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Specially recorded by the BBC Singers (the BBC's own full-time professional choir, and one of the world's great vocal ensembles) conducted by their Conductor Laureate Stephen Cleobury, the timeline gives a bird's eye view of some of the peaks of the choral repertoire, of the developments in choral writing over the centuries, and of the music of some of the modern-day composers.

Johannes Brahms (1833-97)

As part of his extensive and varied output, Brahms composed 13 motets, 46 a cappella songs and 20 canons. This large amount of a cappella music was a response and a commitment to the musical needs of his time (the courtly musical traditions of 18th century having given way to the more bourgeois musical culture of the 19th).

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Brahms didn't follow tradition in his vocal writing just for the sake of taste, but because it corresponded to his important position as an artist - although, as a composer unusually aware of and informed by the heritage of older music, he acknowledged an influence to the great German 17th-century composer Heinrich Sch�tz in the motet recorded here.

The words of the first three movements of Warum ist das Licht gegeben come from the Bible's Job, Lamentations and James, and the last movement is a verse from Luther's translation of the Nunc Dimittis.

The first movement deals with Job's questioning of the reasons for suffering and grief, which Brahms illustrates with sort of hazardous chromatic writing which is always a challenge for a cappella choirs! This rather sombre music is based on the Agnus Dei from an early Brahms Mass (which was never finished).

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