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Sunday Music Musings January 9. 2021

January 10, 2021

The great hymn Wie schön leuctet der Morgenstern (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star) is another of these great chorale tunes that have been set by countless composers. The tune is by Philipp Nicolai (1556 – 1608) who I wrote about on Nov. 7 in relation to “Wachet Auf.”

I will start the service will a lively organ setting by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) whose Von Himmel hoch setting we just had on Dec. 27. I don’t mean this as a shameless ploy to get you to check back to my old blogs, but–well maybe…! The Pachelbel setting uses the tune as the basis for the counterpoint which then moves into 16th note figures to prepare for the pedal entry in which it is loud, clear and plain. The postlude is a similar setting, slightly shorter (and I usually play faster) by Andreas Armsdorff (1670-1699), who is thought to have studied with Pachelbel, and despite dying at 29, left a large body of chorale-preludes which were popular in his day. He held several organ positions in the town of Erfuhrt.

Reglerkirche Erfurt before 1900

Instead of a Kyrie, Gloria or Trisagion, I often use Canticle 11 Surge illuminare (“Arise, Shine”) as the opening canticle. Since it is accompanied plainsong, it works especially well for cantor.

Since it is the Baptism of Christ, our hymn of the day is #121, Christ when for us you were baptized to the tune Caithness. The text is by Francis Bland Tucker (1895–1984), a Virginian priest who I wrote about on June 20 (haha).

The tune is from the Scottish Psalter, 1635. Although obviously this baptism text is used only once a year, the hymn text “O For a Closer Walk with God” (#684) is also sung to this tune.

The offertory, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day is a traditional Cornish carol that tells the full story of Christ’s life on earth. This version from St. James Music Press by Richard Shephard (b. 1949) has a charming organ accompaniment, and goes up through the verse about Baptism. There are several more optional verses to this carol:

5 Then down to hell I took my way

For my true love’s deliverance,

And rose again on the third day,

Up to my true love and the dance: [Refrain]

6 Then up to heaven I did ascend,

Where now I dwell in sure substance

On the right hand of God, that man

May come unto the general dance: [Refrain]

Richard Shephard MBE is a composer, former educator, and retired Director of Development and Chamberlain of York Minster. He is acclaimed as one of the most significant composers of church music today. Dr. Shephard was educated at The King’s School, Gloucester and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His anthems and service settings are sung widely in the cathedrals and churches of the UK and they have a considerable following in the USA. He holds the Lambeth Doctorate of Music from Oxford University and two Honorary Doctorates from the University of the South (Sewanee, TN) and the University of York (York, UK). (bio from SJMP).

There are several other wonderful versions of this carol: here is a rollicking arrangement by John Rutter sung by the boys of Winchester Cathedral (really looking like they are about to break into laughter!). And here is a completely different tune by another British composer, John Gardner, sung by my choral society. This is the one our church choir knows as well, and if you know my husband, Jabez, you can see him particularly throwing himself into this performance!

So there you have our music for baptism Sunday, otherwise known to the choir kids as “Wade in the Water” Sunday. They just love singing this spiritual and vying for solos, so we practiced it in zoom choir, and several are ready to unmute and sing for each other in zoom Sunday School in the morning!

Be well and keep learning!

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