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Choral Composers

William Byrd

January 01, 1540 - July 04, 1623

Born in England

William Byrd is considered one of the most important English composer who lived and worked during the sixteenth century. He wrote in a variety of genres, both sacred and secular music, and both vocal and instrumental music. It is believed that he was the student of the famous composer Thomas Tallis with whom he shared exclusive rights to print and publish music in England. Though he was Catholic, Byrd served the Church of England as both an organist and choirmaster.


Orlando de Lassus

January 01, 1532 - June 14, 1594

Born in Belgium

Orlando de Lassus is a composer who lived and worked during the Renaissance period. Little is known about his family and education, but we do know that he adopted Italian styles while serving patrons in Italy as a young man. He wrote many different genres of music, and even published books with his music while still in his twenties. In 1556, Lassus began to serve under Duke Albrecht V in Munich and eventually was given the role of choirmaster. Over the course of his life, Lassus wrote more than 2,000 pieces of music. He was known and respected across Europe.


Josquin de Prez

January 01, 1450 - August 27, 1521

Born in Belgium

Josquin de Prez is considered the greatest composer of his time. Known for his motets, masses, and songs, he worked in several important positions at courts and churches in both France and Italy. One trait he became known for was his ability to convey the images and emotions expressed in a text musically. Many details of his life are unknown, but we do know that he held a high reputation during his lifetime that remains today.


Guillaume Du Fay

August 13, 1397 - November 27, 1474

Born in Belgium

Guillaume Du Fay is considered the greatest composer of his time. Though most of his career he spent working in France and Italy, he also traveled widely, contributing to his international style. On many of his sojourns, Du Fay would meet other composers or be exposed to a variety of styles in different nations. He then would travel home and work to incorporate these styles into his own music. Du Fay was known to write in any genre and was known and loved throughout Europe.


Carlo Gesualdo

March 08, 1561 - September 08, 1613

Born in Italy

Carlo Gesualdo was the Prince of Venosa and a well-known Renaissance composer. At that time, aristocrats did not typically seek to publish their music as this trade was usually associated with those of lower classes. Gesualdo is known particularly for his madrigals. A madrigal during the sixteenth century was a short secular piece for any number of equally important voices that used free form poetry as its text. One key feature of the madrigal was the use of music to enhance the meaning of the text. Many madrigal composers, including Gesualdo, would use word painting. This is a musical term used to describe music that literally represents a text. For instance, if a text talks about climbing stairs, the musical line will move up with the stairs.

Many believe Gesulado was ahead of his time in the way he dealt with harmonies. Some believe his last two books of madrigals to be autobiographical in that they convey a sorrowful mood and the pain he likely experienced in life due to unhappy marriages and various ailments.


Orlando Gibbons

December 25, 1583 - June 05, 1625

Born in England

Orlando Gibbons was one of the most popular composers for church music during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He also was an organist, and wrote quite a few impressive works for the organ. Raised in a musical family, it is likely that he received his first music lessons from his older brother. In 1596 he joined the King's College Choir at Cambridge and served there for a few years. In the early 1600s, he was appointed organist at Chapel Royal. Many considered him to be the greatest organist in all of England! In 1619, he was appointed the important post of Musician for the Virginals. In 1623, he added organist at Westminster Abbey to his list of accomplishments. Sadly, Orlando Gibbons died suddenly in 1625. He was only 42.


Moses Hogan

March 13, 1957 - February 11, 2003

Modern Period

Born in United States

Moses Hogan was an American pianist, conductor, and arranger. Most known for his work with African-American spirituals, he studied at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Juilliard School of Music.


Morten Lauridsen

February 27, 1943 - --

Modern Period

Born in United States

A recipient of the National Medal of Arts in 2007 and a long-time professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, Morten Lauridsen worked as a Forest Service firefighter and lookout near Mt. St. Helens prior to his decision to study composition at USC. When not teaching, Lauridsen spends his summers on Waldron Island off the coast of Washington state in the San Juan Archipelago. He enjoys a simple life there in his home that is a converted general store purchased in 1975. At that time, he brought a $50 piano with him over in a boat. It was on this piano that he has written some of his masterpieces! Lauridsen loves the sea and the serenity that he gets during his time on Waldron Island. It's these moments of quiet contemplation that provide what he needs to write the beautiful, peaceful music that so many of his listeners enjoy.

Lauridsen is quite diverse in his approach to composition. While some of his works are more traditional with references to Gregorian chant or Renaissance music, other pieces sound more contemporary and have atonal elements. He loves setting texts to music and especially enjoys writing cycles on universal themes.


Claudio Monteverdi

May 15, 1567 - November 29, 1643

Born in Italy

Claudio Monteverdi was born in northern Italy and it was quickly realized that the young composer was a child prodigy. He wrote only for the voice and became known for his sacred music, madrigals, and opera. His ability to use expression in his music was unmatched during his day.

In his early twenties, Monteverdi entered the service of the Duke of Mantua. After a few years, he was made master of music in the ducal chapel. While in the service of the Duke of Mantua, Monteverdi wrote his first opera, L'Orfeo (1607). In it, he used an expanded instrumental ensemble and included various duets and dances to help reflect the drama.

In 1613, Monteverdi became choirmaster at St. Mark's in Venice, which was an impressive position at the time. He spent the remainder of his life there.


Thomas Morley

January 01, 1557 - October 01, 1602

Classical Period

Born in England

Thomas Morley was an organist, composer, editor, and music printer who lived and worked during the sixteenth century. It is believed that he was a student of composer William Byrd. He is most known for his work with the madrigal. At this point in history, a madrigal was a short secular piece for any number of equally important voices that used free form poetry as its text. It came to prominence in Italy but Morley is remembered as the composer who first brought it to England.


Johannes Ockeghem

January 01, 1410 - February 06, 1497

Born in Belgium

Johannes Ockeghem was born in northeastern France. Not much is known about his life, but we do know that he was a singer, composer, and teacher. He was considered one of the leading composers of his time. Ockeghem held several positions during his life. In the 1440s he worked as a singer at a church in Antwerp. He then went on to work at the private chapel of the French Duke of Bourbon. Around 1450, he entered the service of the French royal court, where he would serve three kings over the span of forty years! Ockeghem is known for writing music for voice, including French songs, motets, and masses.


Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina

February 03, 1525 - February 02, 1594

Born in Italy

Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina is known as the leading Italian composer of church music during the 16th century. Known particularly for his masses and motets, he became a model for later composers when writing sacred music. His music education began early on as a choirboy in Rome. He later went on to work at various churches as a choirmaster.

During Palestrina's lifetime, the Council of Trent met to discuss a response to the Reformation. Legend says that Palestrina saved polyphony (music with more than one voice part of equal importance) from condemnation by the church council when he composed his Pope Marcellus Mass. The council had been concerned about the lack of clarity in polyphonic texts. The Pope Marcellus Mass was a beautiful work that displayed the words in an intelligible manner. Whether this legend is true or not, we do not know. What we do know, however, is that the Council of Trent ordered changes to the liturgy and Palestrina was one of the men assigned to revising old chant books.


John Rutter

September 24, 1945 - --

Modern Period

Born in England

John Rutter came to know music early on in his life serving as a chorister during his school days. He is an internationally-recognized composer and conductor who has traveled the world appearing with top ensembles. Though known primarily for his choral works, he has also composed music for orchestra and instrumental ensembles, children's opera, and even music for television! After serving as the Director of Music at Clare College in the 1970s, Rutter went on to found a popular chamber choir known as the Cambridge Singers.


Thomas Tallis

January 30, 1505 - November 23, 1585

Born in England

Thomas Tallis was an important 16th-century English composer. After several early jobs as an organist, Tallis went on to work at the Chapel Royal where he played, sang, and composed under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth I. He is most known for writing Latin masses and hymns, English service music, and sacred works that reflect the religious and political turmoil that existed within the Church of England at the time. Liturgical music in England was going through a major transition, texts moving between Latin and the native English. Tallis is known as the teacher of another famous composer, William Byrd, with whom he shared exclusive rights to print and publish music in England.


Randall Thompson

April 21, 1899 - July 09, 1984

Modern Period

Born in United States

Randall Thompson was an American composer known primarily for his choral music. Most people are familiar with his Alleluia, written in just four days in 1940. Thompson studied at Harvard, where he worked with composer Edward Burlingame Hill. Besides composing, Thompson is also known for his work as an educator. He did a study on college-level music education in America. He also served as the head of the Curtis Institute, and held professorships at Wellesley, the University of California in Berkeley, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Princeton, and Harvard.


Philippe Verdelot

January 01, 1470 - --

Born in France

Not much is known about Philippe Verdelot's early career. He was born around 1470 in France, but spent much of his later life living and working in Italy. He is most remembered as a leader in the history of the Italian madrigal - a piece for multiple voices, each of equal importance, set to fine poetry.

While living in Florence during the 1520s, Verdelot held several important positions. He was placed in charge of the music of the baptistry and later the cathedral! He became so popular with the public that Pope Clement the VII requested Verdelot perform at his coronation in 1524.

During the Florentine republic in the later 1520s, Verdelot decided to change his loyalties and ally against the papal and imperial forces. It is unknown whether he survived the siege of Florence in 1530, as no record of his music exists after this point.


Thomas Weelkes

October 25, 1576 - November 30, 1623

Born in England

Thomas Weelkes was an English composer known for his madrigals and church music. A madrigal is a piece for multiple voices, each of equal importance, set to fine poetry. Madrigals written around this time often used word painting, a term used to describe music that literally reflects a text's meaning.

Weelkes worked early in his career for several noble patrons. He later went on to make a living as an organist at Winchester College from 1598-1602. Many of his madrigals were composed around this time. He then went on to work as organist and choirmaster at Chichester Cathedral, holding a clerkship on the side. His work in the church likely led to him writing English anthems and ten complete Anglican services.


Eric Whitacre

February 02, 1970 - --

Modern Period

Born in United States

Eric Whitacre is a Grammy-winning composer and conductor based out of Los Angeles, California where he is current Artist-in-Residence with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. He came to his passion for classical music relatively late, after singing Mozart's Requiem while a student at the University of Nevada. He went on to study with John Corigliano and David Diamond at the prestigious Julliard School of Music. Whitacre writes orchestral works but is most known for his music composed for vocal ensemble. He has received commissions from some of the world's top ensembles including the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Chanticleer, and The King's Singers.


Musical Instruments