2017-01-29 Notes from the Bench


“The Beatitudes” by Bob Chilcott

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


This Sunday’s Gospel reading is a portion of the well-known Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. The portion read today are the Beatitudes, a series of proverb-like blessings. Through his teaching of the Beatitudes, Jesus completely overturns the social order of the day by pronouncing those normally thought to be unfortunate as blessed by God. The term “beatitude” is derived from the Latin word, beatitude, which means happiness; often you will hear or read a translation of the beatitudes that begin with “happy are they…” in place of “blessed.”

The Beatitudes have been set to music by countless composers: as serious choral works, hymn paraphrases, or as folk or contemporary songs. Today, our choirs will sing a setting composed by Bob Chilcott (b. 1955). Chilcott is a British choral composer, conductor, and singer who is currently based in Oxford, England. He sang in the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge as a boy chorister and as a university student. From 1985 until 1997, he was a tenor with the King’s singers. He has also conducted the chorus at the Royal College of Music in London and is the Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Singers. Chilcott has been composing since 1997, writing works for children’s choirs, large-scaled works for choral festivals and concerts, and sacred choral works suitable for the liturgy. The Choirs of All Saints’ periodically sing music by Chilcott over the course of the year. In “The Beatitudes,” Chilcott frequently shifts tonality to set each beatitude apart and to accentuate the meaning of the text, all the while building a gradual crescendo as each blessing is proclaimed. The piece concludes in the calm, tranquil manner that it began with the text, “blessed are ye.”


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