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Weekly Music Notes

May 1, 2016: Anton Bruckner’s “Locus iste”

Music Notes: The anthem is the motet “Locus iste” by Anton Bruckner (d. 1896), an Austrian composer best known for his large symphonies. But he was an accomplished organist, son of a church musician, and a deeply religious Roman Catholic. He was a fanatic admirer of Wagner and Wagnerian music but did not follow either Wagner’s interest in grand theatrical works or his musical style, writing more mainstream polyphony such as Bach might have written had he lived in the 19th century. Bruckner wrote the piece for the dedication of a cathedral chapel, so the text was appropriate: “Locus iste a Deo factus est” means “This place was made by God.” David Boelzner

Apr. 24, 2016: “On God, and not on human trust”

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

Apr. 17, 2016: “Sheep May Safely Graze”

Today’s Music: The anthem is J.S. Bach’s familiar “Sheep May Safely Graze,” from his Hunting Cantata. A cantata is a multi-movement work usually involving a mix of solos and choruses all pertaining to a particular theme or story. Bach composed a couple of hundred church cantatas, but this is actually from one of about 20 secular cantatas, with the words re-adapted to a religious purpose. The two violins and piano begin with a lilting sort of pastoral tune, then the choir enters with what almost sounds like a different piece, smooth and rhythmically slower. Toward the end of the second choral section, Bach uses to great effect a device called the suspension, where a note from one chord hangs on after the harmony shifts and then resolves into the new chord later. Listen for it on “peace abiding.” David Boelzner

Apr. 10, 2016: Arthur Sullivan

Today’s Music: The recessional hymn, 191, “Alleluia, Alleluia! Hearts and voices heavenward raise,” is by Arthur Sullivan (d. 1900), who is most famous as the composer half of the highly successful collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan. Their comic operas, such as The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, remain popular and are produced today. He also composed a number of serious works, which were largely overshadowed—to some degree during his lifetime and certainly thereafter—by the comic operas. Throughout much of his career, however, he produced songs and hymns, and for periods of time he supplemented his income working as a church organist. David Boelzner

Apr. 3, 2016: “Awake, arise, lift up your voice”

The processional hymn 212, “Awake, arise, lift up your voice,” carries alternative tune names, each of which appear to have a local connection but does not. Our hymnal calls the tune Richmond; the alternative name is Chesterfield. The composer was Thomas Haweis (d. 1820), an English clergyman who trained as a doctor but then took holy orders and wrote extensively on church matters and composed hymns. This tune was published in Carmina Christo (Songs of Christ) in 1792, but it was re-published in 1808 in a shorted version by Samuel Webbe, who named the tune after Rev. Leigh Richmond, a friend of Haweis’s. The “Chesterfield” name refers to Lord Chesterfield, who was often a visitor to the Countess of Huntingdon, for whom Haweis worked as a chaplain. David Boelzner

Mar. 20, 2016: “For God so loved the world,” by Bob Chilcott

Today’s Music: The anthem for Palm Sunday is a lovely contemporary setting of For God so loved the world, by Bob Chilcott, British composer and former tenor with the King’s Singers, a splendid a cappella vocal group. When the main theme repeats, listen for the haunting solo soprano voice that weaves in and out over the texture of the choir singing softly. David Boelzner

Mar. 13, 2016: John Zundel

Today’s Music: The organist/composer John Zundel immigrated to the United States in 1847 intending to be a concert organist. Unable to find suitable instruments for concerts, he settled in as a church organist. He was hired by Henry Ward Beecher in 1850 as music director and organist for Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church, where he remained for 28 years. Our processional hymn 470 (“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”), named for Zundel’s employer, is his longest-lasting work. Ann Boelzner

Mar. 6, 2016: Johann Gottfried Walther

Today’s Music: Johann Gottfried Walther (1684 – 1748) was a German music theorist, organist, composer, and lexicographer of the Baroque era. Not only was his life almost exactly contemporaneous to that of Johann Sebastian Bach, but also he was the famous composer’s cousin. I’ve been playing quite a bit of Walther since my foot surgery because his organ pieces use very little pedal. Ann Boelzner

Feb. 28, 2016: “Peace” by David Boelzner

Today’s Music: The church composer is at it again. This time David takes Gibbons’ haunting 16th century melody (see Hymnal 1982, p. 346) and propels it with a contemporary accompaniment of running 16th notes. He creates harmonic interest by having the 16ths frequently in 4ths but shifting to 3rds, and even 7ths. I found the ending surprising. Ann Boelzner