In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
So much of what many of us would think of as choral music is traditional, centuries-old works, things our parent and grandparents grew up with, but that’s really not the be-all and end-all of choral works. There are many talented, genius composers of the last century and a bit, who have created some beautiful, stellar works that are being sung by choirs around the world today. Why not check out some of these brilliant men and women’s work? If you’ve never tried modern choral work, you’re in for a lovely surprise. Why not treat yourself to that surprise today?
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Peter Schickele (b. 1935) is a composer and pianist, perhaps best known for his satirical alter-ego P.D.Q. Bach. In the early seasons of Sesame Street, Schickele scored several live action films produced by Mark Sadan and Kirk Smallwood, including three riddle films and "Where the Garbage Goes."
A classically trained musician, Schickele attended Juilliard with Philip Glass. As P.D.Q. Bach, an obscure and questionably talented son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Schickele has created a complex history of continually unearthed "lost" recordings and compositions. Notable works include "Grand Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion," "Classical Rap, S. 96th St," "Toot Suite," "Canine Cantata," and the operas The Stoned Guest and Oedipus Tex. He introduces his P.D.Q. Bach concerts as "Professor" Peter Schickele of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople.
Under his own name and identity, Schickele co-wrote music and lyrics for the musical Oh! Calcutta! (with Robert Dennis), has arranged songs for Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and scored the sci-fi film Silent Running and John Korty's films The Crazy-Quilt and Funnyman. Animation projects include scoring and narrating a video adaptation of Maurice Sendak's work and serving as musical arranger for the "Pomp and Circumstance" segment of Disney's Fantasia 2000.
Born in Zwickau, Germany in 1810, Robert Schumann started his musical education on the piano. The son of a bookseller, he began to experiment with composition at an early age, and also cultivated a passion for poetry and literature. Although richly talented, he was never considered a prodigy, especially by the standards of the time. At sixteen, after the tragic deaths of his sister and father, he entered the University of Leipzig to study the law; but this didn't last long, and soon he had left the school to pursue music with all his energies.
At the age of twenty, Schumann was studying the piano with Friedrich Wieck in Leipzig; he also boarded with the Wieck family. Although a hand injury prevented him from pursuing a career as a keyboard virtuoso, he found a niche writing music criticism - and composing, an activity, which was starting to focus his considerable talents. In the early 1830s, he published several piano pieces to critical acclaim. In 1834, he founded the New Journal for Music and served as its editor for the next nine years; the publication attacked what Schumann felt were the shallow and inconsequential musical practices of the day. On the positive side, he recognized the brilliance of Chopin and Brahms.
Considered the most distinguished Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was comfortably brought up in a musical environment by his mother and grandmother. He was born on December 8, 1865, in Hameenlinna, Finland, a son of an army doctor.
Sibelius showed a great ability in music early on, both as a violinist and composer. He had hopes of becoming a virtuoso violinist. He studied in Helsinki from 1886. Three years later, he went to Berlin to continue his composition studies, then after a year, to Vienna. He acquired a thorough knowledge of Viennese classics through playing in his family's string trio.
In 1892 he married Aino Jarnefelt and had five children.
Philip has been composing choral music since 1996, mainly for the choirs he was directing. At Oxford, the Keble Missa Brevis was composed for the College Choir and premiered at the service of Corporate Communion in the Chapel followed by formal dinner with visitors from the Keble Parishes. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree and the Keble Canticles (first performed in York Minster) were also written for the College Choir, and the Hymn to the Creator for the final service of Chaplain John Davies.
At Chester Cathedral, Philip composed God be in my head (2000) and A child is born in Bethlehem for the Cathedral Nave Choir. If ye love me and The King of love my shepherd is were composed for the main Cathedral Choir. During this time, Philip also composed the Te Deum (for choir and orchestra) for the Leighton Buzzard Festival Singers 50th Anniversary Concert. The wedding anthem Come down O love divine was written for Hazel and Geoff, associated with Chester Cathedral.
(born June 11, 1864, Munich, Ger. - died Sept. 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen) German composer and conductor. Son of a horn player, he began composing at age six. Before he was 20, he had already had major premieres of two symphonies and a violin concerto. In 1885 the conductor of the Meiningen Orchestra, Hans von Bulow, made Strauss his successor. Strongly influenced by the work of Richard Wagner, he began to write programmatic orchestral tone poems, including Don Juan (1889), Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1894 - 95), and Also sprach Zarathustra (1896). After 1900 he focused on operas; his third such work, Salome (1903 - 05), was a succes de scandale. Elektra (1906 - 08) marked the beginning of a productive collaboration with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, with whom Strauss wrote his greatest operas, including Der Rosenkavalier (1909 - 10). He remained in Austria through World War II and held a music post in the German government, but he was later cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the Nazi regime. After many years writing lesser works, he produced several remarkable late pieces, including Metamorphosen (1945) and the Four Last Songs (1948).
Z. Randall Stroope is one of the most active choral conductors and composers working today, with recent conducting engagements at the American School in Singapore, Canterbury Cathedral (England), Salzburger Dom (Austria), Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, D.C.), Vancouver Symphony (British Columbia), and three performances at the Vatican in the past two years. He also is Artistic Director for summer international choral festivals in Berlin, Germany and Rome, Italy. Stroope has toured 15 countries with ensembles under his direction, as well, including China and South Africa. In the United States, Dr. Stroope has conducted 35 all-state choirs (Kentucky, New Hampshire and Delaware in 2011), and does many clinics a year for professional choirs, universities, and state music organizations across the country.
Giles Swayne was born in Hertfordshire in June 1946. After an early childhood in Singapore and Australia, photohe grew up in Liverpool and Yorkshire. He began composing at the age of ten, and in his teens was encouraged by his cousin, the composer Elizabeth Maconchy. He studied the piano with Gordon Green, Phyllis Hepburn, James Gibb and Vlado Perlemuter. On leaving Cambridge in 1968 he won a composition scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London, where he studied with Harrison Birtwistle, Alan Bush and Nicholas Maw.
His interest in Africa and African music has influenced his work both directly and indirectly. Between 1990 and 1996 he lived in the eastern region of Ghana, where he built a beautiful house in the Akuapem Hills. He now lives in London with his wife, violinist Malu Lin, teaches composition at Cambridge University, and is Composer-in-residence at Clare College, Cambridge.
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (Swelinck, Zwelinck, Sweeling, Sweelingh, Sweling, Swelingh) was a Dutch composer, organist, and pedagogue whose work straddled the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque eras.
Many of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's family were musicians - principally organists. He was the elder son of Peter Swybbertszdon and Elske Sweeling, he adopted his mother's family name. The assertion that he studied in Venice with Zarlino, the famous composer and theorist, is not supported by surviving evidence. His only known teachers besides his father were Jacob Buyck, pastor at the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam, and Jan Willemszoon Lossy, a counter-tenor and shawm player at Haarlem, who taught him not organ but composition. By 1580, and possibly as early as 1577, he was organist at the Oude Kerk; his duties there were probably to provide an hour of music twice daily in the church. He became famous for his brilliant improvisations at the organ and harpsichord. From this time onward he left Amsterdam only to inspect new organs and advise on repairs and restorations.
Little is known about Tallis's early life, but there seems to be agreement that he was born in the early 16th century, toward the close of the reign of Henry VII. His first known appointment to a musical position was as organist of Dover Priory in 1530-31, a Benedictine priory at Dover (now Dover College) in 1532. His career took him to London, then (probably in the autumn of 1538) to the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham until the abbey was dissolved in 1540.
composed and performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI (1547-1553), Queen Mary (1553-1558), and Queen Elizabeth I (1558 until Tallis died in 1585). Throughout his service to successive monarchs as organist and composer, Tallis avoided the religious controversies that raged around him, though, like William Byrd, he stayed an "unreformed Roman Catholic." Tallis was capable of switching the style of his compositions to suit the different monarchs' vastly different demands. Among other important composers of the time, including Christopher Tye and Robert White, Tallis stood out. Walker observes, "He had more versatility of style than either, and his general handling of his material was more consistently easy and certain."
Tavener was born on 28 January 1944 in Wembley, London, England, and claims to be a direct descendant of the 16th century composer John Taverner.He was educated at Highgate School (where a fellow pupil was John Rutter) and at the Royal Academy of Music, where his tutors included Sir Lennox Berkeley. He first came to prominence in 1968 with his dramatic cantata The Whale, based on the Old Testament story of Jonah. It was premiered at the London Sinfonietta's debut concert and later recorded by Apple Records. The following year he began teaching at Trinity College of Music, London. Other works released by Apple included his Celtic Requiem. In 1977, he joined the Russian Orthodox Church. Orthodox theology and Orthodox liturgical traditions became a major influence on his work. He was particularly drawn to its mysticism, studying and setting to music the writings of Church Fathers such as St John Chrysostom.
Ira Randall Thompson was born in New York City, April 21, 1899, and died in Boston, July 9, 1984. The son of an English teacher, Randall never strayed far from the academic environment. His early musical pursuits began at an old reed organ on the family summer farm in Vienna, Maine. His first attempts at composition began around 1915 with a piano sonata and a Christmas partsong. In 1916 he entered Harvard University he auditioned for the chorus but was turned down by its conductor, Archibald T. Davison, who eventually became his mentor. Thompson later mused, "My life has been an attempt to strike back."
His early works, including several songs, varied considerably in style. But in 1922 he began studies at the American Academy in Rome where, inspired by the master composers of the Renaissance, he developed the musical style which led him to the forefront of American choral composers. During his career he intermingled both teaching and composing, having been director of the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music as well as a professor at his alma mater, Harvard University. Though he composed symphonies, songs, operas and instrumental works, he is best known for his choral compositions.
(Born; London, 2 Jan 1905)died 1998. English composer. He studied with C. Wood and Kitson at the RCM (1923-8), then settled in Oxted, Surrey, where he taught, conducted a choir and began to compose. However, dissatisfaction with his technique led him to take further lessons with Morris (1930-32), and he published nothing until he was into his mid-30s. By then he was conducting at Morley College, of which he became music director in 1940; there he performed his oratorio A Child of our Time (1941), which uses a story of Nazi atrocity but draws no simple moral from it, concluding rather that we must recognize within ourselves both good and evil. Earlier works, like the String Quartet no.1 and the Concerto for double string orchestra, had married Stravinskian neo-classicism with a bounding rhythm that came from the English madrigal, but the oratorio added to these a Baroque concept of form and black spirituals to replace the chorales of a Protestant Passion. It also made clear Tippett's willingness to exert himself in the public world, which he did again as a conscientious objector in 1943 in accepting imprisonment rather than conscription.
Tomkins composed over one hundred anthems contained in "Musica Deo sacra," numerous madrigals of which "When David heard" is considered to be one of the most powerful settings for this text, fifty keyboard pieces and some unique galliards, pavans and fantasias for the viol family ensemble. Byrd was probably one of Tomkins teachers. He served as an organist for Worcester Cathedral and was a Gentleman in Ordinary of the Chapel Royal by 1620. More than likely he was present at the coronation of James I but he definitely composed music for the coronation of Charles I. He was an admired successor to Byrd though his contemporary compositions were often criticized for being anachronistic.
Tormis had a profound experience with choral music starting at an early age. His father was a choral director, organist, and music teacher. His delight in the contrasting timbres provided by the organ stops may also be connected to his later orchestration of choral textures, a hallmark of his mature style.
Tormis began his formal musical education in 1943 at the Tallinn Music School, but was interrupted by World War II and illness. In 1949, he entered the Tallinn Conservatory and continued his studies at the Moscow Conservatory (1951-1956). He quickly acquired teaching positions at the Tallinn Music School (1955-60) and the Tallinn Music High School (1962-66), but by 1969 was supporting himself exclusively as a freelance composer.
Peteris Vasks was born on 16 April 1946 in Aizpute in Latvia as the son of a Baptist pastor who was well-known in Latvia. Vasks began his musical education at the local music school in Aizpute. He subsequently produced his first compositions and also studied the double bass at the Emils Darzins Music School in Riga (1959-64). Vasks continued his double bass studies with Vytautas Sereika at the Lithuanian Conservatory in Vilnius up to 1970 before his one year of military service in the Soviet Army. Vasks orchestral career had already began as early as 1961 as a member of various symphony and chamber orchestras, including the Latvian Philharmonic Orchestra (1966 to 1969), Lithuanian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (1969 to 1970) and the Latvian Radio and Television Orchestra (1971 to 1974).
Philippe Verdelot (1480 to 1485 - c.1530 to 1532?) was a French composer of the Renaissance, who spent most of his life in Italy. He is commonly considered to be the father of the Italian madrigal, and certainly was one of its earliest and most prolific composers; in addition he was prominent in the musical life of Florence during the period after the recapture of the city by the Medici from the followers of Girolamo Savonarola.
Verdelot was born Les Loges, Seine-et-Marne, France. Details of his early life are obscure. He probably came to Italy at an early age, spending the first decade or two of the 16th century at some cities in northern Italy, most likely including Venice. A painting of 1511, described by Vasari but never positively identified, is believed by many musicologists to show Verdelot in Venice with an Italian singer.
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (October 1813 - 27 January 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture - such as "La donna e mobile" from Rigoletto, "Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata and the "Grand March" from Aida. His work has sometimes been criticized for using a generally diatonic rather than a chromatic musical idiom and for being essentially melodrama during his early years.
Verdi's masterworks dominate the standard repertoire a century and a half after their composition.
The dominating figure of sixteenth century Spanish music, Tomas Luis de Victoria was born in Avila. He was sent to Rome to study, possibly for a time under Palestrina during the latter's years at the Roman Seminary. In 1571 he succeeded Palestrina there as choirmaster, a post he also subsequently occupied at the Jesuit Order's German College. Later he became active as a priest, working at St. Girolamo della Carita. Following his return to Spain in 1585, Victoria served the Empress Maria and her daughter as teacher, organist, and choirmaster until his death in 1611.
Weelkes was baptised in the little village church of Elsted in Sussex on 25 October 1576. It has been suggested that his father was John Weeke, rector of Elsted, although there is no documentary evidence of the relationship. In 1597 his first volume of madrigals was published, the preface noting that he was a very young man when they were written; this helps to fix the date of his birth to somewhere in the middle of the 1570s. Early in his life he was in service at the house of the courtier Edward Darcye. At the end of 1598, at the probable age of 22, Weelkes was appointed organist at Winchester College, where he remained for two or three years, receiving the salary of 13s 4d per quarter. His remuneration included board and lodging.
During his Winchester period, Weelkes composed a further two volumes of madrigals (1598, 1600). He obtained his B. Mus. Degree from New College, Oxford in 1602, and moved to Chichester to take up the position of organist and informator choristarum (instructor of the choristers) at the Cathedral at some time between October 1601 and October 1602. He was also given a lay clerkship at the Cathedral, being paid 15 2s 4d annually alongside his board, lodging and other amenities. The following year he married Elizabeth Sandham, from a wealthy local family. They had three children and it was rumored that Elizabeth was already pregnant at the time of the marriage.
An accomplished composer, conductor and lecturer, Eric Whitacre has quickly become one of the most popular and performed composers of his generation. To date, Whitacre's published works have received thousands of performances and have sold in excess of one million copies worldwide. Over the past few years, his loyal fans and supporters have moved online, spreading Eric's popularity to an ever-expanding worldwide audience.
Though he had received no formal training before the age of 18, his first experiences singing in college choir changed his life, and he completed his first concert work, Go, Lovely, Rose, at the age of 21. Eric went on to the Juilliard School, earning his Master of Music degree and studying with Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning composer John Corigliano.
Composer, Conductor. He is considered the most important and influential British musician of his generation. Vaughan Williams' music displays a distinctly English character derived from his country's folk and Renaissance tradition, which he absorbed into a very personal style. His nine symphonies constitute one of the outstanding achievements of the 20th Century repertory. Ralph (pronounced "Rafe") Vaughan Williams was born at Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, the son of a clergyman. On his mother's side of the family he was related to Charles Darwin. He studied at the Royal College of Music and at Cambridge, followed by private instruction with Max Bruch in Berlin (1897). Despite his talent and training he was slow to develop as a artist because he had little sympathy for the Wagner-dominated musical scene of the time. While at the RCM in 1895 he formed a lifelong friendship with fellow student Gustav Holst, and the two tackled the problem of creating a new home-grown musical idiom. Vaughan Williams hit upon a solution through his discovery of old English folk and church music. From 1903 he gathered and published over 800 country tunes while also serving as editor of "The English Hymnal" (1904 to 1906), a collection of sacred vocal works from the 16th Century to the early 1900s. He contributed several original pieces to this set, in which he experimented with Elizabethan modal harmony within a modern framework.
Chen was born and raised in Guangzhou, China into a talented family. Her parents were doctors and musicians; her mother played the piano, and her father was a violinist. Her older sister was a child prodigy, and both she and their younger brother continue to work as professional musicians in China.
Chen began studying piano at the age of three, heavily influenced by the music of Western composers such as Bach and Mozart. However, once the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Western attitudes were severely shunned and arts were opposed. For ten years, education came to a halt and people were relocated to work in large communes in countryside. Chen's father and older sister were sent away, but she managed to stay in her hometown a while longer and continued to practice music, although she was forced to stuff a blanket inside her piano in order to dampen the sound and play her violin with a mute. When she was 15 years old, the family house was searched, all possessions were taken, and the rest of her family was dispersed to different locations to perform compulsory labor in the countryside.