My Monday Music selections are usually compositions from the treasury of Catholic sacred music, some of them centuries old. There are still some composers even today, however, who are composing music worthy of that tradition. A couple months ago I posted a setting to the “Te Deum” by Pedro Camacho. The words to the hymn go back to the earliest centuries of the Church, the music premiered less than two years (Camacho has also composed music for video games: a guy has to make a living, I suppose . . . )

Ola Gjeilo playing piano

      Another promising recent composer is the Norwegian-born Ola Gjeilo, who is very recent indeed, having been born in 1978, the same year St. John Paul II was elevated to the Papacy.  I can’t tell from the biographical information I’ve seen whether or not he is a believer, or whether he simply finds the Christian (particularly the Catholic) tradition a particularly rich vein to mine for musical inspiration. Whatever the reason, religious music has been a large part of his output to date: he has composed a Mass, for instance, a breath-taking “Sanctus”, and his own musical setting for the ancient hymn “Ubi Caritas”.

 The piece below is called “Dark Night of the Soul”, a musical accompaniment to several verses from St. John of the Cross’ work of that name.  The musical composition premiered in 2010. Gjeilo says that, when he was introduced to St. John’s text, “I fell in love with its passionate spirituality right away.”  He adds that, musically, “One of the things I wanted to do in this piece was to make the choir and piano fairly equal, as if in a dialogue; often the piano is accompanying the choir, but sometimes the choir is accompanying the piano (or violin).”

The Ensemble of the Chancel Choir performs Gjeilo’s composition in the clip below.  I have posted the words under the video.

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
—ah, the sheer grace!—
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
—ah, the sheer grace!—
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.
On that glad night, in secret,
for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

– St. John of the Cross (1542-1592)

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