Category Archives: liturgical music

Kyrie and Gloria Patri

KyrieGloriaPatriEx

Kyrie and Gloria Patri. For congregation and organ, with cantor or choir (opt. SATB). The choir may sing in parts or unison. In the Kyrie the choir or a solo voice may be cantor. Separate congregation part available for bulletin. Commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Daniel Spratlan, music director, and Cynthia A. Jarvis, minister.

I have composed a Kyrie, a “Lord, have mercy,” before, in the Mass for Philadelphia, but never a separate Gloria Patri (the words traditionally end Magnificat settings, and I do have several of those). Dan Spratlan has begun to commission settings for his Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, and asked me for one, to be used beginning in the fall of 2017.

It is bliss to write challenging music for professionals, but is in some ways even more delightful to write successful music for amateurs. The largest group of amateurs who sing new music every week is the church congregation. I’ve composed hymn and liturgical settings for congregations most of my career.

While the difference in musical abilities between amateurs and professionals may be great, the composer’s challenge—and honor—is always the same: to serve them, to help them sound their best, and to reveal truths.

The musical opportunities in small forms like this Kyrie and Gloria Patri are as profound as one wishes to make them. To create dramas through the text while not obscuring the line is a useful craft no matter what the music is, but the task is heightened in music for a congregation, since the moment a congregation is unsure of itself, it stops singing. The music must always support and encourage the congregation, and thankfully, every facet of music is available to assist in that task.

I’ve done something slightly new in this. It is not unheard of in choral music, but it doesn’t happen often, where voices will depart here and there from a “doubling” accompaniment. You’ll see an example in the alto line in measure 5 above, at “have”; the altos sing a D while the organ plays a C. It is not only to avoid the direct 5th (and avoiding those as we were taught is, yes, generally a good idea—although I kept it in the organ part). There were other ways to fix that fifth. No, it rather comes out of thinking of the choir and organ as part of an ensemble—an orchestra, if you will—where lines follow their own lights and are not simply copies of each other. I first noticed this only a few years ago in a Wagner chorus I was singing. The choral bass part did something other than what the orchestral basses were playing (and what I’d expected), and it charmed me.

If an SATB choir is available, it will sing what it sings and won’t get in the way of the congregation. And that’s the other challenge the composer is constantly trying to solve—to get out of the way.

(The Gloria Patri is in G major and the Kyrie is actually in a mode, G dorian, even though it ends more on B-flat. A certain fuzziness in cadencing can be appropriate, I feel, if that conflict in mood helps to drive home the feeling of the text. A Kyrie should offer comfort only with the knowledge that one who is unworthy of comfort falls completely on mercy. That is why I do not hear the last chord as an add 6 (Bb+6) or a Gm7/Bb, even though it is both of those. I’m not sure, in this context, what the chord is.)

KyrieGloriaPatriCadence

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Agnus Dei reviews

AgnusDeip3Still floating from the exquisite first performance of Agnus Dei by Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and Symphony in C, conducted by MC’s new director, Paul Rardin. Turns out, on a day of many concerts in Philadelphia, many with new music, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns reviewed ours.

(My notes on Agnus Dei are here.)

Stearns writes that the Agnus Dei is “so personal” and correctly notes that my “tendency toward saturated harmonies was scaled back in favor of something leaner and more visceral.” He thinks it might be a bit long, and finishes by saying that “it’s an important addition to Smith’s output.”

One phrase in his review especially interested me, because it points up something other people have walked around, in conversations about Agnus Dei and other works of mine, that “the piece’s harmonic ambiguity suggested uncertain faith.”

I say that it does no such thing. But I may be in the minority, so let me explain.

One benefit of reading the lives of the saints, and indeed, the biblical books of the prophets, let alone many of the Psalms, is that those who are the most spiritually attuned are often wracked by doubt, pain, anger, and the many other emotions or states those of us who are not so spiritually attuned consider unspiritual or faithless or as those which draw us away from God. But if we are serious about taking those generally accepted as spiritual models to be, in fact, models, the conclusion can only be that we do not lose our faith when under these emotions or in these states. The spiritual person uses these times to dig deeper, to draw even closer to God.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

In this Agnus Dei I took the cry for mercy to be a real cry, I took the repetition of the lines to really mean something. I took this to be a process that would be long, long enough to be slightly uncomfortable, even (though any performance can be a couple of ticks slower or faster), long enough so that when we arrive, finally, at dona nobis pacem it would be an arrival made the more real for the reality of the journey.

But don’t take this as special pleading on my part. That can all be true and the piece still too long! Although I think it’s just right. I have some regrets about my own pieces, but not about the length of this one, which comes in at around 13 minutes, give or take.

There was another good review in an independent and seemingly unedited blog here.

A couple of conductors told me they thought this Agnus Dei would do quite well performed right in its proper place in the incomplete Mozart Mass. Wouldn’t that be something?

 

Agnus Dei

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Commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Paul Rardin, Artistic Director. Completed 24 August 2015. Premiered 18 October 2015, The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and the Symphony in C, conducted by Paul Rardin.

For choir and orchestra; duration, 15 minutes
Flute
2 Oboes
2 Bassoons
2 F Horns
2 Bb Trumpets
Timpani (2)
S.A.T.B. Choir
Organ
Strings
Also available with piano accompaniment

For his first concert as the new artistic director of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Paul Rardin asked me to compose an Agnus Dei. The Mozart Great Mass in C Minor would also be performed on this concert, as well as Mendelssohn’s Psalm 43, Psalm 98, and Psalm 100. My composition was to complement Mozart’s Mass, one of his last works and which he left unfinished without an Agnus Dei.

Over the years composers have taken on this daunting task, swiftly voicing their assurance that they were not intending to “complete” Mozart’s work in any way. I follow in their steps. Nevertheless I was surprised by how much of Mozart’s spirit, as dimly realized by me, came into play.

I do not possess the desire to copy another’s style, but I have found that summoning a sense of a Zeitgeist is intriguing. I have done that in my Vespers (Lutheran Renaissance), The Nobility of Women (Baroque), and other works in whole or in part. Felix Mendelssohn did this very thing in his Reformation Symphony. For me, I find that certain aspects of an era or a composer suggest themselves, I’m sure in no exhaustive or even reasonable way, and that the piece comes together around those aspects.

So there are features of the Classical style in this Agnus Dei. I treated the forces as efficiently as possible, as I admire that greatly in Mozart. The rhythms are simple, the harmonies and textures change slowly, lines are relatively spare, and except in one place for the choral basses, the voices are never divided. I have aimed for lyricism in everything. Also, I took Paul Rardin’s excellent suggestion to highlight the flute/oboe/bassoon trio that Mozart used in his “Et incarnatus“ movement.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

In this five-minute video I talk about some of what went into my thinking while composing Agnus Dei:

Video Interview on Agnus Dei

Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia interviews me about Agnus Dei, which they commissioned to complement the Mozart Great Mass in C Minor. The premiere, with Symphony in C, is Sunday, October 18th at 4 pm at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.

I talk—which I seem only able to do while using my hands a lot—about listening/not listening to Mozart, the challenge of making three lines (two of which are the same, the third of which is mostly the same) last 10–15 minutes, and my helplessness at the piano.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

An Agnus Dei for the Mendelssohn Club

MendelssohnClubLogoJust sent in the Agnus Dei I’ve been composing for the last number of months. It is for Paul Rardin’s first concert as the new artistic director of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia. Official program notes to follow, but as if writing a piece for this inaugural October 18th concert weren’t daunting enough, this Agnus Dei is to complement the Mozart Great Mass in C minor, left unfinished without an Agnus Dei, which will also be performed.

I’m not completing Mozart’s Mass, but will admit, to my surprise, to how much of Mozart’s Zeitgeist, as dimly realized by me, has made its way into the work.

The Agnus Dei comes in at just under 13 minutes, is for choir and the same size orchestra Mozart wrote for, and highlights the flute/oboe/bassoon trio from Mozart’s “Et incarnatus.”

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

Deo Gratias, from Vespers, with Brass

ExcDeoGratiasBrassOne of the great things about the project that became Vespers was the uniqueness of the ensemble—writing a piece for the world-renowned Renaissance band Piffaro was as fun and exciting as could be. But it also meant that basically nobody else could ever perform Vespers, since not everybody has 27 Renaissance instruments in their rumpus room!

(Although, Piffaro has performed it numerous times since, for which I’m ever grateful, with The Crossing, of course, who premiered and recorded it, with Northwestern University’s Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, (thank you, Donald Nally, again and again), with the outstanding Seraphic Fire, and this November, I’m looking forward to seeing it with The Choristers.)

[Updated 29 Nov 2015] Here’s the recording of the premiere on 30 Oct 2015 at Roosevelt University, what beautiful line to the singing and energy to the brass playing!:

A number of people have asked me about transcriptions of Vespers since its 2008 premiere, though, and so I’ve been busy making piano reductions and string arrangements, with and without other instruments, of different sections. (You can see these from the menu above, under Music/Choral Vocal/Vespers.)

Last week I finished another one.

The last movement, Deo Gratias, now has a new arrangement for choir and brass octet, to be premiered next season by Cheryl Frazes Hill, the director of choral activities at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. It was a joy putting this together for 4 trumpets (one in D and 3 Bb), 2 trombones, bass trombone, and tuba. The double choirs had to stay since they’re the basic part of the sound, but I simplified them a bit by eliminating all the divisis within each choir.

Above is a page to look at. Let me know if you want to see the whole thing, and I’ll send it to you.

Here’s an audio excerpt from the original:

A 3rd Vespers review from Florida

SeraphicFire

Patrick Dupré Quigley and members of Seraphic Fire

Vespers,” writes Sebastian Spreng in Miami Clasica, El Nuevo Herald (the Spanish edition of the Miami Herald), and Knight Arts, “astonishes the listener.” He praises Seraphic Fire and Piffaro, the Renaissance Band for “the tapestry masterfully woven by angelic voices and rare instruments” at the last of four concerts, saying that the “group headed by Patrick Dupré Quigley was at peak performance level.” Seraphic Fire “proved yet again the virtues of a choral ensemble that reaffirms its artistic growing year after year.”

Spreng thought that “the aural impact” of Vespers was due to “atypical—yet curiously familiar—sounds, harmonies and melodies”…“from Monteverdi and the German Renaissance to the present and a hint of the future.”

For the “resounding success” of Vespers, he said “you could apply a term bastardized in our time through use and abuse, a word that describes it as no other: spiritual.”

Once again I’m grateful beyond words for the marvelous artistry, and the commitment, of Patrick Quigley, Seraphic Fire, and Piffaro.

Read the entire article here.