Eric Whitacre – The Chelsea Carol – SATB Choir and Organ (2011)

"In my entire life I had seen in black and white, and suddenly everything was in shocking Technicolor. It was the most transformative experience I've ever had — in that single moment, hearing dissonance and harmony, and people singing..."

This is what Eric Whitacre said following the first choir rehearsal he attended as a college student. He is now considered to be one of the most important American choral composers of the Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries. His music, however, has not always been met with universal acclaim. The critic John Allison famously remarked in the Times in 2016 that Whitacre’s music is

“the sort of music Vaughan Williams might have composed in the Cambridge branch of Dunkin' Donuts".

Whitacre’s choral works, particularly those which call upon the extended, repetitive use of major chords with various suspensions attached, has divided opinion in many quarters. His use of non-musical interjections such as hand clapping and physical gestures has often been considered superfluous to music that would easily stand the test of time without.

This evening, however, we perform a work by Whitacre that doesn’t necessarily fit into this category of ‘weightless’ or ‘frivolous’ explorations in the deliberate extension, manipulation and repetition of consonant harmony. Instead, we find Whitacre inspired by a plainchant-like melody with a contemporary twist. This melodic material is juxtaposed with a chordal passage beginning in A minor which becomes more and more dissonant and dramatic as the work progresses. The music is dark and dramatic and the organ part complements the full, thick ‘wall of sound’ created by the voices. The text used is a dark, pagan hymn to the Mother (Virgin or otherwise).

Adveni, sapientia,
Donum invernale–
Confirma nos vigilantes
Ad quod adventurum.

Adveni, adveni somnifera,
Regina solis siderum.

Adveni, adveni lunifera,
Regina mater temporum.

Sancta domina regina!
Sancta domina argentea!
Sancta domina purissima!

Adveni, adveni florifera,
Regina lucis candida.

Adveni, adveni messifera,
Regina Somnis Magistra!

Adveni mater,
Adveni ad nos,
Adveni domina.

Come thou, Wisdom,
Gift of Winter -
Strengthen us to wait
For Him who is to come.

Come thou, come dream-bearer,
Queen of sun and stars.

Come thou, come moon-bearer,
Queen and Mother of the seasons.

Holy Lady, Queen!
Holy Lady of silver!
Purest Holy Lady!

Come thou, come flower-bearer,
Queen of gleaming light.

Come thou, come sheaf-bearer,
Queen and mistress of dreams.

Come thou, Mother!
Come to us!
Come, Lady!