Skip to content

Sunday Music Musings October 9, 2022 #RVW150

October 9, 2022

“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). On October 12 it will be his 150th birthday, and we will celebrate with a hymnsing for all! I hope you can come back! But this Sunday as well, almost all of the music in the service is by this giant of English church music.

Our opening prelude is a pastoral setting Musette. The first hymn (literally: HYMN # 1) is the tune Christe sanctorum, a 17th century melody harmonized by Vaughan Williams. The text is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great c. 540 – 604), translated by Percy Dearmer (1867–1936) one of the compilers of the English Hymnal, 1906, acting as Secretary and Editor (with Vaughan Williams as musical editor).  The London vicar, lifelong socialist and liturgist is best known for The Parson’s Handbook, a liturgical manual for Anglican clergy. The choristers will be ringing a handbell obilgato in procession and are very excited to have the bells back from their refurbishing/repair.

Bells are back!

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.

I managed to find an Anglican chant by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Originally written for Psalm 139, we found that it adapted well to today’s Psalm 66.

The Offertory is a chance to do a full combined anthem with all of our choirs, O How Amiable. Even the youngest choristers jump up as “reinforcements” for the last page (“O God Our Help”) which is a little more complicated the way we sit post-Covid, but we will make it work, thanks to our Children’s Choir Assistant, Camille!

“Simplicity is a keynote in Vaughan Williams’s O How Amiable, and the reason is the circumstances in which it was composed. In 1934 the novelist E.M. Forster wrote “The Abinger Pageant”, a play about the history of England, performed to aid preservation work at a church near where he lived in Surrey. Vaughan Williams’s anthem was written to be sung by amateur performers as part of the festivities, and the mainly unison writing reflects this. It also emphasizes the communal nature of the pageant experience, as does the addition of a verse from the famous hymn “O God our help in ages past” at the conclusion.” (from notes by Terry Blain © 2016

Despite being composed for the grand event that was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, O Taste and See (Psalm 34 vs.8) is quiet and intimate. This gem of a piece (that every chorister should know) will feature the trebles from the gallery on the solo and the adults from the chancel.

Music from 1953? Doodle from 2000s…?

While the choir takes communion I will play A Wedding Tune for Ann. If you click on this link to Vaughan Williams’ letters, you can find a charming letter to this bride (Ann Boult, daughter of conductor Adrian Boult) which includes the anecdote “The old gentleman who tried to steal my top-hat afterwards warmed my heart by singing Down Ampney at the top of his voice and cracking each time on the high note.”

During communion we will sing a setting of FOREST GREEN, one of the English folk melodies collected by Vaughan Williams for the English Hymnal. This is actually the preferred tune for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in Britain. This harvest text is by Frank von Christierson (1900-1996) a Californian Presbyterian pastor.

The final hymn is an original tune by Vaughan Williams, KINGS WESTON. Have you noticed how many excellent hymn text writers are women? Caroline Maria Noel (1817-1877) was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman who wrote poetry in her teens, but stopped due to frequent bouts of illness and eventually became an invalid. To encourage both herself and others who were ill or incapacitated, Noel returned devotional verse in her 40s. Her poems were collected in The Name of Jesus and Other Verses for the Sick and Lonely (1861, enlarged in 1870).

The postlude is Vaughan Williams Prelude on the Welsh tune Bryn Calfaria, which is found in our hymnal at #307, Lord Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor.


If you shrink this map down you’ll see a little dot on NJ! That’s us celebrating!

Here’s a screen shot!

I hope you can come sing with us on Wednesday at 7! We’ll be joined by members of the choir of St. George’s Maplewood, organists Megan Coiley, Chris Hatcher and myself, and anyone who wants to sing or listen! After a long, long pandemic, lets fill our beautiful church with sound. (There just might be a birthday cake with the composer’s face on it!)

Here is a list of the hymns we are doing:

Prelude: Rhosymedre

516-Down Ampney

57-Lo He Comes

705-Forest Green

225-Salve feste dies

591-Kings Lynn

272-The Truth from Above

292 Kingsfold

435-Kings Weston

565-Monk’s Gate

487-The Call

287-Sine Nomine

Finales: O How Amiable group sing and

Old Hundredth Psalm tune with brass players welcome!


From → Uncategorized

One Comment

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Sunday Music musings May 6, 2023 | maestrasmusings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: