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 for choral highlights from previous Sundays in the current liturgical year (Cycle B). Archives from 2017 (Cycle A) and 2016 (Cycle C) are also available. 

May 20, 2018
Pentecost (Year B)

Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass, Dum Complerentur - G. P. da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594)

Palestrina resists setting this motet in the strict imitation polyphony for which he is typically known, and instead uses homophonic phrases alternating between different grouping of the choir sections. This technique gives the piece a gentle undulating quality, similar to a wind blowing through the room at Pentecost. The text is from the book of Acts, and recounts the event with ‘Alleluia’ dispersed throughout the piece - often in more standard imitation polyphony, particularly at the end.

To hear a version, click below:

Preparation of the Gifts 11:30 am Mass, Veni, Creator Spiritus - Michael John Trotta (b. 1978)

Opening with a single voice on the motive of the Veni Creator Chant, the pieces then gentle adds voices, always continuing in the chant rhythm. Although the melody of the chant is not preserved entirely, having the motives traded throughout the vocal parts gives the effect of the chant hymn being sung in its entirety. Two texts are spliced together for this motet: The first being the Veni Creator, Spiritus which we hear in the beginning (often attributed to Rabanus Maurus (9th century), and Veni Sancte Spiritus, (not the sequence by the same name), a short prayer found in a proper from the liturgy. The text sings of the good works of the Holy Spirit, and implores the Spirit to reside in the hearts of the faithful. John Michael Trotta is an American choral conductor and collaborative composer, who has worked principally in the New York and Philadelphia music communities.

Communion Motet 10am Mass, Alleluia, Emitte Spiritum - William Byrd (1538-1623)

The text of this motet comes from today's Gradual, and is found in Psalm 103. The text is framed by joyful Alleluia's dividing the phrases of the motet. The countrapuntal writing is imitative and densely interwoven between the parts. William Byrd was an English composer and contemporary of Thomas Tallis. This motet is taken from his collection Gradualia, seu Cantionum Sacrarum, 2nd book published in 1607.

To hear a version, click below:

Communion Motet 11:30am Mass, Be Present, Spirit of the Lord -  REPTON, arr. John Ferguson (b. 1941)

John Ferguson is an American composer and organist known for his choral compositions and hymn arrangements. This motet joins Hubert Parry’s hymn REPTON (Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, and He Comes to Us as One Unknown) with a recent text by English poet and bishop, Timothy Dudley-Smith. The text is inspired by the characteristics and actions of the Holy Spirit as described in today's sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus. Ferguson uses reharmonizations, descants, and contrapuntal writing of the hymn tune for this choral arrangement.


ARCHIVE (Year B)

May 6, 2018
Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B) 

The Schola Cantorum is on its Eastertide hiatus this week and will return for the Feast of the Ascension May 13, 2018, singing motets by William Byrd, Ned Rorem, G. P. da Palestrina, Thomas Weelkes and Richard Proulx.

April 29, 2018
Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Prelude 11:30am Mass, Ave Maria – David Conte (b. 1955)

David Conte is a contemporary American composer. He studied music at Bowling Green State and Cornell University, and has taught at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Cornell and Colgate University. He was a Fulbright scholar, and studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He is primarily a choral composer, and utilizes an extensive harmonic palate around a tonal center, with influences of Jazz and Americana. The text of the motet is taken from two passages in the Gospel of Luke. The first extracts from the salutation of Gabriel to the Virgin during the Annunciation, and the second is taken from Elisabeth’s greeting during the Visitation. The Gospel of John ends today with this promise – “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” Mary not only willingly and joyfully bore the fruit of Jesus, but also the fruit of many disciples of Christ.

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Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass, Regina Caeli – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

The text Regina Caeli is taken from the Office and is used as the concluding prayer for Compline during the Easter season. It also replace the Angelus during this time. It is of unknown authorship, but it is found in manuscript dating from the 12th century, and was popularized through Europe by the Franciscans and the reforms of the Office by Nicholas III. The Italian renaissance composer, Palestrina, utilizes the chant melody throughout this motet, beginning in the soprano line, and passing through the other parts, at times in its original version, and at times ornamented beyond recognition. The thematic material is treated through imitative, as well as homophonic writing. Although not linked to today’s readings, it does remind us to remember Mary’s role as both Queen of Heaven as well as Christ’s mother and first disciple as we approach the month traditionally dedicated to her.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, What Wondrous Love is This? – Leo Nestor

The text of this hymn is by the Methodist preacher and poet Alexander Means and first published in 1811 during a period known as the Second Great Awakening in American Christianity. It was attached to a folk melody ballad and published in Southern Harmony in 1835, coming down through various hymnals to its present form today. As is typically with other shape-note hymns, the melodic construct utilizes pentatonicism and modality. The American conductor and choral Composer, Leo Nestor, use considered restraint in his writing to render the simple and modal character of the piece in a rich four part setting. Its use at today’s Mass brings particular focus to the second reading from John’s First Letter where we are encouraged “to love not in word or speech but in deed and truth,” as Jesus did when out of an unfathomable love for us “he laid aside his crown …. to bear the dreadful curse, for my soul.”

Post-Communion Motet 10am and 11:30am Masses, Cantate Domino – Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)

Although not born into a musical family, the German composer Schütz received training as a choirboy in Kassel, before going to Italy to study under Gabrieli. Upon his return he succeeded Hassler as court composer for the Saxon court in Dresden. His style, while continuing in the tradition of his predecessors such as Paetorius and Hassler, develops elements of the Baroque which would later to be picked up and fulling develop by Buxtehude and Bach. The motet’s text is taken from the 149th Psalm and is the prescribed introit for today’s Mass in the Gregorian Missal.

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April 22, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Prelude, 11:30am Mass, Exsultate Justi – Lodovico da Viadana (1564-1627)

Viadana was born in the Italian province of Mantua, under the family name Grossi, which was changed to Viadana when he entered the Franciscan order. There is some evidence to suggest that he served as a chorister in Cathedrals in Mantua, Concordia and Fano. He is remembered particularly for continuing the development of figured bass notation. This brief and joyful motet sets three verses of Psalm 33, alternating between triple and duple metrics, with brief instances of vocal flourishes and echo effects.

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Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass, Surrexit Pastor Bonus - Orlande de Lassus (c. 1532 – 1594)

The Franco-Flemish composer Lassus was one of the most famous composers of the Polyphonic era. In his motet writing, frequent use of text painting occurs: The opening phrase in each part ascends on the first line as it speaks of the Good Shepherd’s resurrection. The mode becomes brighter on mentioning the sheep of the flock; a nod to the simpler character of the redeemed sheep versus the theologically heavier lines of the motet. The third line uses repeated notes to create drive on the text that might imply the motivation of the Shepherd’s actions. The final line is repeated three times – both to emphasize the depth of Christ’s act of love, and possibly a nod to the Trinity. The Alleluia retains the pastoral style of earlier in the motet, and is densely imitated through the various voices before arriving at a joyful cadence.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, The Stone Which the Builders Rejected - Gail Gillispie

Gillispie is a singer, composer, and lutenist based in the Chicago area, where she has conducted a number of choral groups specializing in music from the Renaissance. Despite being a contemporary composer, her music stylistically is aligned with Palestrina and other catholic polyphonic motet composers, with lines of text oscillating between homophonic and polyphonic textures, all framed within 16th contrapuntal theory. The text of this motet is from Psalm 118, which is the Psalm for Easter Sunday.

Communion Motet 10am Mass, Deus, Deus Meus - G. P. da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594)

This motet is taken from Palestrina’s Offertoria Totius anni of 1593, and is designated for the Offertory of the second Sunday after Easter. It is striking for being one of the few motets from this collection to begin the motive in the Bass, which creates a much more subdued and somber affect, eliciting a sense of meditation. The phrase ‘ad te’ to you is set in an ascending fifth, as we look up in prayer. All phrases in this motet have the lower two voices drop out at points, removing the momentum of the line, and creating a tranquility to reflect on the text. The setting of the Alleluia at the end, instead of dramatically altering and energizing the piece by changing meter as is typical, retains somewhat the placid style of earlier section.

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Communion Motet 11:30am Mass, Surrexit Christus Pastor Bonus – Felix Menelssohn (1809-1847)

Mendelssohn was a German composer of the Romantic era, well-known for his vast choral output, as well as instrumental and symphonic music. This piece is scored for female voices, and is taken from his Opus 39, which was inspired by visiting Trinita dei Monti and hearing the nuns sing. The text quotes today’s 10th chapter of John’s Gospel where Christ refers to himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, .

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April 15, 2018
Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Introit 11:30am Mass, Now the Green Blade Riseth - John Hirten (b. 1956)

John Hirten is a San Francisco based organist and composer of both sacred and secular music. The pairing of John M. C. Crum’s (1872-1958) poem with this anonymous French Carol Noel Nouvelet, has been previously paired in hymnals, and it is now becoming popular to arrange in anthems. Hirten treats each verse uniquely in this creative setting. The text creates an analogy between the buried and risen Christ, and the dead wheat from which green blades grow. In the second verse, we hear of the doubt of the disciples ‘thinking that he’d never wake to life again,’ hinting at Peter’s accusation in today’s first reading.

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Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass, O Sacrum Convivium – Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)

This text of this Eucharist prayer is taken from the Liturgy of the Hours for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, and is often attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas. The musical material for this work was likely intended as an instrumental fantasia before Tallis added text to it. It was published in the Sacrae Cantiones in 1575, a joint publication by Tallis and his younger contemporary, William Byrd. The piece hovers in the Aeolian mode, with minor deviations into major around cadences. An interesting structural aspect of the piece is the repetition of the opening and closing material, giving the work a kind of symmetry before the final cadence.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, Draw us in the Spirit’s Tether - Harold Friedell (1905-1958)

This poem was written by Percy Dearmer (1867-1936), and Anglican priest, and also the publisher of the 1906 English Hymnal in collaboration with Ralph Vaughan Williams. The text begins with Christ’s promise to be present when two or more are gathered – “the two disciples on the road to Emmaus” - and also quotes today’s Gospel in the final verse – “they knew him through the breaking of the bread.” Harold Friedell was a teacher at Juilliard and Union Seminary, as well as a renowned organist and composer. He writes in a dense contrapuntal style that utilizes modern yet frequently diatonic harmonies.

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Communion 10am Mass, O Sacrum Convivium - Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

Messiaen was a 20th century French composer, organist, and teacher. He entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of 11, and studied under Charles Widor, Marcel Dupre, and Paul Dukas and Maurice Emmanuel. Beginning in the 1930s he began to develop a unique style of music based on different arrangements of the intervals in the scale, western chant, and Hindu rhythms. While this motet comes from a very early stage of the composer’s range, it still demonstrates a mature style through its irregular metrics, chants rhythms, and Messiaen’s unique harmonic language. The piece begins very quietly, grows to a forte on the words ‘future glory to come’ and then returns to a more reserved conclusion. The work is in F sharp major, a key the composer associated with adoration and ecstasy.

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Post Communion 11:30, O Sacrum Convivium, James Biery (b. 1956)

James Biery is an American composer, organist, and choral director, and was Director of Music for the Cathedral in St. Paul Minnesota for over a decade. This motet utilizes a technique known a pedal point, in which the lowest voice sustains a single pitch for the duration of the work. The upper voices enter on this same pitch, but then expand into rich harmonies, culminating in a triumphant ‘Alleluia’ which then fades back into the stillness of the beginning. The text is a traditional catholic prayer of unknown origin, though when it was added as a Magnificat Antiphon for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, it was attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas. 

March 25, 2018
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion 

Introit 10am Mass, Hosanna to the Son of David - Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)

This intricately written motet for six voices, oscillates between major and minor tonalities and utilizes various forms of part-writing imitation throughout, moving between homophony to imitative writing at the half-measure, as well as double choir effect, where multiple voices imitate each other in succession. The English composer Thomas Weelkes was organist of Chichester Cathedral, and composed several books of anthems and madrigals. The text is the antiphon proper for this Sunday, and repeats the text uttered by the Jews as Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. The Hebrew word ‘Hosanna’ roughly translates to ‘we beg you to save,’ so in using it, the Jews were acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah and their savior.

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Preparation of the Gift 10am and 11:30am Masses, Pueri Hebraeorum - Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)

Victoria was the finest composer of sacred polyphony of the Iberian Peninsula. This gentle motet takes its text from the antiphons for the distribution of palm branches, and tells of the ‘Children of the Hebrews’ casting their cloaks as Jesus entered Jerusalem. The opening motive contains a flutter of eighth notes, as of a vestment or cloak caught in the air as it falls to earth. The motet has as an almost flippant character - possibly suggesting the fickleness of the people of Jerusalem's faith, as those who hail Jesus as the Messiah, are soon to lead him to his death.

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Communion 11:30am Mass, The Mocking of Christ - Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 1585)

The music (Third Tune) is taken from Tallis’ Bishop Parker’s Psalter, which was written to provide vernacular settings of the Psalter in the reformed English liturgy. The tune originally set the 2nd psalm (Why fum’th in fight). The music was later used as the source material for Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The Mocking of Christ is a poem by the English hymn writer and minister Fred Pratt Green. The poem is in three parts, and reflects on an aspect of the Mocking; The crown of the thorns, the purple cloak, and the scepter reed. A common line in each, “They could not know what we do now” echoes Christ's plea for forgiveness from the cross “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

To hear the tune as it appears in the Vaughan Williams Fantasia, click below:

Post-Communion Motet 10am and 11:30am Masses, Faithful Cross – Leo Nestor (b. 1948)

Faithful Cross is an English rendering of the Venantius Fortunatus (530-609) poem, Crux fidelis inter omnes. Nestor’s setting of the poem uses fragments of the original Latin text to punctuate certain musical motives and textual ideas. The piece employs irregular meters creating both a chant like quality, as well as a more nuanced setting of the text. The piece is largely tonal with brief moments of modal and chromatic influence.


March 18, 2018
Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Kyrie 10am Mass, Mass for Four Voices – William Byrd (c. 1539/43-1623)

This Mass was written in 1590s for the underground Catholic aristocratic community in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The setting employs closely aligned voice imitation, similar to the contemporary style of Continental Europe. An interesting motive within the Mass is the setting of the text ‘Christe eleison’ with the majority of the voice entrances employing downward melodic fragments, suggesting to some the descent of Christ from the heavens in the Incarnation, referenced in the Letter to the Hebrews today.

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Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass and Chorale Prelude 11:30am Mass, Confitebor Tibi Domine – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

Palestrina set the Offertory Proper for this Sunday in a typical Italian-Polyphonic-Post-Tridentine style. The text is from Psalm 118: “ I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and observe your word; revive me according to your word, O Lord.” The motet begins with a confession of praise but is characterized musically as a calm meditation. Palestrina then memorably treats the two variances of the word ‘life,’ – vivam and vivifica me – with particular energy and interest. In this Fifth Sunday of Lent in the Year of Mark, the reflection has a particular resonance with the gospel, where we hear that “Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, Timor et Tremor – Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)

This is the first of four motets from Poulenc’s Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence, which were written following his return to the Church in the late 1930s. The other three motets are settings of Responsories from Holy Week, while this first one sets verses taken from Psalms 54 and 30. Poulenc’s style was inspired by late impressionists, though these sacred works are more restrained and somber when compared with his secular writings. The dedication of the motet is to Monsieur l’Abbé Mailet, a French priest and long time supporter of Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de bois, a well known children’s choir founded to follow Pope Pius X’s 1903 motu proprio Tra le Sollecitudini, on the restoration of active participation and congregational singing in Catholic liturgy.

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Communion Motet 10am Mass, Caligaverunt Oculi mei – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)

The Tenebrae Responsories of Victoria is a collection of 18 motets to be used during the services of Tenebrae during the Triduum. Caligaverunt Oculi mei is taken from the Good Friday collection, and is the Office of Matins for that day. The texts are extracts from the books of Job and Lamentations. A noteworthy technique in this motet is Victoria’s spacing of voices in order to emphasize dramatic content, such as when the sopranos separate from the other voices for the line Si est dolor similis, (is there pain like mine) suggesting the isolation that accompanied Christ’s suffering.

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Communion Motet 11:30am Mass – The Days are Coming – Jennifer Kerr Breedlove

Jennifer Breedlove is an American musician, composer, and sacred music clinician based in the Chicago metropolitan area. The text is by noted poet, J. Michael Thompson, previously music director for St. Peter’s in the Loop in Chicago and St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Munhall, Pennsylvania. The motet is in a simple style, with the tune used in canon and in alternative harmonies, with a descent for the final few measures. This text is written specifically for this day’s celebration, as it quotes each of the three readings and creates a musical homily for our consideration. 

March 11, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Introit 10am Mass, Laetare Jerusalem

This entrance chant in the 5th mode takes its text from Isaiah 66:10-11 and Psalm 122:1. The joyful character of the text hints at the joy of Easter soon to come. The opening motive on the word ‘Laetare’ is the same as the final motive on the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil, connecting the minor joy of this feast with the great joy of Easter.

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Prelude 11:30am Mass, Rejoice in the Lord, Always – Anonymous

This anonymously composed motet from mid-16th century England has been a standard of the English liturgical choral repertoire. The text from the 4th chapter of Philippians (KJV) shares the first word with today’s Introit text ‘rejoice’ or ‘Laetare’ from which this Sunday is named. While its authorship remains uncertain, the clarity of its counterpoint and textually sensitive use of interplay between polyphony and monophony suggests a well-trained Tudor-era composer on the level of Tallis or Byrd.

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Kyrie 10am Mass, Missa Brevis á 4 – Bonifacio Graziani (c. 1060-1664)

Graziani was an Italian composer of sacred music and one of the finest figures in the Italian polyphonic school of music in the 17th century. This Kyrie, extracted from the Missa Brevis published in 1671, is a excellent example of the compact and imitative writing of the later Polyphonic tradition. The first third of the Kyrie movement will be heard at Mass.

Preparation of the Gifts, Super Flumina – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

Super Flumina quotes Psalm 136 (today’s Responsorial Psalm) and recalls the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites, and their despair while along the river remembering their homeland. The motet was published in 1581, and features some of Palestrina’s most poignant and expressive writing. The work is unique among the composer’s repertoire for its use of chromatic colorings, a particular example being the opening motive utilizing the rarely-used Hypophrygian mode. Palestrina’s setting of the text with these harmonic devises is evocative in describing the plight of those who long to be free and at home.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, God So Loved the World - Bob Chilcott (b. 1955)

Chilcott is an English singer and composer of choral works. He was trained as a child in the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and as an adult was a member of the King’s Singers for over a decade. This motet sets the famous John 3:16 text in a gentle and lush style. The Chilcott setting, while bearing some slight similarities to John Stainer’s more well known setting, nevertheless retains its individuality primarily through richer harmonies of a 20th century palate.

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Communion Motet 10am Mass, Eram Quasi Agnus – Tomás Luis de Victoria (1540-1613)

This motet sets the text from the 7th Responsory from the service of Tenebrae on Holy Thursday. The words speak of Christ as an innocent lamb being led to slaughter, and being isolated and surrounded by enemies and those who wish him harm. Victoria was a 16th century composer and the most well-known musician of the Iberian Peninsula during the counter reformation. His setting of the text is sparse, with frequent chromatics and strained dissonances.

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Communion Motet 11:30am Mass, Peccantem me Quotidie - Thomas Crecquillon (c. 1505 - 1557)

The text is from the Office for the Dead, and is the Response to the seventh reading from the book of Job: “Sinning daily and not repenting, the fear of death disturbs me. For in hell there is no redemption. Have mercy on me, O God, and save me. God, by your name save me, deliver me in your strength.” The Franco-Flemish composer, Crecquillon, sets this penitential text very sparcely, uses only three vocal lines, as well as simple melodic motives for the imitative writing. The work is in two parts, with the second part, sung at today’s Mass, expressing in the music a more hopeful character, as the words speak of God’s mercy and deliverance.

To hear a version, click below:

March 4, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent
(10am Mass, Year B) (11:30am Mass, Year A)

We continue the Cycle B readings at the 10am Latin Mass; the responses, hymns, and motets reflect and support those lessons.

At the 11:30am Mass this weekend we are joined by families representing each parish from throughout the Archdiocese who gather with their shepherd, Cardinal Wuerl, who will address the preparations for the upcoming World Gathering of Families in Dublin this summer. The themes of the recent post-synodal papal exhortation on the family will be a focus of the Mass. Cardinal Wuerl has chosen to use the readings and prayers from Cycle A, which are always an option on the last three Sundays of Lent when a parish is celebrating the Rites of the Christian Initiation of Adults, accompanying those who are to be baptized and brought into full communion at the Easter Vigil.

Prelude 11:30am Mass, Restless is the Heart – Bernadette Farrell (b. 1956)

This motet, by the British Catholic composer Bernadette Farrell, takes its text from two sources. The antiphon is from a prayer of St. Augustine, while the verses are from Psalm 90. The motet has become a popular selection for Catholic funerals and Remembrance Services with its calm emphasis on finding rest in God and on the transitory nature of life. Augustine’s prayer resonates in the recounting of the Samaritan woman’s interaction with Christ at the well, as depicted in today’s Gospel. Christ promises that her longing will be satisfied when she discovers and drinks from the source of the life-giving water that will never run dry.

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Kyrie 10am Mass, Missa Quarti Toni – Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611)

Although the Spanish counter-reformation composer Victoria wrote numerous Mass settings based on chants, secular tunes, and even his own compositions, this Mass setting uses original motivic elements. The name – Quarti Toni or Fourth Tone – is derived from the Ecclesiastical modes of chant, in which the Hypophrygian scale (B, C, D, E, F, G, A) is the fourth in number following the two Dorian modes and Phrygian. The flatted second degree of the scale in this mode gives the mode its uniquely dark and twisted sound, and can be heard throughout in this setting of the Kyrie.

Preparation of the Gifts 10am Mass, Justitiae Domini Rectae– G.P. da Palestrina (1524-1594)

This setting of verses 9 -12 of Psalm 18 demonstrates the post-Trent musical style of the Italian Renaissance composer Palestrina. It is one of two setting of this text from his collection of 68 Offertories for five voices (Breitkopf and Haertel Vol. 9). The text given is the Offertory text for Lent III in the Gregorian Missal based on the Gradualia Romanum. “The ordinances of the Lord are right, bring joy to all hearts, sweeter than honey or the the honeycomb. Therefore your servant will observe them.” The motet marvelously expresses this text with motivic word-painting.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, Like as the Hart – Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

This motet is the most famous of Howells’ Four Anthems published in 1943, and a standard of the English choral repertoire. His rich and lush harmonic palate subtly expresses these first two verses of Psalm 42: the longing and thirst of the deer or ‘hart’ as it was translated in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, with its double-entendre alluding to our own ‘hearts.’ The anthem is in a ternary form with verses 1 and 2 of the psalm depicting the thirsting soul that longs for God and wonders when it will be satisfied. The 2nd section of the anthem speaks of the soul considering its own sadness and despair. The first section is then brought back with a descant characteristic of Howells, accompanying the primary motive. The setting of the final word ‘God’ may be the most poignant, as the peaceful E major sonority is pierced repeatedly by a flatted 6th, evoking a sense of transformation, until the final cadential progression reinforces the celestial E major in a faint foreshadowing of the soul’s home in heaven.

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Communion Motet 10am Mass, Ave Verum Corpus – Flor Peeters (1903-1986)

Peeters was born in the Campine (De Kempen) region of Belgium and studied music at the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen. He began teaching organ at the institute in 1923, the same year he was appointed to his first post as organist for St. Rumbold’s Cathedral. He was well know during his lifetime as an interpreter of organ repertoire, as well as a composer. This motet, a setting of a 14th century text possibly by Pope Innocent VI, uses chant like melodic constructs over extended and impressionistic harmonies. The piece is mostly homophonic with minor imitative sections.

Communion Motet 11:30am Mass, There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy – Music: Calvin Hampton (Setting: Ken Berg) Text: Frederick Faber

Two themes in today’s scriptures are called to mind in this relatively modern hymn tune setting paired with a text by the prolific 19th century English poet Frederick Faber. The text speaks of the immeasurable mercy of God and likens it to the “wideness of the sea.” That same bountiful mercy is revealed in the Gospel for this Sunday. Jesus approaches the woman at the well with compassion and offers her life-giving water that will never be exhausted. We will sing only four of the original thirteen stanzas of this poem found in Faber’s Hymns (London, 1862). The text has a particular resonance with the themes taken up in Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, particularly in verse 3: “But we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own; And we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own. For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.”

This hymn is a staple of Christian worship, but is most often sung to the Dutch folk tune IN BABILONE. Calvin Hampton (1938 -1984) took up the challenge to create a fresh rendering of the hymn, composing a new tune with an undulating accompaniment that effectively evokes the movement of waves at sea. The tune name ST. HELENA is given in honor of a community of Episcopalian women active in his parish church (Calvary Episcopal, Gramercy Park, NYC) called the Order of St. Helena. Ken Berg, of Birmingham, AL, composed the choral setting heard in today’s liturgy.

To hear a TTBB version of this setting conducted by the arranger, click below:

February 25, 2018
Second Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Kyrie 10am Mass, from Mass for Five Voices - William Byrd (1539 – 1623)

Along with the Masses for Three and Four voices, the Five Voice Mass was composed in the 1590s for the clandestine Catholic community during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. 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, Reminiscere Miserationum – Carlo Gesualdo (1566 – 1613)

This work is taken from the composer’s collection Sacrarum Cantionum quinque vocibus liber Primus, published in Naples in 1603. Like much of Gesualdo’s music, this motet features an extended harmonic vocabulary, with frequent use of dissonance and unrelated tonalities to convey the meaning. The text is taken from Psalm 25, and appears as the Introit for this Sunday.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass – Jesu, the Very Thought of Thee – Richard Proulx (1937 – 2010)

This brief motet sets a poem (Jesus, dulcis memoria) of Bernard of Clairvaux, known as the Mellifluous Doctor of the Church for his eloquence and heart-felt and deep relationship with the Lord., The American composer, Proulx, sets the opening verse in a chant like style, utilizing the pentatonic scale and the sopranos alone. The pentatonic harmonies, as well as American and Jazz influenced part writing, play heavily in creating the aura of this deeply emotional and personal text. The motet is dedicated to the American organist and teacher, Dr. Rupert Sircom.

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Communion Antiphon 11:30am Mass - Be Thou my Vision - William Culverhouse

This text is a poetic translation by Eleanor Hull for the 1912 English Hymnal, based on the Irish hymn ‘Rop tú mo baile.’ The text was paired with the Irish tune SLANE, in 1919 and continues to be sung to that tune. The arranger of this setting, William Culverhouse, is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Maryland, and was director of the Schola Cantorum at the Cathedral from 2000 to 2008. He now heads the Choral Music Department of Binghamton College in Binghamton, NY.

Communinon 10am Mass, Meditabor in Mandatis - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 -1594)

This setting of the offertory text for the 2nd Sunday of Lent by Palestrina was published in his collection Offertoria Totuis Anni in 1593, and set the standard for continental Catholic composers following the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent. The text, taken from Psalm 119, while not reflecting the scriptures of the day, does echo the collect for this Mass: “We have been commanded to listen to the words of Christ, may those words feed us and purify our sight, so that we may see His true glory. “

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Communion 11:30am Mass, Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of our Hearts – Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695)

The text of this motet is taken from the Order for the Burial of the Dead or ‘Sentences’ as found in the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer speaks of God’s understanding, beseeching his mercy, and remaining faithful even unto death. The English Baroque composer, Purcell, writes in a vague g minor/ b flat major tonality through the work, and uses extending harmonies giving the piece an uncertainty and unease throughout its duration until the final g major cadence at the end, which Purcell reinforces by giving its Authentic and Plagal derivations. Along with two other motets and instrumental works, these comprised the corpus of Purcell’s funeral music for Queen Mary in 1695. To hear a version, click below:

February 18, 2018
First Sunday of Lent (Year B) 

Prelude 10am and 11:30am Masses, Schaffe in Mir Gott - Johannes Brahms (1883-1897)

The late-German Romantic composer Johannes Brahms composed this setting of three verses from Martin Luther’s translation of Psalm 51 (this Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm) in 1860 as part of his Opus 29, Zwei Motetten (Two Motets). The work is divided into three unique sections, each one corresponding to a verse of the Psalm. The first section, which speaks of our desire for forgiveness and redemption, is set in rich, enveloping harmonic texture that captures the peaceful, yet eternal longing for the infinite goodness and mercy of the Creator. The second section is more animated, expressed in a chromatic fugal section. The notion of being abandoned by God, is ominously suggested. The third section, not performed this Sunday because of its length, reassures the soul by beginning with the word troeste (comfort), and initiates a harmonic and textual intermezzo that leads into an uplifting finale, where the light-hearted choral treatment rejoices in the freudige Geist (joyful Spirit) that God sends to sustain his people.

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Preparation of the Gifts Motet 10am Mass, Scapulis Suis – G. P. da Palestrina (1525-1594)

“The Lord will overshadow you with his pinions, and you will find refuge under his wings. His faithfulness will encompass you with a shield.” Psalm 91, verse 4-5. The First Sunday of Lent is unique in that the text for both the Offertory and Communion chants use the identical verses of Psalm 91. This unusual choice is even more noteworthy as it is the same citation used by the devil in today’s Gospel to tempt Jesus to test God’s constancy and steadfastness. G.P. da Palestrina  was an Italian Renaissance composer of principally sacred music and the best-known 16th century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been considered the epitome of the genre. His setting is taken from the collection Offertoria Totuis Anni from 1593. This polyphonic motet uses lengthy phrasal imitation and weakened cadential arrangements, creating an uninterrupted effect through the text.

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Preparation of the Gifts 11:30am Mass, I Shall See – Michael John Trotta (b. 1978)

John Michael Trotta is an American choral conductor and collaborative composer, who has worked principally in the New York and Philadelphia music communities. In this atmospheric setting of psalm 27, he uses hymn like four part voice writing with mild dissonances scattered throughout. The style is reminiscent of Stephen Paulus, with the harmonic language of Morton Lauridsen.

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Communion Motet 11:30am Mass Mass, Scapulis Suis – Robert Kreutz (1922-1996)

Robert Kreutz was a 20th century American composer of liturgical music. Mr. Kreutz studied composition at the American Conservatory in Chicago and at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is best known for his hymn collaboration with Omer Westendorf in their Gift of Finest Wheat, composed for the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia during the US Bicentennial celebration in 1976. Kreutz sets these two verses of Psalm 91 in a modern aesthetic with expressive word painting as in the opening gesture where voices are successively layered, one upon the other, as feathers are layered to create a bird’s wing.

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Post-Communion Motet 10am Mass, Miserere – Antonio Lotti (1667-1740)

Lotti, an Italian Baroque composer, was born in Venice and spent much of his working life in the city at various institutions. He also composed for several German courts, including Dresden and Hannover. He is known to have set Psalm 51 twice in his career, both times using imitative counterpoint and strong dissonances within the minor scale. The motet we hear today is the first two verses of the composition that sets the entire psalm.

Post-Communion Motet 11:30am Mass, Lord, Make Me to Know – William Byrd (c. 1539/40-1623)

This brief anthem of an English text – possibly a collect or a prayer from one of the English Missals, utilizes musical material from a preexisting instrument work by Byrd. Many of the figures that the voices sing are reminiscent of instrumental writing, particularly in the slurred quavers. The work is in AAB form – a typical instrumental form used at that time, and makes use of extending harmonies within the Aeolian mode.

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February 14, 2018
Ash Wednesday (Year B)

12:10 pm Mass, The Choral Motets

The themes of the motets reflect the readings of the day and the season of Lent. We hope that their use in the liturgy inspires the assembly to a more profound entrance into this season of charity, fasting and penance.

Ash Wednesday marks the end of the Winter Ordinary Time hiatus for the Schola Cantorum. The Cathedral’s principal choir will sing each Sunday from the first Sunday of Lent through June 3, the Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ.

Distribution of Ashes: Emendemus in Melius – William Byrd (1539-1623)

This motet is from the collection Cantiones Sacrae, 1575. The motets in this set were composed by Byrd and Thomas Tallis and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. Emendemus in Melius is unique in Byrd’s catalogue for its ubiquitous homophonic part writing. The first part of the motet is conservative in its harmonic language, with minor flourishes at the ends of phrases interrupting the calmness. Near the end of part one, the lines become more declamatory, as the singers sing Hear O Lord, and have mercy. The second part, whose text implores God to help us and deliver us, permits more dissonance than in the first, including an extremely modern moment on the word nominis (name) where the partial harmonies of A minor and B flat major occur at once. The text is taken from the Matin’s Responsory for Lent I, and also appears as an option for the Distribution of Ashes in the Missal.

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Preparation of the Gifts: Within the Vale of Eden – James E. Clemens (b. 1966)

The musical material for this motet comes from the French Christmas carol: Nous voici dans la Ville, which sets the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter on the first Christmas in a somber and sparse texture. Clemens utilizes the bleak quality inherent in the melody to adapt it with Anthony G. Petti’s translation of the old Provençal carol Adam e sa coumpagno, which describes the fall of the first parents in the garden of Eden, and of Christ coming to redeem humanity.

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Communion Motet: Parce, Domine – Felix Nowowiejski (1877-1946)

Felix Nowowiejski studied music in Berlin and Prague before returning to his native Poland to direct the Krakow Musical Society. This motet, taken from his oratorio Kreuzauffindung (The Finding of the Cross) is a romantic setting of the tradition Lenten antiphon:

Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo: ne in aeternum irascaris nobis. 
Spare, O Lord, spare your people: do not hold your anger towards us eternally.

This text, adapted from the book of Joel, is set in a harmonically rich and profound musical setting.

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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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