Choral Music

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Choral Music

Choral Music


The middle ages

• Choral music is defined as music for voices in two or more parts,

containing more than one voice to each part.

•  There are two types of composition for choir, based on its intended



choral music is composed for the purpose of singing in

church or as part of a religious service


choral music for purposes outside of the church.

• In this period, choral music was largely


and choirs in

church were confined to singing



• Choirs of this period were all male and consisted of monks from the


• Polyphonic music for voices did exist, but it was confined largely to

music outside of the church and in folk music.

• Advances in the notation of music and the teaching of theory made

part-singing for choirs more possible throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.



• One of the earliest manuscripts of 

music that exists is that of the


Sumer Is Icumen In.

• It dates from the mid 13th century

and is written using



– a type of early notation that distinguished notes of different pitches and lengths.

•  The red crosses on the manuscript

indicate when each subsequent part should enter

Sumer Is Icumen In


• One of the first types of part-singing was


, in which

another voice was added to the plainchant, initially as a drone, experimenting with the concept of harmony.

• Gradually the part became fixed at a particular interval from the

melody to create

parallel organum

. It was in the 11th century that composers began to experiment with

free organum

– two parts with their own musical shape or contour.


Organum: Alleluia - Inter

natos mulierum



•  The Renaissance period (c.1500–1600) saw a rapid growth in choral


• Churches invested heavily in liturgical music (Liturgy - A prescribed

form or set of forms for public religious worship) and the output of  sacred music for church choirs was substantial throughout this


• Initially, composers such as Dufay and John Taverner composed


based on a

cantus firmus

. This term refers to the use of a recognised plainchant as the basis of a polyphonic composition,

which became the unifying element throughout the movements when separated in the service.

• As time went on, composers moved away from the use of the cantus

firmus as support for the other voice parts in the mass and composed freely.

The Renaissance period

 Josquin Des Prez

: Missa l'Homme Armé Super

Voces Musicales

 Josquin Des Prez

: Missa l'Homme Armé

Sexti Toni


• As well as the mass setting, composers began to write individual

pieces based on text outside of the liturgy, the most common of  these being the


and later the



•  The motet, with its roots in the Roman Catholic Church, is always to

be found in Latin and the anthem, which emerged after the reformation, is in the vernacular; that is, the mother tongue.

• In secular society, the


flourished in the Renaissance

period emerging from Italy in the mid 1500s.

• Initially based on love poetry, madrigals were composed to be

performed by amateurs in domestic or social settings. Madrigals

gained in popularity and versions emerged in England and Germany.

•  The English madrigalas championed by composers such as Thomas

Morley, John Wilbye and Thomas Weelkes flourished in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

The Renaissance period

• Among early forms of the madrigal, the English ballet is instantly

recognisable with its fa-la-la refrain and more homophonic style. " Now is the month of maying“ - a Madrigal by Thomas Morley



Fair Phyllis I saw sitting all alone

Feeding her flock near  to the mountain side. The shepherds knew not,

they knew not whither  she was gone,

But after her lover   Amyntas hied,

Up and down he wandered

whilst she was missing; When he found her, O then they fell a-kissing..

Fair Phyllis

Fair Phyllis I saw

• English madrigal by John Farmer.

•  The song describes a person who saw a

young shepherdess sitting alone feeding her sheep near a mountain. The other

shepherds did not know where she was at the time. Her lover, Amyntas, goes looking for her and wanders through the hills

playing hide and seek. Eventually he finds her, and when he does, they fall down and start kissing.

•  The music is polyphonic and was published

in 1599.

•  The madrigal contains four voices and uses

occasional imitation. It also alternates

between triple and duple beat subdivisions of the beat in different parts of the work.

• Farmer uses clever word painting. For

example, in the opening line "Fair Phyllis I saw sitting all alone", Farmer had only the soprano sing since she was all alone. In the next line "Feeding her flock near to the



The Renaissance period

•  The


of 1534, when the Church in England separated

from the Roman Catholic tradition under the reign of King Henry VIII, had a huge impact on choral music in England, albeit fairly gradually.

• Up until that time, composers were confined to setting Latin texts

for the Roman Catholic Service

•  The reformation and the subsequent publication in 1549 of the

English Book of Common Prayer enabled composers to write in the vernacular – indeed they were under instruction to do so.

• In place of the mass and the motet, the two forms of composition

required by the Anglican Service were the Service and the Anthem.

•  Thomas Tallis and Christopher Tye were two musicians who were

composing throughout this period and evidence of both styles can be seen in their works.



Thomas Tallis

- If Ye Love Me

Spem In Alium Thomas


 Thomas Tallis’s - Spem in alium - (c.1570) – a composition for 40 parts, divided into eight choirs of five parts – is a good example of music with Latin text from this period



The Baroque period

•  The rise of instrumental music in the Baroque period (c.1600–1750)

resulted in the decline of the unaccompanied choral music popular in the Renaissance period. Instead, instruments were combined with choirs to produce new types of choral music.

• Henry Purcell developed the work of the Renaissance composer

Orlando Gibbons in the verse anthem – sacred works alternating solo and tutti sections, (Tutti is an Italian word literally meaning all or together and is used as a musical term, for the whole orchestra as opposed to the soloist. It is applied similarly to choral music, where the whole section or choir is called to sing accompanied by instruments)

When I am laid in earth (Dido's Lament)

•  J.S. Bach took Lutheran hymn tunes,

until then sung in unison, and harmonised them creating the


. He also combined

instruments and voices in large multi-movement works to create the


and the



• Handel too took an interest in this

form and in 1741 composed his

Bach - Mass in B minor


The Classical period

• In the Classical period, the emphasis for vocal music was in the

development of the opera and the solo song, which resulted in relatively fewer choral works emerging during this time.

•  Joseph Haydn developed an interest in the oratorio towards the end

of his life, his most notable work in this genre being The Creation (1796–98), and Mozart and Beethoven each composed settings of  the mass.

Haydn "Creation"

An oratorio is a large musical composition including an orchestra, a choir, and soloists. Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various

distinguishable characters, and arias. However, opera is musical theatre, while oratorio is

strictly a concert piece—though oratorios are sometimes staged as operas, and operas are sometimes presented in concert form. In an oratorio there is generally little or no

interaction between the characters, and no props or elaborate costumes. A particularly important difference is in the typical subject matter of the text. Opera tends to deal with history and mythology, including age-old devices of romance, deception, and murder,



The Classical period

• One of the most important developments in secular choral music

came in 1820 at the hands of Beethoven, whose introduction of a chorus in the last movement of his ninth symphony was to redefine the symphony and once again elevate the voice to supreme status.



The Romantic period

•  The two giants of the symphony later in the 19th century, Mahler

and Bruckner, both regularly used choirs in their symphonies creating works of gargantuan proportions.

• Gustav Mahler was rumoured to amass performers nearing 1,000 in

number in his eighth symphony, ‘The Symphony of A Thousand’, in 1906.

Mahler - Symphony No. 8 - Finale

"Imagine the whole universe beginning to ring and resound. There are no

longer human voices, but planets and stars revolving."

-Mahler on this symphony

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) - Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. He was born in the village of  Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then Austria-Hungary, now Kaliste in



The Romantic period

• Along with the growing popularity of opera in the Romantic period,

the medium of choral writing also appealed to a number of the great composers of the era. Rossini, Bruckner and Schubert found favour through mass settings and Elgar, Berlioz and Mendelssohn via the oratorio.

• One of the great sacred choral works of the 19th century is

undoubtedly Verdi’s Requiem, showing his versatility as a composer outside of the realm of opera for which he was best known.



La Donna È Mobile (Rigoletto)

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813 – 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most

influential composers of the 19th century. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the

boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture. Verdi’s masterworks dominate the standard opera repertoire a century and a half after their composition.

Libiamo Ne' Lieti Calici (La




The Romantic period

• With the development of secular choral music in the 19th century

and the increasing number of large-scale sacred works being

performed in concert halls, the role of the

choral society

– groups of amateur musicians performing as a chorus, became increasingly important. The singing of choral music was becoming a social

activity for the amateur as well as for the professional and the

increasing availability of printed music ensured that the great works could be accessed by the masses.


The 20th Century

• So diverse were the musical trends in the 20th century that it was

no surprise that this period saw a resurgence of choral genres that had declined in popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries.

• Composers such as Arthur Honegger and William Walton composed

successfully in the medium of the oratorio

• Benjamin Britten and Herbert Howells in their anthem and canticle

settings (including one by Howells for Gloucester Cathedral).

•  Towards the end of the last century a notable number of composers

turned to sacred

a cappella choral music

reminiscent of  Renaissance polyphony.

• Eric Whitacre and John Tavener are two names that immediately

spring to mind

•  This return to the simplicity of the unaccompanied choir takes the

story of the development of choral music back to its roots and celebrates the voice as an instrument in its own right.




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