Choir
Overview
A choir, chorale or chorus is a musical ensemble
Musical ensemble
A musical ensemble is a group of people who perform instrumental or vocal music. In classical music, trios or quartets either blend the sounds of musical instrument families or group together instruments from the same instrument family, such as string ensembles or wind ensembles...

 of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform.

A body of singers who perform together as a group is called a choir or chorus. The former term is very often applied to groups affiliated with a church (whether or not they actually occupy the choir) and the second to groups that perform in theatres or concert halls, but this distinction is far from rigid.

The term "Choir" has the secondary definition of a subset of an ensemble; thus one speaks of the "woodwind choir" of an orchestra, or different "choirs" of voices and/or instruments in a polychoral
Venetian polychoral style
The Venetian polychoral style was a type of music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras which involved spatially separate choirs singing in alternation...

 composition.
Encyclopedia
A choir, chorale or chorus is a musical ensemble
Musical ensemble
A musical ensemble is a group of people who perform instrumental or vocal music. In classical music, trios or quartets either blend the sounds of musical instrument families or group together instruments from the same instrument family, such as string ensembles or wind ensembles...

 of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform.

A body of singers who perform together as a group is called a choir or chorus. The former term is very often applied to groups affiliated with a church (whether or not they actually occupy the choir) and the second to groups that perform in theatres or concert halls, but this distinction is far from rigid.

The term "Choir" has the secondary definition of a subset of an ensemble; thus one speaks of the "woodwind choir" of an orchestra, or different "choirs" of voices and/or instruments in a polychoral
Venetian polychoral style
The Venetian polychoral style was a type of music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras which involved spatially separate choirs singing in alternation...

 composition. In typical 18th- to 21st-century oratorio
Oratorio
An oratorio is a large musical composition including an orchestra, a choir, and soloists. Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias...

s and mass
Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

es, chorus or choir is usually understood to imply more than one singer per part, in contrast to the quartet of soloists also featured in these works.

Structure of choirs

Choirs are often led by a conductor
Conducting
Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...

 or choirmaster. Most often choirs consist of four sections intended to sing in four part harmony, but there is no limit to the number of possible parts as long as there is a singer available to sing the part: Thomas Tallis
Thomas Tallis
Thomas Tallis was an English composer. Tallis flourished as a church musician in 16th century Tudor England. He occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered among the best of England's early composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English...

 wrote a 40-part motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

 entitled Spem in alium
Spem in alium
Spem in alium is a forty-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis, composed circa 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each. The sacred text has been used as a basis for other choral settings, such as and the...

, for eight choirs of five parts each; Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki , born November 23, 1933 in Dębica) is a Polish composer and conductor. His 1960 avant-garde Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for string orchestra brought him to international attention, and this success was followed by acclaim for his choral St. Luke Passion. Both these...

's Stabat Mater is for three choirs of 16 voices each, a total of 48 parts. Other than four, the most common number of parts are three, five, six and eight.

Choirs can sing with or without instrumental accompaniment. Singing without accompaniment is called a cappella
A cappella
A cappella music is specifically solo or group singing without instrumental sound, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It is the opposite of cantata, which is accompanied singing. A cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato...

 singing (although the American Choral Directors Association
American Choral Directors Association
The American Choral Directors Association , headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is a non-profit organization with the stated purpose of promoting excellence in the field of choral music...

 discourages this usage in favor of "unaccompanied," since a cappella denotes singing "as in the chapel" and much unaccompanied music today is secular). Accompanying instruments vary widely, from only one to a full orchestra
Orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

; for rehearsals a piano
Piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

 or organ
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

 accompaniment is often used, even if a different instrumentation is planned for performance, or if the choir is rehearsing unaccompanied music.

Accompaniment

Eastern Orthodox churches, some American Protestant groups, and some synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

s do not use instruments. In churches of the Western Rite
Latin liturgical rites
Latin liturgical rites used within that area of the Catholic Church where the Latin language once dominated were for many centuries no less numerous than the liturgical rites of the Eastern autonomous particular Churches. Their number is now much reduced...

 the accompanying instrument is usually the organ, although in colonial America
Colonial America
The colonial history of the United States covers the history from the start of European settlement and especially the history of the thirteen colonies of Britain until they declared independence in 1776. In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major...

, the Moravian Church used groups of strings and winds. Many churches which use a contemporary worship format use a small amplified band to accompany the singing, and Roman Catholic Churches may use, at their discretion, additional orchestral accompaniment.

Liturgical function

In addition to leading of singing in which the congregation participates, such as hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

s and service music, some church choirs still sing full liturgies, including propers
Proper (liturgy)
The Proper is a part of the Christian liturgy that varies according to the date, either representing an observance within the Liturgical Year, or of a particular saint or significant event...

 (introit, gradual, communion antiphons appropriate for the different times of the liturgical year
Liturgical year
The liturgical year, also known as the church year, consists of the cycle of liturgical seasons in Christian churches which determines when feast days, including celebrations of saints, are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read. Distinct liturgical colours may appear in...

). Chief among these are the Anglican
Anglican church music
Anglican church music is music that is written for liturgical performance in Anglican church services.Almost all of it is written for choir with or without organ accompaniment...

 and Roman Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 churches; far more common however is the performance of anthem
Anthem
The term anthem means either a specific form of Anglican church music , or more generally, a song of celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a distinct group of people, as in the term "national anthem" or "sports anthem".-Etymology:The word is derived from the Greek via Old English , a word...

s or motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

s at designated times in the service.

Contemporary

Although many contemporary churches have replaced the choir with singers, some churches have choirs that are backing vocalists as opposed to front line singers who are in the alto, soprano and tenor range for both males and females. Unlike traditional churches, these choir members clap along to the songs, raise hands and even dance on the pedestal in an act of encouraging the congregation to do likewise. Some of these choirs do not have a conductor.

Types

  • Mixed choirs (with male and female voices). This is perhaps the most common type, usually consisting of soprano
    Soprano
    A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...

    , alto
    Alto
    Alto is a musical term, derived from the Latin word altus, meaning "high" in Italian, that has several possible interpretations.When designating instruments, "alto" frequently refers to a member of an instrumental family that has the second highest range, below that of the treble or soprano. Hence,...

    , tenor
    Tenor
    The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...

     and bass
    Bass (voice type)
    A bass is a type of male singing voice and possesses the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C...

     voices, often abbreviated as SATB
    SATB
    In music, SATB is an initialism for soprano, alto, tenor, bass, defining the voices required by a chorus or choir to perform a particular musical work...

    . Often one or more voices is divided into two, e.g., SSAATTBB, where each voice is divided into two parts, and SATBSATB, where the choir is divided into two semi-independent four-part choirs. Occasionally baritone
    Baritone
    Baritone is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek , meaning deep sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C Baritone (or...

     voice is also used (e.g., SATBarB), often sung by the higher basses. In smaller choirs with fewer men, SAB, or Soprano, Alto, and Baritone arrangements allow the few men to share the role of both the tenor and bass in a single part.
  • Male choirs, with the same SATB voicing as mixed choirs, but with boys singing the upper part (often called trebles
    Choirboy
    A choirboy is a boy member of a choir, also known as a treble.As a derisive slang term, it refers to a do-gooder or someone who is morally upright, in the same sense that "Boy Scout" refers to someone who is considered honorable or conscientious.- History :The use of choirboys in Christian...

     or boy sopranos) and men singing alto (in falsetto
    Falsetto
    Falsetto is the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave. It is produced by the vibration of the ligamentous edges of the vocal folds, in whole or in part...

    ), also known as countertenors. This format is typical of the British cathedral choir.
  • Female choirs, usually consisting of soprano and alto voices, two parts in each, often abbreviated as SSAA, or as soprano I, soprano II, and alto, abbreviated SSA.
  • Men's choirs, or Male Chorale, usually consisting of two tenors, baritone, and bass, often abbreviated as TTBB (or ATBB if the upper part sings falsetto
    Falsetto
    Falsetto is the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave. It is produced by the vibration of the ligamentous edges of the vocal folds, in whole or in part...

     in alto range. ATBB may be seen in some barbershop quartet music.
  • Children's choirs, often two-part SA or three-part SSA, sometimes more voices. This includes boy choirs.


Choirs are also categorized by the institutions in which they operate:
  • Church choirs
  • Collegiate and university choirs
  • Community choirs (of children or adults)
  • Professional choirs, either independent (e.g. Anúna
    Anúna
    Anúna is an Irish choral group. In 1987 Dublin composer Michael McGlynn founded An Uaithne, a name which describes the three ancient types of Celtic music, Suantraí , Geantraí and Goltraí . One of the group's stated aims is to explore and redefine this music...

    ) or state-supported (e.g., BBC Singers
    BBC Singers
    The BBC Singers are the professional chamber choir of the BBC. As one of six BBC Performing Groups, the 24-voiced choir has been in existence for more than 80 years. The BBC Singers have commissioned and premiered works by the leading composers of the past century, including Benjamin Britten, Sir...

    , National Chamber Choir of Ireland, Canadian Chamber Choir
    Canadian Chamber Choir
    The Canadian Chamber Choir is a Canadian national choral ensemble that provides a professional choral environment for Canadian singers, conductors and composers. The CCC has a mandate to perform new and existing Canadian choral works, apprentice choral conductors, and facilitate workshops in all...

    , Swedish Radio Choir
    Swedish Radio Choir
    The Swedish Radio Choir is a professional classical choir. It is funded by Sveriges Radio, the public radio broadcasting company of Sweden. The choir consists of 32 singers, currently led by conductor Peter Dijkstra.-Conductors:...

    ).

  • School choirs
  • Signing choirs
    Sign singing
    Sign singing or Karaoke signing is singing using sign language. Typically a song is played, and the "singer" expressively performs a sign language version of the lyrics....

     (of Deaf or Hearing individuals), using Sign Language
    Sign language
    A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning—simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to fluidly express a speaker's...

     rather than voices
  • Integrated Signing and Singing Choirs, using both Sign Language and Voices and led by both a Signductor and a Musical Director.


Some choirs are categorized by the type of music they perform, such as
  • Bach choir
    Bach Choir (disambiguation)
    Bach Choir may refer to one of many organizations featuring Bach's choral music, including:- United Kingdom :* The Bach Choir, of London* Aberdeen Bach Choir* Bath Bach Choir* Birmingham Bach Choir* Bournemouth Bach Choir* Bristol Bach Choir...

    s
  • Barbershop music
    Barbershop music
    Barbershop vocal harmony, as codified during the barbershop revival era , is a style of a cappella, or unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture...

  • Gospel choirs
    Gospel music
    Gospel music is music that is written to express either personal, spiritual or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music....

  • Show choir
    Show choir
    A show choir is a group of people who combine choral singing with dance movements, sometimes within the context of a specific idea or story.-History:...

    s, in which the members sing and dance, often in performances somewhat like musicals
  • Symphonic choirs
  • Vocal jazz
    Vocal jazz
    Jazz singing can be defined by the instrumental approach to the voice, where the singer can match the instruments in their stylistic approach to the lyrics, improvised or otherwise, or through scat singing; that is, the use of nonsensical meaningless non-morphemic syllables to imitate the sound of...

     choirs

Arrangements on stage

There are various schools of thought regarding how the various sections should be arranged on stage.

In symphonic choirs it is common (though by no means universal) to order the choir behind the orchestra from highest to lowest voices from left to right, corresponding to the typical string layout.

In a cappella or piano-accompanied situations it is not unusual for the men to be in the back and the women in front; some conductors prefer to place the basses behind the sopranos, arguing that the outer voices need to tune to each other.

More experienced choirs often sing with the voices all mixed together. Proponents of this method argue that it makes it easier for each individual singer to hear and tune to the other parts, but it requires more independence from each singer. Opponents argue that this method loses the spatial separation of individual voice lines, an otherwise valuable feature for the audience, and that it eliminates sectional resonance, which lessens the effective volume of the chorus.

For music with double (or multiple) choirs, usually the members of each choir are together, sometimes significantly separated, especially in performances of 16th-century music. Some composers actually specify that choirs should be separated, such as in Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

's War Requiem
War Requiem
The War Requiem, Op. 66 is a large-scale, non-liturgical setting of the Requiem Mass composed by Benjamin Britten mostly in 1961 and completed January 1962. Interspersed with the traditional Latin texts, in telling juxtaposition, are settings of Wilfred Owen poems...

.

Consideration is also given to the spacing of the singers. Studies have found that not only the actual formation, but the amount of space (both laterally and circumambiently) affect the perception of sound by choristers and auditors.

Skills involved in choral singing

Choral singers vary greatly in their ability and performance. The best choral singers possess (among others) the following abilities:
  • to sing precisely in tune (on the correct pitch) and with a vocal timbre
    Timbre
    In music, timbre is the quality of a musical note or sound or tone that distinguishes different types of sound production, such as voices and musical instruments, such as string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. The physical characteristics of sound that determine the...

     (or color) which complements the other singers;
  • to sing at precisely controlled levels of volume, matching the dynamics marked in the score or prescribed by the conductor, and not sing so loudly as to be markedly detectable as an individual voice within the section;
  • to sight-read
    Sight reading
    Sight-reading is the reading and performing of a piece of written music, specifically when the performer has not seen it before. Sight-singing is often used to describe a singer who is sight-reading.-Sight-reading:...

     music fluently;
  • to read and pronounce the text accurately and in the pronunciation style specified by the leader, whatever the language may be. This includes correct diction, proper vowels and timing of diphthongs, and correct placement of consonants;
  • to understand and interpret the music and to reflect that understanding in the vocal production of the music;
  • to remain completely alert for long periods, monitoring closely what is going on in a rehearsal or performance;
  • to monitor one's own singing and detect errors, correcting them as they go along,
  • to accept direction from others for the good of the group as a whole, even when the singer disagrees aesthetically with the instructions;
  • to produce a healthy and pleasing tone through the use of proper vocal technique;
  • to sing using pure vowels through vowel tracking to match the group;


Singers who have perfect pitch
Absolute pitch
Absolute pitch , widely referred to as perfect pitch, is the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of an external reference.-Definition:...

 require yet other skills:
  • to sing music in keys other than that in which it is written, since choirs often sing music in transposed form.
  • to stay "in tune" with the ensemble, even in the event the ensemble drifts slightly away from "perfect" pitch
  • to provide ensembles with the key or starting pitch that a piece begins on, usually with unaccompanied pieces

Antiquity

The origins of choral music are found in traditional music
Traditional music
Traditional music is the term increasingly used for folk music that is not contemporary folk music. More on this is at the terminology section of the World music article...

, as singing in big groups is extremely widely spread in traditional cultures (both singing in one part, or in unison
Unison
In music, the word unison can be applied in more than one way. In general terms, it may refer to two notes sounding the same pitch, often but not always at the same time; or to the same musical voice being sounded by several voices or instruments together, either at the same pitch or at a distance...

, like in Ancient Greece, as well as singing in parts, or in harmony
Harmony
In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches , or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic...

, like in contemporary European choral music).

The oldest unambiguously choral repertory that survives is that of ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, of which the 2nd century BC Delphic hymns
Delphic Hymns
The Delphic Hymns are two musical compositions from Ancient Greece, which survive in substantial fragments. They were long regarded as being dated circa 138 BCE and 128 BCE, respectively, but recent scholarship has shown it likely they were both written for performance at the Athenian...

 and the 2nd century AD. hymns of Mesomedes
Mesomedes
Mesomedes of Crete was a Greek lyric poet and composer of the early 2nd century.He was a freedman of the Emperor Hadrian, on whose favorite Antinous he is said to have written a panegyric, specifically called a Citharoedic Hymn . Two epigrams by him in the Greek Anthology Mesomedes of Crete was a...

 are the most complete. The original Greek chorus
Greek chorus
A Greek chorus is a homogenous, non-individualised group of performers in the plays of classical Greece, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action....

 sang its part in Greek drama, and fragments of works by Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

 (Orestes
Orestes (play)
Orestes is an Ancient Greek play by Euripides that follows the events of Orestes after he had murdered his mother.-Background:...

) and Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 (Ajax
Ajax (Sophocles)
Sophocles's Ajax is a Greek tragedy written in the 5th century BC. The date of Ajax's first performance is unknown, but most scholars regard it as an early work, circa 450 - 430 B.C....

) are known from papyri. The Seikilos epitaph
Seikilos epitaph
The Seikilos epitaph is the oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world. The song, the melody of which is recorded, alongside its lyrics, in the ancient Greek musical notation, was found engraved on a tombstone, near Aidin,...

 (2c BC) is a complete song (although possibly for solo voice). One of the latest examples, Oxyrhynchus hymn
Oxyrhynchus hymn
The Oxyrhynchus hymn is the earliest known manuscript of a Christian hymn to contain both lyrics and musical notation. It is found on Papyrus 1786 of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, now kept at the Papyrology Rooms of the Sackler Library, Oxford. This papyrus fragment was unearthed in 1918 and the...

 (3c) is also of interest as the earliest Christian music
Christian music
Christian music is music that has been written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life and faith. Common themes of Christian music include praise, worship, penitence, and lament, and its forms vary widely across the world....

.

Of the Roman drama's music a single line
Flaccus (composer)
Flaccus is a composer from the 2nd century BC, of whom little is known. He was either a freedman or a slave of one of Terence's patrons and wrote musical scores for Terence's comedies...

 of Terence
Terence
Publius Terentius Afer , better known in English as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on,...

 surfaced in the 18c. However, musicologist Thomas J. Mathiesen comments that it is no longer believed to be authentic.
See also Ancient music
Ancient music
Ancient music is music that developed in literate cultures, replacing prehistoric music.Ancient music refers to the various musical systems that were developed across various geographical regions such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, India, China, Greece and Rome. Ancient music is designated by the...

.

Medieval music

The earliest notated music of western Europe is Gregorian Chant
Gregorian chant
Gregorian chant is the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic liturgical music within Western Christianity that accompanied the celebration of Mass and other ritual services...

, along with a few other types of chant which were later subsumed (or sometimes suppressed) by the Catholic Church. This tradition of unison choir singing lasted from sometime between the times of St. Ambrose (4th century) and Gregory the Great (6th century) up to the present. During the later Middle Ages, a new type of singing involving multiple melodic parts, called organum
Organum
Organum is, in general, a plainchant melody with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony, developed in the Middle Ages. Depending on the mode and form of the chant, a supporting bass line may be sung on the same text, the melody may be followed in parallel motion , or a combination of...

, became predominant for certain functions, but initially this polyphony
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 was only sung by soloists. Further developments of this technique included clausula
Clausula
In Roman rhetoric, a clausula was a rhythmic figure used to add finesse and finality to the end of a sentence or phrase. There was a large range of popular clausulae...

e, conductus
Conductus
In medieval music, conductus is a type of sacred, but non-liturgical vocal composition for one or more voices. The word derives from Latin conducere , and the conductus was most likely sung while the lectionary was carried from its place of safekeeping to the place from which it was to be read...

 and the motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

 (most notably the isorhythm
Isorhythm
Isorhythm is a musical technique that arranges a fixed pattern of pitches with a repeating rhythmic pattern.-Detail:...

ic motet), which, unlike the Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

 motet, describes a composition with different texts sung simultaneously in different voices. The first evidence of polyphony with more than one singer per part comes in the Old Hall Manuscript
Old Hall Manuscript
The Old Hall Manuscript is the largest, most complete, and most significant source of English sacred music of the late 14th and early 15th centuries, and as such represents the best source for late Medieval English music. The manuscript somehow survived the Reformation, and until 1873 belonged to St...

 (1420, though containing music from the late 14th century), in which there are apparent divisi, one part dividing into two simultaneously sounding notes.

Renaissance music

During the Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

, sacred choral music was the principal type of formally notated music in Western Europe. Throughout the era, hundreds of mass
Mass (music)
The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music...

es and motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

s (as well as various other forms) were composed for a cappella
A cappella
A cappella music is specifically solo or group singing without instrumental sound, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It is the opposite of cantata, which is accompanied singing. A cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato...

 choir, though there is some dispute over the role of instruments during certain periods and in certain areas. Some of the better-known composers of this time include Dufay
Guillaume Dufay
Guillaume Dufay was a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. As the central figure in the Burgundian School, he was the most famous and influential composer in Europe in the mid-15th century.-Early life:From the evidence of his will, he was probably born in Beersel, in the vicinity of...

, Josquin des Prez
Josquin Des Prez
Josquin des Prez [Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez] , often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance...

, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition...

, and William Byrd
William Byrd
William Byrd was an English composer of the Renaissance. He wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard and consort music.-Provenance:Knowledge of Byrd's biography expanded in the late 20th century, thanks largely...

; the glories of Renaissance polyphony
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 were choral, sung by choirs of great skill and distinction all over Europe. Choral music from this period continues to be popular with many choirs throughout the world today.

The madrigal
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

, a partsong conceived for amateurs to sing in a chamber setting, originated at this period. Although madrigals were initially dramatic settings of unrequited-love poetry or mythological stories in Italy, they were imported into England and merged with the more dancelike balletto, celebrating carefree songs of the seasons, or eating and drinking. To most English speakers, the word madrigal now refers to the latter, rather than to madrigals proper, which refers to a poetic form of lines consisting of seven and eleven syllables each.

The interaction of sung voices in Renaissance polyphony influenced Western music for centuries. Composers are routinely trained in the "Palestrina style" to this day, especially as codified by the 18c music theorist Johann Joseph Fux. Composers of the early 20th century also wrote in Renaissance-inspired styles. Herbert Howells
Herbert Howells
Herbert Norman Howells CH was an English composer, organist, and teacher, most famous for his large output of Anglican church music.-Life:...

 wrote a Mass in the Dorian mode entirely in strict Renaissance style, and Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

's Mass in G minor is an extension of this style. Anton von Webern wrote his dissertation on the Choralis Constantinus
Choralis Constantinus
The Choralis Constantinus is a collection of over 375 Gregorian chant-based polyphonic motets for the proper of the mass composed by Heinrich Isaac and his pupil Ludwig Senfl...

of Heinrich Isaac
Heinrich Isaac
Heinrich Isaac was a Franco-Flemish Renaissance composer of south Netherlandish origin. He wrote masses, motets, songs , and instrumental music. A significant contemporary of Josquin des Prez, Isaac influenced the development of music in Germany...

 and the contrapuntal techniques of his serial music may be informed by this study.

Baroque music

The Baroque period
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 in music is associated with the development around 1600 of the figured bass
Figured bass
Figured bass, or thoroughbass, is a kind of integer musical notation used to indicate intervals, chords, and non-chord tones, in relation to a bass note...

, with dramatic implications in the realm of solo vocal music such as the monodies
Monody
In poetry, the term monody has become specialized to refer to a poem in which one person laments another's death....

 of the Florentine Camerata
Florentine Camerata
The Florentine Camerata was a group of humanists, musicians, poets and intellectuals in late Renaissance Florence who gathered under the patronage of Count Giovanni de' Bardi to discuss and guide trends in the arts, especially music and drama...

 and opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

. This innovation was in fact an extension of established practice of accompanying choral music at the organ, either from a skeletal reduced score (from which otherwise lost pieces can sometimes be reconstructed) or from a basso seguente, a part on a single staff containing the lowest sounding part.

A new genre was the vocal concertato
Concertato
Concertato is a term in early Baroque music referring to either a genre or a style of music in which groups of instruments or voices share a melody, usually in alternation, and almost always over a basso continuo...

, combining voices and instruments; its origins may be sought in the polychoral
Venetian polychoral style
The Venetian polychoral style was a type of music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras which involved spatially separate choirs singing in alternation...

 music of the Venetian school.
Claudio Monteverdi
Claudio Monteverdi
Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi – 29 November 1643) was an Italian composer, gambist, and singer.Monteverdi's work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition – the...

 (1567–1643) brought it to perfection with his Vespers
Vespers
Vespers is the evening prayer service in the Western Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies of the canonical hours...

 and his Eighth Book of Madrigals, which call for great virtuosity on the part of singers and instruments alike. His pupil Heinrich Schütz
Heinrich Schütz
Heinrich Schütz was a German composer and organist, generally regarded as the most important German composer before Johann Sebastian Bach and often considered to be one of the most important composers of the 17th century along with Claudio Monteverdi...

 (1585–1672) (who had earlier studied with Giovanni Gabrieli
Giovanni Gabrieli
Giovanni Gabrieli was an Italian composer and organist. He was one of the most influential musicians of his time, and represents the culmination of the style of the Venetian School, at the time of the shift from Renaissance to Baroque idioms.-Biography:Gabrieli was born in Venice...

) introduced the new style to Germany. Alongside the new music of the seconda pratica
Seconda pratica
Seconda prattica, literally "second practice", is the counterpart to prima pratica and is more commonly referred to as Stile moderno. The term "Seconda prattica" was coined by Claudio Monteverdi to distance his music from that of e.g...

, contrapuntal motets in the stile antico
Stile antico
Stile antico, literally "ancient style", is a term describing music from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. It refers to a manner of composition which is historically conscious, as opposed to stile moderno...

or old style continued to be written well into the 19th century.

It should be remembered that choirs at this time were usually quite small and that singers could be classified
Vocal weight
Vocal weight refers to the perceived "lightness" or "heaviness" of a singing voice. This quality of the voice is one of the major determining factors in voice classification within classical music...

 as suited to church or to chamber singing. Monteverdi, himself a singer, is documented as taking part in performances of his Magnificat with one voice per part.

Independent instrumental accompaniment opened up new possibilities for choral music. Verse anthem
Anthem
The term anthem means either a specific form of Anglican church music , or more generally, a song of celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a distinct group of people, as in the term "national anthem" or "sports anthem".-Etymology:The word is derived from the Greek via Old English , a word...

s alternated accompanied solos with choral sections; the best-known composers of this genre were Orlando Gibbons
Orlando Gibbons
Orlando Gibbons was an English composer, virginalist and organist of the late Tudor and early Jacobean periods...

 and Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell – 21 November 1695), was an English organist and Baroque composer of secular and sacred music. Although Purcell incorporated Italian and French stylistic elements into his compositions, his legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music...

. Grand motets (such as those of Lully
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste de Lully was an Italian-born French composer who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered the chief master of the French Baroque style. Lully disavowed any Italian influence in French music of the period. He became a French subject in...

 and Delalande) separated these sections into separate movements. Oratorio
Oratorio
An oratorio is a large musical composition including an orchestra, a choir, and soloists. Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias...

, pioneered by Giacomo Carissimi
Giacomo Carissimi
Giacomo Carissimi was an Italian composer, one of the most celebrated masters of the early Baroque, or, more accurately, the Roman School of music.-Biography:...

, extended this concept into concert-length works, usually loosely based on Biblical stories.

The pinnacle of the oratorio is found in George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel was a German-British Baroque composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Handel was born in 1685, in a family indifferent to music...

's works, notably Messiah
Messiah (Handel)
Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. It was first performed in Dublin on 13 April 1742, and received its London premiere nearly a year later...

and Israel in Egypt
Israel in Egypt (oratorio)
Israel in Egypt is a biblical oratorio by the composer George Frideric Handel. Many historians believe the libretto was compiled by Handel's collaborator Charles Jennens, and it is composed entirely of selected passages from the Hebrew Bible, mainly from Exodus and the Psalms.Israel in Egypt...

. While the modern chorus of hundreds had to await the growth of Choral Societies and his centennial commemoration concert, we find Handel already using a variety of performing forces, from the soloists of the Chandos Anthems to larger groups (whose proportions are still quite different from modern orchestra choruses):
Lutheran composers wrote instrumentally accompanied cantata
Cantata
A cantata is a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir....

s, often based on chorale
Chorale
A chorale was originally a hymn sung by a Christian congregation. In certain modern usage, this term may also include classical settings of such hymns and works of a similar character....

s (hymns). While Dieterich Buxtehude
Dieterich Buxtehude
Dieterich Buxtehude was a German-Danish organist and composer of the Baroque period. His organ works represent a central part of the standard organ repertoire and are frequently performed at recitals and in church services...

 was a significant composer of such works, it was largely up to the next generation to undertake cantata cycles on texts for the entire church year. Telemann wrote choral cantatas for Frankfurt (later published in solo versions as the Harmonische Gottesdienst) and Graupner
Christoph Graupner
Christoph Graupner was a German harpsichordist and composer of high Baroque music who lived and worked at the same time as Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann and George Frideric Handel.-Graupner's life:Born in Hartmannsdorf near Kirchberg in Saxony, Graupner received his first musical...

 cycles for Darmstadt, but Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 (1685–1750) made a truly monumental contribution: his obituary mentions five complete cycles of his cantata
Bach cantata
Bach cantata became a term for a cantata of the German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach who was a prolific writer of the genre. Although many of his works are lost, around 200 cantatas survived....

s, of which three, comprising some 200 works, are known today, in addition to motet
Motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

s. Bach himself rarely used the term cantata. Motet refers to his church music without orchestra accompaniment, but instruments playing colla parte with the voices. His works with accompaniment consists of his Passions
Passions (Bach)
According to his obituary, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote "five passions, of which one is for double chorus". Two works have survived: the St John Passion and the St Matthew Passion , this last using double chorus...

, Mass
Missa (Bach)
A Missa of Johann Sebastian Bach is in general a composition of the Latin Mass by the German Baroque composer.More specifically, Missa refers to one of his four short masses in F major, A major, G minor and G major, BWV 233 to 236...

es, the Magnificat
Magnificat (Bach)
The Magnificat in D major, BWV 243, is a major vocal work of Johann Sebastian Bach. It was composed for orchestra, a five-part choir and four or five soloists. The text is the canticle of Mary, mother of Jesus, as told by Luke the Evangelist .Bach composed an initial version in E flat major in 1723...

and the cantatas.

A point of hot controversy today is the so-called "Rifkin hypothesis," which re-examines the famous "Entwurff," Bach's 1730 memo to the Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

 City Council (A Short but Most Necessary Draft for a Well Appointed Church Music) calling for at least 12 singers. In light of Bach's responsibility to provide music to four churches and be able to perform double choir compositions with a substitute for each voice, Joshua Rifkin
Joshua Rifkin
Joshua Rifkin is an American conductor, keyboard player, and musicologist. He is best known by the general public for having played a central role in the ragtime revival in the 1970s with the three albums he recorded of Scott Joplin's works for Nonesuch Records, and to classical musicians for his...

 concludes that Bach's music was normally written with one voice per part in mind. A few sets of original performing parts include ripieni who reinforce rather than slavishly double the vocal quartet.

Classical and Romantic music

Composers of the late 18th century became fascinated with the new possibilities of the symphony and other instrumental music, and generally neglected choral music. Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

's choral works, though not as numerous as his works for other media, stand out as some of his greatest (such as the "Great" Mass in C minor and Requiem
Requiem (Mozart)
The Requiem Mass in D minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was composed in Vienna in 1791 and left unfinished at the composer's death. A completion by Franz Xaver Süssmayr was delivered to Count Franz von Walsegg, who had anonymously commissioned the piece for a requiem Mass to commemorate the...

 in D minor, the latter of which is often considered the greatest Requiem Mass of all time). Haydn
Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn , known as Joseph Haydn , was an Austrian composer, one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the Classical period. He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these forms...

 became more interested in choral music near the end of his life following his visits to England in the 1790s, when he heard various Handel oratorios performed by large forces; he wrote a series of masses beginning in 1797 and his two great oratorios The Creation and The Seasons
The Seasons (Haydn)
The Seasons is an oratorio by Joseph Haydn .-Composition, premiere, and reception:Haydn was led to write The Seasons by the great success of his previous oratorio The Creation , which had become very popular and was in the course of being performed all over Europe...

. Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

 wrote only two masses, both intended for liturgical use, although his Missa solemnis
Missa Solemnis (Beethoven)
The Missa solemnis in D Major, Op. 123 was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven from 1819-1823. It was first performed on April 7, 1824 in St. Petersburg, under the auspices of Beethoven's patron Prince Nikolai Galitzin; an incomplete performance was given in Vienna on 7 May 1824, when the Kyrie,...

is suitable only for the grandest ceremonies. He also pioneered the use of chorus as part of symphonic texture with his Ninth Symphony
Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)
The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best known works of the Western classical repertoire, and has been adapted for use as the European Anthem...

 and Choral Fantasia
Choral Fantasy (Beethoven)
The Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op. 80, was composed in 1808 by Ludwig van Beethoven.-Background, composition, and premiere:...

.

In the 19th century, sacred music escaped from the church and leaped onto the concert stage, with large sacred works unsuitable for church use, such as Berlioz
Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts . Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works; as a...

's Te Deum and Requiem
Requiem (Berlioz)
The Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5 by Hector Berlioz was composed in 1837. The Grande Messe des Morts is one of Berlioz's best-known works, with a tremendous orchestration of woodwind and brass instruments, including four antiphonal offstage brass ensembles placed at the corners of the concert stage...

, and Brahms
Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms was a German composer and pianist, and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene...

's Ein deutsches Requiem
Ein deutsches Requiem
A German Requiem, To Words of the Holy Scriptures, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms, is a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra, and a soprano and a baritone soloist, composed between 1865 and 1868. It comprises seven movements, which together last 65 to 80 minutes, making this work Brahms's longest...

. Rossini
Gioacchino Rossini
Gioachino Antonio Rossini was an Italian composer who wrote 39 operas as well as sacred music, chamber music, songs, and some instrumental and piano pieces...

's Stabat mater, Schubert
Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer.Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies , liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music...

's masses, and Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

's Requiem
Requiem (Verdi)
The Messa da Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass for four soloists, double choir and orchestra. It was composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist much admired by Verdi. The first performance in San Marco in Milan on 22 May...

 also exploited the grandeur offered by instrumental accompaniment.

Oratorios also continued to be written, clearly influenced by Handel's models. Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ and Mendelssohn's
Felix Mendelssohn
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthóldy , use the form 'Mendelssohn' and not 'Mendelssohn Bartholdy'. The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians gives ' Felix Mendelssohn' as the entry, with 'Mendelssohn' used in the body text...

 Elijah
Elijah (oratorio)
Elijah, in German: Elias, is an oratorio written by Felix Mendelssohn in 1846 for the Birmingham Festival. It depicts various events in the life of the Biblical prophet Elijah, taken from the books 1 Kings and 2 Kings in the Old Testament....

and St Paul
St. Paul (oratorio)
St. Paul , Op. 36, is an oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn.The libretto was begun in 1832 by the composer with Pastor Julius Schubring, a childhood friend, pulling together passages from the New Testament and Old Testament...

are in the category. Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms also wrote secular cantatas, the best known of which are Brahms's Schicksalslied
Schicksalslied
The Schicksalslied is a short, powerful work for chorus and orchestra composed by Johannes Brahms between 1868 and 1871, his Opus 54. The text is that of Friedrich Hölderlin's poem Hyperions Schicksalslied, originally part of the novel Hyperion...

and Nänie
Nänie
Nänie is a composition for SATB chorus and orchestra, op. 82 by Johannes Brahms, which sets to music the poem Nänie by Friedrich Schiller. Brahms composed the piece in 1881, in memory of his deceased friend Anselm Feuerbach...

.

A few composers developed a cappella music, especially Bruckner
Anton Bruckner
Anton Bruckner was an Austrian composer known for his symphonies, masses, and motets. The first are considered emblematic of the final stage of Austro-German Romanticism because of their rich harmonic language, complex polyphony, and considerable length...

, whose masses and motets startlingly juxtapose Renaissance counterpoint with chromatic harmony. Mendelssohn and Brahms also wrote significant a cappella motets.

The amateur chorus (beginning chiefly as a social outlet) began to receive serious consideration as a compositional venue for the part-songs of Schubert, Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and others. These 'singing clubs' were often for women or men separately, and the music was typically in four-part (hence the name "part-song") and either a cappella or with simple instrumentation. At the same time, the Cecilian movement
Cecilian Movement
The Cecilian Movement of church reform was centered in Italy but received great impetus from Regensburg, Germany, where Franz Xaver Haberl had a world-renowned Kirchenmusicschule...

 attempted a restoration of the pure Renaissance style in Catholic churches.

20th and 21st centuries

As in other genres of music, choral music underwent a period of experimentation and development during the 20th century
20th century classical music
20th century classical music was without a dominant style and highly diverse.-Introduction:At the turn of the century, music was characteristically late Romantic in style. Composers such as Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius were pushing the bounds of Post-Romantic Symphonic writing...

. While few well-known composers focused primarily on choral music, most significant composers of the early century produced some fine examples that have entered the repertoire.

The late-Romantic composers, such as Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till...

 and Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. Rachmaninoff is widely considered one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, one of the last great representatives of Romanticism in Russian classical music...

, contributed to the genre. Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

's Mass in G minor
Mass in G Minor (Vaughan Williams)
The Mass in G minor is a choral work by Ralph Vaughan Williams written in 1921. It is perhaps notable as the first mass written in a distinctly English manner since the sixteenth century. The composer dedicated the piece to Gustav Holst and the Whitsuntide Singers at Thaxted in north Essex, but...

 harks back to the Renaissance style while exhibiting the vibrancy of new harmonic languages. Vaughan Williams also arranged English and Scottish folk songs. Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

's Friede auf Erden is a tonal kaleidoscope, whose tonal centers are constantly shifting (his harmonically innovative Verklärte Nacht
Verklärte Nacht
Verklärte Nacht , Op. 4, is a string sextet in one movement composed by Arnold Schoenberg in 1899 and his earliest important work...

for strings dates from the same period). Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych
Mykola Leontovych
Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych was a Ukrainian composer, choral conductor, priest, and teacher of international renown. His music was inspired by Mykola Lysenko and the Ukrainian nationalist music school, along with Kyrylo Stetsenko, Alexander Koshetz, and Yakiv Stepovy...

 also explored new ways of harmonizing and arranging Ukrainian folk songs, producing masterpieces such as Dudaryk and Shchedryk, the latter of which featured a four-note ostinato
Ostinato
In music, an ostinato is a motif or phrase, which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice. An ostinato is always a succession of equal sounds, wherein each note always has the same weight or stress. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in...

 theme and became a popular Christmas carol
Christmas carol
A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.-History:...

 known as Carol of the Bells
Carol of the Bells
"Carol of the Bells" is the common English language title of a Christmas carol of Ukrainian origin, which has in recent years grown in popularity, particularly in English-speaking countries. The work was originally a choral miniature composition by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych based on...

 after it was translated by Peter J. Wilhousky.

The advent of atonality and other non-traditional harmonic systems and techniques in the 20th century also affected choral music. Serial music is represented by choral works by Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

, including the anthem "Dreimal Tausend Jahre," while the composer's signature use of sprechstimme is evident in his psalm "De Profundis." Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith was a German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, music theorist and conductor.- Biography :Born in Hanau, near Frankfurt, Hindemith was taught the violin as a child...

's distinctive modal language is represented by both his a cappella Mass and his Six Chansons on texts by Rilke, while a more contrapuntally dissonant style comes through in his secular requiem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd. Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist and ornithologist, one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex ; harmonically and melodically it is based on modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations...

 also demonstrates dissonant counterpoint in his Cinq Rechants, which tell the Tristan and Isolde story. Charles Ives
Charles Ives
Charles Edward Ives was an American modernist composer. He is one of the first American composers of international renown, though Ives' music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. Over time, Ives came to be regarded as an "American Original"...

' psalm settings exemplify the composer's incomparably radical harmonic language. Tone clusters and aleatory elements play a prominent role in the choral music of Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki , born November 23, 1933 in Dębica) is a Polish composer and conductor. His 1960 avant-garde Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for string orchestra brought him to international attention, and this success was followed by acclaim for his choral St. Luke Passion. Both these...

, who wrote the St. Luke Passio, and György Ligeti
György Ligeti
György Sándor Ligeti was a composer of contemporary classical music. Born in a Hungarian Jewish family in Transylvania, Romania, he briefly lived in Hungary before becoming an Austrian citizen.-Early life:...

, who wrote both a Requiem and a separate Lux Aeterna. Milton Babbitt
Milton Babbitt
Milton Byron Babbitt was an American composer, music theorist, and teacher. He is particularly noted for his serial and electronic music.-Biography:...

 incorporated integral serialism into works for children's chorus, while Daniel Pinkham
Daniel Pinkham
Daniel Rogers Pinkham, Jr. was an American composer, organist, and harpsichordist. Pinkham was one of America's most active composers during his lifetime...

 wrote for choir and electronic tape. Meredith Monk
Meredith Monk
Meredith Jane Monk is an American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer. Since the 1960s, Monk has created multi-disciplinary works which combine music, theatre, and dance, recording extensively for ECM Records.-Life and work:Meredith Monk is primarily known for her...

's Panda Chant and Astronaut Anthem explore overtones in an unconventional text setting. Though difficult and rarely performed by amateurs, pieces that demonstrate such unfamiliar idioms have found their way into the repertories of the finest semi-professional and professional choirs around the world.

More accessible styles of choral music include that by Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

, including his War Requiem
War Requiem
The War Requiem, Op. 66 is a large-scale, non-liturgical setting of the Requiem Mass composed by Benjamin Britten mostly in 1961 and completed January 1962. Interspersed with the traditional Latin texts, in telling juxtaposition, are settings of Wilfred Owen poems...

, Five Flower Songs, and Rejoice in the Lamb
Rejoice in the Lamb
Rejoice in the Lamb is a festival cantata for four soloists, SATB choir, and organ composed by Benjamin Britten in 1943 and based on the poem Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart . The poem, written while Smart was in an insane asylum, is a highly idiosyncratic and ecstatic praise and worship of God...

. Francis Poulenc
Francis Poulenc
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was a French composer and a member of the French group Les six. He composed solo piano music, chamber music, oratorio, choral music, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music...

's Motets pour le temps de noël, Gloria, and Mass in G are often performed. A primitivist approach is exemplified by Carl Orff
Carl Orff
Carl Orff was a 20th-century German composer, best known for his cantata Carmina Burana . In addition to his career as a composer, Orff developed an influential method of music education for children.-Early life:...

's widely performed Carmina Burana
Carmina Burana (Orff)
Carmina Burana is a scenic cantata composed by Carl Orff in 1935 and 1936. It is based on 24 of the poems found in the medieval collection Carmina Burana...

. In the United States, Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later in his career a conductor of his own and other American music. He was instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, and is often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers"...

, Samuel Barber
Samuel Barber
Samuel Osborne Barber II was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music...

, and Randall Thompson
Randall Thompson
Randall Thompson was an American composer, particularly noted for his choral works.-Career:He attended Harvard University, became assistant professor of music and choir director at Wellesley College, and received a doctorate in music from the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music...

 wrote signature American pieces. In Eastern Europe, Béla Bartók
Béla Bartók
Béla Viktor János Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century and is regarded, along with Liszt, as Hungary's greatest composer...

 and Zoltán Kodály
Zoltán Kodály
Zoltán Kodály was a Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, pedagogue, linguist, and philosopher. He is best known internationally as the creator of the Kodály Method.-Life:Born in Kecskemét, Kodály learned to play the violin as a child....

 wrote a small amount of music for choirs. Frank Martin
Frank Martin (composer)
Frank Martin was a Swiss composer, who lived a large part of his life in the Netherlands.-Childhood and youth:...

's Mass for double choir combines modality and allusion to Medieval and Renaissance forms with a distinctly modern harmonic language and has become the composer's most performed work.

The so-called holy minimalists
Holy minimalism
Holy minimalism, mystic minimalism, spiritual minimalism, or sacred minimalism are terms used to refer to a number of late-twentieth-century composers of Western classical music, whose works are distinguished by a minimalist compositional aesthetic and a distinctly religious or mystical subject...

 are represented by Arvo Pärt
Arvo Pärt
Arvo Pärt is an Estonian classical composer and one of the most prominent living composers of sacred music. Since the late 1970s, Pärt has worked in a minimalist style that employs his self-made compositional technique, tintinnabuli. His music also finds its inspiration and influence from...

, whose Johannespassion and Magnificat have received regular performances; John Tavener
John Tavener
Sir John Tavener is a British composer, best known for such religious, minimal works as "The Whale", and "Funeral Ikos"...

 (Song for Athene) and Henryk Gorecki
Henryk Górecki
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki was a composer of contemporary classical music. He studied at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice between 1955 and 1960. In 1968, he joined the faculty and rose to provost before resigning in 1979. Górecki became a leading figure of the Polish avant-garde during...

 (Totus Tuus) share this label. American minimalism and post minimalism are represented by Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Stephen Michael "Steve" Reich is an American composer who together with La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass is a pioneering composer of minimal music...

's Desert Music, choral excerpts from Philip Glass
Philip Glass
Philip Glass is an American composer. He is considered to be one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century and is widely acknowledged as a composer who has brought art music to the public .His music is often described as minimalist, along with...

's Einstein on the Beach
Einstein on the Beach
Einstein on the Beach is an opera that premiered on July 25, 1976 at the Avignon Festival in France, scored and written by Philip Glass and designed and directed by theatrical producer Robert Wilson. It also contains writings by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M. Johnson and Lucinda Childs...

and John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer
The Death of Klinghoffer
The Death of Klinghoffer is an American opera, with music by John Adams to an English-language libretto by Alice Goodman. First produced in Brussels and New York in 1991, the opera is based on the hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, and the...

, and David Lang
David Lang (composer)
David Lang is an American composer living in New York City. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music for The Little Match Girl Passion.-Biography:...

's Pulitzer Prize-winning Little Match Girl Passion.

At the turn of the 21st century, choral music has received a resurgence of interest partly due to a renewed interest in accessible choral idioms. Multi-cultural influences are found in Osvaldo Golijov
Osvaldo Golijov
Osvaldo Noé Golijov is a Grammy award–winning composer of classical music.-Biography:Osvaldo Golijov was born in and grew up in La Plata, Argentina, in a Jewish family that had emigrated to Argentina in the 1920s from Romania and Russia.Golijov has developed a rich musical language, the result of...

's St. Mark Passion, which melds the Bach-style passion form with Latin American street music, and Chen Yi
Chen Yi (composer)
Chen Yi is a Chinese composer of contemporary classical music. She was the first Chinese woman to receive a Master of Arts in music composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She is also a violinist....

's Chinese Myths Cantata melds atonal idioms with traditional Chinese melodies played on traditional Chinese instruments. Some composers began to earn their reputation based first and foremost on their choral output, including the highly popular John Rutter
John Rutter
John Milford Rutter CBE is a British composer, conductor, editor, arranger and record producer, mainly of choral music.-Biography:Born in London, Rutter was educated at Highgate School, where a fellow pupil was John Tavener. He read music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was a member of the...

 and Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre is an American composer, conductor and lecturer. He is one of the most popular and performed composers of his generation. In 2008, the all-Whitacre choral CD Cloudburst became an international best-seller, topping the classical charts and earning a Grammy nomination...

. The large scale dramatic works of Karl Jenkins
Karl Jenkins
-Other works:*Adiemus: Live — live versions of Adiemus music*Palladio *Eloise *Imagined Oceans *The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace...

 seem to hearken back to the theatricality of Orff, and the music of James MacMillan continues the tradition of boundary-pushing choral works from the United Kingdom begun by Britten, Walton, and Leighton. Meanwhile, primarily media music composers such as John Williams
John Williams
John Towner Williams is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. In a career spanning almost six decades, he has composed some of the most recognizable film scores in the history of motion pictures, including the Star Wars saga, Jaws, Superman, the Indiana Jones films, E.T...

 and Kentaro Sato
Kentaro Sato
For the manga character see Kentaro Osada., aka Ken-P, is a Los Angeles-based award-winning composer/conductor/orchestrator/clinician of media music and concert music . His works have been broadcast, performed, and recorded in North and South America, Asia, and Europe by well-known groups...

, and prominent concert orchestral composers such as Augusta Read Thomas
Augusta Read Thomas
Augusta Read Thomas is an American composer.Augusta Read Thomas was born in Glen Cove, New York. She attended The Green Vale School and later moved on to St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, and then studied composition with Jacob Druckman at Yale University and at the Royal Academy of...

, Sofia Gubaidulina
Sofia Gubaidulina
Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina, is a Russian composer of half Russian, half Tatar ethnicity.Gubaidulina's music is marked by the use of unusual instrumental combinations...

, Aaron Jay Kernis
Aaron Jay Kernis
Aaron Jay Kernis is an American composer and professor at the Yale School of Music.-Biography:Aaron Jay Kernis is Jewish, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and studied at the Manhattan School of Music, the San Francisco Conservatory, and Yale University .,Notable works include the...

, and Thomas Ades
Thomas Adès
Thomas Adès is a British composer, pianist and conductor.-Biography:Adès studied piano with Paul Berkowitz and later composition with Robert Saxton at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London...

 also contribute vital additions to the choral repertoire.

A number of traditions originating outside of classical concert music have enriched the choral repertoire as well as provided new outlets to composers:
  • At the end of the 19th century, male voice choirs became popular with the coal miners of South Wales
    South Wales
    South Wales is an area of Wales bordered by England and the Bristol Channel to the east and south, and Mid Wales and West Wales to the north and west. The most densely populated region in the south-west of the United Kingdom, it is home to around 2.1 million people and includes the capital city of...

    , and numerous choirs were established including the Treorchy Male Choir
    Treorchy Male Choir
    Treorchy Male Voice Choir is a choir based in Treorchy in the Rhondda Valley, Wales, United Kingdom.Choirs have existed in the Rhondda Valley for more than a hundred and fifty years and Treorchy is one of the best known from the area...

    , Morriston Orpheus Choir
    Morriston Orpheus Choir
    The Morriston Orpheus Choir, based in Morriston, near Swansea, Wales, is a male voice choir, one of the best-known in the UK.-History:The Choir was formed on April 23, 1935 by Ivor E. Sims and in its early days concentrated primarily on competitions and local concerts...

      and Cor Meibion Pontypridd
    Pontypridd
    Pontypridd is both a community and a principal town of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales and is situated 12 miles/19 km north of the Welsh capital city of Cardiff...

     Male voice choirs. Although the mining communities which gave rise to these choirs largely died out in the 1970s and 1980s with the decline of the Welsh coal industry, many of these choirs continue, and are seen as a traditional part of Welsh culture and perform worldwide. Not all of the choirs were based on coal – some started in the rugby clubs, such as Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir
    Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir
    Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir is a choir based at Cardiff Arms Park in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom.-History:On the 1st September 1966, following Cardiff RFC's 35-0 defeat of Cardiff & District, a group of supporters came up with idea of forming a choir to improve the standard of after-match singing...

     and Morriston Rugby Choir, while others such as Pontarddulais Male Choir
    Pontarddulais Male Choir
    The Pontarddulais Male Choir is a Welsh male voice choir from Pontarddulais near Swansea in the United Kingdom.It is the most successful choir in Wales and is internationally renowned as it has appeared in many parts of Europe as well as Canada and the United States.It has achieved a record...

     were formed out of a youth choir.

  • Black Spiritual
    Spiritual (music)
    Spirituals are religious songs which were created by enslaved African people in America.-Terminology and origin:...

    s entered the concert repertoire with the tours of the Fisk College
    Fisk University
    Fisk University is an historically black university founded in 1866 in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. The world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers started as a group of students who performed to earn enough money to save the school at a critical time of financial shortages. They toured to raise funds to...

     Jubilee Singers
    Fisk Jubilee Singers
    The Fisk Jubilee Singers are an African-American a cappella ensemble, consisting of students at Fisk University. The first group was organized in 1871 to tour and raise funds for their college. Their early repertoire consisted mostly of traditional spirituals, but included some Stephen Foster songs...

    , and arrangements of such spirituals are now part of the standard choral repertoire. Notable composers and arrangers of choral music in this tradition include William Dawson, Jester Hairston
    Jester Hairston
    Jester Joseph Hairston was an American composer, songwriter, arranger, choral conductor, and actor. His notable compositions include "Amen," a gospel-tinged theme from the film Lilies of the Field and a 1963 hit for The Impressions, and the Christmas song "Mary's Boy Child".-Early life:Hairston...

     and Moses Hogan
    Moses Hogan
    Moses George Hogan was an African-American composer and arranger of choral music. He was best known for his very popular and accessible settings of spirituals. Hogan was a pianist, conductor and arranger of international renown...

    .

  • During the mid 20th century, barbershop
    Barbershop music
    Barbershop vocal harmony, as codified during the barbershop revival era , is a style of a cappella, or unaccompanied vocal music characterized by consonant four-part chords for every melody note in a predominantly homophonic texture...

     quartets began experimenting with combining larger ensembles together into choruses which sing barbershop music in 4 parts, often with staging, choreography and costumes. The first international barbershop chorus contest was held in 1953 and continues to this day.

  • During the late 20th century, one of the major areas of growth in the choral movement has been in the areas of LGBT
    LGBT
    LGBT is an initialism that collectively refers to "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender" people. In use since the 1990s, the term "LGBT" is an adaptation of the initialism "LGB", which itself started replacing the phrase "gay community" beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s, which many within the...

     choruses. Starting around 1979, gay men's choruses were founded within a period of months in major U.S. cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Dallas. Over the last quarter century the number of such groups, men's, women's and mixed, has exploded. GALA Choruses
    GALA Choruses
    The Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses is an international association of LGBT choruses founded in 1982. Its goal is to foster artistic and organizational development within its member choruses. The association includes almost 10,000 vocalists in over 100 associated choruses singing as...

    , an associative group, now has well-over 100 member choruses throughout the world.

  • African and African American choirs have a distinct and passionate sound. They incorporate their culture into the music; have a more upbeat tempo and use traditional instruments. They are also very good at singing slow and soulful renditions.

External links

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