Top 5 A Cappella Pieces for Your Choir
These beautiful songs will expand your repertoire with powerful a cappella masterpieces
A cappella performances are some of the most cherished in the world of choral music. The purity of the human voice as singers come together to create a work of art presents such a moving experience.
Whether you are a choir director looking to expand your group’s repertoire, a chorister interested in learning more voice-only choral music, or someone who simply loves to discover new music — this is the list for you! We’ve assembled the five great a cappella pieces to get started on your journey.
What does a cappella mean?
A cappella refers to any piece of music that is sung without any musical accompaniment. The phrase literally means “in chapel/choir style” in Italian.
This definition can sometimes be complicated with newer works, where choirs are more and more utilizing body percussion (the sounds we can make using our body parts). Generally, when people refer to a cappella music, they will mean songs that are purely vocal.
1. “Lux Aeterna" by Morten Lauridsen
Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna" is a modern choral masterpiece, specifically focusing on the theme of eternal light and rest. Composed in the late 20th century, it has rapidly become a revered classic in the choral realm.
This composition is an invitation to pause, find solace in choral artistry, and explore the depths of the human spirit through harmonious voices alone.
2. “Choral Concerto” by Alfred Schnittke
Alfred Schnittke is one of the most underrated composers of the 20th century, presenting music that is both challenging and deeply felt. He engaged the most compelling ideas of modernism while always remaining rooted in the spiritual side of composition. Here in his “Choral Concerto,” listeners get the full benefit of both these sides of Schnittke.
Its lyrics are drawn from The Book of Lamentations by 10th century Armenian monk Grigor Narekatsi (the translation into Russian was actually by Schnittke’s friend, Naum Grebnev). Like the vocal lines that deliver them, the lyrics express a mystical love of God in mesmeric wording. Debuting in Moscow in 1986, it is now understood to be one of the true masterpieces of 20th century choral music.
3. “Ubi caritas” by Maurice Duruflé
This classic by 20th century French composer Maurice Duruflé is one of his many motets — a sacred form of choral music that delivers religious texts with unaccompanied, polyphonic vocals. These are also typically short, making them useful for the high medieval church thanks to their adaptability. They went on to become one of the most popular forms of the Renaissance.
With “Ubi caritas,” Duruflé gives us a tidy but potent motet, with intelligently layered lines that work especially well for treble choirs.
4. “Amazing Grace” by John Newton
This hymn, written near the end of the 18th century, has become one of the most popular pieces of music in the entire world. That universal recognition makes it a great option for certain crowds, as almost everyone will know it. However, depending on the situation, that familiarity can make it difficult to set your choir apart with your performance.
Though written by the Anglican clergyman John Newton in England, the song took off in the young country of the United States. “Amazing Grace” became a favorite among Methodist and Baptist preachers in the 19th century. For that reason, it also became an extremely important black spiritual that went on to serve as an anthem for the civil rights movement.
5. “Help Us O Lord” by Aaron Copland
We finish out our list with another motet by another 20th century composer, this time the American Aaron Copland. But while Duruflé’s piece was an updated work that still fit firmly in the feel and texture of traditional motets, Copland offers something a little more contemporary.
In this piece (and the other three motets you can find in the video below), you hear the trademark exploration of harmonies that made Copland such an important figure in American music.
The Magic of A Cappella
In the world of the performing arts, there is just nothing quite like a choir making music a cappella. To spread the love of this form and to celebrate the achievements of choirs around the world, we made this list.
If you are looking for more great music, check out these other lists brought to you by INTERKULTUR: