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Choral Masterworks and the Season

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As each liturgical season in the Christian year approaches, the NLS Music Section receives an increase in requests for choral masterworks, as well as many requests for some of the more famous requiems.

If you asked anyone to name a famous oratorio, Messiah with its Hallelujah Chorus would most likely be at the top of the list.  

Photo of G. F. Handel

Established as a Christmas standard, many people are unaware it was composed by G. F. Handel in three parts.  Part I was the announcement of the Messiah’s coming and the events surrounding the Virgin birth, Part II described his death, resurrection and ascension, and Part III presents redemption and the coming Day of Judgment.  Today’s public hears a combination of all three parts in one setting, with popular choruses, “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” from Part I combined with “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Part III.  NLS Music Section has the complete choral parts on BARD at BRM 35422, along with some individual choral parts available for downloading.

Although many sacred choral works celebrate joyous seasons, some are written to commemorate poignant events or soothe a communal grief.

Photo of J. S. Bach
Photo of J. S. Bach

J. S. Bach penned several great choral masterpieces in his role of Kapellmeister at St. Thomas church in Leipzig.  

A Passion is a sacred oratorio, describing the sufferings of Christ between the Last Supper and his death, composed for the Easter season.  The St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion are two of Bach’s most popular and most performed sacred oratorios.  The St. John Passion premiered on Good Friday at vesper services in 1724.  A few years later the St. Matthew Passion premiered in 1727 and presented a different tone than the St. John, with its dramatic recitatives and reflective chorales.  Choral and soloists parts for the St. John Passion are available at BRM 35131, and excerpts and the vocal parts for the St. Matthew Passion are available at BRM 35130. There is also an audio commentary on the St. Matthew Passion on BARD at DBM 00066.

 Here is a brief excerpt from St. Matthew Passion, performed in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, 

Brahms, Verdi, Mozart, Dvořák, Fauré, Britten, Rutter and Duruflé. All great composers, all composed requiems.  The requiem is a solemn work for the dead, with its origins in the Latin mass of the Catholic church.  When Brahms chose to compose a memorial for his Mother with his Ein deutsches Requiem, op. 45, he was met with criticism from the establishment for breaking with the traditional Latin text and setting biblical texts he chose himself, and in German. NLS Music Section has this great work in the collection at BRM 29956.

Photo of Verdi Requiem performance at New York Polo Grounds
Verdi’s Requiem in the open air, Polo Grounds, NY. Photograph print, 1916 of Quartette of Giovanni Zenatello, Lucile Lawrence, Maria Gay, Léon Rothier, and Conductor Koemerich (?) at the Polo Grounds, New York City.

Verdi’s Messa da Requiem was composed in honor of an Italian poet and novelist, Alessandro Manzoni.  Premiered in 1874, this choral masterwork includes dramatic moments and solemn passages throughout.  It is available from the NLS Music collection, BRM 28958

And to conclude on a dramatic note, Mozart’s Requiem Mass in d minor was composed as he was dying, but left unfinished.  The remainder of the work has been attributed to other known composers of the day and spurred on by Mozart’s widow Constanze, in an effort to complete the commission for payment. This work is available in separate vocal parts in the NLS Music collection.  Check the Voyager catalog and BARD for other choral masterpieces by Dvořák, Fauré, Britten, Rutter and Duruflé for your choral needs and rejoice or soothe your soul, courtesy of the masters.



  1. I don’t know if Mr Rutter actually sees the coemmnts here, but I simply had to find a place to say that the community chorus in which I am an alto is currently rehearsing the Requiem for a mid-November performance. I don’t think I have ever had as much joy and peace as I have found with this music. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving us this amazing gift. I am quite certain I speak for the 40 of us in the Contra Costa Chorale, which performs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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