Composition Notebook: January 2015

Subject: SATB + descant harmonization of Ecce, Deus by Alfred E. Fedak.

Interestingly, I did not first encounter this hymn tune in its original form. Instead, the music was set to a different text (“Mary Heard the Angel’s Blessing”) and published in Voices, Found, a supplemental hymnal that focuses on texts written by women.

I gravitated to this piece because we elected to sing it in Advent, and it was in a minor key. Personally, I love minor key Advent/Christmas music, and also really loved the 3/4 lilt of this relatively simple tune.

Much like my previous arrangement, I was afforded the luxury of an existing harmonization. As written, the tune has a melody line and a fairly basic piano/organ accompaniment that included a few small bits of ornamentation. Here it is in its original form:

I did feel it necessary to bump the composition up a half step, from E minor to F minor. Giving the sopranos a low B to sing seemed unnecessary when there was still some headroom in the upper registers.

I started off with just a simple SATB arrangement, incorporating the chord tones into the lower voices and using voice leading to smooth out the lines. I retained almost all of the ornamentation that was present in the original instrumental part to keep it interesting. Here’s how it ended up:

After that, I decided to add a descant line. To date, I haven’t found a text for this tune that really calls out for a descant, but I did want to try making one anyway. Adding this was kind of fun, trying to soar a bit above the soprano line while adding some sparkle. In one section I do allow the descant to dip briefly below the melody:

Having done the voice leading, I was unsure whether to keep it unaccompanied or add back the accompaniment. In the end I compromised, and put an extremely simple accompaniment back in that could easily be dropped:

Looking back at my work a few months (and classes) later, I see that I did make quite a number of errors: several parallel 5ths and octaves, overuse of the second inversion, etc.

To address this, I have worked up an alternate SATB arrangement that adheres to more of the standard rules. I’ll post a follow-up to this entry once it is complete.

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