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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Oct. 11, 2015: Classical/Post-Classical Music

Today’s Music: If you attended Peter Mathis’s excellent presentation last week, you heard him mention that a hallmark of “Classical” era music (Haydn, Mozart) is clarity of melodic line. An associated feature is highly regular length of phrases. You hear this clearly in the recessional, 655 (O Jesus, I have promised), where each line of text is set to four measures of four metric beats each. But compare the processional, (475, God himself is with us), a tune from 1719, before the Classical era was in full swing: the first two phrases are regular, but “and with awe appear before him” stretches its first measure to 6 beats. The meter of the text suggests this, but a Classical composer would likely have stretched the notes rather than shift the meter. If you listen closely to the anthem, (Come Down, O Love Divine), a post-Classical composition, you’ll hear a free alternation of measures with 3 beats and 4 beats. David Boelzner

Sept. 27, 2015: O Sacred head now wounded

Today’s Music: One of the hymns we’ll sing during the healing litany, no. 669, is a well-known tune, most often associated now with “O sacred head now wounded.” Although its composer, Hans Leo Hassler (d.1612), wrote sacred music, this tune was originally a secular one, to accompany a sentiment most men would recognize: “A young woman has tangled up all my feelings.” The harmonization in the hymnbook is by J.S. Bach (interestingly in C major, while the original was in minor), and he used the tune numerous times in his cantatas. Given the tune’s secular origin, it is fitting, perhaps, that it has also been used by Paul Simon, for a song (perhaps ironically) titled “An American Tune.”  David Boelzner

Sept. 20, 2015: Orlando Gibbons, Ralph Vaughan Williams

Today’s Music: If you look closely at the information in the hymnal at the end of the communion hymn, 315, (“Thou, who at thy first Eucharist didst pray”), you will see that the melody and bass were written by the great English composer, Orlando Gibbons (d. 1625), who was organist at Westminster Abbey and played for the funeral of King James I (yes, that King James). Why only the melody and bass line? (The harmony in this case was filled in by the great 20th century composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.) It was actually very standard notational practice in the 17th and 18th centuries to write out only the melody and bass, often with numerals written above the bass line to indicate particular chord forms; accompanists were expected to fill in the harmonies properly, with a certain amount of improvisation permitted. David Boelzner  

Sept. 13, 2015: Glorious things of thee are spoken

Today’s Music: The processional, No. 522, (“Glorious things of thee are spoken”), is undoubtedly the best-known tune from Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn. Haydn enjoyed considerable success in England and traveled there several times, and he envied the English their patriotic anthem, “God Save the King.” He wished for a similar anthem to inspire the Austrians when in 1797 they were being threatened by France. Others agreed and commissioned him to compose the tune. It served as Austria’s anthem until the Anschluss, but Hitler’s Germany subsequently adopted it (Hitler was himself Austrian) and still uses it. Haydn reused the tune several times himself, and many hymns, anthems, and college songs employ it, including Univ. of the South (Sewanee) and the Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro.  David Boelzner

Sept. 6, 2015: John B. Dykes and Francis Havergal

Today’s Music: The music note usually focuses on the music rather than the words to hymns we sing, but this morning both are topics as to our sequence, 707. The tune was written by John B. Dykes (d. 1976), an Anglican priest and composer who wrote many still-popular hymn tunes, including “Holy, holy, holy” and “Eternal father, strong to save.” The text author, Francis Havergal, was the highly accomplished and very devout daughter of an Anglican priest. She had religious poems published at the age of seven, mastered French, German, Italian, Greek and Hebrew, and in 1874 gave most all her jewelry away to a missionary society, making the line of the hymn she wrote that same year literally true: “take my silver and my gold.” She died at age 43 in 1879. David Boelzner

Aug. 30, 2015: Chiming and A Song without Words

Today’s Music: Our service begins with music from the Good Shepherd chimers, renditions of “How firm a foundation” and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony melody set to “Joyful, joyful we adore thee.” Successful chiming is teamwork and requires concentration and rhythmic instinct. Most often music is written for a purpose, be it a desire to set a particular text, a commission to write for a particular occasion or combination of instruments, or the fun of meeting a particular musical challenge, like a fugue. But occasionally music will come unbidden. The tune I’ll play for the offertory simply intruded one morning, and later I teased it out into what you’ll hear. David Boelzner

Aug. 23, 2015: Blue Grass Sunday

Today’s Music: Today is “Blue Grass” Sunday, as you can tell from the deployment of banjos, guitars, mandolins, and the presence of Mr. Tambourine Man, Stuart Fulcher. This is fun music, more lighthearted than most of our usual fare, and the lyrics express a direct and simple relationship with God.  “Simple” does not mean “easy” – that picking on mandolin and banjo is far from easy and, as Ross preached last week, while Jesus’ burden is light, it is not always easy. But the other thing conveyed so well by this music is the unqualified joy of undertaking that burden when one accepts the grace that goes with it. Faith can be manifest in the simple and direct as well as the aesthetically profound. So, enjoy the fun spirit of these varied expressions of belief. David Boelzner

Aug. 16, 2015: Eric Routley, Herbert Howells

Today’s Music: This morning’s service features hymns by two influential 20th-century English church composers. The processional, 402, is by Eric Routley (d. 1982). A Congregational pastor as well as composer and musicologist, Routley taught for some years at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, and is credited with, among other things, “halting the dreary practice of singing ‘Amen’ at the end of each hymn sung in American churches.” The recessional is by Herbert Howells (d. 1983), a highly respected composer of much organ and church choral music, whose ashes are interred in Westminster Abbey.  Howells was commissioned to write a motet for the memorial service for John F. Kennedy. In it he linked Kennedy’s death with the tragic loss in 1935 of his own 9-year-old son, Michael, to polio, which was also the impetus for his setting of “All my hope on God is founded”; the hymn tune is named “Michael.” David Boelzner

Aug. 9, 2015: O day of radiant gladness (German folk song tune)

Today’s Music: The music note has been going easy on you for the summer, focusing on composer biography rather than music theory, but the processional (Hymn 48: O day of radiant gladness) calls for a comment on form. The tune is a German folk song, and its structure ensures memorability. The second line is an exact repeat of the first, thus imprinting the musical gesture firmly in the brain. Then, because repetition gets boring after a spell, a new tune emerges for the third line, which appears to continue through the first part of the last line but then deftly slips back into the familiar first tune. A classic example of the structural activity that makes music work: creating patterns and then sometimes reinforcing them and sometimes diverging from them. David Boelzner