Harry Christophers leads a heavenly concert of sacred music by J.S. Bach and William Byrd

By February 27, 2014 Uncategorized

In an intimate program, the H+H Chorus performs three Bach motets and choral selections by English Renaissance composer William Byrd 

Choral concert follows the recent critical successes of H+H’s Vivaldi Gloria, A Bach Christmas, and Handel Messiah

 Performances are Friday, March 14, 8 pm and Sunday, March 16, 3 pm at NEC’s Jordan Hall

February 27, 2014 (Boston, MA) —  Handel and Haydn Society Artistic Director Harry Christophers follows recent critical successes with another signature choral program: sacred music by J.S. Bach and William Byrd. Juxtaposing two great vocal traditions, this intimate program features three of Bach’s motets alongside Byrd’s moving Ave verum corpus and other pieces by the English Renaissance composer. All selections will be sung by H+H’s superb chorus—“the Rolls-Royce of Boston chorales” (The Hub Review).

“In their own way, Bach and Byrd were pioneers in sacred music in their respective lifetimes,” says Artistic Director Harry Christophers. “Both wrote with great passion and fervor for the church. But, sadly, one lived in constant fear of persecution because of his devout Catholic faith.”

William Byrd (c. 1540–1623) was an accomplished organist and a favorite composer of Queen Elizabeth I. Yet much of his Catholic service music had to be suppressed for fear of arrest, costly fines, and death. Byrd responded to the times with music that is contemplative, sad, and joyful. One of the most sublime works scheduled on the Bach and Byrd program is the Agnus Dei from his Mass for Four Voices. Music historians have noted how the poignant final words of the movement, “Dona nobis pacem” (“Grant us peace”), could well be a personal plea for greater religious tolerance.

A staunch Lutheran, J.S. Bach (1685–1750) lived a life of greater security. Two of the works on the Bach and Byrd program (Jesu, meine Freude and Komm, Jesu, komm) are funeral motets composed by Bach for wealthy families. “These funeral motets are simply extraordinary, full of mindboggling symmetry and exceptional counterpoint,” says Christophers. “Their technical and aesthetic challenges are virtually unparalleled.”

The program ends on a celebratory note with Bach’s Singet dem Herrn, music that had made a great impression on a young Mozart, then visiting Leipzig. “Hardly had the choir sung a few bars when Mozart sat up, startled,” reported an 18th-century eyewitness. “When the singing was finished, he cried out full of joy, ‘Now there is something one can learn from.’”


Bach and Byrd

Friday, March 14, 8 pm at NEC’s Jordan Hall

Sunday, March 16, 3 pm at NEC’s Jordan Hall

Harry Christophers, conductor

Handel and Haydn Society Chorus

Plainsong: Veni creator spiritus

Byrd: Laudibus in sanctis

Bach: Bist du bei mir

Bach: Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227

Bach: Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229

Byrd: Ye gentle muses

Byrd: Agnus Dei

Byrd: Ave verum corpus

Bach: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225

Tickets from $20. See below for purchasing information.


Tickets are available through Handel and Haydn Society Box Office: by phone at 617 266 3605; online at handelandhaydn.org; or in person at the Handel and Haydn Society offices, Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston (M–F, 10am–6pm). Student rush is available starting 90 minutes before the performance: $15 cash only with valid ID, best available seats subject to availability. Groups of 10 or more receive a 20% discount.


Pre-Concert Conversation

Led by Teresa Neff, Historically Informed Performance Fellow

Friday, March 14 at 7pm

Sunday, March 16 at 2pm

Conversations will take place in NEC’s Jordan Hall

Free with concert tickets