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'Ambrosian Christmas' Features Composition Premiere

November 2014

On Saturday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. a sacred concert in the "Lessons and Carols" tradition will feature the University Chorale and Chamber Singers.

"An Ambrosian Christmas" will also feature a premiere of a new composition by William Campbell, associate professor and chair of the Music Department, based on a hymn attributed to Saint Ambrose.

"In addition to all the other accomplishments of our patron saint, he also wrote liturgical music and came to be known as 'the father of Christian hymnody,'" said Campbell.

Most scholars attribute fourteen existing hymns or songs to Saint Ambrose, according to Campbell. Campbell's composition, "Veni, Redemptor (Come, Redeemer), is based on a hymn written by Saint Ambrose for the season of Advent. "The words invite Christ's presence into this world through the mystery of the Virgin Mary in explicitly trinitarian language," he said. The music, which sounds like a chant, was specific to Saint Ambrose and came to be known as Milanese or Ambrosian in style — and is still practiced in Milan, Italy, today.

Campbell folded the melody and words of Saint Ambrose into his music as foundational material, adding more parts that include harmonies, and changing the key at a couple points.

"The original melody is always present even as other parts are added to it," he said. "It is my hope is that these parts add to the meaning of the text and add interest for our contemporary sensibilities."

The piece, commissioned by Richard Geiger, professor emeritus of history, was written specifically for SAU's Chamber Singers vocal ensemble.

"To stay true to the prayerful nature of the words, it starts out quite slow and quiet with the women invoking the chant as sung by the men of the choir," said Campbell. "The music gradually builds and reaches its high point during two separate verses about the light of God, shining and shimmering ... the voices are high in their range, particularly the sopranos. The music fades away and ends with a recasting of the chant and a final sung by all."

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