Benjamin Britten

Te Deum, for trumpet, chorus & organ in C major

    Description by Jeremy Grimshaw

    Te Deum, an expansive, elegiac work for SATB chorus, organ, and optional trumpet, counts among Benjamin Britten's earliest works. Composed in 1934 (when the composer was barely 21 years old), the work emerged just as the precocious composer was gaining acclaim both at home and abroad, and it demonstrates the qualities that his early audiences found so appealing. Though not among Britten's most complicated scores (having been written for performance at St. Mark's Church in London), it exemplifies the composer's gift for lucid but innovative harmonies, expressive nuance, and dynamic choral textures. One immediately notices in this piece how frequently Britten's textures shift and how each gesture is attuned to the text it conveys. Britten rarely settles into a pattern for long and avoids fitting the Te Deum text (sung in English, proper to the Anglican service) to a preconceived musical mold. Rather, the music continually adjusts to the phonetic and semantic contours of the words. The opening of the piece assembles itself slowly, with quiet, imitative lines that gradually come into focus and grow in intensity above a distinctive organ countermelody, while, as is characteristic of Britten, the natural declamation of the text dictates the flow and rhythm of the melody. This crests as "Cherubim and Serpahim," in a series of pointed chordal articulations, exclaim "Holy! Holy! Holy!" The subsequent passages employ a technique used extensively in Britten's later choral music and operas, extracting key words from the sequence of the text -- in this case, the recurring phrase "praise Thee" -- adorning them with long melismas and overlapping them onto the remaining lines of verse. A similar effect is used during the soprano's extended solo, underscored by choral reiterations. Shifts of character happen with an exhilarating unexpectedness, such as the moment where, after uttering the names of the Godhead in strong, stately unison, the choir intones the word "Comforter" with suddenly lush, languorous harmonies that winnow to a whisper. Elsewhere, Britten pulls the listener in the opposite direction, when the tight articulations and see-saw leaps on the phrase "Day by day we magnify thee" are interrupted by a pause, then answered with a dazzling, sustained polytonal harmony on "and we worship thy name...." The piece ends almost as it began, with echoes of the organ countermelody and imitative contrapuntal vocal textures that slowly settle into the hushed sustenance of the final chord.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2013 Delphian DCD 34133
    2013 Regent REG 349
    2013 EMI Classics 151565
    2013 Decca 4785364
    2013 Novum NCR 1386
    2013 Coro CRO 16107
    2012 Hyperion CDH 55436
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921752
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 5627962
    2006 Priory Records PRCD 934
    2005 Hyperion 67557
    2004 Sanctuary 3007
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 62797
    2004 Pro Organo 7174
    2003 Coro 16006
    2002 Griffin / Griffin / Griffin & Co. 3001
    2002 Arsis Audio 134
    2000 Naxos 554791
    2000 NWM 013
    2000 Naxos 8 555303
    2000 Griffin 4017
    1999 Collins Records 13432
    1998 Chandos 9598
    1998 Guild 7147
    1997 Hyperion 66916
    1996 Chesky CHESKYCD 138
    1996 Aca Digital 20039
    1995 Hyperion 66825
    1995 Guild 7102
    1995 Carlton 00422
    1994 Priory Records 470
    1991 Koch International Classics 37030-2
    1989 ASV CDQS6030
    Saga Classics 3385
    Gothic Records 49071