• Service music

    Fourth Sunday in Epiphany & Candlemas (February 2, 2020)

    Today will be perceived by many as Superbowl Sunday, or Groundhog Day. What a tragic diminution of experience. For the Church it is the last Sunday during the Epiphany season before the three pre-Lenten “Gesima” Sundays. And it is the feast day variously known as The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and Candlemas. The first of these designations is the most ancient, dating back to the early fourth century, making it one of the most ancient of Christian holidays. The more explicitly Christocentric name became more popular after the Reformation. And the least common term for February 2 — Candlemas — recognizes…

  • Service music

    Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 26, 2020)

    The author of today’s Processional hymn was identified simply as “K” when “How firm a foundation” was first published in 1787. The text’s remarkable popularity may account for the large number of tunes associated with it. In every previous edition of our Hymnal, a different tune was used. The tune appointed in this edition is LYONS, although in the Supplemental Tunes section in the back of the Hymnal, the more primitive and familiar FOUNDATION is available. This Sunday, we’ll sing this confident and reassuring text to the sturdy tune named LYONS. While the Hymnal states that it is based on a work by J. Michael Haydn, more recent research argues…

  • Service music

    Second Sunday after Epiphany (January 19, 2020)

    The text to our Processional hymn — “God himself is with us” — is by the German preacher and poet Gerhardt Tersteegen (1697-1769). The theme of the presence of God was prominent in his writing. Consider: The secret of God’s presence is actually believed by very few, but are you aware, that if each one truly believed it, the whole world would at once be filled with the saints, and the earth would be truly Paradise? If men really believed it as they should, they would need nothing more to induce them to give themselves up, heart and soul, to this loving God. But now it is hid from their…

  • Service music

    First Sunday after Epiphany (January 12, 2020)

    This past Monday was the Feast of the Epiphany. Our Prayerbook reminds is that the holiday commemorates “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.” The birth of Israel’s Savior was never understood as an event significant only to the Jews. This “King of the Jews” feared by Herod was also the King of Kings, and thus a greater threat than he imagined. Our Processional hymn — “Earth has many a noble city” — makes explicit the fact that Jesus was, with the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem, worshipped by Gentiles. The tune to which the text of our hymn is set — STUTTGART — will remind us of the first…

  • Repertoire

    J. S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Part 6

    The first line sung in the opening chorus of Part 6 reminds us that the character of Christmas is far from that of a Hallmark greeting card. “Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben” can be translated “Lord, when our arrogant enemies snort with rage.” In his book, Bach’s Oratorios, which includes a complete English translation of the texts to all of Bach’s oratorios and Passions, Michael Marissen comments in a footnote about the adjective stolzen: While Stolz primarily means “proud” in a more dignified sense, it is also an archaic synonym for übermutig, in the sense of “insolent” or “cocky.” In this way the word Stolz has the same double…

  • Repertoire

    J. S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Part 5

    The fifth part of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was written to be sung on the Sunday following New Year’s Day. It opens with a rousing chorus: Let honour to you, God, be sungFor you let praise and thanks be prepared.All the world exalts youBecause our welfare is pleasing to you,Because todayAll our wishes have been achieved,Because your blessing delights us so gloriously. The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists,John Eliot Gardiner, director A tenor soloist (Evangelist) then sings a recitative with the biblical account of the arrival of the Magi: “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the land of the Jews at the time of King Herod, see, there…

  • Service music

    Second Sunday after Christmas (January 5, 2020)

    Today is the last day of Christmas, and the readings, hymns, and the choir’s music all serve to recap what we’ve been meditating on since Christmas Eve, and anticipate what is affirmed with the season of Epiphany. Today’s Introit, from the Book of Wisdom, uses vivid imagery to recount the cosmic context of the birth of Jesus: While all things were in quiet silence, and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne. The swift course of night was decisively interrupted by the coming of the true Light into the world, as is affirmed in…

  • Repertoire

    J. S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Part 4

    The Church’s year began on the first Sunday in Advent. On the first day of January, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, as well as the beginning of a new “secular” year. The Collect for this day explains some of the theological significance of the Circumcision: Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man: Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. In…

  • Repertoire

    Georg Philipp Telemann
    Der Hirten an der Krippe zu Bethlehem
    “The Shepherds at the Crib of Bethlehem”

    Perhaps because Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel were his contemporaries, Telemann’s Christmas music is pretty much neglected. So almost no one knows this remarkable Christmas oratorio. Composed in 1759, Telemann’s music presents a libretto by poet Karl Wilhelm Ramler (1725-1798). To an extent uncommon in Christmas texts set to music, Der Hirten an der Krippe zu Bethlehem stresses the eschatological fulfillment promised by the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph aren’t mentioned, nor are the usual trappings of conventional manger tableaux. Rather — using imagery from the Old Testament and the book of Revelation which promises the redemption and transformation of the whole earth when…

  • Lectures

    Where our carols came from

    While looking on-line for some information about various Christmas carols, I came across an informative series of lectures given by Jeremy Summerly, the Sterndale Bennett Lecturer in Music at the Royal Academy of Music and Visiting Professor of Music History at Gresham College, London, where these lectures were given. The Gresham College website has downloadable video, audio, transcripts, and even Powerpoint files for each of these lectures. Gresham College has been giving free public lectures since 1597. This tradition continues with five or so public lectures a week being made available for free download from their website. There are currently over 2,000 lectures free to access or download from the…