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Back to Bach

December 9, 2011

Choral composers should look to Bach for inspiration.

Earlier this week, I posted about why I feel that the choral arts, on the whole, are on a moribund track. I stand corrected for looking at choral music from a strictly western "art" perspective. Gospel music and glee club-type events are obvious, jubilant exceptions to the bloodless stuff we're seeing and hearing all too much of these days on the non-denominational, Anglo-centric choral front.

What I was thankfully reminded of during a spirited performance on Tuesday night by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in Palo Alto of Bach's B minor Mass, is the fact that choral music hasn't always lacked a fire in its belly. Bach's lickety-split, joyous, rhythmic writing keeps audiences on the edges of their pews. Thus, the slower sections stand out in thoughtful, soulful contrast. The fast and the slow go hand in hand and the music never cloys.

Composers today often seem to forget that many choruses are capable of singing rhythmically and at speed. So they shouldn't be afraid of writing less dirgey, faster material for voices.

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