Nico Muhly and the Anglican music tradition

Nico Muhly has grown as a composer and has gained fame in the world of contemporary music in recent years. He has received commissions from the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, St. Paul’s Cathedral, among others. Nico Muhly is an active collaborator in the choral tradition of the Anglican church writing works such as Bright mass with canons, Looking Up, among others. His collaboration with the church has given it  an update on the sacred music composition method without breaking its stricter rules.

Sacred choral music is initially designed for the service of the church, with simple musical form and language so that the people can sing in the service. Nico Muhly uses minimalist ideas to change sacred music. However, without breaking the essence of sacred music, he manages to create a work for service and performance following the norms of the Sacrosanctum Concilium. ¨When I compose, I find myself returning to this tradition, particularly as it relates to creating musical drama without a Romantic sense of ebb and flow leading to a climactic moment. You can have a thrilling 90 seconds with roller-coaster harmonies focusing on two words only, followed by a single line of plainchant, followed by counterpoint outlining harmonies entirely at variance with what we would understand to be the rules. “[1]Muhly clearly expresses respect and the understanding of the rules, but what is mentioned again is the precise combination of new ideas with the old traditions. This idea reveals THE influence oF romantic composers like Brahms, who created works returning to the traditions of the folk music, a good example on that are Brahms´ 49 Volkslieder.

A clear example of this is in his Bright Mass with Canons. Muhly uses influences from composers such as Byrd and Weelkes in his work in addition to using his method in the creation of this work. The composer uses minimalist canons in combination with the structure of the sacred liturgy to create a spatial and perfect work for the service. However, also ideal for performance, becoming part of the standard repertoire of professional choirs, because it can be perfromed in concert at the Cathedrals or any space that shares the same acoustic.

A Good Understanding is aspecialized work for performance that respects  the use of the biblical text. Based on two psalms of the Bible, Muhly mentions that this is a work that evokes the reward for obeying the rules — composed initially to share the program for children’s mass. This piece Follows the form of the psalm in the mass. Divided into two halves, this work help the people to understand the norms of the church, and to thank for the good things obtained thanks on how it is structured and also because it is easy for th audience to hear.

No doubt Nico Muhly is not only one of the highest representatives of contemporary classical music, but also of Anglican music. Like other composers of his time, it will not be known if Muhly’s versatility will have any limits.

Alejandro Carrillo Pastrana


Muhly Nico. ¨A Good Understanding.¨ The web site of nico Muhly. (accessed April 16, 2019).

Muhly Nico. ¨Bright Mass with Canons.¨ The web site of Nico Muhly. (accessed April 15, 2019).

Muhly Nico. ¨Biography.¨ The web site of Nico Muhly.

(accessed April 15, 2019).

Muhly Nico. ¨Nico Muhly on Why Choral Music Is Slow Food for the Soul.¨ New York Times, April 1, 2017.

Muhly Nico. ¨Nico Muhly: the Power of Taverner´s soul music.¨ The Guardian.

(accessed April 14, 2019).

[1] Muhly Nico, ¨Nico Muhly on Why Choral Music Is Slow Food for the Soul,¨ New York Times, April 1, 2017.

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