Master List of Sacred Music by level of difficulty
  • I would like to begin introducing polyphony to my choir and was wondering if anyone has compiled a master list of sacred music graded by difficulty.
  • Some suggestions for easier works are here:

    https://forum.musicasacra.com/forum/discussion/12572/beginner-polyphony-for-the-catholic-middle-school/p1

    https://forum.musicasacra.com/forum/discussion/7855/basic-motets-the-every-choir-should-know/p1

    There are several lists provided here. I don't think you'll find a real "master list" since it is entirely dependent on the choir, one's parish needs, one's taste, one's choral resources.

    https://forum.musicasacra.com/forum/discussion/10256/a-basic-choir-repertoire-10-anthems-in-english-andor-10-motets-in-latin-your-opinion/p1

    You might benefit from starting polyphony with less than 4 parts, or doing works which throw in a little polyphony and a lot of homophony.
  • There isn't a master list because the challenges posed aren't simply categorizable.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 274
    Many states/organizations grade choral music by difficulty—it's fairly common (and I think many would agree that the challenges are indeed quantifiable/categorizable). I'm not aware of a similar graded system for sacred choral music, however searching state and national choral organizations might give you a good sense of where to start. I'm sure many would be happy to offer suggestions for pieces to start with (see for instance the fine suggestions in the earlier post).
  • Mark,

    Choral music organized for music competitions is, for that reason, chosen for its specific level of difficulty. Music the committee chooses to be more or less difficult can be ranked with relative ease as more or less difficult.

    That's not the same thing as saying "Which is harder: Bernstein's Chichester Psalms or Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols?"
  • Any grading system, even for an individual, will always be flawed because no piece tests every skill equally. For instance, I have played some of Bach's most difficult works without issue but struggle greatly with Vierne's simplest due to hand size. Most would experience the opposite.

    This simply cannot work well in a large group. With each member of an ensemble to take into account, plus the director and the overall personality of the ensemble, such systems must become so broad as to be useless.

    If we are discussing polyphony, I would rank the works of the Roman composers as generally least difficult and most intuitive, followed by the Franco-Flemish and Spanish, and then the oddballs like Marenzio and Gesualdo. The difficulty increases with number of voices until the works become essentially homophonic, at which point they become rather easier. These broad generalizations are only possible because these composers were so consistent with their output and every work generally poses the same difficulties.
  • Appendix A of Sir Richard Terry's Catholic Church Music has list of various polyphony motets, rated according to difficulty. (How easy it would be to obtain the music listed is variable.)
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