• Repertoire

    Arvo Pärt
    Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen (1988)

    For the past week, I’ve been parcelling out the pieces of a work that should be experienced whole, although in performance and on recordings, some of the movements of Arvo Pärt’s Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen are sometimes extracted and presented without the full context. Before Christmas arrives, I thought I should make easily available on these pages a performance of the entire work. From the Arvo Pärt Centre’s website, here is the “official” summary of the work: Arvo Pärt has assembled these prayers into one comprehensive concert piece based on the German text of the antiphons. The work is composed in rigorous tintinnabulistyle, but each part has its own complete form and…

  • Service music

    “O Antiphons,” VII
    Arvo Pärt
    O Immanuel

    The final O Antiphon in this week before Christmas is O Emmanuel. In invoking the name which affirms “God with us,” the text summarizes the character of the salvation that comes with that divine presence: O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:the hope of the nations and their Saviour:veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.Come and save us, O Lord our God. Arvo Pärt’s setting of this final antiphon is the longest of the seven movements, as it repeats the text three times. The first statement of the texts is a long ascending sequence of chords that builds a sense of…

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    “O Antiphons,” VI
    Arvo Pärt
    O König aller Völker

    The O antiphon for December 22nd reminds us that the coming of Christ into the world is an inescapably political event. It speaks of the coming King of nations as the source of unity, encouraging us to remember that an authentic quest for unity cannot marginalize or relativize the place of Christ as the unifier, as the one in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17). Deep dissatisfaction with discord should not be understood in merely psychological or sociological terms. It is a recognition (however faint) of the disordering effects of sin and a longing (however inchoate) for redemption, which will have political consequences. O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,O…

  • Service music

    Fourth Sunday in Advent
    (December 22, 2019)

    The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the account in St. John’s Gospel of the encounter between John the Baptist and the priests and Levites from Jerusalem. Rather than asking him what his goals are, they ask him who he is. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Our processional hymn — “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” — was written in Latin by the French priest and educator Charles Coffin (1676-1749). For a time rector of the University of Paris, Coffin wrote about 100 Latin hymns, in addition to a large amount of Latin poetry. The Hymnal 1940 Companion…

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    Dietrich Buxtehude:
    Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme

    On the third Sunday of Advent, our parish sang the hymn, “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” The remarkable text and tune behind this hymn have served as the starting point for a number of compositions that I’ve highlighted in the past week or so. Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata Wachet auf, ruf uns die Stimme is the best known of these works. But a much smaller scale cantata by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) is also worth repeated listenings. Buxtehude’s Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BuxWV 100) is in four short movements: a brief introductory instrumental Sinfonia, with four violins and continuo; Verse 1 of the hymn sung by a soprano…

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    “O Antiphons,” V
    Arvo Pärt
    O Morgenstern

    The fifth of Arvo Pärt’s settings for the O Antiphons is O Morgenstern, “O Morning Light.” Newer translations of the Latin of this antiphon render it “O Radiant Dawn.” (Members of our parish will recall the choir’s singing of the setting of this antiphon by James MacMillan, which uses this translation.) O Oriens,O Morning Star,splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. Unlike MacMillan’s setting, which suggests a sudden flash of light, Pärt’s treatment of this invocation of the Light of the world shimmers, it…

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    “O Antiphons,” IV
    Arvo Pärt
    O Schlüssel Davids

    The fourth of the O Antiphons is O clavis David — O Key of David. The image of the Messiah as a key is suggested by a passage in Isaiah 22. Poet Malcolm Guite, who has written a series of sonnets inspired by these seven texts, has commented that “of all the mystic titles of Christ, this is the one that connects most closely with our ‘secular’ psychology. We speak of the need on the one hand for ‘closure’ and on the other for ‘unlocking’, for ‘opening’, for ‘liberation’.” O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;qui aperis, et nemo claudit;you…

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    Jean Titelouze:
    Conditor alme siderum

    Priest, composer, and organist Jean Titelouze (c. 1563–1633) is credited with being a (perhaps the) founder of the French organ school, an approach to composition which continued to influence composers into the 20th century (e.g., Louis Vierne, Maurice Duruflé, Marie-Claire Alain, Olivier Messiaen, and others). In 1588 Titelouze became organist at Rouen Cathedral, where he supervised the rebuilding of the organ. In the early 17th century, Rouen’s organ was regarded as the greatest in France (which was really saying something), establishing a standard both for instruments and the compositional possibilities they presented. In 1623, Titelouze published Hymnes de l’Eglise, a collection of musical explorations of a number of plainchant tunes…

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    “O Antiphons,” III
    Arvo Pärt
    O sproß aus Isais Wurzel

    While the second of Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat antiphons employed low voices to proclaim the power and authority of Yahweh, the third — O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel — uses dissonant upper voices to express the crisis precipitated among the nations by the prophesied Messiah. Here is the Latin of the original antiphon: O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;super quem continebunt reges os suum,before you kings will shut their mouths,quem Gentes deprecabuntur:to you the nations will make their prayer:veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.Come and deliver us, and delay no longer. The Messiah is addressed in this text…

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    Michael Praetorius:
    Wachet auf

    One of our parish’s favorite Advent hymns is “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” We sang it this past Sunday (Advent 3), and last week I shared a couple settings of the tune and text that explored its musical possibilities. Michael Praetorius (1571-1621, about whose music for Christmas I recently wrote elsewhere) composed an extended piece based on this melody. His grand setting of Wachet auf was part of a collection of music published in 1619 called Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica. the subtitle of which was “Festive Concert of Peace and Joy.” Polyhymnia contained 40 concerto-cantatas for voices and instruments written in the expansive Venetian style (if you have no…