Choral Highlights

Enjoy a taste of the choral music you will hear from St. Matthew's Schola Cantorum (Latin for "School of Singers") at the 10am and 11:30am Masses this Sunday, courtesy of St. Matthew's Office of Music Ministries.

Scroll down past choral highlights from this liturgical year. Archives from 2017 (Cycle A) and 2016 (Cycle C) are also available.

Sunday December 17, 2017
Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass, Alma Redemptoris Mater - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

The text of this motet is taken from the closing Marian Antiphon from the Office of Compline during the Season of Advent through the Presentation. The motet was posthumously published in the 19th century in Rome in the collection Raccolta di Musica Sacra. The motet is unusually monophonic for Palestrina’s oeuvre, with only a brief call and echo effect on the words Virgo prius ac posterius (Virgin, before and after), as well as a fully polyphonic section on the text peccatorum miserere (of sinners, have mercy). This dichotomy of composition could be a reference to the harmonious union of the Virgin with God, compared with the often fragmented relationship of the human race with the divine.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, O Mary Blest, the Chosen Shrine – Thomas Keesecker

Thomas Keesecker is the Music Director of St. Margaret’s Catholic Church in Bel Air MD, and has published numerous sacred works. This Marian motet sets a John M. Neale translation of a Venantius Fortunatus poem. The composition of the motet is in ABA form, with the 2nd section utilizing a well-known Basque carol, The Angel Gabriel. The musical style has mild influences of Jazz and extended harmonies. The opening gestures of this original melody calls to mind the descent of the Spirit in the Annunciation referenced in the text.

Post-communion anthem 11:30am Mass, Dicite Pusillanimes – Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741)

Fux was an Austrian music theorist, most well-known for his groundbreaking study of counterpoint Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus), in which he outlines the rules for 16th century style of writing or the Palestrina school. Fux was a great admirer of Palestrina and wrote him into the treatise as the teacher Luigi (middle name Pierluigi). This motet is written under his rules of counterpoint and could easily be mistaken for a work from an earlier century. The text is taken from the Communion Proper for the third Sunday, which is from the Prophet Isaiah.

Post-communion anthem 11:30am Mass, Angelus ad Virginem – Andrew Carter

This anthem is by the British composer Andrew Carter (b. 1933.) The setting is based on a popular medieval carol, whose text is a poetic version of the Hail Mary and the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. Probably Franciscan in origin, it was brought to Britain by French friars in the 13th century. It is said to have originally consisted of 27 stanzas, with each following stanza beginning with the consecutive letter of the alphabet. Surviving manuscripts may be found in a c. 1361 Dublin Troper (a music book for use at Mass) and a 13th or 14th century vellum Sequentiale that may have been connected with the Church of Addle, Yorkshire. Its lyrics also appear in the works of John Audelay (perhaps a priest, as he definitely spent the last years of his life at Haughmond Abbey, where he wrote for the monks), in a group of four Marian poems. It also appears in Geoffrey Chaucer's Miller's Tale, where the scholar Nicholas sings it in Latin to the accompaniment of his psaltery: “And over all there lay a psaltery Whereon he made an evening's melody, Playing so sweetly that the chamber rang; And Angelus ad virginem he sang; And after that he warbled the King's Note: Often in good voice was his merry throat.”

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December 10, 2017
Second Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Kyrie and Agnus Dei 10am, Mass for Five Voices – William Byrd (1543-1623)

Along with the Masses for Three and Four voices, Byrd composed the Five Voice Mass in the 1590s for the clandestine Catholic community during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Along with the Gradualia from the early 1600s, these choral works allowed the celebration of the Roman Rite Mass, as it would have been understood by the continental missionary priests that were journeying to England. The Mass is set in a polyphonic Tudor style featuring imitative entrances, often spaced in close adjacencies.

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Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass, Deus tu Convertens - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

This motet from the composer’s Offertoria collection of 1593 sets the Offertory Proper for this 2nd Sunday of Advent. The work begins with a bright motive utilizing the fifth, which is passed through the five voices before concluding the section in the major. The second part of the piece takes a quieter and partially homophonic setting before a completely unified choral setting of the words ‘Show us, Lord.’ Afterwards, the piece alternates between gentle polyphony and declarative homophony before concluding on a triumphal authentic cadence for the text ‘grant us your Salvation.’

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30 am Mass, O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem – Leo Nestor

The two verses set in this motet are from Psalm 122 and have been popular material for composers; two notable settings are by Hubert Parry and Herbert Howells. The contemporary American composer Leo Nestor sets the text in lush harmonies, creating a placid sense of petition that is stretched and elongated throughout the work through the use of suspensions. The work was commissioned by The Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel, CA, and is published as the second motet in the composer’s A Jerusalem Triptych. Nestor was the long-time director of music at the National Shrine and head of the Sacred Music Department at The Catholic University of America.

Post-Communion 10am Mass, Jerusalem Surge – Padre G. B. Martini (1706-1784)

Martini was a music historian, theorist, composer, and Franciscan priest, born in Bologna, Italy. In 1725 he became Chapel Master for San Francesco, Bologna, and later opened a school in the city where he attracted such students as J. C. Bach, C. Gluck, and W. A. Mozart. There is a strong influence of Fuxian counterpoint in his music, as well as more homophonic classical styles. The text Jerusalem Surge is the Communion Proper for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, and is taken from the Book of Baruch. It speaks of Jerusalem rising from its captivity and its joyful anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.

Post-Communion 11:30am Mass, And the Glory of the Lord – George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

This exuberant anthem is taken from his oratorio Messiah (1742). It is the first choral anthem of the oratorio, and appears in the first scene, setting the text from the prophet Isaiah. Before becoming a British citizen, Handel was born in Halle, Saxony, (Germany) and was strongly influence by German polyphonic writing, as well as Italian opera.

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December 3, 2017
First Sunday of Advent (Year B) 

Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass, Ad te Levavi - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

This motet sets the Offertory chant for the first Sunday of Advent, and is taken from Palestrina’s collection of Offertoria, published in 1593. The text is from the 24th psalm, and calls on believers to lift their souls to God. This ‘looking up’, whether spiritually or visually, is a recurrent theme during the season of Advent. We see it in today’s first reading from Isaiah, and in the culmination of the theme in the Rorate Caeli antiphon on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, E’en so, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come – Paul Manz (1919-2009)

Paul Manz was a renowned Lutheran composer, organist, and teacher. This Advent motet is one of his most celebrated and beloved compositions. The words are from Revelation 22, adapted by Paul’s wife, Ruth. The piece has a gentle character that builds to a declamation of Christ’s coming to earth. The textual ambiguity of the work make it accessible through such variety of liturgical frames as Advent, latter Sundays of Ordinary time, and even within the context of death, as it was sung by family and friends on the composer’s deathbed.

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Post-Communion 10am Mass, Cibavit Eos – William Byrd (c. 1543-1623)

This motet by the Tudor-era William Byrd is taken from the composer’s 1607 Gradualia I, written for a clandestine Catholic community of England. The text is the Introit for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi taken from Psalm 81 and recalls God’s promise to feed us with the finest wheat and even honey from the rock. The motet has a bright, jubilant character that well expresses the gratitude for God’s many blessings, particularly in the Alleluia section. Modally, the piece is Mixolydian, with hints of the diatonic major scale, prefiguring elements of Baroque era music that would flower in the next few decades.

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Post-Communion 11:30am Mass, Keep your Lamps – André Thomas (b. 1952)

André Thomas was born in Wichita, Kansas, and at an early age studied piano. He continued studying music later at the university level, earning degrees at Friends University, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois. This arrangement of the well-known spiritual is sparsely set and uses simple harmonies and rhythms, giving the text and meaning a central place in the listener’s ear. The text refers to today’s Gospel in which Christ admonishes us to be ready and especially aware of his presence in the least among us so that we may count ourselves among the sheep at the last judgment, and not the goats.

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