• 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

    Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

    Works by J. S. Bach in theAll 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 byJohann Sebastian Bach Christ lag in Todesbanden (Cantata BWV…

  • 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…

  • Composers

    Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

    Writing about the music of Herbert Howells, his student and biographer Paul Spicer summarizes: This is not music to draw in the masses. It is not music to be broadcast from loudspeakers across a football stadium with massed congregations. It is a private spiritual experience and his aim was to conjure a very specific atmosphere. This is music addressing a God who is firmly in his heaven and where his angels minister for him on earth. It is music of dignity, distance and also incredible passion, which creates an intense sense of wonder in the listener. It is musical impressionism – very much parallel to what was being so successfully…

  • Composers

    Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)

    Thomas Tallis is one of the pre-eminent composers of the Edwardian and early Elizabethan period, in the opinion of some experts (such as Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars) one of the greatest English composers of all time. His work had a lasting influence in the development of music within the Anglican tradition, and so is a staple in our choir’s repertoire. Scholars believe that much of the music he composed has sadly been lost, destroyed during the “cleansing” of all things liturgical during the Puritan regime in the seventeenth century. You can read more about Tallis’s life and work in “Sacred song and the Tudors.” Works by Thomas Tallis…

  • Composers

    Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611)

    In 2011, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Victoria’s death, the BBC produced a one-hour documentary entitled “God’s Composer.” Hosted by actor (and former chorister) Simon Russell Beale, the program featured performances of Victoria’s music by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers. The program was an extension of the BBC’s earlier “Sacred Music” series. For an introduction to Victoria’s life and work, read “Christus Victoriae.” This article focuses on music written by Victoria for Holy Week. Works by Tomás Luis de Victoria in theAll Saints Choir repertoire Caligaverunt oculi mei Conditor alme siderum Eram quasi agnus Genitori genitoque Hosanna filio David Jesus, traditit impius Judas, mercator pessimus Kyrie (from Missa O…