Sunday Playlist: Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis & Psalm 129 (De Profundis) American Boy Choir

These works are neglected miniature masterpieces, which deserve to be performed more often in the future – James Litton.

Michael Haydn portrait captioned 300x414

A short playlist today, just two pieces – short but nevertheless beautiful music and beautifully sung. The music is by Michael Haydn (1737 – 1806) whose religious music was greatly admired both by his elder brother Joseph Hayden who said that it was far better than his own and by Mozart some of whose own religious music shows Johann Michael’s influence . Michael Haydn’s fame both during his lifetime and later mostly rests on this religious music of which nearly 800 compositions survive most of this is music for the Church, and includes including   settings of the Mass , vesper settings and more than 200 graduals, offertories and  propers of the Mass. His later choral compositions are firmly in the classical mould but not slavishly so. Having a famous big brother and a genius young friend didn’t stop Michael Haydn putting his own stamp on his choral music which often has not only baroque elements but reaches back even earlier to use cantus firmus, and both psalmic and antiphon tones, the result is often very appealing. Another very appealing feature of much of his choral work – at least to me, is that he obviously took pains to fit his music to the abilities of those singing it you can see it throughout his writing which Litton described as perfectly fitting the ‘sonority and ranges of the younger and teenage boys’ Litton goes on to observe that Michael Haydn obviously took great pleasure in teaching, rehearsing, and conducting his young charges and that ‘he gave them music to relish’.

I wonder if Haydn’s kindness to his charges stemmed from his memories of the choirmaster who not only treated him harshly but who stole money entrusted to him for safekeeping by the young Michael? Or perhaps like Purcell he simply remembered having been a choirboy himself and delighted in giving them a chance to shine. There are plenty of chances for them to do just that throughout his choral music the alto parts of which provide plenty of scope for a teenage boy wanting to develop his lower range while his solos are challenging enough that any boy singing them has to display both skill and professionalism. I’ll be posting more of his music in time but for present purposes I’m posting just two pieces to serve as an introduction to Michael Haydn’s music for you to enjoy:

  • The first is Haydn’s setting of the antiphon ‘Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis’ sung by the American Boy Choir conducted by James Litton. 
  • The second is his setting of Psalm 129 ‘De Profundis’ (Psalm 130 in the King James version) preceded by the antiphon Apud Dominum misericordia. This is a beautiful piece with remarkable solos and a pleasing melodic line that makes full use of the boys singing it capabilities. It too is sung by the American Boy Choir conducted by James Litton.

Enjoy :-)


Antiphon: Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis

Antiphon: Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis: misericors et miserator et iustus (To the righteous a light is risen up in darkness: he is merciful, and compassionate and just. Vulgate Psalm 112: 4 )

Antiphon: Apud Dominum misericordia & Psalm 129 ‘De Profundis’ .

Text: Antiphon: Apud Dominum misericordia & Psalm 129 ‘De Profundis’

Antiphon: Apud Dominum misericordiaWith the Lord there is mercy …

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine:
domine, exaudi vocem meam;
fiant aures tuae intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meae.
Si iniquitates observaveris Domine,
Domine quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est;
et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo eius.
Speravit anima mea in Domino,
a custodia matutina usque ad noctem
Speret Israel in Domino,
quia apud Dominum misericordia,
et copiosa apud eum redemptio,
et ipse redimet Israel ex omnibus iniquitatibus eius. Gloria Patri et Filio
et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper,
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Psalm 129

Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
O let thine ears consider well
the voice of my complaint.
If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark
what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could abide it?
For there is mercy with thee;
therefore shalt thou be feared.
In his word is my soul sustained;
my soul waiteth for the Lord,
more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, trust for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;
and with him is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all his sins.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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