If you have a small choir, you know that it is sometimes necessary to think a little outside the box in order to find pieces that are accessible to your ensemble. This post will focus on movements from cantatas and other extended works originally written for soloists that you can also “repurpose” for your choir.
Let’s begin with three movements from various Stabat Mater settings. Arguably one of the best known renderings of this text is the one by Pergolesi written during the 18th Century. In 2015, G. Schirmer published an edition of the first movement of this masterwork for SA and piano reduction. The ranges are perfect for a good women’s chorus, and the piece works perfectly if you do not have enough singers to do more than two parts. A preview and recording of this edition can be found here. While the Pergolesi setting is well-known, less known is its model, the Stabat Mater of Alessandro Scarlatti. David Rayl’s “Two Choruses from Stabat Mater” features the first and last movements of this work, “Stabat mater dolorosa” and “Quando corpus morietur”. Again for SA choir and piano reduction, this edition is longer and gives the choir a chance to sing different styles, with two very contrasting movements, especially in the “Amen” featured in the second half of the last movement. This edition, which also features optional string parts that can be purchased, may be found here. Even lesser known is the Stabat Mater setting by Boccherini, who was much more renowned for writing chamber music for strings. Set for two treble voices and tenor, four of the movements are for all three voices. I single out the seventh movement, “Tui nati vulnerati”, as I feel it is the most attainable, save for the tenor solo in the middle of the movement. It still should be saved for a very good choir, perhaps one that happens to be small or lacking in male voices. The score with piano reduction is available here on IMSLP, with a couple of excellent recordings available on iTunes and YouTube.
Another wealth of duet/trio music that may be “repurposed” for choir can be found in the many cantatas of Bach and his contemporaries. While not all of them work for choir due to virtuosic elements, many do. I cite here two examples. The second movement of BWV 4 (“Christ lag in Todesbanden”) is a well-known duet for soprano and alto that works beautifully for a small women’s choir. Likewise, the tenor-bass duet from BWV 196, “Der Herr segne euch”, is an exceptionally good choice for a small men’s choir. The ranges are very modest, and the rhythmic and harmonic demands are very basic. Both of these examples are available in various editions, both published and in the public domain. There are numerous other terrific examples in the cantatas of this era and others, and, in my opinion, digging for what works best for your choir is part of the fun!
The last example I will cite is the excellent two-movement “Vivaldi for Treble Voices—Selections from Magnificat”, edited by Janet Galván. The first movement, “Et Exultavit” is actually the second movement from Vivaldi’s RV 610, which is scored for soprano, alto, and tenor soloists, with just a few measures for SATB choir. Here, Galván omits the choral portions and sets the three solos for unison treble choir. When my choir sang this, I had sopranos sing the soprano solo, altos the alto solo, and everyone the tenor solo, but you could easily have everyone do the entire movement to stretch ranges. The second movement, “Esurientes”, is Vivaldi’s sixth movement for two soprano solos. Both lines are present in Galván’s edition, and I had sopranos singing the top line and altos the bottom. With a few melismatic passages, it stretched my singers in new ways, though the sequences are very logical. This edition is published by Roger Dean and available here.
The pieces I mentioned are just a handful of thousands of examples of movements from extended works originally written for soloists that could easily work for choirs. What pieces have you found useful in this category? Feel free to share in the comments. And, as always, if you have ideas for pieces you would like to see included in a post, send me an e-mail at .
Brandon Moss is a choir director, teacher, and composer/arranger living and working in Central Ohio. He teaches at Central Crossing High School, directs the Chalice Choir at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, and serves in leadership roles with the Ohio Choral Directors Association and the Ohio Music Education Association. He is currently working on the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting at The Ohio State University.