If you go
WHAT: Te Deum choral concert
WHEN: 5 p.m. Fri.
WHERE: Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, 120 Broad St.
MORE INFO: spoletousa.org, (843) 579-3100
Te Deum laudamus, We praise thee, O God. So begins the Fourth Century hymn of praise traditionally attributed to St. Ambrose. It has been chanted in the Western Church since that time, often at the end of the morning office, but also on great occasion of celebration: military victories, coronations, music festivals, and the like.
Music lovers will remember that this chant is begun at the end of Act I of Puccini's opera "Tosca," celebrating a victory over Napoleon while the evil Baron Scarpia plots his designs on the title character.
Elaborate settings of the Latin text, which contains a long litany of attributes of the Trinity plus some concluding suffrages (prayers derived from the Psalms), have been made by many composers, some for church use, others for concerts.
Antonin Dvorak conducted his Te Deum for chorus and orchestra his American debut in Carnegie Hall in New York and this version is often in the repertoire of symphony choruses. (The Charleston Symphony and Chorus will perform it next season).
In keeping with the theme of this year's Spoleto Festival featuring "minimalist" composers, Estonian mystic Arvo Part's Te Deum (1984) has been scheduled for the joint forces of the Westminster Choir and the CSO Chorus for Friday afternoon at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Broad Street.
This should be a perfect marriage of acoustic and music, chosen specially by conductor Joe Miller.
Part weaves vocal lines, some of which are reminiscent of chant, others built on chord tones like bells ringing.
There are strings as a support, as well as a held electronic low D through the work.
It promises to be a wonderful aural experience, timeless in effect.
For contrast, Miller has chosen to open the program with George Frideric Handel's "Dettingen" Te Deum (1743), the last of five times Handel set the English version of the text for occasions in England.
The battle of Dettingen was a victory led by George II, the last British monarch to personally lead troops in the field, who, with some allied forces, repelled the French.
Handel was asked to write a Te Deum for the Royal Chapel service which celebrated George's victory and safe return to London.
It is Handel in his most vigorous celebratory mood, with echoes of "Messiah" and the Coronation anthems.
Handel asks for an orchestra that has trumpets and drums which figure prominently in the scoring.
George liked wind instruments, and so Handel wrote fantastic music for the first trumpet player.
In a later celebration, when writing the "Music for the Royal Fireworks," Handel was requested by King George to be sure there were "no fiddles."
There are strings in the Dettingen Te Deum, but the trumpets get a lot of the glory.
Handel's choral writing is at times simple, yet effective. The character of his vocal counterpoint was calculated to work in a big space, and the contrasting rhythmic figures in the choir should make this Te Deum work despite the overly generous acoustic in the Broad Street Cathedral.
William Gudger is professor emeritus of music at the College of Charleston.
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