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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Wedding Motet: Tota pulchra es/Set me as a seal upon thine heart

1998

Instrumentation

Mixed chorus unaccompanied (with divisi)

Composer's Program Notes

This motet was composed in celebration of my marriage to Susan Marie Orzel, and received its premiere on that happiest of occasions, our wedding on January 16, 1999, performed by the the Choir of All Saints Church under the direction of Dr. Gail Archer.

The work begins with a unison melody for altos and tenors set to the words “Tota pulchra es, amica mea” (“You are all beautiful, my love”). This material is developed in various textures, until a lone solo tenor voice is left, whose final note dovetails with the first major change in the piece, the appearance of the full choir on the same words, this time beginning on a very lushly voiced C-major chord, the initial melody disguised not only by the harmonic shift, but by the octave displacement of one note. This introduces the English text beginning with the words, “Set me as a seal upon thine heart.” The piece continues building in intensity, the climax occurring with a recurrence of the earlier full choir chord, this time a half-step higher, and this time combining the English and Latin texts. The piece gradually winds down, until once again the lone tenor voice is left, singing a slowed-down variant of the initial motive on the words “pulchra es.”

The work is dedicated, with all my love, to Susan.

Texts and Translations

From The Song of Solomon

Tota pulchra es, amica mea, et macula non est in te.
Vox dilecti mei, en dilectus meus loquitur mihi:
Surge, amica mea.

You are all beautiful, my love, and there is no flaw in you.
The voice of my beloved! Behold, my beloved speaks to me:
Arise, my love.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:
For love is strong as death:
jealously is cruel as the grave.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it.

Reviews

San Francisco Classical Voice (online review)
November 17, 1999
By Robert Commanday

Hayes Biggs’ When You are Reminded by the Instruments (1997) is in no way as windy as the title. There is a sense of Stravinsky about it, with its eccentric rhythmic design, whimsical and scherzo-like at first. When it turns form chordal movement to long unison lines marked by sharp bell-like accents, also eccentric and unpredictable, there’s a feeling of an Asian influence or reference. The style and the work are fresh and distinctive, the shape and sense of achievement at the end very satisfying.

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