Rejoice and Resound!

Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Rejoice in the Lamb is one of Britten’s most popular and delightful choral compositions. It abounds in light-hearted detail, unusual rhythms, short but beautiful lyrical excerpts and some of the most original choral music written. The music is exquisite in its portrayal of the text. The fourth and fifth section dealing with the cat and mouse are moments of sheer musical delight. The text is extracted from Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart, an 18th century poet who was deeply religious, at times brilliant, but mentally unstable. Jubilate Agno was written while Smart was in an asylum and as a whole, alternates between chaos and sheer genius. Britten has selected some of the finest passages to create a cantata in which all creatures worship God in their own being.

The cantata has ten short sections. At the opening, the choir solemnly intones the words “Rejoice in God…” Then names from the Old Testament are linked with various animals in praise of God. The third section is a quiet, moving Hallelujah. Smart’s cat Jeoffry is used in the fourth section as an example of nature praising God by simply being what the Creator intended, themselves. The fifth section uses the mouse and the sixth speaks of flowers as “the poetry of Christ.” The seventh section tells of Smart’s sufferings, but even these are cause for praising God, for it is through Christ that he will find his deliverance. The eighth section gives four letters from the alphabet, leading to a full chorus in section nine, which speaks of musical instruments and music’s praise of God. The final section repeats the Hallelujah.

Mozart: Vesperae Solennes de Confessore in C K.339

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) In Roman Catholic Liturgy, the Vespers are the seventh of the eight Canonical (Office) Hours. Excluding the Mass, Vespers was the only service that permitted music other than plainsong, and thus constitutes an important part of our sacred music heritage. The service consists of five Psalms (110, 111, 112, 113, and 117), and the Magnificat, the Hymn of the Holy Virgin from St. Luke I; each section concludes with a lesser doxology. Although the title Vesperae Solennes de Confessore indicates that it was written for a confessor saint, we do not know the “Saint Confessor” in whose honor it was written.

As did J.S. Bach and Handel, Mozart mixes liturgical and operatic styles of composition. In Confitebor, each soloist has his own text, melody, and personality, reminding one of an operatic quartet. The light-hearted accompaniment of the Beatus Vir almost appears to contradict the text, and the alternation of solo and chorus adds to the operatic character of the movement.

Mozart was also a melodist of supreme ability. The beautiful Laudate Dominum provides all the proof needed. Mozart once commented, “Melody is the very essence of music. When I think of a good melodist, I think of a fine race horse. A contrapuntist is only a post horse.” Mozart never developed a comfortable contrapuntal style. In the Vespers, counterpoint serves primarily as relief to a basically homophonic texture. The exception to this is the Laudate Pueri which is a long fugue with two subjects treated to all types of contrapuntal maneuvers, including singing the subject upside down and right side up simultaneously.

György Orbán: Mass No. 2

György Orbán (1947- ) Born in Transylvania, Romania, Orbán studied composition at the music academy of Cluj Napoca/Kolozsvár/Clausenburg, a par excellence multicultural centre of Transylvania. After graduating in 1973 as a student of Professors Sigismund Toduta and János Jagamas, he taught music theory at the same institute. Since emigrating to Hungary in 1979, he has taught composition and music theory at the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy in Budapest. Orbán’s wide range of choral publications include accomanied and unaccomanied compositions in Latin, Hungarian, and English texts. Although his oeuvre is currently dominated by oratorical compositions and choral works, his compositions include symphonic pieces, instrumental-vocal combinations with one or more instruments, brass music and chamber music.

Orbán’s international début was in 1996, at the 4th World Symposium on Choral Music in Sydney, Australia, when John Rutter introduced Orbán’s music in the framework of a highly successful reading session. Orbán has been commissioned to compose many choral pieces as well as film and theatre music in Hungary, the United States and Japan. His works are published by Hinshaw Music Inc. Chapel Hill, NC (United States), Editio Musica Budapest, (Hungary), Editio Ferrimontana Frankfurt am Main (Germany), sub-published by Kawai in Japan.

Mass #2 is one of 9 Mass settings by Orbán, each in a variety of different voicings and accompaniments. Mass #2 is an eclectic-sounding work with original plainsong chant such as in the Credo contrasting with the rhythmic exuberance and syncopation of the Sanctus. Harmonically, Orbán is predominantly tonal, often with full rich romantic harmonies and at other times dissonant and polytonal as required by the text.