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Sunday Music Musings October 3, 2020

October 4, 2020

I am hoping as we move into live services, although we cannot safely sing yet, we can feel the hymns and worship through these organ settings. “All Things Bright and Beautiful” is a favorite hymn for St. Francis Day. The text is by is by Cecil Frances Humphries (1818-1895), wife of Rev. William Alexander, the Anglican bishop of Ireland. She was a poet of many hymns including a whole collection for children.

She ministered to the sick and poor, and founded a school for the deaf. She wrote the English version of Dierdre, “The Prayer of St. Patrick” and which our children sang a version of (William Schoenfeld) for virtual choir recognition Sunday.

According to hymnary.org “ROYAL OAK is presumably named for a tree at Boscobel, Shropshire, England, in which King Charles II hid during the Battle of Worcester, 1651. A folk song that may well be older than the seventeenth century, ROYAL OAK was associated in the 1600s with the loyalist song “The Twenty-Ninth of May,” a song that celebrated the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II on May 29, 1660.”

The organ prelude has many movements that illustrate the text and the different colors of the organ. The first movement shows off the “principals,” the basic organ sound. “The Purple Headed Mountain, the River Running By” movement has text painting (illustrating the music) with the rapid running figures in the hands, and the melody in a loud reed stop in the pedals (feet). “The Sunset and the Morning” highlights the string stops, which are under expression (meaning that by opening some shutters with a foot pedal, we can hear gradual crescendo like dawn), and I also use a bit of a gallery stop in the pedal melody, although that spatial contrast is more obvious in the building than on the recording (maybe). “Each Little Bird that Sings” is pretty obvious text painting. By using a four foot stop (an octave above regular pitch) and a 2 foot stop (two octaves above—these are the teeny little pipes) we get some good bird sounds! Composer Larry Visser is a Michigan organist educated at Calvin College and the University of Michigan School of Music.

For the month of October, I am going to use an organ setting “Allein Gott in der Höh” (All Glory Be to God on High) as the Gloria. This hymn is in our hymnal #421, and many Lutheran churches use it as the Gloria. It was a favorite of Baroque composers. This setting is by Andreas Armsdorff (1670 –1699), a German organist who may have studied with Pachelbel. You can hear the tune in the right hand, and echoed in the pedal.

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr - Noten, Liedtext, MIDI, Akkorde

“Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot” (These are the Holy Ten Commandments) is a hymn by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther based on the Ten Commandments. This short setting from J.S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein is the first of 3 Catechism hymns in that collection in which Bach evolves the figures of the counterpoint out of the first line of the tune. The counterpoint is strict, suggesting the rigidity of the rules or commandments of God. The repeated-notes put me in mind of Luther hammering 95 theses on a church door, but that may be a bit fanciful. There may be intentional numerology, in that the strict form of the motif, with tone and semitone intervals matching the first entry, occurs precisely ten times in the chorale prelude. You won’t hear this, as it is covered by all the other motives and counter-motives in canon—but it is enough to know it!

Our cantor for our first livestream is Elizabeth Monkemeier, a wonderful singer and clarinetist and former head chorister who is now at Rutgers, but lucky for me is there virtually, and in Madison right now. As our offertory solo, we are using a hymn I have never done before in my whole career!-and I am so happy to learn it–# 459, tune Halifax by G.F. Handel (1685-1750), and wonderful poetic words by Howard Chandler Robbins (1876-1952), which remind me of Psalm 19 with all the references to stars. (I also love the reference to ‘an altar candle’ for this, our first livestream back in our beautiful sanctuary.) As I have been doing these blogs it has been fun to find New Jersey connections that I never knew about. Robbins was educated at Yale University (BA 1899) and the Episcopal Theological Seminary (BD 1903). He was curate of St. Peter’s, Morristown, New Jersey! Rector of St. Paul’s, Englewood, New Jersey (1905–11), Rector of Church of the Incarnation, New York City (1911–17), Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York Ci­ty (1917–29), and on the Joint Commission that revised The Hymnal (1940).

Robbins photo1

Finally our postlude is a joyful setting of Psalm 19 by Italian Baroque composer Benedetto Marcello (1686 – 1739), a contemporary of Vivaldi.

I leave you with a traditional St. Francis weekend anthem that is a favorite of the children, Andrew Carter’s ‘O Ye Badgers and Hedgehogs’ (yes, there are dogs barking!)

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