• Repertoire,  Service music

    Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels

    Today’s feast day is also known as Michaelmas, traditionally celebrated in Great Britain and elsewhere as the last day of the autumn harvest. The Book of Revelation (12:7-9) describes a war in heaven in which the Archangel Michael leads an angelic host to defeat Satan. That description accounts for the Church’s confident belief that God protects us each day by the watchful agency of angels, a protection recognized in the Collect for today: “O Everlasting God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may…

  • Hymns,  Repertoire

    Georg Neumark, Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten

    On this page: The text: comfort in contentmentThe tune: confidence in a minor keySome of J. S. Bach’s settings of this tuneFelix Mendelssohn’s cantata, Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten [Lawrence L. Lohr wrote an informative article in The Hymn (Vol. 49, No. 3, July 1998) titled “‘If thou but suffer God to guide thee’: The Journey of a Lutheran Hymn.” You may read and download a copy of that article here.] Origins of the text A hymn text and a chorale melody are both known by the name Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (“Whoever lets our beloved God rule”). Both are the work of Georg Neumark…

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    The wonder of his works

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of Touchstone magazine.] In a recent conversation, a local pastor commented that many of his parishioners seem to behave as if the Bible begins in Genesis 3 with the account of the Fall, rather than in Genesis 1 with the glorious account of Creation. This confirmed my suspicions that theology for many Christians has been reduced to soteriology. They understand the horror and tragedy of the dark shadow of sin without paying attention to the colors and textures of that on which the shadow falls. They are aware that all we like sheep have gone astray, but they are not…

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    William Byrd, Te Deum laudamus

    William Byrd’s setting of this canticle traditionally sung at Morning Prayer is part of his “Great Service.” The adjective “great” means “large,” not “excellent.” And the noun “service” refers to the three services that were part of the daily Anglican liturgical life: Morning Prayer, Holy Communion, and Evening Prayer. The collection known as the “Great Service” includes three of the canticles appointed for use during Morning Prayer (Venite, Te Deum, and Benedictus), two texts from Holy Communion (the Kyrie and the Creed), and two of the canticles sung during Evening Prayer (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis). Byrd’s Great Service, writes conductor Peter Phillips, “is the most elaborate and the lengthiest setting…

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    J. S. Bach, Christ lag in Todesbanden, “Christ lay in death’s bonds” (Cantata BWV 4)

    Composed for use on Easter Sunday, Christ lag in Todesbanden is one of Bach’s best-known church cantatas. It is also one of his earliest, probably written in 1708 when Bach was organist at St. Blasius church in Mühlhausen. A distinctive feature of this work is that it uses — unaltered — all 7 stanzas from a Lutheran hymn. First published in 1524. Luther’s hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden was a loose German paraphrase of an 11th-century Latin hymn, one which we sing every Easter (in English): “Christians, to the Paschal victim” (#97). In addition to adapting the Latin text for use in congregational singing in German, Luther and his colleague…

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    Choral music for Easter, Part V — Bach, Easter Oratorio

    “Come, hurry and run, you nimble feet; reach the cavern that sheltered Jesus! Laughing and jesting attend our hearts, for our Salvation is raised.” The first chorus in Bach’s Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) captures the joy unleashed by the Resurrection. As Bach tells the story of the discovery the empty tomb, Easter joy is revealed to be complex. It is more than excitement; it comprises comfort, consolation, hope, love, praise, and thanksgiving. Below — at the bottom of this post — is a complete performance of Bach’s Easter Oratorio by the Netherlands Bach Society. But the first embedded video is a helpful 6-minute introduction to the work, featuring comments by…

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    Choral music for Easter, Part IV — Jean l’Héritier, Surrexit pastor bonus

    Many of the most memorable musical compositions that celebrate the fact of the Resurrection are — fittingly — thrilling and extravagant. Bring out the brass, unleash the timpani, pull out all the stops on the organ! But there are also works that contemplatively and with humble austerity reflect on the mysteries of the event which is the turning point of history. Such is the case with this setting of Surrexit pastor bonus (The good shepherd has arisen) by a little-known French Renaissance composer. Jean l’Hértier was born in northern France around 1480, and died sometime after 1551. He studied with the great master of the early Renaissance, Josquin des Prez,…

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    Choral music for Easter, Part III — Guerrero, Maria Magdalena et altera Maria

    In 2018, our choir had the pleasure of bringing into our celebration of the Resurrection a wonderfully delicate and evocative composition by the Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599). Well, we actually only sang the first half of the work, as the complete work takes around 7 minutes to sing, which makes it a bit long for an Offertory in our service. The work is called Maria Magdalene et altera (Mary Magdalen and the other Mary). It describes the visit to the tomb of the women who were the first people to learn about the Resurrection. Here is the text of the first part of the motet: Maria Magdalene et altera…

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    Choral music for Easter, Part II — Philips, Christus resurgens

    Last year, on Easter Sunday, our choir sang a setting of Christus resurgens by Peter Philips (1561-1628). A boy-chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Philips refused to convert to Protestantism at the time of the English Reformation, and spent most of his life — and very successful career — in Catholic European regions. The text to Christus resurgens is one that we were planning on singing this year, in a setting by a different composer. Christus resurgens ex mortuis, jam non moritur, mors illi ultra non dominabitur.     Christ, rising again from the dead, dieth now no more. Death shall no more have dominion over him.Quod enim mortuus est peccato,…

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    Choral music for Easter, Part I — Richafort, Christus resurgens

    Back in the pre-quarantine era, the choir had begun work on an anthem for Easter Sunday morning. It has been my habit to find some of the most wondrous, most elaborate, most effusive music in the repertoire for us to share with the congregation as we celebrate the Resurrection together. And the choir has always worked hard — and remarkably, without complaining — to try to master the pieces I have selected. This year, we had planned on singing a piece by a composer whose work was new to us. Not much is known by anyone about Jean Richafort, who was born sometime around 1480, somewhere in the Netherlands. He…