by Richard H. Trame, S.J.
Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), Spain's greatest Renaissance composer, published in Venice in 1572 his book of motets for four to six voices. To these the profoundly beautiful Ave Maria belongs. It elaborated with exquisite polyphony the Gregorian melody of the Angelic Salutation.
Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553) was the most significant musical personality in Spain in the first half of the 16th Century. He published two sets of eight Magnificats in 1542 and 1545. Grouped into two settings in each of the eight modes or tones, the first of each set or group provides a polyphonic setting of the odd verses, the second of the even verses. This evening's Magnificat is in the first mode with the even verses composed, the odd being in Chant.
In 1619, the pre-eminently great Dutch composer, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) published his Cantiones Sacrae, for five voices of which the scintillating Hodie Christus natus est is one of thirty-seven. In it Sweelinck created a setting of the Vespers antiphon to the Magnificat for Christmas of unparalleled dignity, jubilation, and rejoicing.
The late Wilbur Chenoweth's composition Of the Father's Love Begotten elaborated the plainsong melody of the 13th Century Divinum Mysterium. The famed J. N. Neale and Henry Barker in the mid- 19th Century applied to the melody their translations of a poem by the greatest of Christian Latin poets, Aurelius Prudentius (348-413).
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1919, Vaclav Nelhybel settled in the United States in 1957, becoming a citizen in 1962. Here he has worked as a freelance composer, guest conductor, and lecturer. Utilizing the medieval troubadour song and dance form rondeau, the composer in Estampie Natalis presents the old Gregorian melody Puer natus in Bethlehem (A Child is Born in Bethlehem) developing it with an ever increasing rhythmic vigor and complexity in the choral parts.
John Rutter's (1945-) Gloria has achieved widespread acclaim since its premier performance in Omaha on May 5, 1974. He has readily acknowledged the influence which American choral singing has had on him. The Gloria, he notes, "was written with the sound of American choral singing in mind. That is to say, a rather rich, full sound, punchy attack, and a wholly different philosophy of singing. I would rather hear the Gloria sung by an American choir than an English one."
In three movements, the Gloria is scored for mixed chorus, a small treble group, brass instruments, percussion and organ. After a broad instrumental prelude, the first movement chorus develops the themes in canonic fashion, culminating in a grandiose repetition of the opening theme. The Second Movement is marked by a quiet meditative reflection on the glory of the Father and the Lamb of God, while pleas for mercy end in tranquility. The highly "punchy" concluding movement grows with contrapuntal intensity until it blossoms into a triumphant repeat of the opening Gloria theme.
A Christmas Garland by Conrad Susa received its premiere in Columbus, Ohio, in December 1988. Susa has noted that in the glittering introduction cries of "Noel" garland the verses of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in which the angels announce the principal message of comfort and joy. The accompaniment dances into The Holly and the Ivy, but the chorus sings I saw Three Ships, asking "what was in those ships all three." According to old legend, the answer given is We Three Kings. Arriving at the manger, the Kings find the Child being soothed by The Coventry Carol and O, Come All Ye Faithful. Celebration breaks out with Joy to the World humorously "deconstructed" to show its relationship to several of Handel's works. "Noel" returns all-embracing and triumphant to conclude the Garland.
The 17th Century carol tune, The First Noel was first composed for the Royal Liverpool Society's Carol Concerts. Edmund Walter's The Carol Singers elaborates the tune as Margaret Rhodes' words place us in the scene where carol singers serenade the town's inhabitants in their decorated Christmas homes. In her arrangement of O Little Town of Bethlehem, Kay Hawkes Goodyear underpins the famous American melody and Bishop Brooks' words with an accompaniment derived from J.S. Bach's familiar Prelude in C from the Well-tempered Clavier.
The Spanish carol A La Nanita Nana as arranged by Roger Folsom for the University of Maryland chorale, depicts the Christ Child being rocked in his cradle, while nearby brook and nightingale are admonished not to disturb his sleep. Heard next is Nancy Grundahl's arrangement of The Russian Candle Carol which speaks of the symbol of light illuminating the world at Christmas and giving it hope and renewal. The men of the Master Chorale will perform a stirring arrangement of the familiar story-carol Do You Hear What I Hear by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne.
Two delightful Austrian carols find idiomatic arrangements; one is an ingratiating setting of Still, Still, Still by the late Norman Luboff, and the other Come, all Ye Shepherds by the prominent Austrian-American arranger and director, Gerhard Track. This is followed by Mark Riese's arrangement of Christrnas Comes Anew utilizing the French carol Noel Nouvelet.
The melody Hark! the Herald Angels Sing comes from Mendelssohn's Festgesang, composed to celebrate in 1840 the great Gutenberg anniversary Festival in the Rhineland. William Cummings (1831- 1915) adapted Mendelssohn's melody to words by Samuel Wesley (1739). Robert Hunter wrote his exciting arrangement of this now well-known carol to serve as a festive and brilliant conclusion to a Christmas concert.