SATB Choir & Soli
I've wanted to compose a setting of this text for many years. I deeply respect Savonarola and the original text is incredibly powerful, but I felt that I couldn't properly express it with the forces I had a mastery of in the past. Now though, as I'm slowly developing my methods of composition for other groups of voices, I wanted to attempt a work of a larger scale, combining all of my methods into one: cantor, plainchant, SATB choir and soloists.
Pure polyphony, and pure vocal music, especially with how we write harmony according to the stile antico, does not convey the full power of the work. All aspects of the human voice are necessary, no matter the means of expression, because the result really must form a mosaic of human and spiritual experience.
The power of the text is how it can be split into moments of different emotions. There is grief and doubt, but there are moments of hope and faith that peek through the pain. It's far too complex psychologically and thematically, as most texts are, to set in one manner, and it can't be taken quite so much as a linear experience, but rather understood as a series of moments. Meditations are not really meant to be parsed as a constant stream of thought, but rather many juxtapositions, not all of which may seem similar or related, but all are essentially related as aspects of the human experience. Different sizes, types, and positions of text can attempt to convey the psychology of the meditation, and so the most important part is the cantor. It is not simply that the cantor plays a pivotal role in my sound world, but because much emotional weight is carried by him as a bridge between various musical expressions. It is a world beyond the apparent simplicity of basic sounds, because the world rests within the voice; a language neither diatonic nor chromatic, but cracks from which the weeds of the musical score grows. It's like the contrasts of liturgy, very much a compositional style that is not simply about proper or ordinary, but the meaningful nature of the small things the reside between them.
So more interior thoughts and questions take a very fragile form, and cries take a blockier, more angular shape. Plainchant comes to confirm the goodness of God, and the choir saturates that space while the soloists twist and pull it in anguish.
At a technical level this comes out of my development of polyphony. The choir sits between the solo voices and plainchant as a harmonization. It is truly phonetic in scope, but without any mensuration pulling the voices out of sync with the word. It's not quite fauxbourdon because I disperse the original chant lines throughout the voices to prevent any steps larger than a third to promote sing-ability and not worry about voicing, leading tones relationships, parallel movements etc, because I know a choir is generally weaker in skill for highly chromatic music, so it is best to give them music of limited movement, a step or a half, even if it sacrifices questions of "good practice," because accessibility is a key aspect of liturgical practice.
Plainchant as a separate group represents a unique addition. Usually I would tend to treat it as to be interpreted, but for a larger group context you can split off the weaker of the choir who might have trouble with chromatic music to form a plainchant choir.
Sean Patrick Ignatius Tartaglia
Copyright © Sean Tartaglia 2022