Livestreamed from the Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, MA
Saturday, May 20th, 7:30 PM
Viri Galilaei, Gregorian Chant
Ascendit Deus, Peter Philips
Laudate Dominum de caelis, Francisco Guerrero
Surge propera amica mea, Francisco Guerrero
Angeli, Archangeli, Andrea Gabrieli
Spiritus Sanctus docebit vos, Gerald Near
Remember Not, Lord, Our offences, Henry Purcell
Turn Thou to thy God, Leo Sowerby
Quaerite primum regnum Dei, KV 86 /73v, W.A. Mozart
My beloved spake, Patrick Hadley
Let not your hearts be troubled, Craig Phillips
How lovely is thy dwelling place from A German Requiem, Johannes Brahms
They that put their trust in the Lord, Robin Orr
God is gone up, Gerald Finzi
O clap Your hands, R.Vaughan Williams
Antiphon, Benjamin Britten
Jubilate Deo, Benjamin Britten
A choral flourish, R.Vaughan Williams
Let all the world in every corner sing, Dominick Argento
Viri Galilaei, Gregorian Chant
Viri Galilaei, the joyous Mode VII Introit for the Ascension, invites us to join the following scene, taken from the Book of Acts. Immediately after Jesus was taken up to heaven, two men dressed in white appeared to the disciples and addressed them with the following question: “Men of Galilee, why do you wonder when you look up to heaven? As you have seen him ascend into heaven, so shall he come.” The opening phrase “ascends” with a decorated intonation and the text is punctuated with an Alleluia. The climax of the Introit is heard on the last three Alleluias, expressing the jubilation of the two heavenly messengers! The verse that follows, taken from Psalm 47, completes the sense of celebration.
The text for Peter Philips’ anthem, Ascendit Deus, is taken from Psalm 47 – “God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.” Perhaps we can imagine what the moment of Christ’s ascension must have been like. Such triumph and mystery as he returned home to his father! We can understand the apostles’ bewilderment and anxiety about living without Jesus in the way they had come to know him. But what about heaven’s side? The Kingdom of God must have exploded with joy and praise as the Son returned.Philips evokes this image in his anthem with running eighth notes, like bubbles of joy. The rhythmic offbeats on the words in voce tubae, capture the energy and punctuation of the brass instruments of which the text speaks, before bursting into a final Alleluia!
Born in 1561, Philips, who was a Catholic, left England to avoid persecution. His compositions were influenced by the European cities he experienced in his travels, which included Venice. You can hear the imprint of composers like Giovanni Gabrieli in the Alleluia refrain.
Francisco Guerrero is one of the leading Spanish Renaissance composers, whose works show his mastery of polyphony. He is also recognized for his use of canons (rounds). In addition to composing liturgical and secular works, Guerrero trained himself in voice and on several instruments, including harp, organ, and cornett. Laudate Dominum de caelis, from Psalm 148, is an exultant call for the whole earth to praise the Lord. The psalm begins in the heavens. What praise must have gone forth when Jesus ascended there to his Father. Guerrero sets the piece in double-choir form, with ascending musical lines lofting back and forth to one another. The text speaks of trumpets, psaltery, timbrel, and organ, and Guererro’s style harkens to the celebratory sounds of those instruments.
Guerrero’s gentle setting of this text from the Song of Songs begins with each voice part entering on the same note, as if spreading encouragement to rise. The second soprano cantus firmus line soars above with the text “Veni, sponsa Christi,” Come, spouse of Christ. The first section’s motive descends, while the second section, beginning with the cooing of the turtle dove, rises to a climactic ending, with the uplifting text repeating, “arise, my love, my fair one, and come.” Just as we celebrate Christ’s ascension to the heavens, we remember that we, too, are called to look up, arise, and dwell with him.
When he composed Angeli, Archangeli, Andrea Gabrieli was organist at the renowned St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and the teacher of his better known nephew Giovanni Gabrieli. Although this motet is composed in the traditional polyphonic style alternating with homophony, the elder Gabrieli’s greatest contribution to composition is thought to be the invention of the polychoral and concertato styles. These styles use contrasting choirs and/or instrumental groups, performing antiphonally in separate locations in the vast space of St. Mark’s Basilica, at once taking advantage of its breathtaking acoustics, and avoiding the difficulty of unison performance in that same nave and sanctuary.
This text, first appearing as a prayer in 1576, is a cry to all the inhabitants of heaven —from the cherubim to holy hermits and all saints – for their intercession. In this motet, the several groups of holy ones are addressed in overlapping, imitative phrases, frequently repeating and joining in homophony, before addressing the next group. Although naturally seen as a prayer from the church on earth, we may also imagine our ascended Lord summoning all the holy beings of heaven to pray for his dear brothers and sisters below.
Gerald Near’s “Spiritus Sanctus docebit vos” is based on the chant tune of the same name. The original chant was composed as a communion antiphon intended to be sung as the faithful receive the Eucharist. The chant is used particularly during Ascension and Pentecost, and other times when the presence of the Holy Spirit is acclaimed and celebrated.
Near composed his a cappella work Resurrexi for Gloriæ Dei Cantores, and it was premiered in London by the choir in 1990. “Spiritus Sanctus docebit vos” is one of four motets, each depicting a biblical scene from the Easter story. In this chorus, the chant melody is revealed in the opening unison voices, and hand bells are used to highlight the chant mode of the original antiphon. The bells seem to be ringing out the voice of the Holy Spirit, as the choir speaks the words of Jesus to his disciples (and to all of us): “The Holy Spirit will teach you and remind you of everything I have said to you.” The chorus comes to a rousing conclusion, using a harmonized version of the chant’s joyful Alleluia, together with a peal of bells, as if to herald the arrival of God’s Spirit among us.
Remember not, Lord, our offences, Henry Purcell
We know from the record that the disciples experienced Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension with a wide array of emotion: fear, bewilderment, excitement, sorrow, anticipation. Were remorse and repentance in that mix as well? From the stories about Peter, we know that they were.
Henry Purcell was an English Baroque composer whose writing style was influenced by composers such as William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons. Remember not, Lord, our offences was written while Purcell was Organist and Master of Choristers at Westminster Abbey. It was one of the last pieces he wrote without instrumental accompaniment. The text is taken from a litany compiled by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and it was later incorporated into the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The piece’s hymn-like style, set in A minor, has a penitential tone which climaxes on the words “spare us, good Lord.” Purcell concludes with the same text, but with a hopeful ending in A minor.
American composer Leo Sowerby has long been considered the “father” of American church music, and one of the greatest American composers of the 20th century. Although not so famous as Aaron Copland, he was the most frequently performed composer in America during the 1930’s and 1940’s, and his diverse works include compositions for Paul Whiteman’s Jazz Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony. Sowerby also received a Pulitzer Prize for his Canticle of the Sun, based on the words of St. Francis.
Turn thou to thy God is a setting of verses from two Old Testament figures, Hosea and Micah, prophetic promises that came to fruition in the life, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The theme of waiting on God, as set with the lyricism and lush harmonies Sowerby uses, gives voice to the time of anticipation following Christ’s ascension, when the apostles waited for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. Listen for the vocal duets used so effectively throughout the work, as if both Hosea and Micah are reassuring the Apostles and the church, collectively and individually, “my God will hear me.”
W. A. Mozart is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential composers in the history of Western Music. He wrote more than 600 compositions in the Classical period, and many of his works are pinnacles of the symphonic, operatic, and choral repertoire. Mozart composed Quaerite primum regnum Dei when he was only 14 years old. The rapid harmonic direction, and overlapping suspensions give this piece forward motion calling for a response. The text, “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. This text has served for millennia as a foundational outline of conduct for all disciples of Jesus.
Patrick Hadley, an English composer and choir director at St. John’s College, Cambridge, was known for his meticulous compositional style. He was a World War I veteran who served in the trenches and was injured toward the end of the war, resulting in the loss of a leg. (He used to shock students by sticking a thumb tack into his wooden leg to hold his sock up.) Hadley was influenced by Frederick Delius and Ralph Vaughan Williams and had an exceptional gift for setting music to text. My Beloved starts simply, with organ and choir entering in unison, and then expands. Hadley’s rhythms and harmonies bring expression to the beautiful landscape that the writer is describing. The way that Hadley expresses “the singing of the birds,” for example, makes the listener feel as if in an aviary. The church has long heard in these words the voice of Jesus lovingly calling his people to “rise up” and “come away” with him.
Craig Phillips is a well-known American composer and organist who currently lives in California. His chosen text is from the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verses 1-6. Phillips is known for allowing the voice of the organ to play an equal role in his choral music, and this piece is no exception. From the start one can hear the interweaving conversation while picturing Jesus talking with his disciples. The color shifts in the second fugue-like section and becomes simpler and more pronounced as Jesus begins to describe heaven: “In my Father’s house are many rooms …” Phillips highlights the words “and you know the way to the place where I am going,” by briefly removing the voice of the organ. The contrast secures our attention. Not only does Jesus encourage us and show us the way, but he also charges us to step out and follow him, for he is the way.
Johannes Brahms (mid-Romantic period) composed A German Requiem from 1865-1868, directly following and influenced by the death of his own mother. How lovely is thy dwelling place is the fourth movement of this work and is considered by some to be its central focus. The musical character is that of an extremely tender and sweet song. The text that Brahms chose is from Psalm 84:1,2,4, in which the psalmist’s heart overflows with longing for the abiding place of God in heaven. In the context of our concert, this movement reminds us of the grieving disciples, as they recall Jesus’ final comforting promise that he was going to prepare for them a place in heaven where they would again be united.
British composer Robin Orr (born Robert Kelmsley), was born in 1909 and studied at Cambridge University, the Royal College of Music, and with Nadia Boulanger. He served as the Director of Music and Organist at St. John’s College in Cambridge and went on to teach music at major universities in Britain as well as in Glasgow. Orr composed operas, symphonies, and many liturgical works. They that put their trust in the Lord was written in 1946, in honor of members of St. John’s College who lost their lives in WWII. The unexpected key structure gives the piece forward direction, while it concludes on a quiet open major chord with the words “ever more.” Orr’s text is taken from the psalms. It reminds us of God’s immovable and loving nature and gives us hope that, if we put our trust in him, he will surround us forever.
God is gone up, Gerald Finzi
Written for the feast day of St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, God is Gone Up begins and ends with heralding praise from our St. Cecilia organ. The text is taken from the final verses of a poem by Edward Taylor (1644-1729), a Puritan poet from England who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1668. Finzi’s choral writing weds the organ and choir in triumphant fanfare, proclaiming Christ’s glorious ascension to heaven. The middle sections evoke both angelic sprightliness—“Methinks I see Heaven’s sparkling courtiers fly”— and the shimmering harmonic color highlights the text, “mixing their music, making every string more to enravish as they this tune sing.” An unparalleled master of melody, harmony and orchestration, Finzi’s artistry serves every detail of the text, illuminating the King of Glory in our midst.
The Hebrew-based setting of Psalm 47:6 reads, “God shall be exalted with the trumpet blast; the Lord, with the sound of the shofar.” Vaughan Williams begins this anthem with 4 ascending notes from the trumpet, representing the shofar call Teruah (an acclamation of joy or shout), calling all people to join in praising the Lord with a loud voice. Then, the voices join in with the same ascending pattern, culminating in united praise to our ascended God and King. The second section, “For God is King of all the earth; sing ye praises, everyone that hath understanding,” has a mysterious quality, whose sound seems to echo the interior feelings of the disciples on that day, knowing that God is King of the whole earth, and yet unable to really comprehend God’s plan. Vaughan Williams concludes with continual, joyful praise as we all sing praises to God.
Born in 1913 on the feast day of St. Cecilia, Benjamin Britten remains one of best known British composers of the 20th century. A child prodigy, Britten would go on to study under Frank Bridge, John Ireland, and Arthur Benjamin, developing into an accomplished pianist, conductor, and composer. Antiphon, written in 1953, is a praise song for both heavenly and earthly beings alike. The text by British 17th-century poet, George Herbert, trades back and forth between angel and man. Britten creates this conversation by trading between corporate choral and solo soprano voices. Lush harmonic and lively melodic passages undergird the intense desire to praise “God alone.” Britten concludes Antiphon in gratitude for the God “who hath made two folds one.”
Britten sets Jubilate Deo as an inevitable declaration of God’s glory. The choir begins in homophony, adding strength to the opening words “O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands.” The organ, used as an independent voice, contributes a sparkling, bubbling joy. Britten concludes with a triumphant “Amen;” so be the glory of our God!
The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams studied with Maurice Ravel and was particularly important in the development of an English musical style, freed from the constraints of German influence. He wrote in various forms: opera, ballet, chamber music, symphonies, and religious choral music. A Choral Flourish is set to the jubilant text of Psalm 33. This striking anthem has a varying texture switching between homophony and polyphony, and the dynamic melismatic lines give to it an overflowing sense of joy and praise.
Dominick Argento described the human voice as “our representation of humanity.” Indeed, an overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy is at the very core of this work as all of humanity joins to praise God in song. Commissioned by the American Guild of Organists in 1980, the piece opens with a majestic and mysterious fanfare for brass quartet and organ, with heart-rushing timpani interjections. The full choir then joins the fanfare in a whole-hearted unison acclamation, commanding every corner of the earth to break forth in praise of its God and King. Argento alternates between re-statements of this fanfare and lush choral phrases. Let all the world culminates in a thrilling finale as brass, choir, organ, and timpani come together with great joy and energy, inviting all peoples to join in the unending song of praise.
Thank you for joining us!
ORGANIST MARILYN KEISER IN CONCERT
Saturday, June 3, 2023, 7:30 PM
St. Cecilia Organ
Church of the Transfiguration
Rock Harbor, Orleans, MA
A virtuoso concert organist, Marilyn Keiser has performed across the United States and has been a featured artist for the International Congress of Organists in Cambridge, England; in concert at the Royal Victoria Hall with the Singapore Symphony; at the American Cathedral in Paris, the Southern Cathedrals Festival in Winchester, England and the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
Independence Day Service
July 4, 2023
Independence Day Service with Gloriæ Dei Cantores and other ensembles of Arts Empowering Life
Church of the Transfiguration
Rock Harbor, Orleans, MA