Saturday, December 10, 2011

That certain “Je ne sais quois” ― CONCORA and "Christmas Through the Ages"

Last night, in CONCORA’s last-but-one rehearsal for our upcoming performances of “Christmas Through the Ages,” we sang through the “Hymne à la Vierge” quite beautifully. As we sang, I couldn’t help but feel the very French-ness of the poem by Roland Bouhéret and the lush, sensuous setting by Pierre Villette (1926-1998).

Even to a listener who doesn’t know much about music, the sound of “Hymne à la Vierge” is undeniably French. This music could not possibly be heard as anything but French. It’s inconceivable that this lovely little prayer could have come from the pen of any of Villette’s contemporaries, such as Ned Rorem (American, b. 1923), Gunther Schuller (American, b. 1925), Morton Feldman (American, b. 1926), Carlisle Floyd (American, b. 1926), or Thea Musgrave (Scottish, b. 1928).

But what makes it sound so French? After the rehearsal, I put the question to one of my CONCORA colleagues, and he agreed that yes, the music is utterly French, but he also could not articulate why it is so. The chromaticism, yes, but what exactly about it? The augmented chords, the added 9ths and 11ths? I don't know. Je ne sais pas.

Well, come hear it for yourself and see what you think. Scroll down to find details on the concert location and time.

And if you can’t be in Hartford tomorrow (December 11), we’ll be repeating the program on December 16 in Hampton and December 22 in Norfolk.

Here’s my program note for this lovely music.


A quiet, introspective joy is expressed in “Hymne à la Vierge” (“Hymn to the Virgin”) a 1954 setting by French composer Pierre Villette (1926-1998) of a poem by Roland Bouhéret. Villette’s music ― mostly small-scale, mystical, and richly harmonic ― was mostly overlooked during the turbulent years of avant-garde musical experimentation in the mid-20th century, but is now enjoying renewed attention. His affinity for Gregorian chant is evident in the long-arching melodic lines, while rich, jazz-infused chromatic harmonies have inspired admirers to describe his choral works as “ravishing,” “spiritual and sensual” and “an intriguing combination of chaste simplicity and rapt ecstasy.”


Do come to the concert to hear this, and other songs of “Christmas Through the Ages.”

You can read all my posts about CONCORA’s Christmas programs, including lots more information about this upcoming concert, and a listing of all the selections on the program, here:

CONCORA presents “Christmas Through the Ages”
Richard Coffey, Artistic Director and Conductor
TOMORROW! Sunday, December 11, 2011, 4:00 p.m.
Center Church, 60 Gold Street, Hartford, Connecticut
Snow date: Monday, December 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Information: or 860-293-0567

Two additional performances!

Friday, December 16, 8:00 p.m.
Hampton Congregational Church, 163 Main Street, Hampton, Connecticut
Information: or 860-293-0567

Thursday, December 22, 8:00 p.m.
Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, Route 44, Norfolk, Connecticut
Information, Tickets, and Directions: or 866-666-6306

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