• Repertoire

    Tomás Luis de Victoria: Conditor alme siderum

    During Advent, our congregation has been singing the hymn, “Creator, of the stars of light,” as our Sequence Hymn. As the name of the hymn’s tune suggests, this hymn is based on the 7th-century Latin hymn Conditor alme siderum. As Advent wanes, I thought it might be helpful to listen to settings of this venerable text and tune by various composers. On the first Sunday in Advent, our choir was planning to sing a setting by Tomás Luis de Victoria. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, and we didn’t have the “fullness of voices” the piece requires. Maybe next year. Victoria’s setting was written for four vocal parts. It includes…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Gregorian Chants (Advent)

    Earlier this week, I recommended a recording of Advent music sung by an all-female group, the sisters of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. The current recording features an all-male ensemble, CantArte Regensburg. This album includes traditional Gregorian chant settings of many texts used liturgically during Advent, including texts from the propers for the Sundays in Advent (Introits, Gradual and Alleluia, Offertory, Communion) and the texts for the O antiphons, traditionally sung at Vespers during the last week of Advent. There are different ways of chanting these venerable works. Sometimes one hears recordings of monks who seem to have among their ranks sincere but somnabular brothers whose chanting may convey…

  • Service music

    Third Sunday in Advent (December 16, 2018)

    Our service will open with one of the most familiar of Advent hymns, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” This hymn conveys ancient texts in the life of the Church, but its recovery within English-Language hymnody is in large measure thanks to priest-poet-translator John Mason Neale (1818-1866). His involvement with the Oxford Movement led to efforts to restore to more common use a number of profound hymns from the Church’s first millennium. The Introit chanted (or said) on the third Sunday in Advent is from the 4th chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” If our choir chanted that text in Latin,…

  • Repertoire

    Bach’s Advent cantatas, part 3: Schwingt freudig euch empor (BWV 36)

    While most of the cantatas written by Johann Sebastian Bach were written for liturgical use, he also wrote a number of cantatas that are typically designated as “secular.” These were written to accompany festive civic celebrations, for the private enjoyment of noble patrons and their guests, and for other public performances. Conductor Masaaki Suzuki — who with the Bach Collegium Japan has recorded all of Bach’s cantatas — has commented that “in Bach’s attitude toward composing there was no difference between sacred and secular cantatas, in spite of some technical differences derived from the different aim. And this is probably how he has felt about his life in — and…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: Advent at Ephesus

    Not far from the ancient city of Ephesus is a small stone building traditionally known by Christians and Muslims as the “house of Mary.” Since the 19th century, the building has been maintained as a shrine to the Virgin Mother of Jesus. About 5,900 miles away — an hour’s drive north of Kansas City, Missouri — is the site of the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus. It is the home of the small community of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. The sisters living, working, praying, and singing there recognize a connection between their vocation and the house of Mary As their website explains: This little home is the…

  • Service music

    Second Sunday in Advent (December 9, 2018)

    This Sunday, our processional hymn is “Savior of the nations, come.” For some reason, this venerable hymn didn’t get included in the 1940 Hymnal we sing from (although it is in the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church and in the recent Book of Common Praise, the hymnal used by our brothers and sisters in the Reformed Episcopal Church). We’ll sing it from an insert in the bulletin with a harmonization taken from the final chorale of one of J. S. Bach’s cantatas for Advent. Our sequence hymn will again be “Creator of the stars of night.” Some remarkable arrangements of this melody are featured on the recording of Advent music I…

  • Recording reviews

    Recommended recording: German Advent Music

    What might one expect from an album with the subtitle German Advent Music? From what genealogy does this music emerge? In Music in Early Lutheranism, an introductory guide to the tradition that gave the Church some of its most enduring musical achievements, Carl Schalk writes: The first two centuries of the Lutheran Reformation — the period between Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach — produced a singularly impressive body of music written specifically for the worship life of the church. Less often noted is that this music developed as a clear result of Lutheranism’s understanding of worship and the important place it gave to the art form it considered next in importance to…

  • Repertoire

    Bach’s Advent cantatas, part 2: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland II (BWV 62)

    In Lutheran Germany in the early 18th century, the first Sunday in Advent was the last time until Christmas when any elaborate music would be heard in church services. The relative austerity of the second, third, and fourth Sundays in Advent served to focus attention on the prospect of Christ’s return in judgment. It also gave church musicians an opportunity to concentrate their energy on preparing for the grueling demands of the Christmas season. Advent of 1724 was J. S. Bach’s second season as Kapellmeister at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. For the first Sunday in Advent that year he wrote a second cantata based on Luther’s Advent hymn, Nun…

  • Service music

    First Sunday in Advent (December 2, 2018)

    This Sunday, the choir will commence our Advent observation with a choral prelude just before the processional hymn. “Come down ye heavens from above” is a setting of portions of Rorate caeli. This text its sometimes called the “Advent Prose,” and is often sung in masses during Advent. Composer Judith Weir (b. 1954) has taken the plainchant tune for this ancient song of the Church and embellished it for a cappella choir. Our processional hymn is Charles Wesley’s “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” and our sequence hymn during Advent is “Creator of the stars of night.” Our sermon hymn, “O Word, that goest forth on high,” is sometimes attributed to Thomas Aquinas,…

  • Repertoire

    Bach’s Advent cantatas, part 1: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland I (BWV 61)

    In 1714, while he was a court musician in Weimar, Johann Sebastian Bach composed a cantata for the first Sunday in Advent. It was first sung on December 2 of that year. The text for the opening chorus was from a very early Lutheran hymn, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, “Now come, savior of the Gentiles.” This cantata — as do all of Bach’s cantatas — takes its name from that opening line. There is sometimes a Roman numeral I at the end of the title, to distinguish it from a later cantata with the same opening text and hence the same name. (N.B.: This cantata is also known as Cantata #61, or…