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St. Joseph Pro Musica Concert
March 2, 1991

Britten: Te Deum in C | Ugolini: Three Motets | Mendelssohn: Drei Psalmen | Howells: Te Deum

"Church music in the grand manner" describes the works presented on tonight's concert. Composed for the great churches of England, Rome, and Berlin, much of this music is rarely performed -- perhaps because as concert music it seems too liturgical, and for liturgical use it is beyond the resources of most church choirs.

One of the earliest of Christian hymns, the Te Deum, has, since 1549, been a part of the Anglican service. It has been used to close services, as a processional chant, and a song of thanksgiving for special occasions.  Last season Pro Musica performed Händel's Dettington Te Deum, composed for the celebration of a military victory.

The settings of the Te Deum that begin and end this concert are dedicated to great English churches and their choirs and are scored for 4-part mixed choir with organ. The Te Deum text falls into three sections: I. Praise to the Trinity, II. Praise of Christ, III. Prayers.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Te Deum in C

Devotional music, if not strictly liturgical, played an important part in Benjamin Britten's prodigious output of vocal music. Of his few liturgical compositions, he wrote two settings of the Te Deum. The earlier one, Te Deum in C, was written in 1935 for Maurice Vinden and the Choir of St. Mark's, North Audley Street, London.

The first and third parts are dominated by C major vocal fanfares against a syncopated organ pedal part.  Britten's genius for wedding text, music, and the color of the human voice is demonstrated in the serenity of the setting of "Comforter" at the close of the first section. For a composer with such an affinity for boys' voices, it is not surprising that the middle section, "Thou art the King of Glory," is a lyrical treble solo with choral responses. The C major fanfares return for the final section with the lyrical second theme carrying the concluding phrase, "Let me never be confounded."

English text of the Te Deum

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Vincenzo Ugolini (ca. 1580-1638)
Three Motets from Motecta sive sacrae cantiones

Exultate omnes
Beata es, virgo ejus
Quae est ista
Italian Baroque composer, singer, and teacher Vincenzo Ugolini spent most of his career as a church musician in Rome. HIs compositions are primarily devoted to liturgical works but include several collections of secular madrigals. Ugolini's conservative compositional style reflects the Palestrina tradition. However, his use of basso continuo, his brief self-contained motifs, and the manner in which they often closely follow the textual rhythms confirm that he is a composer of his time. The three motets are from a volume of various liturgical pieces published during Ugolini's tenure as maestro of the Cappella Giulia of St. Peter's in Rome.  Exultate omnes was written for the 1620 inauguration of the Cardinal Scipio Borghese as Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica. The Marian motets Beata es, Virgo Maria, and Quae est ista are settings of texts for the Matins of the Assumption.  The motets are scored for three 4-part choirs with basso continuo. In Ugolini's time, twenty outside extra singers were hired to supplement the chapel choir and three organs were used.

Latin and English texts

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Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Drei Psalmen, Op. 78

1.  Der 2. Psalm: Warum toben die Heiden
2.  Der 43. Psalm: Richte mich, Gott
3.  Der 22. Psalm: Mein Gott, warum
It may come as a surprise to twentieth-century music lovers acquainted with Felix Mendelssohn primarily as an instrumental composer that nearly a quarter of his output was choral music. In addition to his well-known oratorios St. Paul and Elijah and other large accompanied works, he wrote a considerable body of partsongs and church music.

Composed in 1944 for the Berlin Cathedral Choir at the request of the king, the Three Psalms, Op. 78 are some of Mendelssohn's finest contributions to the Lutheran liturgy. Scored for 8-part a capella chorus with various combinations of soloists, the Psalms are almost orchestral in color and texture. In these beautiful but dignified Psalm settings, Mendelssohn has crafted a form that blends elements from polyphonic Lutheran church music and German folk songs with the antiphonal, responsorial style of earlier Italian liturgical music.

The first, a setting of Psalm 2, Why do the heathen rage, is the most extensive of the three with numerous key, tempo, and textual contrasts. It concludes with a canonic rendition of the Gloria Patri. Psalm 43, Judge me, O God, features the antiphonal interaction of the men's and women's voices. A poignant tenor solo set in responsorial style with the chorus opens Psalm 22, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

 German and English texts
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Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Te Deum
In this century, Herbert Howells holds a central place as a composer of music for the Anglican Church. First established by his songs, chamber, and orchestral pieces, his major compositions for the church were written after 1940. Major influences on his styles were music of the Tudor period, his teachers Charles V. Stanford and Charles Wood, and his friend and colleague Ralph Vaughan Williams. Howells' music may be characterized as a synthesis of everything English, enriching the tradition without major challenges to it.

As with Britten, much of Howells' music was inspired by certain occasions, people, and in the case of some of the service music, buildings. His distinguished set of Cathedral Services are dedicated to and influenced by the acoustic and special choral traditions of various churches. Howells' Te Deum setting that closes this concert is taken from the service Collegium Regale of 1944, which was composed for the choir of King's College, Cambridge.  The long unison modal-feeling melodies, contrasted with lush harmonic passages and the strong, independent organ part, evoke the aura of that venerable chapel and capitalize on its distinguished tradition of representing the finest in Anglican church music.

English text of the Te Deum

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1991.
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