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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Apr. 19, 2015

Today’s Music: The tune name for our communion hymn, is Sursum corda, the Latin phrase we translate as “Lift up your hearts” (literally “lifted [our] hearts”), part of the opening formula of the Eucharistic prayer used in many liturgies, which dates at least as far back as the third century. Though our tune was written in 1941 by Alfred Morton Smith (d. 1971), an Episcopal priest active in Philadelphia, the style is consciously reminiscent of ancient chant. Today’s music illustrates the quality and richness of our musical tradition: music from one of the greatest 18th century English composers (Wm. Boyce–anthem), the greatest composer of the Counter-reformation (Palestrina – recessional) and one of the great Romantics (Schubert – fraction anthem). DB

Apr. 12, 2015

Today’s Music: This morning we premiere David’s newest composition, a duet set to the text, “This is the Hour.” There is an undercurrent of triplets in the accompaniment that propels most of the piece, except for the mid-section that begins a cappella: The voices “go their separate ways.” Much of the piece is quiet, but the volume grows at the references to Christ as our Shield and Sun, and to the Lamb’s High Feast. Ann Boelzner

Apr. 5, 2015

Our Easter anthem is a premiere for Good Shepherd (discovered among the treasures of our music library), Now Glad of Heart, by American composer K[ayron] Lee Scott (b. 1950). He was educated at the University of Alabama, and was director of choral music at the University’s Birmingham campus.  The piece begins with a persistent 5/8 rhythm in the piano, which is picked up by the voices when they enter. The 5/8 rhythmic pattern dominates the piece, but at times passages sound like Renaissance music with a predominantly trochaic meter interrupted by the occasional iamb. The piece winds down gently in the men’s voices after being predominantly vigorous throughout. David Boelzner

Mar. 29, 2015

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. 22, 2015

Today’s Music: “Text painting” is a very ancient technique, seen in some of the earliest music we know. The term refers to reflecting the text somehow in the musical sculpture. This can range from a simple, obvious melodic gesture to quite subtle effects in the harmony or rhythm. As a straightforward example, consider the first two notes of “Lift high the cross” – they rise, mirroring the lifting of the cross.  The word “world” is also highlighted with a high pitch, giving it some emphasis.  Similarly, in the processional, the rising line highlights “cross”; consider how the effect would be slightly different if “Christ” or even “glory” had been assigned the highest note in the line. Listen, too, during the anthem how the composer builds through repetition of the phrase “for thy mercy’s sake” at successively higher levels, culminating at the highest pitch with “deliver us (from all our sins).” D. Boelzner

Mar. 15, 2015

The anthem this morning is a premiere for Good Shepherd, a modern (1998) setting of the Ave Verum text familiar to most of you from the Mozart setting or perhaps others.  It is by Pennsylvanian Robert C. Lau (b. 1943), an organist (Mt. Calvary Episcopal in Camp Hill, PA), active composer and professor of music.  It begins with the basses quietly intoning a single note over which the other voices echo “Ave, ave” in a sighing sort of motif.  The piece builds toward an early climax on “immolatum in cruce pro homine” (sacrificed on the cross for man).  Listen, too, for lovely effects achieved by moving the upper voices in parallel chords, for example after “Cujus latum.”  The piece ends as quietly and somberly as it began.  – D. Boelzner

Mar. 8, 2015

Today’s Music: Dissonance is what musicians call combinations of pitches that “clash,” that sound unpleasant or unstable. Dissonance is relative and has evolved over time; two notes a third apart, do to mi, which we regard as quite consonant, were once thought dissonant. But dissonance is also affected by context. Few would dispute that the two adjacent black keys on a piano, if played together, produce a dissonance. But our anthem this morning begins with exactly those notes in the men’s voice parts. The clash is eased after a few notes by resolution to a more consonant interval. And the clashing interval is enmeshed in a chord that softens its impact. Dissonance, used judiciously, actually propels the music, creating a sense of motion, and a great deal of it passes unnoticed.  David Boelzner

Mar. 1, 2015

“Humbly I adore thee,” hymn 314, has long been about my favorite communion hymn.  It is an old tune, dating from at least the 17th century, and I think the particular joinder of melody and words at the line “face to face thy splendor I at last shall see” is one of the finest in all church music.  At any rate, I recently wrote the reflection on this tune that will be played during communion this morning.  Three repetitions of the tune occur, linked by a motif using open parallel fifths, a kind of archaic sound reminiscent of medieval music.  In each repetition the tune is always present but is woven among the other notes, sometimes in an inner part, and the character of each statement is different.  – D. Boelzner

Feb. 22, 2015

Today’s Music: The text of the communion hymn, “Kind Maker of the world,” is attributed to the revered Pope Gregory the Great (b. circa 540 A.D.). He came from a wealthy and influential family but acquired a reputation for extreme piety and saintliness. He is also credited with collecting a large volume of chant melody, hence much chant is referred to as “Gregorian.” The tune for our hymn is not from the early medieval period but rather from a collection of Christmas tunes in the early 16th century. It does have a definite modal sound, owing to use of the lowered “leading tone” (see second note of the tune), which in 19th century harmony would typically be raised a half-step; it actually is raised in the last chord in the second measure (noted by the # sign), but the melody preserves the lowered tone – indicated by the cancellation of the # in the next measure (in parentheses). David Boelzner