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Sunday Music Musings for First Lent March 5, 2022

March 5, 2022

The prelude is the first of Three Gospel Scenes by American organist James Biery (b. 1956) Minister of Music at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church (Presbyterian) in Michigan, previously music director for Cathedrals in St. Paul, Minnesota and Hartford, Connecticut. Biery was educated at Northwestern University, where he earned Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Organ Performance. The first movement Jesus in the Desert is full of silence, punctuated by angst-y dissonances and quoting the tune of “Forty Days and Forty Nights” (HEINLEIN)-our hymn of the day.

The children will lead McNeil Robinson’s Kyrie. Robinson (1943-2015) chaired the organ department at the Manhattan School of Music for more than two decades, was a world renowned improvisateur and served as organist at many of  New York City’s most celebrated houses of worship including the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the Church of the Holy Family (United Nations), Park Avenue Christian Church, Park Avenue Synagogue, and Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church.

The hymn before the Gospel is Lord Who Throughout these Forty Days. The tune is  ST. FLAVIAN, from Day’s Psalter (1562). Originally published by John Day of London in 1562, “Sternhold and Hopkins” was the first complete English language version of the Psalms. It remained the standard version in England for almost two hundred years. The text is by Claudia Frances Hernaman (1838–1898), née Ibotson, born in Surrey, England. She was both the daughter of and wife of a clergyman, and wrote over 150 hymns, many for children. This is the only one that remains in frequent use, with its clear tale of how Lent works and why.

The anthem is a setting of a verse of Psalm 91, Hide Me Under the Shadow of Thy Wings by John Ebeneezer West (1863–1929). West was the son of an organist and a soprano, and studied organ and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1884, on his twen­ty-first birth­day, he en­tered the mu­sic pub­lish­ing firm of No­vel­lo & Com­pa­ny in Lon­don as an as­so­ci­ate ed­it­or, and in 1897, becoming chief ed­it­or, a post he held for 45 years.

During communion we will sing 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 English poet John Donne (1572-1631. 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.

Our hymn of the day, referenced in the Prelude is the tune HEINLEIN also called Aus der Tiefe, attributed to Martin Herbst (1654-1681), with words by George Hunt Smyttan (1822-1870). Because I have to get dressed and conduct a live performance tonight (and Sunday afternoon!) I send you for more details to

The Postlude is by neo-romantic 20th century British-Canadian Healey Willan, the great Anglican Canadian composer who I discussed here. It it the last of a set of variations on St. Flavian.

I just want to add that we had a wonderful live Ash Wed. service and I am very proud of our choirs, especially the teens who as usual covered Choir II of Allegri’s Misere with its high Cs (listen here at 29 minutes in).

Miserere mei, Deus, Latin for “Have mercy on me, O God” is a setting of Psalm 51 by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652). It was composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for the exclusive use of the Sistine Chapel during the Tenebrae services of Holy Week, and its mystique was increased by unwritten performance traditions and ornamentation, as well as a legend that the young Mozart heard it once and wrote it down. Sometime during his travels, Mozart met the British historian Charles Burney, who obtained the piece from him and took it to London, where it was published in 1771. It remains a staple of Anglican choirs and is often sung on Ash Wednesday. It is written for two choirs, of five and four voices respectively, singing alternately and joining to sing the ending in 9-part polyphony.

We chanted Compline in the choir stalls on Thursday evening from 8:30-8:45 for the first time in two years. The beautiful candlelight plainsong felt very healing to the 22 singers. You can join us throughout Lent for this. On Friday we will begin our Lenten noonday recital series with a visit from Pringry schools middle school strings.

Friday Lenten Organ Recitals 12:15-12:45 p.m. March 11-April 8, 2022

Pedals and keyboard projected for viewing! Livestream on Grace Madison YouTube Channel

March 11 – Pingry School Strings

March 19 – Anne Matlack, organ; A Celebration of Women Composers

March 25 Helen Thomas Memorial concert with Patricia Ruggles; Magnificats and More for Annunciation

April 1 – Henry Marinovic, organ scholar

April 8 – Matlack and Marinovic organ duets

Compline is chanted by candlelight in the choir stalls Thursdays in Lent 8:30-8:45 p.m. March 3-April 7

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  1. Sunday Music Musings March 26, 2022 | maestrasmusings

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