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Sunday Music Musings December 5, 2020

December 6, 2020

Comfort Ye is the tune of the day. Our Prelude is by Paul Manz (1919-2009), the great Lutheran composer about whom I also wrote on Nov.7. He makes the theme into a perky dotted rhythm in duetting registrations (colors) and then the tune is set out clearly (I use strings for that).

The original tune is by a Renaissance Frenchman, Claude Goudimel (1514-1572), a Protestant Hugenot, composer, and publisher. He worked closely with Clement Marot, at the request of John Calvin, on four volumes of the Genevan Psalter, so that Protestants could all participate in the singing of psalms during a service, not just a few leaders. So please sing along from home loudly! The tune was originally set to Psalm 42 in the Genevan Psalter – hence its name.

At the time, it was unusual to have the tune in the upper voice (soprano)—in this way Goudimel was ahead of his time. Despite being fairly syllabic, there is dance-like syncopation. Here is a lovely near-original setting of the Renaissance hymn. Here is a very up-tempo hymn-concerto arrangement I shared in our Advent Hymn-sing on Thursday, and on Friday I played it for the kids and they played along with percussion instruments from around the house. We have been known to use finger cymbals and tamborines in the past (you can do this from home too)!

The words are by German Johannes Olearius (1611-1684) Lutheran theologian, pastor and hymnodist. They of course reference John the Baptist and the famous Isaiah text. Organists always get a little silly if you listen closely with illustrating the “crooked” and the “plain.”

The translation is by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) a British woman known for her English translations of German hymns, her piety and devotional life, and at the same time, her sympathy for the cause of women’s rights. In 1845 she lived with relatives in Dresden, Germany where she learned German and German hymnody. There are 10 hymn translations by Winkworth in the Hymnal 1982, including “Now Thank We All Our God.”

Catherine Winkworth

Our offertory solo is from St. James Music Press, Prepare the Way by Carol McClure (b. 1955). McClure is an alumna of the University of Louisville, and earned the degree Master of Church Music at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with dual emphases in choral conducting and harp. Her experience ranges from choral director at Queen’s Park Baptist Church in Glasgow, Scotland, Director of Music and Arts at North Decatur Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Georgia, to her current work with her children’s choirs at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville. She has developed a children’s choir curriculum for St. James Music Press called Viva Voce. This anthem has a folk-song quality and an optional violin part which I am playing on the organ.

On this second Sunday in Advent, in “before times” we would be using On Jordan’s Bank as the recessional, so I am using it as the postlude. In our hymnal it is #76, and again it seems to take may cooks to make a hymn — with words by Charles Coffin (1676- 1749), translated by Charles Winfred Douglas (1867-1944) after the first translation by John Chandler (1806-1876). Originally it was in French, as Coffin was principal of the college at Beauvais, rector of the University of Paris, and compiler of the Paris Breviary (1736). Translator John Chandler was a British priest and deacon. Charles Winfred Douglas was an American, an influential leader in Episcopalian liturgical and musical life, from Oswego to Denver to California.

As for the tune, WINCHESTER NEW, it was first published in Hamburg, Germany, in 1690 by Georg Wittwe. The melody was also used by John and Charles Wesley for their texts and was reworked by William J. Havergal as a long-meter tune in his Old Church Psalmody (1864). Yes, the tune ended up named for Winchester Cathedral, with “new” as there is also a tune called WINCHESTER OLD.

The setting is by Malcolm Archer who I wrote about in July, because we were using his “English Folksong Mass” at the time. Archer recently recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College. I wonder if that made him especially want to set this tune? A stately counterpoint with constant 8th notes introduces and provides interludes to the tune set out by a trumpet stop in the left hand. I always think of trumpet stops and John the Baptists–kind of a “proclaining” thing. (I also snuck in a short setting of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus STUTTGART before the Manz Prelude because it was so short).

So now we come full circle to memories of Winchester Cathedral where we were privileged to sing as choir in residence for a week in 2015. Because of the pandemic, they are now livestreaming EVERYTHING, and I so enjoyed the Evensong from Sunday afternoon, and I just discovered the Advent service from Saturday Nov. 28, which includes the choir singing Paul Manz’s Ee’n So Lord Jesus Quicky Come. It is nice to hear the Brits sing an American composer. It is nice to be able to livestream services from Winchester and remember what the space felt like. This Advent feels like the most Advent-y Advent I have known, as we wait, and hope, and pray for deliverance. The great hymns of Advent really speak to us now.

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