Interestingly, the work that tried to please the least was the most compelling. Hayes Biggs’ piece Ave Formosissima harkens back to the dance-mad, melismatic and slightly raucous music of the Middle Ages. But the score, with its zig-zagging lines and pungent dissonances, is genuinely contemporary.”

—New York Times

A Consuming Fire, a short, zesty trio by Hayes Biggs, led off the evening. The piece is framed by some engagingly angular rhythmic writing, with a lyrical nougat at the center.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

[The] most convincing and coherent performance [was] Hayes Biggs’ homage to his composer/pianist colleague Eric Moe, E.M. am Flügel, a short piece with romantic gestures and echoes of Berg and Stravinsky.”

—Aufbau

The Mass for All Saints would be an exciting challenge for those choirs skilled in precise intonation and rhythmic agility. Biggs writes with knowledge of and respect for the expressive capabilities of the human voice.”

—Choral Journal

Hayes Biggs’s wedding motet Tota Pulchra Es, here being sung for the first time, impressed by its quiet solemnity and neat working of its expressive opening motif: not empty fanfares but a reminder of the seriousness and privacy of love.”

—New York Times

Mass for All Saints by composer Hayes Biggs releases shadows transformed into tendrils of light by the arabesque of the vocal line. Contrapuntal procedures are used to their utmost expressive effect. [It] is a work of a melodist of talent in the manner of Puccini, or better yet, Respighi.”

—La Liberté

The Biggs song, Northeast Reservation Lines, is a real party piece... the sneakiness of the changes, the liveliness of the music and the verve of the performance worked handily... a potential recital hit in the vein of Bernstein’s I Hate Music cycle.”

—The Village Voice

All the works tried a return to tonality typical of the decade; the most successful made the return oblique and ambiguous. Hayes Biggs’ O Sacrum Convivium took off from the motet of Tallis, yet it handsomely reconfigured early modes in a modernistic scheme of free tonality.”

—New York Times

Hayes Biggs’ To Becalme His Fever... is a vivid evocation of anxiety, fits and repose. The language embraces pointillistic colors, romantic lines and prickly episodes when the demons hover. Biggs claims a forceful and subtle dramatic hand, along with a keen command of instrumental resources.”

—The Plain Dealer

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Four Christmas Motets

1998

Composer's Program Notes

Every year I write a motet to send as my Christmas card to family, friends and colleagues. These four motets are among that group of works, as is O magnum mysterium. The Four Christmas Motets were premiered in December 1998 by the Choir of All Saints Church, New York City, under the direction of Dr. Gail Archer. The motets are presented in this collection in an order that seems to make good musical sense on a concert program, irrespective of proper liturgical sequence. However, I do not regard my ordering as inviolable; certainly one could perform them separately or in groups of two or three, or in a different configuration. It is my sincere hope that these pieces will find a place in appropriate liturgical contexts.

Quem vidistis, pastores? is a boisterously good-humored piece, reminiscent of a medieval dance, and in that spirit could even be performed using an improvised hand drum or tambourine accompaniment if desired. This motet, in my mind, reflects the excited, impatient quality of the text, as the shepherds are interrogated about what they have witnessed. The soprano soloist represents their awed, hushed response, and mounting excitement as she describes the angelic choir praising God.

O Sapientia is the first of the “O” antiphons (O Sapientia, O clavis David, etc), better known to many English-speaking worshipers as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Many of my harmonies in this motet will sound familiar, but often they are connected to each other in rather surprising ways.

Videntes stellam begins with the soprano soloist intermingling with and gradually emerging from the opening spare, linear texture. The great rejoicing of the Magi (“gaudio magno”) is symbolized by a massive chordal climax. The piece ends with a feeling of quiet wonder as the gifts they present (“aurum, thus et myrrham”) are enumerated, as the voice of the solo soprano floats above those of the rest of the choir.

Verbum caro factum est consists largely of elaborate choral fanfares employing rich, polytonal harmonies that suddenly disperse, like clouds, to reveal simple major triads, which are perhaps musically symbolic of the Deity revealed in human form. The middle section begins fugally, leading into a return of the opening fanfares, which this time animate the word Alleluia.

Texts and Translations

I. Quem vidistis, pastores?

Quem vidistis, pastores? Dicite, annuntiate nobis, in terris quis apparuit?
Natum vidimus, et choros Angelorum collaudantes Dominum.

Whom did you see, shepherds? Speak, tell us who has appeared on earth?
We saw the birth and an angelic choir praising the Lord.

II. O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodisti, venin ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

O Wisdom, who was brought forth from the mouth of the Most High, come and teach us the way of prudence.

III. Videntes stellam

Videntes stellam, magi, gavisi sunt gaudio magno: et intrantes domum, obtulerunt Dominum aurum, thus et myrrham.

Seeing the star, the Magi rejoiced with great gladness: and entering the house they offered the Lord gold, frankincense and myrrh.

VII. Verbum caro factum est

Verbum caro factum est, Alleluia! Et habitavit in nobis, Alleluia!

The Word was made flesh, alleluia, and dwelt among us, alleluia!

Recordings

1. Quem vidistis, pastores? (1996) (Christmas) 2 minutes, 30 seconds
2. O Sapientia (1995) (Advent) 2 minutes, 30 seconds
3. Videntes srellam (1994) (Epiphany) 2 minutes, 30 seconds
4. Verbum caro factum est (1997) (Christmas) 3 minutes

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