Alexey Sysoev (b. 1972)
Pie Jesu (2016) for choir and alto solo
Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300–1377)
Credo (before 1365) for choir a capella
Dmitri Smirnov (b. 1952)
Prayers from St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy (1992) for mixed choir a capella
Duration: 1 hour
On the eve of a new concert tour, the musicAeterna choir will present a ‘house concert’ featuring music from three contrasting styles, linked by a common theme. For centuries, the Catholic and Orthodox liturgies have been the key objective of endeavour for composers, the tool to set the musical world in motion. Contemporary works to liturgical texts are not necessarily for performance in church, but they inevitably bring the religious experience of the music into the context of a secular concert.
Alexey Sysoev (b. 1972) created Pie Jesu, a part of the Catholic requiem mass, in 2016 for the Moscow festival project Requiem in Memoriam Josquin Desprez. The Requiem of Desprez’s student, the Franco-Flemish composer Jean Richafort (1532), entered into dialogue with five new works on texts of the missing parts of the piece. Alexey Sysoev’s Pie Jesu is an exercise in contemplation: the leisurely flowing clusters of the choir are cut by alto strings and the tapping of the wooden sticks, the claves which the basses play.
Guillaume de Machaut’s Credo (before 1365) is the centrepiece of his Messe de Nostre Dame and the earliest Ordinary of the Mass in the history of European music written by a single composer. The great French composer and poet of the High Middle Ages set an artistic precedent still followed by composers across the world today. Meanwhile, the five movements of Machaut’s four-voice masterpiece are composed in different styles. The Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Ite, missa est are based on the corresponding Gregorian chants and composed as complex polyphonic motets using isorhythm (i.e. mathematical play on note values). The Gloria and Credo (‘I believe’) are particularly rich in liturgical text, and they chant it in a plainer manner, as used before Machaut by the anonymous creators of the so-called Tournai Mass. The melisma within the phrases are short, and textless ritornels appear between stanzas, while the finale presents extensive, sophisticated melismatic cantus on the word ‘Amen’.
Dmitri Smirnov, a composer from St. Petersburg, who has written numerous works of the contemporary choral repertoire, created the Prayers from St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy in 1992. His excerpta from the Orthodox liturgy is in keeping with the Russian liturgical and paraliturgical tradition, rooted in the masterpieces of Bortniansky, Taneyev, and Gretchaninov. The Prayers are intended more for the concert stage than for performance in church. They are notable for their particular soft emotionality and exquisite mastery of choral composition.