Beethoven: Sanctus, from Missa Solemnis

The Missa Solemnis has five sections, and I wanted to pick one for listening today. There is no point in trying to elevate one movement above the others in this work, which is a supreme masterpiece. So it might as well be at random that I select the transcendent Sanctus, which has lots of the best things that Beethoven can offer: a triumphant choir, dramatic passages for the vocal soloists, warm music for the ensemble of woodwinds, an angelic solo violin, and more. If you feel compelled to hear the entire work (as you might probably do), this video can oblige you.

Performed by Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Elīna Garanča (mezzo), Michael Schade (tenor), Franz-Josef Selig (bass), the Dresden State Opera Chorus, and Staatskapelle Dresden, conducted by Christian Thielemann (17 minutes)

Byrd: Regina caeli

William Byrd, one of the great English composers of the Renaissance, wrote sacred music throughout his life. His personal religious commitments were complicated. He seems to have been an Anglican as a young man, but at some point he became a Catholic–a change that created political problems for the leading composer of England’s royal court. Later in life, he retired from the court to live in a Catholic enclave in the English countryside. This hymn to Mary, “Queen of Heaven,” is a work from that late period. Instead of the grand churches for which he had written earlier in his life, Byrd composed this music for worship services in a private home. It is intimate in its scale and in its spiritual focus.

Click the image for a link to the recording.

Mary - detail of Botticelli

Performed by Chanticleer (7 minutes)

Part: Magnificat

The great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt celebrated his eighty-second birthday last month. It is likely that his music is performed more often than the music of any other living composer.

Performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conducted by Paul Hillier (7 minutes)

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Elizabeth’s visit to her cousin Mary when both of them are pregnant. Elizabeth will soon give birth to John, who will become John the Baptist. Mary will become the mother of Jesus. The two women are filled with anticipation, sensing the miracles which are to come. In words that countless composers have set as the Magnificat, Mary says: (more…)