Week 17: Friday, July 13, 2018
“Da Pacem” by Jeff Enns
traditional liturgical text
SSAA, a cappella
If your ensemble enjoys long lyrical lines and leaning into dissonances, this is a piece for you. My singers love this kind of crunchy-yet-pleasing harmony and couldn’t get enough of this song by contemporary Canadian composer Jeff Enns.
The text is a traditional liturgical antiphon:
Da pacem Domine, in diebus nostris, Amen.
Give us peace Lord, in all our days, Amen.
For programming, this work could easily be used in a secular setting, especially where the subject of peace fits thematically. It would also be perfect for a sacred presentation. I used this piece with my small advanced ensemble (~12 students) for a university holiday event. Plus, the harmonies sounded wonderful in that particularly resonant performance space.
Enns’ musical setting begins in a haunting unison, then expands into four parts with multiple suspensions and resolutions. Parts mostly move together, primarily in quarter and half notes. The entirety of the text is presented here, with meter changes influenced by the syllable placement and phrasing (4/4, 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4). This tranquil pseudo-chant section moves from p to f and back to mp, allowing ample room for dynamics to aid in the creation of lush sonorities and chords.
For the subsequent 5/4 section, marked 120 and Jubilant, Enns uses only the first phrase of text: “da pacem Domine.” Alto 2s have a rhythmic ostinato with an asymmetrical compound feel, which they repeat each measure. All other voices have long sustained chords, in which they change pitch only every one or two measures. The contrasting nature of rhythmic vs. sustained and motion vs. stillness creates a beautiful, energetic tension that builds to ff and continues with more asymmetrical patterns.
No sooner has the rhythmic intensity been established then the song transitions back into long smooth phrases. S1s take the melodic lead and then hand off to S2s, with other voices providing sustained chordal support. Every measure has at least one actively-dissonant interval between voice parts, usually a second or a seventh. This section culminates in a lovely “Amen,” with a melismatic feel. The work closes as it began, with one unison phrase from all voices.
There are no hidden divisis or additional splits – this piece could be done with as few as 2 strong singers per part, if all the voices blend well. However, it would be equally beautiful with a large ensemble that can really energize the seconds and sevenths.
Ascending fourths and fifths are found frequently in this song, which offer an excellent opportunity to work on lift, vowel continuity, and intonation as an ensemble. The other primary challenges are sculpting the harmonic tension/release within each phrase and shifting from lyrical to rhythmic passages. The rhythms themselves will likely not be difficult, but the frequent meter signature changes may take some adjustment. Singers need to think of the song as chant and rely on the syllable stress and rhythms for primary metrical structure. Except for an occasional fi or te, the song can be learned on solfege in C major.
|Date of Composition:||2009|
|Text Source/Author:||traditional liturgical antiphon|
|Tempo:||~76, 120, 100, 86|
|Dedication:||Julia Davids and the women of the Canadian Chamber Choir|
|Series:||Elektra Women’s Choir Series|
|Publisher:||Cypress Choral Music CP 1151|
|Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing:|
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.