Orlande de Lassus’ “Prophetiae Sibyllarum”: Ancient Mystic Voices

In mystical writings, the Ancient Greek Sibyls foresaw the coming of Christ. These oracles are included among the prophets Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Their poetic verses inspired the Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus to write Prophetiae Sibyllarum some time around 1555. The work is a collection of twelve brief motets which follow an opening prologue. This is music filled with chromaticism and harmonic adventure, anticipating the audacious madrigals of …

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Maurice Duruflé’s “Four Motets on Gregorian Themes”: An Excerpt from the Houston Chamber Choir’s New Recording

Here is another brief excerpt from a Grammy nominated recording we sampled last month. It comes from the album, Duruflé: Complete Choral Works, released last April. The Houston Chamber Choir is led by its artistic director and founder Robert Simpson. The serene, timeless sounds of Gregorian chant emerge throughout the music of the twentieth century French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). In Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens (“Four motets on Gregorian themes”), written in 1960, echoes …

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Bach’s Jubilant Christmas Cantata, “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens,” BWV 110

Let’s travel back in time to Christmas Day, 1725. Entering St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, we would experience the first performance of J.S. Bach’s cantata, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (“May our mouth be full of laughter”). We would witness Bach, three years into his tenure as the Lutheran church’s music director, leading the newly written work. By the end of his life, Bach produced five annual cycles of these dramatic religious …

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Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem: Two Celestial Excerpts from the Houston Chamber Choir’s New Recording

Among the 2020 Grammy Nominees, released earlier this week, is a spectacular new album featuring music of the twentieth century French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). The Houston Chamber Choir, led by its artistic director and founder Robert Simpson, released Duruflé: Complete Choral Works in April on the Signum Records label. The professional chamber ensemble is joined on the recording by Canadian organist Ken Cowan. Maurice Duruflé completed the Requiem pour soli, choeurs et …

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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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