A few of my favorite choral pieces

I wrote last week about my love of choral music, and how I used to think about it more when I wrote more of it. I also spent a lot of time listening to it back then. Today I’ll share a few of my favorites.

Faire is the Heaven by William Henry Harris

Link to recording

Double choir is a technique where a composer writes parts for two separate choral units, both consisting of each part of the choir. These units then sing separate & overlapping phrases according to their organization. Faire is the Heaven is probably the best use of a double choir that I know of. Harris uses overlaps between the end of one choir’s phrase and the beginning of the other’s to create a chain of unbroken texture throughout the piece. Each idea starts as the previous finishes, smoothly transitioning you through a sublime kaleidoscope. There are a lot of ideas in the piece, but they flow together so nicely that it feels well-structured nonetheless.

Album art for Allegri: Miserere by Tenebrae
This entire album is fantastic, by the way. Choral music is a huge challenge to record well, so the audio engineers who worked on this one deserve a lot of credit.

O sacrum convivium! by Olivier Messiaen

Link to recording

Messiaen is a composer who kind of just had his own way of doing things. He didn’t write much choral music, and his mature compositional approach probably wouldn’t have been well-suited to it anyway. But O sacrum convivium is a gem of a piece, in which he brings his unique language to choral writing with lovely results. The rhythmic pattern is irregular but very slow, so it may take a moment to “feel into it” on first encounter. The harmony is generally tonal but features some forays into octatonic harmony, lending it an otherworldly but nevertheless devotional feel.

Ubi caritas by Maurice Duruflé

Link to recording

This piece has a special place in my heart. I sang it in an honor choir I participated in in middle school, which was one of my first experiences with 4-part SATB choral music. I’m usually a tenor, but I ended up singing bass in this ensemble, which always gives you a different view of the piece. There’s this really cool “money note” the basses get to sing on the word diligamus, and it’s such a short thing, but it was what I looked forward to the most when we sang the piece. It’s also a great example of how to adapt a Gregorian chant theme, which is one of Duruflé’s specialties, being an organist.

Do you listen to choral music? Have you heard the pieces I mentioned? Do you have some favorites you’d like to recommend me? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​ctrl-c.club.