After my mother passed away in May 2014, I wanted to write a piece dedicated to her memory. She was a second generation Polish Catholic from Chicago, and the roots of her ethnic heritage ran deep. My first thought was to compose a mazurka or other Polish dance for piano; though I made several attempts at this, nothing of substance materialized. Several months later, a conductor colleague posted a call for scores based on Marian texts on Facebook. Though I had written many works based on Christian themes, I had never written a setting of a Marian text, and this seemed like a good opportunity to do so.
When considering possible texts, the Ave Maria spoke to me most directly. My favorite word for Mary is the Greek Theotokos—in English, the God-bearer. The opening words of the Ave Maria, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke, are those spoken by the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation: “Hail, Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with you.” Following the angel’s salutation, the angel presents Mary with a request (not included in the prayer): Will you be the God-bearer? She responds, “Yes.” The next lines of the prayer are taken from Elizabeth, whom Mary visits soon after. Upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
This story is followed by Mary’s song of praise. In the course of the song, Mary says: “From now on, all generations will call me blessed.” And it is from here that the Ave Maria text next derives inspiration: “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” This is the part of the prayer that I find most expressive, and the part that speaks to me most deeply. In words, in music, in the visual arts, and in the hearts of people for the last two thousand years, Mary has been extolled as holy, as the Mother of God—the Theotokos. The contrapuntal musical ideas for this section of the text came to me almost immediately after reading it, as did the music for the opening phrase of the prayer.
The last phrase of the prayer is a request for Mary’s prayerful intercession on the supplicant’s behalf. Some composers have omitted portions of this part of the prayer; I have retained it in my setting because it is traditional.
In the course of composing the piece, it became clear to me that this was the tribute to my mother that I had been wanting to write. Though I did not set out to write the piece with my own mother in mind, it was exactly right to dedicate it to her memory. It gives me great joy to be part of a musical continuum that includes composers throughout the ages. It is my hope that listeners, upon hearing it, will reflect on the deep mystery of the Incarnation and share in calling blessed the Theotokos—the God-bearer—the one who said, “Yes.” — Scott Solak
Jonathan David Little
Crucifixus is an Anthem for Triple Choir (in 12 parts) with organ accompaniment (Choir I: AATTBB + Choir II: SSA + Choir III: SSA). It is one of a set of ambitious, large-scale, contemporary "polychoral" works.
Written to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the National Boys’ Choir of Australia (founded 1964), and dedicated to the memory of Harold Bird, OAM (1922-2015), the score is marked, “Slow and Spacious”, and “Maestoso (In Wonder)” – with the refrain becoming ever-more decorated on each return. Despite the subject matter, the mood of the refrain is more one of glory and awe, rather than mere dolefulness. The intimate verse, by contrast, is marked, “Teneramente e sostenuto” (“Tenderly and sustained”).
Crucifixus (Op.13a) is actually the most concise version of a much longer work, entitled Woefully Arrayed (Op.13), the latter of which contains three verses and four refrains, runs a full 26 minutes, and has something of an hypnotic, time-defeating quality about it. Abridged versions of Woefully Arrayed can be performed by commencing the work from either the Second or – as here – Third Refrain.
The nature of its text makes it most appropriate for the Lenten season, in the lead up to Eastertide, and supremely fitting for performance on Good Friday. — Jonathan David Little
Gloria in excelsis Deo
Composed in 2015, Helen’s a cappella setting of Gloria in excelsis Deo was to become the cornerstone for her full Mass in Latin that followed. Inspired to write for a choral festival in Italy, Helen intended the work as an outpouring of the way her heart interprets the intense beauty of the Gloria. The result was a musical interpretation that leaves its unique mark amongst settings of this sacred text.
Gloria in excelsis Deo begins as a tender and affectionate proclamation of the Glory of God. The melodic line unfolds across all four voice parts, exposing a sweeping melody that rises from the bass right through to the soprano.
In stark contrast, the second section, sung ‘with fire,’ is punchy and rhythmically tight. Repetitive rhythmic motifs moving in parallel harmonies play on the rhythms of the Latin text. The use of vocal glissandi creates distinct colour and provokes intrigue. The powerful feature of the second section is the spirited soprano melody, at cross rhythms with the other voices.
The third segment builds intensively through contrasting melodic lines across all vocal parts, each holding boldly to its own musical colour. This represents the beauty of different voices coming together in praise. The effect is a rhythmically and melodically complex passage that ends brilliantly as all voices unite to acclaim ‘Have mercy on us.’
The familiar 'affettuoso' opening melodic passage is reintroduced for the final text of the Gloria. The polyphonic effects, which are common in Helen’s writing, weave a passage that keeps the ear following the melody across parts until a final magnificent unification of all voices to close.
The work was awarded in the 2nd International Competition of Choral Composition 2015 Ennio Morricone as part of the Florence International Choir Festival. It has been performed by choirs in Asia, Europe, and the UK and forms part of Helen’s full mass – Mass for the Spirit. — Helen Mackinnon
L Peter Deutsch
A Fisherman of
the Inland Sea
The text of this piece is a classic Japanese folk story, the tale of Urashima, as told by Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), one of the great American fiction writers of the 20th Century. It is told as a story-within-a-story in a science fiction short story. The musical setting includes a number of references to the story's Japanese roots: the seagull cry "kai" (the Japanese word for sea), the use of wood blocks, and the frequent voice movement in parallel 4ths. However, it does not intend to appropriate Japanese musical idioms: the often dissonant harmonies and the opening and closing use of polyphony are reflections of my personal style.
As in Le Guin's story, this setting has a narrator outside the story frame, who only speaks briefly near the beginning and end of the piece, and once in the middle. Within the piece proper, the five vocal parts are associated very roughly with the characters in the story: the narrator (A), the protagonist Urashima (T/B), the sea princess (S/S/A), and the old woman in the village (S/S/A). While the main body of the piece is essentially sung narrative, it is complemented by an opening and closing section of wordless polyphony and a percussion solo in the middle. — L Peter Deutsch
Nachtlied is a setting of a poem by Georg Trakl, an Austrian expressionist poet who lived at the turn of the last century. When I first read the poem, I was struck not only by the elegance and concision of Trakl’s German, but by the potent images it contained. The poem (along with my own translation) can be found here.
The text, through the images within, portrays a very definite mood, or space, along with a deep sense of ritual. I chose to portray many of these images literally with the electronic sounds, but also sought to convey more subjectively this mood-space and ritual.
I created all the electronic sounds in this piece by manipulating pre-existing audio, primarily in Csound; there is no synthesis in this piece. This audio was either recorded by me or taken from license-free sources. In particular, I used many sounds from the Freesound Project. I also used two samples of seismographic recordings of the Earth, which were used with the permission of David Fee at the Infrasound Laboratory at the University of Hawaii.
This piece was written in response to a call for scores for choir and electronics put out by the Ulster Youth Choir in Northern Ireland, under the direction of Greg Beardsell. The piece is dedicated to them and they continue to have my gratitude for their friendship and support. — Daniel Morse
Give us Peace
The work was commissioned in 2009 by Yvonne Peters and Margriet den Hartog, conductor and organist of the Remonstrantse Kerk in Dordrecht (Netherlands), on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the church’s organ, designed and built by the well-known Dutch organ builder Michaël Maarschalkerweerd (1838-1915).
The motto of the work is a quote from the New Testament, First Letter of Petrus, 3:8-11:
"Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.
Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak speak no guile;
Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it."
The motto is also the basis of the texts “Give us Peace” and “May Peace be with you,” sung by the choir in Latin, Russian, Hebrew, and Arab. These languages, together with the English motto, can be associated with the five religions of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxism, Judaism and Islam, but the message of the work is general-humanistic: the plea is directed to mankind as a whole, as peace has to be accomplished in the first place by united human efforts.
I. “Visions of Peace”: two voices start a dialogue, at first in seemingly incoherent dodecaphonic series, clustering later, when more voices enter, to harmonious five-part chords. Eventually, the atonal series find a firm basis in the pedal-C of the organ. The pedal tone and chords come back in different forms throughout the work as musical metaphors for stability and harmony.
II. “Incantation”: the choir, entering ppp under a sustained chord in the organ, sings the basic text "Give us peace" simultaneously in the four languages. In the course of the work, all four voices of the choir sing the text one time in each language.
III. “Joy”: the organ plays a free fantasy on the themes exposed in the preceding movements, accompanied by vocals in the choir. The music suggests a carefree, harmonious society living in concord with each other.
IV. “Monody”: organ and choir perform a unison canticle on the text “Give us Peace,” supported by a sustained C in different voices. The movement holds the center position in the work; it marks the sharp transition between the hopeful first three movements and the disillusioned next two movements.
V. “Devastation”: the music expresses how ideals and hopes felt before being destroyed by uncontrolled forces from outside. Sharply dissonating clusters in the organ alternate with desperate unison exclamations in the choir. The utter dismay leads to furious outbursts of explosive force.
VI. “Despair (Lamento)”: after the destruction depicted in the previous movement, crushed people leave the ruins to find new ways of peaceful coexistence. The theme of the monody (IV) appears in incoherent fragments repeating the plea for peace.
VII. “Reconciliation”: the same themes and chords as in movement I-III appear, symbolizing the ambition to restore mutual confidence and acceptance. The work ends in the choir with the wish "May Peace be with you," sung in the four languages.
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