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Thread: When did composers start writing sacred choral music for mixed SATB choruses?

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    Default When did composers start writing sacred choral music for mixed SATB choruses?

    Choral sacred music moved out of the church and into the concert halls. Somewhere in there some brave person decided that women and men should sing together in chorus. Does anyone know who that person might have been? And when?

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    Senior Member RICK RIEKERT's Avatar
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    The mixed chorus - a choir of both men and women - was first established in the eighteeth century. Established choral groups existed only for religious music, but mixed choral groups could be found earlier in occasional secular court festivals and in opera, which grew out of such festivities. Whether brave or not, an early supporter of mixed choruses in sacred music was French composer Michel-Richard Delalande, who was sous-maître and later maître at Sainte-Chapelle (1714-1728); his wife and daughters sang there professionally as early as 1683 and appeared (one per part) in ensemble portions of sacred cantatas and staged operas. In England Roger North (1653-1734) began to publish articles that enthusiastically supported the idea of women choristers both in church and on the opera stage (“after the French manner”). By 1754-1757, Friedrich Marpurg reported women singing in the chapels of Gotha, Dresden, Mannheim, Paris (both the Opéra and the Concerts Spirituels), and in the Schwarzburg-Rudolfstadt Chapel. Judith (1773) by Thomas Arne was the first oratorio performed in London with a female chorus: the women sang soprano parts only, alongside male altos. London newspapers first reported seeing and hearing women in the Drury-Lane oratorios during the 1778 season. The huge 1784 Westminster Abbey Handel Commemoration Festival included forty-five male altos, listed as “counter-tenors,” with six professional female sopranos sitting in front of fifty-three boy trebles.

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    This post is not an answer to the question you're asking, but I couldn't resist.

    There's a lot of music from the C12 and C13 century written for Cistercian nuns. And we know that the order insisted that women were sealed off from men. However we also know that the nuns used to leave a window open so the monks could hear them sing.

    What I like to think, in my imagination, is that they joined forces. That they sang an antiphon maybe, a beautiful summer's day in Troyes, the windows flung open wide, neither choir able to see the other.

    Who knows, maybe some of them even fell in love that way.

    That's just in my head
    Last edited by Mandryka; Feb-03-2020 at 17:19.

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    Senior Member RICK RIEKERT's Avatar
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    During the fourteenth century the canonesses of the convent at the monastery of Klosterneuberg near Vienna, which was a double foundation with a larger male convent and a separate, more cloistered space for the nuns, were repeatedly censured apparently for allowing the monks and nuns to interact and yes, even sing together and perform the Visitatio Sepulchri, during processions on certain days of the Church year!

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    Senior Member Dorsetmike's Avatar
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    Earliest I could put a name to would be Thomas Tallis in the 1500s, Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 among other works. Probably others.
    I'm like my avatar .................. a local ruin

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    Senior Member RICK RIEKERT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dorsetmike View Post
    Earliest I could put a name to would be Thomas Tallis in the 1500s, Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 among other works. Probably others.
    Tallis and Monteverdi employed only boys and men. The four voice types (the four standard Renaissance voice types) were:
    Top voice – boy, soprano, falsettist (countertenors) or castrato.
    Alto – not a countertenor but a light high tenor. F below middle C to the A above it. (At modern pitch, female altos and falsettists find this very low.)
    Tenor – the normal adult male voice. Baritenor is a good term. Average parts in standard Renaissance polyphony cover the C below middle C to the F above it.
    Bass – a bottom F to middle C. Monteverdi writes extensions at both ends.

    Of course the actual pitch these would have been singing at in a particular center would have varied but probably not by very much, given the physical limitations of voices.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RICK RIEKERT View Post
    During the fourteenth century the canonesses of the convent at the monastery of Klosterneuberg near Vienna, which was a double foundation with a larger male convent and a separate, more cloistered space for the nuns, were repeatedly censured apparently for allowing the monks and nuns to interact and yes, even sing together and perform the Visitatio Sepulchri, during processions on certain days of the Church year!
    SO interesting! The transition appears to have occurred in the 1750s and was as much a function of choice of tonality as anything. Choruses with male altos (!) still used female sopranos rather than boys, falsetti or castrati for the depth of tone a full-grown woman can produce. What I am looking for is the first composer who wrote soprano and alto parts specifically for female voices. But I love the Klosterneuberg story; can't you just see it?

    Also I just saw your new entry and I thank you for clarifying the voices by range. Though I must say my alto (mezzo soprano) range is just about what you say is considered low. Not by me!

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