• Repertoire

    Francisco Guerrero: Conditor alme siderum

    This is the third in a series of “lessons” about how Renaissance composers explored the musical potential of the plainchant melody in Conditor alme siderum. In English translation (“Creator of the stars of night”) this hymn has been our Sequence hymn during Advent. (The earlier pieces featured compositions by Victoria and Dufay.) Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) shares Spanish nationality with Tomás Luis de Victoria. But while Victoria spent much of his career in Rome, Guerrero spent most of his life in Spain, and most of that time making music at the Cathedral in Seville. His setting of the 6 verses of Conditor alme siderum — like Victoria’s — alternates between plainsong (odd-numbered…

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    Guillaume Dufay: Conditor alme siderum

    Here is another setting of Conditor alma siderum — our Sequence hymn for the season of Advent — and the earliest setting I’ll be presenting. It’s by a prominent 15th-century composer, Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474). Dufay was one of the leading composers of his time, and a widely influential figure in shaping the direction taken in the music of the Renaissance. Ordained a deacon, then a priest, Dufay became a member of the choir at the Papal chapel in Rome. But it was an era of great turmoil in the Church, with tumultuous Councils, schisms, and an antipope. Perhaps that explains why Dufay traveled a lot, which extended his aesthetic influence across Europe. In…

  • Hymns,  Repertoire

    How bright appears the Morning Star

    Text: Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608) Music: Philipp Nicolai Tune name: FRANKFORT or WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET THE TEXT The text for this hymn was originally published (in German) in 1599, with the first line “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.” Originally including seven stanzas, it bore the title “A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, her heavenly Bridegroom, founded on the 45th Psalm of the prophet David.” This description may perplex us, as we often sing this hymn during the Epiphany or Advent seasons, and — based on the English translation in our Hymnal — for good reason. After all, the first stanza ends with the plea: “Great Emmanuel, come and…

  • Repertoire

    Tomás Luis de Victoria: Conditor alme siderum

    During Advent, our congregation has been singing the hymn, “Creator, of the stars of light,” as our Sequence Hymn. As the name of the hymn’s tune suggests, this hymn is based on the 7th-century Latin hymn Conditor alme siderum. As Advent wanes, I thought it might be helpful to listen to settings of this venerable text and tune by various composers. On the first Sunday in Advent, our choir was planning to sing a setting by Tomás Luis de Victoria. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, and we didn’t have the “fullness of voices” the piece requires. Maybe next year. Victoria’s setting was written for four vocal parts. It includes…

  • Repertoire

    Guillaume Dufay: Conditor alme siderum

    Here is another setting of Conditor alma siderum, our Sequence hymn for the season of Advent, and the earliest setting I’ll be presenting. It’s by a prominent 15th-century composer, Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474). Dufay is one of the leading composers of his time, and a widely influential figure in shaping the direction taken in the music of the Renaissance. Ordained a deacon, then a priest, Dufay became a member of the choir at the Papal chapel in Rome. But it was an era of great turmoil in the Church, with tumultuous Councils, schisms, and an antipope. Perhaps that explains why Dufay traveled a lot, which extended his aesthetic influence across Europe. In addition…

  • Repertoire,  Texts

    O antiphons

    The song of the Virgin Mary, the Magnificat, has long been sung in the evening services in the Church, whether Vespers in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran liturgies, or Evening Prayer in the Anglican tradition. When the Magnificat is sung, it is often set apart — before and after —  by the singing or saying of an antiphon, a short phrase that reinforces some aspect of the significance of Mary’s song. Sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries, it became common during the week before Christmas to use a series of special Magnificat antiphons. A different text was used each night from December 17th through the 23rd, and each text…

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    Bach’s Advent cantatas, part 3: Schwingt freudig euch empor (BWV 36)

    While most of the cantatas written by Johann Sebastian Bach were written for liturgical use, he also wrote a number of cantatas that are typically designated as “secular.” These were written to accompany festive civic celebrations, for the private enjoyment of noble patrons and their guests, and for other public performances. Conductor Masaaki Suzuki — who with the Bach Collegium Japan has recorded all of Bach’s cantatas — has commented that “in Bach’s attitude toward composing there was no difference between sacred and secular cantatas, in spite of some technical differences derived from the different aim. And this is probably how he has felt about his life in — and…

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    Bach’s Advent cantatas, part 2: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland II (BWV 62)

    In Lutheran Germany in the early 18th century, the first Sunday in Advent was the last time until Christmas when any elaborate music would be heard in church services. The relative austerity of the second, third, and fourth Sundays in Advent served to focus attention on the prospect of Christ’s return in judgment. It also gave church musicians an opportunity to concentrate their energy on preparing for the grueling demands of the Christmas season. Advent of 1724 was J. S. Bach’s second season as Kapellmeister at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. For the first Sunday in Advent that year he wrote a second cantata based on Luther’s Advent hymn, Nun…

  • Repertoire,  Texts

    Nunc dimittis

    The Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32) is known as the Nunc dimittis, from the first two words of the Latin translation of text (meaning “Now you dismiss”). It is one of the most moving of the canticles in Scripture. It combines the quiet, intimate confidence of a humble and faithful servant of God with a bold and comprehensive summary of God’s purposes for all the world and for all of history. Here is the full text as it is usually sung (with the English translation from the Book of Common Prayer, plus a final Gloria Patri, which is traditionally added): Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace: Lord, now…

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    Gibbons, Magnificat & Nunc dimittis (from Short Service in A-flat)

    Music historian Peter Le Huray describes the so called “Short Service” of Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) as “an unusually tuneful work, and for this reason, perhaps, it was quite the most popular setting of its day.” This collection included canticles for Morning Prayer (Venite, Te Deum, and Benedictus), settings of the Kyrie and Credo for Holy Communion, and a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for Evensong. Our parish doesn’t often have a full Evensong service, so — unlike many Anglican choirs — our choir doesn’t have many settings of the canticles for Evening Prayer in its repertoire. But we have sung Gibbons’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, usually near the Feast of St.…