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CBC Radio 2's Choral Concert wants to build a list of the top 10 motets, and we need your suggestions. Peter Togni starts the list with Franz Biebl's Ave Maria. What's your top pick? 

The official definition of a motet, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “A polyphonic composition based on a sacred text and usually sung without accompaniment.”

The motet is one of those forms that composers love, because a definition like this doesn’t impose many restrictions on their musical inspiration. It’s open to loose interpretation and almost anything goes. Well, anything that is both vocal and religious, that is. In the baroque era, composers wrote a lot of motets, and even back then you could use free poetry if you weren't inspired by anything biblical.

One of the world’s best known motets is Ave Maria by Franz Biebl. Biebl was a German composer who died in 2001. For a contemporary composer his music sounds surprisingly like it belongs in the 19th century. His Ave Maria is a beautiful piece that took root in North America back in 1970. It all started with the Cornell University Glee Club. The ensemble met Biebl while on tour in Germany, during a recording session at a radio network where Biebl was music director. The club’s conductor Thomas A. Sokol, was given a number of Biebl's works and the club started performing them after returning home. It was Ave Maria that was an immediate hit.

Since then, performances of Biebl’s Ave Maria have spread across the world. A YouTube search came up with 170 different versions. Here’s my favourite of those versions, a performance by Cantata Venlo, an all-women choir from the Netherlands. Beautiful.



There are lots of motets to choose from: Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus, William Byrd’s Ave Verum, the Allegri Miserere, just to name a few. Which motet tops your list? Let us know in the comments below, or send an email to classical@cbc.ca. We'll publish the list here at CBC Music, and we'll play your choices on Choral Concert in the weeks to come.

Related Links:

Listen to Allegri's Miserere at the Sistine Chapel

William Byrd's Ave Verum

Choral Concert

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Choral Concert collects top 10 motets

CBC Radio 2's Choral Concert wants to build a list of the top 10 motets, and we need your suggestions…

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Robert Rowat
#1 posted by
Robert Rowat
on Mar 02, 2012
I cast my vote for Anton Bruckner's 8-part motet Os justi meditabitur sapientiam. I love the way it goes from quietly meditative to explosively ecstatic within the first 20 seconds of the piece. It's a challenging piece for choirs to sing... tends to go out of tune. But when it's done well, it's awesome.
Kelly Rice
#2 posted by
Kelly Rice
on Mar 02, 2012

My fav is Healey Willan's Rise up my love my fair one, especially as it snows here on a grey March afternoon.  Dreams of spring!

dansk66
#3 posted by
dansk66
on Mar 02, 2012

How about Janet Cardiff's Forty-Part Motet now playing at th National Gallery of Canada.It is based on Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium. It's on until March 25th in the reconstructed Rideau Chapel in the Gallery.

Kelly Rice
#4 posted by
Kelly Rice
on Mar 02, 2012

dansk 66 is oh so right!  Forty-Part Motet is an extremely moving experience.  If you're in Ottawa, GO! 

chantelvdveen
#5 posted by
chantelvdveen
on Mar 03, 2012

I love Crucifixus by Lotti, and Remember Not Lord Our Offences by Purcell.

Diminuendo
#6 posted by
Diminuendo
on Mar 03, 2012

Ubi caritas by Maurice Duruflé should be on your top 10 motet list. Nice harmonies.

nancy62
#7 posted by
nancy62
on Mar 03, 2012

I vote for 'Ave verum corpus' by Mozart.

margaretm
#8 posted by
margaretm
on Mar 03, 2012

One of my favourite motets is Timor et Tremor (Poulenc)

Bramble
#9 posted by
Bramble
on Mar 03, 2012

'O sacrum convivium' by Olivier Messiaen is my vote. Certianly the most etherial motet I know.

Mister Dust
#10 posted by
Mister Dust
on Mar 03, 2012

Rheinberger's Four Motets are delicious, especially the second one, Meditabor.

Mister Dust
#11 posted by
Mister Dust
on Mar 03, 2012

I also suggest Ave Verum Corpus by the Canadian composer Stephanie Martin.

Matthew Baird
#12 posted by
Matthew Baird
on Mar 03, 2012

How about William Harris's Faire is the Heaven? An eight part double choir motet that always challenges choristers with its colourful modulations. I remember singing this in the Chapel Choir at Wifrid Laurier University - it always had the sense of being a  "stretch height" on high jump of choral singing. Old school - but still cool,  especially when you're performing it.

M

Catherine McClelland
#13 posted by
Catherine McClelland
on Mar 03, 2012

Absalon fili mi by Josquin des Prez (or more likely by someone else I find out) is one of the first renaissance pieces that really moved me as a student.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXqQ_GEljlw 

PeterGG
#14 posted by
PeterGG
on Mar 04, 2012

A 3 minute gem: Libera nos, salva nos I (1st setting), Trinity Sunday matins antiphon by John Sheppard. Runner up: Duruflé's Ubi caritas.

Hesper
#15 posted by
Hesper
on Mar 04, 2012

My favourite motet is Victoria’s “Ave Maria”.  The Rome Baroque Festival 2009 version(Michele Gasbarro) is excellent.

FredS
#16 posted by
FredS
on Mar 04, 2012

I'm partial to Durufle's Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op. 10, No. 1: Ubi caritas. A 20th century take on an old music form. Just great.

michaelbj
#17 posted by
michaelbj
on Mar 04, 2012

A huge favourite is the "Ave Verum Corpus" by Elgar, seconded by C.V. Stanford's "Beati Quorum..." and Vaughn William's "O taste and see"..and al,most anything by Orlando Gibbons!

divadrea
#18 posted by
divadrea
on Mar 04, 2012

I have to say the earlier, the better.  In other words, anything by di Lassus, Byrd, Tallis, etc.  But I will name 2 that come to mind.  The first being Orlando di Lassus' motet for 8 voices, "Osculetur me Osculo and Byrd's "Optimum partem elegit".  Both are wonderful to sing and to listen to.  The wash of sound that envelops one's senses is phenomenal - as a listener and performer of course!

Teatr Korzenie
#19 posted by
Teatr Korzenie
on Mar 04, 2012

Tallis' "Spem in Alium" is one of my favourites. 

mhsettelen@gmail.com
#20 posted by
mhsettelen@gmail.com
on Mar 05, 2012

Would Hildegard von Bingen be the First Lady of Motet?

Bailsohay
#21 posted by
Bailsohay
on Mar 06, 2012

Various settings of O Magnum Mysterium by Lauridsen, Poulenc and Vittoria.

Bailsohay
#22 posted by
Bailsohay
on Mar 06, 2012

Also, Alleluia by Randall Thompson.

ChoralFan
#23 posted by
ChoralFan
on Mar 06, 2012

I see some of my personal favourites already mentioned - Durufle's Ubi Caritas, Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, Mozart's Ave verum corpus, Lotti's Crucifixus - and Os justi by Bruckner. I'm going to vote for Os justi I think!  My choir Laudate Singers will perform it in their Organic Voices this Saturday so yay!  www.laudatesingers.com if you're interested!

Kelly Rice
#24 posted by
Kelly Rice
on Mar 07, 2012

Here are three motets by Healey Willan, as sung by the Renaissance Singers of Montreal, a radio broadcast choir active in the 60's.

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