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Sunday Music Musings May 14, 2022

May 15, 2022

One of the best known Lutheran Easter chorales is Christ lag in Todesbanden. Based on the medieval Easter sequence Gregorian chant, Victimae, paschali laudes (“Christians to the paschal victim” HYMNAL #183), it is a strong robust minor key tune, the Germans’ idea of “cheerful.” J.S. Bach (1685-1750) used this as the basis of his famous Cantata #4. It is often confusing to English speakers how a text “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” is an Easter Cantata. But the whole hymn describes an epic Game-of-Thrones type battle between death and life! And life does win. Many, many Baroque composers set this as a chorale-prelude. The prelude today is Georg Böhm’s expressive setting with the chorale tune ornamented in the right hand, and imitative entrances in the lower parts. Böhm (1661 – 1733) spent most of his life as organist in Lüneburg, and may have tutored a young Johann Sebastian Bach at one time.

On May 18, 1857 Bishop George Washington Doane (1799-1859) consecrated Grace Church. He wrote the text to Thou Art the Way, Hymn 457 (ST. JAMES) which we often sing in May to celebrate this anniversary.

The School Choirs are finally going to sing a piece we even worked on in pandemic, a snippet of the Credo from Francisco Nuñez’s Misa Pequeña Para Niños (Little Mass for Children). Nuñez is Artistic Director/Founder of Young People’s Chorus of New York City, a 2011 MacArthur Fellow, 2018 Educator of the Year (Musical America),Principal conductor of American Young Voices, and composer, music educator, and lecturer around the world. Claudia Sydenstricker, who is fluent in Spanish (and our Chapel Choir co-director) will be the soloist. Claudia will be moving to Columbia for her senior year soon, and we will really miss her!

Creo en Dios, Padre todopoderoso I          (we) believe in God, the Father almighty

Un solo Dios, Padre todopoderoso            One God only, the Father almighty

Creador del cielo y de la tierra                    Maker of heaven and earth

De todo visible y invisible                            Of all that is seen and unseen

Psalm 148 is one of my favorites—who doesn’t love a psalm with sea-monsters in it! The choir will be exercising their Anglican chant chops on a lovely new chant by Sarah MacDonald. Sarah MacDonald FRCO (b. 1968) is a Canadian-born organist, conductor, and composer, living in the UK, who currently holds the positions of Fellow and Director of Music at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and Director of the girl choristers at Ely Cathedral. She has been at Selwyn since 1999, and is the first woman to hold such a post in an Oxbridge Chapel.

The second reading from Revelations calls to mind Edgar Bainton’s iconic anthem And I Saw a New Heaven. It has such a gorgeous tenor line, and dramatic setting of the text! Edgar Leslie Bainton (1880 – 1956) was a British-born, later Australian-resident composer. 1896 he won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study theory with Walford Davies. In 1899 he received a scholarship to study composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. In the summer of 1914 Bainton visited Germany to attend the Bayreuth Festival, but was arrested after war broke out, sent to the civilian detention camp at Ruhleben, near Berlin, where he remained for the next four years, put in charge of all the music at the camp. In March 1918 his health deteriorated and he was sent to The Hague to recuperate. Following the Armistice, he became the first Englishman to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra, in two concerts of British music before returning to England. The New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music offered him the directorship in the summer of 1933 and in 1934 Bainton and his family started a new life in Australia. Bainton conducted the choral and orchestral classes at the Conservatorium, and founded the Opera School. Bainton conducted the inaugural concert of New South Wales Symphony Orchestra (later renamed the Sydney Symphony Orchestra). Bainton wrote a considerable amount of music during his career, including a choral symphony, two instrumental symphonies, a Fantasia for piano and orchestra, several operas and many piano pieces, chamber works and songs. He is still best know for this anthem (1928). I remember singing it in choir as a teen chorister at St. Pauls’ Chestnut Hill.

“Who wrote the tune and pronounce his name correctly?” is always a giveaway in the choir room that it is the prolific Ralph (‘Rafe’) Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). In a long and extensive career, he composed music notable for its power, nobility and expressiveness, — the essence of “Englishness.” Although described by his wife as a “cheerful agnostic,” Vaughan Williams is beloved for his anthems, hymns and carols, and his editing of The English Hymnal (1906). “The Call” which is found as Hymn #487, is from Five Mystical Songs, a choral/baritone set of poems of George Herbert (1593-1633) often used as Easter or wedding texts. Like the Song of Songs these are love poems which function allegorically as a relationship between God or Christ as Love, and the believer as the beloved.

The organ piece that Henry will play is a setting of The Call by E. Harold Geer (1886-1957). Strangely enough, it is miss-spelled in the music as Greer but I had asked my friend The Reverend Victoria Geer McGrath if it was a relation, and she figured out it actually was a 4th cousin. According to Mother Vicki, his son Hardy (now about 95) is a parishioner at St. Mary the Virgin.

Our last hymn is the tune GELOBT SEI GOTT by Melchior Vulpius (ca. 1570-1615). Born into a poor family named Fuchs, Vulpius had only limited educational opportunities and did not attend the university. He Latinized his name after becoming a Latin teacher in Schleusingen, and 1596 until his death he served as a Lutheran cantor and teacher in Weimar. A distinguished composer, Vulpius wrote a St. Matthew Passion (1613), nearly two hundred motets in German and Latin, and over four hundred hymn tunes, many of which became popular in Lutheran churches, and some of which introduced the lively Italian balletto rhythms into the German hymn tunes. ( The text is by Cyril Argentine Alington (1872 –1955) English educator, scholar, cleric, and author. He was successively the headmaster of Shrewsbury School and Eton College. He also served as chaplain to King George V and as Dean of Durham.

The postlude is based on this hymn, a grand setting by our favorite Anglo-Canadian Healey Willan (1880-1968) who I wrote about previously.

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