Mixed Chorus Unaccompanied
Text: Liturgical (Latin)
I. Quem vidistis, pastores? (Motet for Christmas) (1996), ca. 2.5 minutes
II. Sapientia (Motet for Advent) (1995), ca. 2.5 minutes
III. Videntes stellam (Motet for Epiphany) (1994), ca. 2.5 minutes
IV. Verbum caro factum est (Motet for Christmas) (1997), ca. 3 minutes
Publisher: C. F. Peters Corporation, Edition Peters 67678
Every year I write a motet to send as my Christmas card to family, friends and colleagues. These four motets are among that group of works, as is O magnum mysterium. The Four Christmas Motets were premiered in December 1998 by the Choir of All Saints Church, New York City, under the direction of Dr. Gail Archer. The motets are presented in this collection in an order that seems to make good musical sense on a concert program, irrespective of proper liturgical sequence. However, I do not regard my ordering as inviolable; certainly one could perform them separately or in groups of two or three, or in a different configuration. It is my sincere hope that these pieces will find a place in appropriate liturgical contexts.
Quem vidistis, pastores? is a boisterously good-humored piece, reminiscent of a medieval dance, and in that spirit could even be performed using an improvised hand drum or tambourine accompaniment if desired. This motet, in my mind, reflects the excited, impatient quality of the text, as the shepherds are interrogated about what they have witnessed. The soprano soloist represents their awed, hushed response, and mounting excitement as she describes the angelic choir praising God.
O Sapientia is the first of the “O” antiphons (O Sapientia, O clavis David, etc), better known to many English-speaking worshipers as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Many of my harmonies in this motet will sound familiar, but often they are connected to each other in rather surprising ways.
Videntes stellam begins with the soprano soloist intermingling with and gradually emerging from the opening spare, linear texture. The great rejoicing of the Magi (“gaudio magno”) is symbolized by a massive chordal climax. The piece ends with a feeling of quiet wonder as the gifts they present (“aurum, thus et myrrham”) are enumerated, as the voice of the solo soprano floats above those of the rest of the choir.
Verbum caro factum est consists largely of elaborate choral fanfares employing rich, polytonal harmonies that suddenly disperse, like clouds, to reveal simple major triads, which are perhaps musically symbolic of the Deity revealed in human form. The middle section begins fugally, leading into a return of the opening fanfares, which this time animate the word Alleluia.