Press Play: “Agnus Dei” by J.S. Bach


In choral music, altos don’t get much chance to shine. Sopranos get most of the solos, basses impress us with their majestic low tones, and tenors just sing louder than everyone else. Meanwhile, the altos sit in the background, content to be forgotten by most of the audience. With some composers, you could swear that they scribbled in the alto line later, almost as an afterthought. “What? I forgot the alto part? Oh…well, let’s just have them sing these three notes repeatedly.” Maybe that’s why I love this piece so much; leave it to Bach to give an alto a solo of such extreme beauty.

Key moment: This is a song of slow anticipation. The lurching continuo, and all the notes that tie across the bars make you want to edge forward in expectance of the next note. But no moment is as suspenseful as the fermata at 4:22.

That makes me think of: “Edge Hill” by Groove Armada, another great, slow, pulsing song.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

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Press Play: “Nox Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre


Eric Whitacre has a lot going for him. He’s won a Grammy, he’s done interesting online projects with his virtual choir, and he’s got the rugged good looks of Sawyer from “Lost”. Oh, and he also writes some pretty compelling modern choral music. This piece is kind of a sister piece to his earlier “Lux Aurumque”, and as the name suggests, this one is a bit darker and moodier.

Key moment: The final 30 seconds: beginning with the tumbling tenor line, like a tree falling in slow-motion, and ending with the wonderfully dissonant, almost silent, totally magnificent final chord.

That makes me think of: The shadowy atmosphere of this piece is like the pulsing, dark tone of “Mondlicht” by Radio Citizen.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

Press Play: “Sicut Cervus” by G.P. da Palestrina

When I was a kid, somebody told me this piece was written in honour of James Bond, and its title translated as “Secret Service”. I won’t disclose how old I was when I realized my leg had been pulled, but let’s just say I was embarrassingly old. I now understand that the words, from psalm 42, have to do with a deer craving a drink from a stream. But part of me still likes to imagine Agent 007 leading the thirsty deer to the riverbank for some refreshment, and then standing guard against predators while she drinks.

Key moment: As the piece approaches the 2-minute mark, I always think it’s about to switch over to a minor key. But that would disturb the drinking deer, so it stays calm and major.

That makes me think of: Palestrina is often thought of as a pioneer of polyphony, and the wonderful harmonies of “Sicut Cervus” make me think of the opening verse of “Wisely and Slow” by The Staves.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

Press Play: “Te Deum in G” by Ralph Vaughan Williams

This piece was written for the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I can only guess that the Archbishop was pretty pleased with it. It’s incredibly majestic stuff, and I’d like to state for the record that if I’m ever enthroned for any reason, I would like to request this as the soundtrack for the event.

Key moment: 45 seconds in, the choir splits in two. The two sides (Decani and Cantoris) sing the same part on a two-beat delay. Try to imagine how this would have sounded in Canterbury Cathedral, with the split choir bouncing the melody off every corner of the place.

That makes me think of: With the two halves of the choir phasing in and out of unison, it makes me think of Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music”. Not saying I’d pick Reich’s music for my enthronement, but I’ve always loved the rhythmic echoes in Vaughan Williams’ “Te Deum”.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”