Week 24: Friday, August 31, 2018
“Hodie Christus natus est” by Agneta Sköld
SSAA, a cappella
This Christmas selection by Swedish composer Agneta Sköld alternates between joyful cheer and contemplative chant. It would make an energetic and meaningful addition to your holiday program.
For a group that already has solid solfege and counting skills, this will likely be a “quick read.” The work is entirely in D major, with no accidentals, so it can be taught/learned very quickly on solfege. Rhythmically, there are quarters, eighths, ties, and sixteenth notes, but nothing out of the ordinary. It could be a great last-minute add to a program, or give just the right energy as a concert opener.
At the same time, if your ensemble is currently working strategically to strengthen their solfege and literacy skills, this could be a perfect selection on which to put their skills to active use. Because of the strongly tonal nature, it could be a successful skills-into-practice opportunity.
The work itself opens with a chant section in English, telling the Christmas story from Luke 2. The piece was originally written for a Swedish ensemble, so the recording linked below uses Swedish for these chant portions. This opening could be performed by one soloist, or by the whole ensemble. If using the full ensemble for this chant portion, it becomes an excellent exercise in unison singing. Attention is needed to match tone, vowel, breath, and phrasing, as well as to understand the free-rhythmic nature of chant. If using a soloist for this portion, you could put them in a balcony or loft space to add both visual and aural contrast.
After the opening unmetered chant, the piece jumps to a cheerful MM=114 – full of energy, joy, and solid rhythmic structure. These measures are primarily homophonic, with only minor deviations. One exception is the entrance of the “Gloria” text on the second page. Each line starts their material here in an imitative fashion, spinning out into a lovely forte passage spanning two octaves from A2 to S1. This bright and exuberant choral section ends with a taper from f to mf to p, and closes with a softly-spoken “pax.”
Next, Sköld goes back to a chant-like feel, again with English lyrics. The line begins in unison then expands to five notes per chord. This section could be one individual per part, or it could be the whole ensemble. Either way, attention must be paid to the free-rhythm aspect of chant, so that all harmonic shifts are made together as a unit. Syllabic stress is of singular importance.
After this second chant section, the piece returns to uptempo Latin for the final few measures. The song closes with flourish, crescendoing from mf to a strong ff.
When I programmed this piece with my ensemble, they were past “just learning solfege” but definitely not yet to “could sight-read something cold.” They knew a system, and they knew how to use the system, but hadn’t had a lot of practice yet applying it directly to real literature (as opposed to sight-reading examples). This piece turned out to be an excellent choice for that term. I could assign small bits as sectional material and know that my students had all the tools to learn the material correctly outside of class, without my assistance. It was an empowering repertoire choice for the students to utilize their new literacy skills.
All in all, this is a lovely Christmas selection by Agneta Sköld, and one with lots of potential. I enjoy the way the piece alternates between chant and rhythmic sections, varying the texture, tone, and the language. I also appreciate that the song is unapologetically in D major, with not an accidental in sight. For groups looking to strengthen their reading skills, the stalwart adherence to an established tonic is a significant aspect of making the work accessible to many different levels of ensemble.
|Title:||Hodie Christus natus est|
|Date of Composition:||2007|
|Text Source:||Liturgical antiphon|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Christmas, holiday|
|Voicing Details:||SSAA w/ minor divisi, and optional solo|
|Tempo:||ad lib/chant, and MM=114|
|Dedication:||For Hjo Church Youth Choir and Mats Bertilsson|
|Publisher:||Walton Music WW1482|
Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNc6jNWGOPs (Naxos recording link)
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.