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Sunday Music Musings October 30, 2021

October 31, 2021

Yes, it is Halloween and here at Grace we don’t mind making church fun…costumes, “scary” Toccatas and so forth! I WILL be playing J.S. Bach‘s Toccata in D minor and our children’s choir will process for the first time. They will sing the opening canticle and then leave. The Canticle is a portion of Canticle 12, The Song of Creation.

Let the earth glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him forever.

Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills,

and all that grows upon the earth,

praise him and highly exalt him forever.

Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams,

O whales and all that move in the waters,

All birds of the air, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him forever.

Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild,

and all you flocks and herds,

O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord

praise him and highly exalt him forever.

Canticle 12 itself is a portion of the “Song of the Three Children” from the book of Daniel. It seems appropriate on Halloween and at the end of Creation Season to sing praise of all God’s creatures from birds to whales.

This piece has long been out of print, and the choristers can tell you how much taping and repair our copies needed! It is a wonderful post-pandemic teaching piece, using quarters, eighths, half and whole notes, and lots of rests to put your word endings in, plus the wonderful key of A major for treble singing.

Wilbur Held (1914-2015) is best-known for his many wonderful and practical organ voluntaries. A native of Chicago, he studied at the American Conservatory of Music, and later became Leo Sowerby’s assistant at St. James Church. In 1946 he joined the faculty at the Ohio State University, where he became Professor of Organ and Church Music and head of the keyboard department. He remained in this position for over 30 years, and for most of that time was also organist-choirmaster at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio.

During his tenure at O.S.U. he earned a Doctor of Sacred Music degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York and studied the organ with Marcel Dupré and Andre Marchal– and also a term with Vernon de Tar, and composition with Normand Lockwood and Wallingford Riegger. Dr. Held started composing little pieces for the organ because he felt there was a lack of teaching material aimed at developing style and registration, especially for the romantic use of the instrument. His Nativity Suite, published in 1959, has sold well over 25,000 copies. In 1978 he retired to Claremont, California, where he continued to be active as clinician, recitalist and composer until his death.

Robert J. Powell (b.1932) earned his Bachelor of Music in Organ and Composition from Louisiana State University in 1954 and his Master of Sacred Music from Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music, New York in 1958. He has approximately 300 works in print for choral, solo, organ, handbells, and instrumental ensembles in major American and English church music publishers. You can read his full bio here. We have been using this handbell-accompanied setting of Psalm 146 for 30 years, because I love it!

Our offertory anthem is We Will Walk Through the Valley in Peace, a spiritual arranged by Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989) Known to some as the “Dean of Black Women Composers.” Moore’s career in composition began while she was at Fisk. While her range of compositions includes works for piano and for other instrumental groups, Moore is more widely known for her choral works. Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, a 16-part oratorio on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for chorus, orchestra, solo voices and narrator was premiered at Carnegie Hall and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

At the beginning of communion, Henry will play a short setting of Ein fest Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Johann Christian Bach (1735 – 1782) a German composer of the Classical era, the eighteenth child of Johann Sebastian Bach (the youngest son). J.C. Bach moved to London in 1762, where he became known as “the London Bach.”

During communion, our soprano, Susan, will sing a setting (in translation) of the text from Ruth today; Whither Thou Goest (there also will I go). Musical settings of this are often called “Wedding Song,” and I havn’t the heart to tell people this is a song to your mother-in law! Well, yes I did have this sung by Patty Ruggles at my wedding!) Susan and I both love the German Baroque composer Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). Schütz’s surviving output consists almost entirely of sacred vocal works, although he also wrote organ and secular works. When I worry about the choir/pandemic situation I am reminded and perhaps comforted that this great composer spent the middle third of his 87 years dealing with the effects of the Thirty Years’ War, writing works that ranged in size from triple choir to one singer and one instrument.

Our hymn of the day is EIN FESTE BURG because in many Protestant churches it is Reformation Sunday, marking the occasion in 1517 when Martin Luther (1483-1546) posted his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. In 2017 I was Martin Luther for Halloween (here I am in the Halloween Concert) – not sure how many people got it!

Luther entered the University of Erfurt in 1501, became an Augustinian monk, 1505; ordained priest, 1507; appointed Professor at the University of Wittenberg, 1508, and in 1512 D.D.; published his 95 Theses, 1517; and burnt the Papal Bull which had condemned them, 1520; attended the Diet of Worms, 1521; translated the Bible into German, 1521-34; and died at Eisleben, Feb. 18, 1546. Luther had a huge influence on German hymnody. The translation of Luther’s text is by Frederic Henry Hodge (1805-1890). We sing it as hymn 688 in the Hymnal 1982 (J.S.Bach’s wonderful harmonization from Cantata 80) but I love the older more dance-like rhythm of 687, and would totally do it if it were harmonized in our hymnal!

The postlude is another “scary” Toccata, by French Romantic Leon Boëllmann (1862 –1897). Suite gothique, Op. 25 was composed by  Boëllmann in 1895. Boëllmann was born in Alsace, the son of a pharmacist. In 1871, at the age of nine, he entered the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris, where he studied with its director, Gustave Lefèvre, and with Eugène Gigout. There, Boëllmann won first prizes in piano, organ, counterpoint, fugue, plainsong, and composition. After his graduation in 1881, Boëllmann was hired as “organiste de choeur” at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul[2] in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, and six years later he became cantor and organiste titulaire, a position he held until his early death, probably from tuberculosis.

In 1885, Boëllmann married Louise, the daughter of Gustave Lefèvre and the niece of Eugène Gigout. Boëllmann then taught in Gigout’s school of organ playing and improvisation. Boëllmann died in 1897, aged only 35. After the death of his wife the following year, Gigout (who had previously adopted Boëllmann) raised their three orphans as his own.

Monday night at 6:30 we will sing Evensong for All Saints live and livestreamed on the Grace Church Madison YouTube channel, so look for another blog tomorrow!

Here is today’s service!

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