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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

July 5, 2015

Today’s Music: Three weeks ago we heard an anthem by Gabriel Fauré; this morning we hear a sacred song by his teacher, Camille Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns was a brilliant pianist and composer of the Romantic era, who admired Wagner’s influential works but adhered to a more conservative style. He was highly respected in France and throughout Europe in his day, even traveling across the Atlantic during World War I to play concerts in America. He even made a few recordings before his death in 1921. He resisted innovation but his works are always carefully crafted and rewarding to perform. David Boelzner

June 14, 2015

Today’s Music: The full choir’s final anthem of the year is a fine one, Gabriel Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, a piece written by the 19-year old prodigy which in 1864-65 won first prize in composition at his school. Fauré was a pupil and friend of Saint-Saëns, and succeeded him as director of the Paris Conservatoire, liberalizing what had been a bastion of conservative style. He was influenced by Chopin, who was still composing when he was young. Fauré’s most famous pupil was Ravel, but he also taught Nadia Boulanger, a highly influential teacher in Paris who taught many of the great 20th century composers, including some Americans such as Aaron Copland. — David Boelzner

June 7, 2015

Today’s Music:  The anthem is a reprise of Craig Carnahan’s Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal, which we premiered back in October.  It is a rousing setting of a Southern Harmony tune. The communion hymn is by the eminent English composer Orlando Gibbons, who died tragically at age 41 in 1625.  His music, especially that for the keyboard, was championed by the eccentric 20th century Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who placed him in a league with Beethoven and (Anton) Webern (which was a pretty odd league even before Gould inserted Gibbons into it). David Boelzner

May 31, 2015

Today’s Music: The processional (Hymn 370) this morning may be one of the most unusual hymns used in our liturgy. The text, called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” is attributed to St. Patrick (5th century) as a hymn he sang to invoke protection from ambush, though it may actually date from the 8th century. Because of its varied meters, it employs multiple Irish tunes: the primary tune, in G minor, sets the first verse and the first half of the second, but verse 2 (as well as verses 3-5) adds a related tune in the relative major mode at the end. Verse 6, however, uses an entirely different tune, in G major, with the primary and secondary tunes then returning in verse 7. By the way, there is a misprint in the hymnal: the 6th note at the top of page 2 (on “way” in verse 2) should be an A, not a G.  – David Boelzner

May 24, 2015

Today’s Music: The Offertory music this morning is an instrumental piece, Abraham’s Walk, written last year but after a long germination. The intense drama of God’s call to Abraham to demonstrate his fidelity by sacrificing his precious long-awaited son has always beckoned me, but I struggled with trying to do a suitable vocal treatment; the story was almost too intense. Then it occurred to me that instruments, which are more abstract, would allow me the focus I wanted on mood and emotion. Though there are no words, there is a story. You’ll hear a peaceful morning interrupted by God calling to Abraham three times, his incredulous and then distressed reaction, then the slow, brutal trudge up the hill toward the agonizing event, halted only at the climactic moment. The three calls that stay his knife hand also reflect the pain of Abraham’s triumph of faith. David Boelzner

May 17, 2015

Today’s Music: The anthem this morning is for men only, a composition by Vernon Perdue Davis (1919-95), a native Virginian who, in addition to composing, served as the historiographer for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia for 30 years. He authored a book on pointing Anglican chant and co-wrote books on historic churches. He studied music at Princeton with American choral composer Randall Thompson (the choir sang his wonderful Alleluia for Easter a few years ago) and the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. The anthem, set to Whittier’s fine text, Once to every man and nation, was written for the Woodberry Forest private boys’ school near Orange, where Davis taught in the 1940s. (The school has been around since 1889. Songwriter and lyricist Johnny Mercer is an alumnus.) David Boelzner

May 10, 2015

Today’s Music: Do you find music in minor keys sad and music in major keys happy? This is a common stereotype, and like most, it is rooted in some valid experience but is not universally accurate. I recently heard it repeated at an otherwise enlightened discussion of music and neuroscience, during which, ironically, the speakers mentioned one of the best refutations of the stereotype, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which most people would agree is wrenchingly sad but is predominantly in major mode. Our recessional, 610, Lord, whose love through humble service, is another example, I think: in minor mode but not really sad or in any way a “downer” – to me it sounds serious and resolute. How does it strike you? David Boelzner

May 3, 2015

Today’s Music: The communion hymn (#487, “Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life”) tune is “The Call” by the great 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He liked to use English folk tunes in his symphonic writing, and this original tune, part of a five-song set, has a folk quality about it, chiefly because it is in Mixolydian rather than major mode. The scale sounds like a major scale but the leading tone (ti in the do-re-mi scheme) is lowered a half-step – noticeable on the word “such” on the second line. The melodic extension, called a melisma, on the penultimate word is reminiscent of troubadour song. — David Boelzner

Apr. 26, 2015

Today’s Music: Most often the genesis of a vocal or choral work begins with words, for which music is composed to fit. It is not unusual, of course, for a vocal tune to be adapted to another lyric; i.e. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy setting in the Ninth Symphony (“Freude, freude, Gotterfunken”) is used for our hymn “Joyful, joyful we adore thee.” Sometimes, though, a tune intended for instruments is irresistible for singing. So it is with this morning’s anthem tune. It was originally composed as part of the fourth movement, “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity,” of English composer Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Our music director has adapted it to the text of the 23rd Psalm for Good Shepherd Sunday, but she is not the first to see the vocal potential. Holst himself extracted the tune for use with a patriotic text, “I vow to thee, my country,” which is popularly sung in the U.K. (It was a favorite of Princess Diana, sung at both her wedding and her funeral.)  David Boelzner