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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Nov. 29, 2015: John Francis Wade

Today’s Music: The processional hymn tune, “Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,”  is by John Francis Wade (d. 1786), an English Catholic musician who frequently lived in exile in France and is thought to have participated to some extent in the ill-fated attempt to restore the Catholic Stuarts to the English throne in 1745. The work of his we are most familiar with is his arrangement of Adeste Fidelis (“O come, all ye faithful”); he is sometimes credited with actually writing the hymn, but this is not universally accepted. He devoted much time to copying out plainchant for use by Catholics and is credited with helping to revive attention to chant in England. The harmony for our processional is attributed to Vincent Novello, who is known to have published Wade’s works. David Boelzner

Nov. 22, 2015: “Brockes Passion” by G. F. Handel

Today’s Music: The anthem is one of the choral numbers from the “Brockes Passion” by G.F. Handel. Barthold Brockes (d. 1747) was an influential German poet who recast the passion story, adding reflective and descriptive poetry, often highly emotional. Several composers did settings.  Handel’s features many arias and vocal ensembles, but relatively few choruses, and those are rather simple in style. This may seem surprising in view of the large-scale choruses for which Handel is known, such as “Hallelujah” from the Messiah, but Handel was renowned as an opera composer. The anthem is a straightforward choral setting in chorale style, phrase by phrase, with the instrumental accompaniment carrying over in between, reminiscent of Bach’s “Sheep may safely graze”; Bach was most impressed with Handel’s Brockes Passion, copying out sections of it for study. David Boelzner

Nov. 15, 2015: “On God, and not on human trust,” by Johann Pachelbel

Today’s Music: The anthem is “On God, and not on human trust” by German organist and composer Johann Pachelbel, composer of the famous “Canon” that is now a staple of weddings; he died in 1706 and thus was an elder contemporary of J.S. Bach and he knew several members of the Bach family. It had been common practice for a long time for composers to build complex counterpoint (several different voices intertwining) over a slow-moving cantus firmus, usually a chant or chorale. Pachelbel inverts the scheme, as he does in his organ chorale preludes, having the sopranos sing the chorale melody slowly, while the other voices move in intricate patterns underneath – listen for the echoing entrances. David Boelzner

Nov. 8, 2015: “Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor,” hymn 307

Today’s Music: As an anthem the choir will sing Hymn 307, “Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor.”  Notice the elegant form. The first sentence of the text is set to two phrases, the first of which culminates on the dominant chord (on “[splen]-dor”), the harmony that most strongly pulls toward the tonic, the home key of the piece (G minor); the second phrase continues upward but then descends, ending on the tonic chord. This music then repeats exactly. Now, for variety, a repetitive, steadily rising tune culminates on the highest note of the hymn, and for additional effect the notes speed up until landing on that dominant chord again. The composer then grabs the second phrase from the opening of the hymn to conclude. David Boelzner

Oct. 25, 2015: “Draw us in the spirit’s tether”

Today’s Music: “Draw us in the spirit’s tether” is perhaps the most famous anthem composed by Harold Friedell (1905-58), native New Yorker, professor at Juilliard, and Episcopal organist. Written while he was organist at St. Bartholomew’s in New York, it is based on a simple communion tune he wrote years earlier. It begins simply enough with all ladies voices in unison but then undergirds the melody with intertwined supporting melody lines, several times carrying the voices to the upper end of the ranges for an intense effect. David Boelzner

Oct. 18, 2015: Charles Villiers Stanford

Today’s Music: The recessional is an old favorite, 477, composed by Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (d. 1924). Stanford was one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music. If the ceremonial quality reminds you of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s cathedral music – think of “For All the Saints” — there may be a reason: Vaughan Williams was a student of Stanford’s, as was Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets. Stanford was conservative in his musical style, following composers such as Brahms, and, although he was admired and respected in his day, he was ultimately eclipsed as the lion of English music by Edward Elgar and by his pupils, Holst and Vaughan Williams. David Boelzner

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