A few months ago our CMAA colleague, Peter Kwasniewski, debuted his SACRED CHORAL WORKS compendium to the public. I first met Dr. Kwasniewski at the 2012 CMAA Colloquium (in Salt Lake City) during the daily sessions hosted by Dr. David Hughes in which composers shared their select works for review by their peers. In addition to being a composer of sacred music, Dr. Kwasniewski’s primary occupation, Professor of Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College, is also known as a columnist, contributor and commentator at a host of liturgical and sacred music blogs (including this site, MusicaSacra, Corpus Christi Watershed, New Liturgical Movement and even Pray Tell Blog), Peter’s principal mission is to call fellow Catholic musicians to a life of holiness and sanctity through the discipline of acknowledging and practicing our art with only the finest, the truly beautiful, the worthiest of musical expressions by which we honor and worship our Creator.
I purchased enough copies for our schola out here in California and before our hiatus after Pentecost for the summer, we read through as many pieces as we could and performed one of his Marian hymns on the last Sunday of May, “Thee, O Mary, will we praise.” I had some personal correspondence with Peter on a number of occasions, and he graciously asked if I would be interested in reviewing the collection at the Chant Café. Having resigned as a contributor from the Café, Peter also approached our friend Jeffrey Tucker for his imprimatur for my return, and JT, as always, provided the gentlemanly invitation for that, and with Richard Chonak’s help, this is my first column review. I would refer the reader here to purchase a copy just to read the preface to the book. Perhaps that can be accessed at the CCW website (I’m not sure.) But Peter’s passion for his mission is only matched by his philosopher’s eloquence in the preface introduction.
For now and this first review I will just confine myself to a very narrow scope of one work. The one we’ll examine I have chosen for its accessibility to the schola and/or choir whose choral capabilities likely range from modest or even nascent, to accomplished or even professional levels. I realize until I acquire the skills to post the scrolling score video that would match the superbly incredible talent of Matthew Curtis (who sings each voice part on the three CD demonstration albums) you will not be able to ascertain how accurate my descriptions totally.
I – KYRIE (III, p.20)
Among the variety of Mass Ordinary movements in the volume, I wanted to first examine how Peter approaches settings that could possibly be introduced not only in the choral setting, but perhaps even intended for congregational use. This concept of mine I could illustrate by citing the example of Tallis’ famed “If ye love me,” which employs a primary sort of homophony within the polyphonic structure for the most part, but which an attuned congregant could actually “hum” melodic motives by memory. So, textually, this Kyrie keeps the text more or less unified vertically. But he uses very subtle inner voice movements to exact some exquisite moments that use 20th century harmonic “innovations” such as the simple minor v in second inversion (m.6) on the first beat which then employs the tenor moving to the minor 7 on beat two to land us back to a brief tonic moment on beat three. The movement to a new “tonal” center keeps going into the final bar of the first Kyrie with a prepared double suspension on beat one of m.7 that eventuates in a very satisfying shift from the original F minor to its relative major Ab at the first major cadence. Keeping that center at a slower (meno mosso q=80) tempo, after “Christe” Kwasniewski opens up the close root position Ab Major chord to what one could deem either an EbM6th in first inversion or a Cm7 in second inversion for “le-i” throughout the entire measure to move back to F minor on “-son.” So sublime and the time is afforded singer and listener to savor this “mercy.” Mm.11-13 reiterate “Christe eleison” again using a brilliantly prepared alto suspension below the soprano which is ornamented with a 16th note couplet that harmonically cadences, though over more time, in the same fashion as did the first “Kyrie cadence.” And in m.12, the altos are afforded the lovely moment to imitate that soprano ornament in their voice part’s resolution of the suspension.
Just to wrap this “first toes in the water” review up, Peter has such an affinity for “eleison” that in the return to Kyrie he employs a descending parallel thirds motive in the two inner voices. That’s why elegance is in simplicity! And a couple of other surprises closes this movement with his use of another minor v chord on the second “Kyrie” and then that is followed by a transitional cluster chord that’s essentially a Major 9th
chord upon Bb that prepares the final cadence with a sequence of secondary dominants and a lovely plagal final cadence. And like Tallis, or even Palestrina, the voice part movements are quite accessible and intuitive for an amateur choral singer.
Next article will look at his AGNUS DEI (III) and the aforementioned Marian hymn.