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D. Choral Music

By John Hospers



(first published in Libertarian Review, Volume IV, Number 5, May 1975)

The earliest music in the Western world of which we have exact texts is vocal music unaccompanied by instruments, and most of it is sacred choral music sung in churches and cathedrals. This music goes far back into the medieval period, and its chief representatives are the Gregorian chants. Though these sound quite strange to us now, I suggest reading the section on the medieval period in ay standard history of music and then listening to some of them. There are at least a dozen records of Gregorian chants currently available usually sung by monks or nuns; look in the Schwann catalog under “Collections,” then under the subheading, “Choral,” then under the further subheading, “Gregorian Chants.” Any of the listed records will give you the flavor of the music of this period.

Two remarkable (anonymous) pieces of the medieval period are the twelfth-century “The Play of Daniel,” excellently performed by the New York Pro Musica on Decca 79402, and “The Play of Herod” by the same group on the two-record Decca set, DXS-7187. (It is also on Nonesuch 71181.) Turnabout 34070 contains medieval Lent and Easter music, and Nonesuch 71171 has “Voices of the Middle Ages.” The New York Pro Musica performs “Medieval Roots” on Decca 79438, and “Spanish Medieval Music” on Decca 79416. Argo ZRG-673 has “Music of the Crusades,” and the late medieval period is represented by Nonesuch 71292, “Music in Honor of St. Thomas of Canterbury.”

Choral music of the Renaissance is also well represented in anthologies, and it usually requires less of a listening effort. Sacred music of Dunstable (1370-1453) and others is on Turnabout 34058. A good sample of “Sacred Music of the Early 16th Century” is Nonesuch 71084 (Issac, Des Pres, Di Lasso), as is “O Great Mystery” (Nonesuch 71026), unaccompanied choral music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

An especially lovely performance of Renaissance choral music (fifteenth through seventeenth centuries) is on Argo ZRG-365, “Evensong for Ash Wednesday,” performed by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge. The intense spirituality of this music comes through movingly here. In fact you could make no mistake if you picked up an Argo catalog and bought everything performed by the King’s College Choir. For exciting choral music by a larger choral group, I particularly recommend “Double Chorus Motets of the Old Masters” (fifteenth century to Bach) by unaccompanied choirs, on Mace M-9054. Also particularly good is a collection of Christmas music from the Middle Ages to Bach, “A Nonesuch Christmas” (Nonesuch 71232), which you will find worth listening to over and over again at any time of the year.

Now to recorded music by the major individual composers, in approximate chronological order:

Sacred music by Perotin (1158-1200) and Machaut (1300-1377) is performed by the Deller Consort on Bach 5045 and Vanguard HM-1. Some of these harmonies are too “close” for our ears, which are adapted to music less subtle, but a few hearings will introduce you to a kind of musical experience whose nature you had not previously suspected.

Various masses by Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474) are on Lyrichord 7150, 7190, and 7233. Good performances on low-cost labels are Nonesuch 71171 and Odyssey 32160178. Do not be disturbed if they sound strange at first; they will repay continued listening.

A fifteenth-century master of choral composition was the German composer, Johannes Ockeghem (1425-1495). The great subtlety and structural complexity of his music is astonishing, and the effects of the a cappella voices singing so many different parts is quite stunning. Two great masses by Ockeghem are on DG-ARC 198406 and 2533145. Also worth hearing are fine masses by two German composers, Jacob Obrecht (1450-1505) on Vanguard HM-2 and DG-ARC 198406, and Johannes Tinctoris (1436-1511) on Nonesuch 71048.

Spanning the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is the French musical giant, Josquin Des Prez (1456-1521), whose choral music is well represented on records. A musical “must” is his “Missa Pange Lingua” on Turnabout 34431. Also worthwhile are his masses on Turnabout 34437 and Vanguard HM-3, with motets (also by Des Prez) on the second side of each record. A record referred to above, DG-ARC 2533145, has a mass by Ockeghem on the first side and Des Prez’ magnificent “Deploration sur la Mort d’Ockeghem” on the other.

Religious music of unusual sensitivity and quiet splendor (again, perhaps too subtle for our ears at first hearing) is by Pierre de la Rue (14??-1518). His beautiful “Requiem” is on the other side of the record, Turnabout 34431, the first side of which contains the “Missa Pange Lingua” by Des Prez. (Also consider Telefunken S-9471, with fine performances of de la Rue’s “Requiem” and “Laments.”)

A neglected master of the early sixteenth century is Adrian Willaert (1490-1562), samples of whose choral music are on CSP C32160202. But the sixteenth-century composer, Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), and the seventeenth-century William Byrd (1542?-1623) are the two great masters of English choral music. (Byrd will be discussed below.) An excellent sample of Tallis’ music (including his 40-part motet, “Spem in Alium”) is movingly performed by the King’s College Choir (plus two organs) on “Thomas Tallis: Tudor Church Music.” Even if you have refrained from buying any records on the list up to this point, be sure that you possess this one; to say that it is “deeply moving” is far too vanilla-flavored a description for this ethereal music. More fine works in the same genre by Tallis are on Argo ZRG-5479 (including his “Lamentations of Jeremiah”) and Argo ZRG-5237. Vanguard HM-5 has fine performances of Tallis by the Deller Consort, and Decca 79404 by the New York Pro Musica. It is a good idea at this point to steep yourself in Tallis’ music for a while before proceeding further.

Turning now to the latter half of the sixteenth century, and from England to Italy, we encounter the figure who in the opinion of many musicologists is the musical giant of the Italian Renaissance and the paradigm of intense religious feeling, Giovanni Palestrina (1525-1594). Entirely lacking in pomp and ceremony, and imbued with a pure and radiant spirituality, this music has been an inspiration to listeners for 400 years. Listen, for example, to his “Magnificat” on Oiseau S-283; two of his sublime masterworks, “Missa Papae Marcelli” and “Missa Brevis,” both on Seraphim 60187, performed by the King’s College Choir. His “Assumpta Est Maria,” performed by the St. John’s College Chorus is paired with the “Missa Brevis” on the recording available from the LR Book Service. A mass and motet by the same performers are on Argo ZRG-578; and still other masses, with motets on the second side, are on Odyssey 32160122. His lovely “Super Flumen Babylonis” is no longer available in the Schwann catalog nor is the most affecting of all his works, “The Song of Solomon,” Bach Guild 5059. But there is a new four-record set of Palestrina’s sacred music, DG 2711013, which you will find worth even DG’s high prices.

Another sixteenth-century master is Orlandus de Lassus (1532-1594), two of whose masses—of pristine spiritual quality—are on Nonesuch 71053. De Lassus motets are on Nonesuch 71084.

Tomas Victoria (1549-1611) is the greatest of all Spanish composers. This somber brooding genius, the Mahler of the early seventeenth century, has written works of such moving intensity as to defy description. For getting hooked on this marvelous music, I suggest beginning with “Victoria: Requiem Mass; Four Motets”—a “must” for your collection—containing his requiem mass, performed with ethereal splendor by the St. John’s College Choir, Cambridge. Then listen to his masses on Oiseau S-0270, the “Magnificat” on Oiseau S-283, and the mass “O Quam Gloiriosum” on Argo ZRG-620. His “O Magnum Mysterium” (“O Great Mystery”) is on Orion 7022, and his “Psalms for12 Voices on Nonesuch 71016. If you saturate yourself in this music for a while, you will find yourself in a different (and more pleasant?) world.

William Byrd was primarily a composer of choral music. The “Mass in Three Parts” and the “Mass in Four Parts” are both done splendidly by the Deller Consort on Vanguard HM-6 and by the King’s College Choir on Argo 5362, and the “Mass in Five Parts” by the King’s College Choir on Argo 5226, together with the great “Ave Verum Corpus” and “Magnificat.” The complete “Cantiones Sacra” are on three records, Oiseau S-311/3, together with the cantiones of Thomas Tallis.

Had not Bach followed and overshadowed him, the choral music of the seventeenth-century German composer Henrich Schütz (1585-1672) would be better known today than it is. He was certainly a major composer. His “Magnificat” (with the “Magnificat” of Monteverdi on the other side) is on Turnabout 34099. His “Deutsche Magnificat” (again coupled with one by Monteverdi) is on Nonesuch 71134. The “St. Matthew Passion” is beautifully performed on Argo ZRG-689, and the “Christmas Oratorio” on Argo ZRG-671 and on Turnabout 34088. You will find the choral passages inspiring, if you can live through the solo recitatives. There are three, three-record sets of Schütz’s music: on Vox SVBX-5101, you get the “Christmas Oratorio,” “Deutsches Magnificat,” and “Easter Oratorio”; on 5102, the “St. Luke Passion,” “St. John Passion,” and “St. Matthew Passion”; and on 5103, the “Cantiones Sacra,” the Italian madrigals, the Psalms, and the “Symphoniae Sacrae.”

Most of the music of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is secular, and has already been discussed under that heading. But his “Magnificat for Six Voices” and one of his masses are available together on Oiseau S-263. The “Magnificat” is also available with one by Vivaldi on Angel 36012, and with one by Schütz on Turnabout 34099. Monteverdi’s major choral work, “Vespro del Beata Vergine,” is beautifully performed, conducted by Harnoncourt, on a two-record set, Telefunken S-9501/2.

All the music described so far has been religious music in its purest sense—with an intense other-worldly spirituality that one seldom finds later. Turning now to the late sixteenth-century Italian, Giovanni Gabrieli (1551-1612), we are in a world (much more familiar to us) of pomp and ceremony, with choral singing that is usually secondary to instruments, often a full orchestra plus organ. His “Processional and Ceremonial Music” is well rendered by the Gabrieli Festival Orchestra and Chorus on Vanguard HM-8. For a lavish spectacle in superb sound, try Columbia MS-07071, Gabrieli’s music for multiple choirs, brass, and organ. Then turn to his motets for choir, brass, and strings on Angel 36443, and other motets on Columbia M-30937 and MS-7334, and on Telefunken S-9456. (Compared with the items described earlier they are about as religious as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth!)

Outstanding among the German choral polyphonists of this period, including chorus but primarily instrumental, is the great composer of the turn of the seventeenth century, Michael Praetorius (1571-1621). On Westminster WST-14090 are a series of German motets for double chorus, brass, and organ, beginning with one by Praetorius. This stunning vocal and orchestral piece, with two choruses, orchestra, organ, and brass choirs, will absolutely knock you out of your seat—it’s the seventeenth-century precursor to the Berlioz “Requiem.” Having said all this, I must add that this record is a discontinued item, in spite of its having won the French Grand Prix National du Disque. So you will have to beg, borrow, or steal it, unless you can get the work on the French Erato label, where it is still available. In any case, Nonesuch 71242 has some lovely Christmas music by Praetorius. His dance pieces are combined with works of Lassus on a single disc, Decca 79424, and his “Christ Came to the River Jordan,” a work for solo organ, is contained in a fine three-record anthology of organ music, Vox SVBX-5316.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634-1704) is a master of musical pageantry, as anyone knows who has listened to his instrumental work described earlier in this series. As a musical architect he is among the greatest. Next to Bach he is perhaps the greatest master of baroque music, with an exciting ornateness and a sense of drama and theater, which (I have found) endears him to practically any contemporary listener who is exposed to his music, even for the first time. The amazing thing is that in his choral works—which in my opinion are the finest works to come from his pen—he is also able to convey an effect of spiritual grandeur. My advice is to get hold of the catalog of the French record label Erato, and order at once, Erato LDE-3009, containing his magnificent “Te Deum” (for soloists, two choirs, organ, and orchestra) as well as the “Marche de Triomphe” and “Air de Trompette”; and Erato LDE-3017, containing his “Grand Magnificat” (two choirs, soloists, orchestra, and organ) and his “Salve Regina” (for three choirs, soloists, harpsichord, continuo, and organ). (And while you are about it, order the “De Profundis” by Andrew Campra (1660-1744), on Erato LDE-3102, which is unavailable in the U.S.) These pieces far outstrip Charpentier’s instrumental music, stirring as that is. If you cannot get the Erato records, you can get the “Magnificat” and “Te Deum” on a single record from LR; the “Mass” and “Assumpta Est Maria” on Pathe Vox PL-8440; the “Christmas Oratorio” on Nonesuch 71082; the “Midnight Mass” on MHS 522; and the deeply moving and quietly simple and unadorned “Tenebrae Lessons for Holy Wednesday” on Nonesuch 71040. No one with any claim to appreciate music can be unaccompanied with at least some of these great choral works of Charpentier. (Next month: Choral Music of the Eighteenth Century.)


(first published in Libertarian Review, Volume IV, Number 6, June 1975)

We begin this month with a conclusion—the wrap-up of our chronological survey of recordings of the works of individual composers. First, let me commend to your attention the Danish composer Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). Buxtehude was primarily a composer of organ music, but his final choral work, “Magnificat,” is available on Turnabout 34173 (with Bach’s “Magnificat” on the other side), and some of his sacred cantatas are on Nonesuch 71258.

We have already considered instrumental works by Lalande (1657-1726), but nothing in his instrumental work prepares us for his one choral work available on records, the “De Profundis.” It is an expression of religious faith with all the high spirituality of Palestrina and a work of devastating emotional intensity. I would not say it is greater than the choral music of Victoria, but because it is a work of the eighteenth century rather than the sixteenth, it is written in a musical language more easily understood by us. I have seldom played it for others, without the listeners feeling that they had been the beneficiaries of a great experience. This record is a must.

We return again to the great English composer Purcell. We have already examined his music under other categories, but he wrote choral music as well, music pristine and pure, like pellucid water. I suggest in particular two fine records: Argo ZRG-724, which contains his “Te Deum” and “Jubilate,” with the “Funeral Music” (on the death of Queen Anne) on the other side, and Telefunken S-9558, which contains some of his psalms and sacred songs.

Vivaldi, whose chamber and orchestral works we have already examined, wrote choral music too great to be ignored. I shall not sing the praises of Vivaldi over again, but only recommend four records that together include the greatest of his choral music: his gloriously happy Gloria” and “Kyrie” (religious music, yet light-years away from Victoria) on RCA LSC-2883, his “Magnificat” (with Monteverdi’s on the other side) on Angel S-36012, his pulsing dramatic “Dixit” and “Dominus” on Bach 70678, and his “Credo” on RCA-LSC 2935.

Having listed so many great works, I am still most aware of the many I have omitted. And after all these, is not what follows anticlimactic? I would say, yes, were it not for the music of Bach, the culmination of them all. Bach wrote more stupendous music than anyone else, and I think that more great music (at least in the choral category) was written before Bach than after. And incomparable though Bach’s chamber and orchestral works are, even those gigantic achievements take second place to his choral works. Bach’s choral music is like a field studded with diamonds; one scarcely knows where to go first to pick them up, for they are there in great and dazzling profusion.

I suggest that you begin with the great “Magnificat.” There are many fine recordings of this famous work; the one offered this month by LR is excellent (DG-ARC 198197), and it includes the beautiful Cantata no. 78 (“Jesu, der du meine Seele”). Another good recording of this work is on Turnabout 34173, coupled with the Buxtehude “Magnificat.”

Then listen to a number of Bach cantatas—no mean task, for he wrote over 500 of them, of which about 250 have come down to us. There was a six-month period during which I listened to little else but Bach cantatas, and yet I barely scratched the surface. There are cantatas for every mood, with virtually every combination of instruments, soloists, and choirs. Many months of gratifying listening could be spent on Bach cantatas alone. And now for the first time all of them are being recorded (by Deutsche Grammofon). But let me indicate a few musical landmarks which are such exciting music that no one should be without them:

    (1) The two famous cantatas, no. 4 (“Christ lag in Totesbanden”) and no. 140 (“Wachet auf”) are together on Vanguard HM-20. There are numerous other good recordings of both.
    (2) No. 80 (“Ein feste Burg”), containing the famous Luther reformation hymn, is coupled with the no. 140 on DG-ARC 198407, and with the great no. 104 on Vanguard S-219.
    (3) No. 100 (“Was Gott tut”) is coupled with no. 175 on Vanguard S-230.
    (4) The ethereal no. 20 (“O Ewigkeit”) is coupled with nos. 17, 18, and 19 on the Telefunken two-record set SKW-5.
    (5) The two great trumpet cantatas, nos. 207 and 214, are coupled on Vanguard S-231.

With these as a base, there are a couple of hundred others to sample. Just when you think Bach may finally have run out of musical ideas, you hear a new one which hits you between the eyes, and the tunes of which you find impossible to get out of your head for days afterward.

Next, listen a few times or more to Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” preferably with Munchinger and the Stuttgart Orchestra on the three-record set available from LR. You will be not only impressed by Bach’s endless musical ingenuity, but uplifted and inspired by the choral climaxes, the powerful and inexorable rhythms, and the endless outpouring of melodies.

And now you are ready for the highest heights of all. The Bach Messe in H-Moll is a Bach experience of sustained exaltation; chorus follows chorus, from the “Kyrie” to the “Sanctus” to the “Hosanna”—with each section carrying you to such a height that you are sure you just be in for a letdown afterward, yet the next section always sustains the sense of spiritual levitation and carries you still further upward. It is, in my opinion, the greatest work of music ever written by anyone. Fortunately there are many excellent recordings of it. Best of all, I think, is the new one conducted by Carboz. The entire mass in this performance, as Richard Freed has written, “from beginning to end, is alive with a radiant, dancing quality that makes it a sustained and convincing paean of joy. It sounds as if every singer and instrumentalist is in love with the music and exhilarated by the discovery of its wonders.” The old Robert Shaw recording is still crisp and clean and full of fire (RCA LSC 6157), but it is about 15 years old, and to those interested in sonic excellence it must give way for that reason only.

Where do we go from here? Many find the “St. Matthew Passion” to be the equal of the Messe in H-Moll; I do not, simply because the solo narratives are more frequent and the great choruses less so. But what choruses there are, are of the same incandescent quality as in the Mass. If you get this work, by all means select the inspired performance by Bernstein (somewhat romanticized, perhaps, but profoundly moving).

The four “Lutheran masses” occur together on another fine recording, DG-ARC 2533143/4 (2 records). And the “St. John Passion,” thought not the equal of the St. Matthew or the Mass, would, by anyone’s standards but Bach’s, be a towering work. Benjamin Britten’s conducting of it is superb (London 13104, 3 records).

Bach’s sons were composers, and they thought so little of their father that they used his musical scores (often containing the only copy of immortal works) as scratch paper—which is one reason so many of them have been lost. But one son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, wrote a “Magnificat” that is worth your attention (DG-ARC 198367), though not in his father’s league. And the fine Italian composer Antonio Caldera (1670-1736) is the author of two fine cantatas, available on Nonesuch 71103 and Turnabout 34096.

We have discussed the music of Handel under all the previous categories, but there remain a few choral works not connected with the oratorios discussed earlier. My favorite Handel composition is the “Dettingen Te Deum,” a dramatically exciting work full of instrumental fanfares and exulting choruses. For some reason, this work, so full of boundless energy and high drama, is comparatively little known. Only slightly less memorable than the Dettingen is the “Utrecht Te Deum” (DG-ARC 198008).

We turn once more to Haydn. Haydn is best known for his symphonies. I think he should be known primarily for his quartets and his masses. The masses are much lighter in touch than Bach’s, and the music is often jolly and energetic even when the words are not. But there is marvelous music in them. They lack the spiritual elevation of Bach but they are beautifully melodic, often quite happy, and the sad passages are seldom more than mildly melancholy. Haydn wrote 14 masses. My favorite among them is the early “St. Cecilia Mass,” which is no longer listed in Schwann, but you might still be able to find it on Haydn Society HS-2028. Very charming indeed is the no. 5, “Little Organ Mass,” on Turnabout 34132. Deservedly popular is the no. 7 (“Mass in Time of War”), best performed by Bernstein on Columbia M-32196. The gently sad no. 10 (“Theresien-messe”) is on Argo 5500; the no. 11 (“The Creation”) is on Argo ZRG-598; and the reflective no. 12 (“Harmonie-messe”) is on Argo A-515. For a reason unknown to me, the no. 9 (“Lord Nelson Mass”) is the most popular, with a choice of four current recordings. There are several good recordings of Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” (not to be confused with his mass by the same name), of which I recommend the one by Horenstein on Turnabout 34184/5 (2 records).

Mozart was as perfect a master of choral music as of anything to which he turned his hand. In my opinion his operas and his chamber music are his highest achievements, but with Mozart (as with Bach) this does not mean that his other music is second-rate. His most inspiring choral works, I think, are the “Coronation Mass” (K. 317), “The Great Mass” (K. 427), and the famous “Requiem” (K. 626). I suggest getting them all together on four records, superbly conducted by Colin Davis (Philips 67070106), which also give you the “Exsultate” and the very short choral work “Ave Verum Corpus” (K. 618) with one of the simplest and loveliest melodies in the world. If that is too much to buy, get the “Coronation Mass” (K. 317), the “Missa Brevis” (K. 220), and the “Ave Verum Corpus” (K. 618) all on one record, DG 2530356. (Next month: Choral Music of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.)



(first published in Libertarian Review, Volume IV, Number 7, July 1975)

After Palestrina, Des Pres, Victoria, Byrd, Bach, Mozart, and Haydn, what music could possibly be anything but anticlimactic? Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” is undoubtedly a great choral work, though it is decidedly unsubtle when compared with Bach’s or Mozart’s works in the same genre, and I can think of at least 50 Bach choral works which I would consider superior to it. Yet the huge choruses, when they do not sound as if the singers were simply screaming on the high notes, do have an elevating effect. Karajan has two fine recordings of this work, but (since Toscanini’s incomparable performance has been removed from the catalog) the best available recording today is the one by Jochum on Philips 6799001 (2 records).

Maria Luigi Carlo Zenobio Salvatori Cherubini (1760-1842) wrote a “Missa Solemnis” that is well worth hearing (Vanguard 10110/1). Schubert wrote a number of listenable masses, including the lyrical Mass in G (Decca 790091), the somber Mass in A-flat (DG 139108), and the dramatic Mass in E-flat (Decca 79422). Though worth your attention, they are not great Schubert. Nor is Brahms’ monumental “Deutsche Requiem” particularly great Brahms. It is impressive, somber and moving in its first two sections, but not on a par with his chamber works, concertos, and symphonies—although it is very much worth hearing (Klemperer on Angel S-3624, 2 records). The “Requiem” of Dvorak seems to me easily forgettable. As for the masses by Liszt, I consider them contrived, bombastic claptrap.

In my opinion there are only four great choral masterpieces of the nineteenth century. Two of them are by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). The first is the “Te Deum” for chorus, orchestra, and organ, and I suggest that you begin with it since it is a less ambitious work. It is superlatively performed by Colin Davis on the recording offered by LR this month. The power of each movement is cumulative, and the climax leaves one in a stunned (though not necessarily reverent) silence.

Then turn to Berlioz’ greatest work, the “Requiem”—one of the most majestic works in all of music. It calls for 720 performers, including two orchestras, two choruses, numerous soloists, and four brass choirs. It takes an excellent stereo system just to get all the music to your ears. There is now a quadraphonic recording of it (and this is one of the few works that really needs it), but for the majority of us who lack this new equipment, I suggest as the best all-round recording the inspiring rendition by Colin Davis available from LR (2 records). If you hear this work a hundred times, each time you will hear new things, and nuances of feeling unsuspected before will be evoked, even more than in Berlioz’ “Romeo et Juliette.” The “Deus Irae” section is totally shattering, overpowering the listener with its primordial impact, and the “Offertorium” is quiet and reflective, with grief, resignation, and muted hope all at the same time. (“This surpasses all,” said Franz Liszt when he heard it.) The “Requiem” is an unforgettable experience.

The third great choral masterpiece of the nineteenth century is the “Requiem” by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Whereas the Berlioz is stately and majestic, the Verdi is intense with fire and passion (in the “Deus Irae”) and meltingly lyrical (e.g., in the “Sanctus”) by turns. There is not a line of padding in this whole work, not a line that is not “total inspiration.” It is undoubtedly Verdi’s greatest work, the capstone of his long career as a composer. The most perfect of all recordings of it was Toscanini’s, but since RCA Victor has long since deleted it from the catalog, my own preference is for Solti’s performance on London 1275 (2 records), since it does justice equally to the dramatic power and savagery of some parts and the quiet tenderness of others. Vocally the best performance is probably Guilini’s on Angel S-36489. Ormandy’s and Bernstein’s are also excellent. And do not forget the dramatic “Pezzi Sacri” (“Four Sacred Pieces”)which Verdi wrote when he was 85 and still at the height of his powers. Get either Guilini’s version on Angel S-36125 or Mehta’s on London 26176.

The fourth great achievement of nineteenth-century choral music is the exquisitely tender and quiet “Requiem” by Gabriel Faure (1845-1924), written in 1887. There is no roll of drums or clashing of cymbals here, nor even high drama, just a quiet and reflective peace and calm. This work also is a “must” for every collection. The low-price record available from LR has the fine performance of Willcocks and the King’s College Choir of Cambridge. But there are other good recordings: Angel S-35974, Nonesuch 71158, and Turnabout 34147.

And so we have two atheists (Verdi and Berlioz) and one deeply religious composer (Faure) writing amongst them the greatest choral work of a century. A man of simple faith was Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), who wrote, in addition to his symphonies, a fair amount of choral music, of which we have on records several versions of the Mass no. 2 in E Minor, the Mass no. 3 in F Minor (“The Great”)—of which I recommend the recording on DG 138829—and the “Te Deum,” which you can get in a two-record set coupled either with the Symphony no. 7 (Philips 802759/60) or the Symphony no. 9 (DG 2707024). I still prefer Bruckner’s symphonies, but the choral works are certainly well worth hearing.

Now to the twentieth century. I will point out just the highlights, but there are quite a few of them:

    1. The “Slavonic Mass” by the Czech composer Leos Janacek (1854-1928) is a rugged and powerful work by an extremely talented and original composer. You may be surprised by the musically innovative character of much of this fine work (on DG 138954), as well as that of Janacek’s pieces for male chorus (Nonesuch H-71288).
    2. The Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967) wrote two powerful choral works, “Te Deum” and “Psalmus Hungaricus,” both on Artia ALP-152.
    3. The music of Frederic Delius has already been discussed earlier in this series. But his most ambitious work, and in my opinion his masterpiece, is the choral work “A Mass of Life,” powerfully set to the words of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. If you do not know this work, you have a treat in store (Angel S-378, 2 records). Delius’ “Requiem” is well performed on Seraphim S-60147, but it is not a towering work like the “Mass.”
    4. The great Russian composer Sergei Prokofief wrote a moving choral work, “Alexander Nevsky” (for Eisenstein’s 1936 movie of the same name), which many consider his finest single work. A performance in Russian is preferable to one in English. I prefer the one by the U. S. S. R. Symphony on Angel S-40010. Two good low-cost recordings are the performance by Schippers on Odyssey Y-31014 and that by Alexandrov on Turnabout 34463.
    5. An unduly neglected but first-rate choral composer is Ralph Vaughn-Williams, whose symphonies we have already considered. I recommend his “Magnificat” on Angel S-36819 and his “Mass in G Minor” on Angel S-36590 (with his “Mystical Songs” on the other side), as well as his “Oxford Elegy” on Angel S-36699. But most of all I recommend Angel S-36751, which contains two of Vaughn-Williams’ choral masterworks, the “Sancta Civitas” and the “Benedicte.” You will find them a real treasure-trove—rich, powerful, and full of feeling.
    6. Much fine choral music was also written by the French composer Francis Poulenc, for example his “Stabat Mater” on Angel S-36121 and his pulsing “Gloria in G” on Angel S-35953 (or on RCA LSC-2822, on which you also get the Stravinsky “Symphony of Psalms”). But most highly of all I recommend his “Mass in G,” which is sung a cappella; the entire performance lasts only about 15 minutes, but it is a work of great intensity and harmonic fascination. Poulenc’s frequent preoccupation with “tinkering around with the medium” is here entirely absent. We have a piece with great economy of means and very great aesthetic rewards. You can get it well done and inexpensively on Seraphim S-60085.
    7. Igor Stravinsky, the most influential composer of our time, wrote some highly innovative choral music, of which the most accessible (to the listener who does not care for innovation for its own sake) is the “Symphony of Psalms,” done with power and conviction by Robert Shaw on RCA LSC-2822 (with Poulenc’s “Gloria” on the other side), or if you want a more recent and technically superior recording, Ansermet on London 6219 (with Stravinsky’s “Les Noces” on the other side). In addition, you might listen to Stravinsky’s three choral works “Cantata,” “In Memoriam,” and “Mass,” all together on Columbia MS-6992 and conducted by Stravinsky himself.
    8. The French composer Olivier Messaien (1908- ) a famous organist and composer for organ, has written “O Sacrum Convivium,” recorded on Argo ZRG-662 (with works by Durufle, Faure, and Poulenc on the other side), which is well worth having.
    9. The American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911- ) has written a fine “Magnificat,” which is now out of print, so I shall recommend instead the record (CRI-S-221) containing his “Ave Maria,” “Christmas Ode,” and “Easter Cantata.”
    10. The French composer Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) wrote a great deal of music which is engaging but not (to my mind) moving, with the single exception of his lovely “Christmas Cantata” for symphony orchestra, chorus, and organ (London 25320). Combining renditions and adaptations of various Christmas pieces, it reaches a really stunning climax, such as one would not have expected from hearing most of his other works.
    11. I have saved the best for the last. My own favorite choral work of the twentieth century is by the French composer and organist Maurice Durufle (1902- ). It is the apt twentieth-century successor to the nineteenth-century “Requiem” of Gabriel Faure and has the same emotional quality. The Durufle “Requiem” is quiet, tender, and haunting—by turns melancholy and hopeful, leaving one in a state of quiet exaltation. The only available American recording has been removed from the Schwann catalog, and so you must get it on the French Erato label (LDE-3098). As a source of total musical relaxation and peace, this work can be compared with only a few others: the Faure “Requiem,” the second movement of the Handel Concerto Grosso no. 6 (Op. 6), and the final choruses of the Bach “St. Matthew Passion.”

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In Libertarian Review, October 1975, Vol. IV, No. 10, Tibor Machan wrote the following letter, the sentiments of which I enthusiastically second!

[Captioned “A Rave Notice”] John Hospers has been writing his music reviews for LR for I don’t know how long. The only explanation I can give for the absence of volumes of mail commending his work is that people just don’t know how to praise it.

The writing, first of all, is superb—clear, lucid, calm with occasional and well placed spots of flare—and the knowledge is overwhelming. Then there seems always to be another piece for next time, so why not wait for it instead of raving about those gone by!

Still, it is about time that readers acknowledge the great contribution Hospers has made to their education and pleasure with this marvelous offering in LR. I, for one, thank him most sincerely. [Tibor R. Machan, Palo Alto, Calif.]

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