I have listened to and sung quite a few of John Rutter’s works, so for this part of my research I listened to two composers I wasn’t previously familiar with.
Eric Whitacre: Cloudburst (2008)
What struck me the most about this very evocative piece from the beginning was the harmony – Whitacre uses lots of close harmonies, unresolved suspensions and also even tone clusters, which are technically dissonances but don’t sound unpleasant in the context of the soft choral lines. I like the contrast between the held chords and simultaneously spoken lines in which the consonants (particularly the s’s) are very clearly audible. Around six minutes into the piece, percussion instruments are introduced – the backdrop of suspended cymbals and wind chimes creates an atmospheric and almost magical sound before a very effective thunder clap; finger snaps and claps are then used to create the illusion of raindrops which works remarkably well. This style of composing is known as aleatoric, as each performance is inevitably slightly different.
Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium (1994)
Interestingly, I found this on Spotify on an album entitled ‘So you think you don’t like classical music?’, alongside composers such as Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninov, and also coincidentally Eric Whitacre. This style of contemporary music is certainly one of the most accessible. This particular piece for unaccompanied choir has a gentle feel, appropriate for the religious text it is a setting of. The vocal lines move slowly and often together in a chordal style. Dissonances are carefully placed and then resolved, which heightens the intensity of the music.