Britten Jubilate Deo

The choir at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Orinda CA is singing Benjamin Britten’s delightful Jubilate Deo on Sunday, November 7, 2010. I included the date because Sunday is only a couple of hours away, and anyone reading this will likely be reading after the event.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) wrote this piece in 1961. It’s one of a number of works he wrote for chorus and organ, the best of which, imho, is Rejoice in the Lamb, written almost 20 years earlier. The organ part in the Jubilate has the same sparkle as Rejoice. It’s a challenge for a church choir, but one my choir has relished. Britten has given this short work a bit of a rondo feel, with a spirited opening section featuring antiphonal writing between unison (well, in octaves) ST and AB giving way to a thoughtful, chant-like section, succeeded by a return to the up-tempo feel of the beginning, followed in succession by another chant-like section and a closing rousing Amen.

I found out that he wrote this work as a companion to an earlier Te Deum in C written in 1934. This latter work is apparently 9 minutes long. Since the Jubilate is much shorter (a bit over 2 minutes) it doesn’t balance well. That may be why he also wrote a Venite exultemus Domino in 1961, this latter work not published until after his death. After seeing a page of the Venite, I’m thinking seriously about giving it a go. It wouldn’t surprise me if Britten had a couple of other canticles in mind, perhaps getting distracted by the War Requiem, which I believe was finished the following year.

As part of my research I visited the Britten-Pears Foundation website. Much more than I could absorb in a single visit. One of their projects is a complete online catalog of Britten’s music: definitely worth an extended visit. I also came across an exhaustive discography of Britten’s works.

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