Standard Choral Repertoire Part III: Classical

SBO Staff • ChoralMarch 2008Repertoire Forum • March 11, 2008

Rep ForumThis is the third installment in a limited series of columns regarding standard choral repertoire. In the flurry of new releases, many of us tend to get caught up in “the latest thing.” After receiving mailings from publishers, attending reading sessions, and talking over new repertoire with colleagues, it is easy to lose sight of the pieces that have withstood the test of time. As students leave your program, have they experienced a least some of the core repertoire? In this issue, I discuss some standards of the Classical period. The pieces listed are certainly essentials of the choral canon, but the list is by no means complete. Space prohibits me from listing every masterwork, but this will serve as an introduction for the novice and reminder to the veteran. Most titles are available from at least one traditional publishing company. Many titles are available for free download from Quality of editions for any one piece can vary greatly, so be sure you order the one that best suits your needs. For purposes of this column, I have stuck to original voicings, however many titles are available in alternate scorings.

– Drew Collins, forum editor


Haydn: Gloria from Heiligmesse SATB
There are several movements from Haydn’s fourteen masses appropriate for the average high school choir. Perhaps the most popular is this movement from Heiligmesse. It is available in a variety of arrangements, most of which end after the first 66 measures of the movement. This is perfect for church and school choirs. The remaining 234 measures are certainly fantastic music, but can be prohibitive for the average high school choir in terms of difficulty, forces, and amount of rehearsal time required. The first section is enough to expose your singers to this work.

Haydn: Great and Glorious SATB
This is a terrific choice for high school choirs of any capability and size. It is a pared down version of the Gloria from the St. Cecelia Mass, edited and with an English text by Charles Manney and is available through Alfred publishing. It is scored for SATB chorus and organ, though the accompaniment is playable on piano. The original is lengthier, involves soloists, and, of course, is in Latin.

Mozart: Selections from Requiem SATB
Several movements can be excerpted from this work for individual performance by the typical high school choir. Favorites include Dies Irae, and pairing Confutatis Lacrymosa. Singers love not only the beauty but also the drama of these movements.

Mozart: Gloria In Excelsis Deo (from the Twelfth Mass) SATB
This is a perfect choice for high school choirs. Scholar H. C. Robbins Landon has documented that this mass was actually composed by Wenzel Müller, a Viennese composer of light opera. Regardless, it is enjoyable to sing, and has plenty of teaching tools imbedded in the score.

Mozart: Coronation Mass SATB
Most movements are appropriate for high school voices, perhaps especially the Sanctus. Make sure, however, to conduct the opening bars of this movement in a sub-divided 4-pattern; they are often performed twice too fast! The piece begins nobly, as if royalty were entering the room during the introduction. Then, the imitative section picks up tempo.

Schubert: Selections from Mass in G SATB
All of the choral movements are good excerpts for individual performance. The Credo is the only choral movement that does not involve soloists. The Benedictus has been re-scored for treble voices, and is available from Kjos.


Haydn: Achieved is the Glorious Work (from The Creation) SATB
Here is a challenge for the above average high school choir. The composing is ingenious, and the overall effect spectacular, but it takes a chorus of some ability to pull it off. If you have the soloists to pull off “The Heavens Are Telling,” also from The Creation, that is also a wonderful excerpt.

Beethoven: Hallelujah (from Christ on the Mount of Olives) SATB
A joyous finale or opening to any concert. This is also a fantastic choice for a festival, or for combined choirs. You will need a fine accompanist, and tenors with heft in the upper register. As with any Beethoven choral work, check the ranges of all parts carefully before programming this work to make sure it fits your chorus. The accompaniment works on either organ or piano.


Mozart: Ave Verum Corpus SATB
This is a great choice for any choir, and can be an especially great choice for 9th-10th grade choruses and church choirs. There is a great deal of expression, and is a great example of Mozart’s gift for linking text to music. Perform with keyboard alone (piano or organ), string quartet, or string orchestra.

Mozart: Laudate Dominum (from Vesperae solennes de confessore) SATB

If you have a soprano soloist whom you would like to feature, consider this stunning work. The singers will adore it, and the audience will be entranced. The Dixit Dominus is also a standard excerpt from this same work, but it is considerably more challenging, has much more Latin to teach, and requires SATB soloists.


Mozart: Nocturns SAB
Mozart wrote six secular works for SAB voices accompanied by three clarinets. I’ll admit these are not standard repertory, but I always try to represent a variety of voicings in my columns. Plus, they are charming! One example is Due Pupille Amabili (K.439). All six are in Italian and have a dramatic tone to them. However, all are moderate in tempo and temperament, so there is no need to program more than one with a school choir.

Schubert: Lebenslust SATB
Like Beethoven, Schubert found himself on the cusp of the Classical and Romantic periods. And Schubert was greatly inspired by Beethoven. Both composers knew well the conventions of the day, and broke free of them whenever possible. Here, Schubert has written a quartet with piano accompaniment that is full of wit and intensity. I have heard this sung well by a junior high chorus (in its original scoring, though 3-part mixed version is available from Heritage if you prefer), a 9th-10th grade chorus, festival choirs, and quartets at contest. Regardless of the age of the singers, you will definitely need a fine pianist. Another favorite of this ilk by Schubert is Der Tanz. For male chorus, try Die Nacht, Gondelfahrer, and Ständchen.


Billings: Shiloh (“Methinks I See An Heav’nly Host”) SATB
Billings: Judea (“A Virgin Unspotted”) SATB
We don’t often think of American psalmody and fuguing tunes as being from the Classical period. Indeed, the style is in sharp contrast to the galant and empsindsam styles of the Classical period. I have included it here because it was written during this time frame, and is an important body of repertory in our nation’s history. These two Christmas works are often overlooked. But the raucous nature of these works can add an interesting moment to a holiday program.

Billings: Chester (“Let Tyrants Shake Their Iron Rod”) SATB
This was a favorite during the Revolutionary War, when colonials felt like slaves to the oppressive British crown. For an intriguing unified program, try following this with an African-American spiritual (such as Lena McLin’s “Can’t You Hear Those Freedom Bells Ringing?”), and then “We Shall Overcome.” You could even invite your Social Studies teacher into your rehearsal to lead a discussion on societal and governmental oppression.

Drew CollinsDrew Collins is a choral conductor, composer and educator in the United States. He is assistant professor at Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio) and artistic director of the Festival Choir (Madison, Wis). Contact him directly at [email protected].

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