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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O magnum mysterium

1990

Composer's Program Notes

This piece was premiered by the late Tony Lee Garner and the Rhodes College Singers, Memphis, Tennessee, in December of 1991, and is dedicated to those performers.

Texts and Translations

O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum jacentem in praesepio. O beata Virgo, cuius viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Jesum Christum. Alleluia.

O great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals should behold the Lord lying in a manger. O blessed Virgin Mary, whose womb was deemed worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia.

Reviews

Choral Journal
October 1994
By James Maroney

O Magnum Mysterium, a three-and-a-half-minute motet for Christmas, is a highly challenging work best suited for advanced college choirs. This 1990 composition features dissonant, often dense chords in a quasi-homophonic setting. Meter changes are nearly constant, consisting mostly of 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 and 3/2, yet the rhythms are not difficult at the work’s moderato tempo. Similarly, the individual choral parts, despite their chromaticism, contain relatively few large or awkward intervals. Tessitura is conservative, with the exception of the basses, who are required to sustain an E, F, and F-sharp, while the sopranos must sing down to b-flat at the beginning of the piece. An English translation is provided in the preface. A piece of great expressive power, O Magnum Mysterium will offer substantial rewards to those select groups capable of rising to its demands.

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
By Whitney Smith

On the Rhodes [College Singers] disc, which was recorded at St. John’s Episcopal Church last year, carols are wedged between three settings of O Magnum Mysterium, a beloved text about the wonder inspired in the animals that beheld the Lord in the manger. The first is the most widely performed setting, by Spanish Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria…The 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc’s Christmas motet is the second O Magnum Mysterium… The final setting, by Rhodes alumnus Hayes Biggs, now of New York, features monophonic [?—HB] writing and subtle, probing dissonance.

Recordings

Pro Organo CD 2224
The Rhodes College Singers
Tony Lee Garner, conductor

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