October 13, 2014 (You may navigate to any of the additional pages here. Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

Ernani Aguiar's Famous Salmo 150:
An Insight into the Composer's Musical Language

by Mariana Farah, R&S Chair for Ethnic and Multi-Cultural Music

farahBrazilian composer Ernani Aguiar (b.1950) is held in high regard as one of the most important and influential names on the current Brazilian musical scene. Although he is best known as a composer, Aguiar's contributions to music extend well beyond his own works, as he remains active as a conductor, professor, and scholar. He is a noted authority on eighteenth-century Brazilian music and has discovered and edited much of this repertory.

Aguiar has garnered impressive success in Brazil and abroad with performances, recordings, and broadcasts of his works. Significant examples of his wide-ranging production are pieces for a cappella choir, especially Salmo 150 (1975), which has been performed by hundreds of choirs across Brazil and the United States. In fact, the composer's catalogue describes this work as likely being the most frequently performed Brazilian choral composition in the U.S.1 Although such a statement is difficult to verify, Earthsongs Publishing confirms that since they released Salmo 150 in 1993, the work has been, and continues to be, among their ten best-selling compositions.2

Aguiar's name has become increasingly associated with his most famous piece, yet American conductors and singers still have little understanding of his fundamental musical language. The limited knowledge of Aguiar's compositional style can be attributed to the lack of resources available on his extensive output. Indeed, only thirteen percent of his music has been published and only a small number of studies have addressed his accomplishments, leaving most of his works yet to be discovered. This article provides a critical analysis of Salmo 150 highlighting the elements that may have sparked its international interest and that are at the core of the composer's musical discourse.

Aguiar's Salmo 150 embodies a number of concepts that the composer transferred to works written over a large span of time. His only setting of this psalm of praises is fairly short, consisting of only twenty-seven measures and lasting approximately one and a half minutes. Although one can argue that the extreme brevity of the piece may be unique to this composition, more than half of Aguiar's a cappella choral music is short, taking less than three-and-a-half-minutes to perform. As in Salmo 150, the composer tends to concentrate his musical ideas in a small number of measures in much of his unaccompanied choral works. In Salmo 150, he employs less than thirty bars to present six verses of the psalm. The work is conceived as a single thought, unified from beginning to end by a short rhythmic motive that repeats throughout (example 1).

Example 1 Salmo 150, main motive


This dotted figure is the first to appear in the music and is probably the most memorable one. Not only does the pattern appear in seventeen measures of the score, it is virtually always attached to the single syllable "la" (measure 19, beat 3, is the only instance where this motif is accompanied by an actual word from the psalm text) (example 2).

Example 2 Salmo 150, m. 19 beat 3


The addition of the neutral syllable "la" makes this fairly common rhythmic cell stand out as a distinctively profiled idea. Likewise, the unusual insertion of the syllable "la" into the words of this popular psalm gives this setting its notable character. The added syllable is present in sixteen of the work's twenty-seven measures, appearing more often than any other portion of the text (see Table 1 for Aguiar's distribution of the text).

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1Elizete Higino, comp., Ernani Aguiar: Catálogo de obras (Rio de Janeiro: Academia Brasileira de Música, 2005), 32.

2Earthsongs Publishing, written email correspondence, Corvallis, Oregon, 14 May 2008. The publisher confirms that there is no actual way to know with certainty how many times Salmo 150 has been performed in the U.S. Nonetheless, they add that they have sold 191,000 copies of the SATB version, 35,000 of the SSA arrangement, and 5000 of the score for male voices since 1/1/2000.