Joyful Sounds of Praise: Five Musical Settings of Psalm 150

Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His abundant greatness. Praise Him with the blast of the horn; praise Him with the psaltery and harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and the pipe. Praise Him with the loud-sounding cymbals; praise Him with the clanging cymbals. Let every thing that …

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Melodic Siblings: Mozart’s “Dove Sono” and the “Coronation Mass”

It’s one of Mozart’s most serenely beautiful melodies, evoking quiet dignity, nostalgia, and underlying sadness. “Dove sono i bei momenti” is sung by the Countess in Act III of Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). Amid all of the craziness, scheming, and entanglements of this whirlwind “day of madness,” she pauses to lament her circumstances—loneliness, betrayal, and humiliation as a result of her husband’s serial infidelity. In the shifting stream of consciousness …

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Rachmaninov’s “Cherubic Hymn,” from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Last week, we listened to Tchaikovsky’s meditative a cappella choral work, Hymn of the Cherubim, an excerpt from the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the central eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Completed in 1878, this work has the distinction of being the first “unified musical cycle” of settings from the Liturgy, most of which is attributed to Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 5th century. Today, let’s listen to another later …

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Tchaikovsky’s “Hymn of the Cherubim”: A Celestial Meditation

Hymn of the Cherubim is an excerpt from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 41, a sacred, a cappella choral work Tchaikovsky completed in 1878. It was the first “unified musical cycle” of settings of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the central eucharistic services of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The core of the text is attributed to Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 5th century. “A vast and untrodden field of …

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“Ode to Death”: Holst’s Haunting Walt Whitman Setting

English composer Gustav Holst completed Ode to Death, Op. 38 in 1919 as a memorial to friends lost in the First World War. The haunting and transcendent work for chorus and orchestra is a setting of the final lines of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, Walt Whitman’s 1865 elegy to President Abraham Lincoln. Holst drew inspiration from Whitman “as a New World prophet of tolerance and internationalism as well as a new breed …

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Léonin, Pérotin, and the Birth of Polyphony at Notre Dame

Why did the devastating fire at Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral capture such intense worldwide attention this week? One reason is because of the way Notre Dame connects us to the past by way of nearly a thousand years of history. The stones of this iconic structure, which Victor Hugo described in 1831 as “a vast symphony in stone,” have presided over great plagues, the turmoil of the French Revolution, Napoléon Bonaparte’s self-coronation, and the …

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Michael Praetorius: Four Renaissance Dances, Magnificat

It is believed that the German Renaissance composer, Michael Praetorius, was born on this day in 1571. In a strange coincidence, he died on the same date fifty years later in 1621. Active as an organist and music theorist, Praetorius was amazingly versatile. He published the four-volume Syntagma musicum, an influential treatise on music history and theory which remains a principal source for knowledge of 17th century music. Among his Lutheran chorale settings is …

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