Three Sacred Choral Works Worth Checking Out
Singing is perhaps the purest form of music. The source of the sound is in your very body, creating a physiological connection to the music that isn’t present when the instrument is externalized. Not only that, but interweaving language itself into the melodies and harmonies of the music can covey a much more explicit and powerful meaning to the work than a mere soundscape ever could. It’s this truth – the power of vocal music – that captivated the world’s religiously-minded from the earliest days of their history, looking to explore the mystery of music and how it could enhance sacred ideas into a divine artistic experience.
This most notably took shape in the West in the form of choral music. Not only were vocalists creating music themselves, but they were doing so in communion with others, creating a rich polyphony that has stood the test of time over the centuries. For those interested, here in no particular order, are five examples of this tradition of sacred choral music I think are worth checking out:
Maurice Duruflé – Ubi Caritas
A 19th century French composer, Duruflé is not a household name due to the relative scarce amount of music he wrote (he only had fourteen opuses). The music he did write, however, was brilliant. One of his trademarks was taking ancient Gregorian chants, hundreds of years old, and harmonizing them in post-romantic styles. Ubi Caritas is a brilliant example of this style. Most commonly used on Maundy Thursday, the opening Latin translates to “Where there is love and charity, there is God.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Domine, Jesu Christe (from his Requiem Mass)
This selection from one of Mozart’s most famous works, his Requiem Mass in D-minor, is not as well-known as some of the other parts of the mass. Perhaps this is because the Domine, Jesu Christe was not actually written by Mozart! In 1791 while in the midst of working on the Requiem, Mozart suddenly died, leaving one of his students, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, to complete the commissioned manuscript. This movement was possibly constructed from fragments found in Mozart’s notes.
Ralph Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on Christmas Carols
An early 19 th -century English composer, Vaughan Williams was strongly influenced by English folk music, and much like Duruflé, sought to incorporate these ancient tunes into his music while applying a modern-day post-romantic lens to the melodies. In his Fantasia on Christmas Carols, Vaughan Williams does exactly this, creating a brilliant medley of traditional English carols that profoundly and joyously celebrate the yule tide season.