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Sunday Music Musings September 5, 2020

September 6, 2020
Playing a quartet with 2 flutists

I have learned a lot of new technology during this pandemic, something that usually scares or stresses me a bit, but in the service of making music together, I have stepped up my game. One app called Acapella allows you to play multiple parts with yourself or collaborate with others. Once my flute student Mia, learned it, we realized we could not just play duets, but quartets and beyond! The thing that feels more collaborative about this, rather than everyone alone in their home sending the video editor one part at a time to the same practice track, in this app, as you add parts, you hear all the parts that went before.

J. P. Rameau

Our piece is an arrangement for four flutes of an early Baroque harpsichord work by the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 – 1764). The son of an organist, he dodged becoming a lawyer, travelled to Italy, and when he moved to Paris in 1706 published his earliest known compositions, the harpsichord works that make up his first book of Pièces de Clavecin. La Villageoise-Rondeau is the last movement of the E minor suite. Later, he won fame as a music theorist and opera composer.

Our hymn of the day is “God is Love” by Timothy Rees (1874-1939) to the tune Abbot’s Leigh by Cyril V. Taylor (1907-1992).

Rees was Welsh churchman who became Bishop of Llandaff. Born in Cardiganshire, he was educated at St. David’s Lampeter. He served as an armed forces chaplain from 1914 to 1919, working in Gallipoli, Egypt and on the Somme, where he was awarded the M.C for his work in rescuing and aiding wounded soldiers. He was a monastic at the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in Yorkshire, until he became Bishop of Llandaff in 1931—the first member of a religious community to be appointed to an Anglican see in Wales for over three centuries. He was a distinguished speaker both in English and Welsh and a respected hymnographer.

Cyril Taylor was another of these hymn-tune writers who are both priest and musician.  “His positions included being a producer in the religious broadcasting department of the BBC (1939-­1953), chaplain of the Royal School of Church Music (1953-1958), vicar of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire (1958-1969), and precentor of Salisbury Cathedral (1969-1975). He contributed twenty hymn tunes to the BBC Hymn Book (1951), which he edited, and other tunes to the Methodist Hymns and Psalms (1983). He also edited 100 Hymns for Today (1969) and More Hymns for Today (1980). Writer of the booklet Hymns for Today Discussed (1984), Taylor was chairman of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland from 1975 to 1980.” (Hymnary.org).

Stone building with prominent three stage square tower. In the foreground is a grass area and road separated from the church by a stone wall.
Holy Trinity Parish, Abbot’s Leigh

This tune was originally written as a replacement for Austria for John Newton’s “Glorious Things of thee are Spoken.” In 1942, during World War II, when Rev. Taylor was a producer of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC, he was stationed in the village named Abbot’s Leigh, outside of Bristol. “Glorious Things of thee are Spoken” had usually been sung to Josef Haydn’s tune “Austrian Hymn,” but since the German national anthem was also sung to that tune, new music was needed in wartime Britain. Another powerful pairing of this tune in other denominations is to Jeffrey Rowthorn’s “Lord You Give the Great Commission,” although not in our Hymnal 1982.

Finally, although not perfect, I have recorded a J. S. Bach Trio Sonata (No. 1 in E-flat) BWV 525, something I never could have done without pandemic practice time. Saturday is my day at the church, and especially at the beginning of this crazy situation, I really needed something to occupy my entire brain (and beyond!). The six organ sonatas were used to teach Bach’s children (especially his eldest, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach), and students about organ and compositional technique. And they are masterpieces. Each voice of the three voices is of equal independence and importance. By three voices, I mean each hand and the feet. This week you hear the cheerful third movement.  

Quiet early Saturday morning practice time-view of gallery organ

The Sonatas make a world of their own, as distinctive and accomplished as the first movements of Leipzig cantatas or the preludes and fugues of Well Tempered Clavier I. The two hands are not merely imitative but so planned as to give a curious satisfaction to the player, with phrases answering each other and syncopations dancing from hand to hand, palpable in a way not quite known even to two violinists. Melodies are bright or subdued, long or short, jolly or plaintive, instantly recognizable for what they are, and so made (as the ear soon senses) to be invertible. Probably the technical demands on the player also contribute to their unique aura.” —Peter Williams, The Organ Music of J. S. Bach (2nd ed.-2003), Cambridge University Press 

Might as well play this while you can see my feet…

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