Italian Romantic music has been most notably identified with opera, which has undeservedly eclipsed smaller-scale vocal genres. Gioachino Rossini (1792 – 1868) turned increasingly to choral composition during his late creative period, eventually grouping the majority of these works in a series of vocal and piano pieces entitled somewhat ironically Péchés de vieillesse (“Sins of Old Age”). The collection includes a masterly exercise in counterpoint, in Il candore in fuga (“Candour on the Run”), and the highly original Chant funèbre à Meyerbeer (“Funeral Lament for Meyerbeer”). In its turn, the female choir Espérance (“Hope”) is of a somewhat earlier date, carrying across a mood reminiscent of a Schubert lied.Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) was only marginally concerned with choral composition, notwithstanding which his Pater Noster does indeed rank among prime examples of Romantic music. Thanks to the score´s immaculate voice leading, Verdi achieves an exceptionally rich palette of harmonies. The delicate refinement of the work´s expression is enhanced by the use of Italian words instead of the text´s standard Latin version.
The work of Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) epitomizes German choral music of the 19th century at its finest. His most famous vocal compositions include a series of three motets entitled Fest- und Gedenksprüche (“Festival and Commemoration Sentences”). The work, setting biblical texts, is inspired by music of the late Renaissance and Baroque eras. The combined forces of large mixed double choir assign it a magnificently expansive sound whose fullness resembles that of the organ.
Pēteris Vasks (b. 1946), Latvia´s most distinguished contemporary composer, describes his music as follows: “Each of my compositions tells a story about the country I love more than any other place in the world, Latvia.” Vasks´ modern musical idiom is rooted in Baltic folklore, drawing inspiration from the local nature, culture and history. The composition Līdzenuma ainavas (“Plainscapes”), dating from 2002, captures the atmosphere of the endless flatlands of Semigalia region in southern Latvia. In its music, a calm portrayal of this nordic landscape gradually gives way to a gradation climaxing with daybreak and the awakening of birds, symbolizing the everyday miracle of nature´s rebirth. The choir´s wordless singing is accompanied by virtuoso violin and cello parts.
The theme of rebirth is likewise taken up by American composer Eric Whitacre (b. 1970), in his Cloudburst. As part of this work, he set the poem The Broken Water-jug, by the Mexican Nobel Prize-winning poet, Octavio Paz (1914 – 1998). The text appeals to those who have strayed from the path to come back and purify themselves, in the same way as nature does using the healing powers of water and rain. Whitacre opens his composition by a calm, harmonically opulent choral meditation which progressively gains on intensity up to the point of a purifying cloudburst. The singing voices are complemented in the work´s onomatopoeic final part by piano, percussion, and by various “body sounds”, including finger snapping, hand clapping and foot stomping. Whitacre´s most widely acclaimed composition, Cloudburst has earned him a position among the present time´s most performed choral composers.