Forest Hill & 43rd Street
Richmond, VA 23225

To Know Christ and to Make Him Known

Weekly Music Notes

Jun. 3, 2018: Tune “Ebenezer” by Thomas John Williams

Today’s Music: The recessional, (#381, “Thy strong word did cleave the darkness”), is the stirring tune called Ebenezer or Ton-y-Botel. The latter name means “tune in a bottle,” from a legend that the tune was found in a bottle washed up on the Welsh coast. Actually it was composed by the Welsh organist and hymn writer, Thomas John Williams (1869-1944). Like so many musicians, Williams had a day job – in his case as an insurance man – while he played organ in chapels in Pontardawe and Llanelli. Composed as part of an anthem in 1890, the tune has been matched with many texts, including “Once to every man and nation” by James Russell Lowell. David Boelzner

May 27, 2018: “I bind unto myself today”

Today’s Music: The opening hymn, (#370, “I bind unto myself today”),  is an unusual one which we typically use only once a year. The text is derived from a prayer attributed to St. Patrick, though modern experts think it likely originated several centuries later than Patrick, who lived in the 5th century and is of course the patron saint of Ireland.  The music is unusual, in that it uses one traditional Irish melody, in two parts, for the main verses but then inserts a second melody, with different rhythm and character and in major rather than minor mode, for verse 6. David Boelzner

May 20, 2018: “Appalachian Lord’s Prayer” by Rick Sowash

Today’s Music: The anthem this morning is new to our choir, the Appalachian Lord’s Prayer by Ohio composer Rick Sowash (b. 1950). Sowash has to have one of the oddest biographies of any composer: he considers himself a Renaissance man and has achieved success as a humorist, author, and radio broadcaster, as well as, composer. A resident of Cincinnati, he’s also been an innkeeper, a museum guard, and a county commissioner. His setting of the well-known prayer contains three iterations of its tune, first in unison, then by women’s and men’s voices in canon (like a round), and finally by four-part choir harmony. David Boelzner

May 13, 2018: “Third Tune” by Thomas Tallis

Today’s Music: The communion hymn, (#692, “I heard the voice of Jesus say”), is Thomas Tallis’s (d. 1585) haunting “Third Tune,” which draws much of its effect from alternating between minor and major mode, as it does in the very first phrase, starting in minor and ending in major. Also, notice the break into a triplet feel on the climactic melodic rise on “I came to Jesus.” Film buffs may remember this tune used to great effect, in full orchestra setting, in Master and Commander with Russell Crowe, for a scene involving a burial at sea. David Boelzner

May 6, 2018: “How can I keep from singing?” by Clifford Brock

Today’s Music: This morning the choir reprises the anthem “How can I keep from singing?” It was composed by Clifford Brock (b. 1982), a native of Georgia who works as a horticulturist at the Georgia State Botanical Garden and serves as organist/choir director of an Episcopal church in Lawrenceville, GA (musicians need day jobs!). The piece consists of three iterations of a tune that sounds folk-like, first by a soprano, next by a baritone, and finally by the entire choir, with each repetition altering the harmonic and textural background. David Boelzner

Apr. 29, 2018: “Bread of heaven, on thee we feed,” (melody by Paul Hainlein)

Today’s Music: The communion hymn this morning (#323, Bread of heaven, on thee we feed), is based on a German chorale melody from the 17th century composed by Paul Hainlein (Heinlein) (d. 1686), who was an organist and instrument maker in Nuremberg in northern Bavaria. The harmonization in our hymnal dates from an English edition in 1906; it likely would not have been harmonized that way in the late 17th century because it changes key (modulates) several times, and the equal or well temperament (tuning) that makes that possible, though sometimes used by lutenists and guitarists in the 1600s, did not become more universal until the early 18th century. (Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was written to demonstrate the advantages of well temperament.) David Boelzner

Apr. 22, 2018: “Sheep May Safely Graze” by J. S. Bach

Today’s Music: The anthem is J.S. Bach’s familiar “Sheep May Safely Graze,” a choral number from his Hunting Cantata (BMV 208). A cantata is a multi-movement work usually involving a mix of solos and choruses all pertaining to a particular theme or story. Oddly enough, since we are using it in church, this piece is from one of about 20 secular cantatas Bach composed (as compared with a couple of hundred church cantatas), this one for the birthday of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. The original text analogized a good ruler to a good shepherd who oversees his flock, permitting serenity and peace to prevail. With minor adaptations, the text makes Christ the Good Shepherd, appropriate for Good Shepherd Sunday. David Boelzner

Apr. 15, 2018: “Peace” by David Boelzner

Today’s Music: At the offertory the choir will reprise my anthem Peace. It sets Jesus’s words, “My peace I give you…” The women’s voices begin in two-part harmony, then the section repeats with all four voice parts. A middle section on “Do not let your hearts be troubled” begins with the basses, with imitative entries in each voice building to a climax, suddenly quieting on “Do not be afraid.” A repeat of the opening section with all voices leads to a short coda. David Boelzner

Apr.1, 2018: “Twelfth Mass: Gloria” (attributed to Mozart)

Today’s Music: After a composer becomes famous, publishers are desperate to be able to bring out more works by him. This morning’s anthem is “attributed to Mozart.” More accurately, it was attributed to Mozart in its first publication by Novello in 1819 (28 years after Mozart’s death), but most scholars, including the cataloguer of his works, Köchel (Mozart’s works are given a “K” number), now reject it as a composition by him. To this annotator’s ear, the writing is unsophisticated even for the juvenile Mozart. But it has remained popular for a reason: it is joyous and fun to sing, certainly appropriate to the mood of the Easter season. David Boelzner