This article first appeared in the April 2018 issue of our parish magazine.
This motet was written by Bruckner for the dedication of the votive chapel in the cathedral of Linz, Austria, where he had previously worked as organist. Often included in the list of set pieces for study at A level, there is a full technical analysis of the piece here. That’s not why I’ve chosen it this month though. A week or two ago this was given out at a rehearsal of the Manchester Chorale. Although not an obvious choice for the Easter issue of our parish magazine, it called to me!
Locus Iste became a firm favourite in the Porter household a couple of years ago, when Jennifer learned it for a consort competition at the Halle Youth Choir. More recently, she an I both sang it at a Sing for Pleasure choral conducting training weekend in London. It’s gorgeous, and a firm favourite of choral singers the world over.
The text is simple, and is drawn from Genesis 28:16 and Exodus 3:5. In these texts, Jacob and Moses respectively realised that the ground on which they stood was Holy. It is about the concept of a sacred place (not necessarily a building), and as such is often used at church dedication anniversaries:
Locus iste a Deo factus est, This place was made by God,
Inaestimabile sacramentum, a priceless sacrament;
irreprehensibilis est. it is without reproach.
As we’re in the Easter season I’m going to stretch the point to contrive a link with Jesus, who said that he would destroy the temple and build it up again in three days (John 2:19). If any space is to be considered sacred, surely it is the ground upon which Jesus stood.
So why did I get excited about singing this with the Chorale? Quite simply, because it is beautiful. It is for an unaccompanied full 4-part choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), and with few “tricky corners”, most choirs can manage to make a spine tingling sound with it. Bruckner suggested a tempo of allegro moderato (moderately fast). However, few church buildings allow it to be sung that quickly. Most choir directors will slow it considerably to let the chords reverberate around the architecture, using the building and performance space to maximum effect.
You can have a listen here.
Put the kettle on, close your eyes, and lose yourself in the music.