Pa. community chorus offers U.S. premiere of unpublished Baroque work

A small choral ensemble in Ottsville, Pa., near Doylestown, will present the U.S. premiere of a centuries-old piece of Baroque music.

The Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) was one of the most important courtly composers of 18th century Germany. But his name has not survived history as well as his peer, Johann Sebastian Bach.

While his “Te Deum” has been performed in Europe by ambitious Baroque ensembles, it has never been performed in the United States.

“Evidently the work has never been published. Not in Dresden in the 18th century, and not in modern days,” said Jack Schmidt, director of the Palisades Community Chorus. “I found a scholar at the music research center in Regensburg — in Germany — who had a hand-written copy of the score.”

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The 35-voice Palisades Community Chorus, named after the high school where they rehearse, is an unassuming ensemble in Ottsville. Although an amateur choir, all the principal singers have studied in some of the finest music schools in the country. The bass soloist, who works as a police office, is a graduate of Ithaca College.

The instrumental parts of Zelenka’s “Te Deum” is strong in woodwinds and strings, and features vocal movements for solos, duets, trios and full choir.

“It’s a work that is a celebration. The work has rich orchestration,” said Schmidt. “There’s a beautiful trio for three women near the end. It’s some of the most lovely writing I’ve ever heard.”

The Palisades Community Chorus will perform Zelenka’s “Te Deum” at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Lenape Valley Presbyterian Church, 321 W. Butler Ave., in New Britain, Pennsylvania.

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