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Sunday Music Musings Dec. 3, 2022

December 4, 2022

I almost forgot to write this blog, as I returned from hearing Drew University Christmas concert wonderfully conducted by my friend and colleague Sarah Michal…and I began watching the livestream of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival from Minnesota. I am filled with gratitude that my daughter Virginia went there, sang in the famed St. Olaf choir and that I got to experience this live, 4 times as a parent, flying to Minnesota and somehow making it back for Sunday commitments every time. The theme of the festival this year is peace, as we all keep Ukraine in mind…and as I listened to the Parry “O Day of Peace” I realized we are singing that tomorrow as well and perhaps I should get going! We won’t have hundreds of singers and an orchestra, but our wish for peace will be heartfelt.

The prelude for this second Sunday in Advent is Rorate Coeli by Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968) a prolific twentieth-century French organist, teacher, and composer. She made history as the first female organist to sign a record contract. ‘Drop down, ye heavens’ are words of Isaiah often used in Advent. This work quotes the Gregorian chant for this text.

The processional hymn sets more words from Isaiah, Comfort Ye set by Claude Goudimel (1514-1572), (FREU DICH SEHR) with its Renaissance dance rhythm—we may have to skip down the aisle!

In preparation for our full performance of Vivaldi’s Magnificat at Evensong on December 18, the choirs will sing Et Exaltavit, led exuberantly by our trebles who just don’t know it is hard!

At the Gospel we sing O Day of Peace, which of course the British is the beloved Jerusalem. Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848 – 1918) was an influential 19th-century composer, probably best known today the coronation anthem I Was Glad. After attempting a career in insurance, Parry worked on Grove’s original Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and became professor of composition and musical history at the Royal College of Music; he was also professor of music at the University of Oxford from 1900 to 1908. Parry’s influence as a teacher was profound, including among his students Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge and John Ireland.

Our offertory will be a combined choir setting with bells of People Look East by handbell composer Susan Rucker. During the pandemic I actually had time for a meditative book about Advent music I bought a few years ago, but never had time to read! The book is “O Come Emmanuel” by Gordon Giles, and in the chapter about “People Look East,” the Besançon carol with words by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), Giles explains how the words are inspired by the Apocryphal book of Baruch. “Baruch’s readers were literally looking eastward to Jerusalem, from which they have been exiled. Nowadays we recall that the sun rises in the east, and thus it is in that direction that we look for the rising of Christ—the advent of the son of righteousness.” Eleanor Farjeon, children’s author and poet, may be best known to you for “Morning has Broken.” She wrote People Look East for her friend Percy Deamer’s 1928 Oxford Book of Carols. Each verse ends with “Love the ___ is on the way”– guest, rose, bird, star, and Lord respectively.

(Here is an old photo of former Grace member Eleanor who can also claim Parry as an ancestor, and her son Sam when he was younger (and much shorter) demonstrating how much little boys like big bells!)

The fraction is by Jan Campanus Vodnansky, a Czech composer, poet, dramatist and academic. Rorando Coeli is from his first collection, Sacrarum odarum (1613), of primarily short, homophonic works. The gallery choristers will echo exactly the first choir (Adults)—having them sing from above seems to illustrate the text well!

Rorando coeli defluant                  The skies pour down amidst roars

nubesque justum depluant:           and the clouds soak the righteous:

aperta terra machina                      the machinery of earth is started

florem salutis germina.                  and the flower of salvation buds.

Our communion hymn is the gorgeous and plaintive What is that Crying at Jordan?– an Irish tune called St. Mark’s Berkeley, originally found in Danata De, a national Irish Catholic hymnal in Irish Gaelic. There is very little information about the poet, Carol Christopher Drake (b. 1933), although there are other poems online in poetry journals from the 50s and 60s, such as Immigrant. In any case, the combination of text and tune is completely haunting (“dark is the season, dark our hearts and shut to mystery”).

The last hymn is Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding (MERTON). tell us of the text: “Although earliest manuscript copy dates from the tenth century, this text is possibly as old as the fifth century. It is based on the Latin hymn ‘Vox clara ecce intonat’ and its 1632 revision ‘En clara vox redarguit’.” The translator is Edward Caswall (1814-1878), son of a clergyman who became a priest, but then converted to Catholicism and joined the Oratory, Edgbaston. Caswall’s translations of Latin hymns from the Roman Breviary and other sources are widely represented in modern hymnals.

The tune is by William H. Monk (1823-1889), who is best known for his music editing of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861, 1868; 1875, and 1889 editions). He became choirmaster at King’s College in London in 1847 and was organist and choirmaster at St. Matthias, Stoke Newington, from 1852 to 1889, where he was influenced by the Oxford Movement. His other most famous tune is Eventide (“Abide with Me”). This hymn has a famous pitfall for the choir, with a descant that comes in when you least expect it on verse 2!

The stately postlude is based on this tune as well, by English composer, conductor and organist, recently retired as Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College, Malcolm Archer (b. 1952)


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