Group performs chant and works from the Church’s musical tradition
Sacred Music at Notre Dame and Jongsoo Hwang presented Ut Queant Laxis, a conducting recital featuring Gregorian chants and polyphonic compositions, on Thursday, September 28 in the Reyes Organ and Choral Hall at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
Hwang, a doctoral candidate in Church Music at Notre Dame, came to the university after earning diplomas in early vocal ensemble music and choral conducting. Hwang founded the Choral Conducting Department at Seoul Catholic University’s Graduate School of Church Music.
He told the Rover: “I have found great joy working as a professional choir director, but performing church music has taught me that the Word of God as delivered through the spirits of great musicians has greater power. I quit conducting professional choirs to focus on church music and am now concentrating on performing and teaching church music.”
The title of the recital, Ut Queant Laxis, alludes not only to the ancient hymn, but to a pivotal moment in Western music history. The text of the chant forms a prayer honoring St. John the Baptist that was set to several melodies in the Middle Ages. It has become a staple chant in Catholic liturgy—normally sung throughout the day in the divine office of St. John’s Nativity.
Guido d’Arezzo, an 11th-century monk and music educator, famously employed a rendition of this chant as a pedagogical tool since each phrase of its melody begins on a subsequent pitch of the hexachord: ut (do), re, mi, fa, sol, and la. This was the first solmization method, and it has now evolved into the modern “solfege,” which primes most music education today—over 1,000 years later.
Hwang explained, “One letter of the title of each piece performed in this concert is taken from the title of this concert, Ut Queant Laxis.”
The program opened with Ubi Caritas, Maurice Duruflé’s 1960 setting of an eighth-century hymn written by St. Paulinus of Aquileia, whose words declare that “where charity and love dwell, God is there.” The group also sang O Magnum Mysterium, a Christmas responsory by the Spanish priest and Renaissance composer Tomás Luis de Victoria whose rich musical texture accompanies a text in praise of the “great mystery and miraculous sign that animals should see their newborn Lord lying in a manger.” The group also sang Morten Lauridsen’s 2012 setting of the same text later in the evening.
Two modern renditions of the Ave Maria and Pater Noster followed, both commissioned for the occasion and composed by Suhyun Kim. The performance climaxed with a performance of Claudio Montiverdi’s Beatus Vir, a Renaissance work the six vocal parts of which are accompanied by two violins, cello, and organ.
To close the concert, the group chanted Guido d’Arezzo’s Ut Queant Laxis before ending with the famed Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
Much of the program drew from the Church’s long heritage of liturgical music. Hwang praised liturgical music’s beauty, noting that “religious musicians are messengers like angels who convey the words of God.”
He claimed, “When performing choral music, the transmission of God’s Word is more important than excessive or exaggerated expressions and sounds.” The Church has always emphasized liturgical music’s role in aiding in the removal of the veil between heaven and earth for the listener.
Hwang experienced this first hand after his father’s death last year. He conducted a recital in memory of his father in February of this year, compiling traditional Catholic prayers, written in Korean. He told the Rover that the death of someone he loved so much gave him “an opportunity to look back on [his] life.”
Through contemplating his father’s death, Hwang came to a greater understanding of how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. After earning his doctorate in the spring of 2025, he plans to dedicate himself to reproducing church choral music according to the pattern of history’s great sacred musicians.
When asked if there was anything he would like to tell those interested in sacred music, especially those who may want to delve deeper into the musical life of the Church, Hwang said he believes “if we humbly become messengers of the Word of God, we will be able to faithfully use the talents that God has given us all.”
Ned Kerwin is a freshman in the College of Engineering. He’s not yet sure if he wants to drive trains or build bridges. If you know where he can acquire cheap, yet effective pocket protectors, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: The Irish Rover
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