• Service music

    Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (February 3, 2019)

    February 2nd marks the feast day known variously as Candlemas (sometimes spelled Candlemass), the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus, and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Book of Common Prayer (see the table page xliv) and Hymnal uses the latter term, which reflects the reason for Mary and Joseph’s presentation of their Son as prescribed in Leviticus 12. It is an event in the life of Jesus that has been depicted in countless paintings and icons. Musically, every setting of the Nunc dimittis — the song Simeon uttered on this occasion — commemorates this moment and its cosmic significance. Our service acknowledges the events remembered…

  • Repertoire

    More on Saul->Paul & music

    After last week’s post concerning Felix Mendelssohn’s musical depiction of the conversion of the apostle Paul, a reader sent a note to remind me of another work based on the account of the confrontation on the road to Damascus. Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) wrote a short piece using the words of the ascended Jesus to the young Church’s chief adversary: Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? (SWV 415). In translation, the text reads: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It will be hard for you to kick against the thorns. Scored for 14 voices plus instruments, it is a dramatic work displaying the influence of the Italian polychoral style on Schütz…

  • Service music

    Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 27, 2019)

    The Collect for this Sunday pleads with God for protection: “in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us.” Such a prayer can be uttered in confidence because God’s people have been assured (in Psalm 46) that “God is our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea.” The familiarity of our opening hymn — “A mighty fortress is our God” — may disguise the fact that the first three verses of Luther’s text were inspired by Psalm 46. Luther’s…

  • Repertoire

    Celebrating the Conversion of St. Paul with some help from Felix Mendelssohn

    Today (January 25th) is the day on which we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul. The only musical portrayal of that remarkable event that I’m aware of is by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). The oratorio Paulus, premiered in 1836, was the work that catapulted the twenty-seven-year-old Mendelssohn into international prominence. Mendelssohn biographer R. Larry Todd writes: Paulus was greeted with a rare, nearly unanimous critical acclaim. A clear indication of its success was its rapid reception in foreign countries, including England, Denmark, Holland, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States (where three performances followed in quick succession in Boston, New York and Baltimore between 1837 and 1839).* The text of…

  • Service music

    Second Sunday after Epiphany (January 20, 2019)

    Since our Gospel reading is the account from St. Matthew of Jesus’s baptism, our service features two hymns that are centered around the baptism and the Baptist. Our Processional Hymn is one we could have sung during Advent, but I saved it for this week. Despite his profound role in the history of redemption, John the Baptist doesn’t have a lot of hymnody connected with him, at least not in our Hymnal. But we do have “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry.” The text is by Charles Coffin (1676-1749), who was noted in his lifetime for his Latin poetry. John Henry Newman published a collection of a number of Coffin’s…

  • Service music

    First Sunday after Epiphany (January 13, 2019)

    On the Sunday after Epiphany, our congregation will sing as its processional hymn “All people that on earth do dwell” (#278). The text for this familiar hymn is a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 100, which — along with Psalm 93 and Psalms 95-99 — celebrate God’s rule over all of Creation. The Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 40 declared that the glory of the Lord would be revealed, “and all flesh shall see it together.” Likewise, the angels told the shepherds that the joy introduced by Christ’s birth “shall be to all people.” As we sang last week on Epiphany, the coming of the wise men from the east signaled the…

  • Hymns

    The Music of Epiphany: Saw you never, in the twilight

    Other than “We three kings,” there aren’t many hymns or carols that are commonly associated with Epiphany. One hymn that we sing on average every other year (but we should probably sing it every year) is “Saw you never, in the twilight” (The Hymnal, #50). This hymn (originally entitled “The Adoration of the Wise Men”) was one of almost 400 hymns and poems written by the wife of an Irish bishop, Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895). Among her better known hymns are “All things bright and beautiful,” “Once in Royal David’s city,” “There is a green hill far away,” and “He is risen, He is risen!” Mrs. Alexander was especially concerned to write…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Incarnation (The Gabrieli Consort)

    During the twelve days of Christmas, I’ve been recommending recordings of Christmas music. This is the twelfth and last “review,” and I realize that many readers have probably stopped listening to Christmas music by now. But you can still make notes for next year’s listening (and gift-buying). Several days ago, I discussed an album of music by Michael Praetorius and others, a recording that reconstructed what a Christmas-day service at a major church in central Germany around 1620 might have sounded like. Today I’ve got another recording by the Gabrieli Consort, conducted by Paul McCreesh. It’s called Incarnation, and the title of the album is a clue that the program…

  • Service music

    Epiphany (January 6, 2019)

    The star of Christmas becomes the star of Epiphany as the Magi arrive in Bethlehem. The Greek word behind our English “epiphany” means literally a “showing forth.” What is shown to these Oriental travelers is not simply the presence of God in human form, but — what they were seeking — the “King of the Jews.” And their coming to honor him is a sign that the King of the Jews is in truth the King of all kings. During Advent, we sang “Savor of the nations, come,” Epiphany is the season in which the universality of Christ’s rule is celebrated. It seems that this aspect of Christ’s birth is…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Cristóbal de Morales Christmas motets

    In the past four years, our choir has been privileged to sing five different pieces by a sadly neglected composer from the Spanish Renaissance, Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-1553). Born in Seville, Morales was hailed during his lifetime as “la luz de España en la music” (“the light of Spain in music”). He was clearly the most famous Spanish composer before Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) and probably one of the most widely performed composers throughout Christendom in the middle of the sixteenth century. Between 1535-1545, he sang in the choir of the Sistine Chapel. His time in Rome may have some bearing on the fact that his compositional style seems…