• Composers

    A Mysterious Sense of Rightness

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Touchstone magazine.] Few composers have prompted as intense and diverse a chorus of responses as Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). His contemporary Johannes Brahms dismissed Bruckner’s massive symphonies as “a swindle that will be forgotten in a few years.” On the other hand, more than a few years later, Ludwig Wittgenstein would remark: “I don’t believe a note of Gustav Mahler. I believe every note of Anton Bruckner.” While some listeners are attracted to his music at first hearing — an attraction that deepens with time — others adamantly deny that there’s anything there worth loving. In 2012, Jessica…

  • Composers,  Essays

    The sound of perpetual light

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Touchstone magazine.] One of the most popular works of twentieth-century sacred choral music is the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). Completed in 1947 and still performed regularly in concert, Duruflé’s Requiem is often linked with the earlier (and probably better known) Requiem by Gabriel Fauré, which dates to 1888. Both works are marked by a comforting, serene spirit and both reflect the influence of French musical impressionism, which offers a harmonic vocabulary of mystery. But Duruflé’s setting is distinguished by its pervasive use of Gregorian chant melodies. In the opening Introit, after an introductory measure of shimmering…

  • Composers

    Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)

    Composer and music historian Carl Schalk has written that “Schütz’s contribution to the shaping of the Lutheran musical tradition, particularly in his sensitive and often dramatic expression of the sense of the text in his music, cannot be overestimated.” Yale musicologist Leo Schrade has observed that Schütz was pre-eminently a composer for vocal music: To Schütz, music exists only in its connection with the text; music without words never did inspire him to any artistic achievement, since such a composition would be deprived of the very foundation of his music. Schütz therefore had no interest in instrumental composition. As a matter of fact, he did not compose any instrumental work that…

  • Composers,  Essays

    Schütz: Baroque before Bach

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of Touchstone magazine.] Exactly one hundred years before the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1685, his greatest German predecessor was born in Köstritz, a small town in what is now Saxony. Heinrich Schütz was arguably the greatest German composer before Bach, the first German composer to enjoy an international reputation. Unlike Bach’s extensive clan, the Schütz family was more involved in commerce and civil service than music. Heinrich’s father, Christoph, eventually became mayor of nearby Weißenfels, but he worked as an innkeeper in that town when Heinrich was a boy. It was there that Heinrich’s natural musical talent…

  • Composers,  Essays

    Christus Victoriae

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of Touchstone magazine.] The medieval city of Ávila, seventy miles northwest of Madrid, is best-known to Christians as the birthplace of St. Teresa de Jesus, the sixteenth-century Carmelite nun, mystic, and reformer. Captured by Moors in A.D. 714, the city was retaken by Christian forces in 1088, after which a network of massive stone walls and towers were constructed to protect the city and its new cathedral, construction of which began around 1091. The apse of the cathedral is one of the turrets in the city walls, possibly evoking echoes of Psalm 46 to generations of believers: “The Lord…

  • Composers

    Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)

    You can read about the life and work of Orlando Gibbons and listen to examples of his music at orlandogibbons.com.   Works by Orlando Gibbons in the All Saints Choir repertoire Almighty and everlasting God Magnificat & Nunc dimittis

  • Composers

    Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

    Works by J. S. Bach in the All Saints Choir repertoire   Christ lag in Todesbanden (chorus from Cantata BWV 4) Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt (aria [duet] from Cantata BWV 4) From Deepest Woe I Call to Thee (chorale from Cantata BWV 38 w/text from BWV 131) Gute Nacht, o Wesen (from Jesu meine Freude, BWV 227) Lobe den Herren, der alles so herrlich regieret (aria from Cantata BWV 137) O little one sweet, O little one mild (O Jesulein suss, o Jesulein mild, BWV 493) Wie freudig ist mein Herz (aria from BWB 199) Wir eilen mit schwachen (aria [duet] from Cantata 78) Other works by Johann Sebastian Bach   Nun komm,…

  • Composers

    James MacMillan (b. 1959)

    James MacMillan is one of the pre-eminent living composers of sacred choral music. Born in Ayshire, he studied composition at Edinburgh and Durham Universities. In 1988, he moved to Glasgow where he worked for some time as music director in a parish church. In his book Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (2007), Jeremy Begbie notes that reviews of James MacMillan’s music consistently identify quality of his works in terms of their lyricism, “raw energy,” “emotional directness,” “humanity,” and “accessible.” He quotes MacMillan’s description of his key influences: “My best teachers were [J. S.] Bach and Palestrina” because they commanded a “complexity of technique but in a…

  • Composers,  Essays

    Echoes of glory

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the July/Auigust 2016 issue of Touchstone magazine.] In a 1990 essay entitled “‘Sing Artistically for God’: Biblical Directives for Church Music,” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger observed that “church music is faith that has become a form of culture.” But in late modernity, “the inner connection of faith to culture is in the throes of a crisis.” This crisis is the result of the fact that for centuries, at least since the Enlightenment, “faith and contemporary culture have drifted apart more and more.” Since the eighteenth century, cultural life — especially in the arts — has been pursued  with a spirit of defiant emancipation from…