A Notable Achievement
One of the most unusual accomplishments of the St. Olaf Choir is
written in the reviews received wherever they have sung. These reviews
are a glowing tribute to the Director,
|"The St. Olaf Lutheran Choir came, sang and
conquered . . . . Let it be said at once that in all Norway
there is no mixed chorus that can in any way compete with this
choir from Minnesota."
|"One has only to enumerate the qualities that make a
perfect choral body and name them the St. Olaf Choristers."
San Diego Union
|"Never has there been a chorus heard in this city like
the St. Olaf Lutheran Choir."
|"Denver is richer for the coming of this choir."
|"It may as well be said at once that this concert afforded
the most original, most intelligent, most artistic and most
beautiful choral work of this type ever heard by the present
writer. It was simple perfection commanding tears of ecstasy
at will in the utterly enthralled hearer."
ASSAR OLSON ASSAR
Director of Music,
|"There is no question but that in the matter of technique
of singing, discipline and tonal beauty, this choir is the best
that can be found on either side of the Atlantic."
The Christian Century
|"When the St. Olaf Choir had finished its last lovely
note, it would have taken only a move of the hand to brush the
Veil of temporality aside and admit that huge scarcely breathing
audience into the presence of the choir eternal. . . . On this
Sunday evening the harmonies of heaven broke through in a transcendent
revelation of beauty."
|1948 --- Washington, D.C.,
|"St. Olaf Lutheran Choir, oldest and most distinguished
of this country's specialists in unaccompanied choral art, came
Constitution Hall last night to set new standards in their department
of the art, even for themselves. . . That means that the season's
greatest choral art has been presented; for there is no group,
large or small, amateur or professional, in the East or the
Midwest, that can equal these young choristers from Northfield,
Seldom does one hear such perfect purity of choral tone, such faultless
technique and such thorough mastery of details of rendition.
-- Deutsche Tageszeitung, Berlin, August 19, 1930.
* * *
That was a great surprise! One can not imagine anything more beautiful
in the realm of choral singing. The voices are carefully selected
and wonderfully trained. The various parts grow together into a
unity as sensitive to the slightest impulses of the director as
a perfectly controlled instrument.
-- CARL KREBS, Der Tag, Berlin, August 19, 1930.
* * *
Although it had been rumored that the St. Olaf Choir surpassed
all expectations at its first concerts in Southern Germany, we nevertheless,
awaited its appearance here in Leipzig with some skepticism. It
had been announced that this choir had transplanted the traditions
of the St. Thomas Choir to the United States as the director, Dr.
F. Melius Christiansen, received his musical education in Leipzig,
and was a pupil of Cantor Gustav Schreck. Usually such transplantations
do not progress much beyond the stage of awkward imitations. So
much the more, therefore, did the offerings of this choir surprise
us. It has at its disposal voices such as one seldom hears. Its
training is wonderful and discipline remarkable and this makes it
possible for the director to call forth tonalities from the most
delicate pianissimo to the loudest fortissimo. Their concert was
for me a profound and never-to-be-forgotten experience.
-- Sp. in The Leipziger Zeitung, August 19, 1930.
* * *
A famous choral society, the St. Olaf Choir from Northfield, Minnesota,
has embarked on an artist tour of Europe. Composed of singers with
a Norse and German lineage, it has carried on the artistic traditions
of its old world origin and has crossed the ocean to take part,
by invitation, in the jubilee celebration at Trondhjem. In Germany
it has already appeared in Augsburg on the occasion of the Augustana
Celebration and has now given us, at its concert in the cathedral,
a proof of its artistic high level, which is as surprising as it
is pleasing to the lover of great art.
This chorus of sixty voices has gained an amazing purity of voice
production and mobility of technique. Such clarity in full chorus,
such perfection in the mechanics of singing, such fine elaboration
of detail in interpretation are very rarely heard anywhere.
The program, which began with an elaborate Bach Motette and which
combined compositions of ponderous polyphony with others in simple
folk song style, gave rich opportunities to display the intelligence
and taste of the chorus. The credit for the high development of
the choir belongs to the director, F. Melius Christiansen, who leads
his singers with restraint and dignity. There is a tendency toward
vigorous rhythmic emphasis in his directing, but the final impression
rests more on the highly developed sense of tone color and tone
warmth. Only in occasional passages does the virtuoso effect predominate,
an occurrence which, however, in no wise diminishes the artistic
value of the performance.
-- PROF. DR. HERMAN SPRINGER, in Deutsche Tageszeitung, Berlin.
* * *
The difficulties of these, the most beautiful of the motets of
Bach, were overcome with ease. The splendor of the selected voices
was here clearly manifest, as was also the marvelous training and
discipline of the choir. We call special attention to the consummate
ease with which the Soprano sections measured up to all requirements
and to the marvelous fullness, richness and depth of the basses.
-- Eisenach Zeitung, Aug. 15, 1930.
* * *
I confess, that I have never before heard any chorus from the New
World with such a beautifully developed and exquisite vocal technique
and tonal art as this chorus. The voices are handled as the instruments
of a first class string orchestra. The trainer and director, F.
Melius Christiansen, must be an exceedingly clever person. He does
not only control his forces as a highly trained musician, but is
also evidently a voice physiologist, who gains from his ensemble
the final possibilities of technical achievement. The sustained
and soaring harmonies; the accurate attack, the full bodied unison
involuntarily recall orchestral effects. Astonishing also is the
unusually developed art of breath control; upon which the whole
artistic delivery is built up.
-- HANS PASCHE in Single, Berlin, August 20, 1930.
* * *
The visit of this famous American choir, whose origin and organization
in many ways forms a parallel to our Thomaner Choir, was looked
forward to with high expectations. The Director of the choir, Dr.
Melius Christiansen, was at one time a pupil of the Leipzig Conservatory
and the personal scholar of the late Thomas Cantor Gustav Schreck.
These years of study in Leipzig and the artistic impression gathered
at that time were the original impulses which led to the founding
in the New World of a choir on the pattern of the Thomaner Choir.
The personnel of the choir (32 women, 28 men) and its inner organization
show several resemblances between the two choirs.
The program presented by our American guests filled us with high
admiration and gave evidence of an artistic training and a choral
discipline, which evoked the highest possible results from a wealth
of splendid voice material. An intoxicating flood of sound in forte,
astonishing graduations in crescendos and diminuendos, far away
effects reminding of an echo organ, amazing rhythmical and dynamic
flexibility, instrumental tone, color effects which approach the
limits of the possibilities of the human voice --- all these are
achievements of this choir, which ranks with the best we have ever
heard in vocal art. This marvelous choral instrument is played with
a dazzling virtuosity.
The director, F. Melius Christiansen, is a choir leader and disciplinarian
of the first rank, who plays on his choral instrument as a master
on the organ; his singers follow him without any accompaniment or
written music and with the greatest possible accuracy and assurance.
This was a most illuminating and inspiring concert, which did not
only testify to a choral training of the highest order; but also
proved that a cappella singing is steadily winning a prominent place
in the musical activities of the New World.
-- DR. WILHELM JUNG, of the Leipzig Conservatory, written for
Kirchenchor, No. 9, 1930.
* * *
The choir which consists of 32 women and 28 men is fully worthy
of the great reputation which is claimed for it. Its offerings are
marvelous. Its choral discipline can not be excelled. Seldom does
one hear such exact and pure intonation. The dynamics of the choir
and its polyphonic clarity have reached the point of virtuosity.
What they do seems almost incomprehensible.
-- C. W. in Süddeutsche Zeitung, Aug. 12, 1930.
* * *
From there on the program steadily takes on new beauties. The Hymn
by Francesco Durante with the finest possible gradation in forte
and piano, "The Liszt Benedictus," so like parts of Parzifal,
with most unusual tonal contrasts between the open voweled solo
parts and the darker colored tutti; the majestic choral of Hassler,
the half popular, half virtuoso song of greeting by the director
himself; the charming religious folk song from Finland, the "Wake
Awake" motet by Nikolai with its baroque outburst of triumphal
joy --- through all of these we gain an impression of a cappella
singing of such purity and beauty, as we have possibly never heard
before. All the voices are of the highest purity and smoothness,
the sustained chords have a primitive magic, the pianos die away
like a breath, the fortes burst on one in glowing splendor. There
are organ-like effects, which even surpass the possibilities of
that instrument, and even the notoriously bad acoustics of the Cathedral
are unable to dim the brilliance of the performance.
This time, at least, has found a Berlin audience prepared for something
unusual, for the great building was filled to its extreme capacity
by a breathless throng of listeners.
-- Berliner Tageblatt, Aug. 19, 1930.
* * *
"Like organ tone and peal of bells" --- this quotation
comes to mind when one listens to the first tones of this chorus.
One might approach even closer to a characterization of the effects
produced by these singers in calling them a "choral orchestra."
In so far as it is possible to bring these two forms of musical
art into contact and comparison with each other, it has been accomplished
in this instance. The long-drawn pianissimo harmonies, held with
marvelous breath control, gave something of the effect of muted
horns and trumpets; the rich tone of violas, cellos and contrabasses
were wonderfully imitated. In contrast there stood out the amazing
and effortless flexibility and mobility of the voices, which would
not at all be surpassed by the normal superiority of the instrumental
The splendor of the full chorus did not obliterate the beauty of
the individual voices. Almost without any effort one could hear,
by virtue of the skillful balancing of the parts, how each held
its own, and how the various voices carried their parts without
blurring the web of the composition as a whole.
Is this the highest possible development of mechanical virtuosity,
which has been carried to the borderlands of the possible by the
most intense and unsparing training? Yes! But this is a virtuosity,
which in great effects as well as in small detail serves the artistic
interpretation, without ever becoming an aim in itself or seeking
What lies behind such an amazing performance? A high stage of musical
genius, painstaking drill and practice; a deep seriousness of purpose
on the part of leader and director. In this choir it is evident
that every member has had the most careful musical schooling. This
appears not only in the ease and surety of voice management but
even more in the absolute reliability of the chief musical organ;
that of the educated ear. Not the least pleasure in listening comes
from the fact that each singer has such a fine sense of pitch that
attacks and transitions are absolutely pure and accurate.
These characteristics of the choir are in the final analysis dependent
on the personality of the director. The results attained point to
a quite unusual musical endowment and a tonal genius in Dr. F. M.
Christiansen, whose thorough preparation under the late Gustav Schreck
at the Leipzig Conservatory has given this native genius its highly
perfected form. The whole personality of this talented director
is most sympathetic and attractive. The restraint and dignity of
his manner of directing, which scorns any theatrical effects, but
which can inspire his singer to the highest achievements with the
simplest means, gives evidence of the immense power of this gifted
artist. The two soloists of the choir (soprano and tenor) were also
artists of distinction.
The visit of these American guests was undoubtedly an uncommon
experience for our city. Our satisfaction was at least shown in
the very large attendance at the concert.
-- WALTER KRIEGER, Naumburg, Germany.
* * *
We in Berlin are undoubtedly accustomed to a very high standard
in regard to choral singing, but the impression made by this choir,
which could as well be called German as American, exceeded all expectations.
The first surprise was the glorious vocal resources of the group,
in which soft and soaring Sopranos contrasted with fundamentally
deep Basses and dark colored Altos joined with warm and glowing
Tenors. Joined to this there was revealed an artistic schooling
such as is to be found only in choral societies of the very highest
type. The union of these excellencies of material and technique
is the rare and striking quality which makes the St. Olaf Choir
an outstanding organization. One must revert to the unforgettable
performances of the Sistine Singers from Rome before finding an
adequate parallel to the performance in the Dom.
The program gave evidence of the wide interests and the uncommon
skill of this chorus. It brought a Motette for double chorus by
Bach "Sing unto the Lord," which was given with astonishing
virtuosity, although the purity of the harmonies was somewhat clouded
by the poor acoustical qualities of the Dom, which is poorly suited
to florid passage work. The very spirit of classical church music
was evoked in works by Durante, Hassler and Nikolai, but there was
also a dash of the modem in an exquisite "Angels' Song"
by Glinka and a Norwegian festal hymn from the pen of the director,
F. Melius Christiansen. This excellent musician, who has made his
choir an instrument of organ-like power and beauty, deserves to
be hailed as a chorus director of supreme ability and as an artist
who has the keenest understanding of the possibilities of church
The Dom, filled by an hushed and entranced audience, was on this
occasion the scene of an unusual and unforgettable musical experience.
-- SCHIEPE in Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Berlin, August 19,
* * *
The concert given in the cathedral here proved that all the laudatory
comments which we had read about this choir had not been too enthusiastic.
Absolute faithfulness to the work in hand which nowhere loses itself
in ingenious, artificial interpretations, goes hand in hand with
highest exactness, rhythmic precision, and wonderfully harmonious
purity of tone. Instrumental effects are produced which remind one
of the tones of an organ.
-- Berliner Börsen Zeitung, Aug. 20, 1930.
* * *
Critics have expressed themselves in terms of highest praise for
the performances of this choir; nor have they said too much. One
will seldom hear such perfection of musical tone and technique.
. . The choir retains its purity in the most difficult renderings.
Breath control, phrasing, dynamics, all are equally marvelous. In
short, here is a cappella choir singing to perfection.
-- Schwabicher Merkur, Stuttgart, Aug. 13, 1930.
* * *
The absolute certainty and purity with which the entire chorus
begins without having been given the pitch and then, as one man,
strikes the right note, is most marvelous and can be explained only
by the presence of an extraordinarily finely developed sense of
hearing and by incessant rehearsing and practicing together. The
same is true also of their perfect harmony, exact rhythm, balance
of tone and dynamics, all of which make it possible to produce instrumental
effects, like those of a giant organ upon which the director plays
with virtuoso mastery.
-- E.F., Eisenach Tagepost, Aug. 16, 1930.