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Sunday Music Musings May 30, 2020

May 30, 2020

For our Pentecost prelude, our wonderful oboist Teddy Love will join me in the 1982 hymnal version of  the Pentecost chant Come Holy Ghost (Veni creator), after Katie Hendrix sings a verse of the chant in Latin.

Gregorian chant, also known as plainsong, is church music’s ancestor! It is named for Pope Gregory, not because he wrote it all, but because it was codified under him into uses for each season and time of day (office). Here is what music writing looked like in the middle ages:

The notes are called neumes. This gorgeous Pentecost chant, Veni creator, was written in the 9th century. As well as being for Pentecost the text is used in the Anglican communion in ordination services. Musicians, especially composers, feel a particular affinity for the calling of the Holy Spirit as the “Creator Spirit” and you can find settings for the rest of music history.

Here is a Renaissance setting by Palestrina, in alternatim, meaning the plainsong chant alternates with his lush and gorgeous polyphony—you can still hear the tune pretty clearly in the top voice, with points of imitation in the others.

By the Baroque, in the Lutheran Reformation, the service was in German, no longer Latin, but the chorale-tunes are still often based on the ancient plainsong melodies. Komm Gott Schöpfer heiliger Geist is clearly based on Veni creator, given a hymn rhythm, and a German translation. My wonderful daughter Lucy and son-in law Johannes sang the chorale tune for me for this service (I was thinking—who do I know who sings in German really well, and I realized that distance is no longer an obstacle in this service!). In the organ version you can hear the tune in the top voice of the right hand, and there is a cheerful dancing rhythm throughout. Later, Bach turned his ideas into a much longer work, which maybe I will finally learn during quarantine! BWV 667 from the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes.

Some Baroque organ pieces also set the chorale tune less clearly, but quite decorated in the soprano voice. Here I play Buxtehude’s ornamented version of Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, another Pentecost chorale.

Our hymn of the day is “Hail Thee Festival Day!” Salve Festa Dies. This hymn can be sung for Easter (#175), or Ascension (#216), but it is our tradition at Grace to sing it on Pentecost (#225). Did you know, that the word “hymn” refers to the words, the poem, not the tune? The writer in this case is ancient, Venantius Honorius Clematianus Fortunatus (c. 530- 609). Legend has it that while a student at Ravenna he was miraculously healed of blindness after anointing his eyes with oil from a lamp burning before the altar of St. Martin of Tours. More information on his fascinating life here.

The grand tune is by one of my favorite composers (and pronounce his name correctly!) Ralph (“Rafe”) Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams, along with Holst, collected folksongs in the early 20th century, many of which became some of our most beloved Anglican hymn tunes. This tune he composed, and it is actually 2 tunes and a refrain! (Peter the cat stuck around only for the first refrain.)

Rounding out our service music is the Mathias Gloria we have been virtually adding to over the last few weeks. Thank you to our adults, and then our School Choir II (teens) for participating. Paula, our wonderful video editor has now put it all together along with a 3x clone of Matt Palmer and his euphonium for a “Festival” Pentecost version. Can you find two participants “joining us” from England? William Mathias CBE (1934 –1992) was a Welsh composer, well known for his choral works, but also prolific in the orchestral and chamber music genres.

Sir William Mathias, Welsh composer

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