Setting of Herbert’s poem for SATB, orchestra, piano solo, and five (5) chanting choirs. Composed for the 60th anniversary of the National Cathedral School and involving all 380 students.
Composed for the Dedication of the Cathedral’s South Transept. This addition of space led to a dramatic disposition of forces: The school Glee Clubs with fanfare trumpets in the North Transept balcony; the Men & Boys Choir with chamber orchestra in the South balcony, and the full Choral Society with organ and timpani in the Great Choir.
Seven movement oratorio with libretto from the Book of Jonah and Father Mapple’s sermon in Melville’s Moby Dick.
A symphonic pageant written for the sesquicentennial of the District of Columbia and to open Carter Barron Amphitheater.
Complete show here. Set in Colonial Georgetown, an enchanted hat causes havoc.
Based on a whimiscal novel by John Kendrick Bangs, the shades of famous men and women vie for control of an elegant club on the River Styx.
Complete show here.From an 1854 Christmas Pantomime of William Makepeace Thackery. Magical tokens cause the holders to love or be loved, bringing personal and political problems to the kingdom of Crim Tartary.
Complete show here. A large New Mexican ranch secedes from the Union over 1960s political issues.
Brecht’s play includes poetic quatrains before each scene as well as a marvelous “Ballad of the Orders” mocking society stratification. A humanist and satirical masterpiece. Audio includes music cues as well as Dirksen’s own digest of the full show.
A sweet a capella carol with Dirksen’s added verse bringing it up to date.
His last – and by his own estimation, best – anthem. The closing Queens Change bell effect is a charming farewell gesture.
Commissioned by Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church for their 50th Anniversary in 1974.
Audio & Video. This nine-minute mini-cantata sets the complete Fortunatas text with organ, brass & timpani and would make a great addition to an Easter concert. Score+audio presentation is here, but it awaits a definitive recording.
Audio & Video. Alternates the 1940 plainsong for The eternal gifts of Christ the King with rushing horsemen on white horses. A commission from Frank Boles and St. Paul’s, Indianapolis.
Audio & Video. Running out of TOP FIVE slots, but this Auden setting is profoundly moving: Why was I chosen to teach his Son to weep? The ending of the organ version makes it preferable.
This complex piece finds Dirksen systematically working out change ringing bell motifs at length as well as exploring his ongoing fascination with mixed and hemiola rhythms. The attached score is regrettably partial.
Audio & Video. Another one of my TOP FIVE works. The flute obbligato positively sparkles.
Composed for the wedding of John Fenstermaker, then Assistant Organist at the Cathedral. Flute, handbells, harpsichord, finger cymbals…. 6/4 alternating with 3/2….what’s not to like?
Written in 1957, the same year as Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata, the two pieces share vivid brass writing and intense rhythmic energy alternating with lyric beauty. This exists in many forms: Organ and brass, full orchestra, winds only…there’s even an arrangement for SSAA choir.
Audio & Video. Dirksen’s notated half-note=96 is unplayable – he’s merely saying NOT TOO SLOW. But the circumstances of its composition actually dictate the tempo: the performance should be exactly 2′ 30″! Also – don’t miss the Choral Arts Society’s orchestral version here as well.
His first ‘outside’ commission – from St. Albans Church, next door on the Close.
His most well-known and well-beloved carol. SATB a capella, simplicity itself.
Audio & Video. One of the editor’s TOP FIVE works. How DID those troops of angels come down??
Audio & Video. For Easter Day. The B section is one of Dirksen’s longest and most effective build-ups to a shattering climax. It’s also a dandy timpani solo. Now back in print by Jubilate Music Group!
This singular work is really a through-composed setting of the psalm in Anglican Chant style inspired by the re-scansion of the Psalm in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. “Be still then, and know that I am God,” is utterly convicting.
Adore te, devote receives a comprehensive Dirksen makeover: 1) it’s in 7/8 throughout, 2) the middle verses are backward, in minor, 3) verse 3 goes to E-flat minor for the Lord’s own death, 4) ends with a sweet simple AMEN.
NOT the 1979 BCP text. The interpolated “Christ has died / Christ is risen” make it inappropriate in its current Vigil spot but it could be used to good effect AFTER the Easter proclamation.
Full score & video. The earlier of his two settings starts with brilliant Dirksen fanfares and the traditional plainsong but also contains a sweeping Great Procession for the Apostles, Prophets & Martyrs. It ends very dark with a Requiem quote and solemn gong. His 1996 Te Deum “Lexington” is smoothly through-composed and much sunnier.
The first of the Three Songs of Isaiah, BCP Canticles 9-11. The gentle modal theme lent itself to canonic treatment, but the work unfolds into dramatic eight-part choral fanfares. Dirksen re-worked the tune into two hymns: Surely it is God who saves me (ISAIAH’S SONG) with the Carl Daw text, and Glory be to God, the Highest (GIBBS HALL), his own paraphrase of the Gloria in Excelsis.
The second of the Three Songs of Isaiah is a choral scherzo. Dirksen omitted the Gloria Patris from these canticles but couldn’t resist adding a characteristic AMEN to this one.
The first two Songs of Isaiah are a capella. This one adds the organ with heraldic flourishes for the Great Organ’s Trompette en Chamade. The phrase lengths in this canticle are Brahmsian in their sweep & length. He brings back themes from the first two Songs to excellent effect, and the B-major ending is one of his most thrilling.
Full score & video.
Full scores & videos. By 1960 Dirksen had participated in Easter services at the Cathedral for 15 years and knew the forces intimately. This grand Mass features exceptionally brilliant writing for the brass and timpani, ground-breaking mixed meters (13/8 notoriously raised the choir’s eyebrows), and in the Agnus Dei some of his spookiest writing for the organ. It’s also noteworthy that two movements of a Mass in E major end on F# (Kyrie, Benedictus). That uncanny whole-tone lift comes a shock each time but prefigures the Gloria’s triumphant final modal cadence from D to E. He also orchestrated it for double wind quartet after the Stravinsky Mass.
This speculative work features obbligato handbell parts for 10 bells replicating / mimicking several change ringing methods in each movement as well as a carillon part for the Gloria.
Score & Audio. Liturgical setting, with bells – reworked from the 1966 / Rite I Communion Service in G.
For the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury, 10/14/79. Three brilliant trumpet parts in the Gloria.
Dirksen’s Bernstein phase.
Score & audio. A liturgical drama with many performance options – Elizabeth’s Song is first-rate.
Score & audio. This material has many components in various styles and can be used in many different forms.
Once sung. never forgotten.
Three versicles and responses to open the Palm Sunday liturgy.
Score & audio. A mini-cantata, especially suitable for V Lent in Year A. Dirksen deploys all his dramatic skill at Lazare, veni foras.