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To Know Christ and to Make Him Known



Weekly Music Notes

July 26, 2015

Today’s Music: Prelude and postlude are movements from an organ sonata by Felix Mendelssohn (d. 1849). Mendelssohn was a child prodigy–fortunately, because his life was tragically short, 38 years, in which he managed to compose an impressive amount of excellent music, including five symphonies, oratorios, a violin concerto, and the wonderful incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (including the wedding march). He helped revive interest in the music of J.S. Bach. The organ sonatas were commissioned by a London publisher but Mendelssohn never played them there, partly because English organs at the time mostly did not have sufficiently responsive keyboards and adequate pedals, which are required for these works. Historical tidbit: Mendelssohn loved and supported the singing of Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, and after his death she started a Mendelssohn scholarship in England, the first recipient of which was the young Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert & …). David Boelzner

July 19, 2015

Today’s Music: The opening hymn is well known, often used with the alternate text, “Come thou almighty King.” The composer, Felice Giardini, was obviously Italian, so how did the tune get the name Moscow? It is one of those accidents of history. Giardini was a child prodigy who became not only a virtuoso violinist but also a versatile composer in all forms of the time, especially successful at opera and chamber music. He settled in London, where he worked in the 1750s and ‘60s with J.S. Bach’s son, J.C. Bach, and was highly successful. But then he tried returning to Italy and running a theater, suffering financial setbacks. After trying again in London without success, he relocated in Moscow, but again failed to achieve success and died there. Why the cataloguers of hymn tunes chose to name this tune after the locale of Giardini’s failure rather than his notable success, I do not know.  (It is sometimes called the “Italian hymn.”) David Boelzner

July 12, 2015

Today’s Music: The best laid plans gang oft aglay … My intention was to sing a song with the text of the Lord’s Prayer this past Sunday, but alas my voice was not with me in church. Four weeks ago we heard an anthem by Gabriel Fauré; this morning I’ll sing the 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. D. Boelzner

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