Tag Archives: Victoria

Chords out of context and Renaissance polyphony

A busy choral week this week with both the Chamber and Cecilian Choir rehearsals.

As we get closer to the Crypt concert, the Chamber Choir rehearsals become progressively more involved, as we work to really make sure the intonation is good and that we can perform without the piano. There are moments when the choir really flies without the accompaniment – and then a few moments when we come to the ground with something of a bump… We’ve been taking particularly challenging progressions out of context, working to tune the motion between the chords effectively to ensure each voice-part knows the direction of the line. It’s especially challenging in the two Italian giants, the Lassus and the Monteverdi.

In contrast, Saint-Saëns’ Calme des Nuits is starting to develop a real sense of space, as we let particular chords build or dwell on the more static passages.

Renaissance master: de Victoria

In contrast, the Cecilian Choir rehearsal revelled in the glory of that masterpiece of the Renaissance period, two movements from Victoria’s Missa O Magnum Mysterium; we looked today at the ‘Sanctus’ for the first time, exploring sustaining the rich melismas right through until their very end. There’s a wonderful point where the sopranos are descending in stately fashion through the Aeolian mode whilst the other three voices are weaving their counterpoint underneath: a highly effective moment at the words ‘Dominus Deus.’ The ensuing ‘Hosanna’ moves to triple metre, and creates a positively dancing finish to the movement.

But no cake at the Chamber Choir rehearsal on Tuesday night: what’s happened to the Choir Cake Monitor’s due diligence ?!

Light and shade with the Cecilian Choir

On the heels of the Chamber Choir earlier this week, the Cecilian Choir sprang back into rehearsals this afternoon, assembling to rehearse our programme for June.

The theme to this year’s programme uses movements from Victoria’s mass, O Magnum Mysterium, as a skeleton framework, which will be interspersed with other works, using the mass as the unifying thread. The programme will conclude not with Victoria’s setting of the motet, but Lauridsen’s meditative and enduringly popular incarnation.

The ‘Kyrie’ of the Mass opens with a single note, held suspended for four beats in isolation; the effect is that we don’t know what we’re hearing, which degree of the scale it is, or if it is even the tonic. The phrase descends a fifth for the second note, at which point the altos also enter, and we realise the opening note was in fact the dominant of the scale. The motionless nature of the opening contrasts with the gradual polyphonic build-up as the other voices enter and begin to weave their lines.

The Lauridsen setting requires some fine intonation, and whilst there are some beautiful colours, some of the movement between chords is not necessarily as linear as one might like – occasionally angular intervals creep in which sound lovely in context, but aren’t always going where one might expect. We explored several sonorities, practicing stepping between difficult chords to make sure we all knew where we were going.

The same is true of the last piece we rehearsed, Lauridsen’s deft, ephemeral En une seule fleur, which presents even more challenges in the same regard! Good fun, though; the programme will provide contrasting light and shade as we move from Italian polyphony to rich American colours and elsewhere.

And here’s a foretaste of the motet in a richly colourful performance from the choir of King’s, Cambridge.

Travels on the Continent: : Saint-Saens, Victoria and Brahms

Ave verum corpus is best-known in a setting by Mozart, but the Cecilian Choir began their spring rehearsals with a version by Saint-Saens, that I confess was a recent discovery for me. It’s a wonderfully simple setting in Eb major, which in the more colourful second section, at the words ‘Cujus latus perforatum,’ moves to chords of Db and Gb major, climaxing in the relative minor before subsiding to a gentle ending.

(Unfortunately, there’s a phrase in the middle that is identical to the opening phrase in ‘Tale As Old As Time’ from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1′ 43” in the video above), but we’re hoping listeners don’t notice…).

We renewed our acquaintance with the Victoria Ave Maria we’d begun last term, with its terrific rhythmic flexibility; the phrase ‘Sancta Maria, mater Dei’ is set in triple-metre instead of the compound metre up until that point, which imparts a lovely dance-feel.

Circle-time ensued: we moved away from the piano and gathered in a circle in the middle of the hall to sing it through – it really means you have to get used to not relying on a supporting instrument playing your line, and start listening to the other voices around you. It worked, too: some lovely chords echoed round the hall, and the tuning was spot-on.

Finally, a return to the drama of Brahms’ Ach, arme Welt, with its sudden crescendi and unstable harmonies.

All bodes well for the concert, which is currently being finalised: more details coming soon!

Poulenc and Victoria: sunlit music

A gloriously sunlit October day, suitable for rehearsing the first part of Poulenc’s Exultate Deo. This piece really has the light of the sun glowing through it in the second section, ‘Jubilate Deo,’ with Poulenc’s trademark musical language of added-sixth and seventh chords and prominent major second passing notes; there’s a terrific sense of freedom to the piece, both harmonically and rhythmically in the way the time-signatures changes between three, four and five crotchets in the bar.

Circle Time followed, where we broke ranks and stood around in a circle to sing the section of the Poulenc that we’d learned; it was amazing to stand surrounded by the colourful chords and exuberant harmony of the piece. And a great way to test the integrity of the voice-parts: in general, a fairly sound effort – the odd, typically Poulenc, dissonant sonority needed careful attention, but otherwise an exciting start.

Victoria’s Ave Maria is another motet which has great rhythmic freedom – occasionally there’s a dance-feel that interrupts the regular metric feel, as though he is eager to dance but feels he can’t within the confines of a formal sacred motet, but it’s uncontrollable and sometimes can’t help but burst through. Unlock the dance-rhythm in music, and it comes alive…

Cecilian Choir

Hail, Bright Cecilians!

And here are some of us: Reading Week and flu claimed the others.