NOTES FROM JAMES HOPKINS, MUSIC DIRECTOR

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday November 28th ADVENT 1

Prelude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Opening Hymn: 59 “Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding” (Merton)
Sequence Hymn: 54 “Savior of the nations, come” (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland)
Offertory Anthem: Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes – Thomas Attwood (1765-1838)
Offertory Hymn: 324 “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” (Picardy)
Communion Anthem: Audivi vocem – Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)
Final Hymn: 57 “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” (Helmsley)
Postlude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

It's the beginning of a new church year and the beginning of my favorite liturgical season, Advent! The music for Advent mirrors the lectionary in its looking forward to when Jesus will come again, and in recalling the prophecies foretelling the Messiah. Later in the season, the theme shifts more toward looking forward to Christmas and the story leading up to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. This first Sunday, however, is rife with imagery of Jesus coming again to great fanfare.

Both the organ prelude and postlude are based on the same German chorale tune (which is the Sequence Hymn this Sunday), though offer two quite different takes on it. Both the text and tune to “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” were likely written by Martin Luther, and both adapt the ancient Latin hymn by St. Ambrose, “Veni redemptor gentium” (which is also in our Hymnal at number 55 – if you can read music, it may be worthwhile to compare the two!). Luther treated many plainchant hymns like this (another example is the Easter chorale, “Christ ist erstanden,” based on the Latin sequence for Easter Day, “Victimae Paschali laudes”) and wrote many original tunes. Contrary to common belief, few, if any, Lutheran Chorale tunes are adaptations of popular songs of the day, and the quote, “Why should the devil have all the good tunes” is probably attributable to one of a few 19th Century Englishmen, not Martin Luther. The hymn’s text is a petition for Jesus to come again while summarizing his first time on earth.

The two chorale preludes on this tune which will be heard on Sunday are two of the three from the collection known as the “Leipzig” or “Great 18” chorale preludes. Though compiled later in Bach’s life while he worked as the “Thomaskantor” in Leipzig, Bach probably wrote these preludes while in Weimar, where he wrote the bulk of his organ works. The collection contains longer chorale preludes than collections like the Orgelbüchlein do. The first of the preludes on “Nun komm,” which will be Sunday’s prelude, heavily ornaments the tune over an accompaniment which evokes an air of mystery. The third, which will be Sunday’s postlude, plays the tune plainly in the pedal while a fiery toccata is played in the manuals.

The other hymns include two sturdy English tunes and one well-known French tune. “Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding” is a translation of an old Latin hymn which probably originates around the 10th Century, and the first verse especially mirrors the Collect for Sunday. The tune is by William Henry Monk, the editor of the first few editions of Hymns Ancient and Modern, and was written for Edward Caswall’s translation of the text for the first edition of the hymnal. “Lo, he comes with clouds descending,” which, paired with the tune “Helmsley,” is among my very favorite hymns, comes from Charles Wesley, one of the famous Wesleys associated with the foundation of Methodism (though the one who remained loyal to the Church of England and disapproved of John Wesley’s ordinations which led to the split from the Church of England). Wesley paired the text with the tune, Helmsley, whose authorship is somewhat murky; Wesley attributed it to Thomas Olivers, though it may have either been a composition for the stage or a tune taken from a collection of hymn tunes sung at a hospital. Whoever wrote it, though, wrote a brilliant, soaring tune which pairs perfectly with the text.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence” comes from the Syrian Liturgy of St. James. Gerard Moultrie wrote the text as we know it as a paraphrase of a “cherubic hymn,” or a hymn chanted by the Celebrant as the bread and wine are brought to the altar in that Liturgy. Today, it’s used both as an Advent hymn and a general Eucharistic hymn, and this Sunday we can use it as both (since it will be sung as the Altar is prepared during the offertory)! The tune, Picardy, comes from a 17th Century French carol, originally used for a text beginning “Jésus-Christ s’habille en pauvre” (poetically, Jesus came in garment lowly). The tune was adapted and paired with Moultrie’s text by Ralph Vaughan Williams for The English Hymnal.

Though the “classical” music canon has largely ignored England between the death of Henry Purcell in the late 17th Century and the flourishing of Edward Elgar in the late 19th (to the point that the Germans who came up with the idea of a canon in the first place derisively referred to England as “Das Land ohne Musik” or “the land without music”), there were indeed many skilled composers in England during that period. Not only did many well-known composers like Handel, Mendelssohn, and Haydn travel to England frequently or reside there for a time, there were plenty of home-grown composers as well. Thomas Attwood may be the most prominent one from the late 18th Century. As a young man, he impressed the Prince of Wales (who would later become King George IV) so much that the Prince funded Attwood’s studies in Naples and Vienna. In Vienna, Attwood would become a favored pupil of none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Upon his return to England, he worked for a few prominent noble courts and taught at the newly formed Royal Academy of Music and joined the Royal Philharmonic Society. His style is quite typical of the late 18th Century “classical” style, and we can certainly see shades of Mozart in the Offertory Anthem on Sunday, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes,”  a setting of a portion of Psalm 119.

A composer more accepted in the canon (to the extent that it even goes back to the Renaissance) is the Tudor-era composer, Thomas Tallis. Tallis was among the favored composers of the royal family during his career, and managed to navigate the English Reformation relatively unscathed, writing music for various forms of the English church as needed. “Audivi vocem” is from the more Catholic end of things; it’s technically a text for All Saints Day (since it’s the responsory for one of the lessons at Matins for that feast), but works extremely well for Advent as well. The text is all about anticipation, beseeching the “wisest virgins” to fill their lamps with oil and wait for the bridegroom.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday November 21st

Prelude: Prelude in D Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Opening Hymn: 450 “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name” (Coronation)
Sequence Hymn: 495 “Hail, thou once despised Jesus” (In Babilone)
Offertory Anthem: O God, the King of glory – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Offertory Hymn: 483 “The head that once was crowned with thorns” (St. Magnus)
Communion Anthem: O Rex gloriae – William Byrd (c.1540-1623)
Final Hymn: 494 “Crown him with many crowns” (Diademata)
Postlude: Fugue in D Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

In modern rites, the last Sunday before Advent is the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. This being a relatively new feast day (first instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, under the backdrop of rising nationalism and secularism and not widely adopted by Anglicans until the 1970’s), there isn’t much music written specifically for it. However, the themes of the kingship of Christ are all over the texts for the feast of the Ascension, so much of the wealth of music for that feast can do double duty (and indeed, both anthems on Sunday were written for the Ascension).

The choral music on Sunday is from two of the best-known English composers in history. Many consider Henry Purcell to be the greatest composer of the baroque period in England, and, of course, William Byrd was a master of Renaissance polyphony. Purcell’s anthem, “O God, the king of glory” sets the collect for the Sunday after the Ascension in the Book of Common Prayer, which survived the great Collect reshuffling of the 1970’s and remains in the current BCP! Byrd’s anthem has a similar text, but it’s taken from the Divine Office for the Ascension (specifically the Antiphon for the Magnificat at 2nd Vespers of the feast) rather than the Book of Common Prayer. Byrd remained a devout Catholic despite the religious upheaval which was already under way in England when he was born, and despite the suspicion the English government had for Catholicism. However, he did enjoy a place of privilege, being a prominent composer and one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite composers. This only got him so far, though; after the Papal Bull, Regnans in Excelsis by Pope Pius V in 1570, which declared Elizabeth an illegitimate monarch and absolved her subjects of loyalty to her, Byrd began to be viewed with suspicion, being barred from his post at the Chapel Royal for a time, and having his movements restricted. Though he wrote some music for use in the Anglican Church, a lot of his choral music is very Catholic. “O Rex gloriae” is from a late collection of his titled Gradualia, which is a massive collection of motets in two volumes which sets texts from the Catholic Mass and Office. These are excellent examples of Byrd’s polyphony, though, and the 5 voice “O Rex gloriae” is no exception.

The hymns, appropriately, all speak of the reign of Jesus. The hymns sung to “Coronation” and “Diademata” are, of course, standards for the day. “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” was written in the late 18th Century by Edward Perronet, a friend of the Wesley brothers, and is known to a few different tunes, but best known to us to Oliver Holden’s tune, “Coronation,” composed a couple decades after the text. “Crown him with many crowns” is a bit later, with both text and tune written in the mid-19th Century by Matthew Bridges and George Elvey, respectively. The pair was first published in the 1868 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern and has remained popular since.

The other two hymns are more about the juxtaposition of Jesus’s reign with the shame and suffering he went through at the crucifixion. “Hail, thou once despised Jesus” comes from early 18th Century England, and in our hymnal is paired with a traditional Dutch tune called “In Babilone.” “The head that once was crowned with thorns” is a common choice for the Ascension, a text written by an Irish lawyer who lived in the 19th Century. The tune, “St. Magnus,” was first seen in 1707 in Henry Playford’s book, Divine Companion, without attribution. It’s thought to be by Jeremiah Clarke, a prominent English organist who committed suicide, which may be why the tune was not attributed to him at first. The name, “St. Magnus,” is for the Church of St. Magnus the Martyr by London Bridge, which today is a prominent Anglo-Catholic parish.

Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major remains among his best-loved “free” organ works, written in the 1710’s while Bach worked in Weimar (as much of his organ music was). It’s most notable for its, frankly, ridiculous fugue subject (which nonetheless is woven into a truly great fugue), but the prelude is also great. It opens with typical North German flair, with ascending pedal scales and manual flourishes, before moving to a spritely “alla breve” section. It ends with a crash, though, in a cataclysmic coda prominently featured as the musical backdrop to the famous Baptism scene in the 1972 film, The Godfather.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday November 14th

Prelude: Lebhaft from Sonata I – Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Opening Hymn: 632 “O Christ, the word incarnate” (Munich)
Sequence Hymn: 594 “God of grace and God of glory” (Cwm Rhondda)
Offertory Anthem: Locus Iste – Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Offertory Hymn: 619 “Sing alleluia forth in duteous praise” (Martins)
Communion Anthem: And I saw a new heaven – Edgar Bainton (1880-1956)
Final Hymn: 579 “Almighty Father, strong to save” (Melita)
Postlude: Phantasie, Frei and Ruhig Bewegt from Sonata I – Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

 

Some of the music for Sunday continues the theme of All Saints Day, which can still be seen in the readings for the day. Notably, one of the hymns talks about the choirs of angels and saints in heaven praising God, definitely a theme of All Saints Day, and the other talks about what happens when this world passes away.

But first, we have the organ music. Paul Hindemith is known today as a musical polymath with very strong opinions, and who devised a method of teaching musicianship which frustrates music students to this day. He was a skilled violinist as a child, excelled in the conservatory, and went on to make his living early in his career by playing for dance bands, shades of which can be seen in his music. As his career progressed, he became known both as an educator (he taught at many prestigious institutions, including a stint at Yale) for a sort of neo-baroque style of composition and for using instruments such as the viola d’amore, previously unheard of in the modern era. He learned to play just about every major instrument and strove to write a piece for all of them. By the 1930’s his relationship with his homeland of Germany was fraying as the Third Reich rose to power. His wife was Jewish, for one thing, and the Nazi Party seemed to oscillate between praising Hindemith’s music and condemning it as degenerate (Goebbels, especially, did not like it). We can’t blame him, then, for getting out of dodge, first moving to Turkey, then moving to Switzerland, all the while making multiple tours of the United States. It was during one of these tours in 1937 that he wrote the first two of his three sonatas for organ, which are his only solo organ works. The first comes in two movements, though the second of those movements is split into three distinct parts. As the prelude, we’ll hear the lengthy first movement, which pads a typical classical-style Sonata Allegro form with several bits of transitional material. However, the two themes, an angular, folksy theme resembling an ornamented chorale, and a relentless stepwise theme, are quite compelling and make for an interesting piece of music! As the postlude, we’ll hear two parts of the three-part second movement (the first part doesn’t fit well in a postlude outside Lent); the “Phantasie, Frei” section clearly draws inspiration from Buxtehude, Bruhns, and other composers of the North German “stilus phantasticus,” with its virtuosic runs and sudden changes in texture, though through a highly dissonant 20th Century lens. The “ruhig bewegt” section is a definite shift in gears, more like a folksy rondo.

Anton Bruckner may be known for his grand orchestral works, but he was also an organist and began his career working for the church. As such, he wrote many pieces of choral music, which are much more digestible lengths than his symphonies. “Locus iste,” a setting of the traditional Gradual at Masses for the Dedication of a Church in the old Catholic rite, might be his best-known choral piece. The text, which talks about the house of God fits especially well with the epistle for Sunday. “And I saw a new heaven” sets a passage from Revelation, read on All Saints Day this year, and is by an English composer who eventually emigrated to Australia to take charge of the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. “And I saw a new heaven” is by far Bainton’s best-known work, and soon after its publication in 1928, became a mainstay in the repertoire of many British Choirs, including at the Three Choirs Festival.

The four hymns on Sunday are mostly commonly sung tunes, with perhaps one exception. “Sing alleluia forth in duteous praise” is a translation of a very old Latin hymn (estimated anywhere from the 5th-8th century AD) about the choirs of heaven praising God. The tune, Martins, is by an English organist and educator, Percy Buck. The first hymn, though not a commonly sung text in my experience (though a text which fits quite well with the collect of the day), should be a familiar tune; it’s an old Lutheran tune, first seen in the 1693 Neuvermehrtes Gesangbuch, which was adapted by Felix Mendelssohn for use in his most famous oratorio, Elijah. The text is by William Walsham How, who also wrote “For all the saints,” which we sang last week. The sequence hymn is a warhorse to a sturdy Welsh tune. The final hymn is in honor of Veterans’ Day, which is on Thursday the 11th; it’s a thoroughly English hymn, with a text by William Whiting and a tune by John Bacchus Dykes, but it’s commonly known in the United States as the “Navy Hymn.” Whiting’s text, inspired by his experience in a storm on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea, ask for God’s protection for seafarers, and a tradition arose in 1879 of concluding services in the chapel of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland with this hymn. 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday November 7th

Prelude: Langsam from Six Fugues on BACH – Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Opening Hymn: 286 “Who are these like stars appearing” (Zeuch mich, zeuch mich)
Sequence Hymn: 623 “O what their joy and their glory must be” (O quanta qualia)
Offertory Anthem: Angeli, archangeli – Andrea Gabrieli (c.1532-1585)
Offertory Hymn: 293 “I sing a song of the saints of God” (Grand Isle)
Communion Anthem: O quam gloriosum – T.L. de Victoria (c.1548-1611)
Final Hymn: 287 “For all the saints” (Sine Nomine)
Postlude: Praeludium in G Major – Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697)

This is a special Sunday at All Saints. Not only will we be celebrating All Saints Day, our Patronal Festival, but this will be the first “normal” musical Sunday at All Saints since March 8, 2020, with four hymns and a choir! We will return to offering two choral anthems and doing the psalm to Anglican Chant.

The anthems are by familiar names for anyone versed in Renaissance music. Though perhaps not as famous as his nephew, Giovanni, Andrea Gabrieli might be the first of a long line of highly influential Venetian composers (which includes Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi) and is considered the father of the Venetian school of polychoral polyphony. His reach extended beyond Venice as well; during a trip to modern-day Germany, he met a more famous Renaissance composer, Orlande de Lassus, and the two exchanged ideas. He also became famous as a teacher, notably teaching Hans Leo Hassler, perhaps the most influential German renaissance composer. “Angeli, archangeli” is a spritely motet for All Saints Day, which passes a simple, 2-3 note motive around the four voices. The text is taken from the antiphon for the Magnificat for one of the Vespers services for All Saints, and asks angels, archangels, and all categories of Saints to pray for us.

The other anthem, more well-known by far, sets the other Magnificat antiphon for All Saints. Tomás Luis de Victoria is among the “big 3” of the Renaissance composers associated with the so-called “Counter-Reformation,” along with Orlande de Lassus and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Victoria spent most of his life in his native Spain, but did go to Rome as a young man to study, and became involved in the musical goings-on there. His compositional style is much more dramatic than Gabrieli’s, and “O quam gloriosum” certainly starts dramatically, with a slow build in the first line. Another obvious moment of text painting is the ecstatic ascending scales in all four voices on the word “gaudent” (meaning “rejoice”).

All but one of the hymns on Sunday are explicitly for All Saints Day. We will enter on the sturdy German tune accompanying “Who are these like stars appearing,” which is a translation by Frances Elizabeth Cox (among the best known translators of German hymns in the 19th Century) of an early 18th Century German text by Heinrich Schenck. The sequence hymn, which is related to the theme of the second reading, comes from medieval France, written by the famous philosopher Peter Abelard, who is perhaps most famous for his tragic love affair with Héloise d’Argenteuil. The text was translated by the great 19th Century translator of Latin texts, John Mason Neale, and set to a tune from a 17th Century French “antiphoner.”

The other two hymns are more well-known. “I sing a song of the saints of God” is a hymn intended for children, written by and Englishwoman named Lesbia Scott. It’s likely that Scott wrote the hymn to sing to her own children when she was a young mother. Though the hymn never caught on in the UK, it became quite popular in the United States, thanks in part to the tune by John Henry Hopkins III (no relation to me, as far as I know). This John Henry Hopkins is one of three from the same family who were notable in Anglican circles, beginning with John Henry Hopkins, who became the Eighth Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, and John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (III’s uncle), an Episcopal Priest who wrote the famous tune for “We three kings of Orient are.” And, of course, we end with the famous “For all the saints,” to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Sine Nomine.” The text is by 19th Century English Bishop, William Walsham How, known for his charity in the London Slums and for his alignment with the Oxford Movement. The tune, by great early-20th Century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, was written for The English Hymnal in 1906, which Vaughan Williams edited. The tune name, “Sine Nomine,” translates to “without a name,” perhaps referring to those Saints whose names we don’t know.

And finally, we have the organ music. We’ve heard a bunch of North German Baroque music over the last few weeks, including Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which was certainly heavily influenced by North German music. This week, we’ll continue the trend with a piece by Nicolaus Bruhns, who was flashy even by the already flashy standards of the North German school. Bruhns was born in Denmark but moved to Lübeck as a teenager to study violin and gamba with his uncle, and organ and composition with the great Dieterich Buxtehude. He then moved to Copenhagen and became well-known as an organist and violinist (and would supposedly play the violin while accompanying himself on the organ pedals sometimes), but his very accomplished life was cut short when he died at the age of 31. His Praeludium in G does not hold back on the virtuosity and, for lack of a better word, showiness. The other organ work is by the famous 19th Century composer and journalist, Robert Schumann, who is equally known for his compositions and for his influence on the music world at the time with his quarterly journal, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. Schumann struggled greatly with mental illness later in life, eventually dying in an asylum. One way he dealt with this in the 1940’s was to study counterpoint intensely, and he also bought a pedal piano (a piano with an organ-style pedalboard which was popular as a practice instrument at the time) around the same time. He wrote two sets of contrapuntal studies for this instrument, and then a set of six fugues on Bach’s name (spelled musically as B-flat, A, C, B-natural, since in German nomenclature B refers to B-flat and H refers to B-natural) without specifying instrumentation. We’ll hear the first of those six fugues on Sunday, a long, slow, and dramatic crescendo.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday October 31st

Prelude: Toccata in D Minor – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 665 “All my hope on God is founded” (Michael)
Offertory Anthem: God be in my head – H. Walford Davies (1869-1941)
Offertory Hymn: 688 “A mighty fortress is our God” (Ein feste Burg)
Communion Anthem: God shall wipe away all tears – Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
Postlude: Fugue in D Minor – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Yes, I had to. Since this Sunday falls on Halloween, some spooky organ music is in order. There’s plenty to choose from, of course, but on a North German Baroque-style organ like the one we have, the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is the clear answer. This is one of the most popular examples of the “Stilus Phantasticus” in the North German baroque era there is. Bach (if, indeed, Bach did write this piece – there’s some debate among experts as to whether it’s really a Bach work) likely wrote this piece as a very young man, possibly as a teenager. It later gained in popularity when performing Bach’s music became commonplace in the 19th Century (thanks in no small part to Felix Mendelssohn), but really exploded in the popular imagination after 1940. What happened in 1940, you may ask? Well, that’s the year Walt Disney’s Fantasia debuted, which opened with an orchestral arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue by Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski began his career as an organist, serving as Organist and Choirmaster at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church here in New York (now at Park Avenue between 50th and 51st, but then was still in its old building at 43rd and Madison) before he went to Europe for further conducting study. Naturally, he enjoyed arranging organ works for orchestra, and arranged a few Bach works. Of course, the Toccata and Fugue, especially the commanding opening of the Toccata, has deep associations with the horror genre now. I’m not sure how that came about, though it may have something to do with theater organs in silent movie houses; perhaps organists often played it for horror movies.

The vocal solos on Sunday are by two Englishmen. H. Walford Davies played a major role in the early days of broadcast radio; he was the musical advisor to the British Broadcasting Corporation (aka the BBC) and became famous for musical talks he did on the radio through the 20’s and 30’s. He was also notable as a composer, of course, and the piece we’ll hear on Sunday is a short setting of the famous text from the 15th Century Sarum Primer (a collection of prayers from Salisbury Cathedral, often nicknamed Sarum). The other is a setting of texts from Revelation by Sir Arthur Sullivan, who is noted for his own classical music, some exceedingly campy hymns (including the tune to the controversial “Onward, Christian soldiers”), and for being half of a famous theatrical collaboration with W.S. Gilbert, collectively known as Gilbert and Sullivan, whose operettas are still beloved and widely performed.

Aside from Halloween, October 31 is the day when Lutherans commemorate the reformation. October 31 is ostensibly the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses, a list of complaints about the way the Catholic Church operated, to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg (which was dedicated to All Saints). Of course, this is somewhat apocryphal since Luther may not have even been in Wittenberg at the time. However, in commemoration of that, we will sing one of Luther’s most famous chorales, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (translated in English as “A mighty fortress is our God”). The sturdy tune accompanies a text about seeking refuge in God against the evils of the world. The other hymn is one of hope amid adversity. The tune, Michael, is named for the composer’s (Herbert Howells) son, who died of polio in 1935 at age nine. The text translates a hymn about trust in God by Joachim Neander, an 18th Century German poet, and though it had been published a few years prior to Michael’s death, was renamed for Michael in 1936. Howells honored his son in several other ways; A Sequence for St. Michael and Take him, earth, for cherishing are two anthems in Michael’s honor. Howells also sketched out his unpublished Hymnus Paradisi, an expanded version of his unconventional Requiem, in the three years following his son’s death.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday October 24th

Prelude: Andante Religioso from Sonata IV – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Sequence Hymn: 488 “Be thou my vision” (Slane)
Offertory Anthem: Sheep may safely graze – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Hymn: 617 “Eternal ruler of the ceaseless round” (Song I)
Communion Anthem: Steal Away – arr. Harry Burleigh (1866-1949)
Postlude: Praeludium in C – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)

The organ music this week returns to the North German great of the middle baroque, Dieterich Buxtehude. The Praeludium in C, often called the Prelude, Fugue, and Chaconne, is among his more famous works and demonstrates the “Stilus Phantasticus” as it applies to the organ well. It begins with a declamatory pedal solo, as if to get the listener’s attention, with a few other virtuosic flourishes, before moving to a short fugal section. After a more extensive and restrained interlude, we hear a spritely fugal section which eventually gives way to a quick ground bass (referred to as a chaconne), in which the music is played over a repeating bass line. The piece abounds with flamboyant passagework, sudden stops, starts, and transitions, and improvisatory elements typical of the North German style. Buxtehude, presiding from the organ at the Marienkirche in the North German free city of Lübeck, was a particular master of the style. We have an extensive collection of organ music from him, and he doubtless improvised much more music. As I mentioned last week, a young Bach traveled over 200 miles each way on foot to hear and presumably study with the master in 1705 and was away from home for months, much to the annoyance of his employers in Arnstadt (who granted him 4 weeks off for the journey, but Bach was gone around 4 months)! Some theorize that Bach was asked if he’d like to succeed the aging Buxtehude, but that ultimately didn’t pan out. One possible reason was the custom that the organist at the Marienkirche would marry his predecessor’s daughter (Buxtehude married Anna Margarethe Tunder, daughter of his predecessor Franz Tunder, when he took the job in 1668) and Bach would marry his first wife, Maria Barbara, the next year, and may have already been engaged. There are also some mean-spirited theories about the appearance of Buxtehude’s eldest daughter (both Handel and Johann Mattheson were offered the job with the stipulation that they marry her and turned it down), but no portraits of her exist.

The other organ work is from the 19th Century, by the short-lived prodigy, Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was born to a wealthy Jewish family (though not religious), but was baptized as a Christian in childhood, possibly for political reasons. He and his sister, Fanny, received excellent musical training and Felix began publishing chamber music at age 13 (some of Fanny’s early works were also published under his name). He would go on to be an influential composer and conductor, and to revive public interest in the works of J.S. Bach (whose music was far from forgotten, as many composers studied it, but public performances of it were rare). His six organ sonatas were commissioned by an English publisher as a “set of voluntaries” which Mendelssohn decided to expand to sonatas. The fourth, from which we’ll hear on Sunday, is a favorite of many and contains four movements. We’ll hear the calm reprieve which is the second movement, which follows the sonata’s aggressive opening. As is typical of Mendelssohn’s slow movements, it’s in a short A-B-A form with a simple, beautiful melody.

“Schafe können sicher weiden,” known in English as “Sheep may safely graze,” is among the more recognizable soprano arias by J.S. Bach and is a popular piece for weddings. It comes from the cantata, Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd (the lively hunt is all my heart’s desire), BWV 208, which is one of Bach’s few secular cantatas (the most famous of which probably being Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, often nicknamed the “coffee” cantata). Bach wrote the cantata in 1713 while he was employed at the Ducal court of Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar, and it was likely intended as a gift from Ernst to a neighboring Duke, who enjoyed hunting. Weimar’s court poet, Salomon Franck, wrote the text. “Sheep may safely graze” is likely meant to draw a parallel between sheep being secure with a good shepherd to subjects of a wise ruler living safely and happily, but given the Biblical imagery about Jesus as the good shepherd, it can easily be interpreted as a song about trust in God. In the original scoring, the aria is accompanied by two recorders and basso continuo, clearly meant to evoke a peaceful pastoral scene.

The other vocal solo on Sunday is by our favorite New York Episcopal singer and spiritual arranger, Harry Burleigh. Burleigh was born in Erie, PA, but moved to New York to study at the National Conservatory of Music and remained here for the rest of his life. Among his many singing engagements, he was the baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church on Stuyvesant Square for over 50 years (a controversial appointment due to his race) and remained much in-demand as a singer in New York and beyond (however, he hated recording, so few recordings of him exist). He also arranged many traditional African-American spirituals for solo singers and for choir. “Steal Away” is one such arrangement of a song by a slave named Wallace Willis. The spiritual, as many spirituals do, talks about trusting in Jesus, especially after this life, with some undertones of hope for freedom. Many claim this and other spirituals like “Swing low, sweet chariot” also contain coded messages about the underground railroad.

“Be thou my vision,” normally sung, as it will be Sunday, to the tune Slane is a fully Irish hymn. The text is a translation of an old Irish hymn, “Bí Thusa 'mo Shúile,” done by an Irish woman who lived around the turn of the 19th-20th Century. The tune, Slane, is an old Irish folk tune which was adapted as a hymn and published in The Church Hymnary in 1927 along with this text. This marriage of text and tune has since appeared in countless hymnals. The other hymn marries an American text with an English tune. The text, “Eternal ruler of the ceaseless round,” was written by John Chadwick, a Unitarian minister from Massachusetts. He wrote the text for his graduating class at the Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. After graduation, Chadwick moved to Brooklyn to be the minister of the Second Unitarian Church on the intersection of Clinton and Congress Streets in what is now known as the Cobble Hill neighborhood, and as part of what the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called the “Highway of Churches” on Clinton Street (the congregation is no longer active and the building was demolished in the 1960’s). The tune is by Orlando Gibbons, one of the leading English composers of the late Tudor and early Jacobean periods, first appointed to the Chapel Royal by King James I (for whom the King James Bible is named). “Song 1” was likely intended for psalm singing, but is paired with a number of hymn texts now, and appears in The Hymnal 1982 three times.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday October 17th

Prelude: Nun bitten wir – Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707)
Sequence Hymn: 448 “O love, how deep, how broad, how high” (Deus tuorum militum)
Offertory Anthem: We sing to Him, whose wisdom form’d the ear – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Offertory Hymn: 480 “When Jesus left his Father’s throne” (Kingsfold)
Communion Anthem: The goodness of God – C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788)
Postlude: Toccata in F – Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707)

Mainstream “classical” music tends to ignore any composer before Bach and Handel (except for one piece by Johann Pachelbel, you know the one), but if you’ve heard of one composer before the “high” baroque, there’s a good chance that composer is Dieterich Buxtehude. Though technically born in Denmark, Buxtehude spent most of his life and career in the Free City of Lübeck, a city in what is now Northern Germany, where he succeeded Franz Tunder as the organist of the Marienkirche. From there, Buxtehude became an extremely influential composer and organist. He was a major influence on a young Johann Sebastian Bach, who traveled over 200 miles each way on foot from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear the master organist play! On Sunday, we’ll hear two very different pieces by the composer. The first is a simple, lyrical chorale prelude which ornaments the chorale melody. The chorale is Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist (we now implore the Holy Ghost), which is a medieval German church song (called a leise) based on the Veni Creator which was adapted to a chorale after the Reformation. The other piece is a short, simple, but flashy toccata which demonstrates a condensed version of the “Stilus Phantasticus” Buxtehude is known for. It includes virtuosic runs, sudden stops and starts, and general showmanship, much like contemporary violin works by the likes of Heinrich Biber.

Though we’re not hearing any J.S. Bach this week, we seem to be dancing around him! One of the anthems is by one of his sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel, who was Bach’s fifth child and second son to live to adulthood (after all, this was before modern medicine, so only about half of Bach’s 20 children survived to adulthood). CPE Bach, as he is more commonly known, was probably the most successful member of the Bach family during his lifetime (more so than his father, even) and spent the early years of his career working in the Berlin court of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (who was himself an accomplished musician), which was an extremely cosmopolitan court (in stark contrast to his father’s appointment as a church musician in Leipzig, a relative backwater). Though CPE was doubtless heavily influenced by his father, he primarily composed in a simpler style, more reminiscent of the early Classical period, focused on elegant phrases and melodies rather than the counterpoint associated with the elder Bach. That style is certainly showcased in the Communion Anthem on Sunday, which you might be forgiven for associating more with the likes of Mozart than with anyone named Bach. Near the end of his life, J.S. Bach made a visit to the Prussian court to visit his son, and wrote A Musical Offering for Frederick the Great; the book An Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines offers an engaging and informative account of this story, if you’re interested in reading it!

For the other anthem, we turn to 17th Century England, to the greatest English baroque composer, Henry Purcell. “We sing to him, whose wisdom form’d the ear” is one of Purcell’s miscellaneous sacred songs, a setting of a text by English clergyman Nathaniel Ingelo. The result is a short song of praise for soprano and basso continuo, with an optional bass voice added in the refrain.

The two hymns on Sunday speak of the love and servitude of Christ. The first, “O love, how deep, how broad, how high” is a translation of an anonymous Latin text (O amor quam ecstaticus!) which is often attributed to 14th Century monk, Thomas á Kempis. The text chronicles Jesus’s life on earth through the lens of what he did for us. The tune comes from the 18th Century publication, Grenoble Antiphoner, and was originally meant to set the Latin office hymn, Deus Tuorum Militum, which is the hymn appointed for Vespers on the feast of a martyr. The other, “When Jesus left his Father’s throne,” talks about Jesus humbling himself, and has the alternate title, “Children Recalling the Example of Jesus.” The text is by James Montgomery, who lived around the turn of the 18th to 19th Centuries, was the son of Moravian missionaries, and an outspoken abolitionist. The tune, Kingsfold, is thought to be an English folk tune with origins in the medieval period. Its popularity in the modern era started with its publication in English Country Songs in 1893 and it was adapted as a hymn tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams for The English Hymnal (1906), originally paired with the text “I heard the voice of Jesus say.” Since then, it has appeared in countless hymnals and paired with several texts.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday October 10th

 

 

Prelude: Alla Siciliana from Pastorale – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 400 “All creatures of our God and King” (Lasst uns erfreuen)
Offertory Anthem: O for the wings of a dove from Hear my Prayer
                                                                              – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Offertory Hymn: 593 “Lord make us servants of your peace” (Dickinson College)
Communion Anthem: Psalm 8 – Griffin Candey (b. 1988)
Postlude: Alla Gigue from Pastorale – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

This Sunday, we’ll celebrate St. Francis of Assisi, who is often associated with animals, so the music this week has a definite nature-y feel! We’ll start with Bach’s Pastorale, which isn’t among the most performed of his organ works these days, and is a bit odd, but is a great piece nonetheless. None but the first movement of this four-movement work even has a pedal part, and the pedal part in the first movement is a series of pedal points (or drones)! The “Pastorale” or “Pastorella” is a musical form meant to evoke, well, a pastoral scene. They’re usually in a triple meter (12/8 in this case), almost like a slow triple meter dance, and over a drone. This first movement seems unfinished, with an odd key change before it ends, but it’s a nice piece nonetheless! The final movement is a gigue, a faster triple meter dance. It’s in two sections, one presents a theme which is imitated by the other voices, and the second section is based on the same theme but inverted (i.e. turned upside-down)!

Though Bach’s Pastorale may not be heard as much as some of his other organ works, it’s been well known for a long time! It was among the pieces performed in Felix Mendelssohn’s acclaimed series of recitals of Bach’s music, which were notable because it was unusual to hear older music until the late 19th Century. Though many composers studied Bach, Mendelssohn was instrumental in getting audiences interested in Bach, and he was a composer himself! “Hear my prayer, O Lord” is a late work by Mendelssohn (though, as you can see looking at his dates, he didn’t live very long), written in 1844. The piece, scored for soprano solo, choir, and organ or orchestra, adapts parts of Psalm 55. We’ll hear an excerpt from the end of the work on Sunday, a soaring melody which sets a text of longing, and of course the imagery of a dove building a nest seemed appropriate for St. Francis. The other vocal solo on Sunday is a setting of Psalm 8 written in 2016 by a young (roughly my age!) American composer. Griffin Candey started his career as a singer and has written a lot of vocal music, and is currently artist-in-residence for the Cleveland Opera Theatre. This setting of psalm 8 features a soaring soprano line, perhaps not dissimilar to the Mendelssohn.

The hymns for Sunday are both texts associated with St. Francis. “All creatures of our God and King” beseeches all of creation to praise God, and was almost certainly written by St. Francis, and is set to Lasst uns erfreuen, which we sang to a different text (Ye watchers and ye holy ones) a few weeks ago, and which is among the most beloved tunes in all of hymnody, with its distinctive “Alleluia” refrain. The other text, known as the “Prayer of St. Francis,” was almost certainly not written by Francis. For one thing, St. Francis lived in the 12th and 13th Centuries, and this “Prayer of St. Francis” has, as its earliest known appearance, a French Catholic magazine published in 1912! Though the author of the prayer is anonymous, many think the founder of the league that published the magazine, Fr. Esther Bouquerel, is its author. Despite its false attribution, it’s still a lovely prayer and is often associated with St. Francis now, so it seems appropriate. We will sing this to Dickinson College, a flowing tune in 5/4 meter (unusual for hymns) by Lee Hastings Bristol, who was part of the Bristol family in the pharmaceutical company name, Bristol-Myers Squibb. Born in Brooklyn, Bristol studied as an organist but decided to work in advertising for the family business (then simply Bristol-Myers) before retiring and becoming President of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ. He also served on the joint commission of church music of the Episcopal Church for many years. 

 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday October 3rd

 

 

Prelude: Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 625 “Ye holy angels bright” (Darwall’s 148th)
Offertory Anthem: Let the bright Seraphim from Samson – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)
Offertory Hymn: 282 “Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels” (Caelites plaudant)
Communion Anthem: O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
Postlude: Allegro from Concerto in D Minor (After Vivaldi) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Since we’re celebrating Michaelmas on Sunday (the nickname for the Feast of Saint Michael), the music will be particularly angelic (in theme, if not in execution!). We’re hearing yet more Bach on the organ on Sunday (can I help it if that’s what our organ is particularly suited to?)! The organ postlude on Sunday is another movement from Bach’s transcription of Vivaldi’s concerto in D Minor for two violins, cello, and string orchestra. Last week, we heard the middle slow movement, and this provides a contrast in an aggressive movement in “ritornello” form (remember that from a few weeks ago?). This means the orchestra largely plays the same material at various points in the piece (much like a refrain or chorus in a song), and the solo instruments show off in between. Of course, it will be played on a single pipe organ, but hopefully some of the effect of soloists backed by a larger ensemble will come across! The organ prelude is from Bach’s unfinished collection of short chorale preludes, the Orgelbüchlein. Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar (roughly, from heaven came the angel band) actually sets a Christmas chorale, but the cascading scales which accompany the chorale tune are too good a depiction of angels to pass up.

Though born in modern-day Germany, Handel’s career eventually took him to London, where he had success as a composer of opera before Italian opera began to fall out of fashion. Handel turned to oratorio after that, which were both cheaper to put on (since they don’t need to be staged) and could be sung in English (since the convention for opera in London at the time was to do it in Italian). Many of Handel’s oratorios were quite popular both in their time and since then. Of course, we all know at least parts of The Messiah, but Samson, which premiered in 1743 (two years after the premiere of The Messiah), might be Handel’s most popular oratorio that’s not The Messiah. Its premiere at Covent Garden was a huge success, and a few movements are standard repertoire for both solo voices and choruses. Its libretto by Newburgh Hamilton is based on the biblical story of Samson as told in the book of Judges. “Let the bright Seraphim,” a soprano aria, is one of the more popular movements of the work, with its soaring vocal line and regal trumpets in the accompaniment. Like many of Handel’s arias, it is in “Da capo” form (da capo meaning “from the head”), with an A section, a contrasting B section, and a repeat of the A section (often with additional ornamentation from the singer).

We’ll also hear a song for the angels by 12th Century abbess, composer, poet, mystic, and polymath Hildegard von Bingen. The first phrase of “O gloriosissimi lux vivens angeli” translates roughly to “O living light, O angels glorious!” The piece is relatively long, and changes mode several times. This is one of several pieces about the celestial choirs, which, as a set, is much like the hymn, “Ye watchers and ye holy ones” which we sang last Sunday.

The two hymns are classic hymns about the angels. “Christ the fair glory of the holy angels” is a translation of a text by 9th Century abbott Rabanus Maurus. It is also an office hymn for Michaelmas in the Roman Breviary. This translation was made for our Hymnal 1940, though it doesn’t specify who the translator was. It’s paired to a tune from a 1728 publication from Rouen called Antiphoner, which gives the text an exciting and regal air. Each verse of the text briefly describes the three Angels which play major roles in scripture: Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. The other is a 17th Century text set to an 18th Century tune. The text of “Ye holy angels bright” is by Richard Baxter, a former chaplain to Oliver Cromwell’s regiment, who decided to leave the Church of England and become a nonconformist minister upon the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662. The tune, known as “Darwall’s 148th” or simply “Darwall” is, and you may find this shocking, by John Darwall. Darwall was a Priest in the Church of England and was an amateur composer and musician. His most well-known tune, Darwall’s 148th was first published in 1770 in a publication called the New Universal Psalmodist, as a tune for Psalm 148 (hence the name).

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday September 26th

Prelude: Largo e spiccato from Concerto in D Minor (after Vivaldi) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 551 “Rise up, ye saints of God” (Festal Song)
Offertory Anthem: Hark! The echoing air from The Fairy Queen – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Offertory Hymn: 618 “Ye watchers and ye holy ones” (Lasst uns erfreuen)
Communion Anthem: “I will sing new songs of gladness” – Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Postlude: Fugue in G Minor (“Little”) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

You may remember that, a few weeks ago, we heard a movement from a concerto by Venetian composer, Antonio Vivaldi, as transcribed for the organ by J.S. Bach. The prelude on Sunday comes from a transcription of a different concerto. Two weeks ago, I played one of the faster movements, so this will come as quite a contrast! Vivaldi’s original concerto was scored for two solo violins, solo cello, and string orchestra, though this movement has a single solo line over a simple accompaniment. The other organ piece on Sunday is also by Bach, is among Bach’s best known organ works, and is a youthful one, likely written while Bach lived and worked in Arnstadt in his early 20’s. The fugue subject is among Bach’s most recognizable tunes, though the fugue was likely popularized largely by Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement of the work for orchestra. Before becoming famous as a conductor (and especially so as the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra for the music used in Disney’s 1940 film, Fantasia), Stokowski was an organist. He spent his early career as organist and choirmaster at St. Bart’s here in Manhattan (now over on Park Avenue, though in those days they were still worshipping at their old building on 43rd Street) before he went to Europe for further conducting study.

My habit of acknowledging other occasions during this time of year when there seems to be little to distinguish the Sundays continues. September 29th, which is next Wednesday, is the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, often called Michaelmas, which though a notable feast in the church, is perhaps more notable for its place in the year. It’s one of the “quarter days” in the British Isles (on which, among other things, servants were hired, rents were due, and school terms would start, and you’ll still hear some British schools refer to the fall term as the “Michaelmas term”). In normal years, the Sunday closest to it would be the kickoff of the program year here at All Saints’, though that will be delayed a little bit due to the Pandemic. Both the anthem and the hymn at the offertory use angels as the theme. “Hark, the echoing air” comes from Purcell’s “semi-opera,” The Fairy Queen, written near the end of his short life. Though the work is a secular piece of music, this vocal solo from it describes angels clapping their wings (well, cupids in the original, but who’s counting). The libretto used for The Fairy Queen is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream done by an anonymous writer, and “Hark the echoing air” strikes a definite triumphant mood. It will be immediately followed by “Ye watchers and ye holy ones” to the popular tune, Lasst uns erfreuen. The tune first appeared in its current form in a German Jesuit hymnal in 1623, though some traces of it can be found in some reformed psalters. Ralph Vaughan Williams paired it with this text by Athelston Riley, a description of the choirs of angels praising God, for The English Hymnal in 1906, and it has remained a popular text and tune since then. It’s a favorite in just about every church I’ve ever been in and was even lampooned in an episode of Mr. Bean!

The other hymn is a charge for Christians to fulfill their duty and follow God, which has been a theme of the last several weeks in the lectionary. The tune was written by William Walter in 1872, and the text (which originally began “Rise up, O men of God”) by William Pierson Merrill in 1911.

Finally, we’ll briefly go back to the Biblical Songs by famous Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák, who is perhaps most famous for his time in the United States. That time most famously produced his 9th Symphony, often called the “New world” symphony, in which he included several themes he heard while in various parts of the country. The Biblical Songs were largely written toward the end of those travels while the composer lived in New York City and ran the now-defunct National Conservatory of Music (where he became acquainted with singer and composer Harry Burleigh, whose arrangements of spirituals we’ve heard at All Saints). Each song sets portions of psalms; the triumphant one heard on Sunday sets parts of Psalms 144 and 145. The collection was published in 1895, after the composer returned to his native Bohemia, and though composed in New York, was premiered in Prague. Interestingly, the collection was published in three languages: Czech, German, and English, and the composer took care that all three languages fit the music.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday September 19th

Prelude: Prelude in G Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 382 “King of glory, King of peace” (General Seminary)
Offertory Anthem: O virtus Sapientiae – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
Offertory Hymn: 359 “God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ heirs” (Toulon)
Communion Anthem: Bail avec Mi from Chants de Terre et de Ciel – Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Postlude: Fugue in G Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Bach’s time in Weimar, where he worked in the court of Duke Johann Ernst III, produced many of the composer’s keyboard works, including many of the preludes and fugues which would eventually make up The Well-Tempered Clavier. Bach had a pretty good situation at the Ducal court (at least until he left the job, but that’s another story), and had a major say in the expansion of the chapel organ there, so it’s not hard to see that he was inspired to write organ music as well. Bach wrote the Prelude and Fugue in G Major, which is number 541 in the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnes (BWV for short, which literally means “Bach works catalog”), around 1712, when he would have been about 27 years old. The prelude seems more like a virtuosic violin solo than a keyboard work, to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if a version of the piece for violin and keyboard or violin and orchestra were discovered. It opens with a virtuosic solo before the other voices finally come in and continues to employ a solo voice that goes up and down the keyboard with occasional chordal accompaniment. The fugue is a very different animal, much more stately, with a simple subject. Both, however, are youthful and joyful works.

Hildegard von Bingen is considered a Saint in many churches, and was officially canonized in the Roman Catholic Church in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Her feast day is September 17, which is the Friday preceding this coming Sunday, so I thought it appropriate to do some of her music on Sunday! Hildegard was a 12th Century abbess, visionary, and mystic in addition to being a musician and a poet, and there has been a revival in interest in her music over the past several years. Her music resembles Gregorian Chant, though it’s worth noting that there was not yet a system for notating rhythm during her time, so it would not be off-base to perform it rhythmically. It’s notable for its very wide ranges, perhaps split between different nuns in her community. On Sunday, we will sing “O virtus Sapientiae” (O wisdom’s energy), which is in what we would now call the Phrygian mode. This is one of the pieces Alkemie performed and recorded for the “Hildegard Refracted” program, which I was involved in (and which will be premiering on YouTube on September 25), so maybe we’ll incorporate some of the ideas from that arrangement on Sunday! The arranger, Spiff Wiegand, is a multi-instrumentalist and actor, and a friend of mine.

Olivier Messiaen could be said to have some things in common with Hildegard; he was both a poet and a composer and was very mystical in his approach to music. He was a devout Catholic, so most of his music has at least some religious imagery in it. “Bail avec Mi” comes from an early (published in 1939) collection of his songs, “Chants de Terre et de Ciel” (roughly, Songs of earth and heaven). The title roughly translates to “contract with Mi.” Mi was a pet name for his first wife, violinist and composer Claire Delbos, to whom this song is dedicated. Sadly, their marriage was cut short when Delbos’s health declined rapidly in the late 1940’s, and she spent the last several years of her life in a sanitorium, eventually dying in 1959 (after which Messiaen married pianist Yvonne Loriod). The text, also written by Messiaen, is essentially a love song, but Messiaen just could never resist religious imagery even in love songs. The text draws several contrasts between the earthly and the heavenly, and it seems the music leans into that contrast as well.

As many of you know, we have an ordination happening on Saturday! Heather Sisk, the Pastoral Fellow here at All Saints, will celebrate her first Eucharist as a Priest this Sunday, and the hymns are in honor of that. “King of glory, King of peace” is a gorgeous hymn of praise by 17th Century poet and Bishop, George Herbert (who also wrote the poems set by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his Five Mystical Songs). We will sing the text to a sweeping tune by David Charles Walker (1938-2018), who began his career as a church musician before becoming a Priest in the Episcopal Church. He served on the faculty of General Theological Seminary here in New York for a time, and named this tune after that seminary, which is also the seminary Heather attended. The tune was composed in 1976, and first appeared in our Hymnal 1982 a few years later. The other hymn is the only hymn under the “Ordinations” heading in our hymnal, whose text asks God to prepare ordinands for their ministry. It’s sung to an abridged version of a familiar 16th Century French tune.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday September 12th

Prelude: Siciliano – J.S. Bach (1685-1750) arr. W.T. Best
Sequence Hymn: 675 “Take up your cross, the savior said” (Bourbon)
Offertory Anthem: Vexilla Regis – traditional plainchant
Offertory Hymn: 680 “O God, our help in ages past” (St. Anne)
Communion Anthem: My song shall be always – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Postlude: Allegro from Concerto in A Minor (After Vivaldi) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

The 19th and 20th centuries saw an explosion in transcriptions of orchestral works for keyboard instruments, from Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies for the piano, to Edwin Lemare’s transcriptions of all manner of orchestral works for the organ. Some regard this practice as inauthentic, but transcription is something that’s been happening for a very long time. After all, before the baroque period, composers sometimes didn’t specify instrumentation at all, and baroque composers were adept at recycling pieces for different forces as needs warranted. As an example, one of Bach’s famous keyboard concertos also exists as a concerto for violin and oboe, and there are a few other transcriptions Bach did of his own works (like the “Schübler” chorales, which are largely transcriptions of cantata movements for the organ).

Bach also did some transcription of other composers’ works for the organ. Among these transcriptions are three concertos by the great Venetian composer, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), whose works Bach admired and studied. The first of these is a concerto originally written for two solo violins, a string orchestra, and continuo, of which we’ll hear the first movement on Sunday. Like many of Vivaldi’s concertos, this movement is in “ritornello” form, in which the full orchestra largely plays one section of music at various points in the piece, with the solo instruments showing off in between. That repeating section, called the ritornello, opens the movement. The other organ piece is a later transcription of a well-known movement from a sonata for flute and continuo by Bach. Called “siciliano,” it fits into that genre well; a siciliano or siciliana is a slow piece in triple meter, often resembling a very slow dance. This piece has a mournful theme over a constantly moving left hand accompaniment, punctuated by a bass note every beat.

Next Tuesday is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, so in honor of that, the offertory anthem on Sunday will be a traditional office hymn of the feast. Vexilla regis prodeunt comes from the 6th Century AD, written by the Roman poet and Bishop, Venantius Fortunatus (c. 530-c. 600). Supposedly, the hymn was first sung at a procession when a relic of the true cross was translated from Tours to the monastery of Saint-Croix in Poitiers in 569. Rather than its original Latin, we’ll sing it in English as translated by the John Mason Neale, a 19th Century Englishman known for his translations of Latin hymns. For Communion, we’ll fast forward a millennium and offer the opening to Henry Purcell’s verse anthem, “My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord.” As is typical for verse anthems, this work alternates between sections for a solo singer and continuo and refrains for a full choir, often, as is the case with this, with a viol consort accompanying.

Since the Gospel on Sunday includes an exhortation by Jesus to “take up your cross” and follow him, it seems appropriate that we would sing “Take up your cross, the savior said.” The text comes from a 19th Century Connecticut clergyman and poet, Charles Everest, though he wrote it in 1833, before he took holy orders. The hymn became widespread enough by the middle of the century to be included in “Hymns Ancient and Modern” in 1861. It’s set to the tune Bourbon in the Hymnal 1982, which is perhaps better known to the Lenten text, “Now let us all with one accord.” Fittingly for an American text, Bourbon is an American tune, which first appeared in Columbian Harmony, a collection of shape note tunes published in 1825. It’s attributed to Freeman Lewis in that collection, but that attribution is uncertain. The other hymn is a classic of English hymnody. With a tune written by William Croft and a text written by Isaac Watts, we’re left with two of the heavy hitters of early 18th Century hymnody. Croft spent much of his life as organist of Westminster Abbey, and Watts was a highly respected nonconformist (i.e. a Protestant who wasn’t in the Church of England) minister. The text speaks of trusting in the Lord, and the tune is simple and very singable.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday September 5th

We’re back! I know that Labor Day festivities and possibly last-minute travel for those comfortable doing so may be in store for many of you, but those who do come to church will be treated to a largely English Sunday (though with German and Welsh hymns)!

The two vocal anthems are by perhaps the most famous turn-of-the-century British composers: Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Though Vaughan Williams is known for both his contributions to church music (including writing a few beloved hymn tunes and editing the influential 1906 hymnal, The English Hymnal) and standard “classical” repertoire, Elgar is almost entirely known for his symphonic works, especially his Variations on an Original Theme (often nicknamed the “Enigma” Variations) and his Pomp and Circumstance marches (especially the first, which is commonplace at graduation ceremonies in the US).

Elgar grew up in Worcester as a Roman Catholic. His father was a violinist and organist, and worked at St. George’s Catholic Church in Worcester, a small Catholic parish close to Worcester Cathedral (however, it was Elgar’s mother who was responsible for his Catholic upbringing; his father disapproved of it!). Elgar often assisted his father at the organ from the age of 15 and took over the post at St. George’s from his father as a young adult in 1885, but quickly decided he disliked playing the organ and being a church musician and left after four years (which is why he only ever wrote one piece for the organ!). His “Ave verum corpus,” a setting of the famous Eucharistic hymn by Thomas Aquinas, originates in this period. He wrote the first version as a setting of the “Pie Jesu,” the last couplet of the Dies Irae, the Sequence in the traditional Mass of the Dead, after the death of a friend. In 1906, he revised the piece, changed the text to the “Ave Verum Corpus,” and published two other settings of traditional Catholic texts with it. What we have is a simple and beautiful setting of the text scored for soprano solo and choir, but which works well arranged simply for a soprano.

“He that is down” sets a text by poet John Bunyan and is excerpted from Vaughan Williams’s opera (though he preferred to call it a “morality” rather than an opera) The Pilgrim’s Progress, based on a 1678 allegory of the same name by Bunyan. The composition of the opera (excuse me, morality) was slow, and the three hour work was finally premiered at Covent Garden in 1951, though it wasn’t a particularly successful premiere. The work grew in popularity due to a student production at the University of Cambridge in 1954, and eventually saw a successful North American premiere at Brigham Young University in 1969. “He that is down,” a folksy melody sung by the role of a young woodcutter, speaks of trusting in God, a theme especially in line with the collect of the day.

The one Bach piece on the menu this weekend is from the Orgelbüchlein, which translates to “little organ book.” With this book, Bach set out to write short chorale preludes for the entire church year as a theological statement, and a useful tool for organists of all levels (and a pedagogical tool, since he also intended it to teach people how to play the pedals of the organ). Bach never actually finished the project, though outlines suggest he planned for many, many more chorale preludes than he included. “Jesu meine Freude” sets the chorale of the same name (a translation of which can be found as number 701 in The Hymnal 1982) simply, with the melody stated plainly in the soprano voice to a simple accompaniment.

Herbert Brewer’s Carillon is of the peaceful variety, and comes from the collection called A Little Organ Book in Honor of Hubert Parry. The book is a collection of short pieces written by a myriad of English composers as a tribute to Parry following his death in 1918 during the “Spanish” flu pandemic. A collection of pieces was presented at Parry’s funeral, and later added to and published as a book. Brewer’s Carillon centers around a quite motive centered around bells. Brewer himself was just over a decade younger than Parry, and spent most of his career as Organist at Gloucester Cathedral.

“Cwm Rhondda,” named for the Rhondda Valley in Wales, is among the best known hymn tunes today, written by John Hughes in 1907. To this tune, we’ll sing the text “God of grace and God of glory,” a text by Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist minister who taught at Union Theological Seminary and was Pastor at Park Avenue Baptist Church here in New York for much of his life. The other hymn is an old German chorale, with text and tune written in 1657 by Georg Neumark, who lived during the Thirty Years’ War and faced great personal trials. We’ll sing an English translation by Catherine Winkworth, a 19th Century Englishwoman who is best known for her excellent translations of German hymns. The hymn speaks of trust in God, which ties in to the collect for Sunday.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday August 15th

 

 

 

Prelude: Ave Maris Stella: So as we journey, aid our weak endeavor from 15 Pieces – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Sequence Hymn: 278 “Sing we of the blessed Mother” (Rustington)
Offertory Anthem: Stella splendens from Llibre Vermell de Montserrat – Anonymous c. 1370
Offertory Hymn: 335 “I am the bread of life” (I am the Bread of Life)
Communion Anthem: Ave Maria – Jehan Alain (1911-1940)
Postlude: Magnificat: My soul doth magnify the Lord from 15 Pieces – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)

In a break from the procession of Sundays after Pentecost, this Sunday happens to fall on the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, known in some traditions as the Assumption or the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or, in the 1929 Book of Common Prayer for the Scottish Episcopal Church, the “Falling Asleep of the BVM”). This gives us an opportunity to explore some Marian music! Christians have held special devotion to Mary pretty much since that first Pentecost, and devotion was especially strong in Europe in the second millennium. We’ll hear music from Spain and France, but virtually all Western Europe, especially pre-reformation England, held Mary in very high regard.

The organ music on Sunday comes, once again, from Dupré’s collection of improvisations for Vespers of Our Lady at Notre Dame in Paris. This collection was published in 1920 in English, oddly enough, and dedicated to “Monsieur C.J,” who, as it turns out is Claude Johnson, then the head of British automaker Rolls-Royce. In the late 1910s, he often visited the organ loft of Notre Dame while in Paris during a period when its titular organist, Louis Vierne, was on an extended leave of absence for health reasons and his former student and friend, Marcel Dupré, filled in. Johnson was so impressed with Dupré’s improvisations that he commissioned the organist to write them down. They were then published by Novello. The collection contains improvisations on the five psalm antiphons, six verses of the office hymn, “Ave Maris Stella,” and 4 couplets of the Canticle, the Magnificat, for a typical Vespers for a Marian feast. On Sunday we will hear one of the verses of the Ave Maris Stella, which takes the tune and treats it like one of Bach’s ornamented chorale preludes, and the first couplet of the Magnificat, which is a beautiful and ethereal piece played high on the flutes of the organ.

Six years after the publication of the 15 Pieces, Dupré would become professor of organ and improvisation at the Paris Conservatoire, taking over from Eugène Gigout, who died in 1925 (Charles-Marie Widor held the post before Gigout). He would also later take over as Titular Organist at Saint-Sulpice in Paris after Widor’s retirement, even though Widor was technically only the “provisional” organist there (and remained so for over 60 years!), but I digress. Among Dupré’s students in his first years of teaching was Jehan Alain, who was the son of an organ builder, and a fascinating and eccentric musical mind (between Alain and Messiaen, Dupré must have had his hands full in those early years!). Alain composed voraciously, leaving over a hundred pieces (though most not quite finished) in his very short career as a composer. Unfortunately, his interest in mechanics led him to an interest in motorcycling, which meant he was conscripted to ride his motorcycle for the French Resistance in World War II and was killed in action at the age of 29, a loss deeply felt in the organ world. “Ave Maria” is one of a handful of sacred songs by the young composer, this one going for a floaty, ethereal feel in the soprano with a simple organ accompaniment and setting the traditional “Ave Maria” prayer, partially taken from the Annunciation story in the Gospel of Luke.

The Llibre Vermell de Montserrat comes from the monastery of Montserrat, near Barcelona, which was a pilgrimage site in the Medieval period. Published in the late 14th Century, this “red book” (which is what the Catalan phrase “llibre vermell” means) contains many devotional texts in Catalan, Occitan, and Latin, the most famous of which are set to music. The songs in the manuscript were intended to give pilgrims something “chaste and pious” to sing while they kept vigil at the church connected to the monastery, and the melodies written happen to be stunning, in my opinion. One of the 10 songs that survives today, “Stella Splendens” is a two part virelai and dance in Latin, along a similar theme of the traditional Marian hymn, Ave Maris Stella.

The Offertory Hymn is a request by David Bassiouni in honor of his late wife, Mary Bassiouni, who passed away thirteen years ago, since it was her favorite hymn. “I am the bread of life” was composed by Sister Suzanne Toolan, who was a member of the Sisters of Mercy in Burlingame, California, in 1964 and published in 1966, just as vernacular liturgies in the Roman Catholic Church were gaining in popularity after the Second Vatican Council. It became very popular in Catholic churches after the promulgation of the 1970 Missale Romanum, also known as the “Novus Ordo,” and has since become popular in some Protestant denominations, as well. The text comes from the passages about bread in John which we have been reading these last several weeks. “Sing we of the Blessed Mother” is a slightly newer text, published in 1975 and written by G.B. Timms. It chronicles Mary’s life from the Annunciation to her last day on earth, which we commemorate in Sunday’s feast. Though it’s often set to Cyril Taylor’s “Abbot’s Leigh” (itself composed as an alternative to Haydn’s “Austria” during World War II, since that tune was associated with the German National Anthem), it’s found in our hymnal to Hubert Parry’s “Rustington,” published in 1897. Named for a village in Sussex where Parry lived for many years (and where he died after a battle with the 1918 flu, often called the “Spanish Flu,” a pandemic which has many parallels with the current COVID-19 Pandemic), Rustington was first found in the Westminster Abbey Hymn Book setting the text “Praise the Rock of our salvation.”

This will be my last set of notes for August – I will be away on August 22 and 29, so, after Sunday, I’ll see you all in September!

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday August 8th

Prelude: Adagio from Sonata I – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Sequence Hymn: 593 “Lord make us servants of your peace” (Dickinson College)
Offertory Anthem: Panis Angelicus – Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)
Offertory Hymn: 324 “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” (Picardy)
Communion Anthem: Panis Angelicus – Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Postlude: Final: Andante from Sonata VI – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Felix Mendelssohn seems to be one of the few prominent composers for the organ in the early 19th Century, a period in which not much organ music which is widely played today was written. He grew up in a prominent family and was recognized as a musical prodigy, but unlike Mozart and Beethoven, his parents did not want to exploit his skill. He did receive a thorough musical education, though, as did his sister, Fanny (who was a skilled musician in her own right but didn’t get her due as a composer for some reason. I wonder why that could be…). Mendelssohn quickly became recognized as a skilled performer, conductor, and composer, and became especially noted for his advocacy of the music of J.S. Bach, culminating in a famous performance of the St Matthew Passion in 1829, which may have been the first performance of the work since Bach’s death almost 80 years prior. Mendelssohn has a notably conservative style, more in line with classical era forms than the romantic era experimentation which was beginning.

Mendelssohn was noted as an organist and gave several acclaimed recitals in his travels to Great Britain. He was eventually commissioned to write a set of “voluntaries,” which in those days were multi-movement works intended for use in a church service. After writing seven voluntaries, Mendelssohn decided to rearrange them into six Sonatas, and the complete set was published in 1845. These were rather ambitious for Britain, though; the pedalboard was not a standard feature on organs there, and Mendelssohn has been recorded complaining of the heavy touch of some British organs. We will hear movements from both the first and sixth sonatas on Sunday. The Adagio from the first sonata simply develops a beautiful melody, and in context provides a peaceful reprieve from the aggressive and bleak first movement. The movement from the sixth sonata is the last movement of the sonata; curiously, Mendelssohn elected to end it with a tranquil work rather than a triumphant one, but given the tumultuous set of variations on a German chorale which begins the sonata, perhaps that’s understandable.

With all the talk of bread in the readings this month, we’ll be hearing two settings (not by Franck) of “Panis Angelicus” (which means bread of angels). As with many Eucharistic hymns, the text comes from a hymn, “Sacris Solemniis,” by Thomas Aquinas. The second to last strophe begins “Panis angelicus,” and much like the “O salutaris” and “Tantum ergo,” is often set separately from the rest of its parent hymn. The two settings we’ll hear are both by French composers, though they’re separated by about 200 years!

Charpentier’s setting, as may be considered typical for the time, is for soprano and basso continuo. Charpentier was among the most prominent composers in 17 Century France, and his prolific output spans several genres and includes some Italian influence, coming from his travel to Italy and study with Giacomo Carissimi early in his career. He is best known for his Te Deum, the opening to which is immediately recognizable today (it’s the theme for the Eurovision network and is often used in movies and television to evoke a regal air). Saint-Saën’s setting is a simple one written for string quartet (or organ) and tenor or soprano voice. Saint-Saëns was a respected composer and noted organist in the late 19th Century; Franz Liszt heard him play at his post at La Madeleine and declared him the greatest organist in the world. He was also noted as a composer and teacher, and is probably most remembered today for his set of character pieces, Carnival of the Animals (“The Swan” is something most will recognize quickly) and for his third symphony, which includes a prominent organ solo part. He was very supportive of many of the more experimental composers of his day, though his own style was conservative.

We have both an ancient and a relatively modern hymn tune on the docket on Sunday. “Dickinson college,” written in 1962 and notable for its unusual 5/4 meter (though very singable despite that), is by Lee Hastings Bristol, a native Brooklynite who studied as an organist but went into the family business at pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers (now Bristol-Myers Squibb), where he worked in advertising and public relations before leaving to become President of my alma mater, Westminster Choir College, in 1962 (the chapel on the college’s Princeton campus is named for him). He was also active in the Episcopal Church, served on the Joint Commission on Church Music, and, though he retired from that commission in 1973, he had a large hand in the early supplements which would be incorporated into the Hymnal 1982. The text is often called the “Prayer of St. Francis,” though that attribution is almost certainly false. It appears in none of Francis’s writings and is simply an anonymous text which first appeared in a French Catholic magazine in 1912 (for reference, St. Francis of Assisi lived around the turn of the 12th and 13th century). Many think the text may have been written by Fr. Esther Bouquerel, who founded the league which published the magazine.

The tune “Picardy” is based on a French carol and was first married to a text from the ancient Divine Liturgy of St. James by Ralph Vaughan Williams, for The English Hymnal. The carol dates at least as far back as the 17th Century, and was originally used with a text which begins with “Jésus-Christ s’habille en pauvre” (roughly, Jesus Christ appears as a poor man). “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” comes from the Divine Liturgy of St. James, an ancient liturgy used in the Byzantine Rite and West Syriac Rite, though the text may even predate that liturgy, going at least as far back as the 3rd Century. It’s often treated as a Eucharistic Hymn in the west.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday Aug 1st

 

 

Prelude: Desseins éternels from La Nativité – Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Sequence Hymn: 482 “Lord of all hopefulness” (Slane)
Offertory Anthem: Bid the Virtues, bid the graces from Come ye sons of art
                                                                                     – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Offertory Hymn: 305 “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest” (Rosedale)
Communion Anthem: God be in my head – Mark Buller (b. 1986)
Postlude: Choral Song – S.S. Wesley (1810-1876)

Messiaen isn’t often heard on our little Noack organ, which, to be honest, isn’t well-suited for most of the French composer’s works. For this relatively simple piece, though we don’t have the tonal resources the composer specifically calls for, I think we can get close enough. “Desseins éternels,” which translates roughly to “eternal purposes,” comes from Messiaen’s 9 movement suite, La Nativité du Seigneur (the Nativity of our Lord), a set of meditations around Jesus’s birth and what Jesus was put on earth to do. This third movement of the work is an extremely slow meditation on Christ’s purpose on earth. La Nativité is an early work by the visionary composer, written in 1935 and premiered in 1936 (when he was in his mid-late 20’s), and is among the first works in which Messiaen used many of the compositional tools he would later become known for, such as birdsong, his “modes of limited transposition,” and rhythm influenced by Ancient Greek and traditional Indian music. He wrote the work while in Grenoble in the summer of 1935, and says it was inspired by the mountains and the stained glass of medieval churches. Messiaen would go on to become one of the most important composers of the 20th Century, and in the next decade would write two of his most famous works: the Quartet for the End of Time, written while he was imprisoned in a Nazi camp, for himself and three other musicians he befriended in the camp, and the Turangalîla-Symphonie.

There are few organ works, in my estimation, that embody English pomp quite like Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s Choral Song. Wesley came from a famous family, though he wasn’t a legitimate child; his father was composer Samuel Wesley, who separated from his wife and formed a second family unofficially (and named his son Samuel Sebastian in honor of J.S. Bach). They were also related to the famous Wesleys who founded Methodism; Charles Wesley was Samuel Sebastian’s grandfather, and John Wesley was his great uncle. Samuel Sebastian served at a few English cathedrals during his lifetime, including Hereford, Winchester, and Gloucester, and wrote many anthems and hymn tunes for use in the Church (his most famous hymn tune is probably “Aurelia,” most commonly sung now to “The Church’s one foundation”). The Choral Song and Fugue (the fugue will not be heard on Sunday) was written for a small residence organ in Exeter, and is part of a set of three pieces for that organ and dedicated to its owner and a student of Wesley’s, Lady Acland.

Going back about 200 years, we’ll hear a movement from Purcell’s Come ye sons of art, also known as Ode for Queen Mary’s Birthday, written and premiered in 1694. Purcell worked as a court composer for the royal family, and composed a total of six odes for Queen Mary II’s birthdays. Since Mary died in 1694, this was the last of them, and is a grand 9 movement work for small orchestra, choir, and vocal soloists. It’s thought the text is by Nahum Tate, who was poet laureate in England at the time, but that is uncertain; the text calls musicians and other artists to rejoice, presumably for the Queen’s birthday. The other vocal work is a repeat of a new work that we did over Zoom a few months ago. Mark Buller is a young composer based in the Houston area. “God be in my head” comes from a set of sacred songs which set texts from different religious traditions. The only Christian text in the set, “God be in my head” comes from an early 16th Century book of hours from Salisbury Cathedral.

The two hymns on Sunday have something in common: both texts were published in 1931! Slane, the tune to “Lord of all hopefulness,” is an adaptation of an old Irish folk tune, first adapted to a hymn in 1927 to another well-known text, “Be thou my vision.” “Lord of all hopefulness” is a slightly newer text, written by Jan Struther (a pen name for Joyce Maxtone Graham, an Englishwoman who settled in New York City) in 1931. Struther was supposedly an agnostic, though she did go to church and wrote several well-known hymn texts for children. “Come risen Lord” is by George Wallace Briggs, a Canon of Worcester Cathedral who wrote several hymn tunes commonly sung today. The slightly jazzy tune, Rosedale, was written by Leo Sowerby, an American composer who spent most of his career teaching at his Alma Mater, the now defunct American Conservatory of Music in Chicago (which closed in 1991), and as Organist and Choirmaster St. James’ Episcopal Church in Chicago, which became St. James’ Cathedral in 1955, while Sowerby worked there. In retirement, he went to National Cathedral to found the College of Church Musicians, and among many honors, received the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1946 for his cantata, Canticle of the Sun.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday July 25th

Prelude: Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 469 “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” (St. Helena)
Offertory Anthem: Tu virginum corona from Exultate Jubilate – W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Offertory Hymn: 339 “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness” (Schmücke dich)
Communion Anthem: O salutaris hostia – Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Postlude: Antiphon V: How fair and pleasant art thou from 15 Pieces – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)

You may notice a similarity between the name of the prelude and the name of the tune for the Offertory hymn. That’s because the prelude is a chorale prelude on that tune! Bach’s chorale prelude on “Schmücke dich” comes from the “Great 18” or “Leipzig” collection of chorale preludes, which consists of 18 long chorale preludes (as opposed to, for example, the Orgelbüchlein, which consists of very short ones). Though these are often called the “Leipzig” chorales because they were collected while Bach worked as “Thomaskantor” in Leipzig, they were likely mostly written while Bach served as court organist in Weimar (which is when Bach wrote most of his organ works). “Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele” is based on a tune which is still popular today, and treats it as an ornamented chorale prelude (in which the melody is heavily embellished on a solo stop above a quieter accompaniment). See if you can follow the melody when you hear it!

The other organ piece is from about 200 years later, and rather than in a noble court in Weimar, it was born in the organ loft at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. In the mid 1910’s, Marcel Dupré, then taking the French organ world by storm as an extremely virtuosic young man and who would later be known as perhaps the greatest organist of the 20th Century, spent a long time filling in for his friend and mentor, Louis Vierne, at the Grand Organ at Notre Dame. Vierne had to take multiple extended leaves of absence due to poor health, and Dupré hadn’t yet taken the post he would become known for as Charles-Marie Widor’s successor at Saint-Sulpice (where Nivers and Clérambault also played 200 years prior!). The 15 Pieces were borne out of Dupré’s improvisations at the office of Vespers; in those days, a “Monsieur C.J,” to whom these pieces are dedicated, made frequent visits to the organ loft at Notre Dame and, impressed with Dupré’s improvisations for a Vespers for Our Lady, asked Dupré to write them down and publish them. Monsieur C.J, as it turns out, was Claude Johnson, then the head of the famous British automaker Rolls-Royce, who made frequent trips to Paris in those days. Dupré obliged and published this collection of 15 pieces for Vespers of Our Lady in 1920. It consists of an improvisation on the antiphon for each psalm recited at Vespers (5 in total), 4 improvisations on alternate verses of the hymn, “Ave Maris Stella,” and 6 improvisations on couplets of the Magnificat. On Sunday, we’ll hear Dupre’s take on the antiphon for the 5th Psalm in Vespers of the Common of the BVM (for Psalm 147), “Speciosa,” or in English, “How fair and how pleasant art thou for delights, O holy Mother of God.”

The first vocal solo on Sunday comes from Mozart’s motet, Exsultate Jubilate, written between the end of 1772 and the beginning of 1773. Mozart was in Milan at the time for a production of his opera, Lucio Silla, and was impressed by one of the leads in the production, castrato Venanzio Rauzzini. He decided to write Exsultate Jubilate for Rauzzini, and the work was premiered in a church on January 17, 1773. The work is an extended song of praise to God, and the relatively restrained Andante section we’ll hear on Sunday sets a text about taking comfort in the Virgin Mary. As mentioned before, the work was originally written for a castrato, a male soprano whose voice did not drop during puberty. Although occasionally this happens naturally (one famous recent example being Jon Anderson, who for a long time was the lead singer for the progressive rock band, Yes), castrati were normally men who were castrated before puberty to prevent their voices from changing. For obvious reasons, this is no longer done (the practice became less common in the late 18th and 19th century as various countries banned it) so this motet is usually sung by a female soprano today.

We will sing both an old hymn and a modern one on Sunday! As mentioned before, the offertory hymn is a translation of the German chorale, Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele, which we know as “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness.” Johann Crüger wrote the tune in 1649 to accompany a text by Johann Franck which was written 2 years prior. The text was faithfully translated in the 19th Century by Catherine Winkworth, an Englishwoman who became known for her translations of German hymns. The other hymn, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” is much newer. The text was published in 1862 by Frederick William Faber, a Priest in the Church of England who, due to John Henry Newman’s influence, eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. He strongly believed that Roman Catholics should sing hymns just as Protestants did and wrote a great many hymns after his conversion (the most famous of which is “Faith of our fathers”). The tune we’ll sing this to is by Calvin Hampton, one of the more fascinating figures in late 20th Century church music, who served as Organist and Choirmaster at Calvary Episcopal Church near Gramercy Park for much of his career. Hampton was one of several fascinating Episcopal church musicians in Manhattan in the late 20th Century, along with Gerre Hancock at St. Thomas, Larry King at Trinity Wall Street, McNeil Robinson at St. Mary the Virgin, and others (including, slightly later, David Hurd at All Saints!). Hampton was known as a composer and a virtuoso organist, born in western Pennsylvania, raised in Ohio, and educated at Oberlin Conservatory and Syracuse University. He was known both as a great composer and a virtuoso organist, and established a hugely popular recital series on Friday nights at Midnight at Calvary, which ran until 1983. Unfortunately, his career was cut short when he died from complications related to AIDS at the age of 45. Probably his best-known hymn tune, St. Helena, was written in 1977, and our Hymnal 1982 is the first hymnal it appeared in. It has since been included in a handful of other American hymnals for multiple denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s  Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the Worship series published for the Roman Catholic Church.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday July 18th

Prelude: Andantino – Harold Darke (1888-1976)
Sequence Hymn: 686 “Come thou fount of every blessing” (Nettleton)
Offertory Anthem: Domine Deus from Gloria – Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Offertory Hymn: 645 “The King of love my shepherd is” (St. Columba)
Communion Anthem: Balm in Gilead – African-American Spiritual arr. Harry Burleigh (1866-1949)
Postlude: Minuet Gothique from Suite Gothique – Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897)

Though the little Noack organ at All Saints’ is best suited for German baroque music, it’s nice to change things up every once in a while, and this week we’ll hear organ music from England and France from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Harold Darke is best known as a choral composer; his most famous work is probably his setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Midwinter (one of two extremely popular settings of the poem, the other being by Gustav Holst), and his Communion Service in F gets a lot of play in churches which regularly do choral settings of the Mass. Darke spent much of his career as organist at St. Michael’s Cornhill in London, with a brief hiatus to serve in the Royal Air Force during World War I, and another to fill in for Boris Ord at King’s College, Cambridge during World War II. At St. Michael’s, Darke began popular lunch-time organ recital series and saw a great deal of success with the choir there. His untitled work which I’m referring to by its performance direction, “Andantino,” (a modification of the Italian “Andante” which, in music, indicates a tempo reminiscent of walking) comes from A Little Organ Book in Memory of Hubert Parry, a book of short pieces written in honor of Parry following the venerable composer’s death from the “Spanish” flu in 1918 (a pandemic we’ve heard a lot about recently, somewhat similar to the one we’re attempting to put behind us!). A bunch of composers, Darke included, compiled a “wreath of melodies” for Parry’s funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and they, along with a few additional later entries, were compiled into a book published a few years later.

In addition to his position as organist at St. Vincent de Paul in Paris, Léon Boëllmann’s short life produced over a hundred compositions which aren’t heard much these days. However, the Suite Gothique, published in 1895, a couple years before the composer’s untimely death (likely of tuberculosis), remains a staple of the organ repertoire and Boëllmann’s most famous piece (and was a favorite piece of mine to play when I was a teenager, as it is for many young organists). The work is in four movements, of which the “Minuet Gothique” is the second. As the title suggests, it’s reminiscent of a Minuet, a French ballroom dance in triple meter popular in the 18th Century.

Though Antonio Vivaldi is mostly known for his concertos, he wrote some choral compositions, and his Gloria is a favorite of choral societies and high school choirs now. He likely wrote the Gloria in 1715, while he worked at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, a boarding school for orphaned girls in Venice. Though Vivaldi scored it for SATB choir, it’s possible it might have been sung by a chorus of the girls, with some singing the tenor and bass parts up an octave. The piece sets the traditional text of the Gloria in excelsis, which we sing at the beginning of every Eucharist outside of Advent and Lent. “Domine Deus” is the sixth movement, scored for soprano solo, oboe obbligato, and basso continuo, and sets the line “Domine Deus, Rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens” (Lord God, heavenly king, almighty God and Father). The other vocal solo on Sunday is an arrangement of an African-American spiritual which we’ve heard before, but which I think goes well with the Gospel passage for Sunday. “Balm in Gilead” remains a popular spiritual, first seen in print in the mid-19th Century. This arrangement is by our favorite early-20th Century Episcopal baritone, Harry Burleigh.

The hymns on Sunday are both widely beloved, and similar in affect. One is a metrical paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm set to a popular Irish tune. The other, “Come thou fount of every blessing,” is a text first published in 1758 by Robert Robinson, who trained as a hairdresser and was somewhat hostile to Christianity before he attended an Evangelical meeting with the intent to heckle and was instead converted. “Come thou fount” was written while he was preparing a sermon. The tune, Nettleton, first appeared in a collection from 1813, and its authorship is anonymous.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday July 11th

Prelude: Sehr Langsam from Sonata 1 – Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Sequence Hymn: 76 “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” (Winchester New)
Offertory Anthem: Bist du bei mir – Gottfried Heinrich Stötzel (1690-1749)
Offertory Hymn: 304 “I come with joy to meet my Lord” (Land of rest)
Communion Anthem: O Salutaris Hostia – César Franck (1822-1890)
Postlude: Ruhig Bewegt from Sonata 1 – Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Musical trends change over time, and despite a narrative of music progressing to some sort of expressive ideal which began in the 19th Century, it seems that it’s simply about changing tastes, not progress. In the early 20th Century, a group known as the “Second Viennese School,” led by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) decided that music had progressed beyond the expressive possibilities of tonality, and developed various methods for composing atonal music (that is, music without a pitch center). As trends often go, though, not everyone was on board; even in Germany, a movement called “new objectivity” rejected the work of the Second Viennese School, and indeed, Romantic idealism in general. Paul Hindemith aligned with that movement and advocated an approach to composition which might be called “neo-classical,” or, more accurately, “neo-baroque.” He was an excellent musician who played several instruments, though primarily was a violinist and violist (and played the viola d’amore, a baroque instrument which had since fallen out of use), heavily emphasized basic musical skills such as sight-singing and recitation of rhythm as essential to a musician, and devised a method of learning these things that still drives student musicians to drink to this day.

By the 1930’s, Hindemith’s relationship with his native Germany was complicated. His music was controversial, with the Nazi regime oscillating between condemning his music as degenerate and praising it as an example of great modern German music. His wife also had some Jewish ancestry. So, he spent much of the 1930’s traveling, including a few tours to the United States. It was while on tour in 1937 that he wrote his first two organ sonatas (of three). These are often overlooked gems of the organ repertoire by a composer not often associated with the organ. Hindemith would later flee to Switzerland and move to the United States, teaching at Yale, and eventually become a US citizen before returning to Europe in the 1950’s.

The first organ sonata is in two movements, though the second movement is really three short movements in one. We’ll hear both the beginning and the end of the second movement on Sunday; the first section, with the performance direction “Sehr Langsam” (very slow), resembles a Bach chorale prelude put through a 20th Century lens. The end of the second movement, “Ruhig Bewegt” (calm or quiet but with movement) presents a simple sounding, almost folksy rondo.

If you open your hymnal to Sunday’s Sequence Hymn, your first thought may be, “it’s not Advent!” However, the gospel appointed for Sunday is the story of the beheading of John the Baptist, when we see John’s unwillingness to yield to King Herod’s wishes. The hymn itself, a translation of a Latin hymn by Charles Coffin, talks about preparing the way for Jesus. The tune comes from a German tune which was adapted for metrical psalm singing in the English Church, and eventually became a much loved hymn tune. “I come with joy to meet my Lord” is a contemporary text, written in 1970 by lecturer and hymn writer Brian A Wren (b. 1936), an important figure in contemporary hymnody. The tune, Land of rest, is an American folk tune adapted from English and Scottish ballads. Its first use as a hymn was in the shape note collection, Sacred Harp, where it was paired with the text “O land of rest! For thee I sigh.”

Bist du bei mir is often misattributed to Bach, due to its inclusion in Anna Magdalena’s Notebook, a collection of music for the private use of the Bach household (Anna Magdalena was Bach’s second wife, and a singer). It’s actually by Gottfried Heinrich Stötzel, from the 1718 opera, Diomedes. Stötzel was a popular composer of opera who studied in Leipzig, and the Bach family knew and often copied his music. The other vocal solo for Sunday is another Eucharistic anthem by Franck, though  not part of any larger work. It was likely written for exactly what it’s being used for on Sunday; a useful vocal solo for use in church. The text comes from the last two stanzas of Thomas Aquinas’s Eucharistic hymn, Verbum supernum prodiens (the word from above), and is often used for Eucharistic adoration in Catholic churches.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday July 4th

Prelude: Récit and Duo on the First Tone – Guillaume Gabriel Nivers (c.1632-1714)
Sequence Hymn: 537 “Christ for the world we sing” (Moscow)
Offertory Anthem: “How beautiful are the feet” from The Messiah – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)
Offertory Hymn: 719 “O beautiful for spacious skies” (Materna)
Communion Anthem: Panis Angelicus – César Franck (1822-1890)
Postlude: Toccata and Fugue in F – Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707)

 

Last week, we heard from Bach and Clérambault, who were roughly contemporaries, though working in very different places. When Bach wrote his Prelude in G, he was working in Arnstadt, a relatively small town in modern-day Germany. Clérambault, on the other hand, was working in Paris, then a relatively large and growing city, at least for the time (still nowhere near as large as it is now). Though there was some awareness of music from other regions, there wasn’t much communication, and incorporation of the stylistic elements common in the other region was fairly novel. When we go a generation earlier, communication was even less frequent, and styles more disparate. Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers spent his entire life in Paris and was Clérambault’s predecessor at Saint-Sulpice. He was also likely one of Clérambault’s teachers, and, if not, doubtless a major influence on the younger organist. Buxtehude worked in the Free City of Lübeck, then a rather cosmopolitan place, and became a much admired organist. Many other musicians traveled to hear him play and meet him, including Handel and Bach. Bach did so in 1705, the same year he likely wrote the Prelude in G which I played last week, walking about 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck, and staying three months (much to the chagrin of his employer in Arnstadt, which had granted him some leave, but not 3 months’ worth!).

Nivers was an influential organist and music theorist in his lifetime; he wrote several theory treatises, and influential treatises on composition and plainchant. His first organ book is also the oldest surviving published collection of organ music which uses the forms which the French organ school became known for. French organ music of the time, in contrast to German organ music, was largely miniature works written for specific timbres of the organ. French baroque music in general was much more concerned with elegance and grace than Italian and German music of the era, which meant that music was less “showy,” and the ornamentation styles used are more restrained. The Opera-Ballet was a popular genre among the nobility of the time, so music that could be danced to was ubiquitous. On Sunday, we’ll hear two very short pieces from Nivers’ third organ book, which contains suites on the eight church modes, from the suite on the first mode (often called the Dorian mode; a minor scale with a raised sixth degree).

German music, on the other hand, employed a great deal of virtuosity, showmanship, and improvisation, since it was largely influenced by the Italian style. Buxtehude is probably the archetypal composer of that style on the organ. His free organ works contain tons of virtuosic flourishes, jarring stops and starts, and leave a lot of room for extra ornamentation by the performer. As mentioned before, Buxtehude was something of a celebrity in the organ world at the time; many organists traveled to Lübeck to hear him play in his “abendmusik” series. He spent much of his career as organist and treasurer at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, a city on what is now known as the German Baltic coast, and then an important port city. Buxtehude’s Prelude and Fugue in F Major begins typically, with a flourish in the manuals, followed by one in the pedals, and so on. This all leads into a more staid and fairly strict fugue. If you heard Bach’s prelude in G Major last week, you may notice some parallels between the two works!

The two vocal solos on Sunday come from well-known works. Of course, Handel’s Messiah is one of the most famous pieces of music in history. “How beautiful are the feet” comes from Part the Second, in a section that explores the spread of the gospel and ties in nicely with Sunday’s gospel passage. Franck’s “Panis Angelicus” may be that composer’s most famous piece. Franck included it as an elevation anthem in his Mass for Three Voices, though it was written twelve years after the initial publication of the Mass. Elevation anthems were a French tradition of doing an extra piece of music during the Canon of the Mass (part of what we now know as the “Eucharistic Prayer”), which was recited quietly by the Priest before the Vatican II reforms. Usually, during this time, the choir would sing the Sanctus and Benedictus, and an elevation anthem would fill the rest of the time needed. It’s so called because it would often be sung while the Priest elevated the elements.

Since Sunday also happens to be our country’s Independence Day, commemorating the Continental Congress’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence declaring our independence from Great Britain, we’ll sing a popular patriotic song which was born in the church. The marriage of Katharine Lee Bates’s poem, America, and Samuel Augustus Ward’s hymn tune, Materna, represents an excellent aspirational view of what our country could be. Bates was among the first graduates of Wellesley College, and a pioneer for women in American literature (though she was often forced to publish under the pseudonym James Lincoln). She was also a Congregationalist and social justice activist. She wrote America while teaching a summer session at Colorado College; apparently the inspiration came from the view from Pikes Peak. It was first published in 1895 in The Congregationalist magazine. Samuel Augustus Ward, the composer of the tune, spent his entire life in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. He wrote the tune in 1882 for use at Grace Church (Episcopal) in Newark, where he was organist at the time, and where I once served as Director of Music. The tune was written for the text “O mother dear, Jerusalem,” which has been adapted as “Jerusalem, my happy home” in our 1982 Hymnal. The hymn became popular at Grace Church and beyond, and was included in both The New Hymnal (1916) and The Hymnal 1940 of The Episcopal Church. In 1910, America and Materna were first published together, and have been associated with each other ever since.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

for Sunday June 27th

Prelude: Flûtes from Suite du Deuxième Ton – Louis Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)


Sequence Hymn: 439 “What wondrous love is this” (Wondrous Love)


Offertory Anthem: Sicut in holocausto - Plainchant


Offertory Hymn: 518 “Christ is made the sure foundation” (Westminster Abbey)


Communion Anthem: “Mariam Matrem” from Llibre Vermell de Montserrat – Anonymous 14th c.


Postlude: Prelude in G Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

We have a fair amount of plainchant and music meant to accompany it this week.

Though noted in his time for being the master of the French Cantata genre (short, sung works which aren’t staged but have a narrative), Clérambault spent much of his career as organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Only a single book of his organ music survives, containing two suites, but it remains one of the most important works of French organ music from the baroque era. The two suites are on the first tone and the second tone, referring to the “church mode” on which they are based. Both are roughly equivalent to what’s commonly known as the “dorian” mode, which is essentially a minor scale with a raised 6th degree; the difference is in the range and pitch center of the mode. Unlike the organ music written in Germany and Italy at the time, French music of the Baroque period was quite concerned with timbre, and the titles of pieces usually refer to the registration to be used. It may come as a shock, but this means that “flûtes” refers to the flute stops on the organ.

Though at first glance the title “sicut in holocausto” may seem pretty violent, it’s really just a slightly embellished offertory sentence, translating roughly to “As an offering of rams and bullocks, and of thousands of fatted lambs, so may our sacrifice be pleasing to you. For there is no shame for those who put their trust in you, O Lord.” It is the traditional plainchant offertory for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost in the Tridentine Rite (because of oddities in how “ordinary time” is calculated in the Catholic Church, that works out to be this Sunday). The chant is in Mode V, roughly equivalent to Lydian mode (what you would get by playing all the white keys on a piano starting with F).

The Llibre Vermell de Montserrat is a 14th Century manuscript of devotional texts used at the Monastery of Montserrat, outside Barcelona. Among other things, it contains several devotional songs, meant to be sung by pilgrims as they keep watch outside the monastery. “Mariem Matrem” is among these songs, a general song of praise to both Mary and Jesus in three parts (two of which will be played by the organ). The text is a “virelai,” a type of song consisting of three stanzas and a refrain which originated in France.

Bach’s Prelude in G Major BWV 568 is one of the few preludes among Bach’s “free” organ works that does not accompany a fugue. It obviously takes its influence largely from the North German “Stilus Phantasticus,” of which Dieterich Buxtehude was an exemplar, so it is likely an early work, probably written around 1705 (when Bach was 20 years old). Like many of Bach’s early organ works, the pedal and manuals seem to operate somewhat separately.

The two hymns to be sung on Sunday come from very different traditions, one associated with the old American frontier, and another associated with a very staid, pompous English church. Wondrous Love is a tune for shape-note singing, first published in the Southern Harmony collection. Shape note singing used simple, often pentatonic (5 notes per octave) tunes to teach rural congregations how to sing in parts using a simplified form of solfege (in which only the syllables fa, sol, la and mi are used). The text first appeared in a Methodist Hymnal in 1811. Both the text ant tune’s authors are anonymous. Interestingly, the meter is derived from a ballad about Captain Kid.

Westminster Abbey, on the other hand, is named for the famous Royal Peculiar in London; the very same church where coronations and other ceremonies related to the royal family occur. Henry Purcell, the most famous English composer of the baroque period, and sometime organist at the Abbey, wrote the tune, likely originally as a tune for metrical psalm singing. The text is a translation of a 7th Century Latin hymn which first appeared in Hymns Ancient and Modern, translated by John Mason Neale.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

June 18, 2021   for Sunday June 20th

Prelude: Ut queant laxis (verset 1 & 2) – Jehan Titelouze (c. 1562-1633)
Sequence Hymn: 657 “Love divine, all loves excelling” (Hyfrydol)
Offertory Anthem: “Fell Rage and Black Despair” from Saul – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)
Offertory Hymn: 599 “Lift every voice and sing” (Lift every voice)
Postlude: Ut queant laxis (verset 3) – Jehan Titelouze (c.1562-1633)

 

We’re back in the church!

 

There are a couple special events surrounding this Sunday which are commemorated in the music. This coming Saturday, June 19, is Juneteenth, celebrating the emancipation of black slaves, which we will commemorate by singing “Lift every voice and sing” and with a spiritual arrangement by Harry Burleigh. The other is later next week, On June 24: the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which will be commemorated in the prelude and postlude.

Jehan Titelouze is considered the grandfather of the French organ school. He was both a Priest and organist, worked most of his life as organist at Rouen Cathedral, and is the earliest known French organist and composer, with a style rooted in Renaissance polyphony. His “Ut queant laxis” comes from his first collection of organ works, published in 1623, Hymnes de L’Église pour toucher sur l’orgue, avec les fugues et recherches sur leur plain-chant (Hymns of the church to be played on the organ, with fugues and ricercars on the plainchant). This collection provided organ settings of plainchant hymns, likely meant to be played in place of alternate verses (alternating between sung verses and verses illustrated with an organ embellishment was a common practice in France all the way until the mid-20th Century). “Ut queant laxis” is the office hymn used at multiple offices on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, likely composed in the 8th or 9th century AD, and occupies an important place in musical history. The syllables for solmization, or assigning syllables to specific notes, which evolved into the modern practice of solfège, come from this chant! In the first verse, each phrase starts a step higher than the last, and the syllables underlying those steps became syllables for solmization: “Ut” became the lowest note, “Re” in “resonare” comes next, “Mi” in “mira” is after that, “Fa” in “famuli” is next, “Sol” in “solve” is the penultimate one, and finally we have “La” in “labii.” These syllables were used to label each note in the hexachords which are the basis of Medieval and Renaissance music theory, and have been adapted to the later western common practice system of 7 note scales in what is known as solfège (of course, “Ut” was changed to “Do,” and a 7th syllable, which is either “Ti” or “Si” depending on who you ask, needed to be added). Solfège, of course, is in the public conscience due to a musical number in The Sound of Music called “Do, a deer.” Titelouze wrote three different organ embellishments of the tune, each in the form of a ricercar (a piece using imitative counterpoint which was a precursor to the fugues Bach was famous for). The first one has the hymn tune in the pedal, The second has it in the alto voice, and the third is more of a fugue.

At the offertory, we’ll hear another movement from Handel’s oratorio, Saul. Unlike his more popular work, The Messiah, composed a few years later, Saul does have distinct characters and a coherent narrative, and tells the story of Saul’s descent into jealousy and hatred of David in the book of Samuel, which we have been reading over the last few weeks. “Fell rage and black despair” is sung by Michal, the younger daughter of Saul, who is in love with David. It comes near the end of Act I, after Saul becomes enraged at all the praise the Israelites are heaping on David.

We heard several of Harry Burleigh’s spiritual settings earlier this year. Burleigh was a black composer and baritone who spent much of his career in New York City. Burleigh’s grandfather was a slave who managed to buy his freedom in the 1830’s and was known for an exceptional voice. He taught young Harry to sing, and after graduating high school, Burleigh became known as one of the best classical singers in his hometown of Erie, PA. He eventually moved to New York to attend the prestigious (but now defunct) National Conservatory of Music, which was directed by Antonín Dvořák, and Dvořák took an interest in Burleigh. Burleigh became primarily known as a singer, though he composed extensively, mostly arrangements of spirituals. “My way’s cloudy” is one such arrangement, though the origins of the spiritual it arranges are uncertain.

In honor of Juneteenth, one of the hymns on Sunday will be “Lift every voice and sing,” often called the “Black national anthem.” The text was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 in celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, in 1905. The hymn was dubbed the “black national anthem” by the NAACP in 1919. Both brothers were born in Jacksonville, Florida and eventually ended up in New York City, and James eventually became executive secretary of the NAACP, US Consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua, and the first black person to become a professor at New York University.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

June 11, 2021   for Sunday June 13th

Prelude: O quam preciosa – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)


Hymn: 529 “In Christ there is no east or west” (McKee)


Postlude: “O Lord, whose mercies numberless” from Saul – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)

We’ve heard from Hildegard and Handel a lot recently, but hey, it’s good music!


Hildegard’s O quam preciosa speaks a lot about virginity. This is no surprise – Hildegard herself greatly valued virginity as a virtue, and the antiphon is an ode to Mary, and the womb from which Jesus emerged. The imagery of a tender shoot, though common as a description of the infant Jesus, seemed to somewhat fit in with the Gospel theme of planting, so we ran with it!

As I’ve mentioned before, Handel made a career in London initially as a composer of opera. He lived in Italy previously, imported singers from Italy and found that Londoners loved Italian opera and his theaters were very successful for a time. However, as these tastes waned, opera became a less profitable endeavor. Handel turned to oratorio in the 1730’s, since oratorios were cheaper to put on than fully staged operas, and there was no expectation they be sung in Italian. Oratorios are similar to operas, structured by scenes and acts, but they are not staged, which means there’s no need for elaborate sets and the like. This turned out to be a wise move; Handel’s oratorios were and still are wildly popular. You probably have one Handel oratorio in mind right now: The Messiah, which is among the most beloved pieces of music ever written. However, on Sunday, we’ll hear a short aria from one of his slightly earlier oratorios, Saul. Saul was premiered in 1739, two years before The Messiah was written, with a libretto taken from the first book of Samuel adapted by Charles Jennens (who also wrote the libretto for The Messiah). Saul tells the story of the relationship between Saul, the first king of Israel, and his successor, David, and Saul’s downfall due to the envy and hatred he came to feel for David. “O Lord, whose mercies numberless” is sung by David (an alto role), and is David’s reaction to Saul’s desire to have David killed. David seems to be asking God to calm Saul’s heart, or “heal his wounded soul.” This is the story begun in one option for Sunday’s Old Testament reading.

Saul was quite successful. It received six performances in its first season, which was a lot for the time, and was revived frequently. It became a popular piece for choral societies, which were already beginning to form in London, to perform even to this day.

“In Christ there is no east or west” is a much loved hymn at All Saints, and speaks of Christian fellowship. The text was written in 1908 by John Oxenham, an English journalist, novelist, and poet. Oxenham is a nom de plume – his real name is William Arthur Dunkerley, and at various points in his life he served as a Deacon and Teacher at a congregational church in London, and as mayor of the town of Worthing in Susssex. The tune, McKee, is sort of a musical game of telephone (you know, the game in which a phrase is whispered down the line in peoples’ ears and we see how similar it is to the original phrase as it gets to the end of the line). According to Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford in a letter to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (who I profiled in this column when I was writing about black composers about a year ago), the tune originated in Ireland, though it was adapted by African-American slaves. This came up when the tune was among those Coleridge-Taylor arranged for his Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, a 1905 collection of solo piano pieces. Harry Burleigh, another black composer (and excellent baritone whose voice caught the ear of Antonín Dvořák) who, among a large and diverse catalog of works, arranged several spirituals as art songs, then arranged the tune to fit Oxenham’s text for The Hymnal 1940. The tune name, McKee, is in honor of Elmer M. McKee, a Rector of St. George’s Church on Stuyvesant Square here in New York City (now part of Calvary-St. George’s Parish), where Burleigh served as the baritone soloist for over 50 years. For some reason, though the version in The Hymnal 1940 has four verses, the last verse was removed for The Hymnal 1982, but that works for the different requirements of Zoom!
 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

June 4, 2021   for Sunday June 6th

Prelude: O Quam Suavis – Jehan Alain (1911-1940)
Hymn: 321 “My God, thy table now is spread” vv. 1, 2, 4 (Rockingham)
Postlude: Ave Verum Corpus – Charles Gounod (1818-1893)

We’re back in the time after Pentecost, which some know as “Ordinary Time,” and no specific occasions are commemorated on Sundays. This makes music selection both more open and more difficult!

This week, many Christians celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi (which is the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, though it is often celebrated on the Sunday following), which originated from a desire to have a feast dedicated to the Eucharist which didn’t also have the baggage of Maundy Thursday. Though we at All Saints’ don’t celebrate it (generally, only more Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians/Anglicans do), it’s a useful guide for the music, so all the music on Sunday is related to the Eucharist.

Both texts for the Prelude and Postlude are now traditional. “O Quam Suavis” serves as the Antiphon to the Magnificat on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and “Ave Verum Corpus” is a medieval Eucharistic hymn, probably most well-known because of the popular choral setting by Mozart. Both of these pieces are also likely meant to be very practical liturgical pieces, usable both in large churches with organs, and in small churches with harmoniums (a type of reed organ which was commonly used in place of a pipe organ in churches which could not afford or accommodate a pipe organ in France; and yes, the harmonium was also adapted by Indian musicians and is commonly used in Indian Classical Music).

Jehan Alain is one of the big “what-ifs” of music. His musical voice was extremely original, if a bit disorganized, and he was already quite prolific by the age of 29, though many of his works weren’t quite finished. He synthesized a love of earlier French music such as that of Claude Debussy, contemporary music such as that of his slightly older colleague, Olivier Messiaen, and the influence of eastern music, jazz, and early music. Unfortunately, he didn’t live past the age of 29; he was killed in action fighting for the French Resistance in World War II. In addition to music, Alain found a great interest in mechanics (perhaps fostered by the fact that his father, Albert, was an organ builder), and enjoyed riding and tinkering with his motorcycle. He joined the motorcycle corps for the French Resistance when the Vichy government, which was allied with Nazi Germany, began to take over. On a routine solo reconnaissance mission, he came across a group of German soldiers and, apparently, managed to kill 16 of them before he was gunned down himself, and in that moment one of the more interesting musical voices of the time was silenced. The loss was felt deeply among his colleagues; the best known tribute is probably Maurice Duruflé’s excellent work for organ, Prelude and Fugue on the name of ALAIN, which also quotes Alain’s best-known organ work, Litanies. Alain is best known for his organ music, thanks to the championing of his work by his much younger sister, Marie-Claire (1926-2013), who was among the more influential concert organists of the late-20th Century. Alain wrote for plenty of other instruments and ensembles, though, including a handful of short sacred songs. These songs, despite their simplicity, do contain a lot of the composer’s unique voice.

Gounod is more well-known, if only for a single setting of “Ave Maria” which uses the C Major Prelude which begins the first book of Bach’s large-scale keyboard work, The Well-Tempered Clavier, as an accompaniment. However, Gounod was a prolific and well-known composer of opera. He was born in Paris and, like many French musicians, attended the Conservatoire de Paris. His biggest early accomplishment was winning the prestigious “Prix de Rome” for his Cantata, Fernand. This multidisciplinary artistic competition came with a two year residency at the French Institute in Rome, and although some previous winners like Hector Berlioz spoke disparagingly of the program, Gounod seems to have flourished with it, launching a successful career. He wrote 12 operas, of which Faust and Romeo and Juliet are the most famous. He was also a prolific composer of songs, both sacred and secular, though his sacred songs were likely written to be as utilitarian as possible (since, naturally, much of the more complex liturgical music through the ages has been choral).

The hymn on Sunday is also a Eucharistic one, though on a more recent text. Verses 1-3 are by 18th Century hymnwriter Philip Doddridge. If you’ve been paying attention to this column in the past, you’d know that hymns were largely banned in the Church of England at the time, so what’s the deal here? Well, Doddridge was a non-conformist, whose grandfather was ejected from the Church of England following the Act of Uniformity in 1662. Doddridge turned down many opportunities to enter the Priesthood in the Church of England, and eventually became a non-conformist minister. The fourth verse was written by Isaac Watts, another non-conformist with whom Doddridge was acquainted, and who is often called the “Godfather of English hymnody.” The tune, Rockingham, is adapted from a tune for metrical psalm singing, and was originally found in a collection published in 1780.

 

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

May 27, 2021   for Trinity Sunday

Prelude: Laus Trinitati – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)


Hymn: 362 “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty” (Nicaea)


Postlude: “Hilf Gott, dass es uns gelingt” from Hochsterwünschtes Freudenfest 

                                                                                                    – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Last Sunday it was all about the Holy Spirit, and this Sunday it’s all about, well, the entire Trinity! The hymn on Sunday is among the best known in English hymnody. Like many well-known English hymns, both the tune and the text to “Holy, holy, holy” were written separately in the mid-19th Century. Reginald Heber, who wrote the text in 1826, was a Church of England Priest who later became Bishop of Calcutta before his untimely death at the age of 42. He wrote several hymns, notable because in this period, hymns were still looked upon with suspicion by the Church of England, since for a long time only metrical psalms were allowed during services. The tune was written by John Bacchus Dykes, another Church of England Priest, though his most prominent role was that of precentor and choir director at Durham Cathedral, where he succeeded in raising the standards of the choir by requiring consistent attendance, increasing rehearsals, and instituting music festivals. He was sympathetic to the ideals of the Anglo-Catholic revival known as the Oxford Movement and wrote hundreds of hymn tunes. Nicaea, the best known of his tunes, is named for the famous Council of Nicaea, which was the first attempt to attain consensus as to Christian belief and the nature of the Trinity in the 4th Century (and which began the composition of the Nicene Creed).

We’ll have more music by Hildegard von Bingen this week, this time a short votive antiphon of praise to the Holy Trinity. During Hildegard’s lifetime, Trinity Sunday had not been declared a feast through the whole church, though by that time it was popular practice in some areas (especially England and northern Europe) to use a special set of propers for the Sunday following Pentecost in honor of the Holy Trinity. This is probably why, before the common lectionaries of the 1970’s, many churches in Northern Europe (including the Church in England and later the Anglican Churches) count the miscellaneous Sundays as Sundays after Trinity rather than Sundays after Pentecost. The feast’s popularity in England is the reason so many Anglican churches are dedicated to the Trinity (you’ll notice many Episcopal Cathedrals are dedicated to the Trinity, and there are at least three Episcopal Churches dedicated to the Trinity in Manhattan alone – one on Wall Street, one on 88th Street, and one in Inwood!). But I digress, we’re talking about a nun who lived in modern-day Germany, which has little to do with England!

A set of propers in honor of the Trinity was first composed in the 10th Century, though Trinity Sunday didn’t become a church-wide feast day until the 14th Century. In some regions, it was observed as a votive (i.e. in addition to the propers already pointed for the day), which is likely what Hildegard’s antiphon was written for. I admit I’m not sure how popular the festival dedicated to the Trinity was where Hildegard lived.

Of course, by Bach’s time, Trinity Sunday was well-established church-wide as the feast which occurs on the Sunday following Pentecost, and the feast was retained in the Lutheran Church after the Reformation. From 1723 until his death in 1750, Bach was in charge of the music for all of the parish churches in Leipzig, primarily the famous Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche. Part of his myriad of duties there was to perform a cantata every week at both churches, and he often wrote a new cantata every week (imagine that workload – composing the work, copying the parts by hand – though he had a wife and many children to help with that, rehearsing the singers and orchestra, and performing the cantata twice all in a week!). These cantatas were usually performed after the sermon, or, for two part cantatas, part one was done before the sermon and part two was done after it, and constituted a lengthy musical meditation on the themes of the day. Each cantata would be performed at the Thomaskirche on Sunday morning, and again at the Nikolaikirche at Vespers on Sunday evening. We have four cantatas by Bach meant for Trinity Sunday, and Cantata 194, Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest (most highly desired festival of joy) is the best known of them. It wasn’t composed for Trinity Sunday, though; it was originally composed in 1723 for the dedication of a new organ in the nearby town of Störmthal, and Bach later re-used the cantata for Trinity Sunday. “Hilf Gott, dass es uns gelingt” comes right before the chorale which ends Part 1 of the Cantata and its style roughly resembles that of a gavotte, a moderately paced French dance in 4/4 time. It’s scored for soprano, strings, and basso continuo, and the text asks God to imbue his fire within us.
 

 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

May 21, 2021   for Pentecost

 

Prelude: Factus est repente – Jacob Handl (1550-1591)
Hymn: 516 “Come down, O Love divine” (Down Ampney)
Postlude: Spiritus sanctus vivificans – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

Though the last name by which we know him sounds very similar to a famous baroque composer, I assure you that Jacob Handl is a completely different person! It’s also worth noting that Handl is not his birth name – he is also commonly known as Jacobus Gallus, and was probably named Jakob Petelin at birth (which means rooster; Handl and Gallus also both translate to rooster in German and Latin, respectively). Handl/Gallus was a Slovenian composer who primarily worked in Bohemia, traveling through Austria and Moravia on the way. He was a key figure in counter-reformation music, though, unlike Lassus, Victoria, and Palestrina, he never worked in Rome or even traveled to Italy as far as I can tell, and blended the Franco-Flemish style of polyphony his contemporaries in Rome were known for with a polychoral style influenced by the Viennese style.

“Factus est repente” is the traditional Communion antiphon in the Mass for Pentecost in the Tridentine Rite (as well as many medieval uses of the Roman Rite, including the Sarum Rite used at Salisbury Cathedral, and the new Roman Rite promulgated in 1970). The text translates to, “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming where they were sitting, alleluia; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking the wonderful works of God, alleluia, alleluia. Handl’s setting is in 4 voice polyphony, though on Sunday we’ll have to use a keyboard for three of the voices!

It seems Hildegard von Bingen has gotten a lot of attention this year, including at All Saints! The 12th Century nun and mystic is noted for, among other things, being among the earliest notable composers in the development of western music, and was especially noted for her sacred dramas and song cycles. The liturgical song cycle, Symphonia armonie celetium revelationum (“Symphony of the Harmony of Heavenly Revelations”), remains one of her best-known works, and includes meditations to various religious figures. These include the three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Virgin Mary, the Choirs of Angels, and various categories of Saints, and finally an office for St. Ursula and her companions, who Hildegard especially identified with. “Spiritus sanctus vivificans” is the antiphon which begins the section called “Songs to the Holy Spirit,” and talks of the Holy Spirit both as a giver of life and a cleanser of all things. The antiphon is in A mode, also often called Ionian mode, which is roughly equivalent to what modern western musicians would call a natural minor scale.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, despite possibly being agnostic himself, wrote a lot of sacred music. Though he is noted for his sacred choral works, and one of his most well-known song cycles sets some sacred texts by George Herbert, Vaughan Williams also wrote several beloved hymn tunes. In fact, he even edited a hymnal! The English Hymnal, first published in 1906, and reprinted and expanded in 1933, is largely Vaughan Williams’s brainchild, and it remains up there with Hymns Ancient and Modern as one of the most influential English-language hymnals ever. In fact, if you go to an Evensong service at any English Cathedral, you’ll probably be handed a copy of its successor, The New English Hymnal. Vaughan Williams wrote several new tunes specifically for The English Hymnal; the best known may be Sine Nomine, written for the text “For all the Saints, who from their labors rest.” Down Ampney, which was written to set “Come down, o Love Divine,” may be a close second, as a much more tender, lyrical, and less driving tune. The text is a translation of a poem written by Bianco da Siena (c. 1350-c. 1434), an Italian poet and wool worker who entered a now defunct Augustinian order at some point in his life. It was translated from the Italian by Richard Frederick Littledale, a Priest in the Church of England who was a good friend of the great hymn translator John Mason Neale, and who completed Neale’s work after Neale’s death.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

May 14, 2021   for The Seventh Sunday in Easter

Prelude: “Thou art gone up on high” from The Messiah – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)


Hymn: 214 “Hail the day that sees him rise” (Llanfair)


Postlude: “With verdure clad” from The Creation – Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)




The Germans have gone to England!

German musicologists and critics often derisively referred to England as “Das Land ohne Musik” (the land without music), and, indeed, there were few composers that have been noted in the mainstream narrative of music history between the death of Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar’s rise to prominence about 2 centuries later. The assertion that England produced no good musicians in that time is ridiculous of course; Thomas Attwood, Samuel Wesley and his son Samuel Sebastian, Henry Smart, Hubert Parry, and several others flourished in the time between Purcell and Elgar. However, as might be expected with England’s far reach in the 17th through 19th centuries, some talent was imported, as well. A man from Halle named Georg Friederich Händel decided to move to London in the early 1710’s and found success satisfying the Londoners’ taste for Italian opera (and anglicized his name to George Frederick Handel). Others settled in London temporarily or frequently travelled there, notably the Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (and still others, including Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, an 18th Century composer and violinist who mostly lived in Paris and is noted as one of the earliest prominent black composers).

On Sunday, we’ll hear two pieces which came from this travel to London. When London’s taste for Italian opera began to wane, Handel decided to explore oratorios. These were similar musically, but there was no expectation that it would be written in Italian, which meant that English audiences could hear music in their native tongue. They also weren’t staged, which meant they were far less expensive to put on. Handel wrote several works in this genre, both sacred and secular, but, of course, the most famous of them is The Messiah, which tells the story of Jesus (though somewhat vaguely) with a libretto adapted from scripture by Charles Jennens. The work is in three parts: Part the First largely consists of the promise of the messiah and texts surrounding the nativity story, Part the Second includes several themes, including Christ’s suffering and death, and the implications for us on earth, and Part the Third looks forward to the second coming. “Thou art gone up on high” comes from a section of Part the Second which focuses on the beginning of the spread of the Gospel, and sets the 18th verse of Psalm 68 (Thou art gone up on high, thou hast led captivity captive and received gifts for men; yea even for thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them).

During Haydn’s extended visit to London in the 1790s (made possible by his decreased responsibilities in the Esterházy court after the other court musicians were dismissed and Haydn was kept on in a nominal role), the composer heard some of Handel’s oratorios and was inspired to write his own. Upon his return to Vienna, he decided to set a poem he was given while in England called The Creation of the World, first having it translated into German. The resulting work, known as The Creation (or Die Schöpfung in German), was published in both German and English and sets a text based on the creation stories in Genesis. “With verdure clad” celebrates the creation of plants, which seems appropriate given that spring seems to finally be settling in here in New York!

Given that Thursday of this week is the Feast of the Ascension, the hymn on Sunday will be one of the best-known Ascension hymns. “Hail the day that sees him rise” was first published in Charles Wesley’s collection, Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1739. Of course, at the time, hymn singing, except of metrical psalms, was largely forbidden in the Church of England. The tune, Llanfair, first appeared in an 1817 manuscript by Welsh singer Robert Williams (who was a basket weaver by trade, and blind to boot!). Therefore, the tune is most often attributed to Williams, though it’s possible he wasn’t its original composer. However, the name Llanfair, despite being a common Welsh name, may refer to the village where Williams was born, which points to Williams being its composer. The text and tune were first paired in The English Hymnal, which was edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams and published in 1906, and have been closely associated with each other ever since.
 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

May 4, 2021   for The Six Sunday in Easter

Prelude: Morning Hymn – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Hymn: 204 “Now the green blade riseth” vv. 1, 3, 4 (Noël nouvelet)
Postlude: “Thou hast a mighty arm” from My song shall be alway – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

Since The Seraphim took a week off, I’ll briefly say some things about the music for this past Sunday.

Though not a sacred song cycle, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Songs of Travel could be connected to the beauty of creation, particularly the second song in the cycle, “Let beauty awake,” a song about a traveler greeting the morning. The cycle is an early foray into vocal writing by the composer, written between 1901 and 1904 (around which time he was also working on editing The English Hymnal, one of the more influential hymnals in the English language which was the first hymnal to include many of his beloved hymn tunes). The cycle sets texts taken from Scottish writer and poet Robert Louis Stephenson’s (1850-1894) collection Songs of Travel and Other Verses, and was originally written for baritone and piano. “Let beauty awake” seems to evoke a sense of longing and anticipation, with a grand melody over sweeping piano accompaniment. It seems Vaughan Williams was already looking forward to his studies in France, with Maurice Ravel, a few years later!

Unlike Mozart, who never really held down a long-term post, Haydn spent much of his career in the employ of the Hungarian Esterházy family (which had a residence in modern-day Austria), often isolated from other composers and trends in music. In the 1790’s, though, the new head of the Esterházy court, Anton, dismissed the court musicians and kept Haydn on in a nominal role, which left Haydn the freedom to travel to England, where his music was already popular. He heard some large oratorios by Handel during his time there, and got the urge to write one of his own. As he was leaving England in 1795, Haydn was given an anonymous poem called The Creation of the World, with texts inspired by The Bible and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Upon his return to Vienna, Haydn gave the text to Baron Gottfried van Swieten (who, incidentally, was a patron of a young man named Ludwig van Beethoven, who was among Hadyn’s students for a time), who translated the libretto into German. Haydn composed from this German translation, and the resulting work premiered on April 30, 1798 (making the Friday of last week the work’s 223rd anniversary!) to great anticipation and acclaim. The work was published in 1800 in both German and English. The work, as you might expect, chronicles the creation story from Genesis, and the triumphant aria, “On mighty pens,” celebrates the creation of birds. “Pens,” in this case, refers to wings.

This coming Sunday, we’ll hear two pieces by great English composer, Henry Purcell. Though best known for his operatic works (particularly Dido and Aeneas), Purcell wrote a great deal of sacred music during his time as Organist at Westminster Abbey. The “verse anthem,” which is primarily sung by soloists with some full choir sections (as opposed to “full anthems” which are sung by choir throughout) was still quite popular at the time. My song shall be alway is a joyful example of the genre, scored for soprano soloist, choir, and viol consort. We’ll hear the final section on Sunday, which is simply scored for soprano and basso continuo (though there is a very brief choral “hallelujah” at the very end, which we won’t hear). The other Purcell work is a song for soprano and basso continuo welcoming the morning; perhaps an earlier analogue to “Let beauty awake” from last week!

Though in English-language hymnody it’s associated with an Easter text, Noël Nouvelet, as you might guess from the French name, is a traditional Christmas carol from around the 15th Century (roughly translated to “sing we now of Christmas”). However, it is often paired with early 20th Century English Priest John Crum’s Easter text, “Now the green blade riseth,” which pairs well with the themes of love in Sunday’s readings. 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 23, 2021   for The Fourth Sunday in Easter

Prelude: God be in my head – Mark Buller (b. 1986)


Hymn: 645 “The king of love my shepherd is” vv. 1, 2, 6 (St. Columba)
Postlude: God is my shepherd – Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)




You’ll probably notice a bit of a theme with the texts this Sunday. It being often known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” the famous Psalm 23 is the psalm appointed for the day, and two of the pieces of music heard on Sunday are based on that psalm! One obvious one is the hymn, “The king of love my shepherd is,” to the old Irish tune, St. Columba. The text is a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 23, written in 1868 by an English priest, Sir Henry Williams Baker.

The other piece is one we’ve heard before, but it bears repeating; Antonín Dvořák art song setting of Psalm 23 from his 10 Biblical Songs, each of which set one or more passages of psalms. Dvořák wrote these songs in the 1890’s while living in New York City, and, interestingly enough, the set was first published in three languages at once: Czech (Dvořák’s native language), German, and English. A recurring trill motive which comes between vocal phrases evokes birds, driving home the peaceful, pastoral quality of this song.

The Prelude is something that Alyssa, who has done most of the singing this past year, suggested (and from a collection that she’s listed as a co-commissioner of); it’s a setting of a well-known text taken from an early 16th Century Sarum Book of Hours (see below) which collected texts used through the centuries at Salisbury Cathedral. The composer, Mark Buller, is a young composer based in Alyssa’s home city of Houston, Texas who specializes in vocal music. The song forms a tranquil closing to a 2017 collection called “To the Soul: Five Sacred Songs,” which, in addition to this setting of a Christian text, sets texts from the Islamic and Hindu traditions.

 

Those who have delved at all into Anglican and English church history have probably come across the word “Sarum” before. The Use of Sarum is the most famous of the medieval, pre-reformation uses of the Roman Rite in England (and, really, anywhere), probably because we know a great deal about it and have found a Missal and Breviary detailing it. “Sarum” is a contraction of “Salisburium,” which is the Latin word for the English city of Salisbury, where Salisbury Cathedral is, so the Use of Sarum is simply the local variant of the Roman Rite used at Salisbury Cathedral before the English Reformation. These local variants were extremely common; the Roman Rite was more of a framework than a detailed rite in those days, so it differed slightly in different places. It wasn’t until the Council of Trent and Counter-Reformation when the rite was unified, resulting in the 1570 Missale Romanum and Breviarum Romanum (often collectively called the “Tridentine Rite”), which was the Rite in use in the Roman Catholic Church until 1970 (with some smaller changes in 1911, 1955, and 1962).

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 16, 2021   for The Third Sunday in Easter

Prelude: If God be for us from The Messiah – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)

Hymn 194 “He is risen” vv. 1, 2, 4 (Unser Herrscher)

Postlude: Simple Song from Mass – Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)




Handel’s Messiah has no character roles or distinct plot, and so some have criticized it for only making sense to the listener if they are familiar with various theological concepts surrounding Jesus. Of course, in a largely Christian Europe, this wasn’t a problem; certainly the nobility and bourgeoisie which would have attended concerts would have been familiar with the foundational story of their faith, and the less literate peasantry did not live close enough to cosmopolitan city centers to attend these concerts. Though it’s fairly clear that Part the First explores the prophecies about the coming of Christ and ends with celebrations of Christ’s birth, and Part the Second explores his suffering and eventual triumph over death, Part the Third seems less obvious at points. “I know that my redeemer liveth,” which was sung last Sunday, seems to look ahead to “the latter day,” “The trumpet shall sound” is quite apocalyptic in tone, and “Worthy is the lamb” sums up the whole piece. However, “If God be for us” comes right after the duet “Death where is thy sting” and chorus “But thanks be to God,” perhaps continuing the narrative that we need not fear anything if we trust in God. The text comes from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and it exists in two versions: one for soprano (which we’ll hear on Sunday) and one for alto.

Leonard Bernstein, is one of the giants of American music of the 20th Century, especially here in New York City, existing in the classical, musical theater, and popular music worlds all at once. Born in Massachusetts, Bernstein attended Harvard University and the Curtis Institute of Music before launching his career in New York City. At first, he largely made his living coaching singers, accompanying dance classes, and arranging jazz and pop music. He quickly launched a successful career as a composer, pianist, and conductor, and would soon be appointed Assistant Conductor for the New York Philharmonic, the orchestra of which he became Music Director a bit over a decade later. He appeared as a piano soloist at Tanglewood, conducted the world premiere of one of my favorite 20th Century orchestral works (Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symfonie), and more. On the musical theater side, of course, he became known for his scores to West Side Story and Candide, but broke into that scene with On the Town and Wonderful Town, the latter of which won multiple Tony awards, and the former of which (which was also among the first Broadway productions featuring a multiracial cast and crew, which seems significant as I write these notes on an important anniversary of an event which occurred in my neighborhood a few years later, when Jackie Robinson made his major league debut as a starting first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers at a home game against the Boston Braves, becoming the first black person to play for a Major League team) was adapted to a film starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

In 1971, Bernstein premiered his musical theater work, Mass. Apparently inspired largely by conducting John F. Kennedy’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1968, Bernstein set about writing a liturgical setting of the Mass, later changing it into a work for the stage, adding texts by himself and Stephen Schwartz (best known for Godspell and Wicked). Simple Song, which comes near the beginning of the work, was originally written for the 1972 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon before Bernstein withdrew from that project.

The hymn on Sunday is another text by Cecil Frances Alexander, the wife of an Irish Bishop whose most famous hymn text is probably “Once in Royal David’s City.” She wrote dozens of hymns, largely with children in mind, and the Easter hymn, “He is Risen” first appeared in 1846. It’s most commonly paired with Unser Herrscher, a tune first published in 1680 by German Reformed hymn-writer Joachim Neander.

 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 8, 2021   for The Second Sunday in Easter

 

Prelude: I know that my redeemer liveth from The Messiah – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)
Hymn: 206 “O sons and daughters, let us sing” vv. 1, 5, 6 (O filii et filiae)
Postlude: Regina Caeli – Francesca Caccini (1587-c. 1641)

 

There must have been something in the air in 1685. Three of the best-known high baroque composers were born that year: Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friederich Händel (later anglicized to George Frederick Handel), and Domenico Scarlatti. All three were known for different things; Bach primarily for his sacred music, Handel primarily for his operas and oratorios, and Scarlatti primarily for his solo keyboard sonatas. Although we know Handel primarily for his most famous piece, The Messiah, today, he initially moved to London to start three opera companies and bring Italian opera to England. When the English taste for Italian opera began to wane and his ventures were becoming less profitable, Handel turned to oratorio, which had two major advantages: not being staged, it was much cheaper to put on, and there was no expectation that an oratorio should be sung in Italian, so he could set English texts.

We’ve all heard many movements from The Messiah; it has the distinction of being the only work from the era which has been performed every year since its premiere, and it’s loved both as a work for the professional concert stage and for amateur choirs. As I’ve mentioned before, the work is in three parts, and the soprano aria, “I know that my redeemer liveth,” begins Part the Third. Unfortunately, one of the two traditions surrounding the “Hallelujah” chorus, which ends Part the Second, means that many audience members don’t make it this far. The first tradition is innocuous; because of an apocryphal story that King George II stood up during the movement at the work’s London premiere, which would have obliged the rest of the audience to stand, audience members often stand during the chorus (however, it’s unlikely this actually happened, and there’s no evidence that the King was even at that premiere or any other performance of the work). The second tradition is counting the number of audience members who leave after the “Hallelujah” chorus, which usually winds up being a significant portion of the audience! However, the chorus is immediately followed by this stunning soprano aria. The text is largely taken from the book of Job, chapter 19, verses 25-26, but a verse from 1 Corinthians comes at the end: “for now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.” This aria seems to fit well with the Gospel passage about “doubting Thomas.”

The postlude on Sunday is one you probably haven’t heard before, and is an example of a style created by the intellectual movement known as the “Florentine Camerata:” monody. The Florentine Camerata, which is credited with the ideas that started the baroque musical era in Italy, developed monody as a way of clearly expressing text, which they felt the florid polyphony which was in vogue at the time obscured. Monody involved a solo vocal line over a relatively unobtrusive bass line, with figures which directed a new style of “basso continuo” accompaniment. This movement would also invent opera using the same ideas. Among the most prominent composers of early monody was Giulio Caccini (1551-1618), a carpenter’s son who became a court singer and composer. His daughter, Francesca Caccini, also became notable as a composer, largely of opera, and is believed to be the first woman to compose opera. She, reportedly, was very productive as a composer for the Medici court, though little of her work survives. This was unusual in a time when women were expected to abandon professional music careers once they married and had children. One of her operas survives, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina, written for a visit by the crown prince of Poland (later known as Ladislaus IV) to the Medici court.

On Sunday we’ll hear a setting of the traditional Marian antiphon for Eastertide by Caccini: her “Regina Caeli” (Queen of heaven, rejoice). This comes from a collection called Il Primo libro delle musiche a 1-2 voci e basso continuo (First book of music for 1-2 voices and basso continuo), published in 1618. Musical things to note include the florid ornamentation in the soprano line, and the shift to a faster, more regular triple meter for the “Alleluia” sections.

The Hymn, “O sons and daughters, let us sing” is a translation of a 15th Century French hymn especially appropriate for “Low” Sunday, with its multiple verses alluding to Sunday’s gospel passage. The version we know is a translation of the original hymn, in Latin, by John Mason Neale, a 19th Century English Priest who very much subscribed to the ideals of the Oxford/Tractarian Movement and translated many Latin hymns into English. Though it appears in The Hymnal 1982 without rhythm, I believe this was an unfortunate choice by a committee more concerned with academic “authenticity” than with singability, so Alyssa and I will actually do the version from The Hymnal 1940, which is in triple meter and, I believe, much more accessible and easier to sing (and otherwise identical to the version in the 1982).

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 2, 2021   HOLY WEEK

 

 

This year, our Maundy Thursday service is loosely what the Anglican Daily Office might look like if it were adapted to the Tenebrae offices. Though nowadays Tenebrae is largely associated with what is essentially a concert, it’s just a catch-all term for the form of the Divine Office used during the Triduum. Tenebrae is supposedly a more ancient form of the office, before things like opening sentences and the Gloria Patri were added, and always ends with a recitation of Psalm 51 and a collect.

The service begins by acknowledging the foot washing ceremony common on Maundy Thursday, along with the antiphon proper to the foot washing ceremony, Ubi caritas. Both the text and tune date from the 8th Century AD; the text is often attributed to Paulinus of Aquileia, an Italian priest, theologian, and poet. The text speaks of caring for one another, with the refrain, “Where true charity and love dwell, God himself is there.” The rest of the service will be a stripped down evening prayer, with the typical Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis as canticles. It will end with the hymn Pange Lingua, often sung while the Blessed Sacrament is being carried to the Altar of Repose at the end of the normal, in-person Maundy Thursday liturgy. It’s a common Eucharistic hymn, with a text meant for the feast of Corpus Christi and written by Thomas Aquinas. The tune, in the third mode (also known as Phrygian), comes from the Gallican Rite, which was a common family of rites in first millennium Christianity, but died out by the end of the 8th Century.

The principal Tenebrae service, which is Matins and Lauds of each day of the Triduum, begins with a hearse of 15 candles, which are gradually extinguished throughout the service (a candle is extinguished at each of the 14 portions of psalms recited during the traditional Matins and Lauds liturgy). At the end, the last remaining candle is hidden just before the recitation of Psalm 51. After the collect which follows Psalm 51, it’s traditional to make a certain amount of noise in the darkness, and then reveal the lit candle and place it back on the hearse as everyone leaves in silence.

On Good Friday, we’ll begin with a dramatic piece of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, depicting Jesus’s arrest. It’s a lament by a soprano and alto saying “So is my Jesus captured now.” The text painting in this movement is notable; as if to depict Jesus’s disciples now being without a foundation, there is no basso continuo part except when the chorus comes in to say “Laβt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!” (essentially, “Let him go! Stop! Bind him not!”), which we’ll have to be content with the piano doing since I can’t gather a chorus right now. This section is immediately followed by a musical storm of sorts, a tumultuous double-choir fugue which beseeches the gates of hell to thwart the “faithless betrayer.” Unfortunately, that next section requires more personnel than I have at my disposal!

The hymn, “O sacred head, sore wounded” originates from a German translation of a medieval Latin text. The tune most often associated with it was written by great German Renaissance composer, Hans Leo Hassler, intended at first as a secular love song. The tune was first adapted for the text, “Herzlich tut mich verlangen,” a hymn about desire for a holy death. It was later adapted to “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” which is the German version of the text we will sing.

After Good Friday, we’ll hear the first movement of the most famous work by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, the Stabat Mater. This work sets the traditional hymn which is used as a sequence for the Feast of the 7 Sorrows of Mary, and is often sung between stations during the Stations of the Cross devotion. The text speaks of Mary’s anguish at seeing her son, Jesus, suffer on the cross, and Pergolesi illustrates that anguish with heavy use of suspensions.

In great contrast to Holy Week and the entire Lenten season, Easter, of course, is a great outburst of joy for the church, and the music is no exception! We’ll begin with a movement from Bach’s 4th Cantata, which embellishes the Easter chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands). Though it’s labeled as Bach’s 4th cantata, it may be the first cantata he wrote, and there is evidence that it was performed as early as Easter, 1707, when Bach was 22 years old and still at his first job as the Cantor at the New Church in Arnstadt. The Cantata is in 8 movements, beginning with an instrumental “Sinfonia,” and then setting each of the 7 stanzas of the chorale. We will hear the second verse and the final verse on Sunday. This piece is, I think, evidence that the minor mode wasn’t always associated with sadness; though it may not be as evident in this movement as it is in some of the faster verses, I think that this piece is very joyful! At the end we’ll hear a more overtly joyful movement from Antonio Vivaldi’s setting of the Gloria in excelsis, which he wrote while he taught at the Pio Ospidale della Pietá in Venice, a school for orphaned girls. It’s likely that the piece was intended for the girls at the school. The portion of the gloria set here translates to “we praise thee, we bless thee, we adore thee, we glorify thee.”

“At the lamb’s high feast we sing” is a translation of a Latin office hymn, traditionally sung at Vespers on the Saturday after easter, called “Ad regias agni dapes” and attributed to St. Ambrose (340-397). The hymn was translated a Scotsman named Robert Campbell in 1849, and is most often sung to Salzburg, a 17th Century tune by Jakob Hintze named for the Austrian city. “Jesus Christ is risen today” is another translation of a Latin text, this one being the anonymous “Surrexit Christus Hodie,” an easter carol likely written in Bohemia in the 14th Century. The tune is adapted from a 1708 tune in a collection by John Walsh called Lyra Davidica, but the tune was very florid and simplified by John Arnold in his 1749 collection, The Compleat Psalmodist, and was likely originally intended as a metrical psalm tune. 

 

 

 


 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

March 26, 2021   for Palm Sunday

Prelude: Blute nur du liebes Herz from Matthäuspassion – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)


Hymn: 154 “All glory, laud, and honor” vv. 1, 4, 5 (Valet will ich dir geben)


Postlude: Zerfliesse, mein Herze from Johannespassion – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)




Palm Sunday and Holy Week offer almost an embarrassment of musical riches, from settings of the passion to settings of various liturgical texts for the week, and to the many great hymns for Holy Week from all eras. Bach’s settings of the Passions according to John and Matthew, Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories, Duruflé’s setting of the Ubi Caritas, and many others are justly beloved by many.

Both the prelude and postlude on Sunday are taken from Bach’s passions. Bach, supposedly, wrote five musical settings of the passion, but only two survive to this day: his settings of the passions according to St. Matthew, and St. John. The libretto (text) of his St. Mark Passion also survives, but no music does. Both are massive oratorios in two parts (Part 1 may have been performed before the sermon in church, and part 2 after the sermon). The St. John Passion takes about two hours to perform, and the St. Matthew Passion takes about three, and both use a relatively large ensemble and intersperse passages from the Passion narratives they set with chorales and meditations on certain aspects of the story, largely in the form of arias, which we’ll hear two of today.

The St. Matthew Passion, written in 1727, employs a double choir and double orchestra, and was probably first performed on Good Friday in 1727 at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, one of the two churches whose music Bach administered. “Blute nur” comes from near the beginning of the work; it’s the seventh movement (of 68) and follows a recitative which sets Matthew 26:14-16, in which Judas goes to the chief priests and agrees to betray Jesus. The orchestration for the movement is full, using strings and two flutes (which would have been wooden traverso flutes – very different from the much louder modern metal flute), and Bach gets up to some interesting harmonic hijinks, especially in the B section in which the soprano laments that “a child of yours threatens to kill its caretaker.” Like most arias of the era, this is in “da capo” form, meaning it begins with the A section, moves on to a contrasting B section, and then repeats the A section.

“Zerfliesse, mein Herze” is one of the emotional climaxes of the St. John Passion, and is toward the end of the work (movement 35 of 40), as one of two arias after the passage “and the veil of the temple was rent asunder” (Mark 15:48). The St. John Passion is slightly older than the St. Matthew, first performed on Good Friday in 1724. It’s less grand in scale than the and a bit more intimate, with less full orchestration, and fewer large choruses. “Zerfliesse” is an emotional cry of distress, speaking of the heartbreak following the death of Jesus. Its scoring is also fairly sparse; it’s scored for a duet between the traverso flute and an oboe da caccia, along with basso continuo. The oboe da caccia is a baroque instrument whose closest modern analogue is the English Horn. “Da caccia” means “of the hunt,” perhaps referring to its distinctive curved shape and the large brass bell at the end. It was a new instrument, developed in Leipzig shortly before Bach’s arrival there in 1723, and Bach seemed excited to employ this new instrument in his music. It plays a fifth below the standard oboe (in F), like its descendant, the English Horn. As an aside, the name “English Horn” does not mean the instrument comes from England; it’s likely a mistranslation of the German “Engellisches Horn,” which means “angelic horn.”

Often sung during the procession at the Liturgy of the Palms (which, sadly, we’ll have to forego again this year), the hymn “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” has its roots as a chanted hymn from the 9th Century, written by Theodulf of Orléans. The version we know is a translation by John Mason Neale, a 19th Century Priest who translated many old Latin hymns into English. The best-known tune paired with this text was composed in 1603 by German composer Melchior Teschner, for the text “Valet will ich dir geben” (farewell I gladly bid thee), which was sung at funerals. Another popular hymn for the procession, which we sadly won’t sing, is “Ride on, ride on in majesty,” sets a 1827 text by Oxford poet and playwright Henry Milman, and is known both to the classic tune “Winchester New” (also commonly used for the Advent hymn, “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry”) and to the thrilling newer tune “The King’s Majesty” by British-Canadian composer Graham George.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

March 19, 2021   for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Prelude: Judica me – trad. Plainchant
Hymn: 458 “My song is love unknown” vv. 1, 2, 7 (Love Unknown)
Postlude: By the waters of Babylon - Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Though last Sunday, often called “Rose,” “Laetare,” “Refreshment,” or in the UK, “Mothering” Sunday, offers a bit of a reprieve from the penitence of Lent, we dive right back in this coming Sunday, the fifth Sunday. In older calendars, it’s known as “Passion Sunday,” beginning the season known as Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent. The mood of this Sunday is decidedly darker, and begins looking forward to Jesus’s passion.

The Introit for the Sunday begins “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly nation,” taken from Psalm 43. The chant is in mode 4, roughly equivalent to what is known as “hypophrygian,” which, put simply, is a scale from E to E on a piano with all white keys, or a minor scale with the second scale degree lowered a half step. We see a considerably darker mode and darker text than last week’s chant, which was about comfort.

“My song is love unknown” is, in my opinion, one of the best passiontide hymns! The text was written by Samuel Crossman, a puritan who was temporarily ejected from the Church of England for opposing the act of uniformity of 1662. The poem was published in 1664 and was published as a hymn in 1684 (well before the Church of England’s ban on hymn singing in the 18th Century). John Ireland, a great 20th Century English composer, wrote the tune “Love Unknown” in 1918 for a 1919 publication called The Public School Hymn Book. Legend has it that Ireland wrote the tune on a scrap of paper in 15 minutes! If he did, I’m impressed; the tune is stunning. “My Song is Love Unknown is also often sung to “Rhosymedre,” a 19th Century Welsh tune.

“By the waters of Babylon” may be the last of the Dvořák Biblical songs that we have yet to hear this year! It sets part of Psalm 137, a lament seemingly about Babylonian captivity. Dvořák’s setting seems to be less of a lament, though, evoking water and perhaps evoking some hope that the captivity will end. Maybe this mirrors our current circumstance; though this Sunday begins what I like to call “deep” Lent, Easter is only a couple weeks away! And though we’ve spent the last year worried and distancing because of this pandemic, it seems life might get back to somewhat normal soon!
 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

March 11, 2021   for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Prelude: Laetare – Trad. Plainchant


Hymn: 657 “Love divine, all loves excelling” vv. 1 & 3 (Hyfrydol)
Postlude: Ich will Dir mein Herze schenken from Matthäuspassion – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

The fourth Sunday in Lent, like the Third Sunday of Advent, is generally considered a slight relaxation in the penitence of the season. In some churches, you’ll see rose or pink vestments and paraments used instead of the violet used in the rest of the season, and the organ, which in Roman Catholic tradition is used minimally in Lent (only what is necessary to accompany singing), is played freely. The Sunday is often called “Laetare” Sunday, from the first word of the traditional introit of the day, which means “rejoice.” This Sunday is often also called “Mothering Sunday;” in some cultures (including British culture), the fourth Sunday in Lent is Mothers’ Day, though traditionally it was a day in which people would travel to visit their “mother church,” or the parish they were raised in (which, naturally, often meant a trip home to see their family).

The prelude on Sunday will be the traditional “Laetare” Introit, in Mode 5. For those familiar with the Greek names of the standard modes, Mode 5 is approximately equivalent to Lydian, or what you would get if you played a scale from F to F on all white keys. In other words, it’s a major scale except the fourth is raised. However, church modes tend to work differently than that; church modes emphasize two pitches in the scale, called the final and the reciting tone. In Mode 5, F is the “final” (the pitch on which the chant usually ends) and C is the reciting tone (you’ll notice that the single psalm verse and Gloria Patri are recited on a single note). B is often changed to B-flat in this mode, depending on its context. The text, taken from Isaiah, speaks of rejoicing and taking comfort with Jerusalem, and the psalm verse is the first verse of psalm 122 (I was glad when they said unto me we will go into the house of the Lord).

The postlude will be from Bach’s monumental work, Matthäuspassion, or St. Matthew’s Passion, a massive and deeply moving oratorio which tells the story of Jesus’s passion from the Gospel according to Matthew. The work, which is in two parts and takes about three hours to perform in full, includes quotes from the gospel, arias meditating on various parts of the story, and chorales. Part One ends with Jesus’s arrest, and Part Two ends with Jesus’s burial in the tomb. “Ich will Dir mein Herze schenken” is taken from part one, which follows the story of the last supper in Matthew 26, both the words of institution “this is my body…” and Jesus’s warning that one of his disciples will betray him. The aria, which is relatively joyful in tone, talks about dedicating one’s heart to Jesus.

Since love is a theme throughout the readings for Sunday, the hymn will be “Love divine, all loves excelling” to the well-known Welsh tune, Hyfrydol. The text, published in 1747, is one of the many great texts by Charles Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist revival movement in the Church of England, which eventually split from the Church of England because Charles’s brother, John, ordained ministers in the American colony without the Church’s permission (therefore making the ordinations invalid in the eyes of the Church of England). Charles disapproved of John’s actions, remaining loyal to the Church of England, but there was never much animosity between them. The tune, Hyfrydol, was composed by Rowland Prichard, a Welshman about whom not much is known, and first published in 1844.
 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

March 4, 2021   for the Third Sunday in Lent

Prelude: Oculi mei – Trad. Plainchant
Hymn: 142 “Lord, who throughout these forty days” vv. 1, 4, 5 (St. Flavian)
Postlude: O Dulcis Electe – Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1171)


It seems we’ve come full circle in the liturgical year – it was just before the Third Sunday in Lent last year that we decided to cancel Sunday worship and, eventually, ended up mostly online in what seems like a strange new normal. It seems fitting that this would happen in Lent, anyway. Though I, and I’m sure many of you, look forward to when we can return to our usual church music with a choir, this remains a good opportunity to do music you may not otherwise hear!

As we did last Sunday, we’ll chant the traditional Introit before Morning Prayer on Sunday. This one is very different from last week’s – it’s in a brighter mode, for one thing (Mode 7 rather than Mode 4, if that means anything to you), and has a much bigger range. The Introit, which is traditionally sung at the beginning of Mass while the Priest and other ministers enter the church and prepare for Mass (or, on Sundays, change from cope to sprinkle the congregation with holy water at the Asperges to the chasuble to celebrate the Mass itself), may have their roots as recitations of psalms with antiphons. Chant was an oral tradition for centuries before it was ever written down, so it’s likely that the antiphons gradually got more elaborate and less of the psalm was sung, until it became normal to recite a single verse of the psalm (in this case, Psalm 25). The text of this Introit talks about one’s eyes always being on the Lord, depending on him for refuge.

St. Flavian, the tune of the hymn we’ll sing on Sunday, comes from a 1562 publication called The Whole Booke of Psalms, also known as the John Day psalter, as a fauxbourdon psalm tone. Unfortunately, its authorship is unknown beyond that. As with many hymn texts in our hymnal, the text is a 19th Century English one, likely part of a boom in English hymn writing after the Church of England lifted its prohibition on hymn singing. “Lord, who throughout these forty days” first appeared in 1873, written by Claudia Frances Hernaman, a prolific hymn writer who wrote hymns primarily for children.

It’s been a little while since we’ve heard from Hildegard, but Sian and I are doing a small project with Hildegard’s work next week, so we’re in the mood! Hildegard was a 12th Century German abbess, mystic, naturalist, poet, linguist, and composer, among other things, who has been influential in many fields (she is often credited with founding the study of natural history!). Her music is all sacred plainchant, often setting her own text, and usually has a much larger range than what might be found in the Graduale Romanum, which is the collection of Gregorian Chant Mass Propers. “O Dulcis Electe” is meant as a responsory in honor of St. John the Evangelist. Since there will be two pieces of plainchant heard on Sunday, listen for the contrast between them! Notably, notice the range of the Hildegard is much larger, and tends to use melisma (that is, multiple notes on one syllable of text) much more liberally.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

February 26, 2021   for the Second Sunday in Lent

Prelude: Reminiscere – Trad. Plainchant
Hymn: 675 “Take up your cross, the savior said” vv. 1, 3, 5 (Bourbon)
Postlude: Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass – arr. Harry Burleigh (1866-1949)

Often, plainchant written for use as Mass propers is ornate, but within strict parameters. The range is often small; even some of the more elaborate chants like the Tract for Lent I is still well within an octave. We’ll start the service on Sunday with the traditional Introit for the Second Sunday in Lent, which begins with “Reminiscere.” A translation which may be familiar to anyone who has sung in a church choir is “Call to remembrance,” with a text which implores the Lord to remind the world of his mercy. The range, in this case, is very small; it mostly stays within a third, so when it leaves that small range, it’s a pretty big deal. This is a concept which has been explored quite a bit recently, especially in minimalism. If you listen to a work like Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, which is an hour long piece which plays around a chord progression which changes very slowly, you get so used to one sonority that when it changes even slightly, it feels huge. Think about the moments that stand out in this little piece of chant (which you’ll hear twice) – there’s a couple moments where it goes above its home in the range of a third, and one where it goes below.

I’d say that the name of the hymn tune Bourbon has nothing to do with American whiskey, but that may not be true. The tune, a pentatonic shape-note tune, comes from the southern US (perhaps Bourbon County, Kentucky, the birthplace of bourbon whiskey?). It first appeared in print in the Columbian Harmony collection, published in Pittsburgh in 1825. The tune is attributed to Freeman Lewis, who lived in Pennsylvania, but it’s doubtful that he actually wrote it. Those who attended our Ash Wednesday service will have heard (and hopefully sung along) to this tune to a different text, “Now let us all with one accord.” The text we’ll sing on Sunday, “Take up your cross, the Savior said,” relates directly to Sunday’s gospel passage, and was written by Charles W. Everest, an Episcopal Priest from Connecticut.

“Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass” is another spiritual arranged by Harry Burleigh. Like most spirituals, the tune originates from African-American slavery in the early 19th Century. The melody is typical for a spiritual, with a repeating motive which gets higher and more pleading. Burleigh’s accompaniment becomes more active as the piece goes on to the “I know that my redeemer liveth” section, the more hopeful part of the spiritual. The spiritual seems to illustrate the dichotomy between the sorry state of the world (especially for those enslaved!) and the Christian faith that this isn’t all there is.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

February 18, 2021   for the First Sunday in Lent

Prelude: Sometimes I feel like a motherless child – arr. Harry Burleigh (1866-1949)


Hymn: 150 “Forty days and forty nights” vv. 1, 2, 5 (Aus der Tiefe ruhe ich)


Postlude: Vidit Suum from Stabat Mater – Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)




Here we are in Lent! As might be expected, the music takes a turn from the joyful to the more penitential during this season. On Wednesday, we heard two chants from the traditional rite of blessing ashes from the Graduale Romanum, and one of Dvořák’s more somber psalm settings.

Given the context in which they arose, it’s no surprise that many African-American spirituals act as laments, and “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” might be chief among them. It evokes a sense of having been torn away from home and feeling like you don’t belong, a feeling likely familiar to the early American slaves, and perhaps familiar to the disciples at various points in Jesus’s ministry on earth. The spiritual’s origins aren’t entirely clear, but it was popularized in the late 19th Century by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an a capella ensemble from the “historically black” Fisk University. It has since been recorded many times, notably early on by African-American singer and actor, Paul Robeson. And, of course, we have Harry Burleigh’s arrangement, meant for intimate settings in which art songs and the like might be performed.

One of the classic hymns for Lent, Forty days and forty nights talks both about Jesus’s time being tempted in the desert, and our own Lenten journeys. The hymn text was written by George Hunt Smyttan in 1856, published in The Penny Post with the heading: “Poetry for Lent; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” It was among the hymns published in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which formed the blueprint for The Episcopal Church’s hymnals, in the 1860’s. The tune is older, a 17th Century German tune attributed to Martin Herbst. It was originally meant for a German paraphrase of Psalm 130 (Out of the depths I cry).

Though we don’t often hear much about composers from the early 18th Century who aren’t named Bach or Handel, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, composed at the end of Pergolesi’s life, has become a much celebrated work. It sets the “Stabat Mater” sequence, which is sung on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, and one of five sequences that survived the Counter-Reformation and Tridentine Reforms (the other four being the Victimae Paschali for Easter, Veni Sancti Spiritus for Pentecost, Laude Sion Salvatorem for Corpus Christi, and Dies Irae for Masses for the Dead). The Stabat Mater is also commonly sung at the Stations of the Cross, a popular devotion often practiced during Lent which meditates on various moments of Christ’s crucifixion (if you hadn’t noticed them before, we have the fourteen stations hanging around the nave of the church!). Pergolesi composed his Stabat Mater for a religious confraternity in Naples, completing it while hiding in a Franciscan monastery and dying of Tuberculosis. Vidit Suum is the sixth movement, of twelve, of the work, and speaks of Mary’s sorrow that her son is condemned to die on the cross.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

February 12, 2021   for the Last Sunday in Epiphany

Prelude: I will lift up mine eyes – Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Hymn: 137 “O wondrous type!” vv. 1, 3, 5 (Wareham)
Postlude: Little David, Play on Your Harp – Arr. Harry Burleigh (1866-1949)

Where has the time gone? Lent is fast approaching, but we have one more Sunday! In our modern lectionary, accounts of the Transfiguration are read on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, making the hymn for Sunday a perfect fit. The hymn “O wondrous type” features a text about the Transfiguration, originally in Latin and translated by John Mason Neale (1818-1866). Neale was very sympathetic to the Oxford Movement (which evolved into Anglo-Catholicism) which began when he was a teenager and, after being ordained a Priest in 1842, translated a great many Latin hymns into English, including many of the Office Hymns found in the Breviary. The original Latin hymn, “Coelestis Forman Gloria,” is an anonymous text from the 15th Century, which is all I could find about its origins. The tune, “Wareham,” was written by William Knapp (1698-1769) and named for his birthplace. Knapp was known in his time as the “country psalm singer,” though he was a glover by trade, and served as an organist in multiple country parishes.

The prelude and postlude are a student and teacher pair this week! The teacher, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, is someone you’ve likely heard of, most famous for his 9th Symphony (“From the New World”), which the composer wrote while living in New York. He also wrote his Ten Biblical Songs in New York in the 1890’s, and it was in New York while working as the director of the now defunct National Conservatory of Music where he met Harry Burleigh. Burleigh was a student at the Conservatory and worked as a handyman for the registrar to support himself. Burleigh sang to himself while he worked, and his excellent baritone voice caught the attention of Dvořák, who may have taught the young man composition. “I will lift up mine eyes,” the piece we will hear on Sunday, takes its text from Psalm 121, and is thematically similar to some of the propers for the Transfiguration (also, part of the psalm is set by Felix Mendelssohn in his oratorio Elijah, and we hear a lot about Elijah this week!).

The other piece we’ll hear is an arrangement of an African-American spiritual by Burleigh. As an African-American who became prominent in the classical music world, Burleigh arranged many of these spirituals for solo singer and piano to make them accessible to a crowd more inclined to classical music. I selected “Little David, Play on your Harp” mainly for its repetition of “Hallelujah,” a word we won’t get to use again until Easter!

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

February 4, 2021   for Epiphany 5

 

Like most African-American spirituals, the exact origins of “Balm in Gilead” are uncertain. It probably dates from sometime in the 19th Century, and there are allusions to it in other literature, including an 1845 poem by Edgar Allen Poe. The structure of the spiritual features a refrain and short verses; a simple song that can be sung while doing other things. The text talks of Jesus as a healer and encourages the hearer to proclaim the Gospel, which pairs nicely with Sunday’s Gospel passage. Once again, we’ll hear an arrangement by Harry Burleigh, an African-American baritone and composer (and protégé of Antonín Dvořák) who was among the first composers to arrange these spirituals as art songs.

The text, “Songs of thankfulness and praise” summarizes the traditional events recounted in Epiphanytide, and I often use it for the Last Sunday after Epiphany in normal times (we get it a week early since we’re only doing one hymn a week on Zoom). The text is by Christopher Wordsworth. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because Wordsworth’s uncle, William Wordsworth, is considered one of the great Romantic English poets! Christopher would become a Priest in the Church of England, eventually being consecrated Bishop of Lincoln. Clearly, writing was a family trade, and Wordsworth has numerous hymns and other writings to his name. The tune, Salzburg, is named for the Austrian city made famous by Mozart. It was first published in 1678 in a book called Praxis Pietatis Melica, and later attributed to Jakob Hintze. Like many German hymn tunes, it’s in a rounded bar form (AABA), making it easy to learn and sing (and perhaps that terminology is why the myth that Martin Luther adapted drinking songs as hymns persists…). It’s also one of several hymns in our hymnal with a harmonization by J.S. Bach.

Handel’s Messiah is most performed around Christmas, and many of its best-loved moments are in “Part the First,” often nicknamed the “Christmas” section. However, the oratorio contains three parts (not just 2, as many who leave performances after the “Hallelujah” Chorus, which ends “Part the Second,” would have you believe!). “Part the Second” concerns itself largely at first with Jesus’s suffering, and later with evangelism and his impact on the world, turning sin upside-down. “Thou art gone up on high” takes its text from Psalm 68 and obliquely alludes to Pentecost, which fits in with Sunday’s theme of spreading the Gospel. Though originally written for Bass, it is normally performed by an Alto nowadays, and many editions include a transposition for Soprano, which will be heard on Sunday.

In just a couple of weeks, we will be in the season of Lent, and everything in church, including the music, will shift in tone. However, these last few weeks of Epiphanytide, aside from the last Sunday (on which accounts of the Transfiguration are read), makes the shift a bit more gradual, which may be a holdover from an older season known as Septuagesima, Pre-Lent, or Shrovetide, a period of preparation for Lent.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

January 29, 2021   for Epiphany 4

The prelude on Sunday speaks of the constancy of God, and is another arrangement of an African-American spiritual by baritone, composer, and Episcopalian Harry Burleigh. Though some have traced the origins of the text to a 1907 publication by a Salvation Army officer, it seems possible it was also a spiritual, especially with the imagery surrounding Moses and the escape from Egypt (may spirituals talk about Moses, for reasons that are not difficult to imagine). The text also talks about Daniel and his refusal to bow to authority.

The hymn tune Puer Nobis dates from at least the fifteenth century, and the version that is known today was arranged by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), who was among the most prominent early Lutheran composers. The tune may be best known as a Christmas tune, at least among Anglicans, since it accompanies the text “Come thou redeemer of the earth,” often sung at carol services (though, strangely, that hymn didn’t make it into The Hymnal 1982, even though it was in the 1940). The text is a translation of a Latin hymn, which was written by French hymn writer Charles Coffin, by John Chandler.

For the postlude, we return to Peter Cornelius’s Weihnachtslieder! Though it may seem strange to perform a Christmas song over a month after Christmas Day, this one is specifically about the events described on February 2nd, at the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as Candlemas (and Candlemas is often considered the end of a greater Christmas season). This song tells the story of Simeon meeting Jesus at the temple (though the text seems to get the timeline a little wrong). 40 days after Jesus’s birth, Mary and Joseph, as was Jewish custom, went to the temple to present Jesus and so that Mary could undergo a ritual purification after childbirth (since women were considered unclean and could not enter the temple for 40 days after childbirth). This song tells the story rather plainly, and includes a paraphrase of the “Song of Simeon,” also known as the “Nunc dimittis” (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace).

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

January 22, 2021   for Epiphany 3

Due to its inclusion in J.S. Bach’s “Notebook for Anna Magdalena,” which, if you took piano lessons as a child, you probably know very well, Stötzel’s Bist du bei mir is often incorrectly attributed to Bach. It’s an aria from Stötzel’s 1718 Opera, Diomedes. Bach and Stötzel knew each other, and the intimate nature of the aria makes it no surprise that it might have been included in a notebook intended for home use. Anna Magdalena Bach (née Wilcke) was a singer who worked with Bach in the court at Cöthen. They married in 1721 after Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, died suddenly in 1720. Much is made nowadays of the Bach household where, presumably, a lot of music-making happened, and the Notebook may give us a glimpse of the types of music being made in their household. The second notebook, which is more commonly referred to, dates from 1725 and includes manuscripts copied by Johann Sebastian Bach, Anna Magdalena, and a few of their children. Beginning piano students know the minuets found in the notebook well.

After the service, we’ll perform another of Harry Burleigh’s arrangements of African-American spirituals. “I want to be ready” follows a common call-and-response format, which possibly sees its origins in “Field Holler” music, sung by slaves while working. Burleigh manages to distill this format into one more like a European art song. If you missed my notes last week, Burleigh was among the earliest prominent African-American composers and musicians in western art music, and was a fine baritone. He is best known for his arrangements of spirituals, and was among the first arrangers of spirituals for a more art-music oriented audience.

Speaking of early American music, the hymn tune Restoration comes from the great collection of shape-note tunes called The Southern Harmony. Like most shape note tunes, it’s in a pentatonic mode and has a driving, regular rhythm. Though mostly associated with the text, “Come ye sinners, poor and needy,” Cecil Frances Alexander’s text, Jesus calls us, fits it quite well. The second verse talks about exactly the event recounted in Sunday’s Gospel passage, when Simon and Andrew left their fishing boat and family to follow Jesus. If the name Cecil Frances Alexander sounds familiar, it’s because I talked about her in my notes around Christmas! She also wrote the text for Once in Royal David’s City.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

January 15, 2021   for Epiphany 2

With the bulk of the Christmas season over (though some argue there is a “greater Christmas season” until Candlemas on February 2), we’re back to what would be the green season if we were meeting in person and wearing vestments! The prelude on Sunday fits, then; “Lucis Creator optime” (O blest creator of the light) is the traditional office hymn sung at Vespers on all ordinary Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost. It is truly “Gregorian” chant, attributed to Pope Gregory the Great, who is credited with the shape of the Western liturgy and for compiling chant (though no evidence of that style of plainchant being written down exists until a couple centuries later).

The postlude is an arrangement of a very popular African-American spiritual and Christmas Carol, “Go tell it on the mountain.” The spiritual dates at least as far back as 1865, and was first written down by John Wesley Work, Jr, one of the first compilers of spirituals. It was likely popularized in 1963, when it was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary. The arranger, Harry Burleigh (1866-1949), was born to a family which managed to free itself from slavery and became one of the first African-American composers, especially known for his arrangements of spirituals. While a student at the (now defunct) National Conservatory of Music in New York, Burleigh developed a relationship with Czech composer Antonín Dvořák; Burleigh worked as a handyman while in school and was heard singing spirituals in the halls. Dvořák found the music inspiring (incorporating elements of it into his much beloved 9th Symphony, “From the New World”) and taught the young Burleigh composition. Burleigh was also a much celebrated baritone, and also active in the New York City church scene, being a soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church on Stuyvesant Square (now part of the Calvary-St. George’s Parish) and the only black member of the synagogue choir at Temple Emanu-El. He is even given a day (September 11, though he died on September 12) in some trial liturgical calendars for the Episcopal Church: the now defunct Holy Women, Holy Men and the newer A Great Cloud of Witnesses.

The hymn for Sunday, “The people who in darkness walked,” fits the collect of the day very well and works as a general Epiphanytide hymn. The text was written by a Scotsman, John Morison, in the 18th Century, and the tune first appeared in a Scottish hymnal in 1615, and was arranged by Thomas Ravenscroft a few years later. Not much else is known about either the tune or Ravenscroft, unfortunately.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

January 8, 2021   for Epiphany 1

This week it’ll just be a few random, brief notes about music heard both this week and prior.

We will have heard three songs from Peter Cornelius’s Weihnachtslieder (“Christmas Songs”) by the end of Sunday. The best known of these is probably “Die Könige,” or “The three Kings,” mostly due to a popular adaptation by Ivor Atkins for baritone soloist and choir often heard at services of Lessons and Carols. However, the other songs in the set are quite charming, especially the first one we heard, “Christbaum” (Christ tree). Cornelius is, today, a footnote in 19th Century music; he traveled in some of the “new German school” circles (those who have been reading these notes for a few months may remember my rantings over the summer), though his relationship with them seemed, at times, complicated. He was friendly with Wagner and Liszt except when he wasn’t, and that sort of thing. He wrote some operas which are largely forgotten and was a prominent music critic. The Weihnachtslieder, though, published in 1856, are worthwhile, and illustrate various scenes surrounding Christ’s infancy in six songs: “Christbaum” (the Christ Tree), “Die Hirten” (the shepherds), “Die Könige” (The Kings), “Simeon,” “Christus der Kinderfreund” (Christ, the friend of children), and “Christkind” (the Christ Child). Simeon may be the least obvious of these, since the story of Mary’s Purification and Christ’s Presentation at the Temple may be less known, but Simeon was the old man who was praying at the temple and sang the Nunc Dimittis (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace) upon seeing Jesus.

On Sunday, you’ll hear the traditional chant, “Vidi aquam” (I saw water). Traditionally, this is used at the sprinkling rite in Eastertide. In the old Roman Rite, at the principal Sunday Mass, there would be a short service before the Mass proper begins wherein the Celebrant goes around the nave and sprinkles the congregation with holy water while an antiphon is sung. For most of the year, this antiphon is “Asperges me” (thou shalt purge me with hyssop), but it switches to “Vidi Aquam” between Easter Day and Pentecost. The antiphon is now sometimes used for other purposes (at one of my prior parishes, it was used at the “Renewal of baptismal vows,” and in the Novus Ordo the sprinkling rite has been integrated more into the beginning of Mass. It’s a really beautiful chant and is evocative of baptism, so I thought it appropriate for the Baptism of Our Lord.

Two Epiphany favorites are the hymns, “We three Kings” and “Brightest and best.” “We three kings” is probably the most recognizable Epiphany hymn, even being popular in the secular world. It was written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr (no relation that I know of, but I’ll call him “Cousin John” just for fun). Hopkins (Cousin John) wrote the carol for a Christmas Pageant at General Theological Seminary here in New York, where he taught music (he was also a Priest and was the Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, PA at the time), and it was originally meant to be sung by three soloists each representing one of the wise men, with a chorus (congregation) joining in the refrain. He was very much an American Episcopalian; his father, John Henry Hopkins, was Episcopal Bishop of Vermont and later served as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. John Henry Hopkins, Jr. wasn’t quite as distinguished order-wise, but wrote a few popular hymns; he also wrote the tune “Grand Isle,” usually paired with Lesbia Scott’s text, “I sing a song of the saints of God” (though the tune far predates the text).

“Brightest and Best of the sons of the morning” (altered to “stars of the morning” in many recent Hymnals) is a text written by Reginald Heber, an early hymn writer in an era when hymns that weren’t metrical adaptations of psalms were all but forbidden in the Church of England. Heber loved traveling and eventually became Bishop of Calcutta, far from some of the more puritan tendencies of the Church of England at the time. The text is often set to two tunes: “Morning Star,” by James Proctor Harding, and “Star in the East,” from the American shape note collection, The Southern Harmony. This year, we’ll hear Harding’s tune, very much a Victorian English tune, though last year we heard the Southern Harmony version.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

January 1, 2021   for  Christmas 2

 

Happy New Year, everyone! As we’re in the midst of the Christmas season (remember that there are 12 days of Christmas!), we’ve all heard lots of Christmas Carols. Hopefully, we’re not tired of them as the secular world gets by the time Christmas actually rolls around.

We’ve heard several over the last week; our Christmas Eve service began with “Once in Royal David’s City,” to the tune Irby. The text, written by an Irish Bishop’s wife named Cecil Frances Alexander, was originally published in an 1848 collection called Hymns for Little Children and meant to help children understand the words in the Creed, “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.” The original text also contained prescriptions for the behavior of children, but those were removed for most modern hymnals, perhaps to acknowledge its role as a Christmas Carol (it’s worth noting that in The Hymnal 1940, this hymn is in the “Hymns for Children” section rather than the “Christmas” section). The tune, “Irby,” was written by Henry J. Gauntlett, primarily known as an organist and pioneer of organ building in England.

Adeste Fideles originated as a Latin carol, but its authorship is unknown. The hymn was first published in a 1751 collection, and quickly made its way to various cultures and languages, including even an adaptation for the Sacred Harp tradition! The text is usually attributed to John Francis Wade, an Englishman who lived in exile in France due to his Catholic faith. However, the text has also been attributed to John IV of Portugal, St. Bonaventure, and many others; the tune has been attributed to Wade, John Reading, Handel, and Gluck. So, in short, no one knows for sure where the hymn came from, exactly.

Other Christmas Carols have more certain origins than Adeste Fideles, and some were even written by well-known composers! Felix Mendelssohn, a child prodigy turned influential composer and early proponent of reviving Bach’s works, wrote the tune for “Hark the Herald Angels sing,” and the tune, fittingly, is called Mendelssohn. The music was originally part of his Festgesang, to the text “Vaterland, in deinen Gauen,” written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s Printing Press. The tune was paired with Charles Wesley’s text, “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings!” which was later changed to “Hark! The herald angels sing!” by George Whitfield, a famous early Methodist preacher in North America. “Antioch,” the tune paired with the text, “Joy to the world,” was adapted by Lowell Mason from a movement of Handel’s Messiah. The text is simply a psalm paraphrase by Isaac Watts, based on Psalms 98 and 96, with some of Genesis put in.

We’ve heard some medieval English carols during this Christmastide as well, whose origins are somewhat more mysterious. Edi beo thu Hevene Quene is, believe it or not, in English, though in middle English, which is quite different from modern English. Nowell Sing We is a little later and thus a little more recognizable (though still in Middle English), but a wrench is throw into the gears in that it’s macaronic, meaning it uses multiple languages (in this case, Middle English and Latin). The former is one of many pieces lauding Mary in pre-reformation England, whose people had a particular devotion to her. There are countless other Christmas carols from numerous cultures around the world that we won’t be able to hear in church, simply because there’s not enough time! 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Dec 18, 2020   for  Advent 4

Prelude: Quia respexit from Magnificat – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)


Hymn: 56 “O come, O come, Emmanuel” vv. 5 & 8 (Veni, veni, Emmanuel)


Postlude: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen – Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)




We’re on the last Sunday of Advent already! The latter part of Advent is sometimes known as “Sapientiatide;” more on that in a moment.

First of all, a brief plug: I will be playing the organ for Columbia University’s Lessons and Carols this year. It’s a bit of a strange service (as everything is this year); rather than organ and choir, it will be organ, cello, and soprano. However, if you’d like to tune in and hear some Christmas carols, it will be live-streamed at 6:00 pm on Sunday, December 20th from Columbia University’s St. Paul’s Chapel at https://youtu.be/5FPbfs2HbhY.

Since the proper for Sunday follows the story of the Annunciation, we’ll begin with the third movement from J.S. Bach’s setting of the Magnificat. That Bach wrote a major work setting a Latin liturgical text is very odd; as a devout Lutheran, it’s doubtful his religious life would have included much use of Latin, a language often reserved for the Catholic Church. Bach initially wrote the work for a performance around Christmastime, with Christmas hymns interpolated in places. However, it was reworked without the Christmas interpolations, likely for a performance around the Feast of the Visitation (when Mary visited her relative, Elizabeth, when both were pregnant with Jesus and John the Baptist, respectively). Bach’s Magnificat is in 12 movements, each movement roughly setting a couplet of the text. Quia Respexit sets the first half of the third couplet, which translates to “for he hath acknowledged the lowliness of his handmaiden,” and is originally scored for soprano, basso continuo, and oboe.

The last several days of Advent, sometimes known as “Sapientiatide,” see the use of special Magnificat antiphons in the office of Vespers, known as the “Great O Antiphons.” If you (virtually) attended Evening Prayer on Thursday (the 17th), you would have heard me sing the first of these antiphons, “O Sapientia.” There is always an antiphon paired with the Magnificat at vespers, but these ones are special, reflecting on some of the mysteries of the incarnation. Since the Council of Trent, the antiphons were standardized, and the number 7 was settled on, so the antiphons would be said beginning on December 17th. However, some Medieval uses of the Roman Rite, including the much vaunted Sarum Use used in Salisbury Cathedral, used additional antiphons. The Sarum Use has 8 antiphons, adding “O Virgo Virginum” at the end.

“Veni, veni, Emmanuel” is not only one of the most well-known Advent hymns, but it’s a paraphrase of the 7 O Antiphons! I chose verse 5 because it is a paraphrase of “O Clavis David,” the antiphon appointed for December 20th.

The organ wasn’t a major part of Brahms’s compositional world for much of his life. He wrote a few preludes and fugues as a  young man, but at the height of his career, despite writing four symphonies and a ton of chamber music, he didn’t write for the organ at all. Brahms was an interesting figure in the Romantic period; in a time when Robert Schumann’s successor at the influential quarterly, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, advocated music which told a set story (and became known as “program music”), Brahms looked to the past, exploring older forms of composition not much seen since the baroque period. The last collection he wrote, Elf Choralvorspiele (Eleven Chorale Preludes), hearkens back to compositions from a century or more before. In his final days, Brahms decided to write a relatively simple set of chorale preludes for the organ. “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” is in the middle of this collection, and is based on the beloved Christmas carol known in English as “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming.”
 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Dec 11, 2020   for  Advent 3

Hymn: 76 “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” vv. 1 & 2 (Winchester New)
Offertory Anthem: Ut queant laxis – Traditional Office Hymn
Hymn: 67 “Comfort, comfort ye my people” vv. 1 & 2 (Psalm 42)
Anthem: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion” from The Messiah – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)

The third Sunday of Advent is generally considered a slight relaxation of the penitence of the season, which manifests itself in a few ways. The most visible in some churches is the use of rose, or pink, vestments and paraments, which is a shade lighter than the violet traditionally used for the rest of the season (at All Saints’, though, we use blue vestments throughout the season, so you won’t see that); this is also seen in the Advent Wreath, since the third Sunday is when the pink candle is lit. Musically, the use of the organ was traditionally limited throughout Advent except for the third Sunday, when it plays freely. The day is often nicknamed “Gaudete” Sunday, after the traditional Introit for the day, which begins “Gaudete in Domino semper” or “Rejoice in the Lord always” (note that this has absolutely nothing to do with the Christmas carol, “Gaudete”). There is a similar Sunday in Lent (the fourth Sunday), whose Introit starts with “Laetare,” which can also be translated as “rejoice.”

On that theme, during the Offertory, you’ll hear one of the most famous arias from Handel’s Messiah: the virtuosic soprano aria, “Rejoice greatly.” This comes near the end of “Part the First,” often known as the “Christmas” or “Advent” portion. The entirety of the text for this aria is “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, thy king cometh unto thee. He is the righteous saviour and he shall speak peace unto the heathen.” The text comes from Zechariah chapter 9, and is set melismatically in typical Handel fashion (a melisma is when a single syllable spans multiple notes).

The other anthem is another office hymn, this time for the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which is on June 24 (though the readings for Sunday are generally about John!). “Ut queant laxis” is traditionally sung at Vespers of the feast, and has a special place in music history! You may be familiar with solfège, a set of syllables assigned to each musical note (and even if you don’t know it – The Sound of Music has an entire song dedicated to it! You know, “Do, a deer, a female deer…”). Solfège originated from a system of solmization, or assigning syllables to notes in hexachords (groups of six notes). Hexachords, rather than the seven note scales which are common today, were the basic constituents of music in Medieval Europe. A music theorist named Guido D’Arezzo, who came up with the earliest form of staff notation, came up with a system of solmization (along with something called the Guidonian Hand, a system of assigning notes in a hexachord to different parts of the hand) to describe each note’s role in the hexachord. These syllables were ut, re, mi, fa, sol, and la, and come from this office hymn! The hymn starts on the lowest note of the hexachord on the word “ut,” and each phrase starts a step higher, and the other notes are named after the syllables which start the phrases. Re comes from the word “resonare,” mi from the word “mira,” fa from “famuli,” sol from “solve,” and la from “labii.” A version of this system is still used today, though “ut” has been renamed to “do” and a seventh syllable, “si” or “ti” (depending on who you ask), has been added to make it compatible with the seven note scales of common practice western music.

The tunes for the two hymns on Sunday are German and French in origin, though Winchester New has been adopted as an English tune. Winchester New originally appeared a 1690 publication called Musikalisches Handbuch der Geistlichen Melodien (roughly, musical manual of sacred melodies) to the text “Wer nur den lieben Gott” (which is translated to “if thou but trust in God to guide thee” in our hymnal). The tune was later used by John and Charles Wesley and reworked by William J. Havergal as a tune for metrical psalm singing, when it became known as Winchester New. Today, it is commonly associated with “On Jordan’s bank,” which is a translation by John Chandler of a Latin hymn by Charles Coffin called “Jordanis oras praevia.” It is also commonly associated with the Palm Sunday hymn, “Ride on, ride on in majesty,” but that text is increasingly known to a much newer tune by Graham George called “The King’s Majesty.” Psalm 42 was probably composed by Louis Bourgeois for the 16th Century Genevan Psalter, to go with Psalm 42, and harmonized by Claude Goudimel later in the 16th Century. It also entered the German hymnody early on due to an adaptation by Johann Crüger, and appears in a regularized version in two Bach cantatas: Es erhub sich ein Streit (BWV 19), and Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet! (BWV 70).

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Nov 27, 2020   for  Advent 1

Prelude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 57 “Lo! He comes, with clouds descending” vv. 1 & 4 (Helmsley)
Offertory Anthem: Drop down ye heavens from above (Rorate Caeli) - Traditional
Offertory Hymn: 54 “Savior of the nations, come!” vv. 1 & 4 (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland)
Communion Anthem: But who may abide from The Messiah – G.F. Handel (1685-1750)
Postlude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

It’s now time for my favorite liturgical season: Advent! Advent serves both as a preparatory season for Christmas, and a special time to reflect and prepare for Christ’s second coming. Historically, the tone has been somewhat penitential in nature, though much less so than Lent. Musically, this means a few things: in the West, the Gloria in excelsis is not said on Sundays in Advent, and traditionally the organ would be used less except on the Third Sunday in Advent (Gaudete Sunday).

The marriage of John Wesley’s text, “Lo! He comes with clouds descending,” with the tune Helmsley is among the best in hymnody, in my opinion. The tune, which can only be described as majestic, pairs perfectly with the awe inherent in the text. We’re not sure who wrote the tune, however; Wesley attributed it to Thomas Olivers, but it’s unlikely that he was the source. Thomas Augustine Arne and Martin Madan have also been floated as possible composers of the tune. Either way, it’s among my favorites in the hymnal. The writer of the text, John Wesley, was one of the famous Wesleys who founded the revival movement in the Church of England known as Methodism (which later became its own denomination due to disputes about how to evangelize the American colony). Both he and his brother, Charles, wrote many hymn texts which are often sung today.

Often, when discussing the use of popular music idioms during worship, someone will bring up a factoid (that is, something passed off as fact that isn’t true) about Martin Luther’s chorale tunes: many claim he used a lot of drinking songs, and a quote, “why should the devil have all the good tunes?” is often falsely attributed to him (this quote probably originated from Rowland Hill, an 18th Century English clergyman, when he set an Easter text to a tune which was popular at the time. It is also sometimes attributed to one of the Wesley brothers). In fact, Luther largely either wrote new tunes or adapted existing plainchant to chorales. “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” is an example of the latter; both the text and tune are adapted from “Veni Redemptor Gentium,” a plainchant hymn attributed to St. Ambrose (an English translation of which is also in our hymnal, at number 55). “Savior of the nations, come” is simply an English translation of that German chorale.

The organ pieces heard on Sunday will be contrasting chorale preludes on “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,” both from the collection known as the “Great 18” or “Leipzig” chorales. Bach collected these chorale preludes while serving in his last job as the Cantor for the city of Leipzig, though they were likely mostly written while he was in Weimar, as much of his organ music was. The first of these chorale preludes is in a French style, heavily ornamenting the chorale tune in the top voice, and is among my favorite examples of Bach’s ornamented chorales. The second treats the theme much more plainly, with a straightforward statement in the pedal, but Bach puts a driving toccata on full organ above the theme. There are three preludes on “Nun komm” in this collection, and you’ll hear the first and third of them. The middle one can only be described as very unusual.

The “Advent Prose” became a popular hymn sung during various liturgies in France in the 17th Century, and was popularized in the English-speaking world by its inclusion in the 1906 English Hymnal. It’s based on the text, Rorate Caeli, which is used as an Introit for several Masses of the year in the traditional Roman Rite (including Advent IV) and sets a passage from Isaiah.

Handel’s Messiah remains one of the best-known pieces in history, and perhaps the only piece which has been performed every year since its premiere in 1742. The Messiah is an oratorio (that is, a work which tells a story but, unlike an opera, isn’t staged), but is unusual in that there are no character roles. The libretto is entirely taken from the Bible, and is separated into three parts. Part the First, from which “But who may abide the day of his coming” is taken, concerns itself with the themes of Advent and Christmas. “But who may abide” takes its text from Malachi, and is especially relevant to the theme of the second coming. It begins with a slow, almost dirge-like section which quickly gives way to a tumultuous and much faster section at the text, “but he is like a refiner’s fire.” Though typically performed as an Alto aria, Handel did also write a version in a key appropriate for a soprano, which will be heard on Sunday morning.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Dec 4, 2020   for  Advent 2

Prelude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)


Sequence Hymn: 61 “Sleepers, wake! A voice astounds us” vv. 1 & 2 (Wachet auf)
Offertory Anthem: Creator of the Stars of Night – Traditional Office Hymn


Offertory Hymn: 59 “Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding” vv. 1 &2 (Merton)


Communion Anthem: “And he shall feed his flock” from The Messiah – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)
Postlude: Wachet auf! Ruft uns die Stimme – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Another Sunday, another round of excellent Advent music!
The two hymns on Sunday are two more Advent favorites. “Sleepers, wake!” is an excellent 16th Century German text and tune. Philipp Nicolai, a Lutheran Pastor with an action-packed life which involved resisting both Catholics and Calvinists, wrote both the text and tune to Wachet auf in 1599. It follows a typical form for Lutheran chorales, with one musical statement repeated twice with a contrasting second section. The translation in The Hymnal 1982 is by Carl P. Daw, Jr, but it sadly pales in comparison to the translation in previous Episcopal hymnals (and the one the hymn is most known by), “Wake, awake for night is flying.” That translation, written in the 19th Century by Catherine Winkworth, was sadly scrapped for the current edition of our hymnal, for reasons beyond me!

Merton, on the other hand, is a 19th Century hymn tune, written by William Henry Monk, the editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern, one of the most influential English-language hymnals ever. The text, by another 19th Century Englishman, Edward Caswall, alludes to the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent with, “Cast away the works of darkness all you children of the day!” I’d normally put this one down for the First Sunday of Advent, but Advent is one season where only two hymns a week seems very limiting!

Bach chorale preludes make a reappearance, of course. The Prelude on Sunday is yet a third prelude on “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland;” we heard two preludes on this tune last week. This one is the very first prelude in Bach’s collection known as the Orgelbüchlein, or “Little Organ Book.” The preludes in the Orgelbüchlein are much smaller in scope than those in Bach’s other collection of preludes; Bach intended the book to demonstrate basic ways of introducing chorales for congregational singing, and to provide practice playing the pedals for beginning and intermediate organists. Originally, he planned a much bigger collection than the one we have, with chorale preludes for the entire church year, but it seems he only completed a fraction of what he intended. Nun komm, being an Advent chorale, is naturally at the very beginning of the book (Advent being the first season of the church year), and is the only prelude in the collection to be scored for 5 voices. It’s very different from the settings heard last week (and much shorter); if you know the chorale tune, see if you can pick it out!

Wachet auf! Ruft uns die Stimme comes from the collection known as the “Schübler” chorales, named for Johann Georg Schübler, the publisher of the collection. This is a late collection for Bach, published in 1747 (note that Bach died a few years later, in 1750). However, at least five of the six preludes in the collection were arranged from earlier pieces, mostly movements of Cantatas (it’s possible that the sixth is also an arrangement of a work that was lost). Wachet auf comes from Cantata 140, Wachet auf! Ruft uns die Stimme. Bach created an almost verbatim arrangement of the fourth movement of the Cantata, which sets the verse, “Zion hört die Wächter singen” (Zion hears the watchmen sing), originally scored for tenor(s) accompanied by unison strings and basso continuo. This sparse texture lends itself well to the organ, and the counter-melody originally played by the strings is among Bach’s best known themes!

Though actually a hymn, Conditor alme siderum (Creator of the stars of night) is likely not well known in most congregations. This plainchant hymn dates from the 9th Century, and is traditionally sung every day at Vespers during Advent (well, at least on those days where there is no other feast). For the other anthem, we return to Part the First of Handel’s famous Messiah. “And he shall feed his flock” is very different in tone from “But who may abide,” just as the readings for this Sunday focus more on finding comfort in God than the more terrifying aspects of the second coming. It also occurs much later in the work, as the second-to-last movement on Part the First (just before “his yoke is easy”). 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Nov 20, 2020   for  the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Prelude: Prelude in D Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 494 “Crown him with many crowns” vv. 1 & 3 (Diademata)
Offertory Anthem: Thou tuned’st this world from Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Offertory Hymn: 483 “The head that once was crowned with thorns” vv. 1 & 2 (St. Magnus)
Communion Anthem: Clouds and darkness are round about him - Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Postlude: Fugue in D Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Not only is this the last Sunday of the church year, often called Christ the King, but it also happens to fall on November 22, which is St. Cecilia’s Day! St. Cecilia was a martyr who lived in Rome and Sicily in the third Century AD, and is considered the patron saint of music and musicians. Legend has it that she took a vow to remain a virgin, but her parents arranged for a marriage with a Roman nobleman named Valerian. During the wedding, she sat apart and sang to God, and later convinced Valerian not to consecrate the marriage and to convert to Christianity. Both were later martyred. Cecilia is often depicted as a musician, playing an organetto (small pipe organ).

In honor of St. Cecilia’s Day, we’ll do a movement from Henry Purcell’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day. Purcell is considered the greatest composer of the baroque period in England, particularly known for his chamber opera, Dido and Aeneas, and for the sacred music he wrote while he was the organist at Westminster Abbey. Purcell wrote his Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, otherwise known as Hail, Bright Cecilia, for the annual celebration of St. Cecilia’s Day by the Musical Society in London. The complete piece was premiered in 1692. Purcell treats the various instruments and aspects of music named in the work as personalities in themselves; we will hear the 6th Movement on Sunday.

The other vocal piece we’ll hear is the first of Dvořák’s Biblical Songs, this one a mysterious meditation on the sovereignty of God and a setting of Psalm 97.

“Crown him with many crowns,” to Diademata, is probably known to many of us. The tune was written in 1868 comes from St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle (which was still an important residence, though not as important as it is now, as the home of Queen Elizabeth II). The text was written in 1851 by Matthew Bridges, who I can’t find any information on other than that he split his life between Quebec and England. The pairing of text and tune was first seen in the 1868 Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern. St. Magnus, to which “The head that once was crowned with thorns” will be sung, is attributed to Jeremiah Clarke (who is best known for a trumpet tune often erroneously attributed to Henry Purcell), but first appeared anonymously in Henry Playford’s 1707 volume, Divine Companion, which was subtitled “being a Collection of New and Easie Hymns and Anthems for one, two, and three voices.” It may have been unattributed because of the controversy surrounding Clarke’s death by suicide that same year. The text is somewhat later, written in 1820 by Thomas Kelly, an Irish lawyer turned clergyman.

Bach composed much of his organ music while he was the court organist for Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar. Coming from his first post in Arnstadt, where it seems Bach wasn’t entirely happy, Bach had a large and excellent organ to play in the Weimar court, and even oversaw its expansion during his tenure there. However, the entire Prelude and Fugue in D Major wasn’t written in Weimar; Bach wrote an early version of the fugue while he was still in Arnstadt. The work features extensive use of the pedal right from the beginning of the prelude, which opens with a series of quick ascending scales in the pedal, all the way to the end of the fugue, which closes with a flashy pedal solo. The bulk of the prelude is an “alla breve” section (which simply means “in 2”), but that comes to an abrupt and surprising end as it’s interrupted by a cataclysmic section. Those of you familiar with the great 1972 film, The Godfather, may recognize this section from the iconic baptism scene which closes the movie. The fugue is typical of early-ish Bach fugues, with a repetitive and virtuosic subject. In this case, the subject even borders on the absurd, but the fugue that grows out of it is truly a masterpiece. 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Nov 13, 2020   for  the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

 

Prelude: Adagio from Sonata in E-Flat Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Sequence Hymn: 582 “O holy city, seen of John” vv. 1 & 3 (Sancta Civitas)

Offertory Anthem: Hear my prayer, O Lord - Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Offertory Hymn: 579 “Almighty Father, strong to save” vv. 1 & 4 (Melitta)

Communion Anthem: Panis Angelicus – César Franck (1822-1890)

Postlude: Grand Plein Jeu from Suite du Premiére Ton – Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)



Once again, I’ll play a slow movement from a Bach “trio” sonata on Sunday. This time, it’s from the Sonata in E Flat, which is the first in the collection. All except one of the sonatas follow the formula of fast movement – slow movement – fast movement, and often the slow movement offers a bit of a breather to both the listener and the performer (though the performer still has to keep track of three independent lines of music!). I think the Adagio from this sonata is one of the sparser movements in the collection, evoking a sense of emptiness. The postlude will be the opening movement of Clérambault’s Suite on the first tone (the first tone referring to a medieval church mode approximately equivalent to the Dorian mode). “Plein Jeu” is a rough organ registration indication, using the principals and mixtures. Unlike the Germans of the era, the French were often specific about organ registration, and titles of French “Classical” organ works referred to it.

We will return to the Dvořák Biblical Songs this week! You may remember from my notes a few weeks ago that the Czech composer wrote these when he was living in New York in the mid-1890’s. “Hear my prayer, O Lord” is the sixth in the collection, and sets portions of Psalms 61 and 63. They are thematically similar to this week’s psalm, Psalm 90. The other piece, Franck’s Panis Angelicus, comes from Franck’s Messe a trois voix. Franck lived through a major transition in French church music, and though he was of an older generation during this transition, he was a late bloomer. Franck initially moved to Paris as a young teenager; he enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire, and his father had high hopes of pushing young Franck into a career as a piano prodigy. Though Franck excelled in the Conservatoire, notably impressing the jury of his piano exam by transposing the sight-reading example given to him down a third, his father was dissatisfied with Franck’s reception in Paris, and they returned to their hometown of Liège in Belgium, where Franck worked as a piano teacher and minor parish organist for the next couple of decades. Franck later found himself inspired by the Belgian organ virtuoso Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens and set about expanding his organ technique. This would lead him to become the organist at the Basilica of Saint Clotilde in Paris (which had a cutting edge organ built by revolutionary builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll), and eventually Professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where Louis Vierne and Charles Tournemire numbered among his students. Thanks in no small part to Franck, his slightly younger colleague Charles-Marie Widor, and Cavaillé-Coll, church music in Paris shifted from pastiches of what would be heard in the Opéra Comique to more serious, and some would say more edifying music. Franck’s Messe was originally composed in 1860, but it was revised and probably his most famous piece, this “Panis Angelicus” (angels’ bread), was added as an elevation anthem (before the Liturgical Movement of the mid-20th Century, the Canon of the Mass, or Eucharistic Prayer, was recited quietly by the Priest, often while the Sanctus and Benedictus were sung by the choir, and it became common in France to sing a short anthem to fill any remaining time). “Panis Angelicus” replaced the “O Salutaris” heard a few weeks ago, which was included in the original version of the Messe.

The fact that the hymns in in-person worship are performed rather than sung together gives an opportunity for exposure to ones that may be a bit less known. “O holy city, seen of John” uses another tune by Herbert Howells (whose most famous tune, Michael, was sung last Sunday), albeit a significantly later one (Michael was first published in 1938; Sancta Civitas in 1962). It’s an odd tune, difficult for a congregation that doesn’t know it, but I think it’s an excellent one. The text was written by Walter Russell Bowie (1882-1969), an Episcopal Priest from Virginia who spent much of his ministry as Rector of Grace Church on Broadway, near Union Square, and as a professor at Union Theological Seminary. Its focus on social justice is clear; one of the verses we won’t hear, the second one, begins “O shame to us who rest content while lust and greed for gain in street and shop in tenement wring gold from human pain,” and the text talks about looking at that heavenly city as an example of what we should build on earth. The other hymn is in honor of Veterans’ Day, and at the request of a parishioner. “Eternal father, strong to save” is known in the US as “The Navy Hymn,” and has often been used as a benediction to seafarers. The text, written by Church of England clergyman William Whiting, was inspired by a storm in the Mediterranean. The tune, Melita, named for the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, was written by John Bacchus Dykes, another clergyman in the Church of England. Beginning in 1879, the first verse of the hymn would be used to close all services at the chapel of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Nov 6, 2020   for  the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Prelude: Lento from Sonata in G Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)


Sequence Hymn: 640 “Watchman, tell us of the night” vv. 1&3 (Aberystwyth)


Offertory Anthem: Hear ye, Israel! from Elijah – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)


Offertory Hymn: 665 “All my hope on God is founded” vv. 1&3 (Michael)


Communion Anthem: Salve Regina – Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)


Postlude: Prelude on the First Tone – Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers (c.1632-1714)


We’re back to green season after a one week break! Bach’s Trio Sonatas make another appearance! This time, we’ll hear the middle movement of the sixth trio sonata, in G Major (though the movement itself is in E Minor). These sonatas, written for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, became a sort of advanced organ method for Bach’s children and students (and, I maintain, contributed to both Wilhelm Friedemann’s renowned virtuosity at the organ and his renowned alcoholism!). These sonatas, compiled in the 1720’s, all employ three independent lines of music: one each on separate keyboards, and one in the pedals.


Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers pioneered a lot of what is now associated with organ music of the French “Classical” period (also known as French Baroque); his first published organ book is the first to contain many of the forms commonly associated with the period, which are mostly liturgical miniatures. He also wrote influential treatises on plainchant and basso continuo, and held many prestigious posts in Paris, most notably at Saint Sulpice. The postlude on Sunday is from his third and final organ book, which contains pieces in all eight church modes.


Mendelssohn’s Elijah remains a popular oratorio, especially among amateur choral societies in the Anglophone world. It was premiered at the Birmingham Festival in England in 1846, one year before the composer’s untimely death. As its title suggests, it tells stories from the life of the prophet Elijah, and the libretto was written in both German and English during its initial composition. “Hear ye, Israel!” opens the second of the oratorio’s two parts and takes its text mostly from Isaiah. Mendelssohn wrote the soprano solos in Elijah with Jenny Lind, also known as “the Swedish nightingale,” in mind; she was among the best known singers of the 19th Century and a close friend (and possibly more than a friend!) to Mendelssohn. Unfortunately, she was unable to sing the premiere.


Though Gabriel Fauré had a multifaceted career and is a well-known composer in his own right, he certainly did his time working in the church, mostly as the choir organist at Saint Sulpice in Paris (big French churches usually have a large organ in the gallery and a smaller one in the chancel which is used solely to accompany singing, and each organ is staffed by different people). You probably know Fauré for his Piano Quartet, his Pavane pour une infante défunte, or his stunning Requiem, but he wrote some simple little pieces for liturgical use, like this “Salve Regina.” The text is the traditional Marian antiphon which is recited at the end of offices from Trinity Sunday until the day before Advent.


The two hymns which will be heard on Sunday are two which may be less familiar to you, though they’re both excellent tunes. Aberystwyth, the tune to which “Watchman, tell us of the night” will be sung, is named for the town of Aberystwyth in Wales, and is a later example of the Welsh hymnody which sprung up from the Wesleyan movement. Its composer, Joseph Parry, began his career as an ironworker until circumstances aligned that he could study music, and eventually receive a Doctorate in music from University of Cambridge. He would then leave the ironworking trade and become a Professor of Music at Aberystwyth University, and later Cardiff University. The hymn text, written by John Bowring, who was a member of Parliament and sometime Governor of Hong Kong in the mid-19th Century, tells of the anticipation of Jesus’s coming, alluded to in Sunday’s gospel.


Michael, to which the text “All my hope on God is founded” will be sung, was written by Herbert Howells, one of the most important figures in English music, and especially church music, of the 20th Century. Howells wrote the tune at the request of a friend who directed the music at a school. However, Howells’s son, 9-year-old Michael, died of polio just before the tune was published, and Howells renamed the tune after him, an interesting choice of text for a father grieving his young son. Given the election this week which has caused (and may continue to cause, as of the publishing of these notes) much anxiety among many of us, I thought this would be appropriate no matter its results (I’m writing this in the middle of election day, so if we know the results by the time these notes are published, I didn’t at the time of writing!). The text is an 1899 translation of a late 17th Century German text by Joachim Neander, and speaks of God’s unchanging providence despite no matter what may go on in the world. Though not among the verses sung on Sunday, the second verse is especially powerful: “Mortal pride and earthly glory, sword and crown betray our trust; though with care and toil we build them, tower and temple turn to dust. But God’s power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tower.”
 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Oct. 29, 2020   for  the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Prelude: Prelude in G Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: 287 “For all the Saints” (Sine nomine) vv. 1, 7, 8
Offertory Anthem: Laudate Dominum from Vesperae Solennes de Confessore– W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Offertory Hymn: 286 “Who are these like stars appearing” (Zeuch mich, zeuch mich) vv. 1&5
Communion Anthem: How beautiful are the feet from The Messiah – G.F. Handel (1685-1759)
Postlude: Fugue in G Major – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

This Sunday is one of the major feasts of the year, and our feast of title! Though we, sadly, won’t hear any of the excellent choral music written for the feast (like Victoria’s “O quam gloriosum,” Harris’s “Faire is the heaven,” or Bainton’s “And I saw a new heaven”), we will do what we can with the limited forces we will have!

Last week we heard a well-known work which may have been one of Bach’s very earliest organ compositions (if indeed it was written by Bach), the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Though most of Bach’s early organ works come from his time at his first job in Arnstadt, where he worked from his late teens until his early twenties, most of Bach’s organ works were written while he was the court organist for Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar, whose court he worked in from 1708 until 1717 (so, from age 23 to age 32). The Prelude and Fugue in G Major is one such work, likely written in Weimar and revised while Bach was in Leipzig later in his life. You can see a much more cohesive and mature style, particularly in the fugue, when compared to the D Minor Toccata. The prelude almost seems like a violin solo, and I’m not convinced that it’s not a transcription of a string piece which has been lost. The fugue is quintessential middle-period Bach, with some creative use of the subject (ending with a stretto, meaning the fugue subject is stacked on top of itself!).

Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum,” which we’ll hear an abridged version of today (the full version has the Gloria Patri sung by a choir, which we don’t have at the moment!), comes from a musical setting of the office of Vespers composed for Salzburg Cathedral. Supposedly, this sets the Vespers for the feast of a Confessor (that is, a Saint who suffered persecution or torture for the faith but, unlike a martyr, wasn’t killed for it), but it only sets the Psalms and Magnificat, which are common to many feasts (and the Magnificat is always recited at Vespers!). “Laudate Dominum” is a setting of Psalm 117, which is the fifth and final Psalm recited at Vespers of the Common for a Confessor, and one of the shortest in the book of Psalms (as Miles Coverdale renders it: “O praise the Lord all ye heathen, praise him all ye nations. For his merciful kindness is ever more and more towards us, and the truth of the Lord endureth forever. Praise the Lord.”). Mozart gives us an elegant setting for soprano and orchestra.

Handel’s “How beautiful are the feet” comes from his most famous work, The Messiah. Part the Second, from which the short aria comes, focuses on Jesus’s suffering, and triumph over the ways of the world, and “How beautiful are the feet” seems to focus on the latter. It’s immediately followed by the chorus “their sound has gone out,” and together these two seem to talk about the Apostles and Evangelists who spread the word of God throughout the world. This comes just a few movements before the famous “Hallelujah” chorus. We all likely know a little something about The Messiah; it’s one of the most famous pieces in the repertoire, and is the only 18th Century piece that has had the distinction of being performed every year since its premiere. In other years, you may have even gone to a performance of the work leading up to Christmas!

Of course, it’s not All Saints’ Day without “For all the Saints!” The text for this hymn was written by William Walsham How, one of the Anglo-Catholic “slum priests” who devoted much of his ministry to the industrial revolution-era slums of London. He later became a Suffragen Bishop of London, and then the first Bishop of Wakefield, and became known as the “Children’s Bishop.” He wrote this text in 1864. The tune, Sine Nomine (Latin for “without name,” alluding to the saints we don’t know who we celebrate on All Saints’ Day along with those we do know), was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams to be paired with this text in The English Hymnal, first published in 1906. The text also appeared in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern to a different, but still familiar, tune – Charles Villers Stanford’s Engelberg (which is in our hymnal a few times, notably “All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine” and “We know that Christ is raised and dies no more”), which was originally written with this text in mind! However, since The English Hymnal’s publication, the text has been associated strongly with Sine Nomine. The other hymn, a little less well-known but still a standard for All Saints’ Day, pairs a German tune with a translation of a 17th Century German text.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Oct. 23, 2020   for  the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

 

Prelude: Toccata in D Minor – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Sequence Hymn: “A mighty fortress is our God” (Ein feste Burg) vv. 1 & 2

Offertory Anthem: Lord, thou art my refuge - Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Offertory Hymn: “And now, O Father, mindful of the love” (Unde et memores) vv. 1 & 2

Communion Anthem: O quam suavis – Jehan Alain (1911-1940)

Postlude: Fugue in D Minor – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

It being the end of October, it seems appropriate to polish off the most well-known piece in the organ repertoire, often associated with Halloween and the horror genre. The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was unearthed in the 19th century and performed in an acclaimed organ recital by Felix Mendelssohn (who was a huge proponent of Bach’s work). It was certainly a well-known piece through the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the early 20th that it became as famous as it is. This is probably due to Leopold Stokowski’s transcription for orchestra, immortalized as the first piece in Walt Disney’s 1940 film, Fantasia. Stokowski began his career as an organist; in fact, he was the Organist and Choirmaster at St. Bartholomew’s Church right here in New York (now nearby on Park Avenue, but in those days still in their old building on 44th and Madison) for a few years beginning in 1905, before he went to pursue further conducting study in Paris. However, it may surprise you to note that, though attributed to Bach, some scholars doubt that Bach actually wrote this piece; no manuscript exists in Bach’s hand, and it has several strange characteristics not seen in any of Bach’s other organ works. The only extant 18th Century manuscript is in Johann Ringk’s hand. Ringk was a student of Johann Peter Kellner, himself a student of Bach, and may have copied the work as part of his studies as a teenager. If Bach did indeed write it, it’s likely a very early work, probably written while Bach was at his first job in Arnstadt (or maybe even earlier!); it also seems plausible to me that it was a string piece arranged for the organ either by Bach or someone else. The toccata opens with an eminently recognizable descending figure, played in octaves (the first unusual thing about this piece!) and seems to be a showcase of virtuosity leading up to the comparatively staid fugue. As for its association with horror, well, perhaps the opening figure was frequently used by theater organists when accompanying horror films back in the silent film era.

The vocal solos we’ll offer on Sunday include another of the Dvořák Biblical Songs. The second song in the set of 10 sets a paraphrase of a section of Psalm 119. Though that is not the psalm appointed for Sunday (which is Psalm 90), it is thematically similar. The text for “O quam suavis” comes from the traditional Antiphon to the Magnificat on the first Vespers of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Like everything from the Proper of Corpus Christi, though, it’s useful as a general Eucharistic anthem. The composer, Jehan Alain, is one of the more fascinating musical figures of 20th Century France, and one of the great “what ifs.” Already, by his late 20s, he had written hundreds of pieces for organ, piano, orchestra, various chamber ensembles, and more, though much of his music was unfinished. Unfortunately, he was killed in action fighting for the French Army in World War II; he was an avid motorcyclist and served as a dispatch rider. While on a solo reconnaissance mission, he encountered a group of German soldiers and killed 16 of them before being gunned down himself. So, a promising and extremely original young composer was killed at the age of 29, and we’ll never know what he might have written had he lived longer. The name Alain remained prominent due to his much younger sister, Marie-Claire (1926-2013), who was an internationally renowned concert organist most famous for her interpretations of the music of both Bach and her older brother.

Many Protestants celebrate the last Sunday in October as Reformation Sunday, commemorating the writing of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which, as legend has it, was nailed to the door of the Schlosskirche (dedicated to All Saints) in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. This is apocryphal; for one thing, Luther didn’t move to Wittenburg until a year later, but either way, the Theses, originally meant primarily to complain about the abuse of indulgences where Luther lived, are generally thought to have kicked off the Reformation. Though Anglicans typically don’t celebrate Reformation Day (our Reformation was separate from the one happening on the continent, after all), I’ll commemorate it on Sunday with Luther’s most famous hymn (partially at the nudging of my grandfather, who is a Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of The Episcopal Church’s full communion partners). Luther was a major proponent of congregational singing, believing it to be an invaluable tool for catechesis, and wrote many chorales intended for congregations to sing. Though it seems somewhat ironic to essentially perform his most famous hymn during a global pandemic in which congregational singing should be avoided, it also fits with one of the day’s themes (taking refuge in the Lord). We will hear the most famous version of the chorale, the harmonization written by J.S. Bach for Cantata 80 (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott), which adds some embellishment to the melody and makes the rhythm more regular. The other hymn, “And now, o Father, mindful of the love” to Unde et memores, is a 19th Century English one. The text was written by William Bright, a Canon and Professor at Christ Church, Oxford. The tune was written by William Henry Monk, who is most famous for having compiled the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which is the first significant hymnal in the Anglican world, possibly the most influential English-language hymnal ever (our own Hymnal 1982 is very much a descendant of Hymns Ancient and Modern), and greatly influenced by the ideals of the Oxford movement.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Oct. 15, 2020   for  the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

 

 

Prelude: Flûtes from Suite du Deuxiéme Ton - Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)
Sequence Hymn: “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven” (Lauda Anima) vv. 1 & 4
Offertory Anthem: Sing ye a joyful song - Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Offertory Hymn: “My God, thy table now is spread” (Rockingham) vv. 1 & 2
Communion Anthem: O Salutaris Hostia – César Franck (1822-1890)
Postlude: Praeludium in D Minor – Dieterich Buxtehude

Two works we’ll hear on Sunday are by composers we also heard from last week, so I won’t retread already worn territory too much. The organ prelude is another movement from Clérambault’s second organ suite. As I mentioned last week, organ music in 17th-18th Century France was largely focused on liturgical miniatures, and usually showcased specific voices on the organ. As its title might suggest, “Flûtes” is played using the flute stops on the organ. The title of the suite is also descriptive; it uses the second tone, or the second church mode, which is also known as “hypodorian.” Before our modern system of key signatures, music was organized into modes, and lots of music written for the church was written in these so-called “church modes.”

We now know Buxtehude as perhaps the archetypal composer for the German Stilus Phantasticus, at least for the organ (much like Franz Biber is for the violin). Buxtehude was born in modern-day Sweden (though an area which then belonged to Denmark) and spent most of his career in Lübeck, then a so-called “free city” and now part modern-day northern Germany, where he worked as organist at the Marienkirche. We now know him for his very free, improvisatory style of composition (and indeed, his “free” organ works may simply be improvisations that he wrote down), and as a major influence on Bach. It’s also worth noting that Buxtehude taught Nicholaus Bruhns, who we heard from a few weeks ago. A young Bach was a great admirer of Buxtehude, and, at the age of 20, traveled over 200 miles each way on foot from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear and learn from Buxtehude. Supposedly, Bach overstayed his leave, which annoyed his employer in Arnstadt, and legend has it that he was offered Buxtehude’s job (this was 1705, 2 years before Buxtehude’s death). However, it was customary for the organist to marry his predecessor’s daughter (Buxtehude succeeded Franz Tunder, whose daughter he married), and legend has it that Buxtehude’s daughter was not a very desirable bride. Whether this is true, Bach returned to Arnstadt after a few months, doubtlessly enriched by Buxtehude’s tutelage,  and would marry his first wife the next year. Buxtehude’s Praeludium in D Minor is typical of his free organ works, with virtuosic, improvisatory sections with sudden, dramatic stops and starts surrounding two fugal sections. You may hear shades of this style in a more famous work in D Minor that I’ll play next week (how’s that for a teaser?)!

At the offertory at 9:30, we’ll hear another of Dvořák’s biblical songs, composed while the composer lived in New York City. This is a spritely setting of selections of both Psalm 98 and Psalm 96, the latter of which is the appointed psalm in the lectionary for this Sunday. Franck’s piece sets the last two verses of a famous Eucharistic hymn by Thomas Aquinas, Verbum supernum, which was written to be sung at Lauds on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The last two verses are commonly sung at services of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, a common devotion in the Catholic Church and some Anglo-Catholic churches, in which the congregation is blessed with a host sitting in an ornate display called a monstrance after a period of adoration. Franck was doubtlessly familiar with this devotion; he spent the latter part of his career as Organist at Saint-Clotilde in Paris. He would also become one of the most influential figures in the revival of the French organ school in the late 19th Century, but perhaps that’s another story for another time.

“Lauda anima,” to which we’ll hear the text “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven” (itself an embellishment of Psalm 103) is one of the more well-known hymn tunes of the Victorian era, written by John Goss. Goss served as organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for over 30 years, and was known as a major influence in English church music. A nice piece of trivia is that Goss was a chorister under John Stafford Smith, who wrote the tune for the Anacreontic Song, which is now better known as the tune of our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Rockingham, to which we’ll hear the text “My God thy table now is spread,” was written in the very late 18th Century by Edward Miller. The tune name may come from the town of Rockingham in Northhamptonshire, and is more commonly associated with the text, “When I survey the wondrous cross.”

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Oct. 8, 2020   for  the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

 

Prelude: Largo from Sonata in C Minor – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sequence Hymn: “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult” (Restoration) vv. 1 & 5
Offertory Anthem: God is my shepherd – Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Offertory Hymn: “The king of love my shepherd is” (St. Columba) vv 1 & 6
Communion Anthem: I will sing new songs of gladness - Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Postlude: Plein-jeu from Suite du Deuxiéme Ton – Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)

 

Though today there are countless sets of materials for learning both how to play instruments and how music works, pedagogy was far less standardized in Bach’s time. Bach also had different views about pedagogy than many; he preferred to learn and teach through demonstration and studying pieces of music rather than reading treatises. When it came time to teach his children how to play, he created his own materials. Sometime in the 1820’s, he compiled a collection of organ sonatas as advanced exercises for his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann (who would later be noted as a great organ virtuoso), which he would later use for other students as well. These six sonatas are often referred to as “trio sonatas,” since they resemble, in texture, the trio sonata genre, which was popular in Italy in the late 17th Century. Those sonatas usually were written for two treble instruments (most often violins) and basso continuo (one or two bass instruments). Bach’s organ sonatas all employ two independent lines in the treble range, each played on a separate manual, and a pedal line, giving them a trio texture. It’s possible these were also written so that one of the treble lines could be played an octave lower on a pedal clavichord, which was often used as a practice instrument for organists since, in an age before electricity, playing the organ involved getting some people together to pump the bellows while you played. Each sonata has three movements (generally fast-slow-fast). On Sunday, we’ll hear the second movement from the second sonata, in C minor. Though the sonata is in C minor, this movement is in its relative major key, E-flat major, and in context provides a tranquil respite between two very active and dramatic movements.

The organ postlude is from one of two suites for organ by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault. Clérambault is best known for his contributions for the French Cantata genre (which, unlike Bach’s well-known sacred cantatas, were usually on secular topics), but he was an accomplished organist and spent much of his career working at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. In fact, his largest body of work is sacred vocal music. The French organ tradition in the 18th Century was quite different from the German, more focused on miniatures and showcasing the various sounds of the organ. The titles of each piece double as rough registration indications. Plein-Jeu means a principal chorus with a mixture and a 16’ in the manual, and organ suites often began or ended with either a Plein-Jeu or a Grand-Jeu (using reed stops instead of mixtures).

Dvořák may be best known for his symphonies (particularly his 9th Symphony, often called the “New World” symphony, which he composed while living in the United States, and includes themes he heard around the country), but he worked as a church organist while trying to get his composing career off the ground, so sacred music was a major part of his life. His collection of ten sacred songs was published much later in his life (in 1894), while he was living in New York City, and was supposedly inspired by someone’s death (whose death is unclear). Though conceived in Dvořák’s native Czech, its initial publication included English and German translations, so performing them in English is common here. The texts for all ten songs are taken from the Psalms; the two pieces we’ll hear on Sunday set Psalm 23 and Psalms 144 and 145, respectively.

The two hymns we’ll hear (and maybe hum along to, but not fully sing…) on Sunday morning are two beloved tunes from different sides of the Atlantic. Restoration, the tune for “Jesus calls us,” comes from the Southern Harmony collection of shape note tunes. Shape note singing rose during colonial times, when singing schools were formed to teach basic choral singing. This method remained popular in Baptist churches in the south, but fell out of favor elsewhere (though it was supposedly invented in Philadelphia) and used shapes of note-heads to indicate syllables in a simplified form of solfège (using only the syllables mi, fa, sol, and la instead of the full scale of do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si/ti). Some shape note tunes remain well-known now, including Holy Manna and Wondrous Love. These pieces are usually in a pentatonic mode (meaning there are five notes in a scale instead of the usual 8), and in three part harmony with the melody in the tenor voice. St. Columba, to which we’ll sing “The king of Love my shepherd is,” is an Irish tune, commonly associated with this paraphrase of Psalm 23.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Oct. 1, 2020   for  the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Prelude: Prelude – Robert Pegg (b. 1988)
Sequence Hymn: “Alleluia, sing to Jesus” (Hyfrydol) vv. 1&3
Offertory Anthem: Domine Deus from Gloria – Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Offertory Hymn: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” (Picardy) vv. 1 & 2
Communion Anthem: Ave Verum Corpus – Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Postlude: Fugue in G Minor (“Little”) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

This week we have a little more variety in our music, traveling to France and even to the present day! We start with a piece by Robert Pegg, who was a classmate of mine in undergrad and is now based in Philadelphia and finishing up his doctorate. His Prelude for organ is quiet, building slowly to a brief forte before dying back down. As the piece goes on, the rhythmic interplay between the two manual voices gets more active (and more playful). The postlude is one of Bach’s more well-known organ pieces, perhaps his most recognizable fugue subject. It’s likely as well-known as it is because of Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement for orchestra; Stokowski himself was an organist, and served as Organist and Choirmaster at one of our neighbor parishes on Park Avenue (St. Bart’s, of course) before pursuing his career as a conductor (though in those days, St. Bart’s was still in its old building at 44th and Madison). Naturally, this carried over when he launched his conducting career, and he arranged a few Bach pieces for organ (the best known being the arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor which was featured in Disney’s Fantasia). Bach likely wrote this fugue early in his career, while he worked in Arnstadt between 1703 and 1707 (when Bach was between 18 and 22 years old).

Antonio Vivaldi is best known for his concertos, but the “red priest” had a few other tricks up his sleeve. His Gloria is a multi-movement choral work written during Vivaldi’s tenure at the Pio Ospidale della Pietá, a school for orphaned and abandoned girls, though its published version is scored for SATB choir. The text should be familiar to all of us, since it’s a setting of the Gloria in excelsis, sung at all Eucharists outside of Advent and Lent. The movement which will be heard on Sunday, which sets the text “Domine Deux, rex coelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens” (Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty) is scored for soprano solo, obbligato violin, and a rather bouncy basso continuo line. Naturally, this will be reduced for the organ on Sunday. Gounod’s Ave Verum Corpus sets a familiar 14th Century Eucharistic hymn attributed to Pope Innocent VI. Gounod is most famous for his operas, and even more so for his setting of the Ave Maria which uses Bach’s C major prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier as its accompaniment.

As for the hymns we’ll hear (and sadly not sing ourselves due to the pandemic), we have two classics. The tune “Hyfrydol,” to which we’ll hear the text “Alleluia, sing to Jesus,” is likely the best known of the Welsh hymn tunes. Though hymn singing was banned in the Church of England until the early 19th Century, the Wesley brothers (who accidentally founded Methodism) inspired a wealth of hymnody in Wales. The tune first appeared in a children’s songbook in 1844, composed by Rowland Prichard. The song which became the tune “Picardy” was a French carol called “Jésus-Christ s'habille en pauvre” (Jesus Christ dresses as a beggar). The text, centered on the Eucharist, comes from the Liturgy of Saint James, a liturgy used in some Eastern Orthodox churches. The text and tune were likely first paired by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who edited The English Hymnal.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sept 24, 2020   for  the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these! With the return of in-person worship this Sunday, I get to write about music you’ll be hearing! Hopefully, those of you who will attend Morning Prayer via Zoom will also hear some of this music, though the microphone arrangement in the church is still incomplete. Unfortunately, with precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what we can offer musically is somewhat curtailed from the usual. For the time being, we will use a single cantor, much like we do in an ordinary summer; it will yet be a while before we will have a full choir. Still, we will do our best to offer music to the glory of God with what we have available.

The organ music we’ll hear this week will be two favorites of mine, by two German baroque masters of the organ. If you read my notes last week, you may remember my indication that the Noack instrument at All Saints is designed for, and best suited to, music of the baroque period in North Germany (roughly the 17th through the mid-18th Centuries). The prelude is by a composer whose name we all know: J.S. Bach (1685-1750), and the postlude was written by one of his major influences.

Bach wrote much of his organ music while employed as the court organist in Weimar, his second post in the court of Duke Johann Ernst III. Bach stayed in Weimar for nearly 10 years, eventually being appointed Konzertmeister, before he was thrown in jail for nearly a month for taking another job. His time in Weimar may have ended poorly, but in the early years, Bach found an enthusiastic employer and a fine organ which was expanded during his tenure (and we can only guess that Bach had a say in its renovation). Though compiled during the last decade of his life, while Bach served as Kantor of the churches in Leipzig (his final and most prestigious post), the “Great 18” or “Leipzig” chorale preludes were likely mostly written during his tenure at the Weimar court.

The chorale prelude is, essentially, an organ commentary on Lutheran chorales, or what we would call hymns. The “Great 18” preludes include several of Bach’s more well-known chorale preludes. However, among those is a stunning prelude on the chorale “Smücke dich, o liebe Seele” (in our hymnal as “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness”). This prelude is written as an ornamented chorale, with a florid melody line which “ornaments” the melody of the chorale. Though it’s been a while since we’ve sung hymns in church, I hope some of you recognize this tune!

Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697) remains one of the more influential North German composers from the middle baroque period, and was doubtless a major influence on Bach’s writing for the organ, even though less of his music survives than that of his contemporary, Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707). Bruhns was a pupil of Buxtehude in Lübeck before he moved to Copenhagen to work as a violinist and keyboardist. His facility with both instruments was noted; he was considered a child prodigy, and famously would play the violin while accompanying himself on the organ pedals. After a time in Copenhagen, he was enthusiastically appointed organist at the Stadkirche in Husum, where he would remain until his untimely death at 31 or 32 years old.

Bruhns’s Praeludium in G is the apotheosis of the North German “stilus phantasticus” as it was rendered on the organ, with free, improvisatory sections peppered with short fugal sections. The style features lots of jarring changes in tempo, sudden stops and starts, and tons of dramatic flair.

Though not as often mentioned as an influence of Bach’s, Heinrich Schütz is generally considered to be among the most influential German composers of the 17th Century. Schütz was among the first German composers to study in Italy (though Hans Leo Hassler did so earlier), and is often credited with bringing the Italian style of music to Germany. After a time studying with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice (and he would return to Venice later to study with Claudio Monteverdi), Schütz settled in Dresden, where he served as court composer for the Elector of Saxony for much of his career. On Sunday, we’ll hear a setting of the first seven verses of Psalm 34 (I will praise the Lord at all times) set for soprano and basso continuo.

If you’ve been tuning into our Zoom services over the last several months, you’ve probably heard plenty of music by Hildegard von Bingen. Hildegard was the head of a Benedictine convent in Rupertsburg, a visionary, mystic, naturalist, poet, composer, philosopher, and, as of 2012, a Saint in the Catholic Church (her feast day was just last Thursday, September 17). Her music is all sacred plainchant, though with a much wider range than what would typically be sung in churches. Hildegard remains a fascinating figure, and I wrote about her at more length several weeks ago. The piece we will hear on Sunday is a Responsory for the Blessed Virgin Mary, setting a text written by Hildegard herself.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sept 17, 2020   for  the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

 

Some of you may be wondering what the deal is with that big instrument at the front of the church that I play every Sunday (well, every Sunday when we have worship in the church, which we haven’t been able to do since mid-March). The organ is an ancient instrument which, today, is largely associated with church music. But how did it get that way? How has it remained so among all the other instruments available?

There are several instruments which fit the definition of an organ; even the harmonica, which works by blowing air through small metal reeds, is often referred to as a “mouth organ.” The accordion and Indian harmonium are both small and portable reed organs (the latter a miniaturized version of a French instrument of the same name). There are even electronic instruments designed as imitations of a pipe organ which are referred to as organs! However, I’ll talk specifically about the pipe organ here.

The pipe organ works by blowing air through individual pipes. Of course, the trick is being able to choose which pipes get the air! Most organs now use a mechanism attached to a typical piano-like keyboard, but that hasn’t always been the case. This means a complex machine is built around these pipes, and, in fact, the organ was the most complex machine known to humanity until the telephone relay was invented in the late 19th Century!

The earliest organs date back to ancient Greece (3rd Century BC), to an instrument called the hydraulis. This instrument used water pressure to maintain pressurized air to send through pipes, and was likely used in colosseums in the Roman Empire. There is evidence that pipe organs, powered by bellows, were common in the Byzantine Empire from at least the 8th Century AD, when Emperor Constantine V sent Pepin the Short, King of the Franks, the first pipe organ in Western Europe. Pepin’s son, Charlemagne, ordered a similar instrument for his chapel, which is possibly the first instance of the organ being used liturgically (it’s unlikely it was used for such in the Byzantine Empire, since Eastern Christianity traditionally forbids use of any instruments in worship). An instrument built in Winchester Cathedral in the 10th Century, which had 400 pipes (which makes it a very small instrument by modern standards!), and required 70 men to blow it, and 10 men to play it, is the first one for which a detailed record exists.

Small, portable organs became common in the medieval period, and are the earliest known to have keyboards (they commonly appear in art from the time, including a replica of a unicorn tapestry in my bedroom which you may have noticed on Zoom over the last several months!). In the 14th Century, large organs like the ones we know today began to appear, though those organs had wide keys which required the entire weight of the player’s arm to be pressed. It’s also around this time that the nickname “The King of Instruments” was first applied, by Guillaume de Machaut (not by Mozart, as is commonly believed).

Gradually, technical advances made it possible to play more notes at a time, and stop controls, with which the player can control which rows of pipes (called ranks) play were invented in the 15th Century (previously, each different keyboard, or “manual,” always played certain ranks). As the instrument advanced, different national styles popped up, with the most influential being the North German and French styles of organ-building (independent pedal divisions, with which some ranks of pipes are controlled by a keyboard played with the feet, were invented in North Germany).

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, several advances in England were made to make the organ more expressive. The barker lever, a pneumatic assist mechanism, made it possible to use greater air pressure without making the instrument impossible to play. The swell box, which enclosed divisions of the organ in boxes with shades that opened and closed, made gradual changes in volume possible. These advancements were synthesized by the great 19th Century French builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, along with a system of “ventils” which allowed groups of ranks to be turned on and off quickly, expanding the expressive capabilities of the instrument. This accelerated with the advent of electricity, allowing for electric motors (where previously you needed multiple people to pump an organ’s bellows), and eventually for electric playing mechanisms, computerized memory for stop selection (allowing for very quick and precise control over the voices used), and other such  things. This led to large instruments with lots of (literal and figurative) bells and whistles, which became common in early movie theaters (a famous example of this sort of instrument can be found in the Radio City Music Hall by Rockefeller Center).

The organ has been favored for liturgical use because of its effectiveness in accompanying, and encouraging, congregational singing, as well as its versatility, allowing a wide range of sounds with just one player (and a few servants to pump the bellows). It has been the standard instrument for worship in the western church for over a millennium. In the English church specifically, it was displaced in many parish churches in the 18th Century by small amateur ensembles known as “west gallery bands” which performed metrical psalm settings either unaccompanied or with a few string and wind instruments (it’s worth noting that hymn singing was forbidden in England at the time). These ensembles were dimly looked upon by the restorationists of the Victorian Era (and Oxford Movement) and largely disappeared in the 19th Century, replaced once again by the organs and choirs we often associate with Anglican church music.

The organ at All Saints is a small (only 18 ranks and a bit over 1,000 pipes), but notable instrument, built by the Noack Organ Company of Georgetown, MA and installed in 1969, shortly after All Saints became an independent parish (as many of you know, we were originally a mission chapel of St. Thomas’, 5th Avenue). It was built as a choir organ in addition to the organ which used to be in the gallery of the church (which was since moved to the Church of the Crucifixion in Harlem), and was originally the first part of a much larger scheme, which unfortunately was never realized. It is likely the very first entirely mechanical action organ built in a baroque style in New York City, as part of a revival of older organ-building techniques which began in the mid-20th Century. This means that the only electronic element of the organ is the blower which supplies wind; the key and stop action are entirely mechanical (the keys are connected to the pipes by thin wooden strips called trackers, which move levers to open and close the pipes). Since then, several fine instruments of a similar style have been installed around the city (notably the Von Beckerath instrument at St. Michael’s on the Upper West Side and the Taylor and Boody in the back gallery of St. Thomas’, 5th Avenue), but we blazed that trail!

Since our organ is built in a German baroque style, it is best suited for the music of composers such as Bach and Buxtehude. It’s missing several stop types and mechanical features essential for the performance of some later music; it’s designed especially to render baroque music as authentically as possible. For more information on our instrument, visit the NYC Organ Project maintained by the New York City chapter of the American Guild of Organists (and begun by the late Steve Lawson, who was Assistant Director of Music at Church of the Heavenly Rest until he passed away suddenly about 2 years ago)

at http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/AllSaintsEpis.html .

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sept 3, 2020   for  the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

All right, I couldn’t resist – after writing about the Requiem genre, I got the itch to write about one of my favorites. Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem is relatively recent, first published in 1948, essentially embellishes the traditional plainchant tones of the Missa Pro Defunctis, and is frequently performed today both as a work for the stage and as a useful piece for liturgical use.

Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), though not as prolific or groundbreaking as his rough contemporary, Olivier Messiaen, is remembered as a very fastidious composer whose output was always very well-crafted. He composed extremely slowly and was very self-critical. His total published works number around a dozen, including 6 works for organ, a set of four choral motets (of which his “Ubi Caritas” is the best loved), a single piece of chamber music for the unusual ensemble of flute, viola, and piano, two orchestral works, a Mass setting for unison men’s voices and organ (which is another embellishment of traditional Gregorian Chant), and this Requiem.

Duruflé was born in the town of Louviers in Normandy (northwestern France) and received his early musical education as a chorister at Rouen Cathedral. He moved to Paris at age 17, first to study organ privately with the eccentric Charles Tournemire (and serve as Tournemire’s assistant at St. Clotilde), then to enroll at the Paris Conservatory, where, among other subjects, he studied organ with Eugène Gigout and composition with Paul Dukas (of Sorcerer’s Apprentice fame – you know, that piece that accompanied Mickey Mouse dressed as a wizard directing a bunch of animated brooms in the original Fantasia). Louis Vierne appointed Duruflé as his assistant at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1927 (and, in fact, Duruflé stood behind Vierne in the loft at Notre Dame when the older organist suddenly died in the middle of a recital they shared in 1937), and Duruflé got his own post at Saint Etienne du Mont a couple years later, a post he would retain until his retirement in 1975 after he was severely injured in a car accident.

Duruflé shared Tournemire’s love of plainchant, and many of his compositions are either based on plainchant or have a feeling of metrical freedom associated with contemporary performance practice of it. All of his choral works are based on plainchant, and every movement of the Requiem uses plainchant as its primary thematic material (save for the Pie Jesu, which is not really part of the proper of the Requiem Mass). The Requiem started as a commission to write a symphonic poem by the Vichy government of France in 1941. Duruflé may have already been sketching an organ work based on the Requiem Mass, so he decided to write a Requiem. Of course, it being Duruflé, this took a long time, and the Vichy regime dissolved before he could finish it. The first version, for organ, soloists, and SATB choir, was completed in 1947 and published in 1948 (don’t worry, Duruflé still got paid for it, and more than he was expecting!). A second version for full orchestra and choir was published in 1950, and a third for small orchestra, organ, and choir was published in 1961 (the last of these three was reportedly Duruflé’s favorite).

The Requiem takes many cues from Gabriel Fauré’s 1890 setting of the Requiem Mass, and is often compared to it. Duruflé sets the same movements, omitting the Gradual, Tract, and Sequence, and including the “Pie Jesu” as an elevation anthem. He also includes the ”Libera me,” for the absolution of the body, and the “In Paradisum” for the procession of the body out of the church. Though Duruflé was musically conservative, it is clear that harmonic conventions were different by the 1940’s, and Duruflé’s use of harmony and texture is considerably more lush than Fauré’s.

Requiem by Maurice Duruflé (1961 version for small orchestra, organ, choir, and soloists), performed by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge (Stephen Cleobury, director) and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: https://open.spotify.com/album/1J01QEiaJl3F6TBr2q7HVR?si=U977nCdcTi-_-QYFBJNgCw

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Aug 27, 2020   for  the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

 

One of the oddities of western art music is the way the so-called “Requiem” has been approached by both composers and audiences. The Requiem Mass has become a genre unto itself, and perhaps an extension of the fascination with death many cultures have. Anyone who is familiar with Classical Music probably knows a few – there’s the famous work that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was in the middle of writing when he died, which was finished by Franz Xavier Süssmayr (1766-1803). You’ve probably heard the Requiem by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), and maybe the one by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). There are some meant for the stage, like the one by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) or the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Possibly following Mozart’s effort, composing a Requiem became seen as something of a mark of maturity as a composer, rather than simply a utilitarian piece to be used at Masses for the Dead, so other texts became incorporated as well. Perhaps the earliest example of that kind of Requiem is Ein Deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), which did not employ any of the text from the traditional requiem Mass, instead picking varying passages from scripture as a commentary on death. Today, it’s common to combine the traditional texts with other poetry or passages from scripture (such as in Britten’s work or in John Rutter’s [b. 1945] Requiem), or just ignore the traditional texts entirely. But where does this come from?

The traditional text for the Requiem Mass comes from the traditional Catholic “Missa Pro Defunctis,” also known as the “Mass for the Dead.” As with all Masses, the text for the Mass is a combination of the “ordinary” (the things which stay the same, such as the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) and the “proper” (the texts that are unique for that day or that Mass). As I mentioned several weeks ago when I wrote about the origins of Gregorian Chant, each Mass traditionally includes short passages from scripture which are known as the “minor propers;” these are the Introit, Gradual/Tract, Sequence, Offertory, and Communion verses. So, in the Missa Pro Defunctis, the texts that can be set to music are as follows:

Introit: Requiem Aeternam (Rest Eternal)
Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy – from the Ordinary of the Mass)
Gradual: Requiem Aeternam
Tract: Absolve, Domine (Absolve, O Lord)
Sequence: Dies Irae (Day of wrath)
Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe (Lord Jesus Christ)
Sanctus and Benedictus (Holy, holy holy and blessed is he, from the Ordinary of the Mass)
Agnus Dei (Lamb of God, from the Ordinary of the Mass)
Communion: Lux Aeterna (Eternal light)

The nickname “Requiem” simply comes from the first word of the Introit of the Missa Pro Defunctis. Sets of propers are often referred to by the beginning of the introit – for example, the Mass for Christmas Day is sometimes referred to as “Puer natus est;” the Mass for Easter Day as “Terra tremuit;” the one for Low Sunday as “Quasi modo,” and so on.

Some musical settings also set the Libera Me, used for the absolution (a ritual which involves censing the casket and sprinkling it with holy water) of the body or catalfalque, a stand-in for the casket used for Masses meant to generally pray for the dead, which are most common on All Souls’ Day, and the music which accompanies the removal of the body from the church, the In Paradisum. Each of these constituents of the Requiem Mass is associated with a traditional Plainchant tone. Some of those tones, like that of the Sequence, have become musical tropes in themselves (The Dies Irae is in everything; it’s quoted in lots of secular music, film scores, videogame soundtracks, and the like). In a few Requiems, an additional movement, “Pie Jesu,” is added, likely intended to be sung as an elevation anthem (common in French churches in the 19th and 20th Centuries; in the old Roman Rite, the Canon of the Mass, what we might call the Eucharistic Prayer, was said quietly by the Priest while the Sanctus and Benedictus were sung, so short pieces of music were often used to cover the rest of the time, since it usually took the Celebrant longer to say the Canon than it took the choir to sing the Ordinary). The text, “Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem” (Pious Lord Jesus, grant them rest) is just the last couplet of the Sequence.

Musical settings of the Requiem, like settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, began with practicality in mind; they were sung during a Requiem Mass in churches. Settings like those written by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611) and Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500-1553) are relatively short and do not set the Gradual and Sequence (which would have been sung to plainchant). Many more recent ones, such as the Fauré and Duruflé Requiems, are also very practical for use in such a service, being not overly long and doable with a small ensemble. However, J.S. Bach started a trend with his Mass in B Minor, which he completed in 1749; of writing music on sacred texts which wasn’t actually meant to be used in a sacred context (for one thing, Bach was Lutheran). Later in the 18th Century, nobility demanded grander and grander works for services in their chapels; Mozart’s Requiem was a commission by Count Franz von Walsegg for a Mass on the anniversary of his wife’s death. Of course, such lavish affairs were arguably abuses (and, in fact, the Catholic Church banned Mozart’s Requiem for use in worship for a time), but, I think, they indirectly led to the trend of the Requiem Mass as an art form in itself in the Romantic Era, as it became a way for composers to make their own statement on death.

Countless Requiem Masses have been written, both for use in church and with the concert stage in mind. I’ve linked a few well-known ones below. Both the Victoria and Duruflé settings make heavy use of the traditional plainchant tones (and are stunning in their own right), so those are certainly worth a listen if you don’t know them.

Written for practical use:

Requiem á 6 – Tomás Luis de Victoria (performed by Tenebrae): https://open.spotify.com/album/0Tqsg5yiFRf7CyfhIjKh0W?si=TWFBAOiiRl2u7LlpEd0qCA

Requiem – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Performed by King’s College and the Academy of Ancient Music): https://open.spotify.com/album/2wNvwhS6pLo6jFydj10KCt?si=aBxpWjyOR7G9QKonyuqizw

Requiem – Gabriel Fauré (Performed by Tenebrae and LSO Chamber Ensemble): https://open.spotify.com/track/619oHIFXmaFt8gxlKlmaHz?si=Oyjk19T0QFansEy2NxC2-Q

Requiem – Maurice Duruflé (Performed by King’s College, Cambridge):
https://open.spotify.com/album/1J01QEiaJl3F6TBr2q7HVR?si=eI97qpJMQpWEWcklspskwA

Written for the stage:

Ein Deutsches Requiem – Johannes Brahms (John Eliot Gardiner, conductor):
https://open.spotify.com/album/4M6nWIDaz0lu3tjwTr5Zwq?si=2YrTO0IyRCSnCn2tpjwrhw

Requiem - Giuseppe Verdi (Performed by the LSO and Sir Colin Davies):
https://open.spotify.com/album/6u5CN9S9a9V5VpKT2NGduB?si=e_cXFZo3T_6DX5X23CtWEQ

War Requiem – Benjamin Britten (performed by the London Symphony Orchestra) https://open.spotify.com/album/7nL2OSSXQY5T6AcvY3Caey?si=zo1g81YRT2uMtuKQhxUSTQ

Other:

 

Hymnus Paradisi – Herbert Howells (Performed by the BBC Orchestra): https://open.spotify.com/album/3DHPzz3kOUhyqDkcrNCSAt?si=gsq_fP4TR5CnD91geGVjuQ

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Aug 20, 2020   for  the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

 

Just when you thought you’d escaped, I’m subjecting you to my ramblings about music once again!

You’ll have to forgive me for writing about a piece by a dead white man this week, but it is one of my favorite pieces of music, and a very important work which hasn’t traditionally gotten its due (both for being earlier than Bach, and for not being German). Since this past weekend was the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin (known by some Anglicans/Episcopalians and by all Catholics as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or by the Orthodox as the Dormition of the Theotokos, but I’m not here to discuss the various Marian theologies!), writing about a large-scale Marian work seemed appropriate, so this week we’ll explore Claudio Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin), sometimes referred to as the “Vespers of 1610.”

Monteverdi is often either considered the first important composer of the Baroque Era or the bridge between the Renaissance and Baroque. In the late 16th century, a group of Italian composers and theorists created a movement known as the “Florentine Camerata,” which, in an attempt to recreate the effects of the music and drama of Classical Greece in music, recommended a new emphasis on text driven singing with minimal accompaniment (which became known as “monody”). This contrasted with the florid polyphony of the Renaissance, which the proponents of the Florentine Camerata thought of as lacking drama and obscuring the text. In the most general terms, you could say that Monteverdi successfully composed in both the “old” style and the “new,” and often used elements of the “new” style in his polyphonic writing (most obviously in his Madrigals). His two most important works are generally thought to be the Vespers and his Opera, L’Orfeo, which is the earliest example of the genre that is still widely performed.

Monteverdi wrote the Vespers while working as a court musician for the Gonzaga Dukes of Mantua, and published it with a setting of the Mass, possibly to apply for a job at the Vatican. The Mass, scored for 6 voice choir, demonstrates Monteverdi’s mastery of the old forms of music, that is, polyphony; the Vespers, on the other hand, demonstrates his ability to write in the new forms based on the work of the Florentine Camerata. The entire collection is dedicated to Pope Paul V; Monteverdi personally travelled to Rome to hand deliver the manuscript to the Pope in 1610. Unfortunately, no job came out of it (and there’s no record the work was ever performed in Monteverdi’s lifetime, though that certainly doesn’t mean that it wasn’t performed), but Monteverdi took a new post at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice in 1613, so it all worked out.

The Vespers sets texts from the traditional Vespers (traditionally prayed at sundown) which would be used for Marian feasts (Common 1 of the Blessed Virgin Mary). It begins with a text we’ve all heard a lot over Zoom: “Deus in adjutorium meum intende” (O God, make speed to save me), which traditionally begins all offices. The response (Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina, or O God, make haste to help me) is given on an unexpected, and large, choral chord, with a fanfare playing underneath (identical to the fanfare used in the Toccata which begins L’Orfeo, a fanfare used to announce performances at the Mantuan court). From there, the piece sets the five psalms traditionally recited, building on the psalm tones used for those psalms, along with some incidental music which resembles the music of the Florentine Camerata. Finally, a Sonata (accompanying a litany of “Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis”), a setting of the traditional hymn for Marian Feasts (Ave Maris Stella), and an expansive setting of the Magnificat.

The Vespers is scored for chorus, soloists, violins, viola, cornetti (woodwind instruments with a trumpet mouthpiece of which there is no modern analogue), trumpets, recorders, and Basso Continuo. The Continuo section will often include organ, theorbo (a large and louder member of the lute family, with a bigger body than a regular lute and a very long neck for the bass strings), cello, and bass. Monteverdi likely envisioned it being used in well-funded chapels associated with nobility. It’s unclear what the “sacred songs” would have been used for, but it’s likely that in those days, Vespers in those settings would have been embellished by such pieces, or perhaps they took the place of the second statement of the antiphon (as antiphons on Double Feasts and above were sung entirely both before and after the psalm). Whatever their purpose was, they’re excellent pieces of music (especially the stunning “Duo Seraphim”). If you don’t know this piece, give it a listen when you get a chance!

Vespro Della Beata Vergine by Claudio Monteverdi, performed by L’Arpeggiata:
https://open.spotify.com/album/7Iqm6Gt9ZFyjZ8wjrUbVDa?si=qEYyfH4VQgC0HukrUDIfRw

 

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

July 24, 2020   for  the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

 

You may have noticed a pattern in the music Sian and I have been offering in the last few weeks. We’ve done a lot of music by Hildegard von Bingen, so you may be wondering, who is this Hildegard?

Saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) is now known as a polymath, known as a writer, philosopher, mystic, composer, and naturalist. What’s more interesting is that she did all of her learning within the convent; she joined the Benedictine convent Disibodenberg before she was 10. She was born in what is now known as the Rhineland-Palatinate, somewhat near Cologne, in the town known as Bemersheim vor der Höhe (to this day a tiny hamlet, with fewer than 400 residents). She was sickly from birth, and generally thought to be the youngest of ten children of a minor noble family, and began experiencing visions as a child. At the convent, she became close to an older nun named Jutta, also a visionary, who became Hildegard’s mentor, and one of two people to whom Hildegard confided about her visions (the other being Volmar, another mentor).

In 1136, Jutta died and the nuns of the convent elected Hildegard to be the head of their community. Hildegard then attempted to move the community to Rupertsberg, where they could function independently, but her request was initially denied and they only moved, with the approval of the Archbishop of Mainz, fourteen years later, in 1150. In 1148, a commission was sent to Disibodenberg  by Pope Eugene III to investigate Hildegard’s visions. Said commission declared that her visions were to be documented as revelations from the Holy Spirit.

Much can be said about Hildegard’s life and work, and she is an eminently fascinating figure. She wrote a significant body of poetry and prose, invented her own language, is widely considered to be among the founders of the study of natural history, and was a theologian as well. However, here, we’re concerned with her accomplishments as a musician.

Music heard in churches in the 12th and 13th Centuries was primarily monophonic chant. Though the Notre Dame school of polyphony began to flourish during (and slightly before) Hildegard’s life, it would have taken a long time to catch on widely, especially in monastic communities in what is now Southwestern Germany. Given the amount of chanting likely done in a Benedictine Monastery in that period, Hildegard would have been well-versed in plainchant, and so composed a fair bit of her own. Her style is noted for its wide ranges and being especially melismatic, and is often described as “ecstatic.”

One of her earliest compositions is also thought to be the earliest example of a morality play: the Ordo Virtutum, which tells the story of a struggle of the soul between virtue and the devil. Aside from the Ordo Virtutum, Hildegard wrote lots of music which can be described as liturgical song, often writing the texts for the pieces as well. Since Hildegard has been of particular interest in Sian’s studies and her Medieval music group, Alkemie, is preparing a Hildegard program, you will probably hear much more of it while we’re stuck worshipping over Zoom!

Hildegard’s legacy is that of both one of the earliest “great” composers (especially notable because she is a woman!) and as a sort of proto-feminist, though that may be a problematic term. As you may have noticed, I referred to her as “Saint” at the beginning of these notes; though she was beatified in 1326 by Pope John XXII, she was canonized recently. Pope Benedict XVI officially canonized her in 2012, and her feast day is September 17, the day of her death (as is normal for Saints – we generally celebrate them on their death days rather than birthdays. 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

July 17, 2020   for  the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

 

Over the last several weeks, I’ve written about the music of black composers for us to explore together. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know their music as much as I have! I will continue to write about various overlooked composers, of which there are hundreds, over time; in a millennium or so of western music history, many composers were overlooked for various reasons. Some because of race or sex, as discussed over the last several weeks, but many more simply didn’t make it into what we call the canon. Though the common line to justify certain composers being remembered above others is that the music which wasn’t remembered is less worthy and was “forgotten for a reason,” that provides a lacking, incomplete explanation. There is much very worthy art and music which has been overlooked despite being worthy. However, I don’t want to discount that line of reasoning entirely, since some artistic works seem to stand the so-called “test of time” more than others. Of course, defining worthiness is also a tricky pursuit, but in a time when the western art music world, thanks in no small part to the burgeoning historical performance movement, is rediscovering excellent works previously forgotten, one might wonder why these works escaped the repertoire. I have mentioned, offhand, the development of the western art music canon in these notes, but thought it might be worth providing a more complete picture this week.

Though musical trends developed and changed over the centuries, as they continue to, there is one period in music history that really stands out as a major upheaval not just in style, but in what music and art is. The 19th Century still looms large over our collective consciousness; many people still firmly buy into romantic-era ideals of what music and art are. There are several ideas which are accepted as truisms which have their root in the romantic period: the idea that the state of the artist is to suffer, the idea that artists are somehow “other” or “different” from your average person, the idea that artists should rebel against conventions and that conventions stifle art, and the idea that art is an expression of an artist’s inner being are all examples. Perhaps as a result of, but certainly in addition to, those ideas, the performance of older music began to become commonplace in the 19th Century, and so did the idea that music was progressing toward some sort of expressive ideal.

In the beginning of the 19th Century, there was one composer whose specter loomed large over everything: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), who is generally considered the first composer of the romantic period. You’ve probably heard of him before, know some of his music, and know a few details about his life even if you’re not very well-versed in “classical” music, so I won’t take up much space writing about him here. However, his influential ideas, manipulations of classical-era musical forms, and general reclusiveness late in his life gave him the status as a sort of celebrity, and his music was popular (even if it occasionally confused critics). His first biography, written by Anton Schindler and published in 1840, contained many exaggerated or downright fabricated events, perhaps intentionally used to lionize Beethoven and encourage the idea of the “composer-god.” Later composers certainly latched on to this ideal; Berlioz, in his memoirs, for example, spilled a lot of ink writing about his angst and perceived artistic persecution. Also, Beethoven was set up by the likes of Robert Schumann (who ran the influential quarterly, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik) as the defining composer of the Romantic period, and all composers were compared to him.

All this occurred during a wave of German Nationalism as the Holy Roman Empire was finally dissolved, and a new German Confederation began to take shape throughout the 19th Century (eventually, in 1871, being established as the German Empire). We now turn to Franz Brendel, who succeeded Schumann as editor of the Zeitschrift and, building on Schumann’s work, began to craft the idea of a “new German school.” Ironically, Franz Liszt (1811-1886), a Hungarian whose career as a piano superstar had given way to orchestral composing, became the exemplar of this movement, and Johannes Brahms (1883-1897), a German, was often set up in opposition, though perhaps not completely. Brendel’s school imagined music being more than simply music; he championed works which went with a narrative, referred to as “programmatic music” or “tone poems,” and Brahms’s interest in musical forms popular in the Baroque period, such as the Passacaglia (see his 4th Symphony) was antithetical to the “freer” music of the likes of Liszt, and later, Richard Strauss. At the extreme end of this school, and also often in conflict with it, was Richard Wagner, whose idea of the “Gesamtkunstwerk” drove the creation of massive musical stage shows (referred to as operas, but opera may not be an adequate term…).

A “new German school” implies the existence of an old one, which basically became the music of Bach, Mozart, and Haydn. Beethoven, of course, and Berlioz (a Frenchman who posthumously became an honorary German, I guess), as well as some other figures like Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn were transitional figures. Thus, the idea of a “canon” of music was born, and the standards which informed the formation of the canon have continued to inform additions to the canon to this day. It is important to realize how much the school of thought behind the “New German School” shapes the “classical music” scene today. The composers thought great back then are still the composers we think of as great – Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven are often thought of as the “great” composers, with Brahms often added to that list. Music performed by major orchestras was either the same music valued by the New German School, or later music which heavily built on its ideals either of their contemporary practice (like the music of Strauss and Mahler), and what they viewed as good past practice (particularly the music of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich), or a hybrid of the two (Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, or, at the fringe of acceptable, Stravinsky). Even “modernist” music like that of the second Viennese school (Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern) was built on the same ideals, even though it’s not as popular with audiences.

The history surrounding the development of the canon could fill up much more space than this, but I only expect you to read so much! Hopefully this puts the lionization of Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven into context; while they’re all certainly great composers, the fact that they’re remembered as “the greats” rather than, say, Telemann, Rameau, and Salieri, is due as much to their place in a historical narrative as it is to the quality of their musical output. While I do not seek to diminish the music of the composers in the western art music canon here, I do hope this helps you to approach music which has been ignored by the canon. Some music wasn’t included in the canon because it didn’t fit the narrative the 19th Century Germans crafted, or perhaps because it wasn’t preserved as well or as readily accessible as the music we know (music earlier than Bach wasn’t much known until the latter half of the 20th Century, for example); not all “forgotten” music was forgotten because it “didn’t stand the test of time.”

I feel I must give a shout out to Dr. Francesca Brittan, who taught the graduate-level survey of 19th Century music that I took in graduate school; her class was the first time I really thought about the context of the canon.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

July 9, 2020   for  the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Western art music is often, and rightly, criticized for focusing on “dead white men.” I’ve given some examples of black composers over the last few weeks, but what about women? Though there have been some notable female composers through the ages (notably Hildegard von Bingen, Francesca Caccini, Fanny Mendelssohn and Amy Beach, among many others), they often were overshadowed by their male counterparts. In fact, Fanny Mendelssohn published some of her music under her brother’s name (Felix Mendelssohn) in hopes it would be taken more seriously if it were attributed to a man (note that this shouldn’t diminish Felix’s work as a composer – he was also a great composer in his own right). It’s notable, therefore, that, in the early 20th Century, an African-American woman would be noted as a composer, albeit belatedly.

Florence Price (1887-1953) was born Florence Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was mixed race, but her family was well-respected; her father was a dentist and her mother a music teacher. Florence excelled in her schooling, graduating as valedictorian of her class at the age of 14, and went on to attend the New England Conservatory in Boston, though she initially pretended to be Mexican to avoid discrimination. She majored in piano and organ, but also studied composition with George Chadwick (also one of William Grant Still’s teachers). After graduation, she settled in Atlanta, where she became the head of the music department at Clark Atlanta University, and married a lawyer named Thomas J. Price. The two moved back to Little Rock, where they lived for over a decade before a series of racially charged events (including some lynchings) led to their move to Chicago, where Price would live for the rest of her life. While in Chicago, she became an avid learner of multiple subjects, and studied composition with several teachers (including Leo Sowerby, the famed Organist and Choirmaster of St. James’ Episcopal Cathedral). A few years after their move to Chicago, financial trouble and domestic abuse caused Florence and Thomas to divorce. She remarried quickly but separated from her new husband a few years later.

Price achieved some success in her career, but it was somewhat modest when compared with those of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and William Grant Still. She worked a great deal with Margaret Bonds, a black pianist and composer, and the two saw some success, though, following her divorce, Price, suddenly a single mother, struggled to make ends meet. She worked as a theater organist and wrote jingles for radio advertisements to help. The height of her career came in 1933, when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered her Symphony in E Minor, which won a composition competition the previous year, making her the first African-American woman to have a composition played by a major orchestra. Some of her other works were well-received and had high profile performances, but many were lost after her death.

In 1943, Price, in a letter to conductor Serge Koussevitzky, wrote, “My dear Dr. Koussevitzky, To begin with, I have two handicaps – those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have negro blood in my veins.” She had no illusions that she would have the career success she may have enjoyed were she a white man (or even just one of those things). As Alex Ross pointed out in a 2018 article in The New Yorker (linked below), Price, for decades, has been mentioned more than she has been performed. Much of her music was found in her old summer home in 2009, which had since been abandoned, when the home was being prepared for renovation.

Price’s compositional style drew heavily from idioms in African-American music, particularly spirituals. Being quite religious, she arranged several spirituals as well. Most of her compositional output is for solo piano, which makes sense given that she was a pianist herself and worked closely with another pianist. She also wrote a significant body of work for the organ, which I admit I hadn’t explored before!

The aforementioned New Yorker article by Alex Ross is worth a read, and I agree with many (though not all) of his points (I find he’s still a little too attached to the common narrative of Classical Music). Price may very well have been better recognized if she had been a white man, especially in an era where the Classical world was really settling into its focus on dead white men. Since the rediscovery of her manuscripts, luckily, she has gotten a little more attention, but the mainstream classical music world (i.e. that of the major orchestras and opera companies) is stodgy, and slow to adopt music not already in the canon.

 

An album containing Price’s first and third symphonies (some shades of Dvořák here!): 

https://open.spotify.com/album/2EKqIZNOAbDdk4F1gL56Wh?si=qQJoL4IzRhC6cSF439Ducw

 

The Rediscovery of Florence Price by Alex Ross (originally published as “New World” in the February 5, 2018 issue of The New Yorker): https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/05/the-rediscovery-of-florence-price

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

July 3, 2020   for  Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Though I’m keeping relevant to current events and the discussions about the more impeachable parts of American history, I thought I’d shift gears with this week’s music topic. Given that this weekend is our Independence Day and there have been some calls to reconsider our national anthem, I thought I’d talk about one of the obvious alternatives! Our current anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner,” has several strikes against it. For one thing, Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics, was a slave owner, and a verse of his poem alludes to the recapturing of escaped slaves. For another, the wartime imagery feels jarring for some. And for still another, it is difficult to sing; its range is enormous, making it nearly impossible for an untrained voice to comfortably perform. The tune was formerly known as “The Anacreontic Song,” the anthem of the Anacreontic Society, a “gentleman’s club” for wealthy amateur musicians in 18th Century London.


A few alternatives have been suggested over the last few weeks. Some are absurd, like John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which in addition to other issues, I don’t think is a very good song (I’m generally of the view that the solo work of the former Beatles doesn’t come close to the brilliance that the fab four had as a group). To my mind, the most sensible replacement is also a well-known patriotic song, whose words were written by a social activist, and whose music was written by an Episcopal church organist. That song is, of course, “America the beautiful,” which is a marriage of a hymn tune written by Samuel Augustus Ward (1848-1903), an organist who lived and worked in Newark, and a poem by Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), a Massachusetts-based author, poet, and professor.


Katharine Lee Bates, born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, was something of a pioneer for women in American literature. She was a member of the second ever graduating class of Wellesley College, and after a few years teaching and publishing her first novel, she traveled to England to study at Oxford University for a year. Upon her return to the states, she began teaching at her alma mater (Wellesley) and writing for several periodicals (sometimes under the pseudonym James Lincoln), through which she advocated for social equality. Her vision of America was one in which the country strove to lift up all people, regardless of race, social background, or gender. She advocated tirelessly for social reform, and was critical of America’s policy of isolationism; she was a supporter of the League of Nations (a precursor to the United Nations) and was harshly critical of the United States’ refusal to join it.


Bates wrote the first draft of her poem, “America,” in 1893 while teaching a summer session at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Apparently, the poem came to her when she climbed Pikes Peak and thought back to the many other great sights she experienced on her trip. The poem was published two years later in The Congregationalist magazine, on Independence Day.


Though Bates’s poem was set to several tunes over the years, by 1910, it was most often sung to Samuel Augustus Ward’s hymn tune, Materna. Ward spent most of his life in Newark, New Jersey, where he eventually owned a music shop and, beginning in 1880, served as Organist at Grace (Episcopal) Church in Newark, which then had a thriving choir of boys and was considered the standard-bearer for the Anglo-Catholic movement in northern New Jersey (and is where I served as Director of Music from 2015-2017!). I’m largely working from memory here, since the only reliable information about Ward’s involvement with Grace Church is in a typewritten history of the parish which I no longer have access to. However, if memory serves, his tenure there was relatively short, and the positions of organist and choirmaster were split in two.


Supposedly Ward’s tune came to him while he was riding a ferry from Coney Island, and he wrote it down straight away. It was intended for the hymn, “O Mother dear, Jerusalem,” a 16th Century hymn text whose author is only known by the initials F.B.P. The hymn became quite popular with the congregation at Grace Church and would even be included in both The New Hymnal (1916) and The Hymnal 1940 of The Episcopal Church. This particular marriage of text and tune is not in our current hymnal, The Hymnal 1982, though an altered form of the text, paired with the tune Land of Rest, appears as “Jerusalem, my happy home.” It’s unclear when the tune became associated with Bates’s poem, but they were first published together in 1910, so it’s unlikely that Ward was ever aware of their association.


It’s perhaps no wonder that a wartime poem like the Star Spangled Banner became our National Anthem in the early 20th Century. The Navy adopted it as its anthem in 1899, and President Woodrow Wilson ordered it to be played at appropriate occasions in 1916, in the midst of World War I. However, though it was treated as a national anthem from then on, it didn’t officially become the US national anthem until “An Act to make The Star-Spangled Banner the national anthem of the United States of America” was passed in congress and signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in 1931. However, now it may be time to aspire to something more than a vision of wartime struggle. Bates’s vision of the United States was not a romantic one; she had seen all kinds of poverty and discrimination in her time, and her poem was likely a vision for what America could be, rather than what it was. Perhaps putting that aspiration in our National Anthem would be a positive step.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

June 25, 2020   for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

 

The two composers we’ve explored so far, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and William Grant Still, are relatively recent. As I mentioned last week, the “classical” era, which roughly dates from the year of Bach’s death (1750) to the early 19th Century, saw few black composers in the western music world. Understandably so, since black people in the west were, by and large, enslaved. However, there was one distinguished black composer in France, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (c. 1748-1799), who is the first known composer of African ancestry in western art music.

Bologne was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe. Recent scholarship has determined that his father was George de Bologne Saint-Georges, a wealthy planter. His mother was a “beautiful young slave” from Senegal who worked for his father’s wife, who was likely a teenager when Bologne was born; sadly it wasn’t unusual for slaves to be used for their masters’ sexual pleasure, though I suppose we can only surmise what the circumstances of this affair were. Though there’s some disagreement as to when he was born, it seems young Joseph was born while his father was in exile (likely in Haiti, but we don’t know for sure) after being convicted of murder (he was involved in a fight while visiting his brother, and his opponent died a few days later of infection). George was sentenced to be hanged and his possessions were confiscated, though he was later pardoned.

Though the circumstances of Joseph’s birth were, in a word, awful, at least George decided to take responsibility for the boy, and acknowledged the boy’s parentage. Joseph and his mother moved with George’s family when they returned to France, and George spent a great deal on Joseph’s education. George was given a noble title at a certain point, but Joseph was ineligible for the nobility due to having an African parent, which presented a few problems, notably in his Romantic life (he would have been mostly acquainted with nobility due to his father’s station, but nobles could not marry commoners). However, George seemed to have a great deal of affection for the boy, and it’s likely that the family’s return to France was at least in part to give Joseph more opportunity, since he would have faced more overt prejudice in the colonies.

Bologne initially distinguished himself as a fencer. He took to the sport with great zeal and quickly proved to be world-class, defeating some of the best fencers of the day and becoming known as perhaps the greatest fencer in the world. The earliest evidence we have of him as a musician is two violin concertos composed by Antonio Lolli in 1764, which were dedicated to Bologne. Strangely, we have no records of Bologne’s early musical training (though there is much documentation of his early training with weapons), but it can be assumed that he was already an excellent violinist by the time he came of age. His prowess as a fencer, dancer, rider, and musician, likely combined with his “exotic” appearance, made him sought after company in Parisian society.

In 1769, Bologne (now in his early 20’s) joined the Concert des Amateurs, a new orchestra funded entirely privately and directed by famed composer François-Joseph Gossec. Bologne quickly became the concertmaster of the orchestra, and, in 1773, succeeded Gossec as its director. This orchestra would, due to funding problems related to French support of the American Revolution, disband in 1781, but Bologne found a patron to fund the re-formation of the orchestra, which was named Le Concert Olympique. This is the orchestra that commissioned and premiered Haydn’s six “Paris” symphonies (Symphonies 82-87) under Bologne’s baton. Bologne wrote many of his orchestral works for this ensemble, and premiered all 14 of his violin concertos as both conductor and soloist.

Bologne was proposed as the director for the Paris Opéra in the 1770’s, but three famous singers petitioned the Queen (Marie Antoinette) not to appoint him, saying that “…their honor and delicate conscience could never allow them to submit to the orders of a mulatto.” He withdrew his name from consideration to avoid embarrassing the Queen, with whom he apparently enjoyed a personal relationship (he was invited to her musical salons, and it’s probable that his Violin Sonatas were premiered at these salons with Marie Antoinette herself playing the fortepiano). Regardless, he would go on to write opera with mixed success. His first opera was panned at its premiere; critics said that, though the music was good, the libretto (considered more important at the time) was weak. However, the Marquisse de Montesson engaged Bologne as the director of her private theater, which among other things granted him housing in her ducal mansion in Paris (where Mozart stayed for two months following his father’s death!), and he would continue writing opera. His second, premiered by the same company as his first, was much better received. However, when the Duke of Orléans died, the mansion was shuttered. The new Duke of Orléans, the same patron who gave the funds to revive Le Concert Olympique, offered Bologne an apartment at the Palais-Royal, which was also where the orchestra performed. Sadly, the Duke had ambitious plans for the renovation of the Palais, which soon left the orchestra without a home and Bologne without a job, so he briefly moved to London (the new Duke of Orléans was an abolitionist and opponent of absolute monarchy, and was a great admirer of Britain’s parliamentary system, so the Duke’s approval of his move to London may have had political motives).

While Bologne was away, Le Concert Olympique began performing again in a new home and with a new conductor, so Bologne decided to take a tour of Northern France upon his return. When the Duke of Orléans failed in his bid to be considered an alternative to the monarchy (mostly due to the King sending him away and the Fall of the Bastille occurring during that time), Bologne returned to London, where the Duke had been sent. When he eventually returned to France, Bologne was shunned in some circles for his association with the Duke, but he remained a highly respected musician.

In the 1790’s Bologne joined the French Revolution as a Colonel of what became known as the “Légion St.-Georges,” the first all-black military regiment in Europe. He would still participate in musical activities when he could, which led to accusations that he was distracted and misusing of funds, and the eventual disbanding of the regiment (Thomas Alexandre Dumas, father of famed author Alexandre Dumas, often commanded the legion in Bologne’s absence). After a period of imprisonment (from which he was ordered released on the basis that no charges were leveled against him), Bologne moved to Haiti after failing to regain his rank and regiment. However, the slave revolt in Haiti began while he was there, and he was forced to flee back to Paris. He threw himself back into his musical activities and began forming a new orchestra. Unfortunately, he soon succumbed to a bladder infection and died in his early 50’s (his death certificate was lost, so his exact age is unknown).

In Joseph Bologne we see a brilliant, multi-talented man who certainly led an interesting, if somewhat short, life. We also see evidence that there were great classical-era composers outside of Vienna (since Mozart and Haydn are often the only composers from the era who regularly get mentioned and performed). Bologne was fortunate in that he had a wealthy father who acknowledged his parentage (as many children born of affairs with slaves were far less fortunate) and devoted significant resources to young Joseph’s education. One must wonder how many people of color with an interest and aptitude for music never got the opportunity to explore. Even today, many people of color today are discouraged from developing their musical skills by lack of resources, racist teachers, and institutions with systemic problems related to race. Some of the institutions I attended have been accused of fostering a racist environment, and many of my black classmates are finally speaking out about some less-than-positive experiences they had due to their race.

An album of music by Joseph Bologne, including his first Symphony: https://open.spotify.com/album/2MqA2PEzhgxU99Kp20p4jz?si=kqb0cq_eQgCqlCew0sZDOw

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

June 17, 2020   for  Third Sunday after Pentecost

 

This week, I decided to write about another great black composer. Understandably, we don’t hear much from black composers earlier than the Romantic Period; during the time of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, black people were enslaved in much of the western world. Though there is certainly great music in the “idiomatic” black traditions (genres like spirituals, gospel, jazz, and hip-hop), I don’t feel I’d be able to do that music justice without a great deal more research of the histories of those traditions beyond my superficial knowledge as a consumer of that music. This week, we’ll talk about William Grant Still (1895-1978), who was an important mid-20th Century composer of western art music in his own right, as well as a film composer and arranger for big bands. He has the distinction of being both the first African-American composer to have a complete work performed by a major American orchestra, and the first African-American to conduct a major American orchestra. He is often called the “Dean of African-American composers.”

Still was born in Mississippi to parents who were both teachers, though he didn’t live there for long. His father died when young William was just a few months old, and he moved with his mother to Little Rock, Arkansas. His mother remarried when Still was 9, and his stepfather got the boy interested in music. He began taking violin lessons as a teenager and became serious about music very quickly, teaching himself several other instruments.

Still was a brilliant young man and graduated from high school at age 16. However, like Hector Berlioz a century before, Still’s parents wanted him to become a doctor. Though he enrolled in a science program at Wilberforce University, his interest clearly was elsewhere. While at Wilberforce, he conducted the University band and began composing and arranging, and eventually dropped out. He soon enrolled at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music on a scholarship, and excelled. He would also study privately with George Chadwick and Edgard Varèse (the former of which was known for his conservatism, and the latter of which was very avant-garde, best known for his creative use of percussion and for pioneering electronic music).

Still’s professional career began as an arranger for bandleaders, including Paul Whiteman (dubbed the “king of jazz” in the 1920’s) and W.C. Handy (the “father of the blues”). After serving in the Navy in World War I, he moved to Harlem and became involved in the “Harlem Renaissance,” largely as an arranger of popular music.

Though he composed music in a more “classical” idiom during this period, Still’s career in the classical music world took off in the 1930’s. His first major composition for orchestra, Symphony no. 1 “Afro-American,” was premiered in 1931 by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (the first time a complete work by an African-American composer was performed by a major American orchestra), and became a staple in orchestral repertoire, being possibly the most popular American orchestral work until about 1950. Another milestone came in 1936, when he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic, becoming the first African-American to conduct a major symphony orchestra. By this point, Still was living in Los Angeles and working on several large-scale works, including an opera and a ballet. He studied African music and incorporated techniques from it in his works, and used many techniques from more “idiomatic” black music, including gospel and jazz. He wrote 8 operas, one of which used a libretto by Langston Hughes. A third milestone was reached when Still conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra in 1955, becoming the first black conductor of an orchestra in the deep south. Even after his death, his opera A Bayou Legend was the first opera by an African-American composer to be broadcast on national television in 1981.

He, of course, ran into troubles due to his race. He was married twice, first to a black woman. After they divorced, he married Verna Arvey, who was from a Russian Jewish family, and they had to perform the ceremony in Tijuana because California did not allow interracial marriage. Also, though he wrote a piece for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, he was unable to attend the fair without police protection except on “Negro Day.” Though he was successful in his career, his music hasn’t gotten the recognition it possibly deserves. It seems his race is an asterisk next to his name, though his music certainly stands up on its own. It also seems difficult to get information about his music, though part of that is due to being a recent composer whose works are still under copyright.

As our society once again grapples with its issues regarding race (though it’s worth noting that having breaks in that grappling is a luxury which minorities don’t enjoy), the “classical music” world has much to think about. Classical music, as many of us know, is overwhelmingly white and East Asian, and our large institutions are largely concerned with performing music from the Romantic period. Combined with the fact that mainstream classical audiences have an aversion to any music composed outside the German-Speaking world between 1700 and 1910, “diverse” voices are excluded by default (especially since our understanding of “classical music” comes from late 19th Century nationalistic Germans!). Though some of these issues are intertwined with our larger societal issues, the elitism present in the “classical” world is certainly partially to blame. Music historians also tend to overlook black music. Luckily, there are several small, young organizations looking to change this, and many of my younger colleagues manage to avoid this elitism. One attitude which is hopefully shifting is the idea that other genres of music are less worthy; it’s especially common in the classical music world to look down upon hip-hop and rap (among other “idiomatic” black music genres), but that is, hopefully, changing. I personally think that Kendrick Lamar’s album, DAMN., absolutely deserved the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for music (even though I like his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly, better), and deserves a listen if you don’t know it (though, be warned, it contains explicit content).

An album including Still’s Symphony no. 1 "Afro-American": https://open.spotify.com/album/6rdwANPRPpqL1GqBFqOk23?si=CKKaw8KRSXiIBOJze5IJ5A

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

June 11, 2020   for  Second Sunday after Pentecost

 

Given recent events, I though it would be appropriate to highlight two influential black composers. Though there are, of course, many great musical traditions I could highlight, they say to write what you know, so I’ll stick to what’s often referred to as “western art music.” 

Both composers were born in the late 19th Century; one in England, and one in the United States. The Englishman, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in London, the child of an Englishwoman and a physician from Sierra Leone who was studying in London. His parents were not married and his father returned to Sierra Leone without learning that his mother was pregnant, so Taylor was raised by his mother and grandfather. Though a farrier by trade (i.e. someone who takes care of horse’s hooves), Taylor’s grandfather enjoyed playing the violin and taught young Samuel early on, later paying for the boy’s violin lessons when he began to show promise as a musician. Taylor was accepted to the Royal College of Music at age 15, where he eventually studied composition with Charles Villiers Stanford.

Taylor caught the eye of the famous composer Edward Elgar (most well-known today for his Pomp and Circumstance march, which is often played at graduation ceremonies) and William Yaeger (an influential editor and critic who worked for the music publisher Novello), and premiered a successful piece at the annual Three Choirs Festival (a famous festival jointly hosted by the choirs of Worcester Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral, and Hereford Cathedral): his Orchestral Ballade in A Minor, in 1896. He had another success with the premiere of his most famous piece, the Cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, conducted by Charles Villiers Stanford, in 1898. He would go on to take three tours of the United States due to the success of that premiere, and would become highly respected in the US.

Taylor married Jessie Walmisley, one of his fellow students at the Royal College of Music, in 1899. Unfortunately, her parents initially opposed the marriage due to Taylor’s race, but they eventually relented and gave their blessing. They had two children: Avril and Hiawatha, who both became musicians (Hiawatha adapted Samuel’s works, and Avril became a conductor and composer, much like her father).

Taylor’s most famous work, The Song of Hiawatha, is a trilogy of Cantatas with texts from an epic by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which told the story of a Native American warrior named Hiawatha and was first published in 1855. Taylor scored the work for solo tenor, choir, and orchestra. The premiere of the first Cantata, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, took place at the Royal College of Music to a packed house, with many people being turned away at the door. It was extremely well received, and two venerable English composers raved about the premiere: Arthur Sullivan and Hubert Parry. The score, published by Novello, sold extremely well and Taylor was commissioned to write a sequel even before the premiere had taken place. The sequels, The Death of Minnehana and Hiawatha’s Departure were less successful, though the entire trilogy was premiered in 1900 at the Royal Albert Hall and Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast became one of the best loved pieces in England for a long time (rivalling even Handel’s Messiah!). It was premiered in the US in 1899 by the Temple Choir of Brooklyn, the success of which gave Taylor the opportunity to tour the United States three times over the next decade.

His US tours were quite successful; he was given the distinct honor of being received personally by President Theodore Roosevelt at the beginning of his first tour in 1904 (extremely rare for a black person at the time!). In 1910, musicians in New York City took to calling him the “African Mahler” (Gustav Mahler was then the Music Director for the New York Philharmonic), and he became especially admired in the African-American community. In 1901, a 200 voice chorus called the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor society was founded in Washington, D.C., and there are two public schools named for him in the US: one in Baltimore, and one in Louisville. He began working with African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who encouraged Taylor to explore traditional African music, just as many European composers had done with various European folk traditions (notably Johannes Brahms, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Antonin Dvořák). The two gave a joint recital in London under the patronage of John Milton Hay, who began his career as Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary and would go on to be US ambassador to Britain and Secretary of State under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt.

Unfortunately, Taylor died young, of pneumonia at age 37. Despite his professional success, he often struggled financially since, as was common for composers in those days, he sold the rights of his works outright, meaning he didn’t collect royalties. The fact that he did not benefit financially from the enormous success of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast led to some legal battles over his legacy and the rights of his family to receive royalties for the work. However, The Song of Hiawatha continued to enjoy success, and was championed by great conductor Malcolm Sargent, who directed successful annual festival performances of the Hiawatha trilogy at the Royal Albert Hall from 1924 until the Second World War broke out in 1939. Interest in Taylor’s music has continued. Many of his works were discovered and published recently, including his only full-length opera, Thelma, was unearthed by a PhD student, and edited and premiered in London in 2012.

I admit that, aside from his Three Short Pieces for Organ (1898), which are now on my list of pieces to learn once I have regular access to the organ again, I’m not terribly familiar with Taylor’s music. I’ve provided a link to a recording of the Hiawatha trilogy below, but his other music is worth exploring, so let’s do so together! Next week, I’ll talk about African-American composer and conductor William Grant Still (1895-1978).

Song of Hiawatha by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, performed by the Welsh National Opera:

https://open.spotify.com/album/1QA4DGJbcPVwAVxMmhPzDB?si=EOFYYIp-RvaPt1AQobQVhg

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

June 4, 2020   for                               TRINITY SUNDAY

 

 

We’re in for a bit of an odd one this week, but it’s been an odd week (to say the least!). I have to say, I’m a bit at a loss for what to do given the current climate, but I hope I’ll be able to address current events in these notes sometime in the coming weeks (perhaps highlighting some works by African-American composers). But, for now, I’ll stick to my original plan.

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is a name I’ve mentioned before, and one which is increasingly recognized as one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century. He was born to an artistic family; his mother was a poet, and his father taught English and translated the works of Shakespeare into French. He proved to have an early aptitude for music, entering the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 11, and earning his first “grand prix” at the age of 15 (in harmony). He would go on to study piano, organ (with Marcel Dupré), and composition (with Paul Dukas, composer of The Sorceror’s Apprentice, made famous by Disney’s Fantasia), and was appointed Organist at Holy Trinity Church in Paris at the age of 22, a post he would keep until his death.

Messiaen’s musical voice was unique. He was intensely synesthetic, which meant that he experienced color when he heard music. He was greatly influenced by non-western music as well, especially ancient Greek music, Hindu music, and Gamelan. However, he was also a devout Catholic, and much of his music is about religious concepts. Messiaen also has the distinction of being one of the very few major 20th Century composers to have written a large body of work for the organ.

The Messe de la Pentecôte for organ, the piece I want to look at this week, was written at an interesting time in Messiaen’s life. Composed in 1950, it was the first organ piece he wrote in over a decade, and between the publishing of Les Corps Glorieux in 1939 and this piece, he was imprisoned in a Nazi camp (where he wrote and premiered his most famous work, Quatuor pour le Fin du Temps [Quartet for the End of Time] for other musicians imprisoned there), and he wrote and premiered his monumental orchestral work, Turangalîla Sinfonie.

Before the major 20th Century liturgical reforms in the Catholic Church, the first of which was promulgated in 1955, organists in some countries would often play over the Missa Lecta or “Low Mass,” or an entirely spoken Mass done with just a single Priest and server, since many parts of the Mass were said in a low voice. “Organ masses” were common in France from the Baroque period on. France has a strong tradition of improvising on the organ as well, so music for these Masses would mostly have been improvised. Messiaen used these Masses as an opportunity for musical exploration, and distilled some of that exploration into a written “organ Mass,” meant to be about the length of a Low Mass. What he came up with was structured much like Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique suites, which I talked about a few weeks ago (Tournemire was also quite influential to Messiaen and was among the people who recommended Messiaen for the post at Holy Trinity). The five movements are:

I. Entrée (“Les langes de feu”) – Entrance (“The tongues of fire”)
II. Offertoire (“Les choses visibles et invisibles”)  - Offertory (“The things visible and invisible”)
III. Consécration (“Le don de Sagesse”) – Consecration (“The gift of wisdom”)
IV. Communion (“Les oiseaux et les sources”) – Communion (“The birds and the springs”)
V. Sortie (“Le vent de l’Esprit”) – Exit (“The wind and the spirit”)

The Entrée is short, meant to cover the beginning of the Mass (through the Collect), and sets a mysterious air which continues through the entire work. The Offertoire is the longest movement, and makes use of some interesting effects on the organ, including a low C on a 16-foot reed stop to illustrate growling from the deep. The Consécration features a musical paraphrase of the famous plainchant hymn, “Veni Creator Spiritus” The Communion makes heavy use of birdsong – Messiaen was fascinated by birds, seeing them as messengers from God, and loved going to nature to transcribe birdsong, and used their calls in his compositions. The middle section has very free, perhaps delirious, birdsong over a staccato accompaniment, evoking drops of water, and generally evokes a sort of calm. Finally, we’re jarred into another place completely by the Sortie, played while the Priests and people exited the church, which is a short, quick, and very fiery piece played largely on full organ.

 

The Messe de la Pentecôte, at its core, is a liturgical work; it’s based on 20 years of Messiaen’s improvisation at Holy Trinity, and so, fittingly, it was premiered during a Low Mass on the Day of Pentecost in 1951 (which was Sunday, May 12) at Holy Trinity. I’ve provided a link to a recording below. Give it a listen! It’s unusual and certainly an acquired taste, but (and I know I’ve said this before), one well worth acquiring!

 

Messe de la Pentecôte for organ, performed by Olivier Latry on the organ at Notre Dame de Paris:
Movement 1: https://open.spotify.com/track/1aO2ouF67LCcpisIcq5n35?si=5HguDZ3MS-uDC2RmE0AdJQ
Movement 2: https://open.spotify.com/track/5jVpWKuS4LoAowVeBS6cBW?si=LO4rrAQzQGSsq3exKJ9AXA
Movement 3: https://open.spotify.com/track/0LeOPaf7MOHqoNJKWsqF1R?si=PNmU3FBzRUWEitsTKR6xHg
Movement 4: https://open.spotify.com/track/3JqYvYKtsFGJqJ2UVYjfWE?si=h09vhYHhSnutP3b9fCB-vQ
Movement 5: https://open.spotify.com/track/34VqxdiNvG5mJmM8RRQzCR?si=r94csLB7ScSgy0QZ2DxHlQ

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

May 28, 2020   for                                     PENTECOST

This Sunday is the Day of Pentecost. You may know the story: after hiding in Jerusalem for a bit following the Ascension, the Holy Spirit descended with tongues of fire on the Apostles, and they each began speaking in tongues. They were then charged with proclaiming the Gospel throughout the world. Pentecost is often known as the birthday of the Church, and, indeed, from then on the Gospel was proclaimed throughout the known world in many different languages. However, there is one language that was universal throughout the church. That language is a wordless one: music, which is often called the language of heaven.

I talked about hymns a few weeks ago, but the summary of those notes could be that hymns have, for a long time, been used not only as a way of praising God, but as a tool for evangelism and teaching. Martin Luther, in particular, saw hymns as an excellent tool for teaching the faith.

As could be expected of any major Christian festival, especially one so ancient, many hymns were written for Pentecost, both ancient and newer. One of the most well-known plainchant hymns, the 9th Century “Veni Creator Spiritus,” is sung at Vespers on the Day of Pentecost, and is used at many other occasions. It’s often sung at ordinations and confirmations. In the use of the Roman Rite employed in Salisbury Cathedral in the Medieval period (often known as the “Sarum Use”), it was sung by the celebrating Priest as he vested for Mass. This hymn is found, translated by John Cosin, Bishop of Durham sometime in the 17th Century, as “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,” at 504 in our Hymnal 1982. It was also adapted as a German Chorale by Martin Luther to the text “Komm, Gott Schöpfer,” which can be found at number 501 in our Hymnal.

Next is the so-called “Golden Sequence” or “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” the Sequence appointed for Mass on the Day of Pentecost, which was probably written in the 13th Century (sometimes attributed to an Archbishop of Canterbury!). Sequences are sung This is one of five sequences preserved by the Catholic Church after most were abolished at the Council of Trent. Well noted for both being one of the best pieces of sacred Latin poetry ever written and for its excellent tune, it’s found at number 226 in our Hymnal, translated as “Come, thou Holy Spirit bright.” Unlike other Mass propers, Sequences are metrical and strophic and generally not very florid.

One of the best-loved English hymns about the Holy Spirit is “Come down, O Love divine,” a 19th Century translation of a 15th Century text, usually set to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s gorgeous tune, Down Ampney. Clearly this was a special tune to Vaughan Williams, since he named it after his birthplace, the village of Down Ampney in Gloucestershire.

And speaking of Vaughan Williams, there’s one hymn with texts for all three of the major festivals of the last 50 days (Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost). The tune “Salve festa dies” sets a translation of a 6th Century chant text, known as “Hail thee, Festival Day.” With the Easter version having 8 verses and a refrain, it’s possibly best known today as a useful cover for long processions, but the Pentecost version is a mere 4 verses and much more manageable!

With next week being Trinity Sunday, it seems worth mentioning one of the most beloved hymns of all time: John Bacchus Dykes’s setting of Reginald Heber’s text, “Holy, holy, holy.”. The text was written specifically for Trinity Sunday, and partially to protest the Church of England’s ban on hymn singing in the very early 19th Century (the 18th Century is often considered a low point for the Church of England, and provided much of the impetus for the revival known as the Oxford Movement). Its tune was written for the first English hymnal after the ban on hymn singing was lifted, Hymns Ancient and Modern, in 1861, and the text and tune combination has appeared in virtually every English-language hymnal of any denomination since then! The tune name, “Nicaea,” honors the First Council of Nicaea in the 4th Century, in which the doctrine of the Trinity was formalized.

Since we can’t sing hymns together for now, I thought it might be nice to learn about some of our best loved ones! We’ll play around with some of these on Sunday. Next week, I’ll continue the Pentecost theme, but discuss a more esoteric piece of music: Olivier Messiaen’s excellent organ Mass, the Messe de la Pentecôte.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

May 21, 2020   for                      ASCENSION SUNDAY

 

As I write this, it is the Feast of the Ascension, when the church commemorates the Ascension of Christ into heaven. The Ascension always falls 40 days after Easter, and commemorates the end of Christ’s bodily presence on earth and the final step in destroying death. Naturally, this major festival of the church year has gotten lots of musical attention! I’d like to focus, foremost, on various English composers’ approaches, but I’d also like to mention a piece by 20th Century French composer, Olivier Messiaen!

Ascension is dominated by a triumphant, and often regal, musical affect. There is an overtone of Christ going up to rule, one which was further emphasized and even given its own feast day (Christ the King) in the 1920’s.

The first piece is by the great Tudor composer, William Byrd (c. 1540-1623). As I’ve mentioned many times in these notes, Byrd remained loyal to the Catholic Church even in a reformed England which became increasingly hostile toward Catholicism, to the point that celebrations of the Mass were considered disloyal and potentially treasonous acts. He published two collections in the early 17th Century which set music specifically for the Catholic Mass, called Gradualia. These collections contained polyphonic settings of the Mass propers, which would traditionally have been sung to plainchant. Viri Galilei (Ye men of Galilee) is the Introit for Ascension Day, sung at the beginning of Mass, and Byrd set it for 5 voices (Soprano, Alto, 2 Tenors, Bass). Introits usually structured with a florid antiphon followed by a single psalm verse, the Gloria Patri, and then a repeat of the Antiphon. In this setting, Byrd goes down to three voices for the verse.

Next is slightly later and much more in keeping with the style favored by the Reformed English church: O Clap your Hands by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). Gibbons’s life was short, though shortly before his death he was appointed as the organist at Westminster Abbey, and he ran in high-powered musical circles; he may have even studied with Byrd. “O clap your hands” is an ecstatic 8 voice “full anthem” (as opposed to verse anthem) and does an excellent job of illustrating the jubilant clangor that may have accompanied the actual event!

Skipping ahead to the 20th Century, two famous settings of Ascension texts go further in the triumphant direction: “O clap your hands” by great English composer (and editor of The English Hymnal) Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), and “God is gone up” by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), who is mostly known for his art songs. Both are scored for SATB choir and organ, and make much use of trumpet-like figures in the organ accompaniment (giving the organist a good excuse to use any big solo trumpet stops available, which we organists tend to refer to as “party horns”!).

Finally, one of the landmark instrumental pieces of the 20th Century! Messiaen (1908-1992) was deeply Catholic, and much of his music was written as reflections on Christian themes. I could go on for a long time about Messiaen’s unique approach to composition, melding influences from western music, eastern music (particularly Indian ragas), and his unique approach to rhythm and birdsong, but perhaps another time! L’Ascension was composed as a four movement orchestral piece in the early 1930’s, published in 1933, making it an early work by Messiaen (well before the two works for which he is best known, Quatuor pour le fin du temps – quartet for the end of time, and Turangalila Sinfonie). In 1934, Messiaen published a transcription of the work for the organ, but with a new third movement. I’ll link to recordings of both versions below. Messiaen’s compositional style is a bit of an acquired taste, but one which I think is well worth acquiring, and his admittedly youthful take on the Ascension is really interesting!

Viri Galilei – Byrd, performed by The King’s Singers https://open.spotify.com/track/3gVvkfVNJxLcitqjWnhy6O?si=hj8iMTo5R_-HKDxYIkZl3w

O clap your hands – Gibbons, performed by Voces 8 https://open.spotify.com/track/2jwLOzlNprcXZc2nL1NzBB?si=ROif_aWMSii_Nf-BZPQTLA

O clap your hands – Vaughan Williams, performed by the choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge
https://open.spotify.com/track/4ChJVX43PIp9KplSYj8qg3?si=UeQp7rENQVKv1aq2TD6-rA

God is gone up – Finzi, performed by the choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge
https://open.spotify.com/track/5u0nQEWXyHFnEyhttSqusf?si=9O2JVvfQRqGHRYaCZ4kv4g

Album containing Messiaen’s L’Ascension (orchestral version), by Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, conducted by Paavo Järvi
https://open.spotify.com/album/1K0fatTr47Xt0BvkkTEmfa?si=6DrNxqNwQoqkvkFyXnMtqg

First movement of L’Ascension (organ version), performed by Olivier Latry on the (now non-functional) organ at Notre Dame, Paris
https://open.spotify.com/track/5ALrEwnO82ytmkLVbB03UR?si=dH9lBVvhTvycqGzwPQBVFg

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

May 14, 2020   for the        Sixth SUNDAY OF EASTER

 

We’ve been in Eastertide for the last month or so, and it almost feels as though the church year has settled briefly. However, things start moving again over the next week; although there is much debate among liturgists how long Eastertide is (some claim it ends at the Feast of the Ascension, some at the Day of Pentecost), there’s no doubt that things start to change; next Thursday (the 21st) is Ascension Day, and Sunday the 31st is Pentecost or Whitsunday. Both, of course, have a rich selection of music commemorating them, and I’ll be able to talk about some of them in the next few weeks.

However, today, I’ll talk briefly about the development of hymnody. A hymn as we understand it is a simple metrical song on a religious text and which doesn’t fill a specific liturgical function. Though pretty much all text used in a Christian liturgy has been sung from time immemorial (like so many things in Christianity, a tradition that finds its roots in Temple Judaism), hymns have existed at least since the Fourth Century; St. Ambrose (c. 340-397), archbishop of Milan from 374, is known as perhaps the earliest hymnodist, and wrote the plainchaint hymn, “Veni Redemptor Gentium” for Advent. Many other plainchant hymns were developed in the centuries following, some which may be quite familiar to us (the Pentecost hymn, “Veni Creator Spiritus,” the Marian hymn “Ave Maris Stella,” and the Eucharistic him “Pange Lingua” are famous examples). Eventually, these were appointed for use at specific occasions, often for offices and some special liturgies (like the Holy Week liturgies).

Though devotional songs in local languages existed (such as the songs sung by pilgrims in Spain which Sian and I have performed as preluded over Zoom the last few weeks), all hymns sung during a liturgy were in Latin. That changed in the 16th Century, with Martin Luther’s Reformation. Luther was a great believer in the power of song both as a devotional and teaching tool, and is known as one of the great hymnodists of history and for spearheading a style of hymns sung in German called Chorales, which in turn inspired a lot of other music (such as Bach’s cantatas). Luther’s chorales tended to be simple in structure and form, therefore easy to learn and sing, and consisted largely either of original melodies or adaptations of older plainchant hymns (claims that Luther adapted drinking songs are, at best, spurious, and there’s no record that he ever actually said “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?” even though that quote is often attributed to him). In fact, St. Ambrose’s hymn, “Veni Redemptor Gentium,” was adapted by Martin Luther as “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,” known as “Savior of the nations, come” in our hymnal. Of course, Luther is best known for his original tunes, particularly for “Ein feste Burg is unser Gott” (A mighty fortress is our God), which has become a Lutheran fight song, of sorts.

Development of hymnody worked differently in the Church of England, as it did for many other Reformed churches. The Dutch Reformed churches, for example, initially banned music in church entirely (why, for example, we have almost no sacred music from Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck; his job was to play recitals outside of worship in Amsterdam’s Oudekerk). Some other churches, such as the Presbyterians in Scotland, believed anything not directly quoting the bible to be too Catholic and therefore inappropriate for worship. In England, composers such as Thomas Tallis and Orlando Gibbons wrote simple tunes for the recitation of psalms (Tallis’s third tune, the theme used in Vaughan Williams’ famous orchestral work, Variations on a theme by Thomas Tallis, is probably the most famous of these), which would gradually evolve into what we now know as Anglican Chant. Though most well-known English hymns are products of the 19th and 20th Centuries, by composers like Hubert Parry, Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Henry Smart, and S.S. Wesley, In the early 18th Century, an English Priest named Isaac Watts, through his metrical paraphrases of psalms, became known as the grandfather of English hymnody. There were two other great English hymnodists in the late-18th Century: John and Charles Wesley.

The Wesley brothers were Priests in the Church of England who spearheaded a revival in the Church which would eventually splinter off and become known as Methodism (largely over disputes about ordaining Ministers in the American colonies). They were prolific hymn writers, and wrote the texts to many beloved hymns, including one of my favorites, “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” (most often paired with the tune Helmsley, an English folk tune arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams). They also inspired a school of Welsh hymnody which produced many tunes familiar today (Hyfrydol and Cwm Rhondda among them, which are two of the most popular hymn tunes now).

The history of hymnody is long and fascinating, and created a style of singing almost ubiquitous in Western Christianity today. Our Hymnal 1982 contains hymns from all of the traditions mentioned above, and it’s a good thing we have such a wealth of hymnody to draw from! And that’s not even to mention the African-American Gospel tradition, which also produced a number of well-known tunes!

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

May 7, 2020   for the        FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

 

There’s a lot about medieval performance we don’t know – modern interpretations are, at best, educated guesses, often based on artwork and writings from the era. So, you get wildly different interpretations of medieval pieces from different interpreters. If you listened to the recording of the Messe de Nostre Dame I linked to last week, you may have been surprised by the vocal timbre and ornamentation they used, but that is definitely a plausible interpretation, especially with ornamentation and “ficta” (that is, adding accidentals that aren’t notated in the music). If you look at a score of the piece, you’ll notice that the way it’s notated is pretty bare bones – a lot would be left up to the performer.

The Messe de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377) is the widely considered the earliest important Mass setting, written sometime before 1365, probably for the Cathedral in Rheims. Machaut is perhaps the most important composer of the Medieval era, and the first important composer we know much of anything about. He was a highly regarded French organist and composer, having spent much of his life living in his native Rheims, though he moved around a bit earlier in his career due to being highly in demand. He settled in Rheims after that region was ravaged by the Black Death.

The Messe de Nostre Dame is probably the earliest Mass setting written by a single composer; there were some earlier Masses whose movements were written by different people. It consists of the 5 major sections of the Ordinary – that is, the Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy), Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory be to God on high), Credo (Nicene Creed), Sanctus & Benedictus (Holy, holy, holy and Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord), and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). The response to the dismissal, “Ite Missa Est,” (which is “Deo gratias,” or thanks be to God) is also set to polyphony. The Mass setting uses some very distinct stylistic elements of the era, in particular double-leading-tone cadences (that is, voices go from sharp 4-5 and 7-1, which isn’t used much outside this era), and is quite long, alternating plainchant and polyphony verses.

If you listened to the recordings last week, you probably noticed some development and streamlining of the style between the Notre Dame school (Léonin and Pérotin) to Machaut. When the Renaissance era started around 1400, music became more free and more restricted at once – some of the strictures of the Medieval period were lifted, but the rules of counterpoint became much stricter. As it happens with any musical style, things are, for lack of a better term, somewhat wild in the beginning as people discover what a genre can do, and become more constricted as time goes on, as people begin to figure out what works and what people like. Which is better isn’t always clear!

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 30, 2020              FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

 

Even those among us who are avid concertgoers and lovers of so-called “classical” music probably have little knowledge of any music written prior to 1700 (or so – both Bach and Handel were 15 years old in 1700). Most modern performers focus on music written during the 19th Century, and most of the music performed in large concert halls was written between the late 18th Century and early 20th Century, with the occasional piece by Bach or Handel, and the occasional newer piece, mixed in. However, as I started to demonstrate last week, western art music is well over a thousand years old, and there’s an enormous wealth of great music much older than 300 years! This week, I’d like to talk mostly about the advent of polyphony (or, music with multiple voices at once).

Last week I briefly discussed plainchant, which is monophonic, meaning that it consists of only one voice. Of course, that doesn’t mean it was always performed with a single singer or a small group singing in unison; drones were likely common, and it became common to double the melody at the 5th, a practice which became known as organum. Doubtless, as this became popular, people experimented more, possibly even improvising accompaniments. However, the big change came in the 12th and 13th Centuries probably in a little town in France which you may have heard of (Paris) and its Cathedral, which you may also have heard of (Notre Dame).

Léonin and Pérotin are both mysterious figures, only known through writings by an Englishman who studied at Notre Dame known simply as Anonymous IV. Nothing is known about their lives other than their music, and that they were probably involved with Notre Dame in some way. They pioneered a new genre of music which is also called organum (musical terms change meaning over time!), which involved slowing down chant melodies and putting a much faster melodic line (known as a cantus) over the chant melody (which became known as the tenor). This was initially done with two voices, but more voices were added as time went on. For an example, I’ve provided a link to Pérotin’s famous 4 voice work, “Viderunt Omnes,” which sets the first two words of the Gradual chant for Christmas Day. Notice how slowly the text moves – it takes a long time just to get to the second syllable of “Viderunt!” For contrast, I’ve also linked a performance of Léonin’s two voice setting of the same chant.

 

This early polyphony gradually led to one of the great innovations in musical notation – the notation of rhythm and a system known as mensural notation. While it has things in common with our modern notation system (and is a precursor to it), mensural notation is a little less precise, and with a lot of different variables. Since music was still very dependent on oral transmission and improvisation at that point, it’s likely that notation was meant as a way of recording performances rather than providing comprehensive instructions for performance. However, just because the rhythm wasn’t exact doesn’t mean it’s simple; one school of composition known as “ars subtilior” (subtler art), which came about in the late 14th Century, used extremely complex rhythms, the likes of which were not seen again until the jazz age.

 

Organum led to the development of the motet, which was originally a piece not intended for liturgical use in which each voice sets an entirely different text! The first motets were simply pieces of organum with different text put in. These gradually led to the later form of Polyphony we’re accustomed to hearing in church. Though the medieval period is often known as the “dark ages,” art and music did flourish in some places, and later composers such as Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377) and Johannes Ockeghem (c. 1425-1497) are increasingly regarded as important as interest in earlier repertoire increases. Less “learned” styles of music flourished in the medieval period as well, such as the singing poets known as trouveres (in France) or troubadors (in England), and much religious folk music was written, especially for pilgrims traveling popular trails such as the Camino de Santiago. In this period, religion was such a part of the popular imagination that the lines between sacred and secular were very blurry. So too were the lines between “high art” or “learned” music and “popular” music, a distinction which really didn’t exist until much more recently. And, of course, there was the composition of new plainchant, perhaps most notably by the earliest great female composer, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179).

Viderunt Omnes by Pérotin, as performed by  the Hilliard Ensemble: https://open.spotify.com/track/3DPvIw6xupTvdJ6bxXxYZV?si=aLszYCFJQ96lDS7bEk7ZaA

Viderunt Omnes by Léonin, as performed by Tonus Perigrinus
https://open.spotify.com/track/1TCx5p8MDtp71mOsVpHIQG?si=kodxgc_eTK2UonVmigcw7Q

Mariam Matrem Virginem, from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, a collection of devotional songs for pilgrims, directed by Jordi Savall: https://open.spotify.com/track/4Lg8PEfyWCq5brPpXY6NtH?si=ixnhIuV9SDKo0w2ZoqCm_A

Sanctus from Messe de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut, performed by Graindelavoix:
https://open.spotify.com/track/5moyR43xcU4XxryT3DBQNO?si=69A8W4xHRMyb_tRivFMzMQ

An album of pieces by Hildegard von Bingen, as performed by Sequentia:
https://open.spotify.com/album/6hRd5GEi2VWMkT4MBLfDe6?si=EU8FbXR9To282Ht-Z6fOWw

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 26, 2020              THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

 

 

 

Those of us with even the most passing knowledge of music history in the western world likely know that Christianity played an outsized role in the development of western art music (or so-called “classical” music). Those who have studied the medieval period may also know how intertwined the church and academia were; the University of Bologna, the oldest extant European institution of higher education, was founded in the 11th Century partially for the study of canon law (Oxford University, more famous in the anglophone world, was founded shortly thereafter). It’s therefore no surprise that much of the development of more complex, or “learned,” forms of music was very much steeped in the liturgy, and that all started with liturgical chant!

This week, I’d like to talk briefly about plainchant and its influence on the development of notation (hint: it had almost everything to do with the invention of written notation). The western form of plainchant, known as “Gregorian Chant” (more on that later) is at least somewhat familiar to just about everybody. It appears in many movie and videogame soundtracks, and is still used in worship for many churches (including our own!).

Plainchant is, at its core, simply a way of singing the liturgy, which gradually became more florid over time. In the early church, all services were probably entirely sung (as they are in the Eastern Orthodox churches today). The practice of simply speaking services in the western church grew throughout the medieval period. It began as a practice of offering private Masses (that is, Masses with just a Priest and a server and no one else) in monasteries and became popularly offered by parishes later in the medieval period. This likely started as multiple simultaneous celebrations at side altars during the Solemn Mass (so that Priests could keep a discipline of saying Mass daily), but gradually took hold as a way of publicly saying Mass. The Bubonic Plague probably had a lot to do with its popularity, since a full Mass could be celebrated without the large personnel required for a Solemn Mass (including Celebrant, Deacon, Sub-Deacon, several acolytes, choir, etc), meaning the Mass could still be offered in plague-ravaged areas. All this is to say that even the idea of speaking a liturgy was a later development; liturgies were generally understood as properly sung from the beginning (after all, it’s commonly said that music is the language of heaven!).

“Gregorian Chant” is the nickname for the way the Western Christians sing liturgies. There are other forms of Christian chant out there, both ancient (like Byzantine Chant), and much newer (like Anglican Chant and the even newer Russian Chant). It is named after Pope Gregory the Great (pope from 590 until 604), who is called the father of Western liturgy. Legend has it that the Holy Spirit dictated the chants still in use in the western church today to Gregory. It’s a nice story, but very apocryphal; the first attribution of Gregorian Chant to Gregory came a couple hundred years later, and it’s likely that “Gregorian” Chant came from a later synthesis of Roman Chant and Gallican Chant. Of course, not all chants are so ancient; many were composed later, particularly more metrical ones like the sequences and hymns. The most popular piece of plainchant, the sequence for the Mass of the Dead, “Dies irae,” which is quoted in many famous pieces of music of all genres, was probably composed in the late 13th Century.

Of course, though chants were, like most music, mostly passed down orally, a desire to record these chants came up eventually, beginning around the 9th Century. Originally, this notation recorded musical gestures rather than exact notes (it looked like a bunch of squiggles!). Gradually, it got more precise, leading to something resembling a musical staff, with square note-heads. Eventually, this became our modern system of musical notation, though there were lots of stops along the way!

Perhaps notation arose as chants got more complicated. They were likely initially simple, similar to the way psalms are sung in Advent, Lent, and during the summer at All Saints (we use Anglican Chant the rest of the year). A musical language developed consisting of eight modes, and as singers became more comfortable with this language, they embellished it quite a bit, perhaps both to show off, and to give the people around the altar more time to finish what they were doing (ancient ceremonial could be very complicated!).

It’s worth mentioning that there was a major revival of plainchant performance in the late-19th Century, mostly associated with the monks of the St. Peter’s Abbey in Solesmes in northwestern France. It’s from there that our modern expectations of Gregorian Chant come, but they almost entirely invented their chant practices. The practice of chanting likely differed regionally in the Medieval Period, and notation of things like rhythm came much later than the earliest notation of chant, meaning chants may have been more rhythmic in some areas! Though in our ears we have a specific sound (likely calling to mind a bunch of hooded monks ponderously meandering through an amorphous musical phrase), this is not what plainchant has always sounded like, and it was probably much more interesting than what we think of today!

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 19, 2020              EASTER TWO

 

 

This coming Sunday has many names: The Second Sunday of Easter or the First Sunday After Easter (depending on which calendar is followed; we call it the former), Low Sunday, or Quasimodo Sunday. No one’s quite sure where the “Low Sunday” nickname comes from, even though it is certainly apt given the drop in attendance between Easter Day and the Sunday following (it may be a corruption of the Latin word Laudes, which begins the Sequence for the day in the Sarum Use, or the local adaptation of the Roman Rite used at Salisbury Cathedral in the medieval period). Quasimodo comes from the first two words of the traditional Introit for the day: Quasi modo geniti infantes (Like new-born infants).

But what, you might ask, does this have to do with music? Well, this week I’ll write about a couple pieces by a composer you may not have heard of: Charles Tournemire. In particular, his famous improvisation on the Easter Sequence (Victimae paschali laudes), and the suite he wrote for “Quasimodo” Sunday.

Tournemire was born in 1870 in Bordeaux and spent most of his life in Paris. He was admitted to César Franck’s organ class at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 17 and won the first prize in organ (their equivalent of graduation) in 1891, shortly after Franck died and Charles-Marie Widor took over the organ class. He didn’t take as well to Widor’s instruction as he did to Franck’s; Widor focused on accurate interpretations of repertoire, particularly that of Bach, while Franck focused largely on improvisation. Tournemire became known as an excellent improviser, and as an experimental composer who would influence the likes of Maurice Duruflé and Olivier Messiaen, greatly. He was a bit of an eccentric recluse who worked at Saint-Clotilde in Paris for most of his life, and died under mysterious circumstances in 1939 (his body was found floating in the Seine a few days after his death).

Sometime in the 1930’s, when recording technology became more widespread, a bunch of the great French organists were asked to play for the microphone. Notably among them were Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, and Tournemire. Widor decided to play his famous Toccata and his Sinfonie-Gothique, while Vierne and Tournemire each decided to improvise. Tournemire lived just after, and was a great proponent of, the revival in Gregorian Chant practices by the monks of the Solesmes Abbey, so many of his organ works were based on plainchant themes. So, for this occasion, Tournemire improvised on three themes: the traditional chants for the Te Deum, the Marian hymn Ave Maris Stella, and the Easter Sequence Victimae paschali laudes. Later, Maurice Duruflé transcribed these improvisations and published the sheet music, and they’ve since become popular pieces in the organ repertoire.

A Sequence is like a hymn in that it’s metrical and strophic, and chanted right before the Gospel in the traditional Mass. When the Catholic Church unified the Mass under the Tridentine Rite in 1570, they abolished most sequences (which tended to differ regionally), leaving only 5: Victimae paschali for Easter, Veni Sancti Spiritus for Pentecost, Lauda Sion salvatorem for Corpus Christi, Dies Irae for Masses for the Dead, and Stabat Mater for Our Lady of Sorrows. Before the liturgical reforms of the mid-20th Century, these sequences would have been familiar to most Catholics.

Tournemire’s “Choral-Improvisation sur le ‘Victimae Paschali’” turned out to be a bombastic, virtuosic fantasy on the theme. Even without a reference, I’m sure you could pick up on what the theme is, though it does exist in our Hymnal 1982 at number 183 (Christians to the Paschal Victim). Below you’ll find a link to a recording of the piece (in Duruflé’s transcription) that I made a few years ago, on the lovely Mander organ at St. Agnes Catholic Church on 43rd Street (next to Grand Central). Unfortunately, the little Noack at All Saints’ isn’t designed for this music!

Tournemire’s magnum opus is L’Orgue Mystique, a set of 51 suites of pieces to be used during the Mass for all Sundays and major feasts of the church year (except the Sundays in Lent, in which the organ was used much more sparingly). For each of these, he wrote a brief introduction to the chanted Introit, slightly longer introductions to the chants for the Offertory and Communion, a very brief passage to be played during the consecration (between the Sanctus and Benedictus, as the Canon of the Mass was being said quietly by the Priest), and a longer piece to be played at the end of Mass, which took several forms. In the case of the suite for Quasimodo Sunday, the final piece is a brilliant (and strange!) Toccata, largely based on the traditional plainchant hymn “Ad regias agni dapes” (At the lamb’s high feast), sung at Vespers for much of Eastertide. Tournemire flexed his creative in many different ways in writing this massive work; you’ll find lots of interesting compositions and uses of the organ if you explore further!

Choral-Improvisation sur le “Victimae Paschali” as performed by James Hopkins at St. Agnes Church: https://soundcloud.com/menschmaschine5/tournemire-victimae-paschali/s-N0JEC5u16AC

Quasimodo suite as performed by Todd Wilson (one of my teachers!) at Chartres Cathedral:
https://open.spotify.com/album/3dHNrbIt3WJax8E4CcK7lH?si=JELB71pNSnmC2p8JMoEPDQ

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 9, 2020              Holy Week & EASTER

 

I wrote plenty about Holy Week last week, so let’s talk Easter! The great outburst of joy that is the most important feast of the church year naturally has lots of music written for it. I’d like to talk about a couple popular pieces.

First is one I mentioned a couple of weeks ago – Bach’s cantata, Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ lay in death’s bands). This may be the first cantata Bach wrote, though it’s numbered Cantata 4, and is based on the chorale by Martin Luther and Johann Walter by the same name.

While Bach worked in Leipzig, he wrote a cantata for every Sunday and major feast of the church year. This presented quite a workload, especially his first couple of years! Every week, he would have to write a cantata, copy out the parts for the performers by hand (he certainly had help with this from family and others, but remember that printers and copy machines didn’t exist in the early 18th Century!), rehearse the cantata, and perform it twice. In Leipzig, Bach was in charge of the music for the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche, and his cantatas would be performed at both (usually at the Tomaskirche in the morning, and at the Nikolaikirche at Vespers in the evening), usually after the sermon. This cantata, however, predates Bach’s tenure in Leipzig; it was written in 1707, while he lived in Mühlhausen, possibly as part of a job application. He did perform it twice in Leipzig, and it’s the only extant cantata for Easter Day by Bach.

The cantata is in eight movements; an instrumental “Sinfonia” at the beginning, and each following movement setting the seven verses of the chorale. These settings range from a spritely chorus with the chorale tune sung slowly by the sopranos while the other four voices jump around, to a simple four-part recitation of the chorale as the last verse. In between, we have two vocal duets, two solo arias, and an odd chorus which resembles a fugue. I find this cantata to be one of Bach’s most accessible, and certainly very exciting, and a great example of a joyous piece in a minor key!

Perhaps more famous is the finale to “Part the Second” of George Friederich Handel’s “The Messiah,” popularly known as the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Handel and Bach were born the same year (1685) and both from modern-day Germany. However, while Bach remained in Germany his whole life, Handel moved to London in 1712, and became known as a composer of opera, though by the 1730’s the English taste for opera was waning, and the scene became less profitable. Handel gradually shifted to writing oratorios (which were similar to operas, but not meant to be staged and therefore cheaper to put on), which proved popular, especially since the librettos were written in English rather than Italian, as his opera librettos  were. The most popular of his oratorios, The Messiah was premiered in Dublin (unexpectedly) on April 13, 1742, and has the unique distinction of having been performed every year since then. I’m sure many of us have been to a performance or two of The Messiah, which are most common around Christmas!

The Messiah is interesting in that it doesn’t have any characters or roles to play; the libretto is entirely excerpts from scripture, and largely acts as a meditation on three phases of Jesus’s life: the Nativity (in Part the First), the Crucifixion and Resurrection (in Part the Second), and the so-called “second coming” (in Part the Third). It doesn’t even really tell a story, and the libretto could be criticized for being incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t know the story it tells. “Hallelujah” is the only meditation on the resurrection, and acts as an outburst of joy, with its repetition of the word (you guessed it…) “Hallelujah.” The entire text is simply “Hallelujah! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. And he shall reign for ever and ever. King of kings and Lord of Lords!” There’s an odd tradition of standing during the chorus; supposedly, King George II stood up during its London premiere in 1743, which would mean that everyone else in the hall had to stand up. This story is very apocryphal, though; there’s no evidence that the King was even there! The other odd tradition is a significant portion of the audience leaving after the Hallelujah Chorus. Don’t do that! Part the Third isn’t terribly long, and it’s very good.

There’s plenty of other music. I’ll provide links to some other favorites below, but I don’t want to write for too long!

BWV 4 (first 8 tracks on the album) as performed by Bach Collegium Japan: https://open.spotify.com/album/39LA98a6P2XyKZPaVeqZcp?si=62Ko79MKQtKAIxjcE7MYtg

Hallelujah Chorus, as performed by Apollo’s Fire: https://open.spotify.com/track/5vTXB5gcEktFRkMSFlS2Th?si=Mg95UIoUQ96HzUWjvzxhFw

Dum Transisset Sabbatum by John Taverner, as performed by Alamire: https://open.spotify.com/track/7cUUesHPWmrjmpAmdeOpEs?si=_dQ5QN8HR9SIevQfgUwYrw

Rise up my love by Healey Willan, as performed by Jesus College, Cambridge: https://open.spotify.com/track/7c2qALrh7FHbqYD1R7fD01?si=DXvznS8SRy2obovQ_Erjng

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

April 3, 2020              Lent & Holy Week

 

As we move deeper into Lent and into Holy Week, I’m forced to write about some of my favorite music of the church year rather than perform it. So, I’m taking this opportunity to just write about whatever I want!

The choir and I are working on putting together a video of them singing Felice Anerio’s “Christus factus est” for all of you! This would have been sung this coming Sunday (Palm Sunday) if all were normal. The text for this piece is taken from Philippians 2: “Christ became obedient for us unto death, even death upon the cross. Therefore God exalted him and gave Him a name which is above all names.” Traditionally, this is sung at the liturgy on Maundy Thursday, and at each of the liturgies for Tenebrae. The main thing to listen for is the shift into a triple meter at “Propter quod et Deus” – moving from death and obedience to triumph.

Speaking of Tenebrae, much music exists for these services, some of which is very well-known, but it’s a service that’s rarely done in its entirety. Pieces as well-known as Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere” come from this tradition, in addition to somewhat lesser-known works such as François Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres and Carlo Gesualdo’s stunning settings of the responsories. Tenebrae actually describes a type of service rather than a specific one; it can refer to the entire Divine Office of the Sacred Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), though it’s most often used to refer to Matins and Lauds for those days. Supposedly, these offices have retained a very ancient form of the Divine Office.

Each of the pieces I listed above sets a different part of the liturgy. Matins consists of three parts called Nocturns, each including three portions of psalms and three readings (for each day, the readings for the first nocturn are portions of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the second are from a treatise on the psalms by St. Augustine, and the third are from one of the epistles). Lauds follows immediately with 5 portions of psalms, the Benedictus Dominus (Blessed be the Lord God of Israel), a recitation of Psalm 51, and a collect. At some point, a rather dramatic tradition arose: a triangular “hearse” with 15 candles is placed next to the altar, and one candle is extinguished during each psalm. At the end, the remaining lit candle (the one in the center) is carried out of the church, a great noise is created, and the candle is carried back in. These liturgies, Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday in particular, are quite long, though, which is why they’re not fully done much.

Allegri’s (c.1582-1652) famous “Miserere” sets Psalm 51, which is said at the end of each office. The work has become legendary over the years; Allegri himself was a singer at the Sistine Chapel, and the “Miserere” was associated with the Sistine Chapel for a long time. As legend has it, taking the part-books for the piece out of the Sistine Chapel was forbidden, punishable by excommunication, and it remained only at the Chapel until a young Mozart heard it. Supposedly, Mozart transcribed the piece from memory and was congratulated by The Pope for doing so. This probably isn’t quite how it happened, but it’s a good story!

The “Miserere” is a fauxbourdon. That means it alternates between plainchant verses and verses in simply polyphony. This was a common way of setting psalms in the Renaissance and later, and some choirs likely improvised them as well. The way it has been immortalized is strange – with some ornamentation written in (when the Sistine Chapel singers probably would have improvised their own ornamentation), and with the famous “high C” in the second chorus section, which was not part of the original piece, but was due to a mistake when an excerpt from the piece was published in the first Grove Dictionary of Music in the late 19th Century, which inadvertently combined two editions of the piece in two different keys. I encourage you all to listen to two recordings of it: one in the (incorrect) version everybody knows, recorded by the excellent British choir, Tenebrae, and another in more of an improvisatory, free-form style (and probably closer to how it would have been heard in the Sistine Chapel) by French early music ensemble, Le Poème Harmonique. Spotify links will be shared below, as well as an informative video about the piece.

François Couperin (1668-1733) was one of the greatest composers late in what is known as the French Classical Era (or French Baroque, whichever you prefer, though it’s worth noting that the word “baroque” was a derogatory term the French used to describe Italian music of the era), and was famed for introducing conventions from Italian music in his own music. His Leçons de Ténèbres were written for Holy Week, 1714, for the Royal Abbey at Longchamp. It’s scored for two high voices (most often sopranos) and basso continuo (most often played today with viola da gamba and organ), and features a florid, heavily ornamented, and (dare I say) Italianate vocal style. It sets the readings for the first Nocturn of Matins on the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae, from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. One distinctive element of these readings is that each section begins with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet, which Couperin sets with a long melisma. Unfortunately, this is the only section of the Tenebrae lessons we have; though Couperin wrote settings of the other lessons for all three days, they have been lost. Le Poème Harmonique has an excellent recording of the work.

The Matins Responsories are also commonly set to music, and we’ve heard some settings of various responsories at All Saints’. The responsories are short call-and-response texts recited after each lesson during Matins, with part of it repeated. Though many settings of these responsories exist, I want to talk about the one