Listening to Britten – Venite Exultemus Domino


Window at Wimborne Priory. Photo (c) Ben Hogwood

Venite Exultemus Domino for choir (SATB) and organ (February 1961, Britten aged 47)

Dedication not known, but likely to be written for St George’s Chapel, Windsor, at the request of H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh
Text Psalm 95 (The Book of Common Prayer: Morning Prayer)
Language English
Duration 3′

Background and Critical Reception

The Venite is part of Britten’s larger-scale plan to write a whole service for the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, but unfortunately this was as far as he got.

It was completed in the same month as its more famous companion, the Jubilate Deo, but was not published in Britten’s life time, and is in fact the last sacred work – in terms of setting a purely sacred text – that the composer completed.

Thoughts

Britten’s shorter sacred pieces are incredibly well written, and it is no wonder they are popular with choirs, as they demonstrate some of his more theatrical word-setting prowess while at the same time remaining very true to the spirit of the church service. This indicates that although he was not a regular church-goer he still held certain values of the Anglican service very close to his heart.

The Venite is largely homophonic, moving step by step, with the choir singing in a reverent style that draws from plainchant but uses slightly more chromatic harmonies. The organ part provides a sonorous backdrop.

Recordings used

Choir of New College Oxford / Edward Higginbottom, Stephen Grahl (organ) (Novum)

Higginbottom and his charges seem to have the measure of Britten’s sacred music and its bold word settings. Their Venite is tenderly sung, with a warm organ sound that complements the choir nicely.

Spotify

The only version available on Spotify is from the Choir of New College Oxford, conducted by Edward Higginbottom here.

Also written in 1961: Ligeti – Atmosphères

Next up: War Requiem, Op.66

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