Polyphony: 20th-21st Centuries, Noteworthy Motets
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Much like my own attempts to write 8-part counterpoint, this thread could spiral wildly out of control, but let us put on our brave faces and try. What are the most noteworthy sacred motets written in the 20th-21st centuries? It would be especially good to explain briefly what makes them so noteworthy. Even better would be a defense of their being of high artistic quality, holy, and universal.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Olivier Messiaen, "O sacrum convivium"
  • [Please also see this closed discussion.]
  • Maurice Durufle's Four Motets on Gregorian Themes (Op. 10): Ubi Caritas, Tota pulchra es, Tu es Petrus, and Tantum ergo.
  • "I too have the highest regard for the Victoria O Magnum; however, G was originally looking for input regarding contemporary compositions of merit."
    Point taken, Mssr. Esguerra. Thank you.
    BION- "Skippy" is Lauridsen's well-worn nickname, well-known out west. But if you've ever met him, it sorta makes sense.
    Here's an interesting, truly 20th c. Ordinary: Persichetti's Mass for A Capella Voices, Op.84
  • Poulenc's 4 Christmas motets are wonderful.
  • BTW should we reserve votes for actual motets or do you want to include psalm, Marian antiphon, and propers settings?

  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Hmm. In my reading, "motet" has meant a huge range of things. Let's limit it to antiphons. "Psalm settings" is an intuitive group unto itself. I'll post a thread on that sometime.
  • Well I teach my students that a motet is a polyphonic work based on a chosen or newly-written latin text. Often it is an Office antiphon or a centonization, but the key is that a motet is not a liturgical work. Rather it was used during the liturgy frequently to substitute for a Propers item. Also after doing quite a bit work on this, I see no real evidence that motets were used during the Office when they set texts from it. Rather they were a way to bring that Office text into the Mass or to be used for processions or other extra-liturgical events.

  • Ian W, Thank you for the clarification re "lengthy" Lauridsen. I should have read the thread more closely. . . now my response seems rather out of place, if not a bit shallow.

    moconnor's definition of a motet helps clarify the issue as well.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 752
    I am particularly moved by Poulenc's Vinea mea electa, one of Poulenc's Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence.

    I guess those of us who reply to the post do so because we've been moved by a particular motet, so all we can do is attempt to convey those aspects of our own inner response that make the work(s) especially important to us. In this case, it's a combination of Poulenc's bitter-sweet harmony, rhythmic fluidity and word-setting - and that's the point where I give up, in desperation, knowing that words can't do it justice. If you can listen to it, do so. Better still, if you have the opportunity to sing it ...
  • IanW, those Poulenc motets are to die for...

  • Isaac
    Posts: 16
    Hi everyone, so nice to know this discussion is just bursting with comments and how it was non existent a month ago.

    When i discovered Macmillan's Mass I also fortunately stumbled across Christus Vincit (from the same album Macmillan's Mass for Westminster Cathedral (see Hyperion label Compact Disc CDA67219))

    There is indeed much celtic blood in Macmillan's compositions especially in the singing of very unique 'tremolos' and even perhaps very tiny microtones. I'd encourage everyone to listen to it.

    Please pay attention to the composition (I know, like duh!). The beautiful part about this setting is that despite it's 'grand' connotations, it is a very humbling piece, made especially poignant by the treble (when Westminster sings it) voice. The sublime qualities of this piece rest on the portrayal of the minuteness (if there were a word) and merciful reign of Christ. It strikes me as a kind of lesson that Christ does not need a big thump for us to acknowledge his kingdom, that if Truth were all that is worth living for, then it has to be found in the smallest first. It preaches only minimally but aches the heart to know that such truths can be found when the heart is vulnerable to the great muse that is music.

    So far:
    Poulenc Motets for Lent and Christmas (I will update this list more specifically later), also Salver Regina
    Messiaen's O Sacrum convivium
    Durufle's Four Motets on Gregorian Themes

    And how can we also forget (I encourage those who haven't heard to try):
    Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, Ave dulcissimi Maria, Ubi caritas et Amor, Ave Maria
    Macmillan's Christus Vincit (Also, listen to Seven Last Words from the Cross)
    Gorecki's Totus Tuus
    Panufnik's Deus, Deus Meus
    Part's Nunc dimittis, Te deum (should this be counted as motets?, maybe not, so should we expand it?)

    Guys, help me out if I am missing some things.

  • Just a note that, if you want to delineate, Salves are really settings of the Marian antiphon and since they were/are sung polyphonically in a liturgical setting, they don't really qualify as motets, which are extra-liturgical by nature.

    BTW the Poulenc motets by name are:

    O magnum mysterium
    Quem vidistis pastores
    Videntes stellam
    Hodie Christus natus est (which might actually be an Introit setting)

    Timor et tremor
    Vinea mea electa
    Tenebrae factae sunt
    Tristis est anima mea

  • G
    Posts: 1,396
    I have read catalogue descriptions, (but not looked at the actual music,) of English language "motets, " (by Kreutz, IIRC.)
    Is it pretty generally agreed that this is a misnomer, that a motet MUST be a Latin text?
    Frankly, I do not have the liberty to program much Latin. I wouldn't have a choir, and I wouldn't have a position.
    Further, there is a very strong prejudcie against the choir having any job other than to lead the congregational song, (and maybe sing something loud enough to be heard in the deafening after Mass aftermath.)
    Over the course of several years, taking baby-steps, I have increased the amount of chant and Latin in our liturgies, but it has been a real struggle (but one on which I am not yet ready to throw in the towel. Apres moi, le deluge of Spirit and Song.)
    I fully expect to be dressed down after Christmas for having given In Splendoribus precedence over Little Drummer Boy, and thinking Rorate might be more suitable than Hurry! the Lord is Near.
    So in my little corner of the vineyard I need to constantly be on the look out for suitable vernacular programming choices.
    Sorry for the long digression, but do you think I could open another thread that would include English?
    (Or should I not be playing with the big boys;-)?)

    (Although I'd like to report a tiny victory- for a concert children's choir I allowed them to pick something from last year's program to add to this years, and the lovely mode VIII Ave from the 4th Sunday of Advent won the vote... I won't be around to see them becaome the adult PTB in the parish, but I think it will happen.)
  • G,
    The accepted term for English "motets" is anthem, which interestingly is derived from the word "antiphon". Your work, btw, is of the highest value. It's easy to do chant and polyphony where its wanted, but to introduce into a typical OCP parish is the highest of all callings. Keep up the good work. As for the choir anthems, why don't you program a short communion song one day and have the choir sing something to fill the space remaining?

  • Pes
    Posts: 623

    Let's include anthems in the "motet" group. "Motet" will be defined negatively, i.e., not a setting of the Ordinary, and not a setting of a psalm. It can, however, be in Latin or English.

    What do people think of Poulenc's Quatre Petites Prières de Saint François D'Assise? Listen here.
  • Isaac
    Posts: 16
    House keeping

    Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, Ave dulcissimi Maria, Ubi caritas et Amor, Ave Maria

    Macmillan's Christus Vincit (Also, listen to Seven Last Words from the Cross, definitely not a motet but worth listening Hyperion Label CDA 67460)

    Gorecki's Totus Tuus, Amen and Miserere (perhaps too long for liturgical setting)

    Panufnik's Deus, Deus Meus

    Part motets (I am the True Vine, Dopo la vittoria (italian), Triodion) - Hyperion Label CDA 67375
    Part's De Profundis (perhaps too dark, Cisterican monastery only, maybe)

    John Tavener's (contemporary one) Christmas Proclamation, also it's not a motet but he's got a very nice Our Father

    Harris' Faire is the Heaven (where happy souls...)

    Britten's "Hymn to the Virgin"

    Howell's "Like as the Hart Desireth the Waterbrooks"

    Also, try to listen to Villette, almost unrecognized by many people (Hyperion label Compact Disc CDA67539)

    Poulenc's Quatre Petites Prières de Saint François D'Assise

    and not forgetting:

    O magnum mysterium
    Quem vidistis pastores
    Videntes stellam
    Hodie Christus natus est (which might actually be an Introit setting)

    Timor et tremor
    Vinea mea electa
    Tenebrae factae sunt
    Tristis est anima mea

    Keep it up guys,
  • Isaac
    Posts: 16

    While this may not be good liturgically, I'd recommend many to keep this on your "watch out for list"

    Eric Whitacre (American). Listen to (perhaps) his only sacred work so far: When David Heard (Hyperion CDA67543)

  • Isaac
    Posts: 16
    ...This is going to be my final one for this hour, apologies for not thinking before posting, but I left this out too:

    Franz Biebl's Ave Maria

    I know we're all very keen on sharing our different experiences of new music, but we should nevertheless talk about it too. In other words, please don't just say listen to this listen to that. Let's talk about some of the music we've heard, even if it's personal, it gets the thread going. And evidently, there's nothing quite as special as meeting different viewpoints on the same subject - that's what a forum is for.

    Ok, I'll start with what Pes' recommended. Thanks very much for pointing us to that link. I have so far never heard the entire Mass in G major by Poulence, and the Quatre Petites Prières de Saint François D'Assise is quintessentially Poulenc. Poulenc along with many other French composers in the 20th century represent to me a very defining moment in liturgical music. I find that despite the numerous accidentals and changes in key, there is so much honesty to all that complexity. And truth as well. To me, it sort of evokes the turbulent and 'modern' conditions on one hand (with the doubts and despairs of wars and social upheavals) and the Truth that in the midst of this beauty and truth still prevails. But I do know a lot who like me, struggle with this music and don't come or see that light. To many, the 20th century French composers just made life difficult on the singer. I beg to differ.

    So in a nutshell:
    Messiaen's a mystic!
    Poulenc's music is like bright mediterranean whites battling (nay cutting through) a turbulent world. The accidentals are the complexities of the world, but the overall harmonies are the beauty still triumphantly shining through!

  • G
    Posts: 1,396
    Ralph Vaughan Williams "O Taste and See"
  • Just looked it up. Hodie Christus natus est is the antiphon to the Magnificat of Christmas Vespers, so fair game for a motet!

  • marek
    Posts: 17
    Hi everybody, what about Copland's Four Motets? I like them all very much.
  • I don't know those. What are the texts?

  • marek
    Posts: 17
    Aaron Copland:Four Motets (1921):
    Help us, O Lord. For with Thee is the fount of life. In Thy light shall we see light. Let us march and try our ways. Turn to God. It is good that man should wait. It is good that man should hope, Hope for the salvation of the Lord. Help us, O Lord.
    Thou, O Jehovah, abideth forever. God reigneth over all men and nations. His throne doth last and doth guide all the ages. Wherefore willst Thou forsake us ever? When then willst Thou forget us never? Thou, O Jehovah, abideth forever, And all the length of our days Will ever be our Savior.
    Have mercy on us, O my Lord. Be not far from us, O my God. Give ear unto our humble prayer. Attend and judge us in Thy might. Uphold us with Thy guiding hand. Restore us to Thy kindly light. Have mercy on us, O my Lord. Be not far from us, O my God. Oh my heart is sorely pained And calls on Thee in vain. Cast me not away from salvation. Then we shall trust in Thee, Then we will bear our place.
    Sing ye praises to our King and Ruler. Come and hear, all ye men. Come and hear my praises. He doth bless all the earth, Bringeth peace and comfort. Shout unto God, all ye men. Shout unto God all your praises. Come and praise Him, all ye men. Shout and praise Him, all ye men.
    (Three of them are on Hyperion CDA66219)
  • a nice Christmas motet:

    Lux Aurumque

    music by Eric Whitacre
    text sung in latin but original text in english

    warm and heavy as pure gold
    and the angels sing softly
    to the newborn baby.
  • The Copland pieces look like Psalm settings -- makes sense since he was Jewish. I couldn't locate the text in a quick search, though.

  • Vigilate, nice catch!
    LUX ARUMQUE is one of Whitaker's few works that can be successfully negotiated by a capable, even modest SATB choir. The text is technically un-liturgical, but I wouldn't deem it at all inappropriate within a liturgy.
    For weddings: Whitaker's FIVE HEBREW WEDDING SONGS is a gorgeous medley.
  • The Copland Psalm Settings were written for Nadia Boulanger while Copland was
    studying with her in Paris.

    I have also been moved by many of the works of Dr. Peter Hallock of Seattle.
    His "Baptism of the Lord"- a macaronic motet based on an old English carol-
    is very fitting for the Feast of the Baptism. The refrain "Hic est Filius meus,
    ipsum intende" is wonderful!
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Samuel, is Hallock the fellow who wrote something called the Ionian Psalter? I've sung things from that. Very nice.
  • Yes, Pes, Dr. Hallock taught at the Univ. of Washington and was for 40 years
    the Director of Music/ Canon precentor at Seattle's St. Mark's Cathedral. He
    did one of the first "Messiah" performances w/period instruments in the Northwest, started the Sunday evening Compline series that became the model
    for subsequent Compline Choirs around the country and installed one of the
    first Flentrop organs in Seattle. As far as I know, he may still direct the Compline
    Choir on Sunday evenings at St. Mark's. Some of his psalm settings are truly out-
    standing. but not always easy to sing- a judicious use of handbells can often help to steady entrances.
  • marek
    Posts: 17
    Ave Verum Corpus by Imant Raminsh (born 1943) is also great piece.
  • Isaac
    Posts: 16
    Dear all,

    Could you guys help me find links to audio recordings of these pieces which you have kindly mentioned:

    Copland Psalm Settings
    Ionian Psalter by Hallock
    Baptism of the Lord by Hallock
    Ave Verum Corpus by Imant Raminsh.

    Again, please, please do not just tell us of it but about it. This is a forum to 'discuss' about these contemporary motets. We would like to know (for example):

    What is unique about this motet? Precedents/ Homage to previous composers if any?
    How does one emote to it/with it?
    Compositional structures
    Relevance to the contemporary world...for example what makes the sound 'new'? Does new = modern? What kind of modernity (is it a sound, text or intention?) really irks traditional opinions of sacred music?

    These are some questions that will get pandora's box to open. You see, often some 'modern' works get misconstrued or even chastised for being untrue to certain liturgical 'spirits' be they about authentic renewal or not conforming to traditional notions of worthy sacred music. So let us discuss these pieces in light of that.

    You do not need to be a musician to think about these. Even a basic, I feel that.... gets some message across.

  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Isaac, I've only sung and heard a few of Hallock's settings for the Psalter. The reason I like them is that they're Anglican-style chant rendered with new-sound cadences. I think. My experience with all this is limited. For example, I remember their mediant cadences often had intervals of seconds in them, so that you'd have these remarkable mid-points of tension which the final cadences resolved. They sounded more daring and colorful than other Anglican chants I had heard, more like the more modern psalm settings of Walford Davies (which I love) and David Willcocks. Prayerful and musically satisfying. I look forward to visiting my sister-in-law in Seattle so I can pray Compline with his choir. Alas, I haven't heard anything else by him.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    There's a very forthright, clearly-written anthem by Charles Wood (d. 1926) called This Joyful Eastertide. I believe this is called "an old chestnut," and probably done to death in some places, but for those of you who might be new to it, give it a look. It's very well-written. I don't know the date of its composition. Mr. Wood was born in 1866, so this might be pushing our C20 boundary a bit too far. And its style is very traditional.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,407
    There are several great 20th century motets that our choir has loved:
    Ave Verum Corpus: Colin Mawby ("one of the finest 20th century works: Richard Proulx")
    Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester: Malcolm Archer (also has some other good things)
    Ave Verum Corpus, Great is the Lord: Elgar:(others too)
    Miserere Mei: Calvin Schenck (Cantica Nova)
    Advent Anthem: Richard Proulx
    E'n So Lord Jesus Come: Mainz
    Cantique de Jean Racine: Faure
    Advent Message: Martin How

    I guess i'm getting carried away.Will stop.
  • richardUKrichardUK
    Posts: 85
    Has anyone encountered the wonderful and fresh choral music of Javier Busto (born c 1950 I think), a Basque composer? His "Ave Maria" for four-part SATB choir is gorgeous, easy, and very memorable. It's made a huge impression wherever I've sung or conducted it. There is also a Magnificat in Latin for female voices, and many other delightful choral works. Busto is an amazing force for good choral music in Spain, where, in the north of the country especially, choral music and liturgy is undergoing a bit of a renaissance. Here is a page with more info on him and where to find his music and recordings: http://www.singers.com/choral/javierbusto.html
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 752
    The Oxford Book of European Sacred Music is worth a look. It's a good source of music from a number of periods, but in relation to this thread it includes a number of 20th century works: Casals (O Vos Omnes), Poulenc (Salve Regina), Rachmaninov (Ave Maria), Reger (unser lieben Frauen Traum), Stravinsky (Ave Maria).
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 752
    ... and from left field, Tavener's setting of Blake's Little Lamb is wonderful, and works well around Christmas and Easter.
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 312
    Dear ghmus7, thanks for reviving this thread. I very much enjoy 20th & 21st century motets, especially those written by composers who truly understand the liturgy and the spirit of chant. A matter of housekeeping, though: Many of the items you listed are accompanied by organ. Are we focusing this discussion on unaccompanied motets and anthems, or are we opening it up to accompanied works?

    IanW, I couldn't agree with you more about Poulenc's "Vinea Mea Electa" -- it's one of the most moving pieces ever written. I was reminded of it last year when I made my first trip to the Napa Valley, and stood looking at grapevines growing as far as the eye could see, knowing that some vintner cares very deeply about each one of those plants, that they are the pride of his life's work. I think Poulenc captures this "breast swelling with pride" sort of feeling when he opens the with "vinea mea electa, ego te plantavi," which makes the heartbreaking setting of "quomodo conversa es in amaritudinem, ut me crucifigures et Barrabam dimitteres" all the more poignant. The bitterness of betrayal is communicated without an ounce of anger -- simply the utter sadness of a broken, sacred heart.

    May I add to this list a few unaccompanied modern motets I've enjoyed conducting this year:

    Healey Willan's "O Sacred Feast." It's much more accessible than the Messiaen for the average choir, and it's in English (which you should appreciate, G!). Many of Healey Willan's pieces, though conceived for the Anglo-Catholic church, are perfectly suited for the Roman rite. "Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One" is another splendid unaccompanied motet, perfect for a wedding.

    Leo Nestor should be included here. Here's a recording of my church choir singing Nestor's "The Call," available from ECS Publishing: http://www.uccmedfield.org/Assets/audio/music/TheCall.wma
    We're starting to rehearse Nestor's "Come Risen Lord" (Oxford) but it's going to take some time.

    And, in the category of "these unaccompanied motets beat the knickers off their Glory & Praise equivalents":
    Compare McCabe's "I Am the Living Bread" to Toolan's harder-to-sing-than-the-national-anthem version.
    Compare Schalk's "He Who Dwells in the Shelter of the Most High" to Joncas's overdone Wings.
    Compare Grotenhuis's "Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace" to Sebastian Temple's celebrated ditty.
  • I don't know if this the correct thread to use... but I just received my new CanticaNOVA catalog yesterday... it contains very nice descriptions of new pieces from Horst Buchholz (Water Music: For the Sprinkling Rite), Richard Rice (Maneant in vobis) and Michael Lawrence (O sacrum convivium). Congratulations!

  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Both wonderful pieces, btw
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,068

    English composers frequently use the word motet instead of anthem when the original text is Latin but translated into English and when the motet is a cappella.

    One of my favorite collections is the "Eight Short Motets for the Greater Festivals of the Church" by Everett Titcomb (1885-1968), including particularly his "Christ our Passover" and "I will not leave you Comfortless" - both gems. Titcomb thoughtfully often included Gregorian chant in his works (the "I will not leave you Comfortless" quotes the "Veni Creator Spiritus"). Sadly, most of these works are now out of print, and I would dearly like to obtain copies of all eight.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    Kevin Allen's DOMINE NON SUM DIGNUS in Motecta Trium Vocum is a masterpiece: structurally and melodically.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    I recently completed my dissertation, cataloging the choral music of Joseph Willcox Jenkins. Even though circumstances have kept me from the Colloquium the past two years, I believe some of his music was presented there each year.

    He has some great unpublished choral music. The catalog (which includes both sacred and secular music) starts at page 113 of my document, which is available online here.

    Please let me know if there's anything in there that catches anyone's fancy. I will soon be negotiating with Dr. Jenkins about the possibility of making some more of his choral music available online.
  • R J StoveR J Stove
    Posts: 302
    Marcel Dupré's TWO MOTETS of 1958 are admirably crafted, though to perform them in a liturgical context would need not only an exceptionally sharp-witted choir accustomed to tangy Gallic a cappella harmonies, but a first-rate soprano soloist. So they're quite a big ask. They are, nevertheless, fully worthy to rank beside Dupré's far better known organ compositions.

    Also, in my experience a few of Jean Langlais's Mass settings are revived occasionally - more in concert than in church - but when was the last time you heard (or even heard of) Langlais's wartime DEUX DÉPLORATIONS with organ accompaniment, to Latin texts (respectively LIBERA ME for STB and MISERERE for SATB)? I should think they'd appeal to anyone who has cultivated a taste for, say, Poulenc.
  • Mark P.
    Posts: 248
    Marcel Dupré's Ave verum is beautiful and very accessible. James Biery's O sacrum convivium is a modern-day masterpiece and is likewise accessible.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,161
    Please add the to this list Geoffrey Burgon, a contemporary Englishman. His "A Prayer to the Trinity" and "But Have been Found Again" are wonderful, but difficult pieces. He also has a psalm setting of Ps. 147 that is terribly difficult but stunning. He is more know for writing the music to the BBC television series "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier,Spy" but has written some wonderful church music.
    My 02.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,968
    SkirpR...nice work...but somehow the musical examples are mangled in the pdf online.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Thanks, Jeffrey... I wonder if anybody else who tried had any problems, because I downloaded the file again and everything came up just fine. Are you using the latest version of Acrobat Reader?
  • SkirpR, when I clicked on the link it wouldn't load, just circled endlessly. I would love to see the catalogue! About five years ago I wrote to Dr. Jenkins and he gave me permission to transcribe into Sibelius for my choirs his handwritten and mimeographed score of the "Joseph Dearest" arrangement he wrote for the Pittsburgh Oratorio Society 30-some years ago, which has become a favorite. I have great memories of studying composition with him as an undergraduate at Duquesne. Contact me if you need a copy of the score.