A lot of the music that I feature here from week to week is on the newer side, as I enjoy highlighting pieces with which many conductors may be unfamiliar. However, I find myself needing to remember—as I think many of us do from time to time—that I must go back and include pieces from throughout musical history. I have been compiling a list of works by “the greats” that work very well for average choirs, and in this week’s post I want to discuss two sets of music for SAB choirs by two giants from the Classical era—Haydn and Mozart.
I will begin with Franz Joseph Haydn’s Six English Psalms, written in the last decade of the 18th Century at the request of an Anglican rector. While four of the six are homorhythmic and strophic (and definitely worth checking out), I want to highlight the two more complex pieces from the set, “How oft, instinct with warmth divine” and “Maker of all! Be thou my guard”. Both works feature excellent beginning polyphony (especially “Maker of all!”) and are divided into verses, each composed with different material excepting the last verses of each, which return to material from the beginning. The chromaticism is distinctly Classical in style but not at all too difficult. Ranges in all voices are slightly larger than usual, so these pieces would be best for high school choirs and up. There are several great recordings, easily found by searching iTunes or even YouTube. Carus-Verlag publishes an edition of the set, found here, and there are also a few editions available on CPDL, accessed here. These pieces are most definitely different from most SAB music you may find today and well worth the challenge they will offer to your singers.
Roughly ten years before Haydn wrote his psalm settings, Mozart wrote several small pieces for three-part choir in Italian that have come to be known as his “nocturnes” or notturni. I will focus here on two of them, “Luci Care, Luci Belle” and “Due Pupille Amabili”. Both pieces are quite small in stature, homorhythmic, and primarily diatonic, with just a few touches of chromatic embellishments. The ranges are very modest in all voices, though some complexities in the pieces (intervals, the Italian language, tuning) would suggest that they be best suited for high school voices and older. “Luci Care” features some repeated material at the end, which always helps with teachability, while “Due Pupille” contains two distinct sections but is much easier. Originally scored for accompaniment by basset horns, there is an excellent transcription scored for clarinets, as edited by Robert Carl and available from Hal Leonard (all six pieces actually), with “Luci Care” found here and “Due Pupille” here. There are also several editions available on CPDL.
What are some of your favorite accessible classics? Please consider sharing in the comments, and, as always, feel free to e-mail me ideas for pieces you would like to see featured here at .
Brandon Moss is a choir director, teacher, and composer/arranger living and working in Central Ohio. He teaches at Central Crossing High School, directs the Chalice Choir at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, and serves in leadership roles with the Ohio Choral Directors Association and the Ohio Music Education Association. He is currently working on the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting at The Ohio State University.