This is the second part in a limited series of columns regarding repertoire that is considered “standard.” I have chosen to focus on these works rather than newer releases because so many new teachers seem not to have been introduced to these works prior to assuming a choral education position. Most of us are left to learn the core repertoire “on the job.” This issue, I tackle music of the Baroque period. These are essentials of the choral canon, but the list is by no means complete. Space does not allow for every masterwork, but this will serve as an introduction for the novice and reminder to the veteran.
– Drew Collins, forum editor
A favorite among junior high and high school madrigal groups is Purcell’s In These Delightful, Pleasant Groves. Any size group may perform it, from one-on-a-part to a large non-auditioned curricular ensemble. Also worthy of consideration is his Come, Ye Sons of Art, which may be used in the same way.
Claudio Monteverdi’s Fifth Book of Madrigals is considered a milestone in the transition from Renaissance musical ideals to those of the Baroque. Cruda Amarilli (SATTB) is the outstanding work from this collection. It is extremely expressive, and good for ensembles of any size. The solo piece Lasciatemi morire (from L’Arianna) was also set by Monteverdi for performance by chorus (included in his Sixth Book of Madrigals). The voicing is SSATB, which may help choruses with an over abundance of sopranos.
Jean-Baptiste Lully is credited with creating a French style of opera. The selection L’Hiver for male chorus (TTB) comes from one of the first French operas, Isis. In this wintry scene, the music depicts characters shivering and chattering their teeth with pulsed, repeating notes. In the Kjos edition, both the French and English texts are available to the performer.
Pergolesi was extremely famous in his lifetime, and after. He had many imitators, and even some publishers who sold music under his name. Several works once thought to have been written by Pergolesi, have, in recent years, been proven to be by the composer Durante. Such it is with the famous Magnificat. Any choral movement in this piece is charming and worthy of excerpt. The first movement of this work is perhaps particularly appealing. The famous octavo Glory to God in the Highest is also likely not by Pergolesi, but is worth performing nonetheless. Note, however, that several talented soloists are required to do the piece justice.
In terms of quality and historical significance, there is no chorus from Messiah that should be overlooked. There are some that stand out as audience favorites, such as Glory to God, and the Glory of the Lord, Hallelujah, and others. But not every chorus is appropriate for every choir. The determining factors when choosing one of these choruses for performance must be range and tessitura.
There are many chorales harmonized by Bach that are standard, such as Break Forth, O Beautious, Heavenly Light (from Christmas Oratorio) or O Sacred Head Now Wounded (from St. Matthew Passion). Learning one each year for performance can be a great exercise for mixed choirs, both in terms of getting Bach’s harmonic approach in the ear and voice, and the subtle expressive connection between music and text. Alternately, sight-reading one per rehearsal (there are a handful of very fine collections, and many are available for free download from CPDL) can boost your choir’s musicianship.
There are too many to list individually. There are many choruses from larger works that are commonly excerpted. And there is a huge variety of voicing and difficulty. For mixed chorus, the most recognizable for audiences is also one of the easiest: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. It is highly accessible because it is homophonic, and it is available both in the original German and in several English translations. If your choir is ready to delve into the world of singing Baroque fugues, a perfect first choice is Sicut Locutus Est from Magnificat. Singers love to sing it, and it is delightful for audiences as well. It has the added benefit of being SSATB, which allows choruses with more trebles than men to divide the upper parts and achieve a more balanced sound.
As with Bach, a large percentage of Handel’s compositional output was choral music. Messiah reigns as his crowning achievement, but there are other oratorios in his oeuvre. Hallelujah, Amen (from Judas Maccabeus) is a favorite among high school choirs, and routinely makes it on festival lists. Other famous Handel choral music includes the four Coronation Anthems for the coronation of King George II, all of which are considered standard works for chorus. But the voicings and difficulty levels do vary, so the conductor would be wise to investigate diligently. Of particular interest may be Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened.
One of the finest composers of the Early Baroque was Heinrich Schütz. He is often overshadowed by Monteverdi, Bach, and Handel, but he wrote a lot of terrific choral music, including several works that could unquestionably be called “standard repertoire.” For example, the jaunty Cantate Domino, the expressive Die mit tränen saen, and the rich Selig Sind die Toten.
If you have developed your chorus to a point where you think they may be ready to tackle a multi-movement work, you may want to ease them into it with a short, sectional motet such as Georg Philipp Telemann’s Laudate Jehovam omnes gentes.
FOR TREBLE CHORUS
Francesca Caccini, best known for her opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero#149;, which explores the theme of women and power, wrote Aure volanti for SSA and three flutes. It is enchanting, and not very difficult. It is one of the earliest works by a female composer to have entered the choral repertory.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is beautiful and poignant. Originally scored for two singers, there are several movements often excerpted and performed by treble choruses. The first movement is perhaps the most common choice. Pergolesi was an accomplished opera composer, among other forms, and this work contains his sense of drama. Because it was originally performed as a duet, you can teach it to your whole chorus, and then have a duet perform it later in the year at contest.
More by Bach
The two treble works by Bach that seem to get performed most the most frequency are Suscepit Israel (SSA) from Magnificat, and Wir eilen mit schwachen (SA), which is a favorite of children’s choirs but is certainly appropriate for older groups as well. Both have their challenges, so, as always, you will want to look at the score with your own group in mind.
Because Vivaldi scored his most famous choral work for SATB, it is easy to forget that it was written for a performance at the all-female orphanage where we worked most of his career. Recent recordings have become available that attempt to recreate Vivaldi’s original intent. An SSAA score with all of the choruses is available from Boosey Hawkes. Every single movement is charming, but the most commonly excerpted