by Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
The program opens with Tu es Petrus, a six-part work composed in 1572 shortly after Palestrina returned as music director of St. Peter's. It provides a vocal flourish like the blare of trumpets as the papal ceremonial motet par excellence. While gracing many papal functions, it is sung principally on June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul at the papal entrance into the Basilica.
Well before the publication of Pope Pius X's Motu proprio of 1903 outlining the musical principles desired in the composition of liturgical music, the 19th century German Cecelians strongly recommended a return to the ideals and purity of Renaissance polyphony, exemplified especially by Palestrina. Influenced by this group, Bruckner composed 10 motets in conformity with these ideals. The gradual Os justi (Psalm 37:30-31) was first sung at his beloved Augustinian Abbey of St. Florian on the feast of St. Augustine, August 28, 1879.
In the liturgies of the Russian rite, the litany forms an important element of petitionary prayer. While the petitions are sung by the priest, the choir never ceases to sing Ghospodi, Pomíluy (Lord have mercy) with varying degrees of intensity, here most aptly illustrated in this composition by the relatively obscure Russian composer, Grigory Lvovsky.
Emerging from the Carolingian era and perhaps composed by Rufinus of Aquileia for a church synod, the poem Ubi caritas et amor was formerly sung during the foot-washing ceremony or Mandatum of Maundy or Holy Thursday. The current Roman rite assigns this hymn to the offertory of Holy Thursday. Its now prominent Czech composer, Petr Eben, will be remembered for his scintillating setting of the Te Deum which concluded this season's opening concert.
To understand the genesis of the Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor, we must consider the convergence of two significant early 20th century factors; the liturgical reforms of music in the Roman Catholic Church after the Motu proprio of 1903, and the extensive research by Vaughan Williams and others into English art and folk music.
Shortly after the completion of London's neo-Byzantine Westminster Cathedral, Sir Richard Runciman Terry became its organist and choirmaster. He was the first modern choirmaster to perform liturgical masses composed by England's great Tudor composers; Byrd, Tallis, Tye, Dering, Fayrfax and Shephard to name the most significant among them. The performance of these masses made a great impact on Vaughan Williams. He determined to compose a work worthy of his 16th century predecessors. There flowed from his pen the splendid a cappella Mass in G Minor, "imitative of the old polyphonic masters, but not derivative of them." The mass is scored for four soloists, double choir of four mixed voices, each used for antiphonal contrast with themselves and the soloists. Owing much to late Medieval and Tudor traditions, being polyphonic, diatonic, spare and rhythmically fluid, the mass is not essentially a concert work. Percy Young calls on us to consider the humility of the opening phrase of the Kyrie, the restrained melismas of the Gloria, the graceful definition of the Benedictus, and the felt, but not fully expressed, anguish of the Agnus Dei. Vaughan Williams probes the recesses of the verbal symbol to stimulate the listener to probe likewise. It should be noted that Paul Salamunovich conducted his St. Charles Borromeo Choir in a performance of the Mass in G Minor at the papal Mass of June 29, 1988 in St. Peter's Square before 100,000 people.
Arnold Schoenberg composed Priede auf Erden (Peace on Earth) in early 1907, utilizing Conrad Meyer's poem structured around the angelic proclamation on the first Christmas. Schoenberg, who vacillated all his life between a loose adherence to Protestant Christianity and Judaism, composed Priede auf Erden (how ironically) at a time when he felt that such harmony among men would become reality. It was premiered in December, 1911, by the Vienna Philharmonic Choir.
Subtitled by Schoenberg "An illusion for mixed voices," the work displays a masterly control of polyphony while being "marvelously fertile in exploring distant key relationships. Indeed Priede ... marks the highest point in Schoenberg's endeavors to explore the limits of tonality." A very difficult work, Priede ... was considered by many at the time "unsingable." Hence Schoenberg to facilitate intonation and the difficult harmonies furnished it in 1911 with an accompaniment of double woodwinds, horns and a string quartet. He asserted that the instruments should never be heard above the chorus. However, Priede ... is now generally sung as he intended - a cappella.
Aaron Copland's In the Beginning is his only extended choral work and but one of three a cappella choral compositions. He composed it in 1947 for the Harvard University "Symposium on Music Criticism." During this event on May 2, the Robert Shaw Chorale premiered it. The text, taken from the Book of Genesis, presents in rondo form with refrain the seven days of creation. Scored for four-part mixed chorus, the work's mezzo-soprano soloist is directed by Copland to sing the recitatives "in a gentle narrative manner like reading a familiar and ofttold story."
Henry David Leslie was most noted for his Leslie Choir, an English a cappella group he conducted for many years and which, in 1878, won first place in an international choral competition in Paris. His setting of Robert Herrick's poem Charm Me Asleep illustrates Leslie's restrained Victorian style.
Long resident in Southern California, Leroy Southers arranged his Three Folk Songs (Canadian, British and American) to "provide mixed choruses with a small set of contrasting songs representative of three different English-speaking cultures." Commissioned in 1967 for the Kenosha, Wisconsin School System's Contemporary Music Project, they were first performed by the Tremper High School A Cappella Choir. Rhythmic and virtuosic versatility characterize these whimsical settings.
The first known printing of the Londonderry Air appeared in 1855 in the Peters Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland. Collected by Miss J. Rose of County Londonderry, it initially had no name, but received numerous settings to different texts. The best known of these is Danny Boy, as written in 1913 by Fred Weathely and, in turn, the song has seen innumerable arrangements, not the least of which is the exquisite setting by Roger Wagner. Of the songs that he arranged himself, Danny Boy was the late conductor's favorite.
Pavel Chesnokov's life centered around Moscow's choral music activities. More than 400 of his over 500 compositions exhibited the strong influence on him of his mentors Sergei Teneyev and Ippolitov- Ivanov. O Tebé ráduyetsia sets the famed Hymn to the Theotokos (Mary, the God-bearer) excerpted from the Greek liturgy of St. Basil. In it Chesnokov paraphrased in varying degrees Turchaninov's chant setting, the most widely used in the 19th century. Chesnokov's choral writing, notes Vladimir Morosan, is characterized by a variety of textures, from austere unison to sumptuous eight-voice polyphony and colorful harmony, which he often spices with chromaticisms, to lend them a more modern and romantic aspect. This work is probably best known in this country as O Lord God as arranged by N. Lindsay Norden in 1926.