Choral Highlights: Through November 26, 2016 (Year C)

November 20, 2016

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.

Visit our past choral highlights archive for music from previous Sundays in the current liturgical year (Cycle C) and going back to 2016.

Sunday, November 20, 2016
Thirty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This weekend marks the confluence of many liturgical streams. It is the 34th and final Sunday of Ordinary Time and therefore the end of the Church year. Additionally, it is the Feast of Christ the King and the conclusion of the extraordinary Year of Mercy. This weekend also will see the annual White Mass for those who are differently-abled, celebrated by Auxiliary-Bishop Mario Dorsonville at 10am Mass in English. The Rector of the Cathedral will celebrate the closing Mass for the Year of Mercy at the 5:30pm Sunday Evening Mass, with Rev. Thomas Kesicki, S.J. as the homilist. At this Mass, our RCIA candidates also will be anointed.

The Hymn for the Year of Mercy will be sung as the communion hymn at all musical Masses this weekend. The text of the refrain is also the motto of the Year of Mercy: Misericordes Sicut Pater – Merciful, as the Father is Merciful.” Each of the verses includes the same recurring response: “In aeternum misericordia eius – his mercy is forever.” To discover more about this hymn and to hear a version, click here.

The text of the 10am Preparation Motet: O Rex Gloriae, by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525 –1594) was traditionally ascribed as the Magnificat antiphon for second vespers on the Feast of the Ascension: “O King of glory, Lord of all power, Who ascended to heaven on this day triumphant over all; Do not leave us as orphans, But send us the Father’s promise, The spirit of truth. Alleluia.” This text makes clear references to the Ascension themes and scriptures, but also has obvious resonance with today’s feast. The 10am and 11:30am postcommunion motet: Let all the World in Every Corner Sing is the fifth of the Five Mystical Songs by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), written between 1906 and 1911. The final "Antiphon" is very different from the first four songs. It is a triumphant hymn of praise sung either by the chorus alone or by the soloist alone. To hear a version, click below:

Sunday, November 6, 2016
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time  

The 10am Preparation Motet: O Quam Gloriosum takes its text from the Book of Revelation, and was traditionally ascribed as the Magnificat antiphon for vespers on the solemnity of All Saints. The motet was so popular in its lifetime,  that the Spanish composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), composed an entire 'imitation Mass' (Missa O Quam Gloriosum) based on its motives. The text relates to the Gospel in testifying against the Sadducees, that there is indeed a heaven, where the saints follow the lamb in glory. One can also hear in the words, quocumque ierit, a resonance with the first reading of today’ Mass in which we find the story of the mother and her seven sons who were led like lambs to be slaughtered for their beliefs. 

To hear a version, click below:

The 11:30am Preparation Motet: From the Ends of the Earth, was composed by the prolific American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000). The text, from Psalm 61, speaks of the believer’s prayer towards God, and the depth of trust in the creator. The musical style of the piece is a unique blend with French harmonic language, English choral writing, and occasional hints of Armenian exoticism.  

To hear a version, click below:

The 10am Post-communion motet: Beatus Vir by the German Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612), sets the first three verses of the first Psalm and speaks of the reward of the righteous man. Although not overtly resurrection or afterlife in tone, one can infer the line 'bear fruit in due season' to the afterlife. There is also a nod towards the concept of eternity in the line 'like a leaf that shall not wither.' The motet comes from Hassler's Cantiones Sacrae, published in 1591.  

To hear a version, click below:

The 11:30am Post-communion anthem: The Lord is My Shepherd, is by the American composer Thomas Matthews (1915-1999). Matthews was born in Utica, NY, and began his musical studies under Norman Coke-Jephcott, before continuing to St. John the Divine where he found himself in the tutelage of T. Tertius Noble, Channing Lefevre, and Lynwood Franam. This motet is probably the most well known of his nearly thirty choral anthems. Like the Victoria O Quam Gloriosum, Psalm 23 expresses one of the recurring themes associated with the November feasts that call to mind those who have gone before us in death but look with confidence to everlasting life.

Sunday, October 30, 2016
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time 

The Preparation Motet for the 10:00am Mass in Latin, Laudate Dominum by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525 –1594), comes from a collection of works the Italian composer published in 1593 entitled: Offertoria totius anni secundum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae consuetudinem. The text of this motet from Psalm 134, resonates with the themes of today’s first reading from the book of Wisdom, especially in these lines: “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. The verses of the motet take up the same themes with the lines: omnia quaecumque voluit, fecit in coelo et in terra, For whatever he wished, He has made in heaven and on earth.” The text is also prescribed for Lent IV, whose Gospel in Year B is the source of today’s Gospel Acclamation. 

To hear a version click below:  

The Preparation Motet for the 11:30amMass, God So Loved the World, takes its text from the Gospel Acclamation this day, John 3:14. The words remind of us the depth of God's love for us, and the degree to which God desires that we be reconciled and saved. Bob Chilcott (b. 1955) is an English composer, who sang at King's College as a boy treble, before attending university there. He was a tenor member of the King's Singer for twelve years, and currently resides in England.  

To hear a version, click below: 

The Communion Motets at the 10:00am and 11:30am Masses, Justorum Animae, both quote the text, from the book of Wisdom, “The souls of the just are in the in hands of God, and no torment shall touch them.” This text is usually used as the Offertory on All Saints, celebrated on Tuesday of this week. The setting at the 10:00 Mass is by the Franco-Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus (1530 – 1564), and is written in the later polyphonic style, similar to Palestrina. The 11:00am Mass setting is by the Irish born, English composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852 - 1924), and comes from this collection of three motets, Op 38. This set was composed in the 1890s, and dedicated to Allan Grey and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge.  

For a version of the Lassus, click here:

For a version of the Stanford: click below:

Sunday, October 23, 2016
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time 

The prelude at the 11:30am Mass is one of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) most beloved motets, and one of the most famous choral pieces of the last century. It was written for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the II, and received its premiere in 1953 at Westminster Abbey. It bears all the striking characteristics of Vaughan William's music; folk inspired melodies, economical use of motivic material, and harmonic choral writing inspired from the Anglican tradition. The text is from Psalm 34, today's responsorial psalm. The prayer encourages us to trust in God's grace and goodness, as did the tax collector in today’s Gospel.  

The 10am Mass motet at the Preparation of the Gifts, Laetentur Caeli, quotes Psalm 96, which is also heard as the responsorial psalm at Midnight Mass of Christmas, with its text speaking of the advent of a just judge, and of creation rejoicing. The German composer Hans Leo Hassler (1564 – 1612) frequently utilizes a technique known as text painting. Notable examples in this motet are the sparcity of voices on the word for heaven, suggesting something ethereal and weightless, while all voices are used when speaking of the earth, creating something heavier. Later these elements are interposed as Christ the mediator unites heaven and earth together. Another example occurs when the motet describes the sea, with each voice entering in a stepwise succession, creating the effect of waves;  likewise,  when depicting fields, the 16th note flurries leave a feeling of the wind blowing through the grass. 

The 11:30am Mass motet at the Preparation of the Gifts is the fourth movement from Johannes Brahms (1833 -1897)  Ein Deutsches Requiem. The text, psalm 84, speaks of the joy of heaven, the peace of praising God in his dwelling place, and the soul’s longing for its return. The first section and recapitulation of the piece written in a lilting three, with gently descending chromatics, creates a tone that is dreamy, and otherworldly, at times. In the middle section, when speaking of the longing of the soul for heaven, the tone becomes more urgent, only to resolve again as we hear the descending melody from the beginning (God's grace being poured on earth), ushering us back into our contemplation of God's dwelling place.  

The 10am Mass Communion motet, Domine non sum Dignus, sets the words of the good centurion, who out of humility and faith, requested that Jesus not enter his house, but to only say the word for healing. These words are also said at every Mass before the reception of communion, reminding us to take on the attitude of the humble tax collector, who understood that we can never merit God’s grace and mercy, but must simply accept the free gift.  For the second part of the piece, Tomás Luis da Victoria (1540 - 1613)  adds the lines:  Have mercy on me, for I am weak; heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.  

The 11:30am Mass Communion motet, O How Amiable, is the second piece this morning from the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was composed for the 1934 Abinger Pageant and quotes Psalms 84 and 90.  It speaks of our longing for the courts of the Lord, a place of shelter, safety and rest. It also asks God to bless and prosper the work we do in His name.  In the tradition of a German cantata, the piece ends with a verse of the hymn St. Anne, which may have likely been sung by all present as a closing song of  the pageant. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The 10am motet for the preparation of the gifts, Ad Te Levavi Oculos, by G.P. da Palestrina takes it’s text from the 122nd Psalm; I lift up my eyes to you, who dwells in heaven. This action, of lifting one’s eyes, is reflected in the opening ascending motive of the chant, and continues to create a lithe and dance-like polyphony for the first section of the piece. The second part begins with the 3rd verse of the psalm, have mercy on us, O Lord, and the character of the piece dramatically becomes more solemn and penitential in nature. Besides recalling the text of today’s Responsorial Psalm today, I lift up my eyes to the mountains, whence shall help come to me, the theme also reminds us of the widow in the Gospel who persevered in her petition to the judge, and set an example of our own prayer lives; constantly directly toward God.

To hear a setting, click below: 

The 11:30am motet at the preparation of the gifts, The Eyes of All, by the German born Jean Berger, sets verses 15 and 16 of the 145th psalm. Berger fled Nazism in the 1930s, and settled in the U.S., teaching at various universities during the 50s-70s. His music is an eclectic style, with French sensibilities, German techniques, and American influences. The text continues the theme of today’s Responsorial Psalm and Gospel, with those who look towards the Lord, having their prayers answered in due season.  

The 10am Communion motet is one of the cornerstones of the English polyphonic tradition. Thomas Tallis' Salvator Mundi creates a dark and sombre web of interlocking voices, reminding us of the perseverance and depth of our savior's love for us; as Christ endure the Passion and Cross, how long do we endure in prayer to him. 

The 11:30am Communion motet calls to mind today’s Gospel in which Jesus expresses to his disciples the necessity for them to pray always.  Of all the prayers that come to the lips of Christians of every ecclesial community, the Lord’s Prayer is by far the most common. Notre Père is Parisian composer and organist Maurice Duruflé’s final composition. It was originally commissioned as a piece for the assembly, but later modified to include a four-part unaccompanied mixed choir. 

To hear a setting, click below:

Sunday, October 9, 2016
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

10am Mass

Estote Fortes

This rarely performed motet by the late renaissance Italian composer Luca Marenzio (1553 – 1599) quotes a text associated with feasts of Apostles and Martyrs. It call upon believers to be courageous when confronting evil, and thereby gain eternal life. Marenzio is most famous for his madrigals, and his influence among composers throughout Europe, especially England, was quite significant.

Laudate Nomen Domini

This general motet of praise taken from Psalm 112 is set by English renaissance composer Christopher Tye (c. 1500-1572.)

To hear a setting, click below:

11:30am Mass

Sing Joyfully

This exuberant anthem based on Psalm 81 is one of the last anthems of the English renaissance composer William Byrd (1543-1623.)  This jubilant hymn of praise is now, and at the time, was one of his most popular, especially for its vivid word painting, illustrated most convincingly in the treatment of the phrase “Blow the trumpet in the new moon.”  Byrd remained Catholic even throughout the turbulent English history when his family was subject to intermittent persecution.  He was a student and later business partner of the Thomas Tallis and taught many other composers, including Thomas Morley and Peter Philips.

To hear a setting by a Washington based ensemble, click below:

I Know the Lord ‘s Laid His Hands on Me

This African-American Spiritual by Richard Kent is a confession of faith in the power of the Lord’s touch. It captures the acknowledgement of the Samaritan leper who was cleansed by Jesus in today’s Gospel.  Of the ten who were cleansed, only one returned to thank Jesus and glorify God in his amazement and gratitude. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

10am Mass, Annual Red Mass

Much of the music for the Red Mass supports and interprets the principal theme of the Mass; the invocation of the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts and to inspire those in the legal community to be imbued with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

We Rely on the Power of God

The first Choral Introit by Richard Hillert, borrows much of its text from Paul’s letter to Timothy which we hear as today’s second reading. Paul's exhortation to proclaim the faith with courage, in cooperation with God’s grace, is given a triumphant treatment by Hillert. The text also reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives of public ministry, ‘a spirit of strength, and of love, and of wisdom’ - virtues which are highlighted in this Red Mass.

To hear a setting, click below. 


Spiritus Domini Replevit Orbem Terrarum

The second Choral Introit is taken from the Solemnity of Pentecost. This chant, based on Wisdom 1: 7, reminds us that Christ’s promise to send an advocate has been fulfilled, and the Spirit of God knows and understands the deliberations of people in every culture and language.

Veni Creator Spiritus

The motet at the Preparation of the Gifts has two textual sources, the hymn of the church (Veni Creator Spiritus) attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856 AD) and the sequence for Pentecost, (Veni, Sancte Spiritus). Both prayers are paeans to the power and works of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but also invocations, inviting the Spirit further into our works both public and private.  Michael J Trotta isolates the opening line of the chant, before developing the chant motives through a warm harmonic texture.

The Sequence of Pentecost

J Michael Thompson sets Peter J Scagnelli’s translation of the Golden Sequence, in a piece which combines western Gregorian chants, with Eastern chant inspired homophonic sections. The piece alternates the men and women of the ensemble between these two styles as they sing through the sequence which praises the Spirit's actions in our world, and in our lives. 

O Come, Let us Sing unto the Lord

As a hymn of thanksgiving, Psalm 95 is given a joyful setting in Anthony Piccolo’s exuberant anthem. The organ accompaniment, which flutters in quick and virtuosic passages, contrasts the linear and legato lines of the choral parts.

11:30am Mass, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

O Lord, Increase my Faith

The Communion Motet for this Mass, which quotes the Gospel, was for many years attributed to Orlando Gibbons, but is now believed to be the work of Henry Loosemore (d.1670.)

To hear a setting, click below.


Sunday, September 25, 2016
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

10am Mass, Preparation of the Gifts

Super Flumina quotes Psalm 136 and recalls the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites, and their despair while along the river remembering their homeland. The text also emphasizes the plight of those without a home or homeland, such as Lazarus in Gospel, whose “home” was the outside the door of the rich man. Palestrina’s setting of the text is hauntingly minor in tonality and evocative in describing the plight of  those who long to be free and at home.

11:30am Mass, Preparation of the Gifts

Ubi Caritas is a chant from the Washing of Feet ritual on Holy Thursday. The text bids us to live a life that cares for one another with sincere hearts, and thereby invite Christ to dwell among us as we imitate his selfless and unconditional love. This setting is by contemporary liturgical composer, James Biery.

10am Mass, Post-Communion Motet

Beati Quorum Via is taken from Stanford’s three motets, op. 38. It captures a gentle ambulatory movement in its successive lines of quarter notes that are so characteristic of this piece. The peaceful quality of this setting of Psalm 119, characterizes the inner peace of those, who, unlike the rich man, seek the law of the Lord and put the needs of others ahead of their own earthly gains. To hear a setting, click below.


11:30am Mass, Post-Communion Motet

O Frondens Virga is a contemporary setting of a chant by St. Hildegard of Bingenwhose feast was celebrated on September 17.The text prays that we may be free of evil habits (such as ignoring the plight of the poor among us). This setting by Drew Collins takes Hildegard’s monophonic chant, and sets it within both homophonic and polyphonic musical elements. To experience another setting of this same chant, click below.


Sunday, September 18, 2016
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

10am Mass

Preparation of the Gifts:  Salvator Mundi, G. P. da Palestrina
Communion Motet:  Jesu, Meine Freude, J. S. Bach

Sunday, September 18, 2016
Solemnity of St. Matthew, Patronal  Feast Observed at 11:30am and 1pm Masses 

11:30am Mass 

Prelude  and Psalm
Even though the Church will celebrate St. Matthew’s feast next Wednesday, the Cathedral also celebrates its patron saint at this Sunday Mass (as well as at the 1pm Spanish Mass). The Choral prelude at this Mass is a particularly festive setting of Psalm 47.  ‘O Clap your Hands’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams is an acclamation of praise to God, especially today, in thanksgiving for Matthew’s willingness to accept Christ’s invitation to come and follow him. The celebration of an Apostle (such as St. Matthew) carries with it an aspect of discipleship as Christ gave the instructions to ‘Go and teach all nations’ before ascending to Heaven. This commission is affirmed in the Psalm for today ('Their message goes out through all the earth'). For a recorded version of the Vaughan Williams, click below.

Preparation of the Gifts
The epitome of the Cecilian movement in 19th century Germany, Bruckner’s Os Justi is an incredibly dramatic and emotive motet which economically utilizes minimal material and resources. The lydian mode piece is without accidentals throughout, an aspect of the Cecilian attempt to return to an earlier style of composition. The opening a section breathlessly builds toward a celestially bright and suspension-rich cadence which leads into secondary fugal section before the recapitulation. The text, taken from Psalm 36 with a verse added from Psalm 89, praises the attributes of a saint such as the apostle, and patron of civil servants, who we honor today: his mouth speaks wisdom, his tongue speaks justice, God’s law is in his heart. For a recorded version of the Bruckner, click below. 

Post-Communion Motet
The communion motet was composed by local composer Leo Nestor, former head of Sacred Music at the Catholic University in DC. It is an emotive and harmonically lush style. The text is taken from the first chapter of Ephesians, and is Paul’s command to the people of Ephesus, and to us, as to how we are to lead our lives. It also recollects the Gospel of this day, when Christ called St. Matthew to be his disciple. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The motets for the 10am and 11:30am Masses on Sunday, September 11, sung by the Schola Cantorum, emphasize the mercy of God toward a penitent sinner.  

The 10am Communion motet expounds God's love and desire for the return and salvation of the sinner. The Spanish composer Alonso Lobo utilizes subtle suspensions, giving the impression of the ever-longing father's desire for the reunion. 

The 11:30am chorale prelude 'Have Mercy on me O God' by the late Tudor composer Thomas Tomkins, sets the text of psalm 51, which the psalmist composed after his transgression (II Samuel, 11). 

This theme of contrition and return is re-echoed in the Gospel parable of the prodigal son. The 10am Offertory motet by the Flanco-Flemish Thomas Crecquillon, sets the text of the petition of the penitent son towards his merciful father, in a liltingly humble line of choral writing.  

The 11:30am Offertory from the Polish composer Felix Nowowiejski 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, appeals toward the penitent's petition to a merciful father in a harmonically rich and profound musical setting. To listen to a recorded version of this motet, click below.

Prelude 11:30 AM Come My Way, My Truth, Harold Friedell (1905-1958)

The text of this motet comes from the Metaphysical poet, George Herbert (1593-1633), who in addition to writing also served as a member of parliament and as rector for a small country parish near Salisbury. This text has also been set by Vaughan Williams for his Five Mystical Songs, from which the well-known hymn The Call originates. The early 20th century American composer, Friedell, sets the text in a lush and slow harmonic language that evokes both pleading and contemplation. While the first verse reflects on the words of Christ, the second focuses on the Eucharist, and the third envisions the soul transformed by this sacrament - ‘Such a heart as joys in love.’ In today’s second reading from his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul speaks of this yearning to be with Christ even as he knows he continues to be called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

To hear a version, click below: <iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Preparation of the Gifts 10:00 AM Simile est Regnum Caelorum, Cristobal de Morales (c. 1500-1553)

Morales was a Spanish composer from Seville and, prior to Victoria, was considered the most important composer of the Iberian Peninsula. In addition to numerous posts throughout Spain, he was employed in Rome under Pope Paul III, and brought back to Spain many techniques and styles that were being used at the Vatican during that time. This motet sets three verses from today’s Gospel of the vineyard owner and his laborers. Morales’ setting uses imitative writing, with strong influence of Palestrina and the Roman style. The first two verses are set polyphonically, with the final verse set homophonically, both emphasizing the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan for salvation ‘you too go into my vineyard’ as well as bring the work into its final cadence.

To hear a version, click below:

Preparation of the Gifts 11:30 AM The Eyes of All, Jean Berger (1909-2002)

This motet by the German born Jean Berger sets verses 15 and 16 of the 145th Psalm. Berger fled Nazism in the 1930s, and settled in the U.S., teaching at various universities during the 50s-70s. His music is of an eclectic style, with French tendencies, German techniques, and American influences. The text continues the theme of today’s first reading, with those who seek the Lord having their prayers answered in due season.

To hear a version, click below: <iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Communion 10:00 AM Jesu, Meine Freude, J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Bach set Johann Crüger’s (1598-1662) hymn with choral interspersions between each verse forming a twenty minute opus, the longest and most well-known of the six motets (BWV 225-230). While the text of the chorale is by Johann Franck, the middle (choral) sections are setting of verses from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The work was thought to have been written for a funeral, though recent scholarship suggests otherwise despite the somber nature of the text and music. The work is also noteworthy for being one of the few pieces that utilize five voices. The text of the first two verses, which will be heard during today’s Mass, speak of the intimate relationship between Jesus and his followers, and pleads for Christ’s help in strengthening our resolve to avoid sin.

To hear a version, click below: <iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Communion 11:30 AM The Call, Leo Nestor

The text of this motet setting is from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The verses tell how Christians ought to lead their lives within the body of Christ. The work is a popular selection for ordinations, and was dedicated to Bishop William Lori on the occasion of his Episcopal Ordination. Nestor’s musical style is a mixture of French part writing—particularly Duruflé and Poulenc—with American harmonic language, creating dense and often richly moving choral works. The composer’s detail to text scansion is also noteworthy, as the meter changes frequently to accommodate irregular texts. The conclusion of the work sets the Latin text of the final verse in a chant accompaniment that is reminiscent of the composer’s Four Motets on Gregorian Themes.

To hear a version, click here: