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What is the most perfect piece of choral music ever composed? Opinions, please.

In your opinion, based only on your own criteria for perfection (not anyone else's), what is the most perfect piece of choral music ever composed?  And, if you have the time and the inclination, please share a few reasons why the piece meets your standard of perfection.
 
Replies (116): Threaded | Chronological
on November 3, 2012 11:27am
Sanctus by Norwegian-American composer Ola Gjeilo. It has these gorgeous, lush but empty chords that fill you with wamth. Actually, pretty much everything Ola Gjeilo writes. The man is brilliant.
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 3, 2012 11:41am
Julia:  And what is your favorite color, and who is your favorite actor.  Unanserable questions all, for anyone over the age of 13!
 
But I'll bite, and I would nominate Mozart, "Ave verum corpus," a beautifully simple miniature that is a textbook example of sonata-allegro form applied to a brief choral text.  (Bet ya never noticed that!)  And one of the favorite pieces of my wife's youth choir was Carlisle Floyd's "Wind Through the Olive Trees," another beautifully simple piece.  (You can see the direction my thinking goes in.)  But it's really impossible to compare short, single pieces with large scale multimovement works.  Not just apples and oranges; more like fruit flies and hipopotemuses!
 
And now that I think of it, some of the most perfect pieces ever composed have been heartfelt laments on the death of other, much-loved and well-respectied musicians, including Josquin's "Nymphs des bois" and Byrd's "Tallis is dead."  (The Byrd is a consort song, of course, and not strictly speaking a "choral" piece.)
All the best,
John
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 3, 2012 11:06am
IMHO it is the Mozart Ave Verum.  One of the last works he wrote BTW.  Every note, of the vocal parts and the accompaniment (I've sung it/done it many times with piano, organ and string ensemble), is perfection.  Since it was written for a friend's regular, ol' church choir, it is accessable to almost every type of ensemble. I've done it with my church choirs, elite chamber choir, as en mass number for a festival, for an intermission performance for a professional orchestra and have sung it so, so much in my life--I never get tired of it and hear something new every time (and it has to be 35+ years I'm singing it, too!).  I did try an arrangement for a children's choir once--didn't like it--because I wanted my kids to have the experience. Should have just had them buddy up with one of my adult choirs.
 
Mozart IS perfection anyway!
 
Marie
Applauded by an audience of 7
on November 3, 2012 12:17pm
I hope I never come across a piece of perfect choral music! IMHO, since we are all flawed, there can never be such a thing as perfection. I have heard choirs that have performed pieces flawlessly, yet don't truly communicate the piece. To me, that is not appealing.
 
However, I can think of plenty of pieces that are outstanding models where the music fits the text expertly and if performed with integrity and soulfulness, we can experience something greater than ourselves. What that piece is depends on my mood and what I prefer in that instant.
 
In this instant, I waver between choral movements from the B Minor Mass and Randall Thompson's Alleluia, for the reasons I just mentioned. However, I would probably list a different piece tomorrow.
 
Austen
Applauded by an audience of 4
on November 3, 2012 12:19pm
Sea green.  Walter Pidgeon.  Gotcha.
 
"Favorite" to my mind is, or at least can be, quite different from "perfect."  One may think that a certain choral piece is perfect (according to his/her own criteria), but that perfect piece might not be the person's favorite.  It will be very interesting to read everyone's answers to this quite serious and "teachable" (at least for me) question.
 
Glad you bit!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 3, 2012 1:38pm
Let me substitute 'perfect' with 'life changing' and you'll get the Faure Requiem and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, both of which are as perfect as any piece can get.
Applauded by an audience of 4
on November 4, 2012 3:51am
I concur. Mozart's Ave Verum is the best there is, and yes, it is perfect.
Joseph Gregorio
www.josephgregoriomusic.com
on November 4, 2012 4:55am
Someone once described Mozart's "Ave Verum" as the most perfect 46 measures in all of western music. I see some people have already mentioned this piece.
One never tires of it. It is always beautiful, and I have found that singing it brings out the best in the singers.
on November 4, 2012 5:29am
Wow!
on November 4, 2012 5:56am
My main criteria are:
  • Text is expressed well by the music
  • The voice parts are all interesting, and the voice-leading is effective
  • THe piece has a dramatic "sweep", including a musical climax 
Choose just one?
Well, here are three, from different eras:
1. Sicut cervus by Palestrina
2. "He, Watching Over Israel" by Mendelssohn (I know--it's from a larger work, but it's SO beautiful.)
3. "Water Night" by Eric Whitacre
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 4, 2012 6:00am
Allegri's Miserere has to be in there somewhere. At least Mozart seems to have been impressed by it, and so am I!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 4, 2012 6:10am
Julia,
 
Your question is intriguing and creative- I'll respond with two pieces that never fail to move me profoundly.
 
The first is William Byrd's "Ave Verum Corpus;" the second is Monteverdi's madrigal "Filli Cara e Amata" (technically NOT a choral piece, but so moving and beautiful!).
 
I chose the Byrd because singing or thinking about the motet brings back happy memories of the first time I learned the work in a college choral ensemble. Even then singing the Byrd profoundly moved me. The polyphonic setting of the text, the text-painting of the choral lines, the delightful change from polyphonic to note-against-note polyphony never fails to impress me.
 
I chose the Monteverdi because he set the Alberto Parma poem beautifully to music that , to me, expresses every nuance of the text.  As with Byrd, Monteverdi empolys note-against-note and imitative polyphony to express the meaning of the text.  I can study the music , hear it in my head (Gordan's audiation idea), and again, as with the Byrd, be profoundly moved.
 
The bottom line for me in teaching a choral piece is this: how can I even attempt to teach a choral piece to young singers- or even older singers- if the piece I am teaching does not profoundly move me?  Do we not seek to teach music that beautifully expresses the meaning of a text that profoundly moves us?
 
Whether these pieces are perfect depends on the person's perception of the term "perfect" in the performing situation. So the two pieces I selected might not be perfect for others, but for me, at this early hour, they "fit the bill."
 
Carl Smith 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 4, 2012 6:38am
I've got to say Friede auf Erden by Arnold Schönberg and An dem Baum Daphne by Richard Strauss. Both of them are absolutely worth the effort.
on November 4, 2012 7:18am
I also think that Mozart's "Ave verum corpus" is one of the absolute best little miniatures I have ever directed or sang. I also think that Palestrina needs some props as one of the finest composers of the "Golden Age of a cappella singing." One of his best is his "Sicut cervus." A little more challenging perhaps, but puts most of the Renaissance style features into a single motet. I would also like to throw Biebl's "Ave Maria" into the mix, regardless of the voicing used, though I prefer the version with TTBB leading the way and SSA on the trio. I heard a much more experienced choral director than I describe it this way, and I tend to agree: "I divide my choral career into two parts, before I heard Biebl's "Ave Maria," and after." I guess that would put it in the "life-changing" category!
 
David Headings
on November 4, 2012 7:40am
I applaud the ave verum corpi, if that's right.  Byrd and Mozart.  Byrd is as perfect as it gets for me.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 4, 2012 7:52am
Hi Julia -
I've always loved the first of the Caluse Debussy Chansons - Dieu! qu'il la fait bon regarder. Not one wasted note - but always something new to enjoy!
Best wishes,
Mike
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 4, 2012 8:02am
Carl,
 
I'm doing a program of Byrd, Salamon Rossi and  Monteverdi tonight.  And the Byrd Ave Verum is on it.  After the Mozart Ave Verum, the Byrd Ave Verum is next in line for me!
 
Marie
on November 4, 2012 8:35am
Handel's Messiah.
Applauded by an audience of 6
on November 4, 2012 9:04am
hi Julia,
 
Right now I am on holiday, sitting in the shade of the Parnassus/Parnassos, so I am beings very careful about this, mindful of the Muses lurking above.
 
The Mozart Ave Verum Corpus has to be high/est on my list of favourites.  But I would put on a very slightly lower level Stanford'sn 'The Blue Bird' 
 
 
 
David Monks
 
Le Choeur d'Alzonne
on November 4, 2012 9:44am
Another vote for  Dieu! qu'il la fait bon regarder. The rhythmic interest, the variety, the wonderful harmonies -- it's hard to beat, unless of course you include most of the Brahms and Faure Requiems <grin>.
on November 4, 2012 9:55am
This discussion is turning interesting.  My last Spring Concert featured a set of three "Ave verum" settings:  the Gregorian from the Liber, the Byrd, and the Mozart.  I had intended to use recorders colla parte on the Byrd, but it sounded so good with just voices that I left it that way.  (And I had a small vocal consort, just 10 voices.)  But the interesting thing is that the text was slightly different for each setting, with some words omitted or added.  Not what you usually expect for such a traditional text.
 
I also extended the Mozart a bit (I know, HERESY to mess with perfection!!!), but in the spirit of the sonata-allegro form he used, repeating from the mid-point to the end, and the modified form was quite satisfactory.
 
John
on November 4, 2012 1:01pm
My own vote goes to:
Stay with Us (Bli hos oss) - by Egil Hovland
I prefer it in the English.
Such beauty lies within this music.  Comforting, longing text in an equally sensitive musical setting.  
Yours is an interesting question...it has a thousand answers!
                      t
 
on November 4, 2012 1:01pm
Last movement Verdi 'Requiem'?
Last movement Tippett "A Child of Our Time" - the setting of 'Deep River' - absolutely sublime.
Movements from bigger works often benefit from the cumulative effect of the whole piece.
Faure "Cantique de Jean Racine"?
Surprised by the enthusiasm for Mozart "Ave verum" which I've personnaly always found a somewhat dreary little piece - perhaps too often performed too slowly?
Tallis 40-part motet should be on such a list. A fabulous experience to listen to or perform in.
But for me, I think I'd go with (again a final movement) the "Dona nobis pacem" from the Bach B minor Mass.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 4, 2012 2:04pm
Wow! What a thread this has become. I would like to suggest John Wilbye's six-part madrigal: DRAW ON, SWEET NIGHT. A beautiful piece of music. It's like singing the Renaissnace blues.
 
on November 4, 2012 2:56pm
This thread makes me smile...I saw the topic and immediately thought, "The Mozart Ave Verum, of course."
 
The opening movement of the Matthew Passion might need to be mentioned as well. In fact, I suspect the "most perfect" piece of anything is probably somewhere in Bach's work, we just are all just too imperfect to understand it. :-)
--Jennifer
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 4, 2012 5:00pm
ooh, applauidng Debussy "Dieu!" and for sure the Bach Dona Nobis Pacem!  And the CLOSING of the St. Matthew.  Of course th eclosing of both large Bach works (and the final chorus and chorale of St. John) benefit by being apotheosic (apotheotic?) closings of long works, I think.
 
yes, I  think the Mozart is often performed WAY too slow.  Adagio in CUT time is a pretty Andante 4/4.    
 
DJ
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 4, 2012 8:23pm
I, too, find this thread interesting, less for its accumulation of a collection of works that certain people find "perfect" than for what it suggests about how we judge. I wonder if some who replied to the query are equating perfection with personal preference: that is, confusing an objective state with subjective taste.
 
My immediate, pre-thought reaction was similar to many: the Mozart Ave verum. But then, when I wondered why that was, and noticed the comment by someone who finds it "dreary," it occurred to me that perfection is often dull. What is so magnificent in Bach (among his many other virtues) is the often-almost-impossibly-instrumental vocal writing. What is so treasurable in Michelangelo, or Beethoven, or Schoenberg, is the always-evident struggle to achieve coherence which is perceptible in the final creation. And what would Marilyn Monroe have been without the imperfection so tellingly referred to as a "beauty mark?"
 
Regarding tempo in the Mozart, I'm reminded of the ancient adage, "when a slow tempo seems too slow, [to fix it] play it more slowly." I've almost never heard the Mozart sung slowly enough to be maximally (meaning overwhelmingly, shatteringly) effective, perhaps because of the difficulty a truly slow tempo creates especially for the sopranos in increasing their intensity through the long D and D-sharp to the climax on the E in m. 40. Add one to Schnabel's collection of music that is greater than it can be performed?
 
And for those whose idea of perfection is the Dona nobis of the B-minor Mass, what's wrong with the Gratias?
 
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
 
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
on November 5, 2012 4:47am
Too many to choose from!
 
But Almighty God, The Fountain Of All Wisdom, by Thomas Tomkins is a special favourite.
Also his setting of When David Heard.
 
Andrew
on November 5, 2012 5:37am
My vote would be J.S.Bach,   "Mass in B Minor."
"Perfect" is difficult to define for musicians.    "Appropriate SOUND, solid structure, effective text-to-music relationship, indeed a beautiful-purposeful-effective TEXT is the place to start."    
The B-Minor Mass has it all:    structure,  variety of instrumentation and vocal sounds,  effective text-to-music relationships (full of symbolism), balance of challenge and satisfaction to and for the performers,  emotional content,   solid theology,   timeless quality.
And, that "perfection" is all-inclusive in the concluding "Dona nobis pacem."
 
Bing Vick
Artistic Director and Conductor, Greenville Chorale  (SC)
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 5, 2012 6:07am
Palestrina- Alma Redemptoris Mater
 
Nan Beth Walton
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 5, 2012 6:20am
I feel that these works to be perfect in the categories of a cappella major choral works (more than 20min I say).
Frank Martin "Mass for Double Choir"
Sergei Rachmanninoff "Vesper"
Alfred Schnittke "Choral Concerto"
Kentaro Sato "Missa pro Pace"
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 5, 2012 7:34am
Your mention of "Kommt, ihr Töchter" brings to mind Leonard Bernstein's comments: "Suddenly the chorus breaks into two antiphonal choruses. 'See him!' cries the first one. 'Whom?' asks the second. And the first answers: 'The Bridegroom see. See Him!' 'How?' 'So like a Lamb.' And then over and against all this questioning and answering and throbbing, the voices of a boy's choir sing out the chorale tune, 'O Lamb of God Most Holy,' piercing through the worldly pain with the icy-clear truth of redemption. The contrapuntal combination of the three different choruses is thrilling. There is nothing like it in all music."
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 5, 2012 1:21pm
I love all the pieces listed so far and have a few to listen to that I don't know, but I have to put Bach's "Jesu Meine Freude" up there. Not only is the entire piece a palindrome structurally, but there is a point 2/3 of the way througth Ihr aber Seit Nicht Fleishlich, where the stretto starts that is absolutely illuminating. The marriage of text and music as well as the completeness of the composition make it stand out in my musical mind. 
What a great thread! 
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 5, 2012 3:57pm
The "In Paradisum" at the end of Durufle's Requiem is one of the most exqusitely beautiful things I've ever heard. That final chord is absolutely ethereal.  I've always joked that if the choir that sings that at my funeral is good enough at singing that piece (and it WILL be sung at my funeral), God's gonna forgive me for a lot of things! :-)
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 6, 2012 5:39am
So wonderful to read everyone's answers, and I hope that even more will be forthcoming!  Thank you!
on November 6, 2012 7:49am
My very first thought was the final movement of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. Then the Thompson, Alleluia and, perhaps, his Last Words of David. Mozart's,Ave Verum trying hard to take over first place but, in the pack, If Thee Love Me, or The Silver Swan but then, there is O Fortuna  especially in its repeat ofter Blanziflor et Helena. Rutter's, What Sweeter Music, Britten's, Jubilate Deo, Lutkin's, The Lord Bless You and Keep You  ( by whose glowing cubby I walked by in the choral library at Northwestern University in LUTKIN Hall) as well as Rutter's to which I also add his Shephard's Pipe Carol. So, you may take from this short list of my favorite things, I never performed twice a piece that I did not think "perfect" in itself. and then......well, it takes a career doesn't it?
S
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 7, 2012 6:54am
"Beati Quorum Via" - C.V. Stanford
Applauded by an audience of 5
on November 7, 2012 7:46am
What a great question! I'm enjoying reading all the responses....
 
As a children's choir conductor, I am fascinated while currently doing Bach's Bist du bei mir, that each and every one of my singers is LOVING learning this piece. Girls, boys, my senior group, my intermediate group, all gushing with enjoyment at learning Bach! I'd say it comes close to the most perfect unison arrangement out there!
 
Thanks for the question!
 
 
on November 7, 2012 2:07pm
Tallis' Spem in alium changed my life.  It's my absolute favorite.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 9, 2012 4:01am
Gene Puerling's setting of "All the Things You Are" is a constantly inspiring and remarkable piece of choral music. His huge catalog of arrangements for The Singers Unlimited are all stunning in their divisi richness, but I'm always especially moved by his self-imposed four-voice limitation on this piece. As Robert Whyte said above - not a note out of place.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 10, 2012 3:24am
Victoria - "O Magnum Mysterium"
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 10, 2012 6:39am
With Advent near, I'd like to nominate Paul Manz's E'en so Lord Jesus Quickly Come. The sense of yearning that develops over such a short anthem is remarkable, sublime, and, at the same time, exciting. I agree with David Hamilton about the Mozart. For one thing, it's usually performed badly. The Byrd is definitely near perfect; however, it is also often badly performed, often due to the binding bar lines that one sees in bad editions. 
on November 11, 2012 11:22am
My choir would nominate O Magnum Mysterium by T.L. Victoria.  His Ave Maria would be high on their list, as well as Adoramus Te,  sometimes attributed to Palestrina. And, of course, Ave Verum by Mozart.  
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 11, 2012 10:20pm
Hey Julia, 
 
You definitely asked a question that spawned a lot of responses, all individual to those who responded, and yet some collectiveness occurred. 
 
I find your question interesting... and I have to say my opinion should not matter. Can it inform or advise another conductor towards an idea of what is "perfect" or "close to perfect"? Sure. Can I list off a piece I like more than most? Definitely.... However, if one starts to use these labels then one becomes subordinate to them, confined by them, and hindered by them. What are these words?
Perfect
Absolute 
Immaculate
Impeccable
Without-fault or error
Supreme
 
Instead I prefer the following words:
Ideal (choral sound, performance practice, piece for a thematic program, etc)
Pure (example of a style or compositional technique, emotion evocing interpretation of text)
Culminating (a great example of a genre, era, style, etc)
and so on..... 
 
 
Music is not a science and using such words that are scientific can hinder the arts. Instead, choral music and everything it encompasses is an art form. There are no absolute right answers for most of what we do. Sure, there are sciences involved in areas of choral music, for instance; Voice Science and Pedagogy (Anatomy, Acoustics, etc)..... 
 
My criteria for "great" choral pieces encompasses some of the following pieces from the choral repertoire:
Rheinberger Mass in Eb-Major (If you've never heard the Sanctus or Credo, you should, it will change your outlook)
Allegri - Miserere Mei
Barber - Agnus Dei
Rheinberger - Abendlied
Tavener - The Lamb
Lauridsen - O Magnum Mysterium
Pearsall - Lay A Garland
Paul Mealor - A Spotless Rose
Ola Gjeilo - Second Eve
Durufle - Ubi Caritas
Paulus - The Old Church
Palestrina - Missa Benedicta Es
 
and I could easily list another 800 that are on my iPhone/iTunes playlist.
 
All the best, 
Alan Davis
PLU - BMA (may 2013)
 
 
 
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 12, 2012 4:17am
I, too, am loving this thread...so subjective, but then, music is!  However, for me, when the composer himself felt he could do no better, and so didn't continue (this is unsubstantiated, although the ms seems to point that way), I can only agree with him...  And I'm very surprised that no one else has suggested it: Hear my Prayer, Purcell.  It doesn't get any better than this: 8 part unaccompanied voices, 2 motives intertwining to build to a shattering climax, false relations and all: heaven on earth!  No wonder he (possibly) could not continue...
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 12, 2012 7:16am
Piers Maxim writes:
"...Hear my Prayer, Purcell.  It doesn't get any better than this: 8 part unaccompanied voices, 2 motives intertwining to build to a shattering climax, false relations and all: heaven on earth!  No wonder he (possibly) could not continue..."
 
Maybe Purcell couldn't, but Sven-David Sandstrom could, and did.
 
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
 
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 12, 2012 9:05am
My vote goes to the Jan Sweelinck De Profundis. Somehow I find this piece magical and powerful in both the details and the overall affect.
Paul Harris
on November 21, 2012 10:01pm
I'm not well versed in choral literature, sadly, but there are some pieces of choral music that have certainly brought me some joy in performing, listening and teaching. (I joined the choir game late. I'm a "converted" pianist and didn't start singing until my sophomore year of college-10 years ago). Some of my personal favorites are...
 
Bist du Bei Mir- Bach
Praise to the Lord- Christiansen (I hope I'm spelling that correctly)
Ave Verum- Mozart
Hymn to St. Cecilia - Barber
The Angel's Carol (SA version, especially)- Rutter
Requiem- Faure
 
I love this thread.... Now. Have a list of great choral music to listen to! 
 
 
 
 
 
on November 24, 2012 9:24am
I agree about the Mozart, but the Kyrie from the Durufle Requiem is another example for me for it's deeply satisfying rewards to the singer, economy of style, exquisite craftsmanship, origniality, drama, range, power and spiritual depth.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 24, 2012 10:19am
Having not seen Lauridsen's O Magnum anywhere here, I felt I must add it to my list, for many of the same reasons I nominated the Durufle Kyrie from Requiem.  It is one of those pieces which, having sung it in a choir, one knows they have found something they could do for the rest of their lives if one piece can be so rewarding.  I was driving on the freeway when I heard his Lux eterna with orchestra for the first time, and literally had to pull over so I could listen to the whole thing undistracted.  I believe pieces which redefine the choral experience should also have a place on this list.  Simplicity is not the only criteria, but it is harder to be perfect AND complicated.  While there are more complicated composers, Lauridsen, particularly in the whole Lux eterna with orchestra, succeeds at going past simple and being close to perfection.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 25, 2012 12:14pm
Nothing moves me more than a stellar chorus of men singing "Fac me vere" from Dvorak's Stabat Mater.
on November 25, 2012 4:29pm
Music is amazing and it moves us all differently.  It has been a delight reading these comments and remember so many of these pieces sung with wonderful choirs and with delicious memories.  I think we do bring our past experiences to the music and it is difficult to divorce our feelings from the science of music.  With that in mind, I would agree with Austen that tomorrow would bring another choice.  
Ave Verum just fills me with such peace every time I sing it that its power cannot be ignored.  However, you have all suggested some truly brilliant works.  May they all be YOUR perfect piece that speaks to you in a way that nothing else can.
 
on November 25, 2012 9:08pm
Interesting, considering it was written for the contralto soloist
on November 26, 2012 7:27am
I'm coming late to this party and empty handed, in that I can't single out a personal "most perfect" choral composition, but appreciate the contributions of those who have shared their own choices. Many find the exquisite works of Mozart and Bach to frequently approach perfection (whatever that is), and I won't disagree, although I'm certainly happy that there are 21st-Century composers who are still striving for, and perhaps achieving similar perfection, even if not across their entire oeuvre. Digressing to a moment of pedantry, however, I must point out that the famous and beautiful song Bist du bei mir is actually not by Bach, but is rather an aria from an opera by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, a contemporary of Bach's that Anna Magdalena entered into the Notebook that JS gave to her in 1725. There are some other famous pieces in the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach that were assumed to be by JSB, but are not, including the very familiar Minuet in G Major that most beginning piano students play (that one is attributed to Christian Petzold).
 
I'm looking forward to hearing (and singing) more and more nearly "perfect" choral works in the future, and seeing more "perfect" sunsets, eating more "perfect" meals, and drinking more "perfect" glasses of wine! ;-)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 27, 2012 6:41am
Respectfully, it is No. 6 in the full work and it's for tenor solo and male chorus.
on November 27, 2012 6:27pm
Gregorio Allegri: Miserere mei, Deus
Anton Bruckner: Os Justi
Francis Poulenc: Exultate Deo
Knut Nystedt: O Crux
Arvo Part: Magnificat
Irving Fine: The Hourglass
Dominick Argento: Sonnet 64 (in memorium 9/11/01)
 
These are pieces that mean something to me personally, so it's hard to escape that bias -- but I believe they are composed superbly.  Every note has a critical job to do, with no 'fat.'  The result of the "math" (aka counterpoint/form/balance) of these pieces being just as exquisite as the emotional "punch" of the music, is -- to me -- perfection.
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 27, 2012 8:01pm
How interesting about Bist du Bei Mir ! I had known for years about the piano pieces that were attributed to him but not actually his, but hadn't thought about the vocal works. Embarrasingly enough, I didn't even know it was in the Anna Magdalena notebook. 
on November 28, 2012 5:01am
I will give a vote for Barber's "Reincarnations."  I cannot imagine changing a drop of ink on those pages.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 29, 2012 3:47am
If it isn't Ave Verum Corpus (which it very well may be), it's Brahms's Geistliches Lied (Lass dich nur nichts nicht dauren).  Soaring melodic lines, a perfect pace of building/ebbing/flowing throughout the piece...oh yeah, and it's a double canon at the ninth, too.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 29, 2012 10:36am
Josquin: Stabat Mater dolorosa-
Perfectly expresses grief in compelling slow triplets against 2alto(tenor) Stabat chant. No eye can resist tearing at this.
Wide ranges explore extreme of emotions
 SAATB in RSS168M (J.Hetland Ed.), up one from original.
on November 29, 2012 4:58pm
In all my 50+ years of singing in various choirs, one of the most challenging pieces, and also the one I would put at the top of the list, is Strauss' "Der Abend."
16 beautifully moving, intertwining parts!
Mmmmm-mmm!
on November 30, 2012 5:21am
"Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can just listen to the B Minor Mass?"--Michael Torke
 
'Nuff said.
Applauded by an audience of 5
on November 30, 2012 6:40am
Amen!
on November 30, 2012 7:57am
Thanks Bruce, for reminding us of Torke's quote. I've had that framed and on my wall for years.
on November 30, 2012 3:46pm
A favorite of mine, and  I saw it mentioned once, is Agnus Dei, the choral version of Barber's Adagio For Strings.
on December 1, 2012 6:53am
Beibl Ave Maria
on December 1, 2012 12:07pm
Antonio,
I second the emotion on Beibl's AVE MARIA. In addition, however, I would like to nominate (and this has probably already been suggested......I've lost count) Morten Lauridsen's O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM.  What a profoundly moving piece of music. 
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on December 1, 2012 2:01pm
So lovely to read so many responses!  I had expected ten or fifteen...  You have all contributed to a fabulous list of pieces for all of us to explore and enjoy.  And who knows, perhaps by the end of the year the number of responses will exceed 100.  Now wouldn't that be something!  "The 100 most perfect choral pieces of all time" compiled by YOU.
 
Mostly just wanted to say a great big THANK YOU, and wish you all a wonderful holiday season.  
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on December 2, 2012 7:49am
I could never choose! I agree that perfect for me means life changing as far as choral music is concerned...but I cannot possibly choose :-).
on December 2, 2012 8:29am
Oh boy I LOVE this question. A blizzard of choral works just flurried through my brain.

Victoria's O Magnum is an incredible work of art. Pretty much any 4 part SATB Renaissance motet will feel perfect to it's listener HA!

Have you ever heard Eric Barnum's "Hic Est Martinus"? It's one of the finest compositions I've ever laid eyes/ears/voice on. BRILLIANT. Here's a link. Listen ALL the way through.

http://www.myspace.com/music/player?sid=27539417&ac=now

on December 2, 2012 9:01am
My motivation for asking the question was just good old-fashioned curiosity.  No ulterior motives, no desire to use the information in any commercial way.  I am simply truly interested in learning about the pieces of choral music that ChoralNetters deem "most perfect," and then searching them out and listening to them--for my own education and pleasure.  I do hope that others have enjoyed reading the responses as much as I have, and have found this thread of value.
 
I've been surprised but thrilled that so many people have been brave enough to share their thoughts on the subject.  I think it does take a bit of bravery to venture this kind of opinion in a public forum among one's peers.  And I hope that even more people will be brave and the list will continue to grow.  I also hope that more people like yourself outside the U.S. will contribute their thoughts.  
 
on December 2, 2012 1:36pm
J.S. Bach  B minor Mass
G. Fauré Requiem
F. Martin for double choir
 
and 
 
P. Łukaszewski O Adonai
M. Lauridsen Ave Maria
 
These are all masterpieces, in my opionion :-)
 
They are all simply beautiful, emotional and unique pieces. 
on December 2, 2012 1:36pm
J.S. Bach  B minor Mass
G. Fauré Requiem
F. Martin for double choir
 
and 
 
P. Łukaszewski O Adonai
M. Lauridsen Ave Maria
 
These are all masterpieces, in my opionion :-)
 
They are all simply beautiful, emotional and unique pieces. 
on December 5, 2012 10:08am
For me, this question means: 'For a choral singer, what is the most perfect piece of choral music ever composed?'
 
The Mozart Ave Verum is in the top five, yes, but for me as a choral singer, Lauridsen is the most wonderful composer for the voice. His 'O Magnum' and 'Ave Maria' are absolutely sublime, they just fall off the tongue in a completely unique way - no matter how many times I sing them (and I've sung both of them from memory, a lot!), they never cease to move me incredibly (though I try to remain detached, it's difficult!)
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on December 6, 2012 4:43am
For me, anything by Lauridsen is a true joy to sing.  His Nocturnes probably take the cake for me.  Also, John Corigliano's "Fern Hill", Tallis' "Lamentations of Jeremiah", and Rachmaninoff's "All-Night Vigil".
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on December 7, 2012 7:40am
A personal reply from Ronald Richard Duquette, copied here with his permission:
 
I'm so glad someone mentioned Bruckner's "Os Justi" - not that that is my choice - it's more because I believe Bruckner is sadly neglected as a composer of short works appropriate for the Church. My criteria are different for "perfection" - which of course none of these mentioned works can be, in fact, otherwise composers would've realized it and stopped composing! - but it's applicability to use or circumstance, and relative approachability for a volunteer choir (practical considerations, in other words). So for me, yes, "Ave verum corpus" by Mozart is up there; "Locus iste" by Bruckner is way up there; as lovely as "Sicut cervus" is, it's one done with caution with the usual small church choir (15 or so voices), but I love it (especially at the tenor entrances at "Anima mea"). One other work I have to include is "God So Loved the World" a reworked (one step down) and retexted motet by Bruckner (GIA published it back in 1967; it's now out of print). I think what is probably MORE useful about this thread is the listing of music I'm not familiar with - and that I have to go exploring to see what can be used by my little (and augmented - but that's a whole 'nuther story) gang at Mass. Thanks for doing this!
 
on December 7, 2012 3:08pm
Okay, marvelous, everybody.  Many favorites of mine on this thread. 
 
But I can't stand it, someone has to say it:  Bach's Magnficat in D is the most concise and perfect work ever composed.  Or close to it.
 
-Bruce
 
 
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on December 8, 2012 6:05am
Vaughan Williams Mass in Gm, hands-down.
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on December 8, 2012 9:26am
It appears that the Bruckner "God So Loved the World" is still available as part of this set:
 
 
Paul
on December 8, 2012 12:24pm
Good nomination, Bruce.  The Omnes Generationes chorus alone is a piece of genius, with the succeeding entrances going up the scale.  Who but Bach could write a fugue subject with entrances a second apart?  And the better known Magnificat (& Sicut Erat) and Sicut Locutus choruses aren't too shabby either.  it is a marvelous work, and to think he wrote it during his first year at Leipzig!
on December 9, 2012 12:46pm
Yep, as you say, Charles, part of the genius in Bach's Omnes Generationes is how he hits all notes of the natural minor scale, in order, on the entrances of the fugue. 
 
And also very interesting, and not so obvious, is how he uses all notes of the chromatic scale (across multiple octaves, from bottom to top) in this movement -- with his solution for C natural, in this work in solid F# minor, being very clever indeed.  But most compelling is how entrances that follow each other, one after another, in the manner of generations, are united at the end in a unified acclamation.  I also find it interesting that Bach changed the text from "omnes generationes" to "omnes, omnes generationes". 
 
(That's a little, for starters, on the "omnes generationes" movement.  And, as you say, there are other movements in this Magnificat as well ...).
on December 9, 2012 6:39pm
Bruce:  Observations like that show how organized Bach's mind really was--and makes one wonder whether he even had to think about doing some of these things consciously!
 
But repeating the word "omnes" doesn't seem to have any particular symbolic meaning.  Composers did it all the time, although it's much more obvious in Handel than it usually is in Bach.
All the best,
John
on December 10, 2012 5:02am
Long - Bach B Minor Mass. Absolute perfection in every movement. Medium length - Bach Magnificat or Tallis' Lamentations of Jeremiah. Short - Byrd's Vigilate; a sort of mini-cantata in itself. Or Tomkins' When David Heard. Makes me weep every time.
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on December 10, 2012 6:53am
How could I have forgotten Heinrich Schütz's "Die mit Tränen säen"?
 
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on December 10, 2012 9:22am
Hi Joel,
 
Yep, that's it.  I would also place Monteverdi's Nisi Dominus or Lauda Jerusalem from Vespers 1610 (or the whole work, of course) in your list.
 
Offer a concert with any of these, and I'm first in line for a ticket.
 
-Bruce
on January 11, 2013 12:32am
I don't know about perfect, but a few of my very favorite, most moving pieces would be:
 
Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium
Bruckner Christus Factus Est
Whitacre i thank You God for most this amazing day
Rachmaninoff Blazhen Muzh from Vespers
Thompson Alleluia
 
What I love about conversations like this is I always find something a) New to me and worth introducing to my choir b) Something I'd forgotten about c) Something worth paying a little more attention to next time around.
 
Cheers!
 
Anthony Toohey
Director, Timshel Community Chorus of the Salinas Valley
King City, CA
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on January 17, 2014 10:49pm
I wouldn't say perfect, as perfect is quite hard to pinpoint but I have quite a few favourites that I am sure you would've heard of.
 
Palestrina- Sicut Cervis, Jesu Rex Admirabilis, Alma Redemptoris Mater
Stainer- Crucifixion
Mozart- Ave Verum Corpus, Spatzenmesse Mass, Confutatis (Requiem)
Allegri- Miserere Mei, Deus
Chilcott- O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, Tomorrow go ye forth
Parry- I was glad
Byrd- Mass for 4 voices, Ave Verum Corpus, Civitas Sancti Tui
Bruckner- Locus Iste, Os Justi, Christus Factus Est
Wood- This Joyful Eastertide
Sander- The Reproaches
Stanford- Justorum Animae, Beati Quorum Via, Ye Choirs' of New Jerusalem, all of his canticle settings (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) especially the one in G
Howells- Canticles for Gloucester Cathedral, Jubilate Deo
 
I tend to find it very hard to pick just a few favourites ;)
 
 
 
 
 
 
on January 19, 2014 3:09am
Sir Charles Hubert H. Parry, Songs of Farewell
 
It was a labor of love to learn these pieces, speaking as a choral singer. The thrill of beautifully balanced, carefully constructed, simply gorgeous music was beyond the pain of work to  learn and sing. It was a joy and delight at all times! There was no wasted music; the expression of the thoughts of the text was concise and strong.
on January 20, 2014 4:30am
Johannes Brahms, Five Songs, Opus 104.  They are all small masterpieces.   I learned them 45 years ago, and they still move me to tears everytime I hear them (performed well). I'd take "In Herbst"  with me on a deserted island!
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on January 20, 2014 5:10am
Let me throw out a few: Palestrina Tu es Petrus; Monteverdi Ecco mormora l'onde;  Bach Dona nobis pacem from Mass in B-minor; Vaughan Williams Dirge for Two Veterans from Dona Nobis Pacem; Durufle Ubi caritas; Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem 6th movement (to be performed at my memorial service)  All purely subjective.  If there is anything that moves me more, it's in there too.
 
Hank Alviani, Clarion University
on January 20, 2014 7:08am
Like you want some foreigners also to answer,
being a french choir director,
and, after some 50 years of knowing the large choral repertoire,
I agree with  Mozart "Ave verum"
Debussy "Qu'il la fait bon regarder" very rich jewels.
In the same shape of  short pieces, very rich in a few measures, I should add
Duruflé "Tota pulchra es"
 
and,
even if it is completely another world, (that is, the world of a vocal solo quintet)
I was very much impressed by
the perfection, emotion and beauty of
the "Real group" 's arrangement (in a 1995 CD)
a cappella
on "A child is born".
on January 20, 2014 9:07am
Hello Julia,
 
I would certainly include the Ave Maria of Franz Biebl in a 'top ten' list.
 
Donald
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on January 20, 2014 9:23am
Hans-Werner Zimmermann: Wachet auf, ruft auf der Stimme  http://youtu.be/zafZOJZ1RY8
Britten: Jubilate Deo
Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb
Thompson: Alleluia
Lauridson: Dirait-on
Lauridson: O magnum mysterium
Victoria: O magnum mysterium
Rutter: Requiem
Debussy: Le damoselle elue
 
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on January 20, 2014 1:19pm
I think we have to look to the master, J.S. Bach. For mastery of compositional technique: Mass in b minor; for mastery of musical drama: St. Matthew Passion.
 
Mike Melton
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on January 20, 2014 3:34pm
Michael to the rescue.  As Andras Schiff has said: "There is Bach, and then there is everyone else."
 
Richard
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on January 21, 2014 5:37am
I applauded and then noticed it was my old classmate, Bruce. Hi Bruce!
 
on January 21, 2014 5:47am
When I read the title of this thread, the first piece that came to mind was Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus.  There are so many beautiful works, but I think this piece approaches perfection because it is accessible to choirs of varying size and capability  while retaining its beauty.  I have sung this in small church choirs and large auditioned symphonic choirs and its beauty reaches the listeners every time.
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on January 21, 2014 9:39am
This is a great thread! There is bunch of great music here that I have never heard before and I'm desperately finding ways to slot them into upcoming programs.
 
For my money, you can't beat Bach. The one that always gets me is the Soprano/Alto duet from BWV 4 "Christ Lag in Todesbanden". This is a particularly fine recording by the Hilliard ensemble. 
 
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on January 21, 2014 12:49pm
Very pleased that this has been revived!  I still haven't made a decision; I haven't heard everything yet! ;-)  What I find interesting, as I reflect on the answers, is the choice of Mozart's Ave Verum.  As a child, our mediocre (but dedicated and one of the few around in my rural area and so deserves appreciation), used to play an instrumental of Ave Verum nearly every Sunday during communion.  The organ was terrible, the playing was terrible.  When I then heard this piece sung, my first reaction was, "Oh no, not that!"  Had I known at the time that this was Mozart, I would have rejected Mozart outright as a lot of fuss over nothing. However, after hearing it performed by a great choir, I recognized its sublime beauty.  Perhaps, that is a testament to its greatness; that one can transform from disdain to great appreciation of it.  I have not arrived to the point where I would select it as the most perfect, but it is on my list.  I'm still working on this one.  Perhaps I am sharing this as a cautionary tale.  We need to be sure to give our young people access to great musical performances. Best to you all!
 
Anne
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on January 22, 2014 5:59am
When I came across this thread, two responses came to mind INSTANTLY:  Mozart's "Ave Verum" ... and Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria". I would be hard pressed to name either as THE top because they are both so wondrously satisfying. And I say this with many towering giants of choral music circling my brain. But my heart, where music surely is most deeply rooted after all analysis is done, singles out these two.
 
Toni
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on January 23, 2014 6:10am
My first answer was the Ave Verum.  It's gratifying to see that many others thought the same.  And I like seeing mentions of the Brahms and Faure requiems.  I particularly love the Laudate Dominum from Mozart's Solemn Vespers - transcendant when the soprano comes back at the end.  The trio from the end of Rosenkavalier would go on my list too. I once sang in the chorus of the Brahms Alto Rapsody with Stefanie Blythe.  I think I could have gone to heaven happily afterwards.  In rehearsal the conductor had to ask the men to sing louder.  I think that was because we were so in awe of the music AND Ms. Bllythe's voice.  The performance of a great work by a great performer leaves an indelible mark - perfect work or not.  
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on January 24, 2014 9:51am
Bach Mass in b Minor or Brahms Requiem. Hands down. 
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on January 26, 2014 8:33am
John Browne: Stabat Mater Dolorosa/ Josquin Stabat Mater
SIR
on January 27, 2014 5:01am
I would like to submit, as 100's of you seem to believe also, the Mozart Ave Verum Corpus. . . .
However, I have sung many, many beatiful pieces also by Heitor Villa-Lobos and I would hope that "school" would not be overlooked.
on January 28, 2014 2:43am
The Credo of Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli, the Mouton Nesciens Mater, Josquin's Ave Maria, the last movement of Handel's Dixit Dominus, Wie habe ich dein Gesetze so lieb from Schütz's Schwanengesang, Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem, Bach's Komm Jesu, komm, Letztes Glück from the Brahms Fünf Gesänge, Siell' on kauan jo kukkineet omenapuut (Toivo Kuula), and just to finish before I go mad listing about half the choral music I know, Nightingales by Gerald Finzi. The Finzi because of ca. 15 of the most perfect seconds of choral music I know (passage starting from "Oh, might I wonder there...").
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on January 28, 2014 8:30am
Might I add to this wonderful list "The Succession of the Four Sweet Months" and even more touching "The Evening Primrose" from Benjamin Britten's Opus 47.  The latter has always touched the singers I have had the pleasure of sharing this little gem!
Bob Boyd
 
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on January 30, 2014 6:14pm
 
Everytime I hear it or perform it, I remember why I love choral singing so much.  Spectacular.
 
Or, as someone right above me put it, Satisfying; yeah, satisfying to the extreme.  After the last chord floats away, what else can be said?
on January 31, 2014 2:36am
So many place Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus on their list: it has some complicated tuning issues; on my intonation blog I posted a few examples of tuning choices that may not come naturally but may help in planning your performance with orchestra
 
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on January 31, 2014 9:44am
I believe it is "How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place" from the Brahms' Requiem.  
on January 31, 2014 9:54am
Great discussion!  I have been reading this discussion for over a year now and have enjoyed your wonderful contributions.  Here are my humble contributions not yet shared on the list.
 
SSA Children's Chorus
Modal Etudes Veljos Tormis
(7 movements 45 seconds each.  Built on 7 modes each built on a common tone of 'c'.  Each movement depicts a different part of nature: spring, fog, cold, snow etc.  Nothing better, in my mind, that I have yet encountered for Children's Choir.)
 
 
SSAATTBB
Raua Needmine ("Curse Upon Iron") Veljos Tormis
(primitivism, polytonality, textual and rhythmic intensity- not pretty but stunning and chilling.... epic)
 
 
SSAATTBB
All Night Vigil Rachmaninoff
(every movement and chant motive developed to expressive perfection)
 
 
Peace,
 
Andrew
on January 31, 2014 2:47pm
Ah! What a wonderful participation and list. Let's not forget that one from everyone's early history:
 
Jesus Loves me - this I know
 for the Bible tells me so. 
 
Has someone arranged this in a full three minutes or so piece?
I would not hesitate to sing this at the beginning of a concert featuring Messiah.
I think the contrast would remind that this one stanza contains IT!
 
Talk about meaning!
 
EP
on February 2, 2014 4:45am
Well, I am EXTREMELY biased, but for me, the Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music would be right up there.  If you do not know this work, run (do NOT walk!) and listen to it.  Stunning.
on February 4, 2014 3:48am
Bach's Magnificat
on February 9, 2014 7:04am
Nothing beats Bach B minor Mass.
 
on February 10, 2014 9:08am
This is so spot on!  It was going to be my selection, too.  As a singer and composer, I'm always incredibly moved by the piece whenever we sing it in choir.  Simply beautiful and absolutely perfect in every way.  You just made my day.  Thank you!
Ken Malucelli
on February 11, 2014 6:05pm
So many wonderful pieces, and new ones to listen to.  I love so many of these... probably could never choose...but Edward's suggestion of "Yes Jesus Loves Me" makes me think of that whole parallel world of music--the folk tradition.  What mysterious creative force is this that makes people from the most unlikely circumstances, with little or no formal musical training, create music, whether they can write it down or not?  What attracts another to a song and compels him to modify it and pass it on....and on, and on?  How does a centuries old melody get repeated and reused and reworked and adapted--as a bagpipe tune, then a fiddle tune, then a work song, then a hymn, then a protest song, then a theme in a work by a conventional composer?  What moved the traveling singing masters of early America to set--yet again--the ancient Biblical texts, and the eager communities who claimed these as their most serious and joyful expression?  There is pathos in the Shape Note hymn "The Dying Californian", originally a letter to his brother from a man dying on a ship rounding Cape Horn during the California Gold Rush.  There is love and gratitude in both Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" and Woody Guthrie's response "God Blessed America for Me" which he renamed "This Land is Your Land"....repentance and ecstacy in "Amazing Grace," written by a slave ship captain..... majesty and conviction in "We Shall Overcome," by Pete Seeger and others.  Like the works of the great composers, but by a different path, these great works of the folk grow out of our deepest human concerns and aspirations....and grow and grow...alluberall...und ewig....   
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