• Repertoire,  Texts

    Conditor alme siderum

    This Advent hymn dates back at least to the 7th Century. At one time it was attributed to St. Ambrose, but his authorship is no longer considered likely. It has long been sung during Advent, especially at Vespers services..   Here is the hymn chanted by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, a monastery in the southern part of the Vienna woods:   This chant has served as the basis for motets written by many composers, including Guillaume Dufay, Orlande de Lassus, Giovanni Luigi da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Ludwig Senfl, and Michael Praetorius. Below is the Latin text and a fairly literal English translation. The translation in our Hymnal takes some…

  • 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 a Spanish origin 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…

  • Repertoire

    Happy St. Cecilia’s Day!

    We know very little about St. Cecilia’s life, other than the fact that it ended in martyrdom, probably in the early to mid-third century. Many stories associate her with singing — in acts of prayer as a young woman and in the face of her torturers. In the middle ages, she was named the patron saint of music and of Church musicians. In works of art and literature that extol the mysterious, cosmic power of music — connecting earthly with celestial music — St. Cecilia is often referenced. John Dryden’s “An Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687,” for example, is about the creative power of music, not about St. Cecilia, although she…

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    Howells, A Hymn for St. Cecilia

    Not surprisingly, there are many musical works in honor of the patron saint of music. In 1960, English composer Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was commissioned to compose A Hymn for St. Cecilia by the Worshipful Company of Musicians. In 1959-60, Howells was Master of this body, which is one of the Livery Companies of the city of London with a history dating back to the middle of the fourteenth century. At one time, this musicians’ guild had complete control over all musical performances in London. They now serve a ceremonial and philanthropic role. The text chosen for Howells’s piece is by poet and writer Ursula Vaughan Williams (1911-2007), the second wife of composer…

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    Mendelssohn, Aus tiefer not

    Based on Martin Luther’s paraphrase of Psalm 130, Felix Mendelssohn’s setting of Aus tiefer Not is the first of three grouped together in Drei Kirchenmusiken (Op. 23). The other two pieces are a setting of Ave Maria and Mitten wir im Leben sind (“In the Midst of Life we are in Death”), Luther’s re-working of an eleventh-century Latin antiphon, Media vita in morte sumus. Mendelssohn’s Aus tiefer not is a cantata-like piece in in F-minor in five movements, each movement featuring one of the five verses in Luther’s paraphrase of the psalm. It has often been recognized as Mendelssohn’s most “Bachian” composition, both in the sound of the music and…

  • Essays,  Repertoire

    Bend down thy gracious ear

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Touchstone magazine.] The Reformation’s lasting influence on the music of the Church begins with the publication in early 1524 of Etlich Cristlich lider Lobgesan, the first Lutheran hymnbook. Also known as the Achtliederbuch, the Hymnal of Eight, it contained the German texts for just eight hymns (four of which were by Luther) and only five tunes. One of the texts — printed under the heading “Der Psalm de Profundis” — was Luther’s paraphrase of Psalm 130. Better known by the first several words in the German, “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu Dir,” this hymn has been translated…

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    Byrd, Ave verum corpus

    This short Eucharistic hymn dates to the 14th century, and has sometimes been attributed to Pope Innocent VI (d 1362). Ave, verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine: vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine: cuius latus perforatum unda fluxit et sanguine: esto nobis praegustatum, in mortis examine. O dulcis, O pie, O Jesu, Fili Mariae. Miserere mei. Amen. Translation: Hail the true body, born of the Virgin Mary: You who truly suffered and were sacrificed on the cross for the sake of man. From whose pierced side flowed water and blood: Be a foretaste for us in the trial of death. O sweet, O gentle, O Jesu, son of Mary,…

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    Monteverdi, Messa da Capella a quattro voci (1641)

    In 1641, late in his career and life, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) published Selva Morale e Spirituale, a collection of sacred works composed while serving for decades as mastro di cappella at St. Marks Basilica in Venice. It was the largest collection of sacred music he had published since 1610, prior to his arrival in Venice. Within the collection is a setting of the Mass written for four a cappella voices. It is one of three a cappella masses composed by Monteverdi. Our choir has sung the Sanctus/Benedictus and the Agnus Dei from this work, as well as the Agnus Dei from the Mass published posthumously in 1650. My article “Passionate Praise”…

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    Justorum animae

    The Offertory for the Feast of All Saints is a text from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom: Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt, et non tanget illos tormentum mortis. Visi sunt oculis insipientium mori, illi autem sunt in pace. The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die; but they are in peace.   Composers whose setting of Justorum animae our choir has sung   Orlande de Lassus Charles Villiers Stanford