Music 124A: Composition for Large Ensemble

Topic for Spring 1999: Chorus and Orchestra

Students: scores will be available in the bookstore by Tuesday, April 13. In the meantime I will provide xerox copies of excerpts.


  • G.F. Handel, Israel in Egypt, (Dover Publ.).
  • G. Verdi, Requiem, (Dover).
  • G. Mahler, Symphony No. 2, (Dover Thrift).
  • There will also be excerpts from Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, Walton's Belshazzer's Feast, Kodaly's Missa Brevis, etc.

  • The course will concentrate on developing compositional techniques for the combined forces of chorus and orchestra. Below are the important deadines and the various subdivisions of topics:


  • Week of April 26-28 is the deadline for the selection and layout of the text of the project.
  • May 26 is the deadline for the completion of score and parts for final review.
  • 10th week of class (June 7-9) is when the readings will occur.
    June 7-8 will be separate readings for the chorus and orchestra.
    June 9 will be the combined reading at 3 PM.

  • Topics to be covered (not necessarily in this order):

  • Musical space and voices.
    Making sure the voice is heard.
    The space of the chorus and soloists vs. the space of orchestral subgroups.
    Working with tutti passages.
  • Text setting.
    Vowels, consonants, and idiomatic treatment.
    Tessitura as a dramatic device.
    Dramatic word painting.
    Descriptive effects.
  • Text and subtext.
    Direct and implied meanings.
    Referential writing and stylistic parody.
  • The solo voice.
    Differences in vocal technique.
    How soloists are combined with chorus.
    Solo ensembles alone and with chorus.
  • The nature of the accompaniment.
    Simple support.
    Complex layers.
  • Homophonic choral textures.
    Spacing inside the group itself.
    A Cappella chorus as contrast.
  • Polyphony.
    Traditional fugal and canonic techniques.
    Dramatic complexes.
    Contrasting textures with soloists.
  • Various modes of doubling with the instruments.
    Simple and selective unison doubling.
    Registral and obbligato effects.
  • Complex textures.
    Setting up the dramatic premises of the piece.
    General pacing of the various forces.
    Chorus in opera.

  • The project itself could be an extended work from which excerpts will be read, or a series of excerpts. Probably, the total time which could be learned by the groups would not exceed 10-15 minutes. If soloists are used, students will be responsible for contacting and rehearsing them.

    Updated: April 3, 1999.