NOTES FROM JAMES HOPKINS, MUSIC DIRECTOR

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 ones by Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613). Gesualdo is known for his strange harmonic progressions and weird voice leading (though not as strange for the time as some think), and for being a weirdo in general. He was a Prince of Venosa and is famed for brutally murdering his wife and a man he found in bed with her, as well as for some strange sexual proclivities. The former probably isn’t all that weird given his nobility and the climate of the time, the latter just rumors. However, he did write some very interesting music in the last days of what would become known as the old style (before the more text driven “monody” which would grow into the Italian baroque style took over).

Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories are probably the most “avant-garde” of his compositions (though the concept of avant-garde didn’t exist at the time), and many are quite stunning. One of my personal favorites is “Tristis anima mea,” the second responsory for Maundy Thursday Tenebrae. In total, they add up to a couple hours of music, so peruse at your leisure! The Collegium Vocale Ghent under Philippe Herreweghe has a good recording of the whole thing. Both Tenebrae and Graindelavoix will release recordings of parts of it soon.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading about and listening to these pieces!

“Falsobordone, the Miserere of Allegri, and a most bizarre muscological error” by Elam Rotem/Early Music Sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9y5N13un9s

Allegri’s “Miserere” performed by Tenebrae: https://open.spotify.com/track/2ED1VZ53iRImo252U2PEsu?si=MCto-D5JRFSQQNZUzuFhnA

Allegri’s “Miserere” performed by Le Poème Harmonique (in 5 tracks): https://open.spotify.com/track/2nP3NvMVHlvaJkW2kWkXff?si=2SK8U1uKT_K0yPWfde2j5w

Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres performed by Le Poème Harmonique (first track): https://open.spotify.com/track/4AKpOXW72qeLIOeebVBB7O?si=rc5001OGQuWRrlPwEKWiVA

Collegium Vocale Ghent performing Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responses: https://open.spotify.com/album/240KFAmaFugwJVwPeJANo1?si=osluas-JScye_WQPw5-4xA

 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

March 26th, 2020              Bach's Birthday and Lent

 

 

Happy birthday, Bach!

Sadly, we’re not hearing the excellent music written for this latter part of Lent (and Easter) this year. At least not live and in church, anyway, but hopefully we’ll be back together before too long. Meanwhile, I’ll write a little bit each week about varying topics.

We’ve missed the bulk of Lent. You got my notes for Lent III a couple of weeks ago, but sadly that music wasn’t performed at All Saint’s on that Sunday. This past Sunday, Lent IV, is traditionally understood as a slight relaxation of the penitence of Lent (symbolized by many churches in the change from violet vestments to rose). The musical theme would have shifted toward comfort, as the theme of the traditional propers of the day. From Lent V on, we’re in “deep Lent;” Lent V used to be known as Passion Sunday, with the period between it and Easter known as Passiontide; the music written for this period shifted to deeply penitential and pleading. As I write this, it is the Feast of the Annunciation (on March 25), exactly 9 months before Christmas, commemorating the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will bear Jesus. Though time seems to have been put on hold for all of us during the current pandemic, the liturgical year marches on!

However, I’d like to talk about a different date coming up: the birthday of one of the greatest composers in history! Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685 (under the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time) in Eisenach in what was then the Duchy of Saxe-Eisenach and which is now a town in the modern-day region of Thuringia in Germany. Under the Gregorian calendar, which we use today, Bach’s birthday would have been March 31st. When he was just 10 years old, Bach’s parents died and he moved in with his eldest brother, Johann Christoph, who was an organist in a nearby town. He grew up in a musical family; his father and all of his uncles were musicians, and he studied music early on, becoming known as a great violinist, harpsichordist, and organist. His career had many stages as a court musician and a church musician, but he is most well-known for directing all the sacred music for the town of Leipzig for the last 27 years of his life. He lived in a very Lutheran area, and was himself a devout Lutheran.

Bach’s reputation now is due in part to his excellent compositional technique, studied by many composers who followed him, including the great Beethoven and Mozart. The other part of it was due to historical accident; the field of musicology was invented in the late 19th Century by Germans, and in a newly unified and very nationalistic Germany, German-speaking composers were put at the forefront of the new historical narratives of music. Bach’s music began making a resurgence before then, though, under the baton of early-mid 19th Century musician Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Mendelssohn directed a famous performance of Bach’s oratorio, Matthäus-Passion (known in English as the St. Matthew Passion), which was the very first performance of the work outside of Leipzig.

It may come as a surprise that Bach wasn’t as well-regarded as a composer during his lifetime as he is now. Though his technique was certainly undeniable, his style was thought to be too old-fashioned, especially at the end of his life when the simpler, more elegant styles which formed the beginning of what is now known as the Classical Period (exemplified by Haydn and Mozart) came in vogue. His children were considerably more famous, particularly his second son (well, second who survived to adulthood), Carl Phillip Emmanuel, who spent much of his career as a court musician for Frederick the Great. The elder Bach was better known as an organ virtuoso and as a bit of a crank.

Of course, during Bach’s lifetime, the modern concept of an artistic legacy didn’t exist, and performances of older music were rare. Any composer who worked before the mid-19th Century would be shocked to learn that their music was still being performed today! But Bach remains one of the most performed composers, and this time of year is a major time for performances of Bach (well, most years; unfortunately, as we all know, all live music is canceled throughout the world until further notice). His organ music often makes up a great deal of what I play in church, and especially so in Lent, when some of his great Lenten chorale preludes make an appearance. I’m especially sad that his great chorale prelude on “Aus Tiefer not, schrei ich zu dir” (out of the depths I cry to thee) and the three-part prelude on “O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig” (O spotless Lamb of God) from the “Great 18” preludes won’t be played this year.

Performances of the two settings of Bach’s passions are common in the latter part of Lent. The Johannes-Passion (St. John Passion) and the aforementioned Matthäus-Passion each set texts from the passion narratives of John and Matthew, respectively, along with arias setting further meditations on the events of the passion. Though you can’t hear them live, many excellent recordings are within easy reach on Spotify, Apple Music, and other platforms! Set aside some time to listen to them, though; the St. John Passion is about 2 hours long, and the St. Matthew is about 3 hours! Both are excellent pieces, and deeply moving, and well worth listening to on occasion (especially if you’ve never heard them!). Then, on Easter, have a listen to something a bit jollier; Bach’s great Easter Cantata, Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ Jesus lay in death’s bands), which may be the earliest cantata by Bach that we have, and is a great piece in itself (it’s only 20 minutes long in total!). It’s also a great example of a joyful piece in a minor key.

I look forward to when we can all meet again! Until then, I’ll try to find something to write about each week. Stay healthy, everyone!

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, March 15, The Third Sunday in Lent

Prelude: Prelude – Robert Pegg (b. 1988)


Offertory Anthem: Purge me, O Lord, from all my sin – Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)
Communion Anthem: Domine, non sum dignus – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)
Postlude: Vivace from Sonata in C Minor – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)


The two pieces of organ music being played on Sunday seem to have little in common, but both are trios of a sort. One is a slow and very dark serialist piece written by a young composer based in the Philadelphia area. Robert Pegg was a classmate of mine in college and is currently finishing up a Doctorate in Composition at Temple University. 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 Bach, on the other hand, is very active, with themes that seem to snake around. This Vivace is the first movement of Bach’s Sonata in C Minor, part of a set often called the “trio sonatas” because they are written for one voice each on two manuals (keyboards) and pedal, calling to mind the trio sonata genre of chamber music (which generally involves two treble instruments like violins, and basso continuo). As I’ve mentioned before, these pieces were written as exercise for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, who became a famous keyboard virtuoso and an alcoholic (and these sonatas might take credit for both things!).


The choral music for Sunday was written in the same time period, but in very different places. We can see a great deal of contrast between Tallis’s English-Language motets and the more florid polyphony of the continent. “Purge me, O Lord, from all my sin” is much like some of Tallis’s better known motets like “If ye love me,” and indeed, many English motets from the Reformation era; it is a plain recitation of the text, with a repeated section at the end. Of course, as we know from his florid Latin motets, Tallis was capable of more complex music. His 40 voice motet, “Spem in alium,” remains one of the great triumphs of Renaissance polyphony.


Victoria, on the other hand worked in Rome and Spain, and became one of the foremost composers of the Counter-Reformation. His “Domine, non sum dignus” sets a text said at every Catholic Mass immediately before the faithful take Communion, which translates to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul will be healed.” This text is an adaptation of the words of the Centurion from the 8th Chapter of Matthew, when he begged Jesus to heal his servant.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, March 8, The Second Sunday in Lent

 

 

Prelude: O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: Call to remembrance – Richard Farrant (c. 1525-1580)
Communion Anthem: God so loved the world from The Crucifixion – John Stainer (1840-1901)
Postlude: Mit Sanften Stimmen from Six Fugues on BACH – Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Lent continues! We may have an earlier-than-usual morning on Sunday (remember to set your clocks forward on Saturday night, by the way!), but we’ll hear some much-loved music.

The simpler of Bach’s organ settings of “O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig,” the chorale prelude from the Orgelbüchlein (“little organ book”) presents the chorale melody in a canon between the pedal and a middle voice in the manuals, with a lilting accompaniment. The chorale tune is a “Lutheran-ized” version of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), with extra emphasis on our Lord’s passion. Bach illustrates the anguish mentioned in the chorale text quite well in another organ setting of the chorale, which we’ll hear later this Lenten season! This one, however, is relatively plain, in keeping with the shorter format used in the Orgelbüchlein preludes.

Like “Lord for thy tender mercy’s sake” which we heard last Sunday, the authorship of “Call to remembrance” is also disputed. It’s most often attributed to Richard Farrant, though some believe that John Hilton the elder may have written it. This simple, austere piece sets the text of the traditional Introit for the second Sunday of Lent, taken from Psalm 25. Though it begins with simple imitative counterpoint, it quickly moves into homophony (in which all voices move at the same time).

For much of the 20th Century, performances of John Stainer’s oratorio, The Crucifixion: A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer were very common during Lent. The work, as with many pieces of music associated with Victorian “camp,” has gone out of style and performances of the entire work are now rare. It was first performed in 1887 on the day after Ash Wednesday, and has been much criticized as trite; even Stainer himself said the work was “rubbish”. However, regardless of one’s feelings about the Oratorio as a whole, the Chorus based on John 3:16-17 (part of Sunday’s Gospel reading) has remained a much-loved piece of music, and one which I think has musical merit, dramatically rendering one of the most well-known passages from The Bible. Though his music is not performed much today, Stainer was a popular composer during his lifetime. He notably served as organist at Magdalen College, Oxford and later St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, before poor eyesight forced him to retire to become a music professor at Oxford.

Two weeks ago, we heard a Canon written for pedal piano by Schumann. The great composer and critic’s explorations of that odd instrument, and concurrent studies of counterpoint, led him to write six fugues on the name of the great Johann Sebastian Bach, possibly with the organ, rather than the pedal piano, in mind. These fugues range from sweeping epics, to aggressive, jagged pieces, to lighthearted scherzos, to austere, restrained pieces like the one we’ll hear on Sunday. The name BACH is spelled out musically with the notes B-flat (known in the German-speaking world simply as B), A, C, and B-natural (known in the German-speaking world as h). This happens to create an interesting and mysterious musical motive, which many composers have explored. This particular fugue, in G Minor, creates a bit of a relaxation of the mood created by the much more active other fugues in the set.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, February 23rd, The Last Sunday After Epiphany

 

 

Prelude: Canon in B Major – Robert Schumann (1810-1856)


Offertory Anthem: O nata lux – Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1685)


Communion Anthem: Christus Jesus splendor – Luca Marenzio (c. 1553-1599)


Postlude: Praeludium in E Minor – Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697)

This week is our last chance for musical exuberance (and to sing or say Alleluia) until Easter! Lent begins on Wednesday, and the tone, both liturgically and musically, will turn a bit more penitential. So, we have a few exciting treats in store today, particularly appropriate for the Transfiguration-themed readings.

Most people familiar with classical music have probably heard of Robert Schumann. Though he began his career as a pianist, a hand injury caused him to turn primarily to teaching, composing, and criticism. His journal, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which he started after a severe depressive episode, became very influential both for its promotion of older music (such as that of Mozart and Beethoven) and for its advocacy for contemporary composers (such as Brahms and Chopin). In the 1840’s, after Schumann finally gained approval to marry Clara Wieck, he purchased a pedal piano (that is, a piano with an organ pedalboard) and studied counterpoint intensely, perhaps to stave off signs of mental illness. He wrote two sets of pieces for this odd instrument, one of which is a set of 6 canons (i.e. a piece in which one voice imitates another). The Canon in B Major is the last in the set, and rather slow and delicate. These pieces are most often played on the organ nowadays, since pedal pianos are exceedingly rare.

We’ve talked about the conflict between the Catholic and Protestant musical styles in Tallis and Byrd’s writings before, and “O nata lux”, being in Latin, must have been for Catholic services. However, despite being in 5 voices, it’s a  bit simpler than one would expect, with little melismatic motion, and mostly homophonic (that is, all voices move at the same time). The text comes from the office hymn for Lauds on the Feast of the Transfiguration (which is actually on August 6th rather than this Sunday, but the readings used on Sunday are those for the Transfiguration).

Luca Marenzio is mostly known for his extensive repertoire of secular madrigals, but did write a fair bit of sacred music. He spent much of his life working in Rome, first under the patronage of a few Cardinals, then as a freelancer. His renown as a madrigalist was widespread, even reaching England and prompting the great English madrigalist, John Dowland, to travel to Florence in the hopes of studying with him (it’s unclear if that ever wound up happening). Christus Jesus Splendor is a spritely four voice motet with a text relating to the Transfiguration.

Finally, before I have to play almost exclusively quiet things between Ash Wednesday and Easter, the organ will go out with a bang. Bruhns’s great “Praeludium in E Minor” might be the apotheosis of the North German “Stilus Phantasticus” as it relates to the organ, with tons of virtuosic flourishes, jarring transitions, and odd rhythmic figures. This masterpiece of subverting expectations ends with a thrilling, and disorienting, fugue after traveling through a roller coaster of different musical ideas. Though not much of his music survives, Bruhns can certainly be considered a master organist and composer.

 

 

 


 

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, March 1st, The First Sunday in Lent

 

Prelude: Ich ruf zu dir – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake – attr. Richard Farrant (c. 1525-1580)
Communion Anthem: Almighty and everlasting God – Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656)
Postlude: O Mensch bewein dein Sünde Groβ – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

It’s Lent! That means the tone of all music done in services is now more introspective, more penitent, and more restrained. As I’m sure we all know, it is custom in western Christianity to suppress the use of the Christian outburst of joy, “alleluia,” during this season. Similarly, the song of praise known as the “Gloria in excelsis” (Glory to God in the highest) is not said or sung on Sundays, though it is not suppressed during the season (it is still customarily sung on feast days, such as the Annunciation, and even Maundy Thursday). It has been the custom in the west to lessen the use of instruments in the church as well on Sundays and weekdays in Lent. In the Roman Catholic Church, instruments are only to be used at Mass to support the singing; traveling music is not to be played, and some musicians interpret that as suppressing voluntaries (though since those aren’t properly during Mass, some people claim leeway there). My own use of the organ will be more restrained during this season, but I will still use it! We will also go back to doing plainchant psalms rather than the Anglican Chant we do much of the year (except on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which is traditionally a slight relaxation of the penitence of the season).

The prelude and postlude heard on Sunday are two of the more famous ones from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein. With this collection, Bach set out to write short chorale preludes for the entire church year (though he only finished about a quarter of what he planned). These demonstrated different methods for introducing chorales for congregational singing in churches like those Bach worked for, and gave less advanced organists practice using the pedals. The chorales these preludes are based on are not heard much in churches nowadays (though “Ich ruf zu dir” is number 634 in our hymnal, I can’t say I’ve ever sung or played it in any church), but they have become well-loved organ pieces. “O Mensch bewein,” in particular, has become famous for its ravishing harmonies and moments of jarring dissonance – just wait for a surprise at the end!

The authorship of “O Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake” is disputed. It’s often attributed to John Hilton and Thomas Tallis, though Richard Farrant is its most common attribution. Nonetheless, it was written sometime during the late 16th Century in England, with a text from “Lidley’s Prayers”, a section from Henry Bull’s Christian Praiers and Holy Meditacions from 1570 (no one really knows who Lidley was; it’s possible it was a misprint). The setting of the prayer has become a much loved work, especially appropriate for Lent in its theme of forgiving and turning away from sin. Musically, its simple text setting and minimal use of imitative counterpoint is a good example of the restrained style of the English reformation, in which clarity of text was of utmost importance.

Thomas Tomkins was most active in the 17th Century, and his later music is free from the restraints on church music described above. Tomkins died just a decade after the upheaval which led to the execution (or, some would say martyrdom) of Archbishop William Laud and King Charles I, which led to the preservation of Episcopal polity in the English church (and, consequently, the later Anglican Communion) and the eventual defeat of the Puritan movement in the church. These events planted the seeds of the high church movement in the English Church. But what does this all have to do with music? Well, one can clearly see a more florid style in Tomkins’s later works, of which “Almighty and everlasting God” is one. This is exactly the style which the early reformed English composers would have avoided. “Almighty and everlasting God” is from the collection, Musica Deo Sacra, which was posthumously published in 1668. The motet is full of florid, often very weird, counterpoint. The text set is the collect for Ash Wednesday, traditionally repeated throughout Lent.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, February 16th, Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

 

Prelude: Choral prelude on “Why does azure deck the sky” – C.V. Stanford (1852-1924)
Offertory Anthem: Benedictus es Domine – Orlande de Lassus (c. 1532-1594)
Communion Anthem: If ye love me – Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)
Postlude: Plein-Jeu from Suite du Premiére Ton – Louis-Nicholas Clérambault (1676-1749)

 

Charles Villiers Stanford and Hubert Parry both began a sort of renaissance in English music. 

Famously derided by late-19th Century German musicologists as “Das Land ohne Musik” (the land without music), England, indeed, has a dearth of composers whose works have entered the canon from between the death of Henry Purcell in 1695 and the flourishing of Edward Elgar in the 1880s. This is somewhat unjust; we’ve heard some lovely pieces by Thomas Attwood here, and Henry Smart and S.S. Wesley were holding it down in the 19th Century.

Stanford is best known for his sacred music and as a teacher. He taught many great composers at the University of Cambridge, including Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Frank Bridge, and Herbert Howells. The work we’ll hear Sunday is one of the pieces written in memory of his slightly older contemporary, Hubert Parry, in the collection published in Parry’s honor in the 1920’s. It’s an introspective rendition of a tune associated with a poem by Thomas Moore.

Both Lassus and Tallis worked as composers of sacred music in a tumultuous time for the church. Tallis was most active in the decades following the English Reformation, when the views of the English church, as well as its musical requirements, changed regularly. Lassus worked in firmly Catholic areas of the continent, but became one of the key composers working during the Counter-Reformation, which culminated with the Council of Trent and the consolidation of the Roman Rite, with its countless regional variants, into a single Missal and Breviary (the 1570 Missale Romanum and Breviarum Romanum, commonly called the “Tridentine Rite”). “Benedictus est Domine” sets the Offertory appointed for Quinquagesima Sunday, which has remained in the newer calendar (which abolished the pre-Lenten season). The Counter-Reformation did mandate clear declamation of text, though not to the extent mandated by the English Reformation. The text set in this motet is two verses of Psalm 119: “Blessed are you, O Lord: teach me  your statutes. With my lips I have pronounced all the judgements of your mouth.”

“If ye love me” remains one of Tallis’s most beloved motets, and one of the most beloved pieces of Tudor-era church music in general. This is clearly a somewhat reformed Tallis (made clear by the fact that it’s in English), but the austere style adopted in later English sacred music had not yet fully taken hold. Tallis himself was probably Catholic, but proved to be an effective musical chameleon, equally at home writing simple psalm tones and florid works of polyphony such as his famous 40-voice Latin motet, “Spem in alium”.

Speaking of music underapreciated by the largely German-imposed canon of Western music, a robust musical tradition existed in France during what is now known as the baroque era which largely fell under the radar until recently. Louis-Nicolaus Clérambault pioneered the French Cantata genre, which, unlike Bach’s largely sacred cantatas, were mostly secular, often about classical Greek stories. Clérambault was also an organist, serving for most of his career at Saint-Sulpice in Paris, and a single book of organ music survives today, consisting of two suites, on the first and second church modes (dorian and hypodorian). The “Plein-Jeu”, which describes the registration to be used when performing the piece, begins the Suite on the first mode in an imposing fashion.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, February 9th, Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

 

Prelude: Lento from Sonata in G Major BWV 530 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: Draw us in the Spirit’s tether – Harold Friedell (1905-1958)
Communion Anthem: Deliver us, O Lord our God – Adrian Batten (c. 1590-1637)
Postlude: Passacaglia in D Minor – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)

This Sunday, the organ will revisit Bach’s “trio” sonatas, and we’ll hear another ground bass by Buxtehude. Though the trio  sonata itself is in G Major, the second (and slow) movement which we’ll hear Sunday is in E Minor, the relative minor key of G Major, and starts with a rising, ornamented line which may sound familiar to anyone who knows Bach’s masterwork, the St. Matthew Passion. The slow movements of Bach’s trio sonatas tend to be explorations in ornamentation, and this one especially evokes violins very well. A trio sonata is a piece for two melody instruments (violins, oboes, or the like) and basso continuo (a harpsichord, organ, and/or lute, with or without a cello and/or bassoon). The genre was popular in the late 17th and 18th centuries and is probably best exemplified in the trio sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. Bach’s organ sonatas are given the nickname because they are similar in texture, with two melody lines, each on a different manual (or keyboard) of the organ, accompanied by the pedal. Bach’s organ sonatas were collected in the late 1720’s, likely as exercises for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, who was a renowned keyboard virtuoso in his own right.

Harold Friedell has something in common with many of us: he was a New Yorker (and a native one, at that, born in Jamaica, Queens)! He spent his entire life in New York City and became a fixture of the local church music scene by the late 1920’s, while he was a student at Juilliard. He would later go on to teach at both Juilliard and Union Seminary, become heavily involved with the NYC chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and was, most famously, the Organist and Choirmaster at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue at the end of his career after he spent some time at Calvary Church in Gramercy. In fact, if you look next to the door leading to the organ console at St. Bart’s, you’ll find a plaque with his name on it. Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, published in 1957, is his most famous composition; it’s strophic, almost like a hymn (in fact, its melody has become a hymn tune called Union Seminary) and is known for its soaring melody.

Adrian Batten lived when English choral music became very different from the music being composed in Continental Europe. Batten’s style is mostly homophonic (that is, each voice moves at the same time) and with clarity of text prioritized above all else. The text comes from Psalm 106, which is very similar to the collect for Sunday.

The Passacaglia is similar to the Chaconne; both come from dance forms, and both are variations on a repeating pattern. The distinction between the two is somewhat muddy; chaconnes tend to be variations on a harmonic progression, and passacaglias tend to be variations on a repeating bass line, but those wind up being the same thing in practice. This Passacaglia in D Minor is similar to the Ciacona in E Minor heard a couple weeks ago, and may have formed part of the inspiration for Bach’s famous Passacaglia in C Minor. Though most of the piece has a constant ground bass, it takes breaks for brief interlude sections.

Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, February 2nd, Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

 

Prelude: Prelude in D Major (from BWV 532) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: Senex puerum portabat – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)


Communion Anthem: Nunc Dimittis from Short Service – Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
Postlude: Fugue in D Major (from BWV 532) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

This Sunday is the Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas, when, traditionally, candles for the year would be blessed. It is also traditionally a Marian feast (known in all previous BCPs as “The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary”), so some of the music and hymns sung on Sunday emphasize Mary.

Though Bach wrote a huge collection of organ music, there is a small handful of his “free” works that have truly become standard repertoire. The Prelude and Fugue in D Major, likely written in 1710 while Bach was the organist at the court in Weimar, is one of them. The Prelude recalls the “stilus phantasticus” of Buxtehude and his ilk with its flashy introduction, consisting of pedal scales and flourishes on the manual. This quickly gives way to a spritely “alla breve” section, brought to an abrupt close when a dissonant, mournful section comes crashing in at the end. You may recognize this section as the music which accompanied the famous baptism scene at the end of the great 1972 film, The Godfather.

Though we have an entire Eucharist to get through to hear the fugue, it is normally a quick transition back to a carefree affect, this time maybe even silly. Bach takes a, frankly, ridiculous fugue subject (I won’t blame you if you burst into laughter upon hearing it!) and turns it into a masterpiece of a fugue.

The choral music heard on Sunday comes from a similar time period, but very different places. Victoria was well steeped in the Catholic Church around the counter-reformation and Council of Trent, while Gibbons knew only the post-reformation English Church. It’s no surprise, then, that their styles are very different. Gibbons exhibits the plain, text-driven style of post-Reformation England, with largely homophonic textures (i.e. all voices move at the same time), each voice singing the same text at the same time, and minimal ornamentation. Victoria, on the other hand, used a much more florid style, with lots of melismas, ornamentation, and in which different parts of the text may be sung at the same time. Senex puerum portabat is the Antiphon to the Magnificat for the first Vespers of Candlemas, and is a meditation on Simeon’s meeting of Jesus: “An old man carried the child, yet the child ruled the old man. Him whom the Virgin had borne – after which she remained a virgin – she herself worshiped.

The Nunc Dimittis is one of the most commonly heard Gospel canticles, which we will hear as part of Sunday’s Gospel reading. Gibbons’s well-known setting comes from the Short Service, which contains pieces for use at Morning Prayer and Holy Communion in addition to this setting, which, together with the Magnificat, was written for Evening Prayer.

Sunday, January 26th: Third Sunday After Epiphany

 

 

Prelude: Elegy – George Thalben-Ball (1896-1987)
Offertory Anthem: Dextera Domini – Orlande de Lassus (c. 1532-1594)
Communion Anthem: Lucis creator optime – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)
Postlude: Ciacona in E Minor – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)

When the renowned English composer Hubert Parry (1848-1918 died, many of his friends and colleagues wrote short organ pieces in his honor for his funeral. A few years later, these pieces were collected and published, with a few others, as A Little Organ Book in Memory of Hubert Parry. The collection contains 13 short, largely introspective, organ works by composers such as Charles Villiers Stanford, Charles Wood and Harold Darke, and includes a beautiful Elegy by George Thalben-Ball. Thalben-Ball was one of the foremost organ virtuosos of the 20th Century, and, though born in Sydney, Australia, spent most of his life in London. He is best known for his excellent work as Organist and Choirmaster at the Temple Church in London, a post he held for 60 years. This elegy is not to be confused with a more famous work of the same title, which was composed somewhat later.

At the offertory and communion, we will again hear from two of the foremost composers of sacred music in the late Renaissance. The setting of “Dextera Domini” by the Franco-Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus is short, playing with a catchy motive first introduced by the tenor at the very beginning. The text set is the traditional offertory verse for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, and comes from Psalm 118: “The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength; the right hand of the Lord has exalted me. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

The traditional Roman office contains office hymns for each feast and season, which are similar to what we now know as a hymn (in fact, some of these office hymns are in our Hymnal – a different tune for Lucis Creator can be found at number 27). Lucis creator optime is the hymn appointed for the office of Vespers on regular Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost (often referred to nowadays as “Ordinary Time”). Like modern hymns, these are strophic, and the setting we will hear from the great Spanish composer, Tomás Luis de Victoria, alternates verses of plainchant with verses of polyphony.

Though Dieterich Buxtehude is best known for his wildly free, virtuosic Praeludiums and Toccatas for organ, he wrote many more regimented pieces. The ciacona, or chaconne, was a common musical form in the baroque period, which consisted of variations on a short harmonic progression, often over a ground bass. Chaconnes are often in triple meter, and probably originated from a dance form. Chaconnes fell out of popularity after the baroque period, but many were written in the late 19th and 20th centuries, perhaps most notably in the Finale to Brahms’s 4th Symphony. Buxtehude’s Ciacona in E Minor sets variations over a very short harmonic progression, and, interestingly, repeats each variation twice, maybe to make sure you didn’t miss it!

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, January 19th: Second Sunday After Epiphany

 

Prelude: Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: O God, who by the leading of a star – Thomas Attwood – (1765-1838)
Communion Anthem: Surge, illuminare – William Byrd (c. 1540-1623)
Postlude: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)

Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar is a typical Orgelbüchlein prelude. The Chorale Theme (found at number 131 in our hymnal) is stated plainly in the top voice, with quick scales going up and down under it. Perhaps illustrating the flight of angels? Of course, the text in our hymnal is not the original text of the Chorale, so the text painting makes a little less sense to us than it might have to Bach’s German speaking congregation.

Though England was derisively referred to as “Das Land ohne Musik” (the land without music) by 19th Century German musicologists, things did happen between the death of Purcell and the height of Elgar’s career (you’ll often hear it said that English music virtually didn’t exist between Purcell and Elgar – don’t listen to them!). Thomas Attwood may be the most prominent “Classical” era English composer. He held prominent posts at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and at the Chapel Royal, and was one of the first professors of the Royal Academy of Music. As a young man, he caught the attention of the Prince of Wales (who would later become King George IV), who sent him to study music in Naples and Vienna. While in Vienna, he became one of Mozart’s favorite students. “O God, who by the leading of a star” sets the collect for the Feast of the Epiphany in the Book of Common Prayer, and one can certainly hear shades of Mozart.

Byrd’s setting of Surge, Illuminare has no obvious liturgical function, and seems to have been written for an odd group of singers (the upper three voices are very close in range, with a bass voice which is much lower). It sets a passage from Isaiah which is often read on Epiphany (nowadays as the first lesson, in Byrd’s day it would have been read at the First Nocturn of Matins), “Arise, shine, for thy light has come”.

 

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (found at 497 in our hymnal) is still a well-known chorale today, and much music based on the tune has been written. If you were around on the Sunday following Christmas Day, you may remember hearing it as the accompaniment for an art song! Buxtehude’s organ setting is an extroverted one for (mostly) manuals only, utilizing a lot of triplet rhythms and sudden changes in mood.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, January 5th: Second Sunday After Christmas

 

Prelude: Prélude sir l'Introit de l'Épiphanie - Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)
Offertory Anthem: In the bleak mid-winter – Harold Darke (1888-1976)
Communion Anthem: Bethlehem Down – Peter Warlock (1894-1930)
Postlude: In dir ist Freude - J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

 

This year is the first of several in which we get two Sundays of Christmas, which means more opportunity to sing Christmas carols! Those will be mixed in with some Epiphany hymns, since Epiphany begins on Monday.

 

Maurice Duruflé wrote very little music; only about a dozen pieces of his survive. He composed slowly and was highly self-critical, but what we do have by him is stunning. Unfortunately, most of his solo organ music (despite being some of my favorite pieces to play) doesn’t work on a baroque-style organ such as the one we have at All Saints’, but the Prélude sur L’Introit de L’Épiphanie is simple enough to, even if we can’t use Duruflé’s specified registration. The work is a brief, and beautiful, exploration of the traditional Introit for the Feast of the Epiphany, and despite being a late work by the composer, is only opus 13!’

 

Christina Rosetti’s poem, “In the bleak midwinter” has become well loved, and two equally popular musical settings have been written: one by Gustave Holst (most famous for his orchestral suite The Planets), and one by Harold Darke. We sang the Holst setting as a carol on Christmas Eve (it’s at 112 in our Hymnal). The Darke is equally beautiful, scored for choir, organ, and soprano and tenor solos.

 

Not all beautiful music came from beautiful circumstances. Peter Warlock (which is a nom de plume for Philip Arnold Heseltine) was a rather singular and unsavory character; he avoided too much formal conservatory training to remain free of the “Teutonic Shadow” (i.e. he didn’t want to become too influenced by German music) and to maintain his personal voice. He became well known as a composer of miniatures and as a writer and critic; he wrote some of the earliest works about Fredrick Delius (whom he befriended at Eton College), for example. He was born to a wealthy family, but his fortune waxed and waned over time. Bethlehem Down was written in 1927 along with poet Bruce Blunt; the two were poorly off financially at the time, and wrote the carol for the annual Christmas Carol Contest run by The Daily Telegraph, planning to use the winnings to fund an “immortal carouse” (i.e. a bout of heavy drinking and debauchery) on Christmas Eve that year. They won the contest, and, presumably, went out and caroused. Despite its origins, Bethlehem Down is a beautiful and much-loved carol, both for Blunt’s stunning poetry and Warlock’s beautiful music.

“In dir ist Freude” is one of the more substantial chorale preludes in the Orgelbüchlein, a collection of chorale preludes for the church year meant both as a demonstration of introducing chorales for congregational singing and as a study in using the organ pedals. Based on a chorale tune not much sung in the Episcopal Church (though it’s well known by our Lutheran brothers and sisters), the piece takes the form of an ecstatic toccata. It’s most recognizable for its repeating pedal figure.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, December 29th: First Sunday After Christmas

 

Prelude: Das alte Jahr vergangen ist – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: O come let us worship – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Communion Anthem: The Three Kings – Peter Cornelius (1824-1874)
Postlude: In dulci jubilo BWV 729 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
 
I hope everyone’s first few days of Christmas have been happy! Christmas will continue on Sunday with more carols and a few solo pieces.
 
Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), as I’ve noted before, was intended as a sort of instructional manual for organists, demonstrating how to simply introduce a chorale for congregational singing, and providing exercise in using the pedals of the organ. Bach intended to set a whole bunch of chorales throughout the church year, but only got maybe a third of the way through this project (there are several pages in the manuscript for chorale preludes he clearly intended to write but never got around to, and a few incomplete snippets of chorale preludes), but what we have is still arranged for the church year. “Das alte Jahr vergangen ist” (The old year is over) is a quiet, melancholy prelude on a New Year’s chorale.
 
Felix Mendelssohn got very good at music very quickly in his short life. It certainly helped that his wealthy parents spared no expense for his education, hiring an orchestra for him to conduct when he was a teenager. Mendelssohn is most noted for reviving interest in the music of J.S. Bach, with a famous performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829. He was born to a Jewish family, but baptized at the age of 7, probably to avoid anti-Semitism. His compositional style was rather conservative for the time, in stark contrast to contemporaries like Hector Berlioz who wrote rather cutting edge music, but he has since been noted as a popular composer of the early Romantic period, and wrote at least one piece that just about anyone would recognize (the Wedding March from his incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream). He wrote a few cantatas based on psalms. “O come let us worship” comes from his 5 movement cantata on Psalm 95, published in 1841.
 
Peter Cornelius is a lesser known German Romantic composer, vaguely part of the orbit of Wagner, Liszt, et al (though sometimes at odds with the philosophies of the “New German School” which they ascribed to). The Three Kings, from his collection of Weinachtslieder (Christmas songs), is his most famous piece, likely made famous by the arrangement for chorus and baritone solo by Ivor Atkins. The original is certainly worth performing, though; it presents a simple, beautiful melody, and the German chorale “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” (How bright appears the morning-star, found at 497 in our hymnal) serves as the accompaniment, bringing its Epiphany theme home.
 
Finally, we’ll hear a simple, flashy arrangement of the German chorale “In dulci jubilo” by J.S. Bach, clearly inspired by Buxtehude, Bruhns, and the other Stilus Phantasticus composers. This work is most famous, likely, for closing the famous Service of 9 Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge every year. The tune it’s based on, known in English as “Good Christian friends rejoice,” may be found at number 107 in our Hymnal, and will be sung as the Recessional Hymn on Sunday.

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Christmas 2019 Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

 

Christmas Eve

Adam lay y’bounden – Boris Ord (1897-1961)
There is no Rose – Anonymous English (15th Century)
Ríu, Ríu, Chíu – attr. Mateo Flecha el Viejo (1481-1553)
Ding dong! Merrily on high – arr. Charles Wood (1866-1926)
Toccata in E Major BWV 566 (Part 1) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Gloria From Missa “O magnum mysterium” – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)
Offertory Anthem:  Sans Day carol – arr. John Rutter (b. 1945)
Communion Anthem: O magnum mysterium – T.L. de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)
Postlude: Toccata in E Major BWV 566 (part 2) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Though Christmas is generally thought of as a day of unbridled joy, composers throughout the ages also saw a great deal of mystery in the day. It’s also worth noting that our modern notion that minor keys are sad and major keys are happy wasn’t necessarily the case hundreds of years ago. We will hear a mix of music on Christmas Eve, from the exuberantly joyful to the beautiful and mysterious – and, of course, sing some beloved Christmas carols on the way!

We’ll begin our prelude music with a piece well-known for its use in English carol services. The poem “Adam lay y’bounden” dates from the 15th Century, and is clearly a song text, but no music from the time is extant. It has, however, been set by many modern composers, and this straightforward setting by Boris Ord is the best known of those settings. Ord was the Choirmaster of the famed King’s College Chapel in Cambridge (which is most famous for popularizing the standard Service of 9 Lessons and Carols for Christmas) from 1929 until 1957, during the rise of the popularity of their famous Carol service. He directed the first overseas radio broadcasts of the service in the 1930’s, and the first televised broadcast in 1954; certainly a formative figure in a service which millions of people tune in to every year (this year it was broadcast internationally at 10:00 am our time on Christmas Eve, with its new director, Daniel Hyde, formerly of St. Thomas’ 5th Avenue). Ord was much more of a conductor than a composer; in fact, this is the only published work that he wrote. The text begins the story of our redemption outlined in Lessons and Carols by describing the fall of man in Genesis 3.

Another 15th Century English poem is next, though this one set to music from the 15th Century. There is no rose is strophic, with a refrain repeated at the beginning and the end (much like the popular Coventry Carol for Holy Innocents’ Day; you know, “Lully lulla thou little tiny child”). The text is mostly an ode to Mary, who was especially important in the medieval English imagination (England was often referred to as “Our Lady’s Dowry” in the medieval period), though through the lens of the incarnation. This text is presented in a beautiful, and haunting, melody.

The famous late medieval/early renaissance Spanish Villancico Ríu, ríu, chíu has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years, mostly at English carol services. This is somewhat odd, given that the text is clearly about the Immaculate Conception (which is the belief that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin rather than the common misconception that it’s about the virgin birth), a belief which only a small subset of Anglicans hold, but its rustic appeal and bouncy melody seem to supersede that. Since December 8 is the day the Immaculate Conception is celebrated by the Catholic Church (and other churches which keep that feast), I took it as a good excuse to present this piece. A Villancico is a simple poetic and musical form which was popular in Spain and Latin America from medieval times until the 17th Century or so, consisting of short verses and a frequently repeated refrain. It’s always in the vernacular (in this case, old Spanish). The phrase “ríu, ríu, chíu” is a bit of wordplay that I won’t get into here, but the text likens original sin to a wolf (“el lobo”). This piece’s authorship is unknown, but it’s most often attributed to Mateo Flecha el Viejo (so named to distinguish him from his nephew, Mateo Flecha el Joven), who was Duke of Calabria at the time it was published.

Finally, we’ll hear a simple setting of a popular carol from 19th Century England. The music for Ding Dong, merrily on high comes from a 16th Century French dance tune written by Jehan Taburot, but it was adapted as a carol to words written by 19th Century poet George Woodward. It has become a beloved Christmas carol, especially in this form harmonized by Charles Wood.

Before the Eucharist starts, the organ will play the first part of Bach’s Toccata in E Major. This is probably an early work by the baroque Master, likely written during Bach’s famous stay in Lübeck, where he traveled over 200 miles on foot to hear Dieterich Buxtehude. It resembles an expanded version of the Praeludia written by Buxtehude, Bruhns, and the like, with two large fugues interspersed with improvisatory, and virtuosic, interludes. Bach also wrote a version transposed to C Major, as many organs of his time would have been tuned in such a way that E Major would sound very discordant. We’ll hear the second half of this work after the Eucharist.

The great Spanish master, Tomás Luis de Victoria, became one of the three most noted composers of the counter-reformation (along with Palestrina and Lassus). Victoria studied and worked in Rome for part of his life, during which time he was ordained a Priest, before returning to Spain to serve as the Empress’s chaplain. He wrote a large body of sacred music, all of which is excellent (in my estimation, he is overshadowed by Palestrina only because the latter was a native son of Italy). O Magnum Mysterium is one of his most famous motets, setting part of the Responsory for the fourth (of 9) lessons at the office of Matins for Christmas Day. It begins mysteriously before erupting into a joyful chorus of Alleluias in triple meter. We will hear the Motet at Communion, and the Gloria from the parody Mass based on the Motet at the beginning of the Eucharist.

At the Offertory, we’ll hear the Sans Day Carol, as arranged by John Rutter. Rutter is one of the most famous, and probably most successful, living composers of sacred music. He is probably second only to David Willcocks in his ubiquity in Christmas concerts and carol services, and is also the founder and director of The Cambridge Singers. His spritely arrangement of the Sans Day Carol is perhaps the best known. The original carol is Cornish in origin, and was first transcribed and published in the 19th Century, though it may be older than that.

Christmas Day

Prelude: Toccata in E Major BWV 566 (Part 1) - J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: Christbaum - Peter Cornelius (1824-1874)
Communion Anthem: Winterwiehe - Richard Strauss (1864-1939)
Postlude: Toccata in E Major BWV 566 (Part 2) - J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Before the Eucharist starts, the organ will play the first part of Bach’s Toccata in E Major. This is probably an early work by the baroque Master, likely written during Bach’s famous stay in Lübeck, where he traveled over 200 miles on foot to hear Dieterich Buxtehude. It resembles an expanded version of the Praeludia written by Buxtehude, Bruhns, and the like, with two large fugues interspersed with improvisatory, and virtuosic, interludes. Bach also wrote a version transposed to C Major, as many organs of his time would have been tuned in such a way that E Major would sound very discordant. We’ll hear the second half of this work after the Eucharist.

Peter Cornelius was a lesser-known 19th Century German composer. He is most famous, ironically, for an arranged version of his song “The Three Kings,” which has become popular in English carol services due to an arrangement for solo baritone and choir by Ivor Atkins. He was vaguely in the musical orbit of Wagner and Liszt, but his relations with the nationalist school of musicology which placed those two composers at the forefront of music were often rocky. Christbaum (Christmas Tree) is the first song in his collection titled Weihnachtslieder (literally, “Christmas Songs” – The Three Kings is part of the same collection), which he wrote at Liszt’s recommendation. He struggled to find a publisher, but the work was praised by the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, the quarterly publication begun by Robert Schumann, in 1871 (though Schumann was dead by then).


Richard Strauss is somewhat more well-known, famous as one of the foremost composers of the “New German School”. In addition to his tone poems and operas, he wrote some beautiful songs, of which Winterwiehe (Winter Dedication) is one.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, December 22nd: ADVENT 4

Prelude: Magnificat primi toni – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)
Offertory Anthem: Dixit Maria – Hans Leo Hassler (c. 1564-1612)
Communion Anthem: Magnificat from Short Service – Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)
Postlude: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen – Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Though the focus in traditional lectionaries is quite different, in modern lectionaries, the Fourth Sunday of Advent focuses on the Holy Family before Jesus’ birth. Some years, it’s almost another celebration of the Annunciation, so I took some liberties and used that as the theme for this Sunday’s music. Of course, we’ll begin with the famous hymn, “O come, o come, Emmanuel,” which is a paraphrase of the 7 “O” Antiphons which are traditionally used as the antiphons to the Magnificat at the office of Vespers on the 7 days leading up to Christmas (December 17-23).

Dieterich Buxtehude’s renown as an organist went far and wide during his lifetime. He exemplified the “Stilus Phantasticus,” the flashy, improvisatory style popular in the North German organ school, characterized by lots of virtuosic flourishes, short sections, and jarring transitions. The great J.S. Bach walked over 200 miles each way to hear and study with the baroque master. The “Magnificat primi toni” (“primi toni” means it’s based on the first church mode, roughly equivalent to what we’d call Dorian) brings this style to an organ paraphrase of the Magnificat. The short sections correspond to couplets of the canticle, illustrating them musically.

Hassler is most noted for bringing the Italianate style of Renaissance polyphony to modern-day Germany. He studied in Venice with Andrea Gabrieli, one of the better known composers of the Venitian school and the uncle of the somewhat more well-known Giovanni Gabrieli. “Dixit Maria” is one of his more famous motets, in two sections: an ecstatic setting of “Dixit Maria ad angelum” (Mary said to the angel), which uses lots of imitative counterpoint, and a more homophonic (that is, all voices move at the same time) section setting “Ecce ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” (“Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word”). The text refers to Mary’s response to the Annunciation, when Gabriel told her she would give birth to Jesus.

By the late 16th Century, the Church of England was well established as independent from the authority of the Pope. The Elizabethan Settlement of 1559 did most of the lifting, and Pope Pius V put the final nail in the coffin by declaring Queen Elizabeth I an illegitimate monarch and excommunicating her subjects in 1570. Weelkes, therefore, was among the earliest composers who knew only the style of church music favored by English Protestants, which placed clear declamation of the text above all else. His Short Service, which sets the canticles for Evensong, makes this plain; there is almost no melismatic movement (that is, when multiple notes happen on one syllable; think of the choruses from Handel’s Messiah for an extreme example), and the four voices, for the most part, move at the same time. Weelkes was not as restrained as his music would suggest, though; he was “noted and famed for a comon drunckard [sic] and notorious swearer and blasphemer” (from a letter reporting him to the Bishop of Chichester, at whose Cathedral he was employed). He was fired from his post at Chichester Cathedral for this behavior, and possibly even for urinating on the Cathedral Dean from the organ loft, but was reinstated weeks later. He is also known for his madrigals and for a small but famous catalog of music for a viol consort.

Not many composers commonly placed in the classical music “canon” wrote a significant amount for the organ. Though Bach certainly did, Mozart and Beethoven wrote next to nothing for the instrument despite being, by all reports, excellent organists themselves. In fact, the organ sort of fell out of favor during the late 18th Century, until about the mid-19th Century. Brahms, however, was interested in the instrument. He wrote a handful of preludes and fugues for the organ when he was young, but nothing after that until the very end of his life. The very last pieces he wrote were eleven chorale preludes for the organ, mostly short, and all absolutely beautiful. His sort of harmonic paraphrase of Praetorious’s famous tune, “Es ist ein Ros” (known in English as Lo, how a rose, which we’ll sing as the last hymn on Sunday), is the best known of the collection.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, December 15th: ADVENT 3

 

Prelude: Es ist das Heil uns kommen her – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)


Offertory Anthem: Never weather-beaten sail – Charles Wood (1866-1926)


Communion Anthem: Rejoice in the Lord alway – Anonymous (16th Century)


Postlude: Magnificat I – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)

This Sunday is commonly called “Gaudete” or “Rose” Sunday. It’s when the pink candle on the Advent Wreath is lit, when the traditional penitence of Advent is lightened a bit, and when, in some churches, you’ll see pink vestments worn instead of the usual blue or purple for Advent. Gaudete means “rejoice,” and is the first word of the traditional Introit for the Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice. The Introit is a sentence from scripture (usually) recited or chanted at the beginning of Mass in some traditions; my perusal of the music library suggests to me that it was our tradition to for the choir to chant the Introit at our Eucharists until the mid-90’s or so.

Dieterich Buxtehude’s chorale preludes aren’t as well-known as Bach’s, but they were clearly influential to Bach. Why else would Bach have taken that 200+ mile journey to and from Lübeck to hear the North German master? Though Buxtehude is often associated with extroverted, flashy “free” organ works, some of his chorale preludes are a bit more subdued. “Es ist das Heil” is a beautiful prelude on a Lutheran chorale tune that’s not sung much these days. The title translates, roughly, to “Salvation has now come for all.”

 

“Never weather-beaten sail” is a famous poem written, and set to music, by Thomas Campion, an English polymath who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries. Campion was a composer, poet, and physician, and was an influential musician, with an influential treatise and tons of lute songs to his name. However, we’re only using his text on Sunday; we’ll be singing a much newer musical setting by Charles Wood. Wood wrote some excellent (and very useful!) sacred music, but he is perhaps most remembered as a teacher. Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Herbert Howells number among his students. His setting of “Never weather-beaten sail” is a bit more wistful than Campion’s original music.

So, back to the subject of that Introit. “Rejoice in the Lord alway”, which will be heard at Communion on Sunday, is a setting of the text of the Introit, and quite a well-known one, at that! However, we don’t know who wrote it. The only source for the piece is the Mulliner Book, a mid-16th Century manuscript which contains some transcriptions of anthems for the organ. It seems the original was lost! It used to be commonly attributed to John Redford, but the text it sets is from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, which was not published until after Redford’s death. Nonetheless, it’s a warhorse, and will be heard in many other churches this Sunday.

Among Dupre’s 15 pieces, improvised during Vespers services for Our Lady at Notre Dame de Paris and later written down for a “Monsieur C.J.” (Claude Johnson, then the head of the Rolls-Royce company), are 4 settings of couplets from the Song of Mary, or Magnificat. This first one, which sets “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoiceth in God my Savior! For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden”, beautifully uses the flute of the organ at the very top of the manuals, with a constant 2 against 3 accompaniment.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, December 8th: ADVENT 2

 

Prelude: Two Chorale Preludes from the Orgelbüchlein - J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
               Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
               Gottes Sohn ist kommen
Offertory Anthem: Ríu, ríu, chíu - attr. Mateo Flecha el Viejo (1481-1553)
Communion Anthem: Audivi vocem - Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) 
Postlude: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme - J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

 

Advent continues! The organ music on Sunday comes from two collection of chorale preludes by Bach. Bach intended the Orgelbüchlein (literally: little organ book) as a teaching tool for organists, both to teach pedal technique and to demonstrate ways of introducing chorales for congregational singing (which, in Bach’s day, would usually have been done with an improvisation, as most chorales would have been very familiar to congregations of the time). The first of the two preludes we’ll hear is a cascading 5 voice commentary on “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland”, which is hymn number 54 in our hymnal (we sang it last Sunday, and heard two other chorale preludes based on it). The second presents the chorale tune in a canon (that is, one voice imitates another) with a spritely accompaniment, perhaps illustrating the barely contained joy at the anticipation both of Christmas and the second coming.

The famous late medieval/early renaissance Spanish Villancico Ríu, ríu, chíu has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years, mostly at English carol services. This is somewhat odd, given that the text is clearly about the Immaculate Conception (which is the belief that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin rather than the common misconception that it’s about the virgin birth), a belief which only a small subset of Anglicans hold, but its rustic appeal and bouncy melody seem to supersede that. Since December 8 is the day the Immaculate Conception is celebrated by the Catholic Church (and other churches which keep that feast), I took it as a good excuse to present this piece. A Villancico is a simple poetic and musical form which was popular in Spain and Latin America from medieval times until the 17th Century or so, consisting of short verses and a frequently repeated refrain. It’s always in the vernacular (in this case, old Spanish). The phrase “ríu, ríu, chíu” is a bit of wordplay that I won’t get into here, but the text likens original sin to a wolf (“el lobo”). This piece’s authorship is unknown, but it’s most often attributed to Mateo Flecha el Viejo (so named to distinguish him from his nephew, Mateo Flecha el Joven), who was Duke of Calabria at the time it was published.

We’ll also hear from the Catholic side of Thomas Tallis on Sunday. Tallis, as many of us know, was one of the two foremost composers during the Elizabethan era; in fact, William Byrd and he were given the sole rights to publish polyphonic music for 21 years by Queen Elizabeth I. Tallis lived and worked through all kinds of religious upheaval in England, from Henry VIII’s initial conflict with the Pope, to Edward VI’s extreme Protestantism, to Mary I’s restoration of Catholicism, and finally to Elizabeth’s compromise, of sorts. His musical style changed for each regime, from the florid, complex polyphony favored in Catholic circles, to simple, more text-forward music favored by English protestants. The text for Audivi Vocem comes from a responsory (that is, a phrase said after a lesson) for Matins of All Saints Day in the Roman Rite, but I think it’s very appropriate for Advent as well: “I heard a voice coming from heaven: come, all wisest virgins, fill your vessels with oil, for the bridegroom is coming. In the middle of the night there was a cry: behold the bridegroom comes”. As was typical for settings of responsories, some parts of the text are set to plainchant.

Bach’s six ”Schübler” Chorales, named after their publisher, Georg Schübler, transcribed movements from Bach’s cantatas to the organ, and, as a collection, were clearly significant to Bach given the trouble he went through to compile them, especially given that the Cantatas from which the music comes were not published in his lifetime. All six preludes except one are transcriptions of cantata movements that we know, and it’s quite possible that the remaining one comes from a Cantata that was lost (since it’s estimated that we’ve only discovered about half of the music Bach wrote). “Wachet auf” comes from Cantata 140 (Wachet auf! Ruft uns die Stimme). The original, the fourth movement of the Cantata, is scored for tenors (singing the chorale melody), basso continuo, and unison violins and violas (playing a counter melody). In the Cantata, the tenors sing the text of the second verse of the chorale, “Zion hört die Wächter singen” (“Zion hears the watchmen singing”). The chorale is hymn 61 in our hymnal (translated into English, of course!), which we’ll sing at the Offertory on Sunday.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, December 1st

 

Prelude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 659 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: E’en so Lord Jesus quickly come – Paul Manz (1919-2009)
Communion Anthem: Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes – Thomas Attwood (1765-1838)
Postlude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 661 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

It’s Advent, and the beginning of a new church year! Advent is my favorite liturgical season – there’s so much good music, and especially so many good hymns, written for the season, that I almost don’t want Christmas to come! We’ll sing one of my favorites on Sunday – “Lo he comes with clouds descending” to Helmsley.

The organ music this Sunday consists of two of Bach’s preludes on Luther’s chorale, “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” from the “Great 18” or “Leipzig” collection. There are three preludes in this collection, which was published while Bach was in Leipzig (though probably collected from earlier works), hence one of its nicknames. The chorale tune, which we will sing as the sequence hymn on Sunday, is an adaptation of an Ambrosian plainchant hymn, “Veni redemptor gentium.” Many of Luther’s chorales were adaptations of plainchant (and others were original; claims that he adapted drinking songs are spurious). Bach treats the chorale tune in two very different ways; the first has the chorale tune ornamented in a solo voice, over a mysterious accompaniment. The second is a fiery toccata, with the chorale tune played plainly in the pedal.

Borrowing more from the Lutheran tradition, albeit much more recent, we will hear one of the gems of 20th Century choral repertoire. Paul Manz was an extremely prominent organist and composer, and spent most of his life and career in Minnesota, teaching at Concordia College in Saint Paul and serving as Cantor (Music Director, rather than the Catholic definition of Cantor) at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. He drafted “E’en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come” while his three-year-old son was critically ill, almost as a plea (his son did eventually recover). The text was adapted from Revelation by his wife, Ruth. This dramatic work was popularized by none other than the choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge (and later by King’s), and has become standard repertoire throughout the English-speaking world. This will also be heard just over a month after the 10th anniversary of the composer’s death, and during the 100th anniversary year of his birth.

Returning to the Anglican world, we will hear a motet by Thomas Attwood. Attwood was a skilled harpsichordist and organist from a young age, to the point that King George IV (who was, at that time, merely the Prince of Wales) paid for him to study abroad, first in Naples, and later in Vienna (where he became one of Mozart’s favorite students!). Upon his return to England, he took up posts at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Chapel Royal, and was later one of the first professors at the Royal Academy of Music. His “Teach me, O Lord”, published in 1797, is fairly simple, showcasing the restrained style in favor in England at the time, but does show some influence from Mozart.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, November 24

Prelude: Introduction, Grave and Fugue from Concerto in D Minor (After Vivaldi) – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: O God, the King of glory – Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Communion Anthem: Benedic anima mea – Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1495-1562)
Postlude: Praeludium in G Major – Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697)

Though Christ the King is a major festival of the church year, ending the year with a bang, as it were (after all, a new church year begins next Sunday with the First Sunday of Advent), there isn’t much music written specifically for it. It’s a relatively new feast; first instituted in the Catholic Church in 1925 and spread to other Western Churches in the 1970’s (though, of course, some very high-up-the-candle Anglo-Catholics celebrated it before then). However, since it shares themes with the Feast of the Ascension, we’ll hear choral music from the wealth of repertoire written for the Ascension.

Though one of the greats in western art music, Bach was, as all artists were, influenced by the music around him. He particularly admired the music of Antonio Vivaldi, a Venetian composer most well-known for the many concertos he wrote, and most remembered today for his collection of four concertos known as The Four Seasons. Bach loved studying scores, and frequently got in trouble as a child for breaking into his older brother’s prized cabinet of music to study (he lived with his brother from the age of 10, after his parents passed away). Though transcription for the keyboard (that is, the practice of reworking a piece of music for different musical forces) is most associated with the Romantic Period and the 20th Century, it most certainly was common in the baroque period, and Bach frequently transcribed his own music, and that of others. A small collection of string music transcribed for the organ by Bach exists, including three concertos by Vivaldi. The Concerto in D Minor features two violins and a cello as its solo instruments, with a string orchestra backing the soloists, and begins with a dramatic, virtuosic introduction giving way to a driving fugue. If you have the time, listen to a recording of a string ensemble playing the concerto after hearing the organ version; it’s interesting to see how Bach adapted it for the organ!

Claudin de Sermisy lived different portions of his life in France and Italy, and held several prominent positions in France, including at the Chapel Royal and as a canon of Saint-Chapelle in Paris. He is most well-known for his Chansons (sort of the French equivalent of the Italian Madrigal), but wrote lots of sacred music. His style is notable for being quite a bit simpler than much of the dense, complex polyphony written by his contemporaries. On Sunday we will hear a setting of part of Psalm 103 (Bless the Lord, O my soul), written for Vespers on the Feast of the Ascension.

Though not many English composers have made it into the “canon” of western art music, Purcell’s name should be familiar to many, and may be one of the few composers before Elgar the average music listener will recognize. Though known best for his operas (particularly Dido and Aeneas), a significant body of sacred music bearing his name exists, since he directed the music at Westminster Abbey in London for much of his career. The anthem “O God, the King of Glory” sets the collect for the Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension. If you listen closely, you’ll notice that a lot of the text is illustrated musically! Most obviously, the almost fanfare-like setting of “with great triumph into heaven”.

Though not as well-known as his contemporary, Dieterich Buxtehude, Nicolaus Bruhns is certainly among the great North German composers of the middle baroque period. Not much of his music survives, but a small collection of virtuosic organ music has made it into the standard repertoire, not least because it was a great early influence for Bach (bringing these notes full circle). Bruhns was probably even more of a showoff than Buxtehude was – legend has it that he would frequently play the violin while accompanying himself on the organ pedals! This certainly comes through in his organ music, with sudden, dramatic pauses, virtuosic flourishes, and a fugue in this piece in which two voices are played in the pedal at the same time. A good performance of the Praeludium in G Major will keep you on the edge of your… er… pew!

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, November 17

Prelude: Langsam from Six Fugues on BACH – Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Offertory Anthem: Alleluia: De profundis clamavi – Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517)


Communion Anthem: Out from the deep – Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)


Postlude: Fugue in C Minor BWV 546 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Robert Schumann made a name for himself as both a prominent music critic and a composer after his career as a pianist had to be cut short due to injury. He and his wife, Clara (who was a student of his as a child and later a famed virtuoso) formed a musical power couple which gained great prominence and renown. However, late in life, Schumann struggled with mental illness (for which he was eventually committed), and, in the 1840’s, purchased a pedal piano and began intensely studying counterpoint around the same time as a coping mechanism. The pedal piano turned out to be an interesting toy; they were common at the time as a practice instrument for organists, and Schumann began exploring the possibilities of the instrument with a set of six Canons and four Sketches. Soon after those sets were published, he wrote a set of six fugues based on Bach’s name, possibly even with the organ in mind rather than the pedal piano! Since German speakers call B-natural H, and refer to B-flat as B, you can spell Bach’s name musically with B-flat, A, C, and B-natural, and Schumann wrote six fugues exploring aspects of that rather interesting musical motive. The first of these six fugues shows that theme plainly, and builds a somewhat sinister fugue subject from it which gradually builds to a thrilling climax.

The two choral anthems on Sunday are both settings of the same text, one in Latin and one in English, which features heavily in the Minor Propers appointed for the day. Tallis is a familiar name to many Anglicans, as one of the most prominent Tudor ere composers. Isaac is probably a less familiar name; he was a Flemish composer who spent most of his career in Germany, Austria, and Italy, having lived variously in Augsburg, Vienna, Florence, and Pisa, among other places. He was a very prolific composer, having published a large set of polyphonic Mass propers, from which this piece comes. He was prominent in the Habsburg court, and so was very influential to the development of music in modern-day Germany, which may be why we know him by a German name (we don’t know what his name was at birth). Isaac meant this particular piece to be used in place of the standard chanted Gradual, which would have been sung between the Epistle and Gospel readings.
 

Since the prelude is an homage to Bach, it seems that Bach should be heard somewhere. The Fugue in C Minor follows a dramatic prelude with flowing triplet sections interrupted by a cataclysmic chord figuration. The fugue, in contrast, has a simple, sparse subject.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, November 10

Prelude: Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)
Offertory Anthem: Gressus meos dirige – Orlande de Lassus (c. 1532-1594)
Communion Anthem: Cantate Domino – Giovanni Croce (1557-1609)
Postlude: Est-ce mars – Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)

This Sunday we’ll hear organ music by two giants of the North German organ school, and two composers whom the great J.S. Bach admired greatly. Dieterich Buxtehude spent much of his career at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, and Bach famously traveled over 200 miles on foot to hear and presumably study with Buxtehude, leaving his family and job behind in Arnstadt for months (he extended his stay far past what he initially told his employer, much to their chagrin!). Bach almost took over the post in Lübeck, but it was customary at the time for the organist at the Marienkirche to marry his predecessor’s daughter. Bach was already married, and Buxtehude’s daughter, by all accounts, was not a very appealing bride, so that arrangement didn’t work out. Buxtehude greatly influenced Bach’s early organ music, and shades of the Bach to come can be heard even in Buxtehude’s restrained Chorale Preludes (as compared to his flashy free organ works), which were written to introduce chorales, which churchgoers would have known well, for congregational singing. Nun Bitten Wir beautifully introduces a hymn petitioning the holy spirit.

Sweelinck is the grandfather of the North German Organ School, despite being Dutch, himself. He was organist at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, but since strict Calvinism had taken hold there, music was not allowed in church. Sweelinck was employed by the government, and played for an hour twice per day outside of services. So, not much of his music is sacred in nature; Est-ce mars, like Ballo del granduca which we heard a few weeks ago, is a virtuosic set of variations on a popular tune of the era.

The choral music heard on Sunday will be entirely from the late 16th Century. The composer known by a different name depending on where he was (Orlande de Lassus, Orlando di Lasso, Roland de Lassus, Orlande de Lattre, etc) exemplified the Franco-Flemish school and became known as one of the three most prominent Counter-Reformation composers (along with Palestrina and Victoria). Giovanni Croce spent much of his musical career at the famous Basilica of St. Mark’s in Venice, eventually taking over the post of director at the very end of his life (the quality of singing there reportedly suffered during his tenure, though that was likely due to his declining health and lack of energy for the job). That post would, a few years after Croce’s death, be taken over by the great Claudio Monteverdi, but that’s another story. Croce was mostly known for his secular madrigals, but does have some great sacred music to his name.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, November 3

The Feast of All Saints

 

Prelude: Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)


Offertory Anthem: Gressus meos dirige – Orlande de Lassus (c. 1532-1594)


Communion Anthem: Cantate Domino – Giovanni Croce (1557-1609)


Postlude: Est-ce mars – Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)


This Sunday we’ll hear organ music by two giants of the North German organ school, and two composers whom the great J.S. Bach admired greatly. Dieterich Buxtehude spent much of his career at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, and Bach famously traveled over 200 miles on foot to hear and presumably study with Buxtehude, leaving his family and job behind in Arnstadt for months (he extended his stay far past what he initially told his employer, much to their chagrin!). Bach almost took over the post in Lübeck, but it was customary at the time for the organist at the Marienkirche to marry his predecessor’s daughter. Bach was already married, and Buxtehude’s daughter, by all accounts, was not a very appealing bride, so that arrangement didn’t work out. Buxtehude greatly influenced Bach’s early organ music, and shades of the Bach to come can be heard even in Buxtehude’s restrained Chorale Preludes (as compared to his flashy free organ works), which were written to introduce chorales, which churchgoers would have known well, for congregational singing. Nun Bitten Wir beautifully introduces a hymn petitioning the holy spirit.
 

Sweelinck is the grandfather of the North German Organ School, despite being Dutch, himself. He was organist at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, but since strict Calvinism had taken hold there, music was not allowed in church. Sweelinck was employed by the government, and played for an hour twice per day outside of services. So, not much of his music is sacred in nature; Est-ce mars, like Ballo del granduca which we heard a few weeks ago, is a virtuosic set of variations on a popular tune of the era.
 

The choral music heard on Sunday will be entirely from the late 16th Century. The composer known by a different name depending on where he was (Orlande de Lassus, Orlando di Lasso, Roland de Lassus, Orlande de Lattre, etc) exemplified the Franco-Flemish school and became known as one of the three most prominent Counter-Reformation composers (along with Palestrina and Victoria). Giovanni Croce spent much of his musical career at the famous Basilica of St. Mark’s in Venice, eventually taking over the post of director at the very end of his life (the quality of singing there reportedly suffered during his tenure, though that was likely due to his declining health and lack of energy for the job). That post would, a few years after Croce’s death, be taken over by the great Claudio Monteverdi, but that’s another story. Croce was mostly known for his secular madrigals, but does have some great sacred music to his name.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, November 3

The Feast of All Saints

 

Prelude: Selections from Partita no. 2 BWV 1004 – J.S. Bach
Gloria: from Missa “O quam gloriosum” – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)
Offertory Anthem: O quam gloriosum – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611)
Communion Anthem: And I saw a new heaven – Edgar Bainton (1880-1956)
Postlude: Selections from Partita no. 2 BWV 1004 – J.S. Bach

This Sunday, we celebrate All Saints’ Day (transferred from November 1), an important feast in the Christian calendar, and our own Feast of Title. We will have some special music, so I do hope you can join us!

Melody Lin, from the Greenwich Village Chamber Orchestra, which is in-residence here at All Saints’, has generously volunteered her time to help provide music for the service. She will play selections from Bach’s Second Partita in D Minor for solo violin. Written (or, perhaps, collected) in 1720, the six partitas and sonatas for solo violin are among Bach’s most famous works, and have become staples of the violin repertoire. The second closes with the famous “Ciacona”, perhaps one of the most well-known pieces ever written for violin. The partitas are structured as dance suites, with movements styled after dances which would have been well-known in Bach’s time. The second opens with an “Allemande,” a slow, serious dance in the German style. This is followed by a Courante (a quick, triple meter dance), a Sarabande (a slow Spanish dance in triple meter), a Gigue (a very quick triple meter dance), and a Chaconne (a set of variations on a ground bass).

Though often overshadowed by his Italian contemporary, Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria (sometimes Italianized as Tomasso Ludovico da Vittoria) wrote some of the most compelling music of the late Renaissance, and was an important composer of the Counter-Reformation. His “O quam gloriosum” is one of his most famous motets, setting the text of one of the Magnificat Antiphons for Vespers on All Saints’ Day. We will also hear the Gloria from the parody Mass based on the motet.

Born in London, Edgar Bainton eventually found himself in New South Wales, Australia, teaching at the conservatory there. “And I saw a new heaven” was published two years before he moved to Australia, and is his most famous work; a sweeping setting of a text from Revelation. Bainton’s life had a few interesting moments; he found himself a prisoner of war under odd circumstances during World War I. He traveled to Germany in 1914 to attend the Bayreuth Festival (a festival for the operas of Richard Wagner). War was declared while he was there, and he was arrested and sent to a detention camp as an enemy alien of military age. In school, he was a student of Walford Davies and Charles Villiers Stanford, and spent much of his professional life in England as a piano professor at the Newcastle Upon Tyne Conservatory of Music.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, October 27

Prelude: Duo from Suite du Premiére Ton – Louis-Nicholas Clérambault (1676-1749)


Offertory Anthem: O Lord increase my faith – attr. Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
                                

                                   (probably actually written by Henry Loosemore, c.1600-1670)


Communion Anthem: Ave verum corpus – W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)


Postlude: How fair and pleasant art thou from 15 Pieces – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)


Clérambault makes another appearance this week! Clérambault was mostly known for his contributions to the French Cantata genre, but was an accomplished organist and held a prominent post at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. He wrote two Suites for the organ, on the first and second church modes. This Duo is a playful piece from the Suite on the first mode, which is roughly what we would think of as dorian mode.


Early English composers often set collects to music. Almighty and Everlasting God is a setting of the Collect of the Day for this Sunday (though in a more archaic translation)! It is often attributed to Orlando Gibbons, one of the most celebrated early-17th Century composers in England, renowned for his music for viol consort, keyboard, and vocal ensembles (both sacred and secular), and who even wrote several hymn tunes which would be familiar to anyone who frequents an Episcopal Church. However, he probably didn’t actually write this piece. More likely, it was written by Henry Loosemore (c. 1600-1670), of whom little is known, other than that he was organist at King’s College, Cambridge at some point, and was organist at Exeter Cathedral at the end of his life. This beautiful piece, fairly typical of English polyphony of the time, is nonetheless standard repertoire in many church choirs.


You’ve probably heard Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” before. Mozart wrote it near the end of his life, while he was working on his towering Requiem. This is of a much smaller scale than the Requiem, and much simpler. Mozart wrote this short and beautiful Eucharistic Motet for his friend Anton Stoll, who directed the music at St. Stephan, Baden, and probably meant it to be used on the Feast of Corpus Christi.


Marcel Dupré towers over the 20th Century organ world as perhaps the greatest organ virtuoso, and among the greatest composers for the organ, of that period. He spent much of his life as “organiste-titulaire” at Saint-Sulpice in Paris (just a few generations removed from Clérambault…), which houses one of the most famous organs in France, and taught an enormous number of prominent organists and composers as organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire (students include Olivier Messiaen, Jehan Alain, Jean Guillou, Pierre Cochereau, Jeanne Demessieux, and Carl Weinrich). However, in 1919, he was still near the beginning of his illustrious career, and frequently filled in at the great organ at Notre Dame Cathedral when its organist, Louis Vierne, was frequently out due to health problems. Known through his life as an excellent improviser, he impressed many visitors, including a “monsieur C.J.”, who frequently visited the organ loft at Notre Dame. That C.J. was Claude Johnson, then the head of the Rolls-Royce automotive company. Apparently, he attended a Vespers service which Dupré improvised for, and asked Dupré if he could have the music. Dupré wrote down what he could remember of his improvisations and had them published. We’ll hear the joyous setting of the fifth and final Psalm antiphon on Sunday.

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, October 20

 

Prelude: Récit de Nazard from Suite du Deuxiéme Ton – Louis-Nicholas Clérambault (1676-1749)
Offertory Anthem: Holy is the true light – W.H. Harris (1883-1973)
Communion Anthem: Cibavit Eos – William Byrd (c. 1540-1623)
Postlude: Vivace from Sonata in G Major BWV 530 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

When people think of the baroque period, they don’t often think of France. However, there were two distinct major schools of composition in the 16th and 17th centuries: the French school, and the Italian school. Though we largely think of modern-day Germany when we think about baroque music, German music was heavily influenced by the Italian music of the era. Even today, much of the mainstream narrative of music history continues the narrative set forth by a group of nationalist musicologists in a newly unified, late-19th-century, Germany. In fact, a major impetus for the invention of the field of musicology was to create a narrative of music history that showed Germany as the center of music. Since Italian and French music was very different during the “baroque” era (in fact, the word “baroque” was initially coined by Frenchmen referring negatively to the Italian style, which they viewed as inelegant), we tend to focus on the Italians and the Germans

 

However, there was a great deal of fine music being written in France at the time, especially around the court of King Louis XIV and the great opera composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (who was born in Italy, but that’s a different story). A great tradition of organ playing arose, very different from that in Italy and Germany, since it focused a great deal on timbre. Louis-Nicholas Clérambault, who was organist at Saint Sulpice in Paris for much of his life, wrote two suites for the organ, one on the first church mode (roughly what we’d call “Dorian Mode” today), and one on the second (“Hypodorian mode”), as these pieces would have been played throughout various liturgies. The titles of the movements describe the sounds to be used, so “Récit de Nazard” means a recitative line with a Nazard stop (a flute at 2 2/3’ pitch).

Our choral music on Sunday is, once again, all English; one piece from the 20th Century, and one from the Tudor era. William Henry Harris was the organist and choirmaster at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle for much of his career, and conducted for two coronations (including the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953!). “Holy is the true light” is a short, but beautiful piece about the promise of heaven. At communion we’ll hear a setting of the Introit for the Feast of Corpus Christi by the great Tudor composer William Byrd, who remained staunchly Catholic throughout his life despite the religious changes happening throughout England at the time.

Once again, we’ll hear a movement from a Bach trio sonata on Sunday, but not one of the slow movements! The Vivace (literally: lively) opens the 6th and final Trio Sonata with a spritely unison theme, which gives way to the three voices moving independently. I think it’s the most fun of all the Trio Sonata movements!

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Notes from The Music Director, Mr. James Hopkins

Sunday, October 13

Prelude: Adagio from Sonata in E-Flat Major BWV 525 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Offertory Anthem: Jubilate Deo in F – John Ireland (1879-1962)
Communion Anthem: O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit – Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)
Postlude: Choral Song – Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876)

Lots of English music on Sunday! The offertory anthem is one of the great settings of Daily Office canticles which was written in the early 20th Century for use in English churches. Jubilate Deo is not properly a Canticle, but a short psalm (Psalm 100). However, it has been treated as a canticle in the office of Morning Prayer, so there is a wealth of English settings of the text. This setting was published in 1914, and may have been written for use at St. Luke’s Church in the Chelsea section of London, where Ireland was organist and choirmaster for many years. Ireland isn’t quite as famous as some of his contemporaries such as Ralph Vaughan Williams or Herbert Howells, but was very influential, especially as a teacher. Benjamin Britten, the great 20th Century English composer, was among his students.

At Communion, we’ll hear an anthem by the great Thomas Tallis, who is by far the most well-known Tudor era composer. He often had to adapt his style to the tastes of the Church and royalty, which swung between Catholicism, demanding a more florid style of music, and Protestantism, demanding simpler music in which the text is clearer. This anthem is in keeping with his more Protestant style, which mostly avoids melismas (i.e. multiple notes on one syllable of text).

The Postlude is by another great English composer, Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Despite being snidely referred to by German musicologists as “Das Land ohne Musik” (the land without music), England was home to a few composers of note in the 19th Century, and composers from elsewhere travelled to England frequently (perhaps most notably George Frederick Handel, born Georg Friederich Händel, a German who spent most of his career in London). Wesley came from a musical family, though he was an illegitimate child from an affair his father, the composer Samuel Wesley, had with his maid, and held several prominent Cathedral posts and teaching positions. His Choral Song is half of the Choral Song and Fugue for organ, with a distinctive march-like quality, showing that nobody does pomp quite like the English.

The outlier this Sunday is another movement from a Bach “trio” sonata for organ, written as exercises for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann. At the risk of repeating last week’s joke, young Wilhelm became known as both a great organ virtuoso and an alcoholic, and one can only imagine these Sonatas contributed to both! With three completely independent lines, they are at once very difficult and great exercise. This movement acts as a calm, if somewhat dreary, respite between two spritely movements.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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