“ 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
Well, my intentions were good; I was hoping to finish this on the day of Epiphany, but the events on January 6 proved to be, to say the least, rather distracting, and not at all conducive to composing. But here it is at last, and I’m still well within the season of Epiphany. So there!
O Oriens is one of the so-called “O Antiphons” for each day of the last week of Advent, so named because they all begin with the word “O”: O Sapientia (“O Wisdom,” December 18); O Adonai (“O Lord,” December 19); O Radix Jesse (“O Root of Jesse,” December 20); O Clavis David (“O Key of David,” December 21); O Oriens (“O Dayspring,” or “O Rising Sun,” December 22); O Rex Gentium (“O King of the Nations,” December 23); and O Emmanuel (“O God With Us,” December 24). Each of these titles is a name for Christ, reflecting his attributes as mentioned in scripture. Many English speaking worshipers know these from singing the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (Veni Emmanuel), in in which the individual verses paraphrase the antiphons. O Oriens refers to Christ as the Rising Sun or Morning Star.
O Rising Sun, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Both the words and tune of the chorale „Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” are attributed to Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), a German Lutheran pastor who also authored another celebrated chorale, „Wachet auf, ruft und die Stimme.” Both of these melodies are perhaps best known in their harmonizations and other adaptations (chorale preludes, movements of cantatas, etc.) by Johann Sebastian Bach. While this hymn is most often associated with Epiphany (the Star of Bethlehem followed by the Magi), it is said that Nicolai wrote it in response to a pestilence that had struck his village in 1597, an eerie coincidence of which I only became aware after having written most of the piece.
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
voll Gnad’ und Wahrheit von dem Herrn,
die süße Wurzel Jesse!
Du Sohn Davids aus Jacobs Stamm,
mein König und mein Bräutigam,
hast mir mein Herz besessen,
schön und herrlich, groß und ehrlich,
reich von Gaben,
hoch und sehr prächtig erhaben!
How beautifully shines the morning star
full of grace and truth from the Lord,
the sweet root of Jesse!
You son of David from the line of Jacob,
my king and my bridegroom,
have taken posession of my heart,
beautiful and glorious, great and honourable,
rich in gifts,
lofty and exalted in splendour!
The piece begins with a fanfare-like declamation of O Oriens for soprano and alto soli, who shortly are joined by the rest of the chorus. Though this section is quite chromatic in its harmonic language, it is connected, if only tangentially, to the oddball A major tonality in which much of the work lives. After the initial music concludes, the first verse of the chorale tune abruptly barges in after a short pause, clothed in a very full and active contrapuntal texture. Once it has reached a high point, the piece immediately reverts to a continuation of the text and music of the original treble-voiced duo, followed by a brief final challenge by the full choir to “darkness and the shadow of death.”
Here’s to the brilliance and radiance of the sun, and the dispelling of darkness. May light and warmth follow.
Have a great New Year.