Week 27: Friday, September 21, 2018
“Lux Aeterna” by Michelle Roueché
SSAA, a cappella
Maybe you have a group that loves close harmony, or you want to showcase their beautiful tone. Perhaps your performance venue is an acoustically excellent church or hall, and you want to take advantage of the resonance. Or maybe you want to push your SSAA choir into unaccompanied repertoire, but without too much divisi yet. Or possibly you want to work on feeling the ebb and flow of tempo as an ensemble.
If you’re looking for that one specific selection to round out your concert: something lush, pleasantly-dissonant, legato, and full of opportunity for musical growth, I would highly suggest Michelle Roueché’s “Lux Aeterna.” Published by Walton Music, as part of the Lynne Gackle Choral Series: Choral Artistry for the Developing Singer, this piece presents a wealth of musical and pedagogical possibilities.
It is no secret that my advanced ensemble loves crunchy harmonies. They devour pieces with seconds and clusters. Sometimes though, those types of pieces require 8 parts/divisi, complex rhythms, independent lines, or lots of part re-assignments and penciled-in arrows to make them work. And sometimes you don’t have enough students or rehearsal time for that to be attainable. I’m happy to report that Roueché’s piece includes all the wonderful things you are looking for in this type of selection, without it being impractical for smaller, less-experienced, or time-crunched ensembles.
From a rhythmic perspective, everything in this selection is likely readable on the first time through. There isn’t anything more complex than dotted quarter+eighth, and most rhythms are the same across all voice parts. Ranges are kept within or below the staff, and sit well in the voice. Similarly, the Latin text keeps the vowel options and the pronunciation challenges to a minimum. This allows rehearsal time to be focused on the real heart of the piece – the delightful harmonies.
With the exception of eight measures near the end, the whole piece can be taught on solfege, if your ensemble is so inclined. Finding the pitches shouldn’t be the main goal of the work though – it should be relishing the chords that are made. The setting feels particularly well-suited to treble voices, as the overtones and timbres blend so well together.
The piece opens with slow bell-tones fermatas on the word “Lux.” Each voice enters in turn, stacking to create clusters on the pure [u] vowel, and then cutting off with a brief-but-clean closing consonant. You can just see the proverbial light sparkling, especially if you are in a resonant performance space. The text then moves to the S1 line, while the remaining parts provide harmonic support. The “Lux” fermatas return again, followed by a lovely aleatoric moment.
The song continues in this vein – “lux” fermatas countered with phrases of text. At no point is there additional divisi within the four voice parts. Some phrases even begin in unison or 2part, and then expand to form the chords. Everything is within reach, from a skills perspective, but the result is still exciting and well-crafted.
When the next text enters, (“Requiem aeternam…”), the tonality changes briefly to the parallel minor. This section includes some expected accidentals, but may be more challenging to learn on solfege. Marked “Faster”, these few measures add a brief sense of urgency, leading to a cadence on major V.
The earlier tempo now returns, as does the initial major key. Slow “lux” chords provide a shimmering harmonic underpinning, while a legato four-measure solo allows a solo S1 to shine. The piece comes to a close on the same pitches with which it started, ending with a lovely M2 between S2 and A.
The theme of our community holiday event last year was “Sharing the Light,” so this piece fit in beautifully, and was well-received by both the audience and singers. Additionally, the text lends itself to a variety of uses, from concert performance to worship service to memorial events. If you are in search of a crunchy-yet-accessible legato selection, this is one you don’t want to miss.
|Date of Composition:||2010|
|Text Source:||from the Catholic Requiem Mass|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Light, loss/grief, renewal|
|Voicing Details:||SSAA +1 solo|
|Series:||Lynne Gackle Choral Series: Choral Artistry for the Developing Singer|
|Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing: |
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.