Double Entendre! Yes, we’re teaming up with the Leeds Guild Of Singers so you can hear two choirs for the price of one!
The idea, which has been on the table for quite a while due to the pandemic, is not to form an augmented chorus for some performance on a grand scale, but to offer a programme of music written for single choir, double choir and a number of variations in between. So you can experience the thrill of hearing all 70 voices singing together but also enjoy the contrasts of each choir singing on their own.
Double choir ? it’s not a new idea
The idea of two groups of singers singing to each other in dialogue is nearly as old as western music itself. It goes back to the practice of monastic communities, who would sit facing each other in a collegiate arrangement, and chant alternate verses of the Psalms to each other, thus originating what is known as antiphonal music. Even in plainsong it works like a conversation with a musical idea stated in the first half of the verse and the answer contained in the response.
Antiphonal writing is a feature of the early choral writing of the Venetian Giovanni Gabrieli (b c1554) and also of Heinrich Schütz (b 1585) and indeed continues to be used through to modern times – those who attended our concert in November (A Vision of Albion) may recall Stanford’s brilliant motet Coelos ascendit hodie especially for its antiphonal writing.
Some composers have of course taken advantage of having choirs capable of singing in eight or more parts (two each of soprano, alto, tenor and bass) to create richer, symphonic textures with more colourful and complex harmonies. Parry’s There is an old belief, and indeed Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor from that same concert are fine examples, with Vaughan Williams mixing antiphonal writing into it as well, and there are many more.
The programme for this concert includes a broad range of choral music ranging from the early German music of Schütz and Buxtehude through Romantic works by Mendelssohn, Rheinberger and Rachmaninoff to more modern works by Schnittke and Arvo Pärt. It illustrates the amazing creativity of these composers as they continually sought and found news ways to vary and develop the use of double choir resources.
The motet Jauchzet dem Herrn by Heinrich Schütz (himself influenced by Gabrieli) shows antiphonal writing at its strongest with echo effects and great rhythmic drive as two four-part choirs of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses fling words and musical ideas back and forth between them, almost interrupting each other at times. By contrast, the Magnificat that was once attributed to Buxtehude finds a different way of varying the sounds and textures by switching from 5-part choral writing to solo voices or single-voice ensembles. And in his lyrical motet Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen, Mendelssohn provides a further variation, creating separate groups out of the upper and lower voices for antiphonal use.
Rachmaninoff’s Choral Concerto and Schnittke’s Three Sacred Hymns take us into Russian Orthodox tradition, where the desire to enrich the music of the liturgy while retaining the restriction to just a cappella choral resources led to the development of great dynamism and richness, exemplified in the Choral Concerto. Schnittke demonstrates both antiphonal writing and the concerted building of richer choral sound, with the two being combined in the third hymn. Arvo Pärt, by contrast, and possibly seeking to return to basics, achieves the opposite in his setting of the Magnificat: a spare, minimalist, almost glacial texture created through, not despite, a multiplicity of parts, and a reminder of the simple chant that lies deep in the heart of all liturgical music.
The concert reaches its climax with the opulent Mass in E flat (‘Cantus Missae’) by Joseph Rheinberger. This magnificent work boasts antiphonal writing reflecting all the glory of the Venetian tradition, while also displaying mastery of contrapuntal textures – the weaving together of many moving parts – bequeathed to him in the German tradition by Bach and Mendelssohn. With all 70 or so voices of the two choirs combined in the warm key of E flat major, this work will provide an uplifting end to the concert and a fine memory to take away.
|Three sacred hymns||Alfred Schnittke|
|Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen||Felix Mendelssohn|
|Jauchzet dem Herrn||Heinrich Schütz|
|Choral Concerto||Sergei Rachmaninoff|
|Mass in E flat ‘Cantus Missae’||Joseph Rheinberger|
The concert takes place in the beautiful setting of Leeds Minster at 4pm on Saturday 11 February, and will last about an hour. Refreshments will be served.
Leeds Minster is a large and well-ventilated building offering plenty of space, as well as impressive architecture and ambience. Car parking is available on streets nearby, in the car park by the Palace Hotel, and in the NCP Markets Car Park.