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Sunday Music Musings July 25, 2020

July 25, 2020

It’s hard during pandemic to make music together in real time, so it seems like a good time to work up those offerings for instruments alone, like last week’s awesome Bach cello suite. My flute student, Mia, is my neighbor, so we’ve actually been having lessons with her braving the heat in my back yard and me at the piano inside the dining room. But I also gave her my favorite flute alone offering, a very coloristic piece by Debussy. I remember playing it in church in high school—and my organist calling it “Adagio” because, yes, it is very secular—the story of a Greek mythological creature. Yet I believe that any offering of our best work to God is sacred, and this rendition of a flutist in my back yard, attracting the birds and butterflies certainly is.

The socially distant flute lesson

The actual story of Syrinx tells the myth of the invention of the flute, well, panpipes. The demi-god Pan, half god and half man was lusting after the beautiful nymph Syrinx and chasing her through the forest. When she came to the banks of a river, in her desperation to escape, she prayed to Zeus to change her into the reed grasses. When Pan came to the river and couldn’t find her, he sat down and sadly sighed. As he sighed, his breath made a lovely sound blowing across the reeds, so he cut them down and fashioned the first panpipes upon which he played melodies to soothe himself until the nymph was forgotten (not to metion cut down!) In terms of how I think about this as a church prelude, it really does remind me of last week’s reading “sighs too deep for words.”

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a very influential and ground-breaking composer, considered the first “Impressionist” although he himself rejected the term. He wrote Syrinx in 1913. It contains whole tone, chromatic, and far-eastern scales, and is the first and most important work for solo flute since the Baroque.

Our hymn of the day (Father We Thank Thee Who has Planted-#302) although a communion hymn, was taken from a post-communion prayer, and speaks to the Gospel of the sower last week and the mustard seed this week. Although we are not breaking bread now, we are still the church in our hearts, where the word of God is planted. The explains: “This hymn text is rooted in the early Christian church, all the way back to the Greek-language Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), a Christian manual from the Church of Antioch, Syria, which some scholars date as early as A.D. 110.” The is text poetically translated by Francis Bland Tucker (1895–1984) who I wrote about Father’s Day weekend when we sang one of his 17 offerings in the 1982 hymnal, Our Father, by Whose Name (Hymn 587). Son of a bishop, Tucker was educated at the University of Virginia and the Virginia Theological Seminary. Beginning in 1945, he was Rector of Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia. He never thought of himself as a poet until he was asked to serve on the Joint Commission for the 1940 hymnal, when he began translating and theologically working over older texts. He also worked on the commission that reviewed material leading up to The Hymnal 1982, and 1980, was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society of America.

The tune is RENDEZ À DIEU, originally from the Genevan Psalter of 1551, is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (1510-1561) and Guillaume Franc, and harmonized by Claude Goudimel (1505-1572). It has wonderful harmonies which this week I discovered are hard to sing alto and play at the same time! No boring alto line here! Here is more about Goudimel from the “When the complete Genevan Psalter with its unison melodies was published in 1562, Goudimel began to compose various polyphonic settings of all the Genevan tunes. He actually composed three complete harmonizations of the Genevan Psalter, usually with the tune in the tenor part: simple hymn-style settings (1564), slightly more complicated harmonizations (1565), and quite elaborate, motet-like settings (1565-1566). The various Goudimel settings became popular throughout Calvinist Europe, both for domestic singing and later for use as organ harmonizations in church. Goudimel was one of the victims of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots, which oc­curred throughout France.”

Claude Goudimel - Wikipedia
Claude Goudimel

Our postlude is a Toccata by Emma Lou Diemer. As I tell the children at the Halloween concert before playing Bach—“toccata” means “touch” but in organ music it means touch as fast as you can in a showy manner! I love this postlude because it is actually not very hard, while still being showy and exciting. I am also continuing my presentations of women composers, and Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927) is a very important composer of the last 70 years. She holds degrees from Yale University (BM,1949; MM, 1950), Eastman School of Music (Ph.D.,1960) and also studied composition in Brussels on a Fulbright Scholarship (1952-53).  Diemer has written many works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, keyboard, voice, chorus, and electronic media. Diemer is a keyboard performer and over the years has given concerts of her own organ works at Washington National Cathedral, The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Grace Cathedral and St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, and others. Diemer’s compositional style over the years has varied from tonal to atonal, from traditional to experimental. (Wikipedia). If you would like to hear a truly hard keyboard work, have a listen to the Piano Toccata (1972). I also love her choral music, and her Three Shakespeare Madrigals are now a staple of High School Choral Repertoire. What versatility!

Emma Lou Diemer

Finally, I actually “attended” a virtual RSCM Camp, seeing many friends from the Kings College Course in Wilkesbarre. We had some education, a talent show, and even a fairly satisfying “hymn sing.” Although everyone was on mute, I wailed away here at home, happy that someone else was playing the hymn, and somehow seeing their faces made it better. Tomorrow I even get to chant my favorite line (“keep me as the apple of an eye”) in out divvied-up zoom Compline service. But boy, do we miss each other, singing together, and the amazing space at St. Stephen’s. Here is grand piece from a few years back, the words of which are pretty eerily appropriate right now!

For, lo, I raise up that bitter and hasty nation,
Which march through the breadth of the earth,
To possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.
They are terrible and dreadful,
Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.
Their horses also are swifter than leopards,
And are more fierce than the evening wolves.
And their horsemen spread themselves,
Yea, their horsemen come from far.
They fly as an eagle that hasteth to devour,
They come all of them for violence;
Their faces are set as the east-wind,
And they gather captives as the sand.
Yea, he scoffeth at kings,
And princes are a derision unto him.
For he heapeth up dust and taketh it.
Then shall he sweep by as a wind that shall pass over,
And be guilty,
Even he, whose might is his God.
Art not thou from everlasting,
O Lord, my God, mine Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, thou hast ordained him for judgement,
And thou, O Rock, hast established him for correction.
I will stand upon my watch and set me upon the tower,
And look forth to see what he will say to me,
And what I shall answer concerning my complaint.
And the Lord answered me and said:
The vision is yet for the appointed time,
And it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie:
Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.
For the earth shall be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
But the Lord is in his holy temple:
Let all the earth keep silence before Him. (Habakkuk 1.6–12, 2.1–3,14,20)

Stanford–For Lo! Richard Tanner conductor, future head chorister of mine front right!

Have a great week! “Though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come.”

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