Merry Christmas

I want to wish all readers of The Listeners’ Club a Merry Christmas and, for those who celebrate other traditions, a happy, restful holiday. As 2017 draws to a close, thank you for your loyalty to this blog over the past year. As part of your soundtrack for the day, enjoy contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s serene setting of Gustav Holst’s In the Bleak Midwinter: Recordings

Francis Poulenc: Four Motets for Christmas

Francis Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël, completed in 1952, are inspired by four scenes from the Nativity story. The first, O magnum mysterium, captures the awe and mystery of the birth of Jesus, and praises the Virgin Mary with a hushed reverence. The second, Quem vidistis, asks the shepherds, “Whom did you see?” The third, Videntes stellam, transports us to the serene, starlit night through which the Magi travel, bearing their gifts. The final motet, Hodie Chistus natus est, is a …

Read moreFrancis Poulenc: Four Motets for Christmas

Christmas Liszt

When considering sacred Christmas music, Franz Liszt probably isn’t the first composer to come to mind. But Liszt, in fact, wrote a strange outlier of a Christmas Oratorio. It forms the first part of the sprawling Christus, composed between 1862 and 1866, which follows the example of Handel’s Messiah, dramatizing the life of Jesus Christ from birth, to passion, to resurrection. Liszt’s Christmas Oratorio unfolds over a long, Wagnerian arc. Its five movements feel as much like a …

Read moreChristmas Liszt

The Bach Motet that Inspired Mozart

On Friday, we considered the musical influence of J.S. Bach on Mozart. Born in 1756, six years after Bach’s death, Mozart became fascinated with Bach’s counterpoint around the time he moved from Salzburg to Vienna. In 1789, he traveled to Leipzig and performed on the organ Bach had played at St. Thomas Church (pictured above). Bach was music director of the church from 1723 until his death in 1750. According to an eyewitness, the German …

Read moreThe Bach Motet that Inspired Mozart

Mozart’s Mass in C Minor: An Unfinished Monument

Some interesting questions surround the creation of Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C minor. First, it was written in Vienna between 1782 and 1783 at a time when Mozart was in demand for operas, not sacred music. He had resigned his post in Salzburg in August, 1777, escaping the provincialism of an Archbishop with a penchant for unsophisticated church music as well as his overbearing father, Leopold. Then, there’s the question of why Mozart left …

Read moreMozart’s Mass in C Minor: An Unfinished Monument

“Nänie”: Brahms’ Choral Lamentation

Death is an inevitable part of life. This is the theme of Johannes Brahms’ 1881 lamentation for chorus and orchestra, Nänie, Op. 82. The work was composed in memory of the painter, Anselm Feuerbach, a close friend of Brahms. It’s a setting of a poem by Friedrich Schiller which opens with the line, “Even the beautiful must perish!” “Nänie” is the German form of the Latin “nenia” which translates as, “a funeral song.” An opening statement in the …

Read more“Nänie”: Brahms’ Choral Lamentation

The Power of Six Notes: Exploring the “Dresden Amen”

On Friday, we listened to a few excerpts from Wagner’s epic final opera, Parsifal. Today, let’s return to one of Parsifal‘s most powerful and persistently recurring leitmotifs: the majestic, ascending six-note motive known as the “Dresden Amen.” This liturgical chord sequence was written by Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741-1801) for use in Dresden’s court chapel some time in the late 18th century. It spread quickly to both Catholic and Lutheran churches throughout the German state of Saxony …

Read moreThe Power of Six Notes: Exploring the “Dresden Amen”

Send this to a friend