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Sunday Music Musings March 6, 2021

March 7, 2021

The prelude is a setting of Aus tiefer Not (Out of the Depths) by contemporary composer Daniel Gawthrop. This old German melody attributed to Marin Luther (1483-1546) has always been associated with psalm 130, and its opening descending 5th embodies a descent “to the depths.” Our cantor will sing a verse first (from HYMNAL #151) and then you can hear how Gawthrop’s setting exploits the opening motif, and then turns it into a plaintive new tune. Gawthrop (b. 1948) was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was inspired to compose by his high school choir director, Mary Miller, and his first organ teacher, Vincent Slater. He attended Michigan State University, 1967-1968, where he majored in organ, continuing those studies in northern Germany while serving in the Navy. He later attended Brigham Young University, 1971-1973, where he changed his major to composition. Gawthrop is an active composer and has received over one hundred commissions from individuals and institutions. His best-known choral work is the lovely Sing Me To Heaven, with words by his wife, poet Jane Griner. The prelude is from Symphony #3 for Organ: The Reformation, a work that was commissioned in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.

Command central

Just because I am thinking about this being the anniversary of the last time my choral society, Harmonium, sang together here is a setting of Aus Tiefe Not by Johann Walther sung by my Chamber Singers a year ago.

This week’s Kyrie is by William Mathias. We always sing his “Gloria,”  “Sanctus,” and what my choristers call “scary Lamb of God” during Eastertide. The Kyrie sounds just like “scary Lamb of God,” a moniker given by the kids because of the chromatic organ chords at the beginning. Mathias (1934 – 1992) was a Welsh composer known for his choral and organ works.

Our gradual Hymn is Let thy Blood in Mercy Poured (Jesu meine Zuversicht), HYMNAL 313, another German melody by Johann Cruger (1598-1552), with words by John Brownlie (1859-1925), a Scottish Presbyterian minister. To me it is important to learn these German chorales because so many composers set them so beautifully, and in “normal times” we would sing this during communion and I would play a Bach setting. I always the tell the kids if they sing out really well during the refrain I will “happy cry” and that has definitely happened. I really miss hearing the kids sing during communion.

Our offertory is Wilt Thou Forgive that Sin (Donne) which you can find in the hymnal #140, a tune by Renaissance composer John Hilton (1573-1631). In this case we are using an arrangement by contemporary composer Peter Crisafulli (b.1946), from All Saints, Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The main story here, is the fantastic poem by John Donne. Here’s a blurb from Enotes about it:

John Donne probably wrote this poem in 1623, after he had recovered from a serious bout of the “spotted fever” which gripped London in an epidemic that year. There is a confidence in this poem’s tone, which gives the reader the impression that Donne has “assurance of Gods favor to him.” He has been saved from a disease which was very often fatal, and the speaker of the poem seems to be baiting God a bit in this song-like poem of eighteen lines.

The poem is in three stanzas of six lines each, each ending with “When thou has done, though has not done / For I have more.” In each stanza the speaker holds up his sins to God (and these confessions, while couched in this punning, sometimes daring tone, are nonetheless sincere), and he hopes that God will forgive him for these things. But, with a dark glee, the sinner assures God that “he has more” of these sins – the sinner is a collection of many sins, and God has his work cut out for him to do the forgiving. He begins with original sin (the belief that certain Christian sects have that Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden were passed down to all humanity), and then progresses on to sins that he has brought others to (“…made my sin their door” line 8), to a sin of “fear” (line 13). The speaker is begging forgiveness of God, but he is like a difficult child taunting his parent with ever increasing transgressions.

The puns in refrain lines at the end of each stanza have to do with names. “Done” which is repeated six times, refers to Donne’s own name, and “more”, which ends each stanza, refers to his wife Anne More’s maiden name. The meaning of these puns seems to be to add a certain levity to this poem, and may mean either than his wife incites him to more sin, or, perhaps, she is his consolation for his sins.

The reference is tinged with sadness, however, because Anne More Dunne died in 1617, some six years before this poem was written. The final line reads “I fear no more,” meaning after he dies his sins of fear will be erased and he will once again be with his wife. This hymn was set to music by John Hilton, during Donne’s lifetime, and was probably sung in some English churches during the seventeenth century.

The postlude is a setting of Aus der Tiefe (similar, but not the same as Aus Tiefe Not), the tune we use for the Lenten Hymn “Forty Days and Forty Nights” – HYMNAL #150. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 –1788) the fifth child and second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. A recent article by Tom Huizenga on NPR succinctly described his style: “educated by his dad, he spent nearly 30 years in Berlin as the harpsichordist to Frederick the Great before decamping to Hamburg to become the city’s director of church music. As a composer, Bach charted his own startling, original path and was a principal proponent of a trend called Empfindsamer Stil, or loosely translated, “sensitive style.” In his 1753 treatise on how to play the keyboard, C.P.E. Bach emphasizes music’s ability to touch the heart and trigger emotions, saying that musicians should play “aus der Seele,” from the soul.

There is a lot going on with me today, a lot to be thankful for. This morning I gave a session on leading choirs and worship on zoom for the Diocese of Newark. It was nice to be able to share positive things that still go on with my choirs. Here what I talked about and a lot of fun links.

I am finishing late because I had two stepdaughters and two grand-toddlers in the house and that was such a blessing! Tomorrow I get my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I miss my choirs more the closer we seem to get to the end of this thing.

Speaking of anniversaries, we mark the one year of this pandemic with a composition by one of my choir members, on a text by her aunt, featuring our sopranos and altos and honoring angels in our midst, people whose courage and faithfulness have carried us through such a difficult year.

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