas. This descending scale is used throughout the movement. The voice parts are mostly in unison, which adds to the prayerful quality of the entire movement. It concludes at triple piano with the words, "Thou alone can'st fathom Thy mystery; There is none beside Thee." The dirge accompanies these words, which ends the piece on a low GG, suggesting the mixolydian mode.

3. FUNERAL HYMN
This movement begins in C Major with beautiful descending melodic lines in both the voice parts and the accompaniment. It begins with the words, "Away O, death thy work is ended now. Far from us on thy lonely path go thou. The path on which no other God may tread." It is filled with mysterious sadness. The movement builds to a Molto maestoso sung double forte as the choir pleads to "hear our chant" on chords of great power. It returns to an inversion of the opening with descending scales in C Major. As the choir sings of the celebration of life, the piece moves to E Flat Major, again with the descending scale patterns. The middle section is filled with brilliant counterpoint, but then ends in the new key with homophonic passages of great beauty. Holst returns to C Major, with much of the melodic material in ascending patterns on double and triple fortes. Here the choir orders all to go forth, the sacrifice is complete. This great movement concludes almost with a shout on the words, "Go tread the path on which our Fathers trod that leads unto their Fellowship and God." The orchestra concludes on a simple C major chord in first inversion.

GROUP II: FOR WOMEN'S VOICES (ECS 1.5090) $3.90
This group is scored for piano only, but Holst suggests the use of organ or harmonium for the third hymn. This group of hymns was copyrighted by Holst in 1912.

1. TO VARUNA (GOD OF THE WATERS)
This opening movement is the longest in the set and is filled with chilling unisons to homophonic chords of great color and beauty. Composed in three parts, there is an independent part for the front row of singers, dividing the choir into six parts. The text painting is stunning and is accompanied by a sparsely written piano part. A lot of a cappella singing is required in this movement which is so mystical in quality. The piano also has the task of creating the waters. Set in the key of G Major, there are many accidentals with magical shifts in the harmonies.

2. TO AGNI (GOD OF FIRE)
This movement is very modal in sound. It alternates between 3 and 2 every two measures, thus giving us a pulse of five to the quarter note. Much of this movement is composed in unison with some lovely counterpoint on the words "Praising thee for ever. Flame for us O Agni!" The text painting is beautifully done and in sharp contrast to the first movement. The translation deals with the entire concept of fire in our lives.

3. FUNERAL CHANT
The altos take the leadership in the final movement marked poco adagio in which they must sing a low G on forte. This is a choral challenge to the Gods for the dead to go forth. It is composed divisi which means the choir must sing in six-parts. Contrapuntal in construction, the concept of joy, truth, and song makes this movement end powerfully on double piano as the choir sings the words "The Holy Ones who guard the Sun, unto the fathers, May he go forth!" The Gods remain eternal in this great chant to the dying. This is one of two funeral chants conceived by Holst in this great choral cycle.

GROUP III: FOR WOMEN'S VOICES $4.10
My first encounter with this composition changed my musical life. The most powerful part of learning and teaching it for the first time was the unbelievable text painting and the poetic beauty of Holst's translation. Mystery and magic occur in every bar. This group is much more challenging than group II, but totally worth the effort. Every time I listen to the recordings made with the Treble Chorus of New England, I am totally reminded of Holst's genius. His compositional style took long to develop, but unfolded into the true essence of great musicianship. It is scored for voices and harp, but piano can be used. The harp part is very challenging. This group was copyrighted by Holst in 1912.

1. HYMN TO THE DAWN
This movement begins in prayerful quiet over fluid, difficult harp arpeggios of great beauty. Set with staggered entrances two measures apart, the second sopranos have the melody and must sing out a bit more than the other three parts. The tone quality should be warm on clean diction with beautiful vowel shapes. This movement has chorale-like qualities about it. The beautiful harmonies should come from mystical places that seem timeless. Each of the staggered entrances should match each other. "Draw thou near O Fair one," sung a cappella should sound deeply spiritual. The crescendo that follows should grow to the word "radiant" that must simply glisten. All of the entrances must start piano, which adds to the mystery. "Raise your songs of welcome," again is a cappella and should grow in power on the word "comes" that vaporizes on the word "splendor." The final vocal chord of this movement should be sung perfectly in tune. It closes on a beautiful G Major chord with the altos and sopranos assigned to a D octave. This D octave makes the final chord as a second inversion. The final harp part should be played quietly, adding to the mysticism Holst created.

2. HYMN TO THE WATERS
This movement must be sung with great joy at the dynamic level of piano. The energy will come through the metric pulse and fine diction. It is set in the unusual meter of 21/8, alternating with a section of 7/4. The harp part is composed to describe flowing water constantly in motion. The tempo must be carefully set and never increase in speed, particularly if the harp and voices are going to be together. The F alliterations in the first phrase must be sung evenly. All ending phrase shapes must be sung full value. Carefully follow the dynamics and constantly emphasize telling the "story board." Everyone must sing the words. At the 7/4 meter, the choir must grow in power and emphasis with the long notes that are tied growing in sound and color. Composed in unison, a cappella, diction takes on new meaning. Each a cappella section must grow slightly as the choir proclaims the sovereignty of Varuna. "Onward ye waters onward" must be a bit more march-like. With the reappearance of 21/8 a few voices should be assigned to sing the triple piano, which returns to the opening style of light singing. Each entrance must be carefully balanced. With the tutti section, Holst returns to the opening materials. The final phrase should drift as if entering into the mist of the river. The movement concludes on a D Major chord, which sets the pitch for the next movement.

3. HYMN TO VENA (The Sun Rising Through the Mist)
This movement must start very quietly and mysteriously on a double piano. A lot of air in the V of Vena will help. Crisp diction is imperative. "Here, where the sunlight and the waters mingle" must grow slightly as the phrase shape grows. Fine tuning is imperative in the cascading chords of great beauty. Composed homophonically, again the storyboard must be kept in mind. The thought of wind and water must be in your mind as you conduct. The Andante con moto must be sung sweetly, with a hymn like quality about it. At the Adagio, the sound should have the tone of a whisper with perfect, on the teeth diction. At the words, "mounts to the eternal heights, mingling with our solemn chant," the world must simply open up with vocal color, preparing the poco accelerando at the top of page 20. That power must continue to grow to the pieces conclusion. Make sure all vowels are centered and the tone resonates, not shouted.

4. HYMN OF THE TRAVELLERS
This is the most difficult of the four movements because it is so transparent. It must have a sense of lightness about it as the voices sing difficult intervals and rhythms in unison. Set in d minor on 5/4 meter, the choir must sing the 2+3 pulse at 108 to the quarter note with ease. This is a provocative movement, almost like the traveler is taking an exotic trip. The choir pleads to the gods of "mighty power" to guide them on their way. The double forte passage should have contrasts in tone between the altos and two soprano parts. They must learn to control the counterpoint against the sopranos who have difficult part relationships. At the words, "Feed us and inspire us" the altos must sing with a rich tone quality with the low F sharp sung right off the sternum bone. The feeling of walking, traveling down the road must be uppermost in every ones mind if the total conception of this wonderful but difficult movement about mystic travelers.

GROUP IV: FOR MEN'S VOICES $11.50
This group was composed for men's voices, string and brass (or piano). Harp or piano is required for the first hymn. It was copyrighted in 1912. The composer suggests that the full compliment of brass (two trumpets in B flat, two horns in F or E flat and three trombones) be used with the strings or no strings should be used at all. Piano would be more satisfactory than using a partial orchestra. This fourth group is in praise of all the gods referenced in the other three groups. It is as if the men's voices have the final say in the order of the universe.

1. HYMN TO AGNI (THE SACRIFICIAL FIRE)
This movement begins with solo tenor, almost a quiet trumpeter that honors the "Herald of Gods." It is set in the bright key of G Major. The tutti section is filled with harmonies composed in thirds with some minor seconds. The movement builds as the singers order the gods to appear. The bass solo that follows, mirrors the tenor solo in the key of E Flat Major. There is a sense of a chorale in the partwriting, with another, higher tenor soloist continuing the prayerful plea. The piece ends in the key of G Major on a powerful double forte composed contrapuntally. The florid harp part adds magic to the men's voices. The movement ends with a quiet unison on a simple G Major chord in first inversion. The men conclude this movement with the words, "Day after day we come bringing thee adoration." There is quiet humbleness with moments of great joy in this striking movement.

2. HYMN TO SOMA
This movement begins a cappella on the syllable la composed in three-parts. It is marked allegretto and composed in C Major on a 2/4 meter. The text for this movement deals with water and the flow of the stream Indu. The accompaniment is more florid and the la's are interspersed throughout the movement. This is a difficult movement because of the number of accidentals and the divisi in the voice parts. The homophonic passages that end this work are filled with complicated and difficult harmonies that will have to be carefully sorted out. After the almost terse harmonies on the words, "Flow on Indu. Flow ye on O holy stream we pour thee for Indra" one gets the impression that the choir is giving the world an order. The movement concludes in a quiet plea for the waters to flow, concluding in G Major.


3. HYMN TO MANUS
This is an invocation to the Manas or spirit of a dying ma. Set in C Major in four parts, the movement opens with a baritone solo that chants the words of the dead. The choir begins by calling the dead to come back and be with them again. This short Lento section is set in 7/4 (4+3). The baritone intones the beauty of the mountain peaks and the sea. This movement alternates between solo and tutti and is filled with complex meters on homophonic harmonies. The piece moves to the bright key of E Major to project the words, "To bathe thyself in radiant light." All the keys in the Veda's are dictated in Holst's mind by the meaning of the words. This E Major section will ring on the voices.

4. HYMN TO INDRA (GOD OF HEAVEN STORM AND BATTLE)
This movement is set in the key of E Flat Major in 4/4 meter and is march-like in structure. This movement is composed homophonically and is more accessible. There are a number of unisons, which make the learning curve easier. This movement is almost a culmination of all the celebration of the gods and their great work, their fight for peace. The final text uses the sentences, "Who is he whose name we call in the fight? Who doth make his worshippers conquerors? He the Bull, the mighty One, Fierce and true, the Thunder arm'd, Lord of heav'n and Chief of Gods, He O men is Indra." It concludes on a power E Flat Major chord that is so final. The tenors must sing a high B flat and the basses a high E Flat of great power at triple forte. We fully understand the power of the God's in this final movement.

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New Releases ~ Sacred

This is an exceptionally fine round of publications of sacred music, particularly in the SATB category. All of these pieces can be studied in the store, where they are placed in the newsletter notebook, or ordered for your own library.

SATB VOICES ~ SACRED

The Angelus Bells are Tolling, (Na Aniot Panski, op. 57), by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, Polish text, Boosey (Hal Leonard), 48020935, SATB (divisi) a cappella. This anthem is filled with mesmerizing harmonies, with the bass section imitating the tolling of bells. There are many strophic qualities about the piece. The basses continue the bell motive as the tenors sing a haunting melody above them. The men often sing in four and five parts, so a large men's section is required. The altos continue the haunting melody that is composed over homophonic material. The sopranos do not enter until well through half the piece. This is a very accessible anthem by this fine composer, but it does require large forces to be effective. Program notes and pronunciation guides are included. Difficulty rating 3-4. $4.95

Blessing, by David Conte, English text, ECS, 7347, SATB & keyboard. This is another insightful setting by this fine American composer. Set to a text by John Stirling Walker, the text painting is staggeringly beautiful, yet powerful and poignant in gesture. Composed homophonically, the harmonic writing on the words "curse and perverse" are jaw-dropping in terms of color. The text versification and music materials are totally satisfying. Difficulty rating 3. $1.55

The Choirmaster's Burial,
by Dominick Argento, English text, Boosey (Hal Leonard), 48020909, SATB (divisi) a cappella. The text, from a poem by Thomas Hardy with additional words by the composer, is filled with humor. It is about a choirmaster who prepares music for so many burials but wonders what his own end will be like. The harmonies are difficult but brilliant in scope, filled with changing meters and challenging accidentals. Argento is one of our great American composers and this piece contains some of his finest writing. For the accomplished ensemble it will be more than satisfying. Difficulty rating 5. $1.95

Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace), by Caroline Mallonée, Latin text, Boosey (Hal Leonard), 48020878, SATB a cappella. This is an exceptional setting of this ancient Latin text. It is constructed on an original plainchant conceived by the composer. It cleverly uses motivic melodic kernels throughout all the voice parts. Compositional techniques such as inversion and augmentation are done to great effect. The piece was conceived in 2003 in response to the war in Afghanistan. It is only two minutes long, but could be extended by chanting the original plainchant as an introduction (included in the octavo) and/or with a repeat. Difficulty rating 3. $1.90

Gaudete omnes (Rejoice and Be Glad), by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), Latin text, Hal Leonard, 08596793, SSATB a cappella. Composed in B Flat, this joyous anthem for advent is a real winner. Filled with simple imitation on elegant counterpoint, the choir will take to this music quickly and with excitement. The Alleluia section is lengthy but powerful in its melodic gesture. Sweelinck knows how to write for the voice as he builds canonic layers that become brilliant in tone. This publication is beautifully edited by John Leavitt. Difficulty rating 3-4. $1.95.

HaBayit HaZeh (The House You are Building), by Elliot Z. Levine, Hebrew text, Transcontinental (Hal Leonard), 00191639, SATB & keyboard. Set to a text taken from Kings 6:12-13, this lyrical setting will be great fun to sing. Composed in f minor, the offbeat rhythms on simple harmonies would lend itself to some percussion or guitar as improvised material. The perfect choice for a folk ensemble, a pronunciation guide and translation are included in the edition. Difficulty rating 3. $2.25

I Love the Lord, by David Conte, English text, ECS, 7370, SATB & organ. This setting of Psalm 116:1-4, 7-9 is filled with harmonies that express devotion and sorrow over the death of a wife. Commissioned by Don Bower in loving memory of his wife, the piece manages to capture the grief while honoring the memory of a loved one. This adapted text by the composer is set in D Major, a bright, expressive key. The opening organ part is written with great sensitivity. The a cappella sections sung by the choir are filled with simple harmonies with wonderful twists that properly interpret the words. The composer is able to share the sorrow of death with the joy of finally reaching the family of the Lord. Difficulty rating 3-4. $2.80

Most glorious Lord of life, by John Rutter (1945), English text, Hinshaw, HMC2271, SATB, sop. solo, opt. congregation, organ, & brass (opt.). This is a powerful new Easter anthem for chorus and brass. Set to a text by Edmund Spenser (?1552-99) and St. John Damascene (c.750), tr. by J.M. Neale, this accessible anthem is going to be an enormous hit just like many of Rutter's carols. The key changes add to the power of Easter Sunday that represents renewal of life after death. The soprano solo requires a pure solo voice that must be sung sweetly. An accomplished boy soprano would be ideal. The piece is composed homophonically with accessible harmonies that contrast with harmonic surprises typical of Rutter. The final Amen composed in six parts on a beautiful B Flat Major chord ends this joyous Easter anthem for mixed voices. The congregational part is printed on the back of the publication and may be reprinted in a church bulletin. Difficulty rating 3-4. $1.80

O gloriosa Virginum, (O Glorious Virgin), by Giovanni Palestrina (1525-1594), Latin/English text, GIA, G-6132, SATB a cappella. This glorious anthem for Advent in celebration of the virgin is spectacular. It is almost a shout of joy for Christ's coming to this Earth. Edited and translated by Richard Proulx, this short anthem has elegant counterpoint with crossing voice parts. It is composed in f minor, yet this great Italian Renaissance composer reflects much joy in a minor key. This is why Palestrina's music has lasted for centuries. He was a brilliant composer in his time, a brilliance that continues to be respected today. Difficulty rating 3-4. $1.20

Psalm 110, by Ned Rorem, English text, Boosey (Hal Leonard), 48020962, SATB a cappella. Rorem's choral voice has been tremendously successful because of his understanding of the voice. When his choral music becomes simplistic this is when his music really shines. This anthem is one of those choral pieces, as the music simply shines through the text. Taken from the Psalm of David, this is a more simplistic setting than The Psalm of David by Randall Thompson. The expression and power are different but very well conceived. A great program idea would be to program both great American composers' settings on the same program. Although a century divides them, both are equally true and honest. Psalm 100 is totally appropriate for high school chorus or any choral society. Set in the key of B Flat Major, there are some challenges but well worth the effort. There is some divisi in the bass part. Difficulty rating 3-4. $1.80

*Under Your Protection (Pod Twoja Obrone, op. 56), by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, Polish text, Boosey (Hal Leonard), 48020934, SATB (divisi) a cappella. This is a brilliantly crafted piece of music with giant and brilliantly constructed harmonies. It was composed in 1985 in Hungary and was "inspired by the antiphon of the same name by Jan Siedlecki." The melody of this antiphon, modified to suit this publication, forms the main theme of the entire work. The voice of both composers is quite clear - brilliant, dazzling, and then quiet. This 12-minute anthem holds the challenge of singing with quiet beauty on harmonies sung perfectly in tune. Although written in 1985, it was not premiered until May of 2007, and first published in his home country in 2008. It has just come to us in this edition in 2010. Eastern European composers have struggled to make their music available under Russian dominance. We are fortunate to have this great music made available to us so many years later. Obviously, this piece was brought to fruition by the composer's experiences and there is much truth, honesty, and craft in this publication. This piece, along with the other Gorecki piece reviewed above, is pricey for an octavo, but well worth the investment. Difficulty rating 4. $4.95

Set me as a seal, by Joseph Gregorio, English text, ECS, 7139, SATB a cappella. The composer suggests this piece be sung Simply, warmly at 58 to the half note. With that being said, it seems to rush towards itself both harmonically and melodically. The rhythms are simple, with gentle counterpoint that most established choirs will sort out to great success. The middle section is more active, with richer, more complex harmonies that are worth the time and challenge to learn. This is the perfect cathedral anthem with competent forces available to you. The key changes are seamless, much like the key changes in Robert Schumann's music. Gregorio sets this popular text about love and death with great effect. The anthem opens and closes in D Flat Major, a warm key for this great text from Song of Solomon 8: 6-7. Difficulty rating 3-4. $1.95

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/All Night, All Day, arr. Jameson Marvin, English text, G. Schirmer (Hal Leonard), 50489859, SATB, mezzo-soprano & bass solo a cappella. This unusual arrangement set in G Major juxtaposes two popular spirituals. It was composed for the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum. Both spirituals share words of hope, reflecting the Afro-American dreams and need for freedom. The anthem opens with a variation of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot sung in four parts on "oo." The baritone soloist sings All Night, All Day, combining the melodies of both as one. The concept is quite ingenious and clever. The choir then sings the second spiritual on the words in four parts. The soprano soloist gets the role of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot with the choir accompanying on "oo" again. This kind of interaction between the two melodies continues throughout the entire arrangement, including the joining of the two soloists singing the two tunes, as the choir sings their variations. This is a wonderful arrangement and will be a hit with an accomplished high school ensemble, church or college choir. Difficulty rating 3-4. $1.95

TREBLE VOICES~SACRED

Ave Maria,
by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791), Latin text, GIA, G-6602, SSAA canon a cappella. This wonderful canon is one of a number of canons Mozart composed between 1782 and 1788. Edited by William Tortolano, this gem is a must for the improving choir that needs to build part singing skills on beautiful legato lines. Typical of canons, this short anthem opens and closes in unison, defining the meaning of the form, to "rule." This canon would be equally effective on SATB voices. Difficulty rating 3. $1.30

Illumina le tenebrae, by Joan Szymko, Latin text, Santa Barbara, SBMP 955, SSAA (divisi) a cappella. This beautiful chant for treble voices is set to one of the oldest prayers written by St. Francis of Assisi. It begins with the altos singing a drone E on oh, with the first and second sopranos singing the original chant. The second sopranos eventually add a B drone, joining the altos as the sopranos continue the prayerful chant. Once the meter signatures are added, everyone continues to unfold this spectacular anthem. Changing meters dominate the remainder of the work, which allows the chant material to unfold in a more controlled manner. This piece calls for an accomplished ensemble that can sing with timeless, seamless beauty. Difficulty rating 4. $1.85

A Prayer for Peace, by Paula Foley Tillen, English text, Santa Barbara, SBMP 948, SA (divisi) & piano. Composed mostly in thirds, this piece is a simple setting of a famous Vietnamese poem written in 1965 by Thich Nhat Nanh. This prayer was used throughout South Vietnam in the "Don't Shoot Your Brother" cause to work for peace. Composed in B Major on 4/4 meter, it is soulful in gesture. The rhythms and harmonies reflect the text and region. The words are chanted over and over again, suggesting frustration as the world struggles for peace. Difficulty rating 3. $1.95

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New Releases ~ Secular

SATB VOICES ~ SECULAR

Come, said my soul, by Stephen Chatman, English text, ECS, 7.0561, SATB a cappella & oboe. Filled with moving harmonies of great warmth and beauty, the text painting in this three-minute work is captivating. Composed to a text by Walt Whitman (1819-1892), this reverent setting is quite moving. The oboe part opens simply and tranquilly, but quickly moves to more florid phrase shapes. The composer indicates that a B-flat clarinet or soprano saxophone can be substituted. With the accelerando section, the piece becomes more powerful with long phrase shapes and riveting harmonies that build to a double forte. The anthem closes mysteriously as the choir twice sings the name of the poet. The wind part (#7.0562) is sold separately. Difficulty rating 3. $1.55

The Homecoming, by David Conte, English text, ECS, 7348, SATB (divisi) a cappella. Set to a poem by John Stirling Walker (1955), the powerful words were written in May 1, 2003, to honor the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's death. The text painting is uncanny and intense, just as intense as the life King lived. Composed for the twelve-voice men's ensemble Chanticleer, this work is brilliantly conceived. It will require an accomplished ensemble if it is to be sung effectively. Filled with changing meters and very precise performance instructions, it will certainly stretch the accomplished ensemble's skills. Program notes are included in the edition. "In The Homecoming, the speaker is one of the souls….who is restless and angry that the justice Dr. King dreamed of has not yet come to pass." This is a fabulous tribute to this great American. Difficulty rating 5. $2.25

The Stars Above the Hill, by David C. Dickau, English text, Santa Barbara, SBMP 953, SATB (divisi) & piano. Set in D Major to a poem by Bliss Carman (1861-1929), this mystical realization of this eloquent poem is extremely effective. The text painting is rich in changing colors through surprising harmonic shifts. Dickau uses unisons in contrast to seconds in the voice parts with uncanny ease. The piece requires elegant tone painting to capture the compositional gesture. It concludes at a double piano on a unison D. Difficulty rating 3-4. $1.95

She Moved Through the Fair, arr. Jameson Marvin, English text, G. Schirmer (Hal Leonard), 50489858, SATB, soprano & tenor solo a cappella. This is a sweet setting of a famous Irish folksong. Arranged for the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, this is the perfect choice for the accomplished high school choir. Much of the choir acts as an accompanying ensemble in this arrangement. The folksongs texts were written by Padraic Colum (1881-1972). Marvin makes the following comments, "The lilting flow of the triple (9/4 & 6/4) meters, the rhythmic interplay with the 3/2 (hemiola) bars that highlight the inherent word stress, and the mesmerizing mixolydian mode of the melody (with the lowered 7th degree) are what drew me to set this beautiful and arresting folk song." Difficulty rating 3. $1.80

A Shining Peace, by David Evan Thomas, English text, ECS, 7353, SATB (Divisi), tenor or soprano solo, & piano. This anthem is filled with shimmering harmonies which slightly diminish the poem by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) entitled The Dead (Sonnet). This poem is the fourth in a group of five sonnets written in 1914. In spite of its title, it is a joyous poem that celebrates the beauty of life. The anthem is filled with elegant phrase shapes, many sung in unison contrasted by powerful harmonies. This composition will ring on the voice. The text painting is well done, with sharp contrasts in the dynamic levels. The florid piano part supports the contrapuntal writing. The music when the soloist sings the words "a gathered radiance, a width, a shining peace under the night" is a fabulous moment. The choir sings supporting chords on "doo" as the tenor or soprano soloist sings the dramatic words. First composed in 1998, this four-minute piece was revised in 2008. This is a real winner from a fine composer. Difficulty rating 4. $2.80

EXTENDED WORK
The Dream Keeper,
by William Averitt, English text, ECS, 7628, SATB (divisi) & two pianos four hands. This is a fine new work for voice and piano. Set to texts by Langston Hughes (1902-1967), the divisi sections start right at the opening of the first movement, "The Dream Keeper." The fluid piano part is composed independently of the voice parts. The poem for this movement refers to the dreaming from the heart of melodies. This is challenging music filled with accidentals, lovely counterpoint and some tricky harmonies and rhythms. Movement two is entitled "Dream Variations." Piano one plays rippling repeated notes that must be carefully articulated. The second piano part is composed more pointillist in nature. After an extensive introduction, the sopranos offer the first variation in the form of a unison melody. The text painting is powerfully composed as the piece progresses with homophonic chords of stark beauty. The third movement entitled "As I Grew Older" is filled with changing meters that alternate between four and three. This movement has crossing voice parts and challenging harmonies. It is quite lyrical in nature. The final movement is simply called "Song." It opens mysteriously in two parts by the tenors and basses. Composed in three parts, the sopranos and altos continue the mystery. Again, the text painting is quite striking. This 15- minute work requires two accomplished pianists and an accomplished choir that can sing difficult harmonies. A recording can be obtained from ECS. Difficulty rating 4-5. $8.30

TREBLE VOICES ~ SECULAR

The Poem, the Song, the Picture, by Terry Schlenker, English text, Santa Barbara, SBMP 951, SSAA (divisi) a cappella. Tone clusters fill this fine setting of a Federico Garcia Lorca poem. Changing meters on simple rhythms make this work deceiving. The challenge comes in singing the harmonies with perfect tuning. It is composed homophonically with well-crafted melodic materials that occasionally diverge into counterpoint. The text versification is well done. The choir must be large enough to support eight-part harmonies. Difficulty rating 4. $1.95

Roses, by Augusta Read Thomas, English text, G. Schirmer (Hal Leonard), 50490303, SSAA a cappella. Thomas has composed a lot of a cappella music for treble voices. Her selection of poetry is always carefully thought out and imaginative. This poem by George Eliot (1819-1880) is no exception. There is an ethereal quality about this piece where the chorus must stagger-breathe. She wants a seamless flow to the singing on difficult harmonies composed on wide ranges. The piece is dedicated to John Corigliano, one of Thomas's composition teachers, on the occasion of his 70th birthday. This beautiful five-minute work requires an accomplished treble ensemble. Difficulty rating 5. $2.25

MEN'S VOICES ~ SECULAR

Zwei Lieder (Two Partsongs), by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), German texts, Breitkopf & Härtel, ChB5321, TTBB a cappella. These two pieces were written early in this great German composer's compositional career. One of two opus numbers written for men's voices, "Goldne Brücken" is quite short and set to a poem by Emanuel Geibel. It was composed when Brahms was only 14 years old. The piece is composed homophonically and has some harmonic challenges. The second offering, Postillons Morgenlied, set to a poem by Wilhelm Müller, was just recently discovered in February of 2010 in the estate of the Old Celle Choral Society. This piece is also composed homophonically with some diverging counterpoint. The edition contains interesting program and background information. These are rare finds for men's voices. Difficulty rating 3-4. $3.50

 

Difficulty Ratings Guide: All selections reviewed in The Choral Room are given a difficulty rating to help you select the music most appropriate for your singers. 1 - easy; 2 - accessible; 3 - medium difficulty;4 - advanced difficulty; 5 - extreme difficulty

To order any of the music in this newsletter contact:
Spectrum Music
1844B Massachusetts Avenue
Lexington, MA 02420
Phone: 781 862-0088
Fax: 781 861-1335
info@spectrum-music.com

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