Tag Archives: Christmas

Annunciation and Magnificat

annunciationmagnificatp3Annunciation and Magnificat. Brass quintet (with opt. flugelhorns), narrator, 22 minutes

Annunciation and Magnificat is a set of musings on the text of the first chapter of Luke, verses 26 through 55. Beginning with the announcement to Mary from the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus the Messiah, and ending with her song of praise, the text explores her questions and trepidations, the angel’s assurances, and Mary’s visit with her cousin Elisabeth who was then pregnant with John the Baptist. A narrator reads the text, which I’ve divided into eight sections. The quintet plays a meditation on the text after each section is read, the Magnificat ending with the non-scriptural but traditional Gloria Patri:

1. The angel Gabriel was sent
2. She was troubled
3. Fear not, Mary
4. How shall this be?
5. Nothing shall be impossible
6. Behold the handmaid of the Lord
7. And Mary arose
8. Magnificat

Elements of the music appear, transformed, as the work progresses. In “Nothing shall be impossible,” the key of D-flat travels quickly to the farthest key away, G, and back again, which journey I tried to make as unnoticed as I could. Normally I take one emotion from each section and attempt to express that musically, but I do, in the Magnificat, follow the text closely. The antiphon recurs as in a sung Magnificat (albeit truncated sometimes), after each two-line thought; the overall feel is of a jubilant dance.

I am thankful to the Gaudete Brass for the opportunity to compose this. Their trumpeters are also excellent flugelhorn players, so I was happy to provide places in the music where those warm-sounding instruments could optionally be used.

Annunciation and Magnificat was premiered 3 December 2016 by the Gaudete Brass Quintet at St. Clement Parish, Chicago.

1. The angel Gabriel was sent
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.

2. She was troubled
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

3. Fear not, Mary
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

4. How shall this be?
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

5. Nothing shall be impossible
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, your cousin Elisabeth, she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

6. Behold the handmaid of the Lord
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.

7. And Mary arose
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And what is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of your salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

8. Magnificat
And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He has showed strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

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

—Luke 1:26-55, Gloria Patri

Christmas Daybreak on Now Is the Time

NowEnsemble500It’s faith of all kinds in the midst of Christmas on Now Is the Time, Saturday, December 28th at 9 pm—our new time, every Saturday night at 9 on WRTI-HD2 and the all-classical stream at wrti.org. Daron Hagen uses choir and cello lovingly to explore traditional carols in new ways, with Once in Royal David’s City and the Sussex Carol. Then, the sparkling Now Ensemble brings transformations to life in David Crowell’s Waiting in the Rain for Snow.

Having faith in each other is the subject of Faith by Neil Rolnick, where the written-out and improvised piano part is modified in real time by a second player—on computer. Robert Convery wrote Christmas Daybreak for The Bridge Ensemble, the forerunner of the choir who closes our program with it, The Crossing.

If you’re new to Now Is the Time, just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top. Day or night, that brings you the all-classical stream, and at 9 pm every Saturday, you’ll hear Now Is the Time. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM, HD2, or find all the frequencies here, depending on where you are, from the Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Dover. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

from David Crowell: Waiting in the Rain for Snow 

Daron Hagen: Once in Royal David’s City
David Crowell: Waiting in the Rain for Snow
Neil Rolnick: Faith
Daron Hagen: Sussex Carol
Robert Convery: Christmas Daybreak

Every Saturday night at 9, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI-HD2 and the all-classical stream at wrti.org. Here are the recording details and complete schedule.

Morten Lauridsen, O Magnum Mysterium

The third of six brief descriptions of music I’ve written up for WRTI’s 60th Anniversary Classical Collection of listener favorites. Here is a fuller description of the project, under the first post, the Ave Maria of Franz Biebl.

Nativity1480Ghirlandaio480Morten LauridsenO Magnum Mysterium. Elora Festival Singers, Noel Edison. Morten Lauridsen. Naxos 8.559304, Tr 17

“O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger. Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!”

This text was first chanted by monks in the cold, pre-dawn hours before Christmas mornings centuries ago. Now, the mystical, soaring music of Morten Lauridsen warms millions worldwide. Simple in structure and harmony, yet quietly overwhelming, the Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium transcends style with its luminously expressive writing. Morten Lauridsen is one of the most-sung choral composers in America and around the world, and this work is a fine example why.

above, from Domenico Ghirlandaio’s 1480s Nativity


Vespers CD, All About Jazz

It’s not really a Christmas piece, and it’s not jazz at all, but C. Michael Bailey reviews Vespers in All About Jazz:

Smith’s musical settings are crafted in such a way that techniques and practices from different periods dissolve into one another in the solution of his musical vision. The early music elements of this music are amplified by Piffaro and the Renaissance Band’s expert and well-known sound. The vocal ensemble, The Crossing, lends the modern edge to the performances, capable of spanning five centuries of vocal practice from plainchant to the 21st century.

The true genius here is the composer, who chooses not to simply reharmonize older music, but instead, create completely new music… immediately accessible for the novice and expert alike, offering different layers artistry to be enjoyed…

more here

Christmas on his iPod

Michael Lawrence’s blog Fragmented Obsessions is a mix of politics, economics, and music, and Vespers is in his iPod, getting him in the Christmas spirit. Grand words, e.g.:

… commissioned by the early music ensemble Piffaro and conducted by Donald Nally, whose aforementioned group The Crossing (“the best chorus in Philadelphia,” according to one critic) joined in the music making.… Smith, a practicing Lutheran, develops a work that uses the outline, style, and language of a Renaissance German Vespers service, complete with period instruments—but with a decidedly modern sensibility.… in recent playbacks, I have become smitten with the Magnificat… This is a stunning work from start to finish, and melodious proof that the art of music is alive and well…

The rest is here. Still practicing…

Now ys the tyme of Crystymas

I can think of just two works that I have written with no performance in mind. Now ys the tyme of Crystymas is one of them.

I was looking for a Christmas card. Back then (this was in 1997) the Free Library ran a gift shop just off the lobby, and in a display of hand-designed cards I picked up one with this poem of Richard Hill’s. Fascinated, I researched the poem in the Literature Department, thinking that it could be set as a secular carol.

Fascination turned into composition, and I wrote it very quickly. Then I put it away. Over the years I would show it to a few people, but nothing came of it. I revised it a couple of times, changed the ending, reworked some of the voice-leading, and fiddled with spellings in the luxuriantly inconsistent Early Modern English text. I made a solo quartet version. All the while I wondered if this would be the piece they found in my desk after my death. There are pieces I wish they wouldn’t find, but I had grown quite fond of this one.

Then things started to happen. After Vespers, The Crossing commissioned Where flames a word, and after its premiere they sang it at the opening concert of the 2009 Chorus America convention, which was in Philadelphia. Because of that exposure, a few conductors wanted to talk to me about my choral music, so I mentioned Now ys the tyme of Crystymas.

Scott Williamson immediately wanted to perform it with his Virginia Chorale, so to them goes the world premiere performances on the 4th and 5th of December, 2009. Thomas Lloyd of the Bucks County Choral Society expressed interest, and their concerts follow by one week, December 11th, 12th, and 13th. Scott writes about the piece in his blog:

… this carol is a rollicking, whirling, spirited update on the old English carol. Replete with witty madrigalisms (listen for the inner voices laughing “he-he-he’s”), this carol is as challenging to perform as it is entertaining to hear.

Read all of his program notes here. This is the poem:

Lett no man come into this hall, Grome, page, nor yet marshall, But that some sport he bryng withall, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Yff that he say he can nought syng, Some other sport then lett him bryng, That it may please at this festyng, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Yff that he say he can nought do, Then for my love ask him no mo, But to the stokkis then lett him go, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Make we mery, both more and lasse, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas.

Here’s a page from it, here’s how to order, and here’s the world premiere performance, on YouTube:

Buy Vespers for Christmas, he says

Chestnut Hill is the neighborhood in Philadelphia that saw one of the two premiere performances of Vespers, and the Chestnut Hill Local is its award-winning weekly:

Chestnut Hill Local

Michael Caruso, 26 Nov 2009

If you’re looking to give the gift of music with a local connection this Christmas season.… Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, and The Crossing, the chamber choir, have joined forces to record Kile Smith’s Vespers.… It’s a modern setting of the traditional Vespers liturgy of the German Lutheran Church for chorus and period instruments.… Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of Smith’s Vespers is his nearly unique ability to blend the traditional outlines of centuries of musical settings… with the harmonic sounds of modern music.… he managed it all without ever sounding either condescending or constricted.

His vocal writing is no less impressive… one of the most amazing aspects of Smith’s Vespers ­[is] the organic integration of the instrumental and vocal parts to produce… one multi-textured and multi-colored body of sound… Both the singing and the playing are splendid.

Read the entire article here. To buy Vespers (as he says you should), these are all of the different places it’s available.