Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide

Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide

Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide

Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide


Michael Steinberg's highly successful listener's guides--The SymphonyandThe Concerto--have been universally praised for their blend of captivating biography, crystal clear musical analysis, and delightful humor. Now Steinberg follows these two greatly admired volumes withChoral Masterworks:A Listener's Guide, the only such guide available to this most popular of musical forms.
Here are more than fifty illuminating essays on the classic choral masterworks, ranging from Handel'sMessiah, Bach'sMass in B Minor, and Beethoven'sMissa Solemnis, to works by Haydn, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and many others. Steinberg spans the entire history of classical music, from such giants of the Romantic era as Verdi and Berlioz, to leading modern composers such as Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Vaughan Williams, and Stravinsky, to contemporary masters such as John Adams and Charles Wuorinen. For each piece, Steinberg includes a fascinating biographical account of the work's genesis, often spiced with wonderful asides, such as the true story of Mozart'sRequiem--Salieri had nothing to do with the composition of it, nor did he poison Mozart, who most likely died of rheumatic fever. The author also includes an astute musical analysis of each piece, one that casual music lovers can easily appreciate and that musicians and more serious fans will find invaluable. The book also includes basic information such as the various movements of the work, the organization of the chorus and orchestra, and brief historical notes on early performances.
More than twenty million Americans perform regularly in choirs or choruses. Choral Masterworkswill appeal not only to concert goers and CD collectors, but also to this vast multitude of choral performers, an especially engaged and active community.


Many of these essays began life as program notes for concerts. All have been revised and rewritten, some just slightly and with primarily cosmetic intent, many of them quite thoroughly. the following notes originally appeared in the program book of the Boston Symphony, whose annotator I was from 1976 to 1979: Bach’s Magnificat, Berlioz’s Requiem, Brahms’s A German Requiem, Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, Sessions’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, Stravinsky’s Persephone and Symphony of Psalms.

The following notes first appeared in the program book of the San Francisco Symphony, where I was the program annotator from 1979 to 2000: Adams’s Harmonium; Bach’s Saint John Passion and Saint Matthew Passion; Beethoven’s Missa solemnis; Brahms’s Schicksalslied, Nänie, and Gesang der Parzen; Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius; the Handel-Mozart Messiah; Haydn’s The Creation and The Seasons; Kodály’s Psalmus hungaricus; Mendelssohn’s Elijah; Mozart’s Requiem; Orff ’s Carmina burana; Rachmaninoff ’s The Bells; Stravinsky’s Canticum sacrum and The Wedding; Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast; and Wuorinen’s Genesis.

The essay on Tippett’s A Child of Our Time was originally written for the Kansas City Symphony; the one on the Verdi Requiem had its origins in an article for The Dial. a few notes were commissioned by organizations that no longer exist: Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Handel’s Messiah by the Festival Chorus and Orchestra (New York), and Britten’s War Requiem by the Festival of Masses (San Francisco). I am grateful to all these organizations for the opportunity to write about these wonderful works and, where applicable, for their gracious permission to reuse this material.

I did all the listening and studying and typing, but behind these pages lie mountains of generosity and support. Often this help came in responses to specific questions or pleas; hardly less often it came from people unaware of how helpful they were being when they innocently mentioned a name or offered some stimulating remark. Quite a few of these debts go back many years.

In the earliest stages of preparing this book, I asked several friends and colleagues for advice on what works to include. Vance George . . .

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