“ 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
O Sacrum Convivium was first performed on November 11, 1989 in St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University in New York, by the New Calliope Singers under the direction of Peter Schubert. The work is dedicated to the Reverend Chip Gilman, former curate at All Saints Church in New York City.
Perhaps my greatest inspiration for writing this motet came from singing Thomas Tallis’ wonderful setting of the same text, with its daring and poignant cross relations and harmonic clashes. The work begins quietly, gradually working its way into an imitative section, starting in the alto part with the words “Recolitur memoria passionis eius” (“The memory of his passion is recalled”). The counterpoint eventually breaks down, decreasing from four parts to two, culminating in a passage in octaves marked fortissimo. The finalAlleluia begins softly and reintroduces melodic material that was used in the first point of imitation cited above. Once more, the counterpoint gradually disintegrates, dissolving into a constantly shifting eight-part cluster which gradually fades, leaving only the tenors and basses softly sustaining the notes F and C, a reference to the basic harmonic center of the opening of the motet.
O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur. Recolitur memoria passionis eius, mens impletur gratiæ, et futuræ gloriæ nobis pignus datur. Alleluia.
O sacred communion, in which Christ is consumed. The memory of his passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge is given to us of future glory. Alleluia.
On Saturday night, the Gregg Smith Singers presented a wide-ranging program of American choral music from the 1980s. 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.
[Biggs’] two motets form interesting contrasts; whereas O Magnum Mysterium organically explores blocks of sound (and silence), O Sacrum Convivium is more episodic and contrapuntal. Both are very moving works, but the exploration of melodic thirds and sixths of O sacrum reach a piercingly beautiful climax in the extended Alleluias. I commend it especially to you; it has been a major part of my Lent.