“ 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
Text: From Carmina Burana (Latin)
Duration: ca. 10 minutes
Publisher: C. F. Peters Corporation, Edition Peters 67529
Soprano (who preferably also plays claves and tambourine, though a separate percussionist may be used), Clarinet, and Violoncello
Ave Formosissima, for soprano, clarinet and cello, was composed in 1985 for Christine Schadeberg’s New York City recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, sponsored by Musicians’ Accord. It was extensively revised in 1987, and this version of the work was first heard in Madrid in May of that year, during a two-week tour of Spain by Musicians’ Accord. It is dedicated to its first performers and to my first teacher, Don Freund. The texts, in medieval Latin, are from Carmina Burana, and deal with love, springtime and their attendant sensual delights. After the opening fanfare-like salutation to Venus, the music ranges from the exuberant to the mysterious, from the buoyant to the boisterous, from the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic devices of the Middle Ages to the free-floating “pulseless” quality and concern with timbre of much late 20th-century music. The work culminates in a celebratory jig-like dance in which most of the previous music is recalled.
From Carmina Burana
Ave formosissima, gemma pretiosa.
Ave decus virginum, virgo gloriosa!
Ave mundi luminar, Ave mundi rosa,
Blanziflor et Helena, Venus generosa!
Omnia sol temperat, purus et subtilis,
novo mundo reserat faciem Aprilis,
ad Amorem properat animus herilis,
et jocundis imperat deus puerilis.
Gloriantur et laetantur in melle dulcedinis
Qui conantur ut utantur praemio Cupidinis.
Ave formosissima, etc.
Hail, most beautiful one, precious gem
Hail, pride of virgins, most glorious of virgins
Hail, light of the world, hail, rose of the world,
Blanziflor and Helena, most noble Venus!
All things are tempered by the sun, pure and fine,
From a new world arises the beautiful face of April.
The heart of man is propelled toward Love,
And in pleasure’s courts the boyish god is emperor.
They who vie for and win the prize of Cupid
Taste delight and the sweetness of honey.
Hail, most beautiful one, etc.
Interestingly, the work that tried to please the least was the most compelling. Hayes Biggs’ Ave Formosissima, a secular motet for soprano, clarinet and cello, 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.
Mr. Biggs came to grips with the practice and manners of medieval music without literally quoting anything, rather offering a present-day view of the subject that was, by turns, exuberant and reflective, and remarkably persuasive.