Paul Basler’s Missa Kenya and Songs of Faith

In a couple of weeks I’ll be performing as a soloist with the Monroe Symphony Chorus on a concert featuring the music of Paul Basler, Professor of Horn at The University of Florida and an internationally recognized composer. We’ll be performing his Missa Kenya and “Songs of Faith,” which are both multi-movement works for SATB chorus with piano and obbligato horn. I’ve performed several of these works before, but this will be the first time I’ve played them all on a single concert. Both pieces have become standard choral literature, so they are especially worth checking out in case you are ever asked to perform them with a choir. If you’re a horn player and don’t know Paul Basler’s music you are missing out! A professional horn player himself, Basler writes extremely well for the instrument. His writing is idiomatic, but still challenging, and very rewarding to play. Composed in 1995, his Missa Kenya has been described as fusing Kenyan music with 20th century classical music, and was inspired by the year Basler spent as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. For more information on Paul Basler and this piece in particular, consult Gary Packwood’s Compelled to Compose: An Introduction to the Life and Music of Paul Basler, with a Conductor’s Analysis of Missa Kenya, D.M.A. Dissertation, Louisiana State University, 2004 (UMI Number: 3151813). The horn part in the “Kyrie” is full of rhythmically and melodically interesting material, including asymmetrical meters and heroic horn calls. The horn is tacet on the “Gloria” and “Credo,” but returns on the “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” with more heroic and lyrical lines.

Basler’s “Songs of Faith” consists of five movements (Alleluia, Psalm 23, Psalm 150, Be Thou My Vision, Ubi Caritas), although I have heard movements performed individually numerous times. “Alleluia” is probably the most popular of the “Songs of Faith,” and like the “Kyrie” from Missa Kenya has an infectious rhythmic drive and plenty of great writing for the horn. The part is energetic and syncopated, but very playable. The other songs are equally well written, and are excellent settings of their respective texts.  If you can’t tell already, I’m a big fan of Basler’s music, as are most horn players, and I’m really looking forward to this concert. Taken separately or as complete works, both the “Songs of Faith” and Missa Kenya are great pieces, and quite deserving of their numerous performances. For a taste of this music, here’s a YouTube video of Paul Basler performing the Alleluia from his “Songs of Faith” with the  University Chorale from Northwest Missouri State University.

If you’re looking for more information on Paul Basler and his music, here’s some recommended resources in addition to the dissertation I mentioned above.

Kimberly Rooney, Compositional Trends in Solo Horn Works by Horn Performers (1970–2005): A Survey and Catalog, D.M.A. Dissertation, University of Cincinnati, 2008. UMI #3327181. (Includes a discussion of music for horn by Paul Basler, Douglas Hill, Randall Faust, Lowell Greer, Jeffrey Agrell, and Jeffrey Snedeker.)

Nicholas Kenney, A Performer’s Guide to the Original Works for Solo Horn, Horn and Piano, Two Horns, and Two Horns and Piano by Paul Basler, D.M.A. Dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2010. UMI #3398317 (Available for download here, and includes a complete listing of Basler’s compositions for horn.)

RM Williams Publishing: They publish most of Basler’s music for horn.

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Thanks for mentioning my work in this as well, James. And break a leg. My favorite to play is the Alleluia from Songs of Faith. You should also know that there is a DMA student at Florida State who is currently working on a project that looks into the Kenyan influence within Paul’s horn music. This will also be a great source when she finishes it up!

James: I am very happy to see you comment on Paul Basler’s work. As I write this I have two of his works up on my study desk because my Chancel Choir will be doing them later this spring. I first got to know Paul’s work three summers ago at Cambridge, while working with the C.S. Lewis Institute Choir where I got to play horn on a couple of his works. I feel that one of the most admirable qualities of the horn is the ability to sing like the human voice, and it is so nice to have new works that show this quality off in side-by-side comparison. As ever, JPO

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