A Composer's Notepad ::

A little about the Festive Voluntary

Christmastide is a season meant for joy. For those who celebrate Christmas for what it is the Feast of the Nativity this holiday is not simply joyful, it is itself the source of life-affirming Joy.

I wrote this piece for an organist I know whose practice it is to hire a brass quintet to take part in the musical portions of the service on the Sunday before Christmas Day. I did not specifically tailor it to the Christmas season, but sought to compose a piece of a character suited to festive occasions, including Christmas.

It's hard to get to the guts of this, but there is a question of what art says, something distinct from the style of a given piece, or from questions of how it is made although the way in which art is made is always capable of interfering with what is (or ought to be) said.

A related question is, the understanding a composer has of his music, and how that communicates (or fails to communicate) with how the audience understands his music.

Once, when the piece was in rehearsal in Boston, I was told that a musician who came by chance to the back of the rehearsal space heard the Festive Voluntary, and (as musicians are wont to do) he played "Guess the Composer" ... and he couldn't decide between [some new composer he didn't know], and the German Baroque composer Schütz.

Really, it is an ambiguity I am pleased to have contributed to.

Karl Henning
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