“ 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
Mixed chorus, 2 flutes (1=alto flute, 2=piccolo), 2 violas, violoncello and contrabass
Shortly after the death of my mother, Eloise Robertson Biggs, in 1988, I began a setting of two of the traditional Anglican Burial Sentences, which I thought would be for unaccompanied chorus. I had what I thought to be a great beginning, but couldn’t seem to get any further. Naturally other events and pieces intervened, though periodically I returned to the sketch, just to remind myself of it and think about a suitable memorial work.
In 1997, shortly after Dr. Gail Archer assumed her duties as Director of Music at All Saints Church in New York City, where I was a member of the choir for many years, she commissioned me to compose a piece for the inaugural concert of a series she was beginning at the church, which would take place on Palm Sunday of 1998. The instrumentation was to consist of a small group of strings and two flutes, in keeping with the extraordinary compositional company I was to be in on that occasion.
J. S. Bach’s Cantata No. 106 (Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit”) and Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien, two of the greatest examples of funeral music in the repertory. I at last had found the right opportunity to use the material I had sketched some ten years before.
The motet makes much use of polytonal harmonies, which put me in mind of Henry Purcell’s settings of the Burial Sentences, mostly because my harmonies often directly allude to the sorts of contrapuntally derived major-minor clashes he loved so much and exploited so tellingly. The tonal center of the piece, like that of the first part of the Schütz, is E. After the turmoil of the first major section of the piece, there is a sudden change of mood and texture, as an unaccompanied solo soprano begins the text from Psalm 103 (“As a father cares for his children, so does the Lord care for those who fear him”); in its childlike innocence, this passage clears the way for a peaceful, if hard-won conclusion on a darkly voiced E minor triad.
In the midst of life we are in death;
of whom may we seek for succor,
but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the better pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer;
but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty,
O holy and merciful Savior,
thou most worthy judge eternal.
Suffer us not, at our last hour,
through any pains of death, to fall from thee.
As a father cares for his children,
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
For he himself knows whereof we are made;
he remembers that we are but dust.
Our days are like the grass;
we flourish like a flower of the field;
When the wind goes over it, it is gone,
and its place shall know it no more.