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Too scrupulously perhaps. A single voice singing this song would make of it a weak affair; it also seems reasonable to suppose that such a subject as the ‘great Halleluja’ implies the use of a chorus. The existence of Schlachtgesang, another Klopstock setting from June 1816, and obviously choral, reinforces this notion. The music is marked ‘Feierlich’, and as so often in his settings of eighteenth-century poets, the composer summons the solemn musical ghosts of the past to suggest old music. The setting is firmly based on the portentous ‘walking basses’ of a composer like C P E Bach whose own lieder settings of Klopstock were famous and probably well-known to Schubert. (Not surprisingly, Schubert easily outdoes Bach fils in the broad sweep of the music, and in harmonic subtlety.) Mozart was also capable of writing in the ‘antique’ style when he wanted to depict ceremonial and age-old tradition. As we listen to Das grosse Halleluja, with its solemn melody sustained over a pacing bass line, we can hear Schubert’s admiration for the contrapuntal music of the two armed guards in the second act of Die Zauberflöte.
The Mozartean connection is another reason why in this recording we have opted – pace Diabelli – for a five-voice male, rather than female, chorus. The grandeur of the poem suggests a weightier sound than could be provided by women’s voices in this vocal range. Male voices sound an octave lower than written, and are thus heard in the same tessitura as the left-hand accompaniment. The right-hand chords in the piano sound an octave higher than the singers instead of simply doubling them at pitch. The musical texture is thus much richer than it might seem on the printed page. The close part-writing between tenors, baritones and bass (five singers in all) adds to the impression of an imposing wall of stentorian sound, thoroughly appropriate to the idea of a paean of God-fearing praise. The supporting bass line, ceaselessly inventive and always on the move, propels the music forward and is the secret of its vigour. If this line had been remotely singable (and it is not) it might have seemed that Schubert’s autograph was a short score for four-part chorus. Because matters are not as simple as that, care was taken to allocate our five available voices to two, three and occasionally four parts in the most effective way for the singers concerned.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999
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