• Hymns,  Repertoire

    “We stand and swell the voice of thunder”

    Wake, awake, for night is flyingAdvent hymn arrangementF. Melius Christiansen (1871-1955) Norweigian-born F. Melius Christiansen was for over thirty years the choral director of the choir at St. Olaf’s College, one of the most accomplished college choirs in the U.S. His robust arrangements of hymns remain a staple for many Christian college choirs, especially those Lutheran schools whose choral tradition he influenced. Christiansen’s vigorous arrangement of “Wake, awake, for night is flying” is sung here by one of those groups, the Luther College Nordic Choir, conducted by Allen Hightower.

  • Repertoire

    “We all follow to the hall of joy”

    Wachet auf, ruft uns die StimmeAdvent music byFranz Tunder (1614–1667) At root, an apocalypse is an uncovering. We tend to think that apocalyptic events belong in horror movies, not in romantic comedies. But the culmination of the drama in the Apocalypse of John is a wedding feast, the happy ending of all good comedies. What is revealed in Revelation’s narrative is the end of history as the Bridegroom comes for his Bride. No Advent text conveys that happily-ever-after ending better than Philipp Nicolai’s hymn “Wake, awake for night is flying.” The title Nicolai originally gave to this three-stanza poem was “Of the voice at midnight and the wise Virgins who…

  • Repertoire

    “Do you come, O light of the nations?”

    Kommst du, Licht der Heiden?An Advent cantata byDietrich Buxtehude (1637–1708) Dietrich Buxtehude was born half a century after Heinrich Schütz, the “father of German musicians,” and a little less than half a century before Johann Sebastian Bach. Employed his whole life as an organist, his compositional skills were long under-appreciated. Schütz and Bach both held positions in which they were expected to compose vocal music, but Buxtehude seems to have produced a sizable catalog of music for voices motivated by sheer enthusiasm. During his long tenure as organist of the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in Lübeck, Buxtehude maintained a Sunday afternoon concert series called Abendmusiken, held on the five successive…

  • Repertoire

    “The night is far gone and the day is at hand”

    Die Nacht ist vergangenAn Advent cantata byChristoph Graupner (1683-1760) During his lifetime, Christoph Graupner was considered one of the great musical talents of Germany. Today, despite his prolific compositional output (operas, concertos, orchestral suites, keyboard works, and more than 1,400 church cantatas), very little of his work is known. Those who know a bit about music history may remember his name from his cameo role in a famous drama that involves Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1723, there was an opening for the position of Kapellmeister (music director) at Leipzig’s renowned Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church). The job was initially offered to the justly celebrated Georg Philipp Telemann, then holding a similar…

  • Service music

    Second Sunday in Advent (December 8, 2019)

    The Introit for today’s service is a text with phrases from Isaiah 30 and Psalm 80. From the chapter in Isaiah, portions of verses 19, 27, 29, and 30 are stitched together. The Introit begins: “O People of Sion, behold, the Lord is nigh at hand to redeem the nations: and in the gladness of your heart the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard.” That eschatological affirmation is echoed in our Processional hymn, “Savior of the nations, come.” The hymn is an English translation of a German paraphrase of an early Latin hymn. The hymn, “Veni redemptor gentium,” was written by St. Ambrose. The melody we sing…

  • Repertoire

    Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina: Conditor alme siderum

    The plainchant melody at the root of this lovely motet is sometimes identified with the tune name AMBROSE. That is because the text of the Advent hymn Conditor alme siderum — sung in English as “Creator of the stars of night” — was long attributed to St. Ambrose (339-397). (You can see the music and hear that melody chanted by Cistercian monks here.) As is the case with many other Renaissance-era adaptations of plainchant tunes, Palestrina’s motet alternates between plainchant and intricate polyphony. Let’s consider the opening measures to get a sense of what Palestrina is up to. The opening words, “Conditor alme siderum,” are chanted by tenors, then the…

  • Online resources

    Celebrating Advent at St. John’s, Cambridge

    The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge is famous for having initiated (in 1918) the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. These special services are traditionally held on Christmas Eve. As early as 1934, Cambridge chapels were holding Advent Carol services on the first Sunday in Advent. The most famous of these Advent services has been held at the Chapel of St John’s College, Cambridge. The BBC regularly broadcasts these services live. This year’s service can be heard until the end of December at this page. The first live broadcast of the Advent Carol Service from St. John’s was in 1981. The director of the choir then was George Guest (1924-2002),…

  • Service music

    First Sunday in Advent (December 1, 2019)

    We launch our trajectory through Advent by singing “Come, thou long-expected Jesus.” Its austere, steady melody is a respite from the hurried confusion that this month typically brings with it. Throughout Advent, our Sequence hymn will be “Creator of the stars of night.” You can learn more about this text and its plainchant tune from the page dedicated to this hymn. Both text and tune have been adapted by many composers for use in elaborate settings. Our choir has sung a setting by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), which you can hear (performed by Ensemble Nobiles) on this page. The Sermon hymn for this Sunday is “O very God of very…

  • Service music

    Sunday next before Advent (November 24, 2019)

    The Epistle reading for this last Sunday in the Church year is not from an epistle but from the prophet Jeremiah. Even though we’re not officially in Advent, the reading anticipates the anticipation present in Advent. (Christian experience includes many layers of anticipation). The first verse of that reading announces: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” That righteous Branch is referenced in our Processional hymn, “How bright appears the Morning Star.” The text to this hymn is credited to Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), but — as…

  • Service music

    Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity (November 17, 2019)

    Our Processional hymn today — “The God of Abraham praise” — is based on a traditional Jewish hymn which in turn is based on a medieval Jewish creed. You may read more about it (and hear the Jewish hymn sung in Hebrew) here. The Sermon hymn is “Master of eager youth.” It is a paraphrase by F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) of one of the earliest known Christian hymns, appended to a treatise called “The Tutor” by St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215). The hymn was called “Hymn of the Saviour Christ,” and it was a succession of metaphors addressed to Christ, some of them biblical, some of…