Amazing Grace is a Christian hymn with words written by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725-1807), published in 1779. With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, Amazing Grace is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world. In 1835 William Walker assigned Newton's words to a traditional song named "New Britain", to create the version we know today, which appeared for the first time in Walker's shape note tunebook Southern Harmony in 1847.
Franz Schubert wrote the music for an excerpt from the poem "The Lady of the Lake" by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). It has become one of Schubert's most popular works, often sung and weddings and funerals. It was also used in the last part of the 1940 Walt Disney film, "Fantasia," emerging almost seamlessly from the preceding piece, Mussorgsky's "Night on a Bald Mountain."
The aria "Erbarme dich" is from part 2 of Bach's "Matthew Passion," a dramatic work describing the last days of Christ. It is one of the most important works of Western music. The aria is the emotional heart of the piece, a musical depiction of the agony of Peter after denying Christ three times. The soloist duets with an obligato solo violin, Yehudi Menuhin calling the instrumental line “the most beautiful piece of music ever written for the violin.”
"Go Down Moses" is an American Negro spiritual. It describes events in the Old Testament of the Bible, specifically Exodus 7:26: "And the Lord spoke unto Moses, go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, thus saith the Lord, Let my people go, that they may serve me", in which God commands Moses to demand the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. In the song "Israel" represents the African-American slaves while "Egypt" and "Pharaoh" represent the slavemaster.
Lacrimosa, meaning 'weeping' is the last section of the Dies Irae sequence from Mozart's Requiem. A Requiem or Requiem Mass, is a rite usually performed at a funeral. It contains some of the last bars of music penned by the composer and, appropriatelly, was used in the film 'Amadeus' to accompany the composer's burial.
Franck's serene "Panis Angelicus" is a movement from his Messe à 3 voix, written when he was organist at the Parisian church of Ste. Clothilde. The whole mass was written over a number of years, this movement appearing in 1872. "Panis Angelicus" was originally written for tenor voice, but its popularity has led to it being arranged for many different solo voices, instruments and ensembles.
"Pie Jesu" is the fourth movement of Faure's Requiem. A Requiem is a mass for the dead, sung at funerals. Traditionally these settings, for example those by Mozart and Verdi, emphasise the sorrowful nature of their subject matter. Faure's Requiem is unusual in that it emphasises peacefulness and acceptance of death. The beautiful "Pie Jesu," in which a solo soprano sings a prayer for everlasting rest, exemplifies this.
"Deep River" is an anonymous spiritual of African American origin. It has been sung in several films, including the 1929 film version of Show Boat, although it was not used in the original show. The melody was also adapted into the popular song "Dear Old Southland", in 1921. Deep River is sung as the closing spiritual in Michael Tippett's oratorio, A Child of Our Time.
Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana ("Rustic Chivalry"), premiered in 1890, is the story of Turiddu, who on return from military service discovers his betrothed, Lola, is married to another, Alfio. In exacting revenge by seducing Santuzza, he leaves her (Santuzza) heartbroken. The famous Intermezzo is played after a tense encounter between the main protagonists and as the villagers are inside a church worshipping.
Berlioz's "The Shepherds Farewell" started life as an organ work for his friend Joseph-Louis Duc. On turning it into a choral work in 1850 he was gratified to find that many who disliked his music praised it. This encouraged him to add further movements, the work eventually becoming part of the larger "L'enfance du Christ" ("The Childhood of Christ"). That work is often performed at Christmas, but the delightful "Shepherds Farewell" remains the most popular part of it, often extracted and performed alone.
Gabriel Fauré's "Cantique de Jean Racine", Op. 11, ia a setting of the text, "Verbe égal au Très-Haut" ("Word, one with the Highest"), a French paraphrase by Jean Racine of a Latin hymn. Fauré set the text in 1864–65 at the age of 19 for a composition competition at the École Niedermeyer de Paris. It won him first prize. The work remains one of the most well-known by the composer. Its refined and dignified style makes it something of a precursor to his Requiem, the two works, indeed, often being performed together.
"Ave verum corpus" is a short Eucharistic hymn that has been set to music by various composers. It dates from the 14th century and has been attributed to Pope Innocent VI. Mozart's setting was written in 1791, just six months before his death. Though it foreshadows some aspects of his Requiem, a work left unfinished at his death, its sentiments are more simply expressed. It is a popular work amongst both amateur and professional choirs.
Mozart's "Laudate Dominum" is the fifth momevement of his Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K.339, written in 1780 for liturgical use at Salzburg Cathedral. A work of crystalline perfection, it is one of the most beautiful arias the composer wrote, a fact reflected in its enduring popularity—the movement often being performed separately from the rest of the work.
Allegri's sublime "Miserere Mei, Deus" ("Have mercy on me, O God") is a setting of Psalm 51 composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for the exclusive use of the Sistine Chapel. Its exclusivity meant that copies of the score were not available outside the confines of the Sistine Chapel, with the result that a number of musicians attempted to make transcriptions of the work by ear. The most famous of these were by Mendelssohn, Liszt and Mozart. Mozart was said to have written down the piece after hearing it just once, though doubts remain about the veracity of this story. The ban on the work's reproduction was eventually lifted, it becoming one of the most frequently recorded Renaissance pieces. One of the most famous of these performances was in English by the choir of King's College Cambridge, the celebrated solo line, with its difficult top-C, sung with apparent effortlessness by treble Roy Goodman.