The Magic of Eric Whitacre

Eric Whitacre. For anyone in any sort of choral circle, the name alone evokes intense imagery. Clashing chords, atonal harmonies, and eight-part textures certainly come to mind. It also evokes wide ranges of emotion, from glee to depression. It sounds very complicated for someone who isn’t familiar with the name Eric Whitacre. Therefore, let’s begin with a little background.

Eric Whitacre is a modern-day composer who writes music for chorus, band, and/or orchestra. At 42, Whitacre seems quite young, especially when put in reference to greats of Beethoven or Mozart. Despite not living in the Classical Era, Whitacre has a class about him that few other modern composers can match. In some ways, living in the modern era has even been beneficial for Whitacre, for example, earning a Grammy award as recognition for his works. Now, I’m most familiar with Whitacre’s choral works, so this blog post will mainly focus on those. In Whitacre’s choral music, he divulges from the common concepts of music theory and traditional voice-leading, and instead breaks all rules and creates lush eight, nine, or ten-part harmonies in which sopranos are mere semitones apart from the baritones and altos are singing right along with the basses. In fact, one of Eric Whitacre’s older songs, “Water Night“, breaks into sixteen separate voice parts. Needless to say, much of Whitacre’s appeal comes from his youthful recklessness; his music doesn’t sound “normal”, but at the same time, it sounds beautiful.

Another song of Whitacre’s I’d like to discuss is “Lux Aurumque” from one of his latest albums, Light and Gold. This song starts out with only two notes sounding – it sounds like a basic harmony any competent middle schoolers could achieve. However, one has to realize, the alto IIs are singing the same note as the basses, and the tenors are singing the same note as the alto Is. This song makes extensive use of that heavily layered, interwoven-type voice leading. Immediately in the second measure, Whitacre throws a curveball, initiating an eight-part chord (with the sopranos having a bit of a delayed entrance). And then the two-part harmony again. And then the eight-part chord again. This cadence repeats several times until the next phrase. I suppose I should also mention the fact that this song is in Latin. While that previous sentence in and of itself means nothing, the song becomes much gloomier and ambient-sounding because of the dark, tall Latin vowels. To be fair, some of Whitacre’s other songs are in English, but that’s not what I’m necessarily trying to get at here. Now, instead of me blabbering on further, how about we listen to the song instead?

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