• Service music

    Sunday after Christmas (December 30, 2018)

    The text to our first hymn  “Of the Father’s love begotten,” dates to the late third or early fourth century. It is part of a longer poem by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413), a Romano-Spanish magistrate who retired from public service at the age of 57 to dedicate his life to prayer and the composition of devotional verse. While his poetry was not intended for liturgical use, some of the stanzas have been adapted for use as hymns. In his Sacred Latin Poetry (1874), Abp. R. C. Trench noted that Prudentuius “writes as a man intensely in earnest, and we may gather much from his writings concerning the points of conduct which were…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Noëls Celtiques – Celtic Christmas Music from Brittany

    One might easily assume that a disc of “Celtic Christmas music” would feature Irish or Scots or maybe Welsh folk music. But the Breton language is another Celtic tongue, closely related to Cornish and Welsh. The Breton people emigrated from Cornwall and Devon to Brittany beginning in the third century, to escape Anglo-Saxon invaders; Brittany is sometimes called Less, Lesser, or Little Britain. This unique Christmas recording captures some of the heritage of Brittany. A few songs on this album have known Welsh or Cornish ancestry, some are identified simply as “traditional,” and a few are more recent compositions. All of them are sung in Breton by the L’Ensemble Choral du Bout…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Christmas Music from English Parish Churches, 1740-1830

    Irish-born Nahum Tate (1652-1715) spent most of his working life in London, where he was well-known as a poet and playwright. In 1692 he was named poet laureate, and in 1702 he was appointed the official royal historian. Today he is best known for having compiled (with poet/priest Nicholas Brady) A New Version of the Psalms, fitted to the tunes used in churches (1696). It was a collection of metrical paraphrases of the Psalms for use in worship. A Supplement was issued in 1700 which contained some new translations, as well as six hymns (as opposed to paraphrased Psalms) that were officially approved for use in worship. This was a…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: The Promise of Ages (Taverner Consort)

    On Christmas Eve in our parish, we heard a sermon about the mystery of the Incarnation. God loves flesh; how surprising is that?? His love for us is not an abstraction, but a Person born of a woman. The text to the fourteenth-century poem A spotless rose (discussed yesterday) compares Jesus to a rose from the root of Jesse. This situates the Messiah in human history, with all its fleshly particularity and vulnerability. Meanwhile, another medieval poem that has often been set to music — There is no rose — uses the imagery of the rose to describe the Virgin Mary, her body wondrously transcending the usual configuration of space and…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Christmas Night (Cambridge Singers)

    Almost every year, someone in our parish asks me to recommend some recordings of Christmas music. Since I’ve been collecting such albums since before there were commercial cassette tapes readily available (let alone CDs or MP3s), it’s not easy to come up with a short list. Over the twelve days of Christmas, I hope to have the time and discipline to offer here some suggestions about music to listen to that transcends the tendency toward sentimentalism in the sounds of Christmas that characterizes (tragically) the experience of far too many people. I’ll start with a very approachable recording that features a number of familiar carols and hymns, including many arrangements that have been…

  • Online resources

    Christmas Eve: Lessons and carols from Cambridge

    This year marks the centenary of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge. This service has been broadcast on the BBC since 1928 and in recent years has been available (without requiring a shortwave radio) around the world — live and delayed streaming — via the Internet. The 90-minute service will be broadcast live at 3:00 GMT on Christmas Eve, but may be heard later through the BBC website.

  • Service music

    Fourth Sunday in Advent (December 23, 2018)

    Our opening hymn on this final Sunday in Advent, “How bright appears the Morning Star,” is another one of Philipp Nicolai’s stirring Advent hymns (we sang “Wake, awake, for night is flying” two weeks ago). It turns out that the text we sing is inspired by a poem by Nicolai, but it is actually quite a bit different (see here for an explanation). The Introit for this Sunday is from Isaiah 45 and Psalm 19: Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open and bring forth a Saviour. The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament showeth his handy-work. That text…

  • Repertoire

    Orlando de Lassus: Conditor alme siderum

    The fourth and last in my series on Renaissance motets based on Conditor alme siderum features a setting by a composer who is far too under-appreciated. As I wrote recently in Touchstone: 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…

  • Repertoire

    Francisco Guerrero: Conditor alme siderum

    This is the third in a series of “lessons” about how Renaissance composers explored the musical potential of the plainchant melody in Conditor alme siderum. In English translation (“Creator of the stars of night”) this hymn has been our Sequence hymn during Advent. (The earlier pieces featured compositions by Victoria and Dufay.) Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) shares Spanish nationality with Tomás Luis de Victoria. But while Victoria spent much of his career in Rome, Guerrero spent most of his life in Spain, and most of that time making music at the Cathedral in Seville. His setting of the 6 verses of Conditor alme siderum — like Victoria’s — alternates between plainsong (odd-numbered…

  • Repertoire

    Guillaume Dufay: Conditor alme siderum

    Here is another setting of Conditor alma siderum — our Sequence hymn for the season of Advent — and the earliest setting I’ll be presenting. It’s by a prominent 15th-century composer, Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474). Dufay was one of the leading composers of his time, and a widely influential figure in shaping the direction taken in the music of the Renaissance. Ordained a deacon, then a priest, Dufay became a member of the choir at the Papal chapel in Rome. But it was an era of great turmoil in the Church, with tumultuous Councils, schisms, and an antipope. Perhaps that explains why Dufay traveled a lot, which extended his aesthetic influence across Europe. In…