By KEITH CLARK
Keith Clark. Assistant Conductor of the Master Chorale, is a composer and a candidate for the PhD degree in music theory at UCLA.
Sacred Music in the Classic Period
North German Protestantism, which during the Baroque era had produced such a wealth of sacred music, failed with the waning of the age to maintain this distinguished tradition. The Symphoniae Sacrae of Schutz, the cantatas of Buxtehude, and the cantatas, passions, and organ music of Bach had established the northern cities as centers of 17th century liturgical music. But with the newly developing styles of the classic period, attention was again drawn to the south, where the areas of Austria and Southern Germany were vibrant with musical activity. Rationalism, with its emphasis on the spoken word and sermonic instruction, had cut deeply into Protestant music traditions, and the rise of diverse denominations and sects greatly diffused Protestant musical effort. Catholicism, universally embraced in the south, offered composers uniform ritual and established sacred texts, a church strong in social and financial institutions, and a 900-year-old mus·ical tradition unshaken by contemporary philosophical thought. The bulk of Classical sacred music is thus drawn from Catholic liturgy; the most important musical observances being the Mass (including the Requiem), vesper psalms with Magnificat, Te Deum, and the litanies.
Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K.339
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart(1756-1791)
In an early evaluation of classical sacred compositions, Anton Thibaut, professor at the University of Heidelberg, in his Uber Reinheit der Tonkunst (1824) wrote: Thus our more recent masses and other ecclesiastical compositions have degenerated to the extent that they have become purely amorous and emotional and bear the absolute stamp of secular opera, and even of that type of opera which is most in demand, that is, downright vulgar opera ... Even the church music of Mozart and Haydn deserves that reproach Mozart openly smiled at his masses, and several times when commissioned to write a mass protested, on the grounds that he was only made for opera. Such refutation, based on newly developed Romantic attraction to Medieval and Renaissance religious art, failed to recognize the validity of sacred musical expression garbed in contemporary language. Mozart's church music, composed in a style mixing the strict religious style (stile osservato) of the 18th century with the jubilant Rococo spirit of southern Bavarian and Austrian cathedrals, is as pure a religious statement of his age as is the Organa of Perotin a true expression of Medieval times.
The Vesperae So/ennes de Confessore of 1780 was the last ecclesiastical work composed by Mozart for the Salzburg cathedral. It is unknown which 'confessor' or saint is referred to in the title, and little is known about the background of the work.
In choosing keys for the Vespers' six movements, Mozart allowed himself unusual freedom, juxtaposing the first and last movements' C major with the E-flat, G, D minor, and F tonalities of the inner sections. Also striking is the juxtaposition of an archaic fugue, Laudate Pueri, learned in its inversions, stretti, and other contrapuntal devices, with the un-churchly Laudate Dominum for soprano solo and chorus, poetic in its simplicity and charm. The fugue subject contains the leap of a diminished seventh, a thematic interval which can be traced from Handel through Kuhnau, Lubeck, and Buxtehude, and which Mozart was to again employ in the Kyrie of his Requiem.
The Vespers' first three movements are settings of Psalms, bursting with rhythmic and harmonic vitality, and the work concludes with the Magnificat, a setting stately in religious grandeur.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Franz Joseph Haydn had composed six masses when in 1783 the Emperor Joseph II put Austria in line with a papal decree banning the use of orchestras in church. Haydn departed for England, and only after the ban's repeal by the subsequent emperor, Franz II, did the old composer return to create religious music. Haydn was revered in his time, and among his admirers was the Empress Marie Therese, who possessed (in Haydn's words) "a pleasant, but weak singing voice ... " Despite the objections of his long-time patron, Nicolaus II of Esterhazy, Haydn composed and dedicated the Te Deum to the Empress, and it was first performed in Eisenstadt on October 28, 1800.1ts performance marked the Austrian visit of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, and its jubilant sounds of trumpets and drums honored both Maria Therese and the conquering Lord Nelson, whose victory at Abikir had so stirred the Austrian people.
The single movement work is divided into four sections. A festive C-major orchestral fanfare introduces the chorus' unison statement, Te Deum laudamus. The center section, Te ergo quaesumus is a poignant C-minor adagio, lush in its expressive chromaticism. Aeterna lac returns the primary rhythmic excitement and C-major brightness, and the work concludes with a powerful double fugue. The composer here bowed to tradition, for settings of the Te Deum had long involved fugal finales as exciting conclusions to songs of praise.
Requiem, Op. 48.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
The Requiem, a composition on the text of the Mass for the Dead, takes its name from the beginning of the Introit, Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine (Give the eternal rest, O Lord). Essentially the same liturgical structure as any other Mass, the Requiem omits joyful portions of the Ordinary (Gloria and Credo), substitutes the Tractus for the Alleluia, and adds the sequence Dies irae (Day of wrath). Unlike polyphonic settings of the normal Mass, compositions on the Requiem text include musical treatment of the Proper (Introit, Gradual, etc.) as well as of the invariable portions of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Sanctus, etc.).
Gabriel Fauré, at the age of 42, composed a Requiem mass in memory of his father. First performed in the church of Madeleine in Paris in 1888, the work has since gained a place of prominence in the choral repertoire. Despite the Requiem's success, it is the only choral work of any importance by the composer, other than the choruses of Prometheus (1900) and Penelope (1913), Fauré's only operatic works, and the ad lib. choral section of the Pavane (1887) for orchestra.
Simplicity is the key of the Requiem, and the composer deliberately eschewed passionate dramaticism. Much of the work is thematically based on Gregorian chant, the entire work reflecting the spiritual contemplation of this oldest of sacred music. Scored for soprano and bass solos, chorus, organ, and orchestra, the Requiem begins with reiterative statements in the austerity of D minor. Despite added-note harmonic constructions and extensive chromaticism, the entire work remains closely related to this tonal center, the Requiem concluding with the hopeful D-major "Grant them eternal rest."
It is significant that Fauré chose to exclude the sequence Dies irae from his setting. Through his art, Fauré affirmed that death comes not wrapped in wrathful armor nor clothed in grim cloth, but greets man attired as a friend. Rooted in Gregorian chant, the Requiem quietly reflects the muted shadows of a darkened French cathedral. It neither rages against the coming of death, nor surrenders in meek submission, but goes with gentle joy into that good night.