• Composers,  Essays,  Hymns

    Not just a one-hit wonder

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Touchstone magazine. Recordings of musical works mentioned are assembled at the bottom of this page.] If the name of the composer Hans Leo Hassler is recognized at all, it is probably in connection with a melody frequently sung and heard during Holy Week. In hymnals, the tune is often identified as Passion Chorale, and it is the melody to which we sing the passiontide hymn “O sacred Head, now wounded.” The tune first appeared in print in 1601, in a collection of secular songs by Hassler. The text that originally accompanied that tune was a wistful five-stanza song of…

  • Composers,  Essays

    Artful repentance

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Touchstone magazine.] The Psalms, C. S. Lewis reminds us, are poems, “and poems intended to be sung: not doctrinal treatises, nor even sermons.” Since they are lyrics, the psalms, Lewis insists, are characterized by “all the licenses and all the formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry.” We must always resist the temptation to reduce our reading of a psalm to a set of neatly contained bullet points, since the perception of meaning in poetry always requires our imaginative participation in the text. And singing usually helps. We don’t have access…

  • Composers

    Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

    Beginning in 2008, the BBC produced a series of programs called “Sacred Music.” Hosted by actor and former chorister Simon Russell Beale, the programs included performances by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers. The second broadcast in the series was called “Palestrina and the Popes.” Works by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrinain the All Saints Choir repertoire Ad te levavi oculos meosAdoramus te, ChristeAgnus Dei, from Missa Brevisin FBenedicta sit sancta TrinitasBenedictus es DomineDextera DominiEgo sum panis vivus à 4Improperium expectavit cor meumLoquebantur variis linguisO Rex gloriaeO salutaris hostiaSanctus/Benedictus, from Missa Brevis in FScapulis suisSicut cervusSuper flumina Babylonis à 4Tantum ergoVeni Creator Spiritus

  • Composers

    Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594)

    The essay “Eloquent Lamentation” contains a brief introduction to the life and work of Lassus. Works by Orlande de Lassus in theAll Saints Choir repertoire Agnus Dei (from Missa Doulce Mémoire) Agnus Dei (from Missa Octavi toni) Benedictus es Domine Christus Resurgens Ego sum panis vivus Ego sum resurrectio et vita Expectans expectavi Fili, quid fecisti nobis Jubilate deo Justorum animae Perfice gressus meus Super flumina Babylonis

  • Composers,  Essays

    Eloquent lamentation

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Touchstone magazine.] Among musically knowledgeable listeners, even those who admire the music of the high Renaissance, the work of Orlande de Lassus is woefully unfamiliar. It was not always so. During his lifetime, in the second half of the sixteenth century, Lassus was easily the most famous composer in Europe. With contemporaries that included Palestrina, Victoria, and Byrd, such fame is a remarkable tribute to his artistic accomplishments. Another contemporary, the celebrated French poet Pierre de Ronsard, hailed Lassus as one “who like a bee has sipped all the most beautiful flowers of the ancients and moreover seems alone…

  • Composers,  Essays

    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 Ducken, a…

  • 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…