Moses Hogan, Composer of Spirituals

Moses Hogan

We are lucky to have heard two pieces by Moses Hogan in two weeks at St John’s: last week, you heard our wonderful mezzo-soprano soloist Lenore Stefanik sing his setting of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”; and this Sunday, the choir will sing “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace”.

Moses Hogan, who tragically died from a brain tumor at the age of 45 in 2003, was one of the inheritors of the great tradition of African-American spiritual arrangers.  A number of these composers are still wide performed today–including H.T. Burleigh, brothers John R. and J. Weldon Johnson, R. Nathaniel Dett, William Dawson– though their arrangements date from the first half of the twentieth century.  Moses Hogan, whose Moses Hogan Chorale recorded his own arrangements, is considered perhaps the greatest successor to these earlier musicians.  His arrangements combine the traditional a cappella tradition with wonderful piano parts that include references to blues and gospel music.  They are profoundly moving, and Hogan’s arrangements have, if anything, gained in popularity since his premature death.

Here is a performance of “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace” by the Calvin College Alumni Choir, to whom the work was dedicated in 2001.


Mozart, “Laudate Dominum”

Welcome to the new Music blog for St John’s Episcopal!  This is Chris Shepard, Director of Music.  Each week, I will choose one piece of music from the upcoming Sunday service– a hymn, choral anthem or organ work– and write a little about it.  That way, you can know a bit more about the music outside the service, whether you “prepare” for the service ahead of time, or relive the music later.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-91

One of this week’s anthems is among the most cherished of all choral works.  Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, written for soprano and choir, has been recorded countless times.  It has a purity and innocence that is matched by few other pieces.  The Latin text is from Psalm 117, a song of praise.

Although Mozart is often thought of more as a composer of opera and instrumental music, he wrote a great deal of choral music, primarily during his early years in Salzburg, where his father was a musician in the court and cathedral of Prince-Archbishop Colloredo.  As famously depicted in the film Amadeus, Mozart ultimately chafed against the restrictions he felt in the provincial court.  But this doesn’t mean that he didn’t write beautiful music music there.  In fact, he wrote many Mass and Vespers settings, including the Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, KV339, the last choral work that he wrote in Salzburg at the age of 23.

Interior of Salzburg Cathedral

This beautiful movement shows Mozart’s exposure to– and love of– lyrical Italian operatic writing.  Though difficult to sing beautifully, the phrases seem to unfold effortlessly, and any scales or ornamentation seem fully integrated into the stunning melody.  There are no fireworks here, just a melody of sublime beauty.

At St John’s, we have the delight of hearing our resident soprano soloist Anna Marie D’Ambrosio sing this solo with the choir.  In truth, women were rarely allowed to sing in church choirs in Mozart’s time.  This performance from YouTube is a more accurate depiction of how Mozart would have heard the work performed.  What an extraordinary job this young treble does– we’re lucky these days to hear this work performed by both sopranos and trebles.