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What is the most accessible classical choral work for newcomers?


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As the thread title says, what do you think is the most accessible classical choral work for newcomers? Would it be an opera? A symphony? 

 

Right now, my answer own answer is Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Not just because of the relative ubiquity of O Fortuna, but also because the entire cantata is a lot of fun, goes by extremely quickly, has a wide range of vocal performances of different timbres, and just makes for a satisfying listen front to back.

 

But I'm looking for other recommendations! Link/post in your response if possible.

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For me, my "entry" in choral works was with J.S. Bach.

 

I hate opera, so this is it...

 

And no need to be religious to listen to sacred works, I'm not.

 

Anyway Bach always was focused more on the music than on the lyrics (he was able to fit any lyrics on any music... a-a-a-a-a-ny, muuuuu--muuu-mu-mu---mu-huhuhuhu...mu---zik)... and I don't understand German, so it doesn't bother me at all! :P

 

The genius of Bach is in the music, you must see his devotion as a goal, an ideal that has always pushed him to surpass himself.

 

But you can lost yourself in Bach's cantatas... and it's without speaking of the major choral works like the Passions...

 

Here is where to start, I think.

 

And you already know these works without knowing them, you'll recognize the tunes!

 

BWV 147 - Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and mouth and deed and life)

 

BWV 140 - Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us)

 

 

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...and great work... but... accessible? If you like masses for the dead, maybe!

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Depending on whether you want more classical or more modern/Teutonic, Mozart's Requiem or Orff's Carmina Burana. And then you can spread out to stuff like Mendelssohn's Paulus and Bruckner's Te Deum, or the Bachs obviously (but I wouldn't call them easy entries to the genre).

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CARMINA BURANA was my first choice, as well.

@artguy360, does it matter what language the piece is in?

HANDEL'S MESSIAH might be a bit long (I should know, I've sung it), but it contains, arguably, the most popular choral piece ever written.

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Bizet’s Carmen surely must make this list, if only for the march of the toreadors. 
 

@Holko beat me to our beloved Ludwig’s Ninth, may it live and thrive forever. But I’d also add his Choral Fantasy, which I think is a hell of fun listen, especially the last four or so minutes when the choir enters, and served as his proving ground for the writing the Ninth years later. 

 

And if you like your music Impressionistic, there’s of course Debussy’s Sirènes from his Nocturnes. This one is most like the way film composers use choir—lots of ooh-ing and aah-ing. I’m not sure there are any actual lyrics in Sirènes
 


 

 

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Depends on how you define 'accessible', I suppose, but my favourite choral work (in fact, one of my favourite classical pieces in general as of 5-6 years ago) is Rachmaninov's "Vespers". You'd have to have a tolerance for glorious, aweinspiring church music, though.

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12 minutes ago, Thor said:

my favourite choral work (in fact, one of my favourite classical pieces in general as of 5-6 years ago) is Rachmaninov's "Vespers". You'd have to have a tolerance for glorious, aweinspiring church music, though.

 

You have to like sleeping. :)

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I know this isn’t strictly classical, it’s a compilation of score/classical pieces (the major of which are score), but it’s an amazing album if you’re just getting in to choral music.

 

https://www.discogs.com/master/1718290-Crouch-End-Festival-Chorus-Conducted-By-David-TempleCity-Of-Prague-Philharmonic-Conducted-By-Nic-Rai

 

 

 

A7857431-98BC-4587-A1A3-37670E29A90F.jpeg

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18 minutes ago, rough cut said:

I know this isn’t strictly classical, it’s a compilation of score/classical pieces (the major of which are score), but it’s an amazing album if you’re just getting in to choral music.

 

https://www.discogs.com/master/1718290-Crouch-End-Festival-Chorus-Conducted-By-David-TempleCity-Of-Prague-Philharmonic-Conducted-By-Nic-Rai

 

 

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Seconded although there is a second volume which I enjoy even more. 

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1 hour ago, Jurassic Shark said:

 

Better get an album with proper recordings. ;)

 

#1 Choral Album

I love classy titles and artwork like that. Even if it is a good recording it does kinda look quite naff! I actually haven’t listened to those two Silva albums in a while (not sure I actually have the first one any more) but I recall they were in that period when the City of Prague Philharmonic started getting much better and the Crouch End Festival Chorus were already a fine choir. In particular, I liked their rip-roaring version of Zadok the Priest, one of my favourite short choral works.

57 minutes ago, GerateWohl said:

I guess Arvo Pärt is not classical enough?

 

or

 

 

Well I’m blown away. 

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Can't go wrong with verdi:

 

 

And Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony (specially the opening, although the second movement is my favorite):

 

 

 

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6 hours ago, Romão said:

And Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony (specially the opening, although the second movement is my favorite):

 

On my list of works I have to hear live someday (with no local opportunity so far and probably none in sight either).

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I often envy the British how nationalistic their classical establishment is.  Many of their most respected orchestras are actually led by British conductors (such as LSO, LPO, Hallé) and they go out of their way to perform, promote, and canonize British composers.

 

This is not the case here, generally speaking.

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47 minutes ago, Disco Stu said:

I often envy the British how nationalistic their classical establishment is.  Many of their most respected orchestras are actually led by British conductors (such as LSO, LPO, Hallé) and they go out of their way to perform, promote, and canonize British composers.

 

This is not the case here, generally speaking.

 

Hm. Well, in Vienna we get all the usual suspects, plus a strong focus on anything tied to Vienna - which of course has a ton of overlap from early Classical to late Romantic and beyond. For the later Romantic nationalistic stuff, anything related to Austro-Hungarian Empire is I guess represented reasonably well - plenty of Dvorak, obviously, although Smetana's Ma Vlast is rare (but that might be an international problem of the work). For the Scandinavian stuff, you get all the big hits of Grieg, Sibelius, the occasional Nielsen - but rarely the more obscure stuff. For example, and individual Sibelius symphony is paired with other stuff, but rarely ever with some of his shorter works - if you want hear more of them, you basically have to pick individual concerts for each piece (and get lots of different extra stuff you may or not be interested in).

 

But the British repertoire, except for Britten, is still underrepresented. Enigma Variations, sure, and Elgar's cello concerto. I've heard The Planets live twice, once in the 90s and again in the early 00s. I don't recall a local performance in recent years. As for RVW, I've heard the 4th back in the 90s (but that was Norrington with, I believe, the London Philharmonic), but if there's been a performance of the Sea or London symphonies in the past 10+ years or so, I'm not aware of it. Rarely a Tallis Fantasia (haven't been able to hear it live yet). And Walton? I don't recall ever seeing his symphonies on a programme, and I rather doubt we'll get Belshazzar's Feast here during my lifetime.

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If you like very zen and spiritual music, I highly recommend you Agnus Dei by Edward Higginbottom (the first album, now called "volume 1").

 

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Perhaps a bit long, but this is a great piece.  Skip to the last five minutes, if impatient.

 

 

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7 hours ago, Tom Guernsey said:

I love classy titles and artwork like that. Even if it is a good recording it does kinda look quite naff! I actually haven’t listened to those two Silva albums in a while (not sure I actually have the first one any more) but I recall they were in that period when the City of Prague Philharmonic started getting much better and the Crouch End Festival Chorus were already a fine choir. In particular, I liked their rip-roaring version of Zadok the Priest, one of my favourite short choral works.

Well I’m blown away. 

I gave the Silva second album a listen today (albeit more of a sampling than the entire thing) and the biggest downside is actually the rather harsh recording. It all seems kinda shrill so it's quite hard work even through my Sony headphones which can most things sound decent! A shame as the performances are pretty good, even the City of Prague turn in some perfectly fine performances and the Crouch End Festival Chorus are indeed splendid.

 

As for other suggestions for the original poster:

  • Alexander Nevsky (Prokofiev) - OK so it's technically a film score, but the cantata is perfectly formed tone poem and features choral writing that is alternately thrilling and haunting. If you like James Horner(!) you'll get a kick out of the Battle on Ice which almost invented the epic action cue (even if the jaunty bit in the middle is weirdly out of place).
  • Polovtsian Dances (Borodin) - From his opera Prince Igor, they are often performed as a standalone concert work and are proper old school Russian classical music. The choir isn't the main feature but the whole set are worth a listen. I don't know exactly which dance it is (it's listed as a single track in my library) but there's one which is very famous, not a million miles away from the Verdi Dies Irae.
  • Symphony of Psalms (Stravinsky) - One of my favourite Stravinsky works which is brief but haunting. He wrote a number of other choral works which I'm less familiar with but the Symphony of Psalms really stands out.
  • A Prussian Requiem (John Powell) - I was lucky enough to be at the premiere performance and it really is a superb work. Don't expect it to sound like How to Train Your Dragon or anything, but it's more of a symphonic poem than the more traditional requiems. The album (Hubris) also features The Prize is Still Mine which is a single movement symphonic gospel work which sounds weird on paper but is absolutely amazing - indeed I've listened to it more than the requiem!
  • Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio and Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass (Goldenthal) - Basically, if you like Goldenthal, you'll probably like these! The Oratorio appears to be available in lossless but I think the Carnival Mass may be harder to find.
  • Requiem (Faure) - Much smaller in scale and less dramatic than others, but filled with terrific melodies and utterly entrancing.
  • A Symphonic Mass (George Lloyd) - A fairly obscure 20th century British composer whose symphonies totally ignored serialism and are lush and endlessly enjoyable. Similarly, his Symphonic Mass does exactly what it says on the tin, thrilling stuff. His smaller scale Requiem is worth checking out too.
  • Requiem (Berlioz) - Ridiculously over the top (and lengthy) requiem that uses a large orchestra and chorus plus offstage trumpets and so on.
  • Klinghoffer Choruses (John Adams) - Taken from his opera The Death of Klinghoffer they work very well as a standalone choral work. Very much "if you like John Adams, you'll like these".
  • A World Requiem (John Foulds) - Another obscure composer whose work I really like, especially Three Mantras and Dynamic Triptych but his epic World Requiem is superb.
  • Karl Jenkins - someone else mentioned him. Don't tell your classical friends and it's not exactly difficult listening, but his three Adiemus albums are kinda easy listening world choral music (but better written than that might imply) although his Armed Man: Mass for Peace is a finer work of greater depth. I have an album of various concertos by him (call Quirk) which is well worth checking out too.
  • Berliner Requiem (Kurt Weil) - Better known as a song writer and theatre composer, Weil's symphonic music is well worth checking out, the requiem in particular.
  • Chichester Pslams and Mass (Leonard Bernstein) - The Chichester Pslams are perhaps more astringent than some of his more popular works but with all the off kilter jazzy rhythms and good tunes you associate with Bernstein. My school choir attempted to sing this but our choir master concluded that the school orchestra would likely struggle with their part! Harsh but fair (our school had a pretty good choir when I was there despite me being in it). His Mass is somewhat divisive as it mixes more traditional orchestra and chorus with more popular elements, but some fans consider it his finest work.
  • Glagolitic Mass (Janáček) - Another somewhat modernist but very listenable work. I think there's a few bits that James Horner liked the sound of (Sneakers, if I remember rightly). 
  • Daphnis et Chloe (Ravel) - The choir is used more as an extra instrument than this being an actual choral work, but absolutely one of my favourite works ever. If you like Jerry in Legend or Secret of NIMH mode, you'll love this. I just wish Ravel had written a load more like this!
  • Belshazzar's Feast (William Walton) - Exciting, dramatic work. A lot of JW's style comes from Walton and not just the ceremonial stuff so his music is well worth a listen in general, especially the first symphony and this.
  • A Book of Proverbs & Four Proverbs (Torke) - Quasi minimalist American composer, he wrote Javelin on the Summon the Heroes album and that's a pretty good indicator of the character of his music. Both works a lively and easy to listen to although the movement I enjoy the most is the non-choral Opening to A Book of Proverbs which is an effortlessly life affirming 4 and a half minutes of orchestral joy.
  • Liverpool Oratorio (Paul McCartney) and Titanic Requiem (one of the Bee Gees) - Fall somewhat into the realms of relatively easy listening but both are worth a listen.

A few others that are perhaps not as immediately accessible but worth checking out

  • War Requiem (Britten) - Long but powerful requiem that mixes the more traditional latin words with poetry set to music.
  • Masses (Bruckner) - I admit that I've not listened to these in ages (and now will!) but they are enjoyable, big boned symphonic masses. There are three of them but all worth a listen.
  • There are a number of other composers whose choral works I have enjoyed but have got lost in my amongst my rather too large iTunes library! However, those worth checking out include music by Poulenc, Delius (particularly A Mass of Life), Frank Martin (In Terra Pax and Mass for a cappella Double Choir), Holst (First Choral Symphony and others, although they aren't as much like the Planets as you might hope!), James MacMillan (quite modernistic if you like that kind of thing), Jerry Goldsmith's Christus Apollo is quite hard work but worth a listen, but there's a reason I've listened to Fireworks on that album 45 times and Christus Apollo once... John Rutter (basically Britain's amateur choir composer in residence, tuneful and not super complex, but usually worth a listen), Jón Leifs (he wrote these massive symphonic tone poems that include choir although I've never quite found one I loved as much as the description!), Cherubini (one of those baroque era composers who wrote an awful lot and if you like one of his works, you'll like the rest), Duruflé (his Requiem is lovely), Michael Tippet (A Child of Our Time is long but well worth checking out)

I've probably now suggested far too much but, conversely, missed out lots, especially from the "English choral tradition" such as Elgar, Parry etc., but I have to admit that that stuff doesn't do as much for me personally. Happy to expand further if you want to know more!

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I’m guessing you didn’t have in mind contemporary “choral-first” composers, but I’m a great fan of Bob Chilcott, easily my favorite working today.

 

This album of three of his best cantatas album is a great entry point.

 

https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_mLVmsJW_tb-Vo7btWPuWty-8RXjs22YQ8&feature=share
 

 

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25 minutes ago, Marian Schedenig said:

Disco has repeatedly recommended over in the other thread

 

:lol:

 

Man, that Poulenc Mass is just the most glorious, joyous music I've ever heard!

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On 02/04/2022 at 12:03 PM, Stu said:

I’m guessing you didn’t have in mind contemporary “choral-first” composers, but I’m a great fan of Bob Chilcott, easily my favorite working today.

 

This album of three of his best cantatas album is a great entry point.

 

https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_mLVmsJW_tb-Vo7btWPuWty-8RXjs22YQ8&feature=share
 

 

I'm sure I've sung some Bob Chilcott in my time. I have a feeling he's a bit like John Rutter in that he writes enjoyable, fairly accessible stuff that's popular with amateur choirs. I might have to check his stuff out though.

 

Having basically trawled through my iTunes library to come up with my probably too long list, I decided to give a few works a listen to remind myself. So far I have listened to John Foulds' World Requiem which is indeed as fine as I recalled, although perhaps a bit long for someone wanting to dip their toe in classical choral music. I reiterate my recommendation of his orchestral works though, they are really great.

 

However, I would definitely recommend The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Karl Jenkins. As I say, classical purists would look down on it (in the same way they look down on JW and our favourite film composers, so what do they know?!) but it's a distinct step up from his Adiemus stuff (but if you like orchestral world music it's worth a listen), mixing some world music touches such as in the Call to Prayer but plentiful introspective moments as well. However, if you like a choral action cue, Charge! could easily be from an historic epic. 

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21 minutes ago, Tom Guernsey said:

I'm sure I've sung some Bob Chilcott in my time. I have a feeling he's a bit like John Rutter in that he writes enjoyable, fairly accessible stuff that's popular with amateur choirs. I might have to check his stuff out though.


Yes exactly, although he writes far more secular music than Rutter.  My personal favorite of his cantatas is Wenceslas which is sort of sacred music but also sort of not.

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2 minutes ago, Stu said:


Yes exactly, although he writes far more secular music than Rutter.  My personal favorite of his cantatas is Wenceslas which is sort of sacred music but also sort of not.

Cool. I shall have to check some of his stuff out! Thanks you. 

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All of my favorites of his work are collaborations with a wonderful English poet named Charles Bennett, who provides these amazing evocative texts.

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7 minutes ago, Naïve Old Fart said:

THE WAR REQUIEM, by Benjamin Britten.

Astounding.


His music for choir and orchestra is his greatest legacy IMO.  War Requiem and Spring Symphony, both masterpieces!

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