By John C. Hughes
Baroque music can be some of the most joyous, rhythmic, and fun music to sing. However, many choir directors are afraid to program it because it falls outside of our contemporary idiom. As we encourage our students to be life-long choristers, it is important that we expose them to the entire body of choral literature. In this forum, I discuss several pieces from almost every difficulty level and voicing. Remember, you don’t have to start your choir with Bach’s Mass in B Minor! While certainly not an exhaustive list, I hope these suggestions prove to be helpful.
Bist Du Bei Mir
Johann Sebastian Bach (ed. and trans. by Doreen Rao)
Boosey & Hawkes
Arguably one of the most beautiful melodies ever written, all choirs will love singing this piece. It is completely unison throughout, so it can be successfully performed by small or developing choirs, but more advanced choirs can expand their listening skills through this piece, too. Bach’s harmonic language allows for an opportunity to explore moveable do. Doreen Rao includes a singable English translation, or try the German text.
Score preview: www.jwpepper.com/5351242.item.
Come, Ye Sons of Art
Henry Purcell (ed. and arr. by Emily Crocker)
This is a wonderful concert opener: “Come, Ye Sons of Art, Tune all your voices and instruments play, to celebrate this triumphant day!” Emily Crocker has done a great job reducing this piece to two voices. Emphasize the initial consonants, especially on the word “Come” to produce crisp articulation. With a fair amount of repeated material and memorable melodies, choirs will learn this quickly and enjoy the process, too.
Score preview: www.jwpepper.com/3212560.item.
Wir Eilen Mit Schwachen, Doch Emsigen Schritten, (Cantata No.78)
Johann Sebastian Bach (ed. by Arthur S. Talmadge)
This is a more difficult two-part women’s piece, which would serve as a wonderful introduction to melismas. The imitative writing would also reinforce the importance of being an independent singer. In da capo form, this piece may have been originally sung as a duet. For groups that have two particularly strong singers, consider using them as soloists the first time through and adding the full chorus on the repeat.
Heinrich Schütz (ed. by Nancy Grundahl)
Nancy Grundahl has produced a very good edition of this piece. She has made some very helpful performance suggestions while retaining a very “clean” score. This piece demonstrates the rhythmic vitality of Baroque music and even has a brief shift to triple meter. This piece will challenge choirs to be rhythmically independent and secure in their parts (it is unaccompanied); however, the choir will be richly rewarded for their labor.
Suscepit Israel (Magnificat in D)
Johann Sebastian Bach
While all the other pieces suggested so far have been moderately arranged and edited, this piece is very close to what Bach wrote. The vocal ranges are intended for developed singers. For example, the alto part delves down to a low F#. Choirs will enjoy the serene and tranquil mood of this piece. The piano accompaniment is very straightforward and would be a good opportunity to feature a student accompanist.
Like many of his contemporaries, Telemann composed canons; “Praise Ye the Lord” is the seventh of his 12 canons. This piece can be performed by any combination of voices. The ensemble sings the first verse in unison, then divides into three parts for the duration of the second verse. While not simple, this piece can help develop autonomy and confidence in your choirs.
Juan Pérez Bocanegra (arr. by Christopher Moroney)
World Library Publications
This piece was published in Lima, Peru in 1631, making it the one of the first known pieces of polyphonic music printed in the Western world. The text is in an Incan language, Quechua, for which Moroney has included a phonetic transliteration. Moroney also included parts for an optional three-part Peruvian percussion ensemble (Wankara or Bombo, Chaqchas, and Gourd), but the piece can be successfully performed unaccompanied, as well. The piece is easily learned because it is two strophic verses of homophonic material. Consider using this as a processional.
“Ehre Sei Dir, Christe” is the concluding chorus of Schütz’s “St. Matthew’s Passion.” It is unaccompanied and strictly four parts. The mostly homophonic texture will develop choirs’ sense of ensemble, while the brief polyphonic sections will serve as a nice contrast. The text is in German throughout; however, at the end, Schütz shifts to Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. This would be a good selection for choirs relatively new to SATB literature.
Score preview and audio recording: www.jwpepper.com/10087654.item.
Soul of the World
Henry Purcell (ed. by Holland Jancaitis)
From his 1692 Cecilian ode, Purcell’s “Soul of the World” is fresh and vibrant. With light articulations and leggero melismas, choirs will enjoy singing this piece. Consider rehearsing this piece under tempo and working up to a brisker performance tempo. Its somewhat usual text speaks of music’s ability to join the “scattered atoms” and “various parts” in “perfect harmony.”
Swell the Full Chorus (Solomon)
Georg Frederick Handel
Another great opening piece, “Swell the Full Chorus” is exuberant. Choirs will need to work to align their articulation of the homophonic beginning. The B section starts serenely; however, it quickly shifts mood when the text changes to “rouse the whole nation in songs to His Fame.” After this, the choir returns to the A section in typical Baroque fashion. Advanced high school choirs will enjoy this piece.
SATB With ORCHESTRA
Looking to pull out all the stops for a concert? Add strings! Here are two suggestions for accessible pieces for both choir and orchestra.
Laudate Jehovan omnes gentes
Georg Philip Telemann (Realization of the figured bass by Fritz Oberdoerffer)
Calling for two violin parts, cello, and organ, “Laudate Jehovan omnes gentes” is a festive piece. It begins with a fast, joyous section, then moves to a slow, ponderous triple meter. The piece concludes with a grand “Alleluia” section. Not terribly long (about four minutes), this would be a good introduction to singing with orchestral instruments. Advanced high school players will be able to play the string parts, which are available separately through the publisher.
Every choral singer should have the chance to sing this piece at some point in his or her life. From the glorious opening movement, to the fugue at the end, and everything in between, this piece is magnificent. Choose to perform a few movements or program the entire piece. It requires two soprano soloists and an alto soloist. The orchestration is fairly straightforward–trumpet, oboe, violin I, violin II, viola, cello/bass, and organ. If your school has an orchestra program, this would be a wonderful opportunity to collaborate. Advanced high school orchestras can play the string parts. However, the trumpet part is very high (in C) and the oboe part is quite exposed; if possible, consider asking colleagues or hiring professionals to play these parts.
Plorate filii Israel (Jephte)
Giacomo Carissimi (ed. by Giora Contino)
The final chorus from Carissimi’s oratorio is absolutely stunning. Based on Judges 11:19-38, “Plorate filii Israel” is a lament for Jephte’s daughter. The descending ground bass is typical of Baroque laments. The choral parts are full of emotion produced by gorgeous suspensions. Experiment with a variety of instrumentations for the continuo part. Advanced choirs will absolutely love this piece!