• Service music

    Second Sunday in Advent (December 8, 2019)

    The Introit for today’s service is a text with phrases from Isaiah 30 and Psalm 80. From the chapter in Isaiah, portions of verses 19, 27, 29, and 30 are stitched together. The Introit begins: “O People of Sion, behold, the Lord is nigh at hand to redeem the nations: and in the gladness of your heart the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard.” That eschatological affirmation is echoed in our Processional hymn, “Savior of the nations, come.” The hymn is an English translation of a German paraphrase of an early Latin hymn. The hymn, “Veni redemptor gentium,” was written by St. Ambrose. The melody we sing…

  • Repertoire

    Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Conditor alme siderum

    The plainchant melody at the root of this lovely motet is sometimes identified with the tune name AMBROSE. That is because the text of the Advent hymn Conditor alme siderum — sung in English as “Creator of the stars of night” — was long attributed to St. Ambrose (339-397). (You can see the music and hear that melody chanted by Cistercian monks here.) As is the case with many other Renaissance-era adaptations of plainchant tunes, Palestrina’s motet alternates between plainchant and intricate polyphony. Let’s consider the opening measures to get a sense of what Palestrina is up to. The opening words, “Conditor alme siderum,” are chanted by tenors, then the…

  • Online resources

    Celebrating Advent at St. John’s, Cambridge

    The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge is famous for having initiated (in 1918) the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. These special services are traditionally held on Christmas Eve. As early as 1934, Cambridge chapels were holding Advent Carol services on the first Sunday in Advent. The most famous of these Advent services has been held at the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge. The BBC regularly broadcasts these services live. This year’s service can be heard until the end of December at this page. The first live broadcast of the Advent Carol Service from St. John’s was in 1981. The director of the choir then was George Guest (1924-2002),…

  • Service music

    First Sunday in Advent (December 1, 2019)

    We launch our trajectory through Advent by singing “Come, thou long-expected Jesus.” Its austere, steady melody is a respite from the hurried confusion that this month typically brings with it. Throughout Advent, our Sequence hymn will be “Creator of the stars of night.” You can learn more about this text and its plainchant tune from the page dedicated to this hymn. Both text and tune have been adapted by many composers for use in elaborate settings. Our choir has sung a setting by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), which you can hear (performed by Ensemble Nobiles) on this page. The Sermon hymn for this Sunday is “O very God of very…

  • Service music

    Sunday next before Advent (November 24, 2019)

    The Epistle reading for this last Sunday in the Church year is not from an epistle but from the prophet Jeremiah. Even though we’re not officially in Advent, the reading anticipates the anticipation present in Advent. (Christian experience includes many layers of anticipation). The first verse of that reading announces: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” That righteous Branch is referenced in our Processional hymn, “How bright appears the Morning Star.” The text to this hymn is credited to Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), but — as…

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    Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity (November 17, 2019)

    Our Processional hymn today — “The God of Abraham praise” — is based on a traditional Jewish hymn which in turn is based on a medieval Jewish creed. You may read more about it (and hear the Jewish hymn sung in Hebrew) here. The Sermon hymn is “Master of eager youth.” It is a paraphrase by F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) of one of the earliest known Christian hymns, appended to a treatise called “The Tutor” by St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215). The hymn was called “Hymn of the Saviour Christ,” and it was a succession of metaphors addressed to Christ, some of them biblical, some of…

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    Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity (November 10, 2019)

    The Epistle reading for today is from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In it, we are exhorted to “be strong in the Lord” and to “put on the whole armor of God.” Our processional hymn describes the source of our confidence in the midst of spiritual combat, the foundation of our hope. The author of “How firm a foundation” was identified simply as “K” when the hymn was first published in 1787, and his (or her) identity remains a mystery. The text’s remarkable popularity may account for the large number of tunes associated with it. In every previous edition of our Hymnal, a different tune was used. Back in…

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    Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (November 3, 2019)

    Our Processional hymn this Sunday honors the celebration on Friday of All Saints’s Day. “For all the saints” may be the definitive All Saints’ Day hymn. The text was written by William Walsham How (1823-1897) while he was serving as rector at Whittington in Shropshire, a post he held for 28 years before becoming suffragan bishop of East London. The author of over 50 hymns (including eight in our Hymnal), he once answered the question “What constitutes a good hymn?” by answering: “A good hymn is something like a good prayer — simple, real, earnest, and reverent.” A good hymn also includes well-crafted music, and few hymn tunes equal SINE NOMINE,…

  • Service music

    All Saints’ Day (November 1, 2019)

    As a choral prelude for our All Saints’ Day service, the choir sings two stanzas of “If thou but suffer God to guide thee,” a hymn by a pious seventeenth-century German poet. The Bach Cantatas website explains the hymn’s origins: Georg Neumark (1621-1681), who later in life was crowned as poet and held the position of court poet in Weimar, had composed the words and music to this famous chorale after having been attacked and robbed of everything that he possessed while traveling to the University of Königsberg (Kalinengrad) and, in the aftermath of this event, experiencing a difficult winter of deprivation until he finally found a position as a private tutor…

  • Service music

    Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (October 27, 2019)

    Our Processional hymn is “O Splendor of God’s glory bright,” which is often attributed to St. Ambrose, but probably wasn’t his work. (Read more about this hymn here.) Our Sermon hymn is “O Love that wilt not let me go.” It was written by George Matheson on the evening of June 6, 1882. A preacher in the Church of Scotland, Matheson (1842-1906) suffered from severely impaired eyesight from the time of his childhood. He nonetheless excelled in his studies at Glasgow University and later received doctoral degrees from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen. Matheson wrote of this hymn’s origins: “It was composed with extreme rapidity; it…