Gloria Challenge – Part II
Ah…the Gloria Challenge Part II. I thought I’d write a little background on why I think it’s so cool, and some of the earthly details on creating inspiration.
The “Gloria Challenge” is to write a complete Gloria for chorus, chamber orchestra and organ in one week. And then perform it Christmas Eve.
I’m a JS Bach nut. Most people that know me get that well enough. If I could listen to just JS Bach the rest of my life I’d be a happy man. I was raised Lutheran, so there’s that whole part of it too. JS Bach was Lutheran, and the king of counterpoint, and the king of Baroque music. He had several sons who were also composers – they called him the “old Bach” and thought his music to be old fashioned. Bach had lots of personality problems with his church employers – and from most accounts they didn’t really realize what they had. Part of Bach’s duties was to rehearse the choirs and write weekly Cantatas for the services. I think he has three existing yearly cycles – that’s three years of different chorales and cantatas for each week of the church calendar.
One of Bach’s sons was given all of the old JS Bach manuscripts when his father died. The son ran into money problems himself at the end of his life and sold many of them. I think I even heard a story that some of Bach’s songs were used to wrap cheese. His music was largely forgotten until Mendellsohn revived and re-discovered JS Bach’s music. Ever since then Bach’s music has been revered as some of the best in Western civilization. Bach lived 1685-1750, his death closed the era of what we call the Baroque Period. Mendellsohn revived the music around 1820. That’s all off the top of my head, feel free to correct me on dates.
Bach was very devout to his faith. On all his manuscripts he would write “S.D.G.” for “Soli Deo Gloria” – or “Only for the Glory to God”. It was a reminder of what his music work was all about. He even had manuscript paper created for him that had the S.D.G. watermark.
So that’s some background. The part that has always fascinated me is how he often wrote a full work in just a week and then had it performed at the church service. I always wanted to do that….I’m sure I’m not the first musician to have a little Bach fantasy like that.
While I’m waiting for my next Cirque Du Soleil gig to start I’ve finished all my theater shows and concerts. The only thing left is to finish my post as music director of a church through Christmas Eve. I get stir crazy pretty quick – so last week late at night I emailed a couple musicians to see if they’d like to play for Christmas Eve. I got a couple responses that people were busy – which was great, because the next morning I realized how much extra work that would be. But one musician emailed back Tuesday night and said they had cancelled their gig with the Philharmonic to play for the service.
Yikes! Now I was stuck – I had messed with a musician’s income. I decided Tuesday night to go ahead and try to write a Gloria in week. I set my scoring computer up and started Wednesday at 3pm. My deadline is the following Wednesday at 6pm – to have the piece complete for chorus, organ and chamber orchestra. As crazy as the challenge is – several musicians from my pit orchestras have volunteered to play the piece and we have emails flying all over the place to beef up our chorus.
I worked on the piece all day Thurs-Fri-Sat – Right now the score is 14 minutes long at about 50 pages. I’m going to have to cut it down quite a bit but I’m very pleased with the progress. It’s in neo-classical style. Since the piece is also a tribute to the work of Bach – it begins with the chorus singing “Soli Deo Gloria”.
Here is the original GLORIA latin text:
Gloria in excelsis Deo,
et in terra pax hominibus
Gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam.
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,
I have used this portion of the text in this order, with addition of SDG:
Soli Deo Gloria – Only for the Glory of God
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, – Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty
Deus Pater omnipotens. – Lord the only
Domine Fili unigenite – begotten Son
Jesu Christe. – Jesus Christ
Domine Deus, – Lord God
Agnus Dei, – Lamb of God
Filius Patris. – Son of the Father
Gloria in excelsis Deo, – Glory in the heights to God
et in terra pax hominibus – And on earth peace to men
bonae voluntatis. – of good will.
The whole first paragraph takes up only about 45 seconds, where Gloria in excelsis Deo is the bulk of the piece, with a duet around “et in terra pax hominibus” and chorus responds with “bonae voluntatis”.
The beginning paragraph is set for a dark Medieval sound, which to me signifies part of the mystery of Christmas. The waiting and apprehension of not quite knowing what is coming. Sure, we know now – we’ve got the book. But what did it feel like back then for people that knew it was coming, but weren’t at the pretty manger scene. Was it a little scary and unsure?
After the intro the Gloria breaks into a traditional neo-Baroque sound that is a mix of Handel and Bach. Brass fourths and french horn hunting calls with timpani and woodwinds in Baroque motor rhythms. The “et in terra pax” is a duet with a slightly modern sound, but still something Bach could have done. This is a respite from the banging of the timpani and honking of the brass. Then the chorus resumes with the main uptempo theme, does a circle of fifths walkdown and build up into a pipe organ cadenza, then finishes with royal fanfare.
Now the sleigh bells…..yes, I put a section in for sleigh bells. I realize it has nothing to do with the biblical Christmas story, and that Santa Claus nor his reindeer appear in either Matthew, Mark, Luke OR John. But it makes me laugh everytime I think about it, and the Gloria is ALL about joy. So they stay in.
So there it is. Scores will be available in a few days and I’ll post scores and recording after Christmas so you can check it out.
My mother asked me how the piece was coming along and I said sadly, “It doesn’t sound as good as Bach” to which she replied: “Hmpfff….that’s only YOUR opinion.”
Bach wouldn’t be impressed. No one can be Bach. But I think he’d be flattered that 300 years later we’re still in awe of his passion and music.
The congregation will decide Christmas Eve if we hit the mark or not……..